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    Gasoline Prices May Seem Low, But They're Not

    Thanksgiving week prices highest on record

    If gasoline prices seem kind of low to you, consider this; they are still 45 cents a gallon more than they were at this time last year.

    Nationwide, the average price of self-serve regular is $3.30 a gallon, according to AAA's Fuel Gauge Survey. Where you live it might be more or it might be less. Prices might seem low because they are going down. A month ago, the average price was $3.44 a gallon.

    While gasoline prices traditionally are lower at this time of year, the price of oil has been rising, which should make gasoline cost more. West Texas crude is trading around $97 a barrel, despite fears the global economy is slowing.

    Yet back in July, when oil cost less, gasoline cost more. The average price of self-serve regular in mid July was $3.59 a gallon. Even though gas prices are lower now they have been in recent weeks, the Energy Information Administration reported last week that gasoline prices were the highest ever recorded for a Thanksgiving week.

    Last year at this time, gas prices were on the rise. Starting in the early fall prices for both crude oil and gasoline began to rise. Gasoline hit $3 a gallon just before Christmas and kept rising throughout the winter.

    Energy analysts say one big reason for November's decline in gasoline prices is weak demand – the weakest in more than a decade. The good news is forecasts call for this gradual decline to continue through the end of the year. The bad news is prices will probably start climbing again in the spring -- so don't buy that V-8 Hupmobile SUV just yet.

    Gas prices may be falling but they're still high...
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    Time to Crack Down on Conditional Car Loans, FTC Is Told

    "Yo-yo" loans are prevalent enough to warrant new consumer protection rules

    It's time for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to crack down on abuses of conditional car loans, consumer advocates testified at a recent Washington hearing.

    "In no other area of our commerce can someone sign on the dotted line, deliver the product, and then cancel the transaction and insist on the product being returned because the final credit transaction did not produce the hoped-for income," said Ian Lyngklip, a Southfield, Mich., attorney.

    "It's like I walked into a supermarket, purchased an apple, walked outside and took a bite only to have a clerk run into the parking lot and insist the apple be returned," Lyngklip said. 

    The practice of issuing conditional loans, known as spot delivery or yo-yo loans in the car industry, is prevalent enough and harmful enough to warrant FTC protective regulations and enforcement action, Lyngklip said.

    Unconscionable

    "It is unconscionable that a dealer would sell a car and then, because the final credit terms are unfavorable, send the repo man out to repossess the car and refuse to give back the down payment or reimburse for payments made," added Lyngklip. 

    A spot delivery, or yo-yo sale, happens when the car dealer sells the consumer a vehicle and completes all the steps necessary to sell the car including executing a contract of sale, signing title, taking a down payment and turning over the keys. 

    After the transaction is finished, the dealer calls the consumer back claiming the deal has fallen through. In some instances the dealer uses fraudulent means or forcible repossession to take the car back. 

    The FTC Roundtable was entitled "The Road Ahead: Selling, Financing & Leasing Motor Vehicles." Lyngklip was one of five experts participating in a panelwhich discussed "Which Practices, If Any, Cause Significant Harm to Consumers, And What Are Potential Solutions." 

    It's time for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to crack down on abuses of conditional car loans, consumer advocates testified at a recent Washington hear...
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    Toyota Rolls Out New Sports Car

    Company hopes to spice up its image with 200-hp Scion FT-S

    Look out, Mustang, that's a Toyota coming up behind you.  No, not a Corolla or a Camry, it's a Scion FR-S, a totally new model that Toyota hopes will lend a little excitement to its rather battered image.

    The Scion FR-S churns out 200 horsepower in a rear-wheel-drive platform.  With a top speed of 142 mph, it can do 0-62 in six seconds, which is respectable but not quite awesome.

    Toyota President Akio Toyoda unveiled the new model, which will be called the Toyota 86 in Japan, at a Tokyo race track Sunday before a gaggle of automotive press in town for the Tokyo Auto Show.

    So far, the company hasn't disclosed a price or gas-mileage estimates, but executives say Toyota wants to price the car so that it's affordable to recent college graduates -- perhaps something around $26,000.

    Automakers want to snag consumers when they're young in hopes of turning them into lifelong customers, something that's gotten harder to do as brands and automotive fashions come and go faster than a Ferrari working its way around the track.

    Fun to drive

    Toyota's chief engineer, Tetsuya Tada, says the goal was to build a car for car-lovers, one that's affordable and fun to drive, with good handling and a low center of gravity.

    In a nod to the Beach Boys era when cars were something guys tinkered with the way they now fiddle with their silly iPhones, the new Scion does away with computer chips, turbochargers and other gimmickry that make it hard for hobbyists to take their cars apart and get them back together.

    The suspension is also set up so it can be easily customized and tuned by car buffs.

    If any of this sounds like something Subaru would do, you're right.  It should be no surprise that the Scion/86 was developed jointly with Subaru, which will be rolling out its version -- the BRZ -- later this week.

    Toyota contributed the styling and sheet metal.  Subaru is building the four-cylinder horizontally-opposed boxer engine (yes, that's boxer as in Porsche Boxster, although the Porsche boxer engine is six cylinders and, depending on the model, develops closer to 300 horsepower). 

    Look out, Mustang, that's a Toyota coming up behind you.  No, not a Corolla or a Camry, it's a Scion FR-S, a totally new model that Toyota hopes will ...
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      Second Death in Craigslist 'Farm Hand' Ad

      Victims answered job ad and were shot to death

      The death toll in the Craigslist Farm Hand case has risen to two, with the discovery of a body identified as Timothy Kern, 47, of Massilon, Ohio.

      Kern disappeared Nov. 13 after telling his family he was headed to Akron after seeing an online job ad for a farm hand. It was apparently the same ad answered by David Pauley, 51, of Norfolk, Va. His body was found earlier in a rural area south of Akron.

      Kern's body was found near the Rolling Acres shopping mall in Akron and Noble County officials said another body had been found in a shallow grave nearby, but had not yet been identified.

      Earlier, a South Carolina man said he answered the ad on Nov. 6 but escaped after being shot. 

      Father of three

      Timothy Kern, a divorced father of three sons, worked most recently cleaning gas station driveways, according to his family.  His father said Kern answered the Craigslist ad Oct. 30 and met a man at an Akron restaurant for an interview.

      On Nov. 13, a friend drove him to the supposed job site.

      Timothy Kern’s son, Zachary, posted on a personal blog Sunday, the Akron Beacon-Journal reported.

      “Today when I woke up, I was told that my father was one of the three people killed by the latest Craigslist killer. My father answered to an ad on Craigslist about a job opportunity involving a 688 acre farm and housing in a 2 bedroom trailer," the younger Kern said.

      Two people from the Akron area are in custody: a high school student who has been charged with attempted murder and 52-year-old Richard Beasley, who is in jail on unrelated charges.

      Police so far are saying nothing about the probable motive in the killings.  

      The death toll in the Craigslist Farm Hand case has risen to two, with the discovery of a body identified as Timothy Kern, 47, of Massilon, Ohio.Kern dis...
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      What's On Your Mind? Sony, Pyrex, Walmart

      Our daily look at consumer reviews

      Most likely a lot of consumers bought a big screen TV at a Black Friday sale last weekend. We hope they have better luck than Kevin, of Poway, California.

      "I purchased a 52" Sony Bravia model KDL-52XBR9 exactly two years ago and screen is now defective with lines across it," Kevin told ConsumerAffairs.com. "Unit is out of warranty and no recourse with either Best Buy or Sony.

      Kevin said he's shocked at the number of similar complaints about Sony TVs. Sadly, these problems are not confined to one brand. Before spending hundreds on one of these sets better read this and this.

      Thanksgiving kitchen disasters

      Lots of chefs were in the kitchen last week whipping up Thanksgiving feasts. Unfortunately a few reported a common mishap.

      "I was baking cornbread for our Thanksgiving meal in my 8 x 8 inch Pyrex dish - one that I had received in a set for Christmas of '10," said Mike, of Green Bay, Wisc. "I removed the finished bread from the oven -set it down on a glass top JennAire range and it exploded into thousands of pieces within seconds. I had used this pan literally every week for the entire past year without an issue. Had I not placed it to the left of me I would have been sprayed with glass shrapnel. I knew exactly what had happened as I had read about the problem a few weeks prior in an online article. I cannot believe that this company is not held responsible for products that are SO dangerous to the public."

      Unfortunately, Mike was not the only Thanksgiving chef we heard from about this experience. If Mike believes the product is dangerous, he should file a report of the incident with the Consumer Product Safety Commission. As a courtesy, he should also report it to World Kitchens, Inc., the maker of Pyrex baking dishes.

      Black Friday disappointment

      When stores advertise Black Friday specials, they usually have a limited quantity available at that price. They sell out quickly. Toy, of Ooltewah, Tenn., was lucky enough to get a low-priced Emerson HD TV after standing in line for three hours at Walmart, but not lucky enough to get one that worked.

      "My husband took the TV out of the box and we plugged it in only half the screen shows," Toy said. "We called Emerson they said it was a defect and take it back to Walmart to get our money back."

      But Toy didn't want her money back. She wanted a TV.

      "We called Walmart and they said they don't have any other TVs for that price and they will give us our money back," Toy said. "I was upset because that is not really fixing the issue."

      Toy said she ended up purchasing a different brand of TV, and of course, for more than the Black Friday sale price.

      Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Sony, Pyrex, Walmart, Thanksgiving kitchen disasters and Black Friday disappointment....
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      Pepper Spray, Price Disputes, Sold-Out Items? Must Be Black Friday

      Walmart takes heat for not having advertised items

      Maybe it's indigestion from all those big Thanksgiving dinners, but whatever the reason, Black Friday seems to bring out the worst in shoppers, retailers and just about everybody else.  This year was certainly no exception.

      In Los Angeles, 20 people were injured at Walmart store when a woman opened up on her fellow shoppers with pepper spray.  Police called it a "competitive shopping incident."

      In Northern California, police say a Black Friday shopper was shot and critically wounded during a robbery outside a Walmart in San Leandro.

      As always, there were disappointments when featured items sold out sooner than expected -- or, according to some, didn't exist to begin with.

      Sarah of Santa Ana, Calif., went to Walmart Thursday night and picked up one of the tickets for a PS3 bundle that was on sale for $199.

      "I got my ticket, waited in line for 2 1/2 hours for 10:00 p.m. to come," she told ConsumerAffairs.com.  "When it came out turn to get the PS3, they say, 'Sorry we have no more PS3s. All we have left are PS350' that were an extra $150."

      "You would think that they would count the merchandise they have and hang out that many tickets until waiting til the end and giving us that 'We're sorry' crap," Sarah said.

      Then there's Beth of Levittown, Pa.  "I went to buy the PlayStation 3 Starter Bundle on Walmart which was $229 at 3pm on 11/26, I had to go out and by the time I came back at 6:30 the price had gone up to $263 for the item. ...  Now mind you, it was a lot cheaper on Black Friday and so I was going to pay more buying after that day, but for the price to change again in less than 4 hours. I could see if it changed at midnight, but during the day! That shouldn't be allowed."

      Kristina of Gettysburg, Pa., had a similar experience.

      "The Gettysburg Walmart employees and flyers had stated that Black Friday sales for everything but electronics would start at 10:00pm and electronics would start at 12:01am. We got in line around 9pm and entered the store about 10:15pm and had made our way to the electronics -- we had gone for got to the xbox 360 kinect bundle for $199.99 and at 10:25pm all they were all sold out along with every other electronic," she said.

      "I am very upset and mad that Walmart had lied in the flyer and employees that they had sold out of every electronic before they were even stated they were suppose to start handing them out! ... There should be a raincheck or discount gift cards given out due to the false advertisement!"

      As did Kassandra of Marshall, Texas:

      "The Walmart flyer states at 8am on Friday morning the PSP will be $99.00...I was number 6 in line only to find out the store did not get the shipment. I went to the Walmart facebook page and this same problem happened in other stores all across the US."

      A sorry sight

      Josh of Blackwell, Okla., rushed over to Walmart and bought an Emerson 40-inch TV for $248.

      "I was thinking what a steal. Waited four hours in line and felt lucky that I had gotten one. Little did I know what big pieces of s*** they were.  Mine lasted a whopping 16 hours before it quit working," Josh said. "These TVs are junk and screw Walmart for knowingly selling them.  When I returned it to Walmart they were not even surprised."

      Toy of Ooltewah, Tenn., only stood in line for three hours to get an Emerson 32-inch TV but, like Josh, isn't delighted with her purchase.

      "My husband took the TV out of the box and we plugged it in -- only half the screen shows. We called Emerson, they said it was a defect and to take it back to Walmart to get our money back," Toy said.

      "We called Walmart [and] they said they don't have any other TVs for that price and they will give us our money back. I was upset because that is not really fixing the issue."

      "I will never buy electronics from Walmart again."

      Kohls

      "I went especially for an item listed in their sale bill," said Toni of Norman, Okla. "The item was a Bella brand Belgian rotating waffle maker for 9.99.  When I went to pay for it they told me that this was 62.99."

      Toni said she showed the sale bill to the cashier "advertising this exact product word for word" but got nowhere.

      "The cashier said that several people have complained about this and she didn't know why the didn't specify the two machines they had why one was higher even though the ad clearly stated the same kind and brand of the one I took up to buy at the register," Toni said. "They basically said 'too bad'" and I let them know that ... it really upset me to go all the way there and fight the traffic and lines to get there and not be able to leave with what I especially went there for."

      Conn's

      Conn's made an enemy of Gwen of Lafayette, La.

      "Conn's would not price match an item I bought there. They stated the price match item was for 'Black Friday' and they will not honor the sale price. I showed them their price match policy that doesn't say any exceptions like 'Black Friday'."

      Online not always better

      John of Wilmington, N.C. wanted to avoid the crowds so he went to OfficeMax.com and tried to order an office chair.

      "I made two attempts and received errors both times. I never received order confirmation, however my bank account has been debited. I emailed customer service and was told that my order did in fact go through and was given an order number.

      "Unfortunately, when I try to track my order I get a message stating that order number cannot be found. I've made several attempts to contact customer service again and have received no further assistance," John said.

      Dell

      At least Denise of Littleton, Colo., didn't go trudging through the night in search of savings.  She stayed home where it was warm and toasty and called Dell's 800 number. But she was disappointed anyway.

      "Tried to purchase a Black Friday deal desktop for the advertised price of $211. I was on hold for 50 minutes and finally got thru to Rich. Apparently it was a misprint, an advertised price that happened to be a misprint in a catalog sent exclusively to preferred customers," she said.

      "They refused to offer us any kind of deal or incentive, certainly not the advertised price. Will not be buying another Dell... that's just bad business," Denise said.

      No room at the inn

      John of Chino, Calif., wanted nothing to do with any of it.  Instead of shopping, he and some friends decided to spend a few nights at the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego.

      "Booked under a special promo code for Black Friday," he said. "Only first 10 people to book under that promo were gonna get a room for $25.00 and $50.00 room credit. I booked two rooms, and my wife booked two rooms. Got the confirmations same night."

      But John said the next day he got an email saying there was a glitch in the reservations system system and the offer was shown as being available longer than it should have been.

      "They are not going to honor the promotion I booked under but would give me a different promotions at 4 times the price and no room credit," he said. "I have to call by 11/28 or my reservation will be cancelled automatically. Can they do this?"

      Short answer: It's a Black Friday grey area.  John should call the San Diego County District Attorney's office.  

      Maybe it's indigestion from all those big Thanksgiving dinners, but whatever the reason, Black Friday seems to bring out the worst in shoppers, retailers a...
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      Is the Chevy Volt Fire-Prone? Feds Open an Inquiry

      Damaged batteries may ignite long after an accident occurs

      Connecticut garage fire
      Photo: WTNH-TV

      Months after a Chevy Volt burst into flames following a crash at a federal test site, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is opening a formal safety defect investigation that could result in recalls and design changes in future models.

      NHTSA issued an unusually lengthy, even apologetic, statement saying electric vehicles have "incredible potential" to reduce gasoline consumption but said it was necessary to determine whether the batteries in electric cars are safe.

      "Chevy Volt owners whose vehicles have not been in a serious crash do not have reason for concern," NHTSA said, a statement that could apply to just about any vehicle.

      In May, a Volt that had been subjected to crash tests at a NHTSA test site burst into flames three weeks later while it was stored in a garage. Just a few days ago, a battery that had been damaged in another test two weeks earlier burst into flames.

      NHTSA says it knows of no highway accidents that caused Volts to catch fire, but there have been two reports of Volt fires involving Volts parked in garages:

      • In April Autoblog reported that two plug-in vehicles were destroyed in a fire in a home in Barkhamsted, Conn., April 14. The cars were a brand-new 2011 Chevrolet Volt with just 2,000 miles on the odometer and a converted all-electric Suzuki Samurai that the homeowner, Storm Connors, had converted himself years ago.  
      • In October, fire broke out at a home near Mooresville, N.C., causing an estimated $800,000 of damage to both the home and the garage where the 2011 Chevrolet Volt was parked. Investigators said it appeared the fire did not start in the Volt.

      General Motors, meanwhile, says it is working with NHTSA and monitoring not only the situation but also all of the Volts that are on the road.  GM said that with its OnStar safety communications system, it "knows real time about any crash significant enough to potentially compromise battery integrity."

      "Since July, GM has implemented a post-crash protocol that includes the depowering of the battery after a severe crash, returning the battery to a safe and low-powered state," the automaker said in a statement.

      Electric cars are an essential element in President Obama's goal of putting 1 million EVs on the road by 2015, and the Energy Department has provided about $2.5 billion in funding to battery companies, automakers and related firms, a circumstance that perhaps contributes to NHTSA's unusual circumspect language in announcing the investigation.

      What to do

      NHTSA says its current guidance for responding to electric vehicles that have been in a crash remains the same. It urges consumers, emergency responders, and the operators of tow trucks and storage facilities to take the following precautions in the event of a crash involving any electric vehicle:

      • Consumers are advised to take the same actions they would in a crash involving a gasoline-powered vehicle — exit the vehicle safely or await the assistance of an emergency responder if they are unable to get out on their own, move a safe distance away from the vehicle, and notify the authorities of the crash.
      • Emergency responders should check a vehicle for markings or other indications that it is electric-powered. If it is, they should exercise caution, per published guidelines, to avoid any possible electrical shock and should disconnect the battery from the vehicle circuits if possible.
      • Emergency responders should also use copious amounts of water if fire is present or suspected and, keeping in mind that fire can occur for a considerable period after a crash, should proceed accordingly.
      • Operators of tow trucks and vehicle storage facilities should ensure the damaged vehicle is kept in an open area instead of inside a garage or other enclosed building.
      • Rather than attempt to discharge a propulsion battery, an emergency responder, tow truck operator, or storage facility manager should contact experts at the vehicle's manufacturer on that subject.
      • Vehicle owners should not store a severely damaged vehicle in a garage or near other vehicles.

      Initial spark

      The enveloping controversy grows out of last May's incident in which NHTSA crashed a Chevy Volt in a test designed to measure the vehicle's ability to protect occupants from injury in a side collision.

      During that test, the car's battery was damaged and the coolant line was ruptured. When a fire involving the test vehicle occurred more than three weeks after it was crashed, the agency concluded that the damage to the vehicle's lithium-ion battery during the crash test led to the fire.

      The agency called in experts from General Motors, battery maker LG, the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense to conduct further tests.

      NHTSA said that in an effort to recreate the May test, it conducted three tests on the Volt's lithium-ion battery packs that intentionally damaged the battery compartment and ruptured the vehicle's coolant line.  In each test, the Volt's battery was impacted and rotated to simulate a real-world, side-impact collision into a narrow object such as a tree or a pole followed by a rollover.

      Following a test on November 16 that did not result in a fire, a "temporary increase in temperature" was recorded in a test on November 17, NHTSA said. During the test conducted on November 18, the battery pack was rotated within hours after it was impacted and began to smoke and emit sparks.

      Last week, the battery pack that was tested on November 17 and that had been continually monitored since the test caught fire at the testing facility -- two weeks after it had been damaged.

      NHTSA said it is "concerned that damage to the Volt's batteries as part of three tests that are explicitly designed to replicate real-world crash scenarios have resulted in fire."

      Connecticut garage firePhoto: WTNH-TVMonths after a Chevy Volt burst into flames following a test crash at a federal test site, the&nbs...
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      Feds Seek to Ban 400+ Dietary Supplement Products from Marketplace

      FDA charged manufacturer altered ingredients without changing labels

      More than 400 dietary supplement products would be banned from the marketplace under an injunction being sought by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

      Named in the action are ATF Fitness Products Inc. (ATF), Manufacturing ATF Dedicated Excellence, Inc. (MADE), and James G. Vercellotti of Oakmont, Pa., owner and operator of both companies.

      The companies make more than 400 dietary supplements, including vitamins and minerals, under the brands “Sci-Fit,” “Nature’s Science” and “For Store Only.” ATF purchases dietary supplements exclusively from Vercellootti's companies and distributes them throughout the United States.

      It's the first time FDA has taken legal action against a supplement manufacturer of this size. 

      The agency said the companies substituted ingredients and products without noting the changes on the final product labels. That would be a violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

      “Dietary supplements have a significant role in the public’s health,” said Dara Corrigan, associate commissioner for regulatory affairs.  “Today’s injunction reinforces our commitment to ensuring that these supplements meet the ... requirements the law establishes.”

      The government's complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, alleges that in addition to “adulterating” and “misbranding” their final products, the manufacturer and its owner failed to report serious adverse events associated with their products. 

      In one case an individual who consumed one of the products reported experiencing a spike in blood pressure, hospitalization and a subsequent mild heart attack.

      More than 400 dietary supplement products would be banned from the marketplace under an injunction being sought by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (F...
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      LG Opens Its First 'Laundry Lounge' in NYC

      Appliance maker hopes to clean up laundromats' shabby image

      Remember what getting an oil change used to be like?  You had your choice of standing around outside the service station breathing gas fumes and being panhandled.  Or you could sit inside the cramped cashier's office next to the Payday bars and energy drinks while the grease monkeys worked on your car.

      Then, along came JiffyLube and its competitors.  Now you can sit in a little waiting room watching TV and smelling stale coffee while the grease monkeys work on your car.  It's better, right?  

      LG, the Korean appliance-maker, is hoping to do the same thing for laundromats, not exactly everyone's idea of a great place to spend time.

      LG says it will be a different experience at its "Laundry Lounge by LG."  The pinkish new centers will feature high-def TV, free Internet, bright lighting and stylish seating.  So we're told anyway.

      "With this new concept, we're offering patrons a fresh experience by integrating key components of the home in public laundry venues, confirming the notion that life doesn't have to stop because you have to do laundry," Sam Kim, Appliance President for LG Electronics USA, said as part of the announcement.

      LG described its first Laundry Lounge as being on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  In fact, it's at  at 139th and Amsterdam, which anybody will tell you is West Harlem.  Maybe LG thinks Harlem isn't a upscale neighborhood?  We don't know but gaffes like this don't go down well with the locals.  (We're reminded of Apple claiming its Tysons Corner store was in Washington, D.C.  Uh, it's in Virginia.)
      Despite its neighborhood being dissed by LG, the popular blog HarlemBespoke.com spoke kindly of the concept, opining that  "it probably would be safe to say that most uptowners would gladly welcome one of these Laundry Lounges opening on their block."
      HuffingtonPost's Jason Gilbert was less impressed.  The TVs are small and there aren't many chairs, he wrote:  "There is no seating in front of these televisions, which means that this laundromat isn't so much a 'lounge' as it is a 'bar without chairs or booze."
      Remember what getting an oil change used to be like?  You had your choice of standing around outside the service station breathing gas fumes and being...
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      Seniors at Greater Risk of Complications from Key Medications

      Promoting safe use of blood thinners and diabetes medications can protect patients

      Each year, there are nearly 100,000 emergency hospitalizations for adverse drug events in U.S. adults aged 65 years or older, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

      Of the thousands of medications available to patients, a small group of blood thinners and diabetes medications caused two-thirds of the emergency hospitalizations, the report said.  

      “These data suggest that focusing safety initiatives on a few medicines that commonly cause serious, measurable harms can improve care for many older Americans,” said Dan Budnitz, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC′s Medication Safety Program.

      “Blood thinners and diabetes medicines often require blood testing and dosing changes, but these are critical medicines for older adults with certain medical conditions.  Doctors and patients should continue to use these medications but remember to work together to safely manage them,” Budnitz said.

      The study used data collected between 2007 and 2009 from a nationally representative sample of 58 hospitals. Almost half (48.1 percent) of these hospitalizations occur among adults aged 80 years or older, and two–thirds (65.7 percent) of the hospitalizations were due to overdoses, or to situations in which patients may have taken the prescribed amount of medication but the drug had more than the intended effect on the patient′s body. 

      Four medications, used alone or together, accounted for two–thirds of the emergency hospitalizations:

        • 33 percent, or 33,171 emergency hospitalizations, involved warfarin, a medication used to prevent blood clots.
        • 14 percent involved insulins.  Insulin injections are used to control blood sugar in people who have diabetes.
        • 13 percent involved antiplatelet drugs, such as aspirin or clopidogrel, which prevent platelets, or pieces of blood cells from clumping together to start a clot.
        • 11 percent involved diabetes medications that are taken by mouth, called oral hypoglycemic agents.

      Each year, there are nearly 100,000 emergency hospitalizations for adverse drug events in U.S. adults aged 65 years or older, according to a Cent...
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      Cell Phones And iPads Not Kids' Toys

      Experts suggest they don't belong in kids' stockings

      Once upon a time, if you asked a child what they wanted for Christmas, they were likely to mention a popular toy or game. Now, they are mostly likely to ask for the latest smartphone or tablet computer.

      When SodaHead.com, a discussion community with more than 10 million visitors a month, polled youngsters about their holiday desires, 65 percent placed cell phones and iPads at the top of their wish lists.

      “What harm could it do to youngsters to have such a cool, hot gadget—especially one with which they can learn to read, see movies, or just play Angry Birds? The answer is: plenty,” advises Dr. Devra Davis of the Environmental Health Trust.

      Read the fine print

      Davis says few people appreciate that all of these wireless devices come with manufacturers’ fine print warnings not to hold them next to an adult body, or that controlled studies show that microwave radiation from cell phones weaken the brain’s protective barrier and produce fewer and more damaged offspring and sperm.

      And parents should consider this: all safety warnings for cell phones (e.g., “keep 0.98 inches from the body”) were designed to protect a less-than-typical user: namely, a large fellow with a big head who talks on his phone for less than half an hour a day.

      According to a recently published scientific report from EHT, children’s heads absorb twice as much microwave radiation from cell phones as adults. Radiation from cell phones carried in shirts or pants pockets of adults is four to seven times higher than the guidelines set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the U.S. For the smaller bodies of children, of course, levels would be even much greater.

      Safety standards modeled on a big guy

      The reason for the discrepancy, EHT says, is that the process to determine radiation from cell phones is modeled on a 6-foot 2-inch tall, 220-pound man, with an eleven-pound head. Because this large skull represents only about three percent of the population, the test cannot accurately predict the radiation exposure of the other 97 percent, including children, nor does it even try to estimate exposures from pocket use.

      “The standard for cell phones has been developed based on old science, old models and old assumptions about how we use cell phones, and that’s why they need to change and protect our children and grandchildren,” said Davis said.

      iPad drawbacks

      What about an iPad or other tablet? That seems harmless enough. After all, it's a computer.

      Yes, but it too is a device that connects using radio waves. And Davis points to another iPad fine print warning that states, “a small percentage of people may be susceptible to blackouts or seizures (even if they have never had one before) when exposed to flashing lights or light patterns such as when playing games or watching videos... Discontinue use of iPad and consult a physician if you experience headaches, blackouts, seizures, convulsion, eye or muscle twitching, loss of awareness, involuntary movement, or disorientation. To reduce risk of headaches, blackouts, seizures and eyestrain, avoid prolonged use, hold iPad some distance from your eyes, use iPad in a well-lit room, and take frequent breaks.”

      "There's no denying these gadgets are fun; my kids love them too," said Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff, Executive Director and CEO of Healthy Child Healthy World. "But these technologies are developing faster than our ability to understand potential health impacts. We're not asking parents to not buy or use them, we're simply asking them to take precautions. It's better to be safe rather than sorry when it comes to our children's health."

      Parents should be careful about giving kids cell phones and tablets...
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      When Shopping Online, It's BuyerBeware.com

      Computer expert says online shoppers should exercise extra care

      Retailers got an early start on their Black Friday sales, hoping to make the most of the kick-off to the holiday shopping season. But if this year is like last, even more shoppers will do more of their shopping online.

      In fact, Cyber Monday, the first Monday following Black Friday, has become just as important to both shoppers and retailers, and is considered the “official” start of the online holiday shopping season, says Abbe E. Forman, assistant professor of Computer and Information Science at Temple University.

      “Online shopping has become so popular that it now accounts for nearly half of all holiday shopping,” said Forman, an expert in online security. “While online shopping is easy, convenient, and fun, security concerns still keep many folks away. Even savvy online shoppers should take a few extra moments to ensure their online safety so that their shopping experience is the best that it can be.”

      Take precautions

      Forman recommends a few steps that shoppers take to protect themselves while shopping online this holiday season.

      “Keep an eye out for scams; everyone loves a good sale, but if something looks too good to be true, it probably is,” she said.

      When considering a purchase from a retailer that you are not familiar with, Forman suggests doing some homework before “clicking” your purchase.

      “Google them and see what other folks have said about their shopping experience with that company,” she said. “Try lots of different keywords to get to the info you want or need to see. There are many sites that offer good customer reviews.”

      Also, Forman warns not to give out any personal information prior to your decision to make a purchase. “You should be able to peruse a website without giving any information. If an online retailer wants info prior to a transaction, it’s a red flag.

      Check order carefully before hitting 'submit'

      Even reputable retailers can have policies and procedures that take consumers by surprise, especially if they don't read all the disclaimers.

      Kim, of Wilmington, Mass., placed an order from Target.com in part, she says, because the site said there would be no charge for shipping on orders over $50.

      "My order was a $400 order, and only after I placed the order, did it jump to over $600," Kim told ConsumerAffairs.com. "I was charged for shipping, which cost more than the most expensive item in my cart. I was able to cancel the order within my 30 minutes."

      As part of its Black Friday sale, Target is, indeed offering free shipping on "eligible" toys. Shoppers must look closely to see which items are eligible and which are not.

      Once you’ve decided to make a purchase, Forman says there are a few tips to keep in mind to safeguard your personal information.

      “Always be sure that you are transacting across a secure connection by looking for both https in the address bar and the little padlock icon toward the bottom of the computer screen,” she said. “Also, don’t give out more information than what is required. When filling out online forms, at either checkout or other times, only give the absolute minimum required info.”

      Forman also suggest signing up for a free email address such as Hotmail, Yahoo! or Gmail.

      “Use it for online transactions,” she said. “That way if the online retailer sells your email address to a spammer, it won’t come to your primary email address.”

      “Online shopping has become so popular that it now accounts for nearly half of all holiday shopping,” said Forman, an expert in online security....
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      Black Friday Gets Underway with Shooting, Pepper-Spray Incidents

      "Competitive shopping" incident injures 20 Walmart shoppers

      Black Friday got off to an early and violent start this year.  Police said 20 people were injured at a Los Angeles Walmart store when a woman sprayed her fellow shoppers with pepper spray.

      The Los Angeles Times said the incident followed a scuffle that broke out among customers waiting to buy Xbox and Wii video games.  Police called it a "competitive shopping incident."

      In Northern California, police say a Black Friday shopper was shot and critically wounded during a robbery outside a Walmart in San Leandro.

      Police said the victim and several other shoppers were walking to their cars after making their purchases when they were confronted by multiple suspects who demanded the merchandise.

      A fight broke out and shots were fired, critically injuring one person.  Police did not immediately know if the injured person was a suspect or a shopper.

      But aside from those incidents, retailers said crowds were generally large and enthusiastic.  Early returns found pre-midnight store openings a hit, drawing larger and younger crowds than normal.

      For younger shoppers, the idea of hitting the stores late at night seemed to be a winner, compared to the notion of dragging out of bed early the next day.

      Disappointments

      As always, there were disappointments when featured items sold out sooner than expected.

      Sarah of Santa Ana, Calif., went to Walmart last night and picked up one of the tickets for a PS3 bundle that was on sale for $199.

      "I got my ticket, waited in line for 2 1/2 hours for 10:00 p.m. to come," she told ConsumerAffairs.com.  "When it came out turn to get the PS3, they say, 'Sorry we have no more PS3s. All we have left are PS350' that were an extra $150."

      "You would think that they would count the merchandise they have and hang out that many tickets until waiting til the end and giving us that 'We're sorry' crap," Sarah said.

      Kristina of Gettysburg, Pa., had a similar experience.

      "The Gettysburg Walmart employees and flyers had stated that Black Friday sales for everything but electronics would start at 10:00pm and electronics would start at 12:01am. We got in line around 9pm and entered the store about 10:15pm and had made our way to the electronics -- we had gone for got to the xbox 360 kinect bundle for $199.99 and at 10:25pm all they were all sold out along with every other electronic," she said.

      "I am very upset and mad that Walmart had lied in the flyer and employees that they had sold out of every electronic before they were even stated they were suppose to start handing them out! ... There should be a raincheck or discount gift cards given out due to the false advertisement!"

      As did Kassandra of Marshall, Texas:

      "The Walmart flyer states at 8am on Friday morning the PSP will be $99.00...I was number 6 in line only to find out the store did not get the shipment. I went to the Walmart facebook page and this same problem happened in other stores all across the US."

      Online not always better

      At least Denise of Littleton, Colo., didn't go trudging through the night in search of savings.  She stayed home where it was warm and toasty and called Dell's 800 number. But she was disappointed anyway.

      "Tried to purchase a Black Friday deal desktop for the advertised price of $211. I was on hold for 50 minutes and finally got thru to Rich. Apparently it was a misprint, an advertised price that happened to be a misprint in a catalog sent exclusively to preferred customers," she said.

      "They refused to offer us any kind of deal or incentive, certainly not the advertised price. Will not be buying another Dell... that's just bad business," Denise said.

      Black Friday got off to an early and violent start this year.  Police said 20 people were injured at a Los Angeles Walmart store when a woman sprayed ...
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      New Insomnia Drug Helps You Get Back to Sleep

      FDA approves Intermezzo, the first middle-of-the-night insomnia drug

      Everyone's had the experience of waking up in the middle of the night and being unable to get back to sleep. Now there's a drug that may help. 

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Intermezzo for use as needed to treat insomnia characterized by middle-of-the-night waking followed by difficulty returning to sleep. 

      This is the first time the FDA has approved a drug for this condition. Intermezzo should only be used when a person has at least four hours of bedtime remaining. It should not be taken if alcohol has been consumed or with any other sleep aid.

      Insomnia is a common condition in which a person has trouble falling or staying asleep. It can range from mild to severe, depending on how often it occurs and for how long. Insomnia can cause excessive daytime sleepiness and lack of energy. It also can make a person feel anxious, depressed, or irritable. People with insomnia may have trouble focusing on tasks, paying attention, learning, and remembering.

      Zolpidem tartrate was first approved in the United States in 1992 as the drug Ambien.  Intermezzo is a lower dose formulation of zolpidem.

      The recommended and maximum dose of Intermezzo is 1.75 milligrams for women and 3.5 mg for men, taken once per night. The recommended dose for women is lower because women clear zolpidem from the body at a lower rate than men.

      A safer option

      “For people whose insomnia causes them to wake in middle of the night with difficulty returning to sleep, this new medication offers a safer choice than taking a higher dose of zolpidem upon waking,” said Robert Temple, M.D., deputy center director for clinical science in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “With this lower dose there is less risk of a person having too much drug in the body upon waking, which can cause dangerous drowsiness and impair driving.”

      Intermezzo was studied in two clinical trials involving more than 370 patients. In the studies, patients taking the drug had a shorter time to fall back asleep after waking compared to people taking an inactive pill (placebo). The most commonly reported adverse reactions in the clinical trials were headache, nausea and fatigue.

      Like other sleep medicines, Intermezzo may cause serious side effects, including getting out of bed while not fully awake and doing an activity that you do not know you are doing or do not remember having done.

      Reported activities while under the influence of sleep medicines include driving a car, making and eating food, having sex, talking on the phone, and sleep walking—without knowing at the time or remembering later. Chances of such activity increase if a person has consumed alcohol or taken other medicines that make them sleepy. 

      Everyone's had the experience of waking up in the middle of the night and being unable to get back to sleep. Now there's a drug that may help. ...
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      Malls Tracking Shoppers With Cell Phones

      Mall officials say data will remain anonymous

      As shoppers browse through stores in the Short Pump Town Center in Richmond, Va., and Promenade Temecula in Temecula, Calif., this holiday season, someone will be looking over their shoulders, and it's not Santa Claus.

      The malls are using a new system to track the movement of shoppers through the malls by following a signal given off by their cell phones.

      The malls say it's perfectly harmless. It's just a way to gather data on shopping habits. The technology will record when a customer enters a store, how long they stay, and where they go next.

      "I understand from a marketing standpoint, but I rather not have them watching me," shopper Ethel Mezger told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

      But mall officials say shoppers have nothing to worry about. In a statement, the owners of the Richmond mall, Forest City Commercial Management, said all shoppers will be anonymous and have nothing to worry about in terms of privacy.

      Footpath

      The system is known as Footpath Technology. It tracks the unique identification numbers assigned to mobile devices and will show shoppers as dots, never listing them by name. The company says it will use the data to "improve the shopping experience" for consumers.

      The malls have posted statements on  directory kiosks explaining the tracking system. Shoppers who do not want to be tracked can opt out by turning off their cell phones while in the mall.

      The British company that manufactures the system, Path Intelligence, insists it does not invade shoppers' privacy. 

      "Our FootPath system detects transmissions from mobile phones and locates those mobile phones in 3D space. At no time do we intercept any personal information and that includes mobile phone numbers. At all times shoppers remain anonymous to us," the company says on its Web site. 

      "Path Intelligence does not collect or store information about customers that allows for the identification of individuals."

      What to do

      Don't want to be shadowed?  There's a simple solution -- turn off your phone.  

      Privacy experts point out, however, that this kind of tracking is far less personal than the online tracking that many of us submit to everyday -- cookies that record our browsing history, mail programs that serve ads based on the content of our emails and online merchants who store and often share information about us.

      Virginia mall tracking shoppers with cell phones...
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      What's On Your Mind? Capital One, Thermador

      Our daily look at consumer reviews

      Among the features available on some credit cards is a "payment protection plan," which makes payments in case you lose your income. Teresa, an auto worker in Portage, Mich., said she was glad she had the plan on her Capital One Card when she was laid off from her job.

      "When I returned to work I called Capitol One to get the balance owed and was surprised that there was a huge amount that was left," Teresa told ConsumerAffairs.com. "I was at a zero percent when I was laid off, had not used the card and the payment protection was in place. I called and spoke with Capitol One as to why the amount was so high but they did not know why."

      Teresa said she spent nearly two weeks working with Capital One tracking down what the payment protection plan had paid on her account and what her balance actually should be. Given the total, she wrote a check and thought the matter was settled.

      "Four months after the payment I received a bill by email with triple the amount that was ever owed, and after calling and talking with the reps, I was told they are not allowed to go back to see what happened, not allowed to take ownership of their actions on accounts and the amount that was paid in full is not accepted."

      As a result, Teresa said she is being sued for collection with a balance 10 times what it should be. A feature like payment protection is an expensive add on to your monthly bill. Make sure you completely understand how it works because it's clear in Teresa's case it didn't give her the "protection" she thought it did.

      Teresa should also consult an attorney.  If she shops around, she can find an experienced litigator who will give her an initial consultation at a reduced rate.

      Bad timing

      If there's anytime you need your oven to be in tip-top shape, it's the day before Thanksgiving. Alice, of Fairfax, Calif., had a nasty surprise Wednesday evening.

      "It's the night before Thanksgiving and my Thermador oven has decided once again not to work," Alice said. "I cannot read an error code for it because that has not worked in over a year. When I tried to have that fixed the technician said Thermador no longer makes that part. This product is 15 years old. The oven my mother used when I was growing up is still working and she has been dead for more than 15 years."

      Needless to say, there aren't many repairmen available the night before Thanksgiving.  

      Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Capital One, Thermador, Bad timing and the payment protection plan....
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      Feds Conduct Undercover Probe of For-Profit Colleges

      Investigators created 12 phony "students" to measure schools' performance

      The Government Accountability Office went undercover to take a look at what really goes on at privately-owned, for-profit colleges.  What it found wasn't so good.

      The agency selected 15 schools and successfully infiltrated 12 of them, using bogus high school records to gain admission. The 12 "students" enrolled in 31 courses at an average cost of $1,287 each, and 10 of them managed to collect federal student financial aid.

      The "students" purposefully submitted substandard work; one received a passing grade by submitting photos of celebrities and political figures in lieu of responses to essay questions. Three students were expelled for poor work or nonattendance.

      Eight of the nine students withdrew without incident at the end of the investigation.  At the ninth school, GAO's request to withdraw was never acknowledged and the student was eventually expelled for nonattendance.

      No exit counseling

      Three students did not receive federally mandated exit counseling, where students are supposed to be advised of loan repayment options and the consequences of default.

      That's what happened to Rosa of St. Augustine, Fla. 

      "I was going to the University of Phoenix online. I had to withdraw due to going through a divorce ... I did not know at the time that unlike the community college, when I withdrew that even though I paid with financial aid, I'd have to repay that and my transcripts would be held," she told ConsumerAffairs.com in a complaint earlier today. "No one warned me of this when I told them I was thinking of withdrawing."

      Congress and consumer organizations have been casting a wary eye at for-profit schools recently, noting that enrollment in such schools has grown far faster than in traditional higher-education institutions.  

      GAO conducted its investigation at the request of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, who has been highly critical of for-profit schools, noting that -- among their other drawbacks -- for-profit schools are far more expensive than comparable programs at community colleges or public universities. The average tuition for a for-profit school is about six times higher than a community college and twice as high as a 4-year public school.

      Taxpayer dollars

      Students enrolling in subpar for-profit schools are not only putting their own time and money at risk, they are also burning through huge amounts of taxpayer dollars.  During the 2009-2010 school year, for-profit colleges got almost $32 billion in grants and loans provided to students under federal student aid programs.

      Close to one in four students who attends a for-profit school defaults on his or her federal student loans within 3 years of leaving school, Harkin's office said. This high rate of default combined with the fact that nearly all students at for-profit schools must borrow money to pay the cost of tuition, has resulted in a sector that enrolls approximately 10 percent of American higher education students but accounts for nearly 50 percent of all student loan defaults.

      In many cases, students -- like Shelly of Helena, Mont. -- say they were not properly advised before taking out student loans to attend for-profit schools. 

      "I attended Mountain State University online first, with FASFA loans and had no problem, actually got money back from them a couple of times. I then went to Kaplan online for one term," Shell said. "I have only been using FASFA to finance as I have no money that is why I had loans. Kaplan says I owe them money but will not explain why."

      "I repeatedly told them that I had the loans and they had always covered it. I have asked them to explain why but got no response. Now I am back at Mountain State and have had no problems," Shelly said. "However, Kaplan will now not let the FASFA money go the Mountain State. It's because they will not let me register for the next term due to a 'balance' owing."

      Not worth much

      Even students who successfully complete their studies often find their degree or certificate doesn't do them much to help their job search.

      "Got my degree from Phoenix University; I have a Masters on Business Administration focus on HR," said Claudia of Houston. "I have a student loan that is about $45,000."

      But Claudia said her degree isn't accepted by many potential employers.

      "They see this school as a for-profit and they do not want to deal with students from this place; resumes are set aside. Is there anything that I could do? I am having to pay for something that did not embrace any rewards to my career."

      The Government Accountability Office went undercover to take a look at what really goes on at privately-owned, for-profit colleges.  What it...
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      If Nothing Else, Consumers Still Sold on Technology

      Overall consumer sentiment is down but confidence in technology is up

      Consumer confidence in technology reached its highest level of the year in November as confidence in the economy sunk to an all-time low, according to Consumer Electronics Association (CEA).

      "Tech continues to grow and remains well above year-over-year levels on the heels of the strongest monthly gains for electronics and appliance retail sales since November 2009," said Shawn DuBravac, CEA's chief economist and director of research. "Strong retail sales in October, coupled with growing consumer intentions to purchase innovative new technologies, is well timed as we move fully into the holiday shopping season this week."

      Consumer sentiment around technology increased nearly two points this month. The CEA Index of Consumer Technology Expectations (ICTE) rose to 91.2, its highest level since December 2010. The ICTE, which measures consumer expectations for technology spending, is also up nearly 12 points from this time last year.

      While consumer confidence in technology is at its highest point in 11 months, consumer confidence in the overall economy dropped to an all-time low. The CEA Index of Consumer Expectations (ICE) fell to 156.6 in November, down three points from last month and the lowest level since the CEA Index began in 2007. The ICE, which measures consumer expectations about the broader economy, is down more than 10 points from this time last year.

      "The Super Committee's inability to come to a debt reduction compromise in Washington is clearly impacting sentiment across the country," said DuBravac. "Consumers remain uncertain about the near term and long term viability of the U.S. economy."

      The CEA Indexes comprise the ICE and ICTE, both of which are updated on a monthly basis through consumer surveys. New data is released on the fourth Tuesday of each month. CEA has been tracking index data since January 2007.

      Consumer confidence in technology reached its highest level of the year in November as confidence in the economy sunk to an all-time low, according to Cons...
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      Healthy Thanksgiving Sets Pattern For Holidays

      But over-indulging can escalate through the holidays

      How you spend the Thanksgiving holiday could set the tone for the entire holiday season, and determine whether you remain healthy or escalate unhealthy habits.

      Donna Mehrle, a registered dietitian at the the University of Missouri (MU) says it's important for families to maintain healthy diet and exercise habits during the holiday season because a pound put on during the holidays may be a pound you never lose. And it all begins with Thanksgiving.

      “People can continue their healthy habits by being aware of their food choices at the Thanksgiving table and identifying time commitments that may interrupt their regular exercise schedules,” Mehrle said. “Choosing different ways to socialize can be a great strategy. Playing a game of flag football or participating in a 5K race as a family, rather than having another big dinner or TV marathon, are enjoyable ways to incorporate physical activity on Thanksgiving Day.”

      Motivation

      But how do you motivate yourself, especially when there are so many food temptations around? Mehrle says people should remember how they feel when they eat healthy foods and are physically active, so they’re more likely to continue those behaviors when holiday stress and cold weather offer convenient excuses. Feeling better is a great motivator, she says.

      MU nutrition experts offer additional tips for a healthier Thanksgiving:

      • Eat healthily throughout the day and have a small, high-protein snack such as an apple with peanut butter, a hardboiled egg or yogurt, so you’re not overly hungry when you arrive for dinner.
      • Make simple swaps such as whole-wheat bread rather than white, brown or wild rice rather than white, or a yogurt parfait instead of another piece of pie.
      • Enjoy some of your favorite seasonal treats, but use a small plate to control portion sizes.

      If you do overindulge, try to maintain perspective. One day of overeating won’t make you gain weight, so plan to get back on track with healthy eating and regular exercise the next day.

      Nutritionists offers advice for healthy Thanksgiving...
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      Shopping Advice: Be Careful Out There

      Attorneys General weigh in with holiday shopping tips

      With the start of the holiday shopping season, consumer authorities across the country are urging consumers to stay safe, both physically and fiscally.

      Besides the obvious pushing and shoving that can mark Black Friday, consumers can also get blindsided by unsafe products. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan says you should be on the lookout for recalled products that are still on the shelf.

      “Unfortunately, when a recall is issued, these products don’t just vanish,” Madigan said. “They wind up in people’s homes, at second-hand shops or posted online at sites like eBay or Craigslist.

      Madigan has published a Safe Shopping Guide, detailing products that have been recalled over the past year and pose a significant danger to children. In 2011, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued 91 children’s product recalls, covering more than 8 million individual items that include toys, jewelry, cribs, furniture, baby gear and clothing.

      Counterfeit goods

      In Mississippi, Attorney General Jim Hood is warning consumers to beware of unscrupulous people selling counterfeit or pirated goods, either in person or online. Many times, they sell these items on websites that look legitimate, accepting credit cards and decorating their site with corporate advertisements.

      However, the “amazing” deals may not be legitimate, Hood says. These scam artists often set up temporary retail shops as well, where they are poised to defraud consumers with the same inferior goods.

      “The Internet has become the crime scene of our generation,” Hood said. “In addition to shady shop owners that are prepared to scam you in person, the phenomenon of online piracy is increasing every day. Consumers must remember to be just as diligent online as they are in person.”

      The danger of counterfeit goods is that they may actually be dangerous. Hood says the best way to tell if an article is counterfeit is its price – if it seems like the deal is too good to be true, it probably is.

      Rainchecks & refunds

      Meanwhile, the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs has reminded shoppers to know their rights about rainchecks, gift cards, and item refunds. Also, they should look closely at layaway plans, that are cropping up at many stores.

      “We’re seeing a resurgence in layaway plans offered by stores this year,” said Thomas R. Calcagni, Director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. “As with any offer, consumers should learn all the details, know the associated costs, and judge whether it is a good deal for them.”

      Calcagni urged consumers to know their rights in the marketplace and offered the following advice and information:

      • Store Layaway: Know the terms of the store’s layaway plan. Do not assume layaway is free.
      • Rainchecks: A retailer may, but is not required to, offer a raincheck for advertised merchandise that is not available for purchase. When a raincheck is issued: The retailer has 60 days to honor the raincheck, unless the consumer holding the raincheck agrees to an extension; If the item costs more than $15, the retailer must give written or telephonic notice to the consumer when the item becomes available; and After such notice is given, the item must be held for the consumer for at least 10 days or the end of the 60-day raincheck period (whichever is greater).
      • Refunds: Refund policies at some retailers may include a restocking or reshipping fee. Whatever the refund policies, retailers must conspicuously post them for all merchandise in one of the following locations: Attached to the item itself; Affixed to each cash register or at point of sale; Situated as to be clearly visible to the buyer from the cash register; or Posted at each store entrance used by the public.
      • Gift Cards: No gift card or gift certificate can expire for five years after purchase; No dormancy fee can be imposed within the first 24 months following purchase or within the 24 month period following last use of the gift card; After 24 months of non-activity, the issuer may charge a maximum dormancy fee of $2 per month; and the gift card must include a telephone number to call for information about its expiration date or dormancy fees.
      • Online Purchases: Be certain the website is secure or uses encryption before entering personal and credit card information – look for “https” in the website address; Verify that the business operates from a real location and be wary of businesses that only list a Post Office Box as an address; Find out how the business resolves consumer disputes, by reading the posted “terms and conditions”;
      • Print out a transaction record for each purchase and keep it to resolve any issues regarding the item being purchased; and Do not click on links contained in unsolicited emails from supposed shopping websites.
      • Be a Savvy Shopper: Make a budget and know what you can afford before you start shopping; Compare prices for the same item in store flyers or on the internet before making your purchase; and Avoid identity theft by protecting your credit card receipts and sales slips that contain personal information.
      Staying safe this holiday shopping season...
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