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    USDA Warns Ground Turkey May Be Contaminated with Salmonella

    77 illnesses reported in 26 states; source has not yet been identified

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is issuing a public health alert due to concerns about illnesses caused by Salmonella Heidelberg that may be associated with use and consumption of ground turkey.

    The alert was initiated after medical reports, ongoing investigations and testing conducted by various departments of health across the nation determined there is an association between consumption of ground turkey products and an estimated 77 illnesses reported in 26 states.

    CDC is partnering with state health departments to monitor the outbreak while FSIS focuses its investigation on potential identification of a contamination source.

    FSIS reminds consumers of the critical importance of following package cooking instructions for frozen or fresh ground turkey products and general food safety guidelines when handling and preparing any raw meat or poultry.

    In particular, while cooking instructions may give a specific number of minutes of cooking for each side of the patty in order to attain 165-degree internal temperature, consumers should be aware that actual time may vary depending on the cooking method (broiling, frying, or grilling) and the temperature of the product (chilled versus frozen) so it is important that the final temperature of 165F must be reached for safety.

    Consumers should not rely on the cooking time for each side of the patty, but should instead use a food thermometer.

    Ground turkey and ground turkey dishes should always be cooked to 165F internal temperature as measured with a food thermometer; leftovers also should be reheated to 165F. The color of cooked poultry is not always a sure sign of its safety. Only by using a food thermometer can one accurately determine that poultry has reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 165F throughout the product.

    Turkey can remain pink even after cooking to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165F. The meat of smoked turkey is always pink.

    Consumption of food contaminated with Salmonella can cause salmonellosis, one of the most common bacterial foodborne illnesses. Salmonella infections can be life-threatening, especially to those with weak immune systems, such as infants, the elderly and persons with HIV infection or undergoing chemotherapy.

    The most common symptoms of salmonellosis are diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within eight to 72 hours. Additional symptoms may be chills, headache, nausea and vomiting that can last up to seven days.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is issuing a public health alert due to concerns about illnesses caused by&n...
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    Pharmacists Say CVS Fired Them, Protected Drug-Impaired Employee

    Drug-addled pharmacy employee made mistakes, used drugs openly, suit alleges

    Two pharmacists say CVS Pharmacy fired and defamed them to retaliate for their truthful complaints about a drug-addled employee who repeatedly screwed up prescriptions, took narcotic drugs at work and offered them to others.

    In their typo-riddled suit, filed in Fulton County (Ga.) Court in Atlanta, pharmacists Keith C. Kempton and John D. Olsen say they worked at the same Atlanta CVS pharmacy as Matthew Grant, who was hired in 2007 as a pharmacy technician working under their supervision.

    Kempton and Olsen say that during 2008, Grant often came to work “in an impaired condition,” that he made frequent mistakes in filling prescriptions and left the office four to five times a day to go take drugs in his car.

    They allege that Grant offered Oxycontin, Percocet and other controlled substances to his co-workers and was seen taking pills that he kept in his wallet.

    Violated customers' privacy

    The two also charge that Grant kept his own records of customers' prescriptions and gave the information to drug company sales representatives in return for dinners and “other favors.”

    They said Grant frequently fell off chairs, ran into stationary objects and complained to customers and co-workers that he was only working because his disability insurance had run out.

    Kempton and Olsen said they complained repeatedly to CVS management and noted that Grant's actions violated state law as well as company policy and was a threat to the health and safety of his co-workers and customers.

    Grant went on medical leave in November 2008 but returned in July 2009 in even worse condition than before, continued to make mistakes in filling prescriptions and accused Kempton and Olsen of sexually harassing him, the suit alleges.

    After a long series of emails, meetings and memos, CVS management accused Kempton and Olsen of violating Grant's privacy rights and, on Nov. 6, 2009, fired Kempton, Olsen and five other pharmacy employees but allegedly took no action against Grant.

    The suit charges CVS and Grant with defamation and what the suit calls “liable” (sic), violation of the Whistle Blower Act, negligence, assault and false imprisonment.

    Two pharmacists say CVS Pharmacy fired and defamed them to retaliate for their truthful complaints about a drug-addled employee who repeatedly screwed up p...
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    FDA Warns Birth Control Medicine Evital May Be Unsafe

    Emergency “morning after” pill is unapproved and may not work

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning U.S. consumers not to use the emergency birth control medicine labeled as Evital. These products may be counterfeit versions of the “morning after pill” and may not be safe or effective in preventing pregnancy.

    Evital has not been approved by the FDA for use in the United States. Worse yet, the FDA said counterfeit versions of the drug are being distributed in some Hispanic communities in the U.S.

    The packaging label of the potentially ineffective and suspect counterfeit version says, “Evital Anticonceptivo de emergencia, 1.5 mg, 1 tablet”, by “Fluter Domull.” Consumers should not take the Evital product if it looks like the photo on this page.

    If you have taken Evital, contact your doctor for advice.

    The FDA notes that there are approved emergency birth control medicines available with a prescription. Some are available over-the-counter for those 17 or older. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist for advice.

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning U.S. consumers not to use the emergency birth control medicine labeled as Evital. These products may...
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      Researchers: Blueberries May Help Fight Cancer

      Small fruit continues to gain respect

      Blueberries are getting new respect for their health benefits, including, researchers now say, their potential to protect against cancer.

      Studies by the University of Alabama (UAB) Comprehensive Cancer Center have found that as little as a cup a day can help prevent cell damage linked to cancer.

      Why are blueberries considered healthful? They're full of antioxidants, flavonoids and other vitamins that help prevent cell damage.

      "Antioxidants protect cells by stabilizing free radicals and can prevent some of the damage they cause," said Laura Newton, an associate professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences at UAB.

      Free radicals, atoms that contain an odd number of electrons and are highly reactive, can cause cellular damage, one of the factors in the development of cancer; many believe a diet filled with fruits and vegetables may help reduce the risk.

      "Studies suggest that antioxidants may help prevent the free-radical damage associated with cancer," said Newton, a licensed dietician who often works with cancer patients.

      Fresh is better

      Blueberries also are rich in vitamin C, which helps the immune system and can help the body to absorb iron. Blueberry juice and other products may be nutritious but often contain less fiber than the whole fruit, and added sugar or corn syrup may decrease their nutritional value.

      Consuming fresh, raw blueberries provides the most benefits; the average serving size of raw blueberries is one cup, which contains about 80 calories.

      Blueberries have emerged as a favorite fruit among health researchers in recent years, who have touted a wide variety of its health benefits. Studies conducted in 2006 found blueberries promoted memory and alertness and prevented some infections.

      A study earlier this year at Texas Woman's University found blueberries in the diet also help fight obesity, by slowing the formation of fat cells.

      Blueberries are getting new respect for their health benefits, including, researchers now say, their potential to protect against cancer. Studies by the U...
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      JetBlue Launches Unlimited Travel Plans from Boston, Long Beach

      Three-month passes aimed at frequent business travelers

      Perhaps feeling blue about reduced business travel during the summer months, JetBlue is introducing a three-month unlimited travel plan for passengers flying out of Boston Logan and Long Beach, Calif., airports.

      Beginning today and lasting through August 31, travelers can buy one of three BluePass plans that will be good for travel between Aug. 22 and Nov. 22, 2011.

      The packages – Boston All, Boston Select and Long Beach Select – offer various “flavors” priced from $1,299 to $1,999 and intended to appeal to frequent business travelers.

      "JetBlue is pleased to offer this valuable, flexible and convenient unlimited pass to meet the high-frequency travel needs of a variety of customers, no matter what their business plans entail," said Dennis Corrigan, vice president of sales and revenue management for JetBlue. "We are the largest carrier in both Boston and Long Beach, and we have built a solid network of key destinations and high frequencies in these markets.”

      All travel bookings must be made online by visiting www.jetblue.com/bluepass. BluePass flights will be available for booking starting Aug. 15, 2011. BluePass options include the:

      • Long Beach Select ($1299) for travel between LGB and nine intra-West markets, including:Austin, Texas; Chicago, Ill.; Las Vegas, Nev.; Oakland, Sacramento or San Francisco, Calif.;Portland, Ore.; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Seattle, Wash.

      • Boston Select ($1499) to 13 select Northeast markets served by JetBlue from Logan, including: Baltimore, Md.; Bermuda; Buffalo, N.Y.; Chicago, Ill.; Jacksonville, Fla.; New York/John F. Kennedy; Newark, N.J.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Charlotte or Raleigh/Durham, N.C.; Richmond, Va.;Washington, D.C. (Dulles or Ronald Reagan National).

      • Boston All ($1999) for travel to/from BOS to 32 cities served nonstop on JetBlue, as well as 22 additional destinations via connecting service at New York's John F. Kennedy, Orlando International or Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International airports.

      Customers must be a registered TrueBlue member to take advantage of the pass. Each BluePass purchased is also eligible for TrueBlue points from the airline's customer loyalty program, including 12,000 points for the Boston All; 9,000 points for the Boston Select; and 8,500 points for the Long Beach Select.

      All BluePass holders will have access to every available seat on every flight with no blackout dates, and can book travel up to 90 minutes prior to departure. Changes or cancellations to previous BluePass reservations can be made without penalty, and business customers can enjoy complimentary confirmed same-day changes on the day of booked departures.

      The airline has also introduced a relaxed no-show policy for the BluePass, initiating a $100 charge only when the customer no-shows for a scheduled flight twice in a seven-day period.

      Perhaps feeling blue about reduced business travel during the summer months, JetBlue is introducing a three-month unlimited travel plan for passengers flyi...
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      'Free Trial' of Hydroxatone Gets Expensive, Suit Charges

      Customers agree to pay $7.95, are then gouged for hundred dollars more, suit alleges

      Atlantic Coast Media Group and Hydroxatone advertise a free trial for beauty products, then use information they get for the $7.95 "shipping and handling" charge to bill consumers $209 for a 3-month supply, a class action claims in U.S. District Court in Newark. 

      It's a claim echoed by Shari, of Tracy, Calif., and many other consumers who have complained to ConsumerAffairs.com in recent months.

      "Signed up for free trial and was only to pay shipping charges. Was sent 2 jars in first shipment and 2 jars again without request. My credit card has been charged 4 times $69.95 without my permission and they would not take the product back. I have had to close my credit card account," Shari said.

      The expensive anti-wrinkle cream was the subject of a November 2010 story highlighting the practice of building Web sites that feature what appear to be -- but often are not -- positive product reviews from real consumers.

      In the suit, Lisa Margolis, of Richmond Heights, Ohio, says that she heard the defendants' radio advertisement for moisturizing cream, stating that she could get a free sample and needed to pay only $7.95 for shipping and handling.

      She called the number quoted in the ad and gave her credit card number to the customer service representative. She said she declined suggestions that she ordered other products, saying she wanted only the free sample of the moisturizing cream.

      Multiple packages

      But instead of receiving just a single package of the cream, Margolis received multiple packages. She was billed $7.95 for shipping and handling but was also charged $209.85 for the “Hydrolyze Premium Beauty Program.”

      The invoice further states that Margolis would receive a new shipment every 90 days and would be billed $69.94 for each shipment.

      Margolis said she contacted the companies on January 12, 2011 and tried to obtain a refund but was refused. The companies then cfurther charged Margolis' credit card, biling her $33.94 on Feb. 7, $60.94 on Feb. 9 and $69.94 on March 11.

      The suit charges that the companies have done the same to thousands of other customers and seeks compensatory and punitive damages as well as legal fees.

      Atlantic Coast Media Group and Hydroxatone advertise a free trial for beauty products, then use information they get for the $7.95 "shipping and handling" ...
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      Fructose Linked To Heart Risks

      Too much of the sweetener in the diet harmful, researchers say

      The American Heart Association recommends that people consume only five percent of calories as added sugar.

      The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 suggest an upper limit of 25 percent or less of daily calories consumed as added sugar.

      What happens if you consume more? A new study by California researchers found that adults who consumed high fructose corn syrup for two weeks as 25 percent of their daily calorie requirement had increased blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, which have been shown to be indicators of increased risk for heart disease.

      In the study, researchers examined what happened when young overweight and normal weight adults consumed fructose, high fructose corn syrup or glucose at the 25 percent upper limit.

      "While there is evidence that people who consume sugar are more likely to have heart disease or diabetes, it is controversial as to whether high sugar diets may actually promote these diseases, and dietary guidelines are conflicting," said the study's senior author, Kimber Stanhope, PhD, of the University of California, Davis. "Our findings demonstrate that several factors associated with an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease were increased in individuals consuming 25 percent of their calories as fructose or high fructose corn syrup, but consumption of glucose did not have this effect."

      Common sweetener

      Fructose is a sugar found in many plants. In recent years, it has become a favorite sweetener in the food industry because it tends to be cheaper than sugar.

      There is controversy among some health advocates and the food industry over the safety of fructose, with health advocates saying the body reacts differently to it than sugar. The food industry disputes that, and Jennifer Nelson, a Registered Dietician at the Mayo Clinic, says the research is mixed.

      “Some research studies have linked consumption of large amounts of any type of added sugar — not just high-fructose corn syrup — to such health problems as weight gain, dental cavities, poor nutrition, and increased triglyceride levels, which can boost your heart attack risk,” Nelson said. “But there is insufficient evidence to say that high-fructose corn syrup is less healthy than are other types of added sweeteners.”

      Another study suggests too much fructose in the diet is bad for the heart...
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      What's On Your Mind? Delta, Match.com, Toyota

      Our daily look at consumer reviews

      Ever tempted to upgrade your airline seat? After hearing of one consumer's experience with Delta, we suggest you be very careful how you go about doing it.

      “In January, 2011, I purchased two round-trip tickets from the USA to Europe,” Lori, of Edenton, N.C., told ConsumerAffairs.com. In June, three days before our flight, as I called to confirm our tickets and seat assignments, I learned of the 'new Economy Comfort' seats from the automated voice recording on the 1-800 phone number.”

      Lori says she then called a Delta agent to upgrade her seats. The cost of the coach fare was $3,073. The cost of the Economy Comfort fare was $5,231, a difference of nearly $2,200 – or so Lori thought.

      “To my horror, when I returned two weeks later, I find that I was charged full fare for the upgrade and would not receive reimbursement for the original coach seats purchased in January.”

      That means Lori's trip to Europe didn't cost $3,073, as she originally planned, or the $5,231 she was willing to pay, but $8,305.

      “It was never clearly explained that I would have to pay such an extreme increase to do this upgrade,” Lori said. “I was under the impression that I would be reimbursed for the $3,073.60 originally paid. I would have never agreed to that cost if I had a clear understanding of what the June agent was doing to our tickets.”

      Normally, an upgrade implies that you will pay the difference between the standard level of service and a higher level. We're not sure what happened here but it's possible that Lori's ticket agent did not understand that it was an upgrade, but entered it as two additional ticket purchases. If so, Lori had paid for four tickets to Europe but only used two. Lori said she is fighting it, but she will need to get to someone very high up at Delta to correct a mistake of this magnitude. The lesson for the rest of us is to ask a lot of questions and make sure everyone is on the same page when you “upgrade” anything.

      Make sure you're cancelled

      Consumers repeatedly complain about services that auto-renew your subscription or membership and charge your credit card. Adam, of Baldwinsville, N.Y., has a different problem. He says he cancelled his Match.com membership, only to find out later he didn't.

      “I called and spoke with a supervisor and she refused to refund my money,” Adam said. “I was told that I did not unsubscribe the correct way, but the website did inform me that my subscription would not be renewed. If it wasn't the correct way then it shouldn't even be an option.”

      True, but almost all services give you a confirmation number when you order something or cancel something. Always a good idea to write it down.

      Absent airbags?

      When is an airbag supposed to deploy? Many drivers assume it's anytime they get into an accident.

      “In June of 2010 I was rear ended on the highway,” Jaimie, of Asheville, N.C., told ConsumerAffairs.com. “My 2007 Toyota Yaris was totaled. No airbags deployed even though my car was smashed and windows had been shattered. I am driving a Toyota again and after reading all these complaints, I'm rather scared.”

      Actually, Jaimie shouldn't be overly concerned. Despite popular belief, airbags are only supposed to deploy after contact with certain impact points.  They wouldn't normally deploy in a rear-end crash.

      Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Delta, Match.com, Toyota, Make sure you're cancelled and Absent airbags?...
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      Survey: Bank Customers Support Stronger Banking Regulation

      Consumers favor making banks better disclose checking account terms

      Nearly three-fourths of Americans with checking accounts support regulations that would require banks to better disclose the terms, conditions and fees associated with their checking services, according to a new poll commissioned by the Pew Health Group.

      The support cuts across all political affiliations, with solid majorities among Democrats, Republicans, independents and those who say they agree with the positions of the Tea Party. All of these groups favor stronger disclosure requirements, according to the survey by the bipartisan team of Hart Research Associates and McLaughlin & Associates, which conducted the poll for Pew. 

      The data show that 81 percent of Democrats, 66 percent of Republicans, 65 percent of independents and 62 percent of those aligned with the Tea Party have a positive view of Pew’s recommendations for banks to provide a summary of overdraft options and to issue a one-page summary of pertinent checking account information.

      “Regardless of political affiliation, the majority of Americans with checking accounts view stronger oversight of this financial product as a positive move,” said Susan Weinstock, director of Pew’s Safe Checking in the Electronic Age Project. “As the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau begins its directive to protect American consumers, we urge the bureau to make checking accounts, which nine out of 10 adult Americans currently have, safer and more transparent.”

      Even respondents that say there is already “too much” or “about the right amount” of government oversight and regulation of banks support these new rules related to detailing account terms and overdrafts.

      Among all survey participants:

      • Eighty-three percent say it would be a positive change to require banks to provide a summary of information about the overdraft options they offer, how the options work and a description of the fees;

      • Seventy-eight percent say it would be a positive change to require banks to provide a one-page summary of information about their checking accounts' terms, conditions and fees;

      • Seventy percent say it would be a positive change to require banks to process transactions in the order in which they occur as opposed to processing them from highest dollar amount to lowest dollar amount, which can lead to more overdraft fees; and

      • Sixty-nine percent say it would be a positive change to require banks to limit overdraft fees based on how much it costs the bank to provide the overdraft.

      Even account holders who say they have a high level of trust in banks find these recommendations “favorable” with two-thirds or more saying each one would be a “positive change.”

      “Americans want to know their checking accounts are safe and that the terms of their accounts are disclosed in an easy-to-understand format,” said Weinstock. “The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau currently has the authority to better protect consumers by requiring banks to issue a one-page document, similar to the form currently used for credit cards, and to provide a summary of overdraft options. The bureau should implement these changes now.”

      Nearly three-fourths of Americans with checking accounts support regulations that would require banks to better disclose the terms, conditions and fees ass...
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      Facebook Uses Ads to Alert Users to its Facial Recognition Program

      Privacy organizations say the action doesn't go far enough; they want an opt-in process

      In response to a letter from Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, Facebook has agreed to run ads that link users to their privacy settings and show them how to opt out of Facebook's facial recognition program.

      But privacy organizations say that while the ads are new, Facebook has failed to implement an opt-in model for its facial recognition technology.

      The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and several other organizations, have complained to the Federal Trade Commission concerning what they called Facebook's unfair and deceptive trade practices regarding biometric data collection.

      EPIC urged the FTC to require Facebook to suspend the program pending a full investigation. EPIC also urged the Commission to require Facebook to establish stronger privacy safeguards and an opt-in regime for the facial recognition scheme.

      Tag suggestions

      Jepsen expressed concern last month that consumer privacy was being compromised by Facebook’s “Tag Suggestions” feature -- which uses facial recognition software to make phototagging easier for its users -- because users were not given adequate notice of the feature or the ability and instructions to disable it easily.

      In response, the company has developed on-line Tag Suggest ads, which link users to their privacy settings and allow them to opt out if they choose. One round of ads ran earlier this month, resulting in more than 400 million Facebook impressions on U.S. Facebook users’ home pages, Jepsen said.

      The second, which began this week, will cycle on those home pages for the next two weeks. The company anticipates that every Facebook user in the U.S. will see the new ad at least twice during this period.

      “For any users who opt out, any facial recognition data collected will be deleted,” Jepsen said.

      The company also assured Jepsen that it was not using the information for commercial or marketing purposes and that the biometric data was secured and could not be used by private individuals to gain access to other user information.

      Reporting imposters

      Facebook also added new language and links to one of its user contact forms and automatic email response to help direct users to the correct reporting mechanism when trying to report an imposter or fake profile.

      Jepsen raised this issue in February after a Connecticut state representative complained about the difficulty she had trying to contact Facebook and get it to shut down an imposter profile of her that was fraudulently soliciting money. The changes made to the contact form, and automatic response should ensure that Facebook users who initially go down the wrong path to report an imposter account do not continue down that mistaken route.

      Facebook’s response to similar complaints of impersonation was to create a “roadblock” system, which it began using recently. After an account is reported as fake, the company puts up a “roadblock,” which keeps the account from being used until it is verified as authentic, using telephone numbers or other information.

      “Facebook has made significant changes that will provide better service and greater privacy protection to its users, not only in Connecticut, but across the country,” Jepsen said. “The company has been cooperative and diligent in its response."

      In response to a letter from Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, Facebook has agreed to run ads that link users to their privacy settings and show ...
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      Reassuring Findings in Study of Cell Phone Use by Children

      But analysis of underlying data reveals "quite troubling" trends

      A Scandinavian study finds that children who used cell phones regularly were no more likely to have been diagnosed with a brain tumor than those who didn't use them but some scientists say an analysis of the underlying data reveals that the findings are actually "quite troubling."

      As usual, the latest study's findings aren't black or white. In a small subset of patients, for whom the cell phone company had actual data, there was a correlation between tumor risk and the amount of time they had owned a cell phone.

      The study included 352 patients ages 7-to-19 in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland. Only 5 percent of the children and teenagers in the study had used cell phones for longer than 5 years.

      When results for all durations of cell phone use were pooled together, researchers did not see a statistically significant elevation of brain tumor risk. However, this broad aggregation of the results masks important signals in the underlying data, cautioned Environmental Working Group senior scientist Olga Naidenko, Ph.D..

      Notably, the researchers defined as “regular users” “all subjects who had an average of at least one call per week for at least 6 months.” As nearly every cell phone user would affirm, one call a week is an extraordinarily low, and hardly typical, frequency of use.

      The underlying data reveals troublesome and provocative trends. The study found an elevated risk of brain tumors among children who had used cell phones longer than 2.8 years. Even more worrisome, when the scientists analyzed much more reliable cell phone use data obtained from the cell phone companies themselves, they saw a “statistically significant trend of increasing risk with increasing time since first subscription…”

      “Given that in studies of adult cell phone users a statistically significant increase in cancer risk was observed only in those that looked at exposure periods of longer than 10 years, EWG finds it very troublesome that some elevation of risks for children and teenagers was observed from as little as three years” in the latest research,  Naidenko said. “These results should be of great interest to parents who want to take a precautionary approach to their children’s cell phone use.”

      Effects on children

      Health officials have grown increasingly concerned about the possible long-term effects of cell phone usage by children, partly because children's developing brains may be more susceptible to harm by radio-frequency emissions and partly because children are likely to be exposed to the emissions for many more years than today's adults.

      Despite the lack of a strong correlation between cell phones and brain cancer in young patients, the researchers said they can't "rule out the possibility that mobile phones confer a small increase in risk" and called for future prospective studies. The largest such study now underway is the COSMOS trial, which will follow European cell phone users for 20 years.

      In an editorial accompanying the study, two scientists from the International Epidemiology Institute, a unit of the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Rockville, Md., called the results “largely consistent and reassuring.”

      The World Health Organization has declared that cell phone emissions may be carcinogenic.

      A Scandinavian study finds that children who used cell phones regularly were no more likely to have been diagnosed with a brain tumor than those who didn't...
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      Judge Shuts Down 'Yellow Pages' Scam

      European operation targeted small businesses, nonprofits in North America

      A federal judge has temporarily shut down an alleged Yellow Pages scam that targeted small businesses and nonprofits, including churches, bilking them out of millions of dollars.

      The European-based scheme allegedly deceived victims into ordering and then paying for unwanted listings in online business directories.

      In addition to stopping the allegedly deceptive practices, the court also froze the defendants’ assets. The FTC seeks to permanently stop the illegal practices and to require that the defendants provide refunds to their victims.

      According to documents filed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the defendants operate their scheme from Palma de Mallorca, Spain, using corporations based in England and the Netherlands. Since 2009, they have sent unsolicited faxes to churches, doctors’ and dentists’ offices, and local retailers in the United States, Canada, Australia, and possibly other countries.

      Each fax sent to a U.S. business or nonprofit includes a name such as YellowPage-Illinois.com, depending upon the location of the organization, and a “walking fingers” logo similar to the one commonly associated with local yellow pages.

      Pre-existing relationship

      The FTC alleges that these faxed forms falsely suggest that organizations have a pre-existing relationship with the defendants. The forms contain information about the business or nonprofit, and a Yellow Page ID number, and instruct the recipient to confirm and update the information and sign and fax the form back by a certain deadline.

      Buried in fine print at the bottom of the form is the only indication that the fax is a solicitation for new business and that organizations that return the form are ordering an $89 per month, two-year registration in the defendants’ online directory, payable a full year in advance. Many consumers do not see or read the fine print and instead sign and return the form, believing that they are merely updating their local yellow pages listing. Often the person who signs and returns the form is not authorized to purchase services on the business’s or nonprofit’s behalf.

      According to the FTC, organizations that return the form then receive a faxed invoice seeking payment of $1,068 for 12 months of directory listings. They are directed to make payment to Yellow Page B.V. at a New York City address. The defendants often tell businesses or nonprofits that try to cancel that the cancellation period has expired, and that they intend to enforce the contract.

      Organizations that refuse to pay receive faxes seeking late fees and threatening to refer the alleged debts to a collection agency and harm their company’s credit rating. In some instances, organizations pay the defendants simply to end the harassment.

      A federal judge has temporarily shut down an alleged Yellow Pages scam that targeted small businesses and nonprofits, including churches, bilking them out ...
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      Apple Is Top Smartphone Manufacturer In U.S.

      Android remains the most popular mobile platform

      Google's Android remains the most-used smartphone operating system but Apple is the leader when it comes to making and selling smartphones, according to the latest monthly data from Nielsen.

      In its report for June, Nielson found that phones operating on the Android system make up 39 percent of the market. Apple's iOS system was right behind, at 28 percent.

      The difference, of course, is several electronics companies make and sell smartphones that run on the Android system. Apple is the only company that makes a smartphone that runs on iOS - the iPhone.

      “Other leading manufacturers include HTC, whose Android phones represents 14 percent of the smartphone market and whose Windows Mobile/WP7 devices account for six percent of the market; and Motorola, whose Android devices are owned by 11 percent of smartphone consumers,” Nielsen reported.

      Samsung’s Android devices are used by eight percent of smartphone owners while their Windows Mobile/WP7 phones are used by two percent of smartphone consumers.

      Apple makes and sells more smartphones than any company...
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      IRS Tells Airlines To Refund Ticket Tax To Consumers

      Some airlines have already raised ticket prices by the tax amount

      The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has gone to bat for consumers, telling airlines that planned to pocket the now-lapsed federal tax on airline tickets to refund it to consumers.

      It all started almost a week ago when laws authorizing the airline ticket tax and other aviation-related taxes expired. That means there is no longer a federal tax on tickets.

      If you purchased an airline ticket before last weekend and have not yet taken the flight, you paid a tax that is no longer in effect. Therefore, the IRS says the airlines can't keep that money, they have to return it to consumers.

      Working with the airlines

      The IRS will continue to work with the airline industry to address issues relating to the collection and payment of the taxes involved,” the agency said in a statement. “Taxpayers do not need to take any action at this time. The IRS will provide further guidance on this issue in the near future.”

      The tax generally is imposed on the “amount paid” for commercial air transportation. When a person purchases a ticket for air transportation, the airline collects the federal passenger air transportation excise taxes from the purchaser and then later pays the collected amount over to the IRS. The amount of tax collected from the purchaser is shown on the purchaser’s receipt as a separate line item, often labeled “federal taxes.”

      Until they are reinstated by Congress, the following taxes will not be collected from consumers:

      • The 7.5 percent tax on the base ticket price;
      • The domestic segment tax of $3.70 per person per segment (a single takeoff and single landing);
      • The international travel facilities tax of $16.30 per person for flights that begin or end in the U.S., or $8.20 per person for a flight that begins or ends in Alaska or Hawaii; and
      • The 6.25 percent tax on the amount paid for transporting property by air.

       Not insignificant

      As you can see, the taxes can mount up. The savings on the average ticket is more than enough to pay to check an extra bag on a flight.

      Passengers who are unable to obtain a refund from the airline may obtain a refund by submitting a claim to the IRS. Because the IRS has no information about passenger ticket purchases or travel dates, travelers who are unable to obtain a refund from the airline will be required to submit proof of taxes paid and travel dates to the IRS under procedures that are under development. The IRS said it will provide additional guidance at a later date.

      If the taxes aren't being collected, doesn't that mean airline tickets now cost a little less. They should, but they don't in every case. Some airlines, including Delta, United, US Airways and Southwest, have said they will boost ticket prices by the same amount as the tax, essentially pocketing it.

      The IRS says consumers who bought airline tickets before last Friday for future travel should get a refund...
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      What's On Your Mind? Virgin Mobile, Sirius XM, Experian

      Our daily look at consumer reviews

      Prices are going up all the time. But when you make a buying decision based on an advertised price, don't you have an expectation of paying that price? Courene, of Scranton, Pa., does.

      “I ordered an LG Optimus V on July 13 from Virgin Mobile, Courene told ConsumerAffairs.com. “At that time, the lowest plan advertised on their website was $25, which is why I decided to purchase this phone and service. The phone was shipped to me on July 14 and received on the 16th.”

      When Courene attempted to activate the phone on July 25, she noticed the plan was now advertised as $35 on the website. After calling customer service, Courene was told that Virgin Mobile would not honor the $25 plan.

      “That is completely ridiculous,” she said. “While I understand their right to increase plan costs, I strongly feel that because I ordered under the original, advertised cost of $25, I should be grandfathered in and have an adjustment to that plan’s cost. They have a record in their system of when I made the purchase.”

      True. The only extenuating circumstance would be if Virgin Mobile requires a phone to be activated shortly after receiving it. Courene waited nine days, which could be the cause of confusion.

      Lifetime may not always mean your lifetime

      Sirius XM satellite radio offers a “lifetime” subscription, offering service forever for one upfront fee. Or, maybe not. Allan, of Front Royal, Va., said he upgraded to lifetime membership in 2007 and, last month rented a car for a road trip.

      “When I called to transfer my service temporarily to the rental car receiver, I was told it would be a $15 fee,” Allan said.

      But that wasn't the extent of the bad news.

      “When the rep found out I was a lifetime member, she informed me that the cost to change radios was $75, and there are a maximum of three changes allowed,” Allan said. “So after paying $75, if you change three times, you're stuck with whatever car you last put it in. Can you believe that? Who goes through only 3 cars in their lifetime.”

      Indeed, something to think about when considering a “lifetime” membership. Apparently it isn't forever.

      You can cancel, if you can find us

      Nelson, of Los Angeles, ordered his credit report and score from Experian for $1, thinking he would cancel the required ongoing service agreement within the trial period, thus avoiding the $14.95. Easier said than done, it turns out.

      “The problem is that the contact numbers they provide on their website, including the one for questions regarding the their limited offer, are not helpful,” Nelson told ConsumerAffairs.com. “They have an answering system that does not provide the consumer with the option to speak with a live representative. I need to cancel my membership! I don't want to be charged for something I'm not going to use on a monthly basis.”

      Nelson said that he finally reached a live operator, who gave him another number to call, which put him back in the voice mail maze.

      “I'm very frustrated and very disappointed at Experian's lack of customer service/support,” Nelson said. “I'm beginning to question their honesty. I'm not sure why they're doing this.”

      Perhaps they're making it hard for Nelson to cancel because they don't want Nelson to cancel. Nelson is probably not the first person to think he can get his credit report, then cancel without having to pay a monthly charge. Nelson, by the way, should have gone to www.annualcreditreport.com, where he can get a free copy of his credit report from all three reporting agencies, with no strings attached.

      Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Virgin Mobile, Sirius XM, Experian, Lifetime may not always mean your lifetime and You can cancel, if you can fin...
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      JK Harris To Pay Refunds In West Virginia

      State says company misled consumers about resolving their tax issues

      JK Harris, a South Carolina firm that advertises that it can help resolve debts owed to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), has left a trail of consumer complaints in its wake for years. Now, consumers in West Virginia will get refunds

      West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw says he has reached a settlement with the firm that requires it to provide full refunds to consumers who hired the firm but received no tax relief. The refunds total just over $14,000.

      “I was audited by IRS back 2007,” Usama, of Falls Church, Va., told ConsumerAffairs.com this week. “I consulted JK Harris to take care of it on my behalf. They promised that they will start immediately contacting the IRS and get the information and I shouldn't worry. One week passed and nothing happened. I contacted the IRS audit officer to ask if anyone called on my case and he replied 'no, not at all.'”

      Not only that, Usama said the IRS case officer said that he could do himself what JK Harris would do.

      “He advised me to get my money back from them ASAP,” he said.

      Usama said he paid $1,400 but, after three years, has not received any of his money back.

      Offer in compromise

      McGraws office received a number of similar complaints, even after a 2008 consent order in which JK Harris agreed not to collect money without providing a service. Some consumers said they were told they qualified for an "Offer in Compromise" (OIC) only to later discover they did not.

      Consumers who qualify for the OIC program have most of their tax liability waived and pay only a percentage of what they owe to the IRS. However, the IRS accepts less than 25 percent of the OIC applications it receives.

      McGraw filed a petition for contempt on March 31 and says the resulting settlement will provide refunds to consumers.

      "There are many tax settlement scams being advertised on late night television," McGraw warned. "It is always best to get an opinion from a local tax consultant before responding to these commercials."

      West Virginia has secured refunds for consumers who paid JK Harris but got not tax help...
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      21 Children Die in Hot Cars So Far This Year

      Feds step up efforts to warn parents not to leave children alone in cars

      It happens , over and over, every summer. A baby is left in a closed car that sits baking in the sun while the parent or caregiver runs an errand, makes a phone call or even spends a day at the office.

      That's what happened to veterinarian Karen Murphy's son, Ryan. The Northern Virginia mom forgot to drop Ryan, 2, at day care. Instead, she drove to work and began tending to sick dogs and cats. Her husband went to pick Ryan up in the afternoon but the day care center workers said he had never arrived.

      Ryan was found dead in the family's minivan, still strapped in his infant seat. His mother was charged with

      Amazingly, it was the second time Murphy had forgotten about Ryan, The Washington Post reported. The first time ended happily when the day care center called to ask why he wasn't there. Prosecutors were sympathetic but charged her with felony murder, saying they wanted to “deliver a wake-up call” to distracted parents.

      Ryan's case may be more shocking than most but it's hardly unique. With record high temperatures, there have been at least 21 hyperthermia-related child deaths already this summer. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) convened a roundtable yesterday to help step up efforts to prevent these needless deaths.

      Cars become ovens

      Children left alone in vehicles during hot weather are at risk of a serious injury or death from hyperthermia. According to NHTSA research, hyperthermia is the leading cause of non-crash vehicle deaths for children under the age of 14.

      “These 21 deaths were tragic and preventable – not one of those children should have lost their lives in this horrible way,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.  “We need to do everything we can to remind people to be vigilant and never leave a child alone in or around a motor vehicle.”

      NHTSA experts were joined by representatives from the automobile industry, car seat manufacturers,  victims, researchers, consumer groups, and health and safety advocates to discuss strategies to reduce child fatalities and injuries in hot vehicles.

      Reports by the San Francisco State University Department of Geosciences show 49 children under the age of 14 years died in 2010 due to hyperthermia, with 21 deaths so far in 2011.

      Several states have witnessed especially high incidences of fatalities for children aged 3 and under – including Texas, Florida, California, Nevada, and North Carolina.

      Serious threat

      “We know hyperthermia is a serious threat that needs to be better addressed immediately,” said David Strickland, Administrator of NHTSA. “A coordinated, targeted approach to increase public awareness of this very serious safety danger should help prevent unnecessary tragedies and near-misses moving forward. We need to come together and give the best information to parents, caregivers, and our communities to protect children in vehicles.”

      In the coming weeks and months, Administrator Strickland and his staff will host listening sessions and other activities in some of the states hardest hit by hyperthermia deaths.  They will engage concerned parents, advocacy groups, automotive experts, and health and law enforcement professionals, to discuss the best ways to raise awareness and to propose strategies for preventing these tragic events.

      With record high temperatures nationwide and reports of 21 hyperthermia-related child deaths already this summer, the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin...
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      Senator Urges Regulators To Nix AT&T Merger With T-Mobile

      Al Franken says merger would harm consumers

      In a not unexpected move, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) has told federal regulators they should deny AT&T's request to acquire T-Mobile, saying the merger would drive up prices for wireless customers and likely cost thousands of jobs.

      In a filing sent to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Franken said the merger is a bad deal for consumers. He cited some analysts' predictions that wireless costs could go up by as much as 25 percent as a result.

      He also said that the merger would further stifle competition in an already-concentrated wireless market and would allow only two companies-AT&T and Verizon-to control more than 80 percent of the market. Verizon is currently the largest U.S. wireless provider but would fall to a distant second behind AT&T, if it joins forces with T-Mobile.

      'Not in the public interest'

      "This transaction is not in the public interest," Franken said in his filing. "If approved, it would result in greatly reduced competition, the potential loss of thousands of jobs, higher consumer prices, and less innovation in technology. I urge the FCC and the DOJ to deny AT&T's application for approval of its acquisition of T-Mobile."

      Franken's opposition to the proposed deal was not exactly a secret. He initially raised concerns about this merger during a statement on the Senate floor on May 4. Franken also questioned the impact of the merger on consumers at a Judiciary Committee hearing in May.

      To sign off on the deal, the FCC must accept a deal that reduces the number of wireless carriers in the U.S. while creating, by far, the nation’s largest mobile company. The Justice Department, meanwhile, will look at anti-trust issues, to make sure the merger will not hurt competition. In markets where AT&T and T-Mobile are significant competitors, this could prove problematic.

      The big three

      If the deal is approved, 90 percent of the wireless business would be concentrated among just three companies – AT&T, Verizon and Sprint/Nextel. Of that, AT&T would have 43 percent of the business.

      Will it be enough to derail the deal? Possibly, but AT&T is known in Washington for its lobbying power. The company says current customers of both companies will benefit from the union, because of expanded network coverage and additional spectrum.

      Senator Al Franken has publicly urged regulators to reject AT&T's bid to acquire T-Mobile...
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      McDonald's Makes Happy Meals Healthier

      But will kids be happy with apple slices and fewer fries?

      McDonald's is retooling its Happy Meal, reducing the number of calories it contains and adding nutritional value.

      The menu item, popular with children since 1979, has become a target in recent years of health advocates worried about the rise of childhood obesity. The meal has traditionally included a small hamburger or chicken nuggets, French fries, and a toy, usually based on a popular movie.

      Earlier this year, San Francisco banned meals that include toys unless they meet certain nutritional benchmarks. New York City is said to be considering a similar measure. The new Happy Meal will still contain a toy but will have fewer fries and a serving of fruit.

      “McDonald’s will always try to do the right thing, and we know we can help make a difference in our communities,” said Jan Fields, president, McDonald’s USA. “The commitments we’re announcing today will guide the future evolution of our menu and marketing.” 

      Calorie reduction

      By March 2012, McDonald's said it will provide apples in every Happy Meal. The result, the company says, will be an estimated 20 percent reduction in calories of the most popular Happy Meals, also reducing fat in those meals.

      “We are also exploring alternatives to the automatic apples, such as other produce or low-fat dairy items,” the company said in a statement. “In 2012, McDonald’s will also raise nutrition awareness among children and parents through national marketing initiatives. The company will promote nutrition and/or active lifestyle messages in 100 percent of its national kids’ communications, including merchandising, advertising, digital and the Happy Meal packaging. McDonald’s will also provide funding for grass roots community nutrition awareness programs.”

      By 2020, McDonald’s said it will reduce added sugars, saturated fat and calories through varied portion sizes, reformulations and innovations. Also, by 2015, McDonald’s will reduce sodium an average of 15 percent overall across its national menu of food choices.

      Rollout begins in September

      McDonald’s will begin rolling out the new Happy Meal in September 2011, with the goal of having them available in all 14,000 restaurants during the first quarter of 2012. 

      The new Happy Meal will automatically include both produce (apple slices, a quarter cup or half serving) and a new smaller size French fries (1.1 ounces) along with the choice of a Hamburger, Cheeseburger or Chicken McNuggets, and choice of beverage, including new fat-free chocolate milk and 1% low fat white milk. For those customers who prefer a side choice of apples only, two bags of apple slices will be available, upon request.

      By adding fruit in every Happy Meal, McDonald’s said it hopes to address a challenge children face in meeting the recommended daily consumption of produce. McDonald’s has offered apples as a requested choice in Happy Meals since 2004. And, while recent research found that on average, 88 percent of McDonald’s customers are aware of the option, apples are chosen in only 11 percent of Happy Meal purchases.

      Under pressure from health advocates, McDonald's is making changes to its Happy Meal...
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      What's On Your Mind? Target, Monroe Power, Premier Bank Card

      Our daily look at consumer reviews

      Companies will offer you a bargain, whether with a sale or a coupon, but if for some reason you don't take advantage of it, they save money.

      “Target online has daily deals and on July 15th I ordered one of them,” LeAnn, of Pell City, Ala., told ConsumerAffairs.com. “They had denim blue jeans on sale, buy one get one free. I clicked the links and ordered the jeans. I expected two pair of jeans and only received one. I called customer service and found out that I should have clicked their little button on the bottom that says 'buy both.' Really? Okay, I didn't click their button so I figured they could correct the mistake easily enough, but no. They can not help me whatsoever. I received the runaround for over an hour for them to tell me there was nothing they could do.”

      It does seem a little strange that LeAnn would be enticed with a “two for one” sale and then, at the point of purchase, be required to specify that she really did want the free pair of jeans. But stores love to have it both ways – excite you with a bargain and then encourage you to pay full price.

      For consumers, it means having to pay close attention during any transaction – especially one where you're getting a deep discount.

      Buyer's remorse

      No one likes mowing the lawn, especially when the mower doesn't work. Even worse is when the mower is brand new, out of the box.

      “I bought a new Snapper Hi-Vac 28," said David, of Oxford, Ga. “The mower would cut off when engaging the blade. It was a bad buying experience.”

      David said he took the mower back to the store where he bought it, and of course, it started right up.

      “Took it back home and had problems again,” He said. “I did not want the mower after this bad experience but Monroe Power would not give me my money back and Snapper did not stand behind their product either. I'm stuck with getting the unit repaired.”

      It sounds like David could have a warranty issue if he could show there is indeed something wrong with the mower. Even if there isn't an issue, some chain stores will allow an unhappy customer to return a product, especially after one day. Too bad David didn't buy the mower from one of those stores.

      Time to pull a credit report

      This could just be a bureaucratic mistake, or something worse.

      “Never in my life have I ever had a First Premier Bank Card,” Carol, of Ellington, Conn., told ConsumerAffairs.com.”I am receiving harassing phone calls asking for someone who does not live at my house. The phone rings every hour on the hour from 8 am to 10 pm. I now take the phone off the hook. They ask for a woman who does not live at my house or does not have access to my phone. They ignore me and call all the more.”

      Carol needs to make sure she is not a victim of identity theft. She can do that by going to www.annualcreditreport.com and pulling her credit report from the three reporting agencies. If someone has stolen her identity, they won't stop at just opening one account in her name. This merits attention, the sooner the better.

      Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Target, Monroe Power, Premier Bank Card, Buyer's remorse and Time to pull a credit report....
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