Current Events in September 2011

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    Florida Man Ran Cramming Scheme From His Jail Cell

    Telephone customers bilked out of $35 million

    Crime does pay, but the payout sometimes carries a hefty price tag, as Willoughby Farr, 46, of West Palm Beach, Fla., has learned.

    Farr has been sentenced to 262 months – roughly 21 years – in prison and three years of supervised release for perpetrating a “cramming scheme,” which was designed to place charges on consumers’ telephone bills for collect calls that were not made. 

    According to court documents, from April 2003 to December 2005, Farr used three West Palm Beach companies – Nationwide Connections Inc., Access One Communications Inc., and Connect One Communications Inc. – to defraud consumers.  

    Through these companies, Farr arranged for telephone companies to falsely bill consumers for approximately $35 million in collect calls.   Because the charges typically appeared on the last page of consumers’ telephone bills, many did not notice and paid the charges without complaint.

    Farr pleaded guilty in May 2010 to two counts of mail fraud related to the scheme.   In pleading guilty, Farr admitted that he committed the crimes while he was incarcerated in the West Palm Beach County Jail.  

    Hid his ownership

    Investigators said Farr hid his ownership of the three firms from jail officials.   He also hid his ownership because other firms had cut off his ability to bill for calls due to consumer complaints and the fact that state regulators had sued him for illegitimate billing.  

    “When the unscrupulous and the dishonest line their pockets with consumers’ hard-earned money, we will hold them accountable,” said Tony West, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice.   “As this sentence demonstrates, the Justice Department has put a priority on protecting the public from fraudulent schemes.   This case should also remind consumers to carefully review their telephone bills for unauthorized charges.”

    In February 2006, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) brought a cramming suit against several firms and individuals, including Farr. That suit resulted in a $34,547,140 civil judgment against Farr.

    “The Postal Inspection Service did a superb job investigating this case,” said Wifredo A. Ferrer, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. “The FTC first uncovered this scheme and brought it to the Justice Department’s attention.   The case demonstrates the effectiveness of cooperative law enforcement efforts which can put an end to fraudulent schemes, and then bring wrongdoers to justice.”

    “Crammers like Farr are eager to post bogus charges to consumers’ accounts,” said Inspector in Charge Henry Gutierrez.   “The Postal Inspection Service will work tirelessly with its law enforcement partners to deter fraudulent use of the mails and to protect the American consumer.”                   

    Crime does pay, but the payout sometimes carries a hefty price tag, as Willoughby Farr, 46, of West Palm Beach, Fla., has learned.Farr has been sentenced...

    Honda Recalls Nearly 1 Million Cars

    Power-window switches can overheat

    Honda is recalling nearly 1 million cars to repair problems with power windows and computer equipment.

    The recall, which includes 962,000 cars worldwide, follows the recall of more than 2.3 million Hondas last month to fix automatic transmission problems.

    The latest recall includes Fit compacts, CR-V and City models in Japan, China, the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.

    The problem involves defective power-window switches. A Honda spokeswoman said there were nine reported cases of vehicles catching on fire in Japan and China because of the power-window problem. She also said two people reported light burns after touching overheated switches.

    Honda is also recalling 26,000 CR-Z hybrid models in Japan, the U.S., Canada and other markets because of defective programming of electronic-control units.

    Honda is recalling nearly 1 million cars to repair problems with power windows and computer equipment. The recall, which includes 962,000 cars worldwide, ...

    Suit: Safeway's Kona Coffee Is Mostly Not From Kona

    Class action charges supermarket misleads coffee consumers

    Safeway advertises its Safeway Select Kona Blend coffee "as if Kona beans are the major portion of the Kona Blend," but they actually contain "only a very small portion of Kona beans," according to a federal class action, Courthouse News Service reports. 

    In the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, Chanee Thurston of Benicia, California, says that until this year, the Kona Blend labels did not disclose that any of the beans came from anywhere but the Kona region of Hawaii.

    “This is a significant omission since the majority of the coffee beans in the Kona Blend Coffee are sourced from regions other than the Kona region of Hawaii,” the suit alleges.

    The label now says that the “delicate and smooth flavors of our Kona beans combine in perfect harmony with our Latin American beans to create this fragrant cup.”

    A dedicated purchaser of the disputed coffee since 2006, Ms. Thurston took as gospel Safeway's assertion that she would “revel in the unmatched taste of savory beans from Hawaii's big island” when, in fact, she was reveling mostly in the taste of savory beans from elsewhere.

    Although the suit gives no indication that Ms. Thurston ever failed to revel in the blend, it asserts that she paid more for the Kona Blend because she thought it consisted mostly of Kona beans and that she and other consumers were deceived by Safeway into paying more than they would otherwise have been willing to pay.

    The suit notes that Kona coffee is the name given to a variety of coffee cultivated only on the slopes of Mount Hualalai and Mauna Loa in the North and South Kona districts of the island of Hawaii. The Kona districts are 22 miles long and 2 miles wide and annual production is small, causing the “high-end gourmet coffee” to be priced higher than lesser beans.

    The suit seeks damages on behalf of all consumers who purchased the Safeway Select Kona Blend during the time in question.

    Safeway advertises its Safeway Select Kona Blend coffee "as if Kona beans are the major portion of the Kona Blend," but they actually contain "only a very ...

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      Nevada Seeks To Amend Countrywide Settlement

      Claims lender materially breached original judgment

      Since filing suit against Bank of America and its subsidiaries, including Countrywide Financial, the state of Nevada says it has found evidence of additional violations regarding mortgage lending practices. The state is asking the court to allow it to amend its original complaint and void the original judgment.

      The complaint was filed in response to reports from homeowners about the obstacles they faced when trying to obtain a mortgage modification. The updated complaint lists additional claims relating to mortgage origination and servicing and continues to assert violations of the Consent Judgment entered into between the State of Nevada and Countrywide to resolve Countrywide’s liability for fraudulent mortgage lending, marketing and servicing.

      Familiar pattern of complaints

      That judgment found that Countrywide failed to provide loan modifications to eligible borrowers, failed to make decisions on loan modifications, on average, within sixty days of receiving requests from homeowners, and initiated foreclosure actions while consumer’s modifications requests were pending.

      In addition, the amended complaint contains new allegations that Bank of America violated the Consent Judgment, namely that Bank of America increased consumers’ interest rates and monthly payments, even though the Consent Judgment allows only modifications that decrease consumers’ interest rates, actually leaving consumers worse off.

      The amended complaint also asserts that the bank required consumers to provide extensive documentation – including pay stubs, tax returns, and sworn affidavits -- to qualify for modifications, despite the Consent Judgment’s promise of streamlined modifications.

      Materially breached the agreement

      Based on the original and new violations, the state of Nevada added a new request for relief – that the court find Bank of America to have materially breached the Consent Judgment, allowing the state to terminate the Judgment.

      In the filing, the state said it considers the bank's “disregard for their duties under the Consent Judgment so pervasive that they constitute a material breach warranting dissolution of that Judgment.”

      After two and a half years of lost implementation – of borrowers denied modifications, discouraged by repeated and futile efforts to obtain help, or already subject to foreclosure – the state says it no longer can get the benefit of its original settlement with Defendants.

      Free to bring new charges

      Upon terminating the Consent Judgment, the state would be released to pursue its original claims against Countrywide for consumer fraud in originating, marketing and servicing mortgage loans.

      In that regard, the complaint alleges that Countrywide failed to disclose and affirmatively misrepresented that loans like its Payment Option Adjustable Rate Mortgages (“Option ARMS’) and Hybrid Adjustable Rate Mortgages (“Hybrid ARMS”) were originated at low teaser raters, in effect only for a short time, and that payment on these loans would increase dramatically – often more than double the original rate – when the teaser period expired or the loans reset or recast.

      In addition, the state says Countrywide did not disclose that consumers who made only a minimum payment, based on that low teaser rate, would experience negative amortization, which would cause them to fall deeper in debt. These features, which the state says made the loans unaffordable, created the need for many Nevada customers of Bank of America to seek loan modifications.

      Nevada hopes to bring new litigation against Countrywide Financial...

      Consumers Cautioned About Debit Card Phishing Scam

      Scammer poses as employee of Wells Fargo

      Consumers are rightly concerned when they are told there is a problem with their debit card. But they should also be a bit skeptical, depending on the source of that information.

      In Oregon, consumer officials report a surge of complaints about telephone calls claiming to be from Wells Fargo Bank. The caller tells consumers that their debit cards are locked and that they should provide their debit card number to bank security in order to unlock the cards.

      Of course, it isn't Wells Fargo calling – it's a phishing scam.

      Oregon Attorney General John Kroger says legitimate financial institutions will never ask you for debit card, bank account or social security numbers, or for sensitive information, like your username or password, over the phone or by email.

      To guard against these schemes, never respond to phone calls or emails soliciting personal information. If you suspect it might be legitimate, pick-up the phone and call the company to confirm.

      Do not click on any links embedded in phishing emails. They may contain viruses or malware designed to steal your personal information.

      Also, make sure your computer has up to date anti-virus software.

      The Attorney General's Consumer Hotline received nine complaints since late August from the Portland area and the Willamette Valley about this scam. Kroger says this is a significant number of calls for such a short period of time.

      Consumers are rightly concerned when they are told there is a problem with their debit card. But they should also be a bit skeptical, depending on the sour...

      What's On Your Mind? T-Mobile, Citibank, Dish Network

      Our daily look at consumer reviews

      Jennifer, of Pueblo, Colo., says T-Mobile gave her some bad information that resulted in her entering into a contract she didn't want. And it all revolves around the proposed AT&T merger with T-Mobile that now looks to be in doubt.

      As Jennifer explains it, she had been a T-Mobile customer for seven years with three lines, none of which were under a contract. She said she called T-Mobile to have the third line removed.

      “The young lady in the retention department told me that when AT&T takes over T-Mobile in two months, anyone without a contract would be shut off and would have to look for new service, and the package I have is no longer available, so I would have to agree to a new minutes package if i wanted to stay with T-Mobile and not have to search for a new phone company,” Jennifer told

      With it put to her in those terms, Jennifer said she felt she had no alternative but to agree to a new contract. Then came last week's anti-trust suit by the Justice Department to block the merger.

      “Now knowing the merger is not going through, I just got off the phone with T-Mobile who is now unwilling to help and reset my plan and contract even though it was given under completely false information,” Jennifer said. “On top of that, they are unwilling to pull the call and listen to what i was told, and the fact that i told the retention department several times that i didn't want to have to be wrapped into a new contract.”

      It's not too surprising that T-Mobile is unwilling to undo Jennifer's contract. However, it's interesting that she was told, in effect, that she would have fewer options after the merger. Seems to make the case of the critics who maintain the merger is a bad deal for consumers.

      Check's not in the mail

      Here's a tip for Citibank rewards card customers: if you want to redeem your points in the form of a check, Margaret, of Thousand Oaks, Calif., tells us you could be looking at a lengthy delay.

      “Today I made three attempts to speak to someone and was disconnected each time,” Margaret said. “I called back pretending to want to redeem points and reached some one who told me the third party they have cutting the checks is having a problem. She couldn't tell me what the problem was however, she did say it would take five to six weeks to receive the check even though program says it takes up to three weeks.”

      But Margaret says it you redeem your points in a pre-paid card, it only takes about a week.

      Bad reception

      Satellite TV is supposed to be comparable to cable, at least as far as reception is concerned. But Ronald, of Lexington, N.C., noticed a difference when he switched from Time Warner to Dish Network about seven months ago.

      “Everytime it rains my TV goes out and the screen says lost signal,” Ronald told “I have been calling Dish Network for as long as I have had it. At first they would tell me that my signal was fine, then they told me to call the installer that put the system in for them and I did not know how to get in touch with him and I should not have to it should be up to dish network to get the installer back out here.”

      It does, indeed, sound like an installation problem. If the dish is not properly aligned with the satellite, the slightest atmospheric disturbance will cause interference. Ronald should still have the paperwork from his installation, with the installers name and address.

      Here is what's on consumer's minds today: T-Mobile, Citibank, Dish Network, Check's not in the mail, Bad reception and bad information....

      Consumers Rally Around Apple in Wake of Jobs' Retirement

      Iconic executive's departure doesn't dim enthusiasts' love for the company

      Steve Jobs' sudden retirement as CEO of Apple shocked the stock market, rattled the company's employees and sparked endless thumb-sucking op-eds by columnists of all stripes.

      But if anyone thinks Jobs' retirement is an ill omen for the Apple brand, it may be time to think again. 

      A computerized analysis of consumer sentiment by finds that positive sentiment peaked during August, when Jobs announced that he was stepping aside because of chronic health issues.

      An analysis of 27 million sentiments expressed over the last year on Facebook, Twitter and other social media and public forums finds that positive sentiment hit a high for the year in August, when Jobs made his announcement.  

      Positive & negative consumer sentiments about Apple

      During August, nearly 50% of all analyzed comments were positive while slightly less than 20% were negative -- about 170,000 positives  against 64,000 negatives in August. Typical comments:

      • "Apple will be fine thanks to his leadership."
      • "Apple is incredibly solid thanks to him." 

      The most frequent comment in August was: "Apple all the way," expressed by hundreds of consumers in various venues.  An exact count was not possible because of variations in punctuation and spelling.

      While the positive comments tended to focus on Jobs and his leadership, negative comments mostly revolved around technical and pricing issues.  A few samples:

      • Apple freaks me out
      • Apple is screwing over web developers with iOS 4.3

      Many of the comments deemed negative actually concerned external events that had afflicted Apple, including an attack by hackers.  The most frequent negative comment was a re-post of a previously published headline: "Apple suffers from hackers' Mac attack."
      Consumer reviews submitted to, which tend to be negative for all companies and products, were fairly typical in August. Most concerned problems with iPhones, MacBooks and other Apple products.
      A California consumer said he left his iPhone on the seat of a BART train.  After watching the train -- and his phone -- leave the station, he went to an Apple store, only to learn that he would have to shell out $600 for a new phone.
      Several consumers, including Paul of Raleigh, N.C., reported experiencing "kernal panics" on their MacBook Pros but complained that the Apple Store "genius" disputed their diagnosis and said it was a failed logic board.
      Sentiment analysis powered by NetBase

      Steve Jobs' sudden retirement as CEO of Apple shocked the stock market, rattled the company's employees and sparked endless thumb-sucking op-eds by columni...

      What's On Your Mind? Hertz, Kia, Emerson

      Our daily look at consumer reviews

      Michael, of Irvington, Va., had an experience with Hertz car rental that he describes as both good and bad. On the bad side, he said he returned the car with a full tank of gas, filling up at a station at the airport before dropping off the car. Yet, he said he was charged $23.23 for gasoline.

      “When I called to complain, without hesitation they removed the charge, Michael told “Seems a bit suspicious.”

      Michael wonders how many people don't bother to call up and protest the charge. He also said he was required to stay an extra day for business and was charged the same amount for one day as for the preceding four. But was there something good about his Hertz experience?

      “When we arrived at the airport for our return flight a very nice employee noticed that one of our group was on crutches and said, 'Stay in the car, I will deliver you to the airline counter,'” Michael said.

      Unfortunately, that one act was not enough to overcome his overall negative impression of what he called the company's “short term, bean-counter thinking.”

       Is it supposed to work like this?

      We often hear from consumers who were in accidents and their airbags did not deploy. Recently, we heard from Kevin, of Greenville, N.C., who swerved to miss a child and struck a utility pole with his 2010 Kia.

      “The airbags did not deploy, and my seat-belt did not lock when brakes were hit,” Kevin said. “The airbag sensor and seat belt had to be replaced along with a list of other things. $9,000 plus worth of damage. My face hit the steering wheel and my jaw was broken as well as two front teeth and number 9 tooth were dislodged. I have to have implants placed for my front two teeth. I spoke with the Kia dealearship and they said it has to hit in a certain spot to go off, just because it hit the front does not mean the airbag will deploy.”

      It's true that airbags don't deploy in every collision. Believe it or not, this is partly a safety measure.  Airbags can cause, as well as prevent, injuries, so the thinking is that they should deploy only in truly major accidents.  See our special report on airbags for more information.  Kevin might also want to review complaints about Kia airbags.  He may want to consult a personal injury attorney to discuss his options.

      Clarification needed

      Jacqueline, of Bridgeville, Pa., purchased an Emerson LC320EM81 TV set in November 2010, meaning it is not quite a year old.

      “Now it won't turn on,” Jacqueline told “Walmart refuses to take back and Emerson wants more money for the repair than for the TV, yet I have a warranty for 12 months!!! Simply outrageous!”

      While we understand that retailers like Walmart don't get involved in manufacturer's warranty issues, we're a little puzzled why the 12-month manufacturer's warranty does not cover what sounds like a faulty power supply. Jacqueline needs to seek a clarification and explanation from Emerson.  Emerson may be claiming that the power supply was damaged by a power surge.  If the warranty excludes power surges, Jacqueline may be out of luck.

      Remember: All electronic equipment needs to be connected to a surge protector, not just computers.

      Luckier than she knows

      Barbara of Grants Pass, Ore. was excited when she received a post card telling her she had been awarded a complimentary 8 days/7 nights cruise for two. She was given a number to call for “bonus airfare.”

      “I have called the number at least 15 times, and all I get is a click and a blank line,” Barbara said. “I was excited to get to cruise with Carnival , but was upset about this treatment. What do I do from here? Is this a scam?

      It almost certainly is. No one, that we know of, is handing out free week-long Carnival cruises, plus “bonus airfare.” Most likely, the scam has already been shut down, which is why Barbara fortunately got no answer to her 15 calls. Most likely, she would have been asked to provide a credit card or bank account number to pay for some small fee, and the scammer would have stolen it.

      Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Hertz, Kia, Emerson, Clarification needed, Luckier than she knows and Is it supposed to work like this?...

      Tests Find Roundup Weed-Killer Widespread in Water, Air

      Chemical was found "consistently" in air and water samples

      Glyphosate, one of the most heavily used weed-killers in the world, has been found in air, rain and rivers in two states examined by government scientists.

      According to the U.S. Geological Survey, glyphosate, also known by its trade name Roundup, has been “commonly found in rain and rivers in agricultural areas in the Mississippi River watershed.”

      "It is out there in significant levels. It is out there consistently," said Paul Capel, environmental chemist and head of the agricultural chemicals team at the USGS, Reuters reported.

      Capel said more tests were needed to determine how harmful the chemical, glyphosate, might be to people and animals. 

      He said glyphosate was found in every stream sample examined in Mississippi in a two-year period and in most air samples taken. Tests were also done in Iowa.

      Humans and animals are being exposed to the chemical both through inhalation and water, the study found.

      Other studies have raised concerns about the rise of resistant "super weeds" that have developed defenses against Roundup.

      Introduced in 1974

      Monsanto Co. introduced glyphosate 1974, branding it as Roundup.  It was quickly adopted by farmers growing corn, soybeans, cotton and other crops.

      Monsanto followed up with genetically-engineered corn, soybeans and cotton that are resistant to Roundup, enabling farmers to douse their crops with the chemical.  The Roundup resistant seeds were branded as Roundup Ready.

      Most of the corn, soybeans and cotton grown in the United States are now part of the Roundup Ready system.  That has given rise to concerns that humans, plants and animals are being exposed to high concentrations of the chemical despite uncertainty about its health effects.

      Who knew what when?

      Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook has written Hugh Grant, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Monsanto Company, asking him when the company had reason to believe glyphosate would extensively contaminate water and air and if the company had conducted tests of its own.

      "Monsanto notoriously hid PCB contamination in Alabama for decades," Cook observed.

      "We are asking that in this case, the company tell the public what it knew about glyphosate contamination, and when it knew it," Cook said. "It is inconceivable that a company with Monsanto's scientific capacity did not predict, and examine, the possibility of air and water contamination by glyphosate."

      In 2001 and 2002, EWG compiled a series of internal documents showing Monsanto withheld for years its knowledge of widespread PCB contamination of water and soil in Anniston, Alabama.

      Then-Washington Post journalist Michael Grunwald chronicled the scandal in his seminal report: Monsanto Hid Decades of Pollution

      "We believe that Monsanto has a special obligation to ensure that glyphosate does not pollute the drinking water of Americans living in farm communities," Cook said in his letter. "We urge you to disclose results of any testing for glyphosate in drinking water that Monsanto has performed or commissioned in areas where your product is heavily used."

      Glyphosate, one of the most heavily used weed-killers in the world, has been found in air, rain and rivers in two states examined by government scientists....

      Beware Travel Scams This Labor Day Weekend

      Fraudsters are active on high-travel holidays

      Rosie the Riveter, Labor Day Icon

      The Labor Day Weekend will find millions of Americans on the road, traveling to visit friends or taking that last summer fling. It's a good time to remind travelers to be on guard against assorted travel scams.

      "Criminals will take advantage of tourists in new and unfamiliar environments," said Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette. "Travelers should remain on guard for surprise requests for credit card information and high pressure sales tactics that don't correspond with advertised deals."

      The Michigan Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division recently received a report from law enforcement regarding a bait-and-switch scam used by several souvenir stores located in the same area.

      The retailers advertised personalized souvenirs at a low price. Tourists would order the souvenir, and when they returned to pick it up, they were told the item was far more expensive than initially advertised. Consumers were pressured to pay the higher price under threat of report to local police.

      Guard your card

      Consumers also need to be extra careful with their credit card information. Schuette warns criminals will pursue underhanded avenues to obtain credit card numbers from unsuspecting tourists.

      This scam can occur through unsolicited phone calls at hotel rooms indicating tourists need to provide their credit card number again due to a billing glitch.

      Fraudsters will also slide flyers under hotel room doors advertising cheap restaurant delivery deals. When tourists order the food by telephone, criminals will collect their credit card information and never deliver the food.


      How can you protect yourself while traveling? Follow these steps:

      • When faced with a "bait-and-switch" scenario, don't allow yourself to be intimidated. Be firm, but calm, and demand the rate that you were promised or the item that you agreed to order.
      • Be prepared to walk away if you don't get what you were promised. Chances are, if the business or individual is faced with losing a paying customer, they will agree to give you the deal as promised.
      • Take time to review all the details to ensure you know what you are purchasing before you buy. Ask if there are any additional fees not reflected in the advertised price.
      • Make sure you read all documents carefully before signing.
      • Once you have checked into a hotel, if you receive flyers under your door, or a call from the hotel's front desk, always check with the hotel's front desk in person, prior to placing an order or providing your credit card number or other personal identifying information.
      • Whether you are traveling or not, never provide personal information in response to an unsolicited phone call, email, or advertisement.

      "Travelers should remain on guard for surprise requests for credit card information and high pressure sales tactics that don't correspond with advertised d...

      What's On Your Mind? EZ Lube,, RCA

      Our daily look at consumer reviews

      When you take your car in for service at an advertised price, doesn't the shop have to discuss it with you if its personnel think you need an upgraded level of service? Brandi, of Studio City, Calif., certainly thinks so.

      “I needed an oil change in my 2008 Honda Fit,” Brandi told “EZ Lube had a sign out front advertising $18.99 for an oil change. I went in, asked for just an oil change at the advertised price, they took the car and did the service. Afterwards, they give me an invoice for $43 and said my car needed the premium oil! They didn't even ask me if I still wanted them to do the service!”

      Brandi says she would have told them she didn't need premium oil and to not perform the service. She thinks it's a classic bait & switch. If she wants to pursue it, she should file a complaint with the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs.

      Too much information?

      With the Internet these days, you can find all kinds of information. Traci, of Chandler, Ariz., is particularly concerned about information on a site called

      “I asked to have my personal information removed from this website and was denied,” Traci said. “Just because this information is 'public record' does not mean that everyone wants this information advertised on”

      What's this all about? BlockShopper describes itself as a local news and market data service for current and aspiring homeowners, home buyers and home sellers, meaning it covers real estate news. Real Estate transactions, by definition, are news and newspapers print them all the time.

      Traci, and many others writing to, object to their names being published as part of a real estate transaction, with many expressing concern about their safety. It will be interesting to watch how this plays out. While the proliferation of this kind of information might seem invasive to some, it is public information and publishing it is protected by the First Amendment.  Everyone wants privacy but do we really want secrecy?

      Maybe should have chosen a different model

      Max, of Toronto, Ont., really wanted the RCA LCD TV at Zeller's in Toronto. The only problem was, the last unit left was the floor model.

      “They told me it comes with the full one year manufacturer's warranty,” Max told “They gave me the box and manual and when I got home the remote didn't work. I went back to the store they said they don't have another remote to give me. Have been given the run around by RCA, told to call many different numbers, and finally Curtis in Canada. Curtis told me that this model of TV is no longer supported by them, and that they took over from RCA in Canada and they don't warranty this model. Zellers won't take it back, even though it's only two weeks old, RCA says the model number stamped on the back of it is not correct, Curtis says they don't support or warranty this model. The TV works, but the remote doesn't, and several of the features on the TVhave to be accessed on the remote, meaning a universal remote won't solve the problem. I have no idea what to do.”

      If Max got a “floor model” or “open box” discount on the TV, the receipt might say “all sales final.” If so, he's probably out of luck. But if he paid full price, someone – Zellers, RCA, or Craig – should take it back because it is clearly a defective product. He may require some legal assistance to sort this one out. Max's experience should make us all a bit leery of buying a floor model, or the last unit in the store. There may be a reason it's the last one.

      Here is what's on consumer's minds today: EZ Lube,, RCA, Maybe should have chosen a different model and Too much information?...

      States Challenge Over Sex Trafficking

      46 attorneys general want prostitution ads taken down

      Attorneys general from 46 states want t online classified site to disclose information on its alleged attempts to remove sex trafficking advertising, especially that which could involve minors. 

      In the past three years, there have been more than 50 cases in 22 states involving the trafficking or attempted trafficking of minors through the site, the AGs said.

      In a letter to the site’s lawyers, the 46 attorneys general say that claims it has strict policies to prevent illegal activity. However, the attorneys general say they have found hundreds of ads on’s regional sites that are clearly for illegal services.

      "It does not require forensic training to understand that these advertisements are for prostitution,” the attorneys general wrote.

      The letter further claims that the hub for illegal sex ads is a magnet for those seeking to exploit minors. Additionally, the attorneys general reminded of a 2010 request from Cuccinelli and nearly two dozen attorneys general asking that the adult services site be voluntarily taken down.

      “Traffickers who exploit runaways and other kids should not be given a tool that makes the process easier,” Virginia Attorney General Ken  Cuccinelli said. “The only way for to completely stop child sex trafficking on its site is to take down the adult services advertisements altogether and to monitor its pages so such posts do not pop up elsewhere on the site.”

      Coercion of minors

      Cuccinelli added that it is difficult to know whether the person advertised is being coerced, regardless of his or her age. In many cases involving trafficking on, law enforcement officials found that minors were, in fact, often coerced to appear in advertisements.

      Prosecutors in Benton County, WA, are handling a case in which teen girls say they were threatened and extorted by two adults who marketed them on the site. One of the adults rented a hotel room and forced the girls to have sex with men responding to the online ads.

      $1 and up is owned by Village Voice Media, LLC. The multimedia company, which also owns 13 weekly newspapers in the United States, admits its involvement in advertising illegal services. In a meeting with staff at the Washington State attorney general’s office, Village Voice board member Don Moon readily acknowledged that prostitution ads appear on the site.

      In a June 29 article published nationally by the Village Voice, the corporation criticized those concerned about child sex trafficking as “prohibitionists bent on ending the world’s oldest profession,” acknowledging that, as a seller of adults services ads, “Village Voice has a stake in this story.” Industry analysts suggest that Village Voice’s stake in adult services advertisements is worth about $22.7 million in annual revenue.

      While has ramped up its effort to screen some ads for minors, the attorneys general involved in the letter believe that “ sets a minimal bar for content review in an effort to temper public condemnation, while ensuring that the revenue spigot provided by prostitution advertising remains intact.”

      Series of requests

      The letter from Cuccinelli and the attorneys general makes a series of requests to, asking that the company willingly provide information in lieu of a subpoena. For example, to substantiate the claim that the company enforces policies to prevent illegal activity, the attorneys general asked that describe in detail its understanding of what precisely constitutes “illegal activity,” and whether advertisements for prostitution fall into that category.

      The attorneys general also asked how many of the advertisements in the adult section submitted since Sept. 2010 were individually screened, how many were rejected, and how many were removed after being discovered to be for illegal services. 

      Attorneys general from 46 states want t online classified site to disclose information on its alleged attempts to remove sex trafficking adver...

      California Senate Approves BPA Ban for Baby Bottles, Sippy Cups

      Bill now heads back to the General Assembly for a final vote

      The California State Senate has voted to ban bisphenol A (BPA) from baby bottles and sippy cups sold in California.  The Toxin-Free Infants and Toddlers Act(AB 1319) now heads back to the General Assembly for a final vote.

      “Today’s action by the Senate is further proof that the interests of California’s children can have a voice in Sacramento,” said Renee Sharp, head of the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) California office.

      "Today's vote to eliminate BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups is part of re-asserting California's leadership on environmental health protections,” said Martha Dina Argüello, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles. “As physicians and health advocates, we need measures like AB 1319 to help reduce exposure to BPA since babies and children are most vulnerable to endocrine-disrupting chemicals."

      “Banning the dangerous chemical BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups is just the kind of protective measure the CA Legislature should be spending it’s time and energy on," said Elisa Odabashian, West Coast Director of Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine.

      The legislation, sponsored by Environmental Working Group and authored by State Assembly member Betsy Butler (D-Marina Del Ray) and State Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), would bar BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups made or sold after July 1, 2013. It would also require manufacturers to use the least toxic alternative substance for these products.

      Last week, Deborah Raphael, director of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control sent a letter to Butler expressing support for the legislation “in light of the information available regarding the potential health effects of bisphenol A.”

      In addition to EWG, the legislation was co-sponsored by Consumers Union, Black Women for Wellness, and Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles.

      The California State Senate has voted to ban bisphenol A (BPA) from baby bottles and sippy cups sold in California.  The Toxin-Free Infants and Toddle...

      Americans Drinking Too Many Sugary Drinks

      Public health groups hope to cut average consumption to three cans per week

      How many sugary soft drinks is too many?  There's no single answer but a coalition of health and consumer groups would like to see Americans reduce their consumption to three cans per week.

      The Center for Science in the Public Interest, the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association and more than 100 other groups are mounting a campaign to educate Americans about the risks of consuming too much sugar.

      Sugary drinks are the single largest source of calories in the American diet and account for half of all added sugars consumed. And unlike any other food or beverage, only sugary drinks have been shown to have a causal role in promoting obesity.

      Each additional sugary drink consumed per day, according to one study, increases the likelihood that a child will become obese by about 60 percent. A reason that sugary drinks are conducive to obesity is that the calories in beverages aren’t as satiating as solid foods.

      The American Heart Association recommends that people limit their intake of sugary drinks to about 450 calories per week, or about three 12-ounce cans. Average consumption is now more than twice that.

      “Life’s Sweeter’s goal is to broaden the battle against sugary drinks from health experts to civic organizations, youth groups, civil rights groups, and others,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D. “The enormous health and economic benefits that would result from drinking less ‘liquid candy’ will be supported by a broad cross-section of America. Not since the anti-tobacco campaigns has there been a product so worthy of a national health campaign.”

      Empty calories

      The campaign’s web site,, invites individuals and families to take the Life’s Sweeter challenge to drink fewer or no sugary drinks.

      In addition, the campaign is encouraging employers, hospitals, and government agencies to adopt policies that would reduce soda consumption. Besides carbonated soda, the campaign targets fruit-flavored beverages with little or no juice, sweetened iced teas, lemonades, energy drinks, and so-called sports drinks such as Gatorade.

      “Campaigns like Life’s Sweeter with Fewer Sugary Drinks and our own local efforts will help raise awareness of the harmful consequences of consuming too many sugary drinks, which add empty calories to our diets, inches to our waistlines, and risks to our health,” said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, Director of Public Health and Health Officer for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

      Many big cities are already campaigning to reduce soda consumption. In New York City, for instance, officials have run hard-hitting ad campaigns connecting soda to weight gain, and highlighting the sugar content of soft drinks. 

      How many sugary soft drinks is too many?  There's no single answer but a coalition of health and consumer groups would like to see Americans reduce th...

      AARP: 1 in 11 Older Americans At Risk of Hunger

      Nearly 9 million 50+ Americans face "food insecurity"

      AARP says a study finds that nearly 9 million Americans 50 and older face the risk of hunger. The report found more than nine percent of older Americans were at risk of hunger in 2009—a 79 percent increase since 2001.

      The research, produced by James P. Ziliak of the University of Kentucky and Craig Gundersen of the University of Illinois, is the first of its kind to examine hunger risk among people age 50 to 59—the youngest of the baby boomers.

      Because they are typically too young for Social Security and too old to qualify for programs designed for families with children, this age group can be hit particularly hard in bad economic times. In 2009, 4.9 million 50- to 59-year-olds were at risk of hunger, representing a staggering 38 percent increase over 2007.

      “For the first time, we have a fuller picture of hunger risk among all Americans 50-plus. But sadly, it’s far more bleak than before,” said AARP Foundation President Jo Ann Jenkins. “The recession has taken an especially large toll on older people—particularly those in the middle class. Between 2007 and 2009, the most dramatic increase in food insecurity was among those with annual incomes more than twice the poverty line.”

      Jenkins announced the new research at the Meals On Wheels Association of America (MOWAA) annual conference in Chicago.

      The AARP Foundation report builds on earlier research commissioned by MOWAA to examine hunger among people 60 and older. AARP Foundation is working with hunger relief organizations, like MOWAA, to combat the growing problem of hunger among older Americans.

      The report also examined hunger trends among older African Americans and Hispanics, finding that the risk of hunger remains alarmingly higher among these groups than whites.

      The risk of hunger for African Americans and Hispanics in their 50s was twice that of whites over the years studied. In addition, the study provided detailed analyses of hunger risk across states and major metropolitan areas, finding that hunger risk was notably higher among those residing in the South.

      AARP says a study finds that nearly 9 million Americans 50 and older face the risk of hunger according to new research commissioned by AARP Fou...

      FBI Warns of Bogus Check Scam

      Checks appear to be issued by UT-Battelle LLC

      The Knoxville Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is warning consumers about a check scam that has cropped up in East Tennessee, possibly targeting individuals who have advertised on Craigslist.

      The scam involves counterfeit checks, which appear to be issued by UT-Battelle LLC.  They range in amount from $2,200 to $3,000 and have been sent to multiple individuals in various states.

      The checks are sent via FedEx to specific victims directing them to deposit the checks into their personal checking accounts. The victim is instructed to keep a portion of the deposit proceeds and send the remaining funds back to the sender.

      By the time the bank notifies the depositor the check is fraudulent, the depositor may have already sent the remaining funds back to the sender.

      Personally identifiable information can readily be obtained from many different sources. However, early indications suggest some of the individuals who have received the UT-Battelle checks have either had items listed for sale on Craigslist or have responded to ads posted there.

      The FBI advises the public to be aware of such fraudulent schemes and to be diligent when receiving checks or solicitations in the mail or via e-mail. The FBI encourages the public to protect themselves and avoid becoming a victim of these types of scams.

      The Knoxville Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is warning consumers about a check scam that has cropped up in East Tennessee, possibly...

      Seniors Warned About Medicare Scams

      Telemarketers seek seniors' personal data

      Senior citizens, unfortunately, are common scam victims and a recent senior scam that has popped up in Arkansas involves Medicare.

      Telephone solicitors have been calling Medicare beneficiaries asking for personal information, including bank account information and Social Security numbers. Other callers offer updated or replacement Medicare cards for a fee.

      "It's never a good idea to give out personal financial information over the phone to a stranger, no matter how legitimate the reason seems to be," said Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. He issued a consumer alert to warn Medicare beneficiaries specifically about the possibility of fraud or potential scams concerning their Social Security Number and bank accounts.

      The scam being reported in Arkansas is likely being repeated in other states.

      The card offered in the new Medicare card pitch is, of course, not legitimate. Callers may use the names of fictitious companies such as National Medical Office, Medicare National Office and National Medicare or even state they are with the government. Beware if you hear any of these or similar names.

      Also, the scam artists may ask senior citizens for bank information, including bank account numbers, which they then use to electronically withdraw money from a beneficiary's account.

      It is against Medicare's rules to call a Medicare beneficiary and request bank account or other personal information, or cash payments. No beneficiary should ever provide that kind of information to someone who calls them, no matter how official the caller sounds.

      To prevent this scam, seniors should follow these rules:

      • Never give out any personal information in person, over the phone, or on the Internet to people or companies with which you are unfamiliar. 
      • If personal information is requested, verify the request for information directly with the company or organization involved by contacting the entity using a telephone number from an independent source. 
      • Remember that legitimate federal Medicare organizations never attempt to collect sensitive information via telephone, email or unsolicited mail. This includes bank account information, Social Security numbers, addresses and Medicare numbers. 
      • Seniors or family members should call 1-800-MEDICARE to report any of these types of calls or go to to learn more about efforts to fight these types of scams.

      Senior citizens should be on the lookout for Medicare scams....

      Demand For Small Used Cars Surges

      High gas prices make small a lot more attractive

      There's really no surprise here. Gasoline prices go up, and so does demand for small, fuel-efficient vehicles.

      That's not all that went up. So did the sticker price on small cars sitting on the used car lot. An analysis by reveals that consumers paid about 10 percent more for used three-year-old compact cars in July than in January.

      By comparison, prices for this segment rose just 1.6 percent over the same period in 2010, and 1.1 percent in 2008, the last time gas prices crept over $4/gallon.

      Good deal on an SUV

      Don't really care what gasoline costs? Then you could have found a bargain-priced SUV. Used three-year-old large traditional SUVs saw a small drop in price - 3.2 percent, on average - from January to July. And apparently there are plenty of people who have figured out the trade off in price of car and price of gas works in their favor. This segment of the market demonstrated much more stability than it did in 2008, Edmunds says, when the price of used three-year-old large traditional SUVs plummeted 23 percent during the first seven months of the year.

      "In 2008, consumers reacted to rising gas prices by running away from SUVs; in 2011, they reacted by running toward small cars," said Richard Arca, used car analyst at "This year's pricing trends are also affected by the March earthquake in Japan, which for some time made it very difficult to find, for example, a new Toyota Prius or Honda Civic. That created a very aggressive market for similar used models."

      Holding their value

      According to data, the price of a new 2010 Toyota Prius bought in July 2010 depreciated just 4.3 percent after one year, while the price of a new 2010 Honda Civic depreciated five percent over the same period. By comparison, the average price for all new 2010 models depreciated 28.9 percent during that time.

      Overall, used car prices have climbed 4.3 percent from January to July this year. In 2010, prices rose 3.0 percent over the same period. reports small car sales are up...

      Fake Lottery Scam Still Making The Rounds

      Makes new appearance in West Virginia

      The fake lottery scam is one of the oldest of cons, usually preying on desperate people willing to believe that Fortune has finally smiled on them. Only, it never does.

      Since the fake lottery, or sweepstakes scam works so well, scammers are still using it. It usually works this way:

      A potential victim is contacted by phone or mail and told they have won a rather substantial cash prize in an international lottery. The scammer usually tries to build excitement in the victim, asking them how they will spend the money and urging them to celebrate.

      It's only then that the scammer reveals the victim must pay a fee – often several thousand dollars – to secure release of the funds. It's either described as taxes or a processing fee.

      Showing up in West Virginia

      West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw this week warned residents of his state that the sweepstakes scam has been showing up more than usual.

      One recent victim in Bluefield, West Virginia, was targeted by thieves in Jamaica who in October of 2010 called him asking for "taxes" in the amount of $400.00 in order to collect his $10 million lottery prize. Once he made an initial payment, they contacted him repeatedly over a ten-month period with stories of unexpected bank charges and other fees, until they had collected more than $40,000.00.

      Each time, they convinced him the winnings were real, using personal information about him which anyone can obtain over the Internet. Unfortunately, the victim has only Social Security to support him, is disabled, and badly needed the income as the only support for his hospitalized wife and extended family members. Having borrowed thousands from friends to make the foreign payments, McGraw says the victim is now facing foreclosure after failing to pay his mortgage for over four months.

      Scammers use small pieces of information

      "Since we hear of unexpected windfalls from legitimate lotteries, people can be easily convinced an exciting new opportunity is valid when it is not,” McGraw said. “Unfortunately, the convenience we all enjoy from modern technology is also convenient for thieves – scammers are more convincing when armed with small pieces personal of information about us, right from the Internet." 

      Since most victims are seniors, caregivers and loved ones should make sure they understand that they could not have won a lottery or sweepstakes if they didn't enter. Here are other things seniors, and others, should know to avoid becoming a victim:

      • Don’t act immediately. High pressure calls or emotional pleas are danger signs of fraud. Get all information and consider it carefully.
      • Be wary of requests to send a payment by wire service or private courier. The company may be trying to avoid detection from postal inspectors or to get your money before you have a chance to change your mind.
      • Don’t pay if it’s free or if you have won. Paying a fee to claim a prize or get something free is another danger sign of fraud.
      • Check it out. If you are not familiar with the company, check its track record with your state or local consumer protection office. Even if there is no information about the company, you can get helpful advice.
      • Do not believe promises of easy money. No one can legitimately claim you will make large earnings from business opportunities with little or no work, promise high returns on investments with little or no risk, or guarantee that you will win a lottery or sweepstakes.
      • Don’t provide your Social Security number unless you’re applying for credit or employment. Using your personal information, crooks can steal from you and impersonate you to steal from others.
      • Beware of recovery services. These are often scams designed to take your last dime by falsely offering to get money back that you lost to a fraudulent scheme - for a fee. There is no charge for filing a complaint with a government agency 
      • Follow the rule of thumb: If a deal is too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.

      Protect yourself from the fake lottery scam...

      Arizona 'Charity' Fundraiser Barred From Iowa

      Attorney General uses recorded calls to crack down on fraud

      Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has secured a court order barring another charity telemarketer from calling consumers in his state.

      The order was granted in Miller's suit against Americans With Disabilities, LLC, a Phoenix, Arizona for-profit company, and its owner, Dale R. Sieck. In the suit, Miller says the company used “blatant lies” about disabilities to elicit funds from Iowans.

      An Iowa judge ordered the company to pay a $2,000 penalty to a state elderly victim fund, for the investigation and prosecution of frauds against older Iowans.  Though a consent judgment, the judge also barred telephone solicitor Jeffrey A. Balke, who solicited on behalf of the company, from future telephone and mail solicitations directed to Iowa consumers.

      Recording calls to a senior citizen's number

      Miller has targeted telemarketers who cross the line in soliciting funds, allegedly for a charitable cause. Months ago his office obtained the registered telephone number of an elderly Iowa citizen and has been recording the calls made to it.

      On June 3, Miller filed a lawsuit against Americans With Disabilities, after the Consumer Protection Division allegedly recorded Balke’s telephone call on the undercover phone line.  Miller says Balke sought money on behalf of Americans With Disabilities by falsely claiming that he was blind and seeking a guide dog, that he served in the Vietnam War and was exposed to Agent Orange, that his daughter recently died of cystic fibrosis, and that he is a native Iowan.  A Consumer Protection Division investigation determined that none of these claims by Balke were true.

      Americans With Disabilities, LLC, a for-profit company and not a charitable organization, sells products by phone, including $45 tins of cookies, and purports to use its profits to help disabled people.  A company product insert stated that it makes “a special effort to enable handicapped or otherwise disadvantaged workers” by paying “a great percentage” of sales proceeds to workers who “have had trouble in obtaining employment in the mainstream workforce.

      Iowa has barred another charity telemarketer from the state...