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    Holiday Scams to Avoid

    Don't make the holidays merry for scam artists

    Cortez Masto

    Tired of hearing warnings about holiday scams?  Of course you are, but the holiday season stretches into January and the pickings are ripe for the scam artists for whom this really is the most wonderful of the year. 

    Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto is the latest to round up her favorite collection of warnings and cautionary notes.

    “In addition to family fun and shopping outings with loved ones, it is also unfortunately the season for scams,” Masto said.  “Criminals will take advantage of those with generous hearts and good will this holiday season. Nevadans should be cautious of fraud this time of year and make sure their purchases are made through legitimate businesses and that donations help legitimate organizations.”

    SMiShing

    Criminals are becoming even more sophisticated by sending text messages, called SMiShing, a term that combines “SMS” and “phishing”.  Fraudsters send a text, supposedly from the recipient's bank, informing them that their debit card has been locked. They are asked to reply to the text message and are eventually asked to give out their debit card number and in some cases, even a social security number. 

    The text is a scam and any information given to the fraudsters will be used to clean out the victim’s bank account. Do not respond to any such text message.  Call your bank using the numbers on the back of your debit card if you have any questions.

    Identity theft

    Tips to avoid identity theft and fraud:

    • Never give out personal or financial information over the phone.
    • Thoroughly review all financial statements for any unusual activity. Immediately contact the company if an item looks suspicious.
    • Shred or destroy credit card statements, bills, insurance papers or bank statements before throwing them out.
    • When making a credit card purchase, ask for the carbons if the retailer is not using carbonless forms.
    • Carry only one or two credit cards in your wallet.
    • Do not carry your social security card in your wallet.
    • Be wary of anyone calling to “confirm” personal or financial information. Often, these are criminals trying to obtain those facts under the guise of “confirmation”.
    • Share your social security number only when absolutely necessary or when required by law.
    • When creating passwords and PINS, do not use anything that could be discovered easily by thieves.
    • Memorize all your passwords and PINS.
    • Keep a list or photocopy of all your credit cards, so you can quickly contact your creditors in case your cards are lost or stolen. Do the same with bank accounts.
    • Never toss ATM and credit card receipts in a public trash container.
    • Watch the mail when you are expecting a new credit card. Immediately contact the issuer if the credit card does not arrive.
    • Avoid paying by credit card if you think the business does not use adequate safeguards to protect your personal information.
    • Be careful before you use a credit card or supply personal information online.

    Charities

    Tips to avoid charitable donation scams:  

    • Never give a charitable contribution in response to a telemarketing call.
    • Decline to give personal or financial information to anyone who solicits contributions. 
    • Make contributions directly to known organizations, rather than relying on others who claim in e-mails that they will channel the donation to established groups.
    Tired of hearing warnings about holiday scams?  Of course you are, but the holiday season stretches into January and the pickings are ripe for the sca...
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    Can-Am ATVs Recalled

    Power steering can fail

    About 1,600 Can-Am ATVs are being recalled. The Dynamic Power Steering (DPS) main shaft can crack and pieces can detach. Those pieces inside the DPS can block gears and cause limited steering ability, posing a loss of control hazard with risk of serious injury or death to the operator.

    BRP has received two reports of broken DPS resulting in limited steering ability. No injuries have been reported.

    This recall involves 2010 and 2011 Can-Am Outlander and Renegade model ATVs. The ATVs were sold in black, yellow and red and have “Can-Am” and the model name printed on the side panels. Models included in the recall are:

    Model Year 2010:Can-Am® OUTLANDER™ 500, 650 and 800R, packages XT, XT-P and Ltd; on MAX and one-Up models Can-Am® RENEGADE™ 800R, package X xc only
    Model Year 2011:Can-Am® OUTLANDER™ 500, 650, 800R, packages XT, XT-P, X xc, X mr and Ltd; on MAX and one-Up models Can-Am® RENEGADE™ 800R package X xc only

    Can-Am dealerships nationwide between September 2009 and November 2011 for between $6,800 and $13,500.

    Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled ATVs and contact their local Can-Am ATV dealer to schedule a free repair. BRP will contact registered owners directly.

    For additional information, contact BRP toll-free at (888) 638-5397 between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, or visit the firm’s website at www.can-am.brp.com

    About 1,600 Can-Am ATVs are being recalled. The Dynamic Power Steering (DPS) main shaft can crack and pieces can detach. Those pieces inside the ...
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    Sears Offers a Wireless Electric Car Charger

    At the end of a long day, who has time to plug in the car?

    If the thought of plugging your car in each night seems off-putting, here's some good news: Sears has hooked up with Evatran to install wireless charging systems for electric cars for home and commercial use.

    The Evatran system, called Plugless Power, means that you can simply buzz into your home or office garage and jump out of the car without having to worry that you forgot to plug it in.

    This admittedly may not be one of life's big problems but having a car that won't go is a lot worse than having an iPad that isn't juiced up, so don't be too quick to laugh about it.

    Installation will handled by Sears Home Services, which has been installing appliances, heating and air conditioning and electronics for decades.

    "Sears is very excited to announce this agreement with Evatran to support the installation and servicing of these stations. We look forward to being one of the leaders in this growing industry," said Stu Reed, SVP and President, Home Services at Sears Holdings.

    The companies say the benefits of the Sears-Evatran link-up include: 

    • Simplified Purchasing: Evatran will offer Plugless Power systems with optional basic or standard home installation wrapped into the purchase price of the equipment; this full price may be included in the vehicle purchase or lease at the time of sale.
    • Pre-Installation Site Visits: Site visits, as necessary to quote non-standard and commercial installations, will be completed in advance of installations.
    • Timely Installation: Sears will receive automatic notification of a customer's installation request; Sears will contact the customer within one business day of equipment purchase to schedule home installation.
    • Convenient Additional Services: Sears will offer ongoing service and maintenance to Plugless Power owners.

    Sears installation network technicians will be trained and certified on the wireless charging systems and will work with Evatran to structure a comprehensive launch plan for aftermarket systems throughout 2012, the companies said.

    Product offerings will initially focus on Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf models but Sears and Evatran said they will quickly expand to include additional electric vehicles. Installation will be offered with the sale of each Plugless Power system and priced based on the customer's home and current electrical service. Sears will also offer commercial installation for electric vehicle fleet owners and managers.

    Aftermarket systems will be available for installation starting in 2012 for Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt models. A specific geographic rollout plan will be announced next year with final installation pricing for basic and standard home installations.

    If the thought of plugging your car in each night seems off-putting, here's some good news: Sears has hooked up with Evatran to sell and install wireless c...
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      Tesla's Model S Charged Up & Ready for Mid-2012

      Top-of-the-line electric sedan priced at $92,400

      Tesla Motors says its Model S electric sedan will be ready to roll in mid-2012, with a price tag of $92,400 for the top-of-the-line version.

      With most cars, paying more gets you more leather, bigger wheels, fancier sound systems and so forth.  With Tesla, the extra bucks mostly get you a bigger battery, which translates to greater range.

      The top-of-the-line extended-range version will have enough lithium-ion battery capacity to travel as far as 300 miles on a single charge, Tesla said.

      The base version with a 40-kilowatt-hour battery pack will be able to travel as far as 160 miles per charge and will cost $57,400 without accessories. A mid-grade version that can go 230 miles per charge will have a base price of $67,400.

      All versions qualify for a $7,500 federal tax credit.

      Yes, it's expensive and you won't be able to jump in the car and drive from Los Angeles to Seattle but if you can settle for blasting up to Santa Barbara, it should be a quick trip.  The Model S reportedly will accelerate from 0 to 60 in 4.5 seconds, which is two-tenths of a second quicker than the 2011 Porsche 911 Carrera with a manual transmission. 

      Tesla Model S Sneak Peek: Alpha Drives from Tesla Motors on Vimeo.

      Palo Alto, Calif.-based Tesla, is hoping to become the first profitable electric-car manufacturer.  Besides the S, it makes a small, two-seat roadster that gets up to 245 miles per charge.

      Tesla Motors Inc., the U.S. electric-car maker that plans to build a rechargeable sedan in California, said a top-of-the-line version of the Model S will c...
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      California Official Cites Medical Marijuana Abuses

      Attorney General asks lawmakers to reform the law

      California Attorney General Kalama Harris is the latest law enforcement officials to voice concerns about her state's medical marijuana law. In a letter to California lawmakers, Harris said she is troubled by the exploitation of the law by gangs and criminal enterprises.

      Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has taken a similar position and supported local prosecutors who have tried to close medical marijuana dispensaries in the state.

      Harris said her office recently completed a series of meeting across the state with cities, counties and patient groups with the goal of finding a way to revise the state's medical marijuana guidelines.

      "I have come to recognize that non-binding guidelines will not solve our problem," Harris said. "State law itself needs to be reformed, simplified, and improved to better explain to law enforcement and patients alike how, when, and where individuals may cultivate and obtain physician-recommended marijuana."

      Reform the law

      The letter, to the President Pro-Tem of the California Senate and the Speaker of the General Assembly, requested that lawmakers formally take up measures to reform California's medical marijuana law, one of the first in he nation.

      California legalized marijuana for medical use by voter referendum in 1996. In 2003 legislators established guidelines outlining how much medicinal marijuana patients may grow and possess. Under the guidelines, qualified patients and/or their primary caregivers may possess no more than eight ounces of dried marijuana and/or six mature (or 12 immature) marijuana plants. However, the guidelines allow patients to possess larger amounts of marijuana when such quantities are recommended by a physician.

      Critics of the law say it is subject to widespread abuses and serves as a cover for recreational use of the drug. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia now have medical marijuana laws.

      California is finding problems with its medical marijuana law...
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      What's On Your Mind? Buick, Priceline, Victoria's Secret

      Our daily look at consumer reviews

      Dariusz, of Buffalo, N.Y., bought a 2011 Buick LaCrosse V6 with 18-inch wheels and writes to say that he is not impressed with the car or the road testing conducted at GM.

      "The main culprit is the terrible road noise coming from wheels," Dariusz told ConsumerAffairs.com. "On any surface that is slightly rougher than completely smooth asphalt, the noise is very excessive. We compared the road noise with a 2002 very used Nissan Altima and found noise in the LaCrosse to be much worse."

      He cites a second complaint, with the exhaust.

      "The two mufflers sound like a boom box at very low rpm's," he said. "We plugged one up to test where the noise comes from and found the car 50% quieter. Apparently the other muffler is just for the looks and does not serve the purpose that it was designed for; that is, muffling the noise."

      We checked to see what automotive site Edmunds.com had to say about the 2011 LaCrosse and there was no mention of the problems Dariusz cited. In fact, they praised the "smooth, quiet ride" in the V6. If he hasn't already, Dariusz should see what his dealer has to say about it.

      Go straight to the source

      Here's another reminder why, if your travel plans are subject to change, you should not use a third-party site to book your rental car, hotel or airline.

      "I had never utilized Priceline previously," said Paul, of San Diego, Calif. "I reserved a rental car for one week trip to Ohio last September. "About an hour later, I was informed that we needed to revise our travel plans and would not be able to make the trip on the scheduled date. I immediately sent two email requests to Priceline regarding our change of plans and to cancel the car rental reservation. I received two email responses that company policy was to not grant refunds or credit for future rentals. I contacted Capital One, my credit card company, regarding stopping payment, but they were of little assistance."

      Capital One could not act because it was a legitimate charge - Priceline was following its stated policies. Keep in mind, nearly all of these travel sites were launched in the early days of the Internet before travel-related businesses had their own websites. Today they all have websites where you can book travel directly, and often find very good deals.

      Mad Men

      Victoria's Secret advertising has always been a bit provocative. After all, consider the product. But Brittany, of San Diego, Calif., who describes herself has a 20-year old Victoria's Secret customer, says the current TV ad campaign goes too far.

      "I am watching ABC holiday shows while nearly nude women caress themselves asking men to 'kiss me, love me, want me..."here is no other woman like me.'" Brittany said. What is Victoria's Secret trying to sell here? Model women" They flat out are brainwashing men with sex propaganda. It is disgusting and offensive! I thought I was the only one that felt that way so I polled my friends on my Facebook. Out of 200 female friends, 65 percent of them, who are in the range from 17-35, agreed that the commercials were offensive and inappropriate."

      Brittany said she thinks the Federal Communications Commission should hear about it. Probably a better course of action would be for Brittany and her friends to let Victoria's Secret know how they feel.

      Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Buick, Priceline, Victoria's Secret, Go straight to the source and Mad Men....
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      Guilty Pleas in Nation's Largest Mortgage Fraud Case

      Hundreds of Cleveland-area homes went into foreclosure

      Gofman

      Five defendants pleaded guilty in Ohio today to mortgage fraud crimes covering more than 500 real estate transactions totaling $50 million, involving $44 million in fraudulent loans, and earning $31 million in profits.

      The scheme resulted in 358 of 453 homes going into foreclosure in the Cleveland-area, prosecutors said.

      "Today's court action proves that criminals who defraud people in this state will not get away with their devious schemes," Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said. "The 18-month investigation ... unearthed the evidence, linked the lies, and connected the dots of deception."

      The charges were filed in August of 2009, after an 18-month probe conducted by the Cuyahoga County Mortgage Task Force, which operates under the authorization of the Attorney General's OOCIC.

      "These criminals are mortgage fraud predators and deserve every year in prison that they receive. While these hoodlums were illegally making money they were devastating our neighborhoods with foreclosures," said Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason.

      Today, Uri Gofman, 39, of Beachwood, pleaded guilty to eleven  fraud counts. Prosecutors said Gofman orchestrated one of the nation's largest mortgage fraud cases by enlisting family, friends and others to invest in his real estate company, Real Asset Fund, with the promise of profit.

      Gofman's enterprise began with seed money from an investor who transferred funds from an Eastern European bank account in Latvia.

      Straw buyers

      Gofman's typical scheme involved setting up straw buyers to purchase homes; falsely claiming home improvements were performed or inflated the value of improvements on houses in order to refinance them; and then selling houses to unqualified buyers with assistance of real estate agents, mortgage brokers, and title companies, according to court testimony.

      Gofman and others defrauded lenders through loan application fraud, down payment fraud, and loan distribution fraud, prosecutors said.

      Gofman agreed to pay $1 million in restitution, forfeit $600,000 in seized cash, forfeit 43 houses valued at $4.1 million in real estate to the Cuyahoga County Land Bank, and cooperate in future prosecutions. Gofman will be sentenced to 8.25 years on February 1, 2012, at 10:00 a.m. in Cuyahoga County Judge Daniel Gaul's courtroom.

      Anthony Capuozzo, 41, of Concord, pleaded guilty to ten fraud  counts. He owned, operated, and controlled Family Title. Capouzzo executed a fake down payment scheme by providing lenders with false settlement statements misleading lenders into believing that the buyer was making the down payment when in reality, the buyer was not. 

      Capouzzo was sentenced today to one year in prison consecutive to the 26-month federal sentence he has already received, which Capouzzo beings serving January 10, 2012.

      The Real Asset Fund and Karka, Inc. were Gofman's business entities which owned or controlled the real estate. Clear Choice Realty, also owned by Gofman, sold the real estate. 

      Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, the Attorney General's Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission (OOCIC), and Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill ...
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      GM Promises to Extend Saab Warranties

      Not many unsold Saabs left; is it a good time to buy one?

      General Motors says it will extend warranty coverage to owners of thousands of Saab vehicles sold before February 2010, while Saab says it may be able to cover some cars. 

      Saab filed for bankruptcy and liquidation earlier this week after GM, its former owner, torpedoed a deal with a Chinese company that would have kept the struggling automaker alive.

      Although GM retains ownership of only a small part of Saab, it said it could not allowed technology that it licenses to be used to compete with GM products in China, an important and fast-growing market for all automakers.

      Saab jettisoned Saab, Saturn, Pontiac and Hummer back in 2009 as part of its bankruptcy proceedings. It sold Saab to an independent firm in 2010 but the new owners weren't able to raise enough money to keep the company going.

      Out-of-court

      Saab Cars North America (SCAN) said today it has elected to pursue an out-of-court resolution rather than going through a formal bankruptcy process.  It said its directors believe the procedure will "maximize the enterprise value for its customers, dealers and creditors."

      A GM spokesman, meanwhile, said GM is working to notify Saab customers that it will step in.

      "In the event Saab cannot or will not fulfill its obligations to administer the warranty programs with its U.S. and Canadian dealers through Saab Cars North America or otherwise, GM will take necessary steps to ensure that remaining warranty obligations on Saab vehicles marketed by GM in the United States and Canada will be honored," Jim Cain told the Detroit News.

      SCNA said it is committed to developing a solution that would provide warranty coverage for Saab vehicles covering model year 2010 and 2011 models, while GM covers warranties for model year 2009 and prior years.

      "The SCNA Board's decision to explore all possibilities out-of-court is the most appropriate direction to take for customers, dealers and creditors," said Tim Colbeck, President and COO, Saab Cars North America.  "By having an experienced, outside Administrator oversee the process, the interests of all parties are better served."

      SCNA is aggressively investigating all options aimed at reinstating its parts business in North America in a timely manner, SCNA said.  Saab Parts Company in Sweden remains operational and not impacted by the recent announcement regarding Saab Automobile AB.

      Good time to buy?

      There are only a few thousand Saabs still unsold in North America and the company says it has stopped all dealer incentive payments to its 188 U.S. dealers. But even without incentives and cut-rate financing, buying a Saab might make sense in some cases.

      There would be only two reasons to buy a Saab today: to own a collector's item and to get a pretty decent car at a very low price.

      Make no mistake: a Saab today is worth a lot less than it was a few days ago.  This is bad news for current Saab owners but if you're in the market for a safe, sporty, well-designed European car you should be able to pick up a Saab at a huge discount.

      Just keep in mind it will be worth next to nothing in the future and, if you keep it long enough, you will eventually begin to encounter trouble getting parts at a reasonable price and finding mechanics interested in working on the thing.

      Collectors and enthusiasts are another matter, of course.  If you think it's worth $30,000 or so to buy something that will be considered an oddity someday, and if you have room to store it, now is the time to strike. After all, like land, they're not making Saabs anymore. At the worst, it will be an expensive conversation piece that your spouse uses as a club whenever he or she is perturbed with you.

      Take it from one who has owned any number of extinct cars, including Peugeots, Alfa Romeos and Fiats, they're priceless classics to you -- but they're just old cars to just about everyone else.

      General Motors says it will extend warranty coverage to owners of thousands of Saab vehicles sold before February 2010, while Saab's North American board m...
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      FDA Warns Against Using ShoulderFlex Massager

      At least one strangulation death reporter among users of the device

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers again not to use the ShoulderFlex Massager.  At least one person is reported to have died from strangulation while using the device.

      The massager is sold in retail stores, catalogs and over the Internet. It's intended to provide users with a deep tissue massage to the neck, shoulders and back area while lying down.

      But the FDA warns that hair, clothing or jewelry can become entangled in the device and cause serious injury or even death from strangulation. There have been reports of one death and one near-death, due to strangulation.

      “The ShoulderFlex Massager poses serious risks. Consumers should stop using this device, health care providers should not recommend it to their patients and businesses should stop distributing and selling the device,” said Steve Silverman, director of the Office of Compliance in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. 

      Recalled in August

      King International recalled the ShoulderFlex Massager on Aug. 31, 2011; however, during a recent compliance audit, the FDA found that the company has gone out of business. King International has not followed through with recall procedures; the 800 number established by the firm for this recall is no longer in service; and many of the companies that sell this device are not aware of the recall or did not properly notify customers who purchased the massager.

      Because of this failure, the FDA is concerned that consumers may not be aware of the risks posed by the ShoulderFlex Massager and may still be using this dangerous product. 

      The FDA recommends that customers and consignees safely dispose of the ShoulderFlex Massagers so that the device cannot be used. The massage fingers should be removed and disposed of separately from the device; the power supply should be disposed of separately, as well.

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers again not to use the ShoulderFlex Massager.  At least one person is reported to have d...
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      Countrywide To Pay $335 Million to Settle Lending Discrimination Charges

      Minority borrowers were charged higher fees or placed in subprime loans

      The Department of Justice today filed its largest residential fair lending settlement in history to resolve allegations that Countrywide Financial Corporation, now part of Bank of America, discriminated against qualified African-American and Hispanic borrowers in their mortgage lending from 2004 through 2008.  

      The settlement provides $335 million in compensation for victims of Countrywide’s discrimination during a period when Countrywide originated millions of residential mortgage loans as one of the nation’s largest single-family mortgage lenders.

      The settlement, which is subject to court approval, was filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in conjunction with the department’s complaint which alleges that Countrywide discriminated by charging more than 200,000 African-American and Hispanic borrowers higher fees and interest rates than  white borrowers in both its retail and wholesale lending.   

      The complaint alleges that these borrowers were charged higher fees and interest rates because of their race or national origin, and not because of the borrowers’ creditworthiness or other objective criteria related to borrower risk.  

      Subprime loans

      The United States also alleges that Countrywide discriminated by steering thousands of African-American and Hispanic borrowers into subprime mortgages when non-Hispanic white borrowers with similar credit profiles received prime loans.   All the borrowers who were discriminated against were qualified for Countrywide mortgage loans according to Countrywide’s own underwriting criteria.

      “The department’s action against Countrywide makes clear that we will not hesitate to hold financial institutions accountable, including one of the nation’s largest, for lending discrimination,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “These institutions should make judgments based on applicants’ creditworthiness, not on the color of their skin.

      "With today’s settlement, the federal government will ensure that the more than 200,000 African-American and Hispanic borrowers who were discriminated against by Countrywide will be entitled to compensation,” Holder said.

      The settlement resolves the United States’ pricing and steering claims against Countrywide for its discrimination against African Americans and Hispanics.  

      Based on race

      The United States’ complaint alleges that African-American and Hispanic borrowers paid more than non-Hispanic white borrowers, not based on borrower risk, but because of their race or national origin.   Countrywide’s business practice allowed its loan officers and mortgage brokers to vary a loan’s interest rate and other fees from the price it set based on the borrower’s objective credit-related factors.   This resulted in African American and Hispanic borrowers paying more.   

      The complaint further alleges that Countrywide was aware the fees and interest rates it was charging discriminated against African-American and Hispanic borrowers, but failed to impose meaningful limits or guidelines to stop it.  

      “Countrywide’s actions contributed to the housing crisis, hurt entire communities, and denied families access to the American dream,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.  “We are using every tool in our law enforcement arsenal, including some that were dormant for years, to go after institutions of all sizes that discriminated against families solely because of their race or national origin.”

      Steering

      The United States’ complaint also alleges that, as a result of Countrywide’s policies and practices, qualified African-American and Hispanic borrowers were placed in subprime loans rather than prime loans even when similarly-qualified non-Hispanic white borrowers were placed in prime loans.   

      The discriminatory placement of borrowers in subprime loans, also known as “steering,” occurred because it was Countrywide’s business practice to allow mortgage brokers and employees to place a loan applicant in a subprime loan even when the applicant qualified for a prime loan .   In addition, Countrywide gave mortgage brokers discretion to request exceptions to the underwriting guidelines, and Countrywide’s employees had discretion to grant these exceptions.         

      The Department of Justice today filed its largest residential fair lending settlement in history to resolve allegations that Countrywide Financial Corpor...
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      Pampered Chef Recalls Ice Cream Dippers

      The end of the scoop handle can fly off

      The Pampered Chef is recalling about 20,000 ice cream dippers. When the liquid-filled ice cream scoop is exposed to warm water, the cap and seal at the end of the scoop handle can fly off with substantial force, posing an impact injury hazard to nearby consumers.

      The Pampered Chef has received 16 reports including damage to kitchen items and six reports of personal injuries including lacerations, bruises and redness caused by caps coming off the base of the handle.

      The dippers are metallic gray aluminum with a plastic dome-shaped cap on the base of the handle. “Pampered Chef” is imprinted in the cap. The ice cream dippers measure around seven inches in length. A non-toxic liquid is sealed inside the handle of the product which conducts the heat of your hand to more easily scoop hard ice cream.

      The dippers were sold by Pampered Chef consultants and online at www.pamperedchef.com from July 2010 through September 2010 for about $15. They were made in the U.S.

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled ice cream dippers and contact The Pampered Chef for instructions on obtaining a replacement or refund. Consumers can also contact their Pampered Chef consultant for replacement and refund information.

      For additional information, contact The Pampered Chef toll-free at (877) 917-2433 between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. CT Monday through Friday and between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. CT on Saturday or visit the firm’s website at http://www.pamperedchef.com/recall/cust info collection.jsp. Consumers can also e-mail The Pampered Chef at productalert@pamperedchef.com

      The Pampered Chef is recalling about 20,000 ice cream dippers. When the liquid-filled ice cream scoop is exposed to warm water, the cap and seal at th...
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      Feds Drain Hydro-Assist Fuel Cell Claims

      Turn water into gas? Not likely, the FTC charges

      Turn any vehicle into a hybrid?  Don't think so.  And neither does the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which has put a stop to the phony claims of marketers who sold a device that they claimed could boost gas mileage by 50 percent.

      The "Hydro-Assist Fuel Cell" could turn water into "water gas" with five times the potential energy of gasoline, according to the claims made by UCSA Dealers Group LLC.

      In a complaint filed in 2009, the FTC charged that Dennis Lee, Dutchman Enterprises LLC, and United Community Services of America Inc., doing business as UCSA Dealers Group LLC, made false claims for their Hydro-Assist Fuel Cell. The court subsequently halted the allegedly illegal practices and froze some of the defendants' assets pending further litigation.

      A settlement order reached this week bans the defendants from selling energy generation or conservation products, and allows them to sell or transfer fuel cell kits or parts only if they don't misrepresent energy or fuel efficiency capability and don't permit others who buy them to do so.

      They can sell the kit's liquid fuel additive component only if they disclose, upfront, that it contains petroleum distillates, and only if they provide buyers with a copy of the Material Safety Data Sheet for the additive dated February 3, 2008.

      If the defendants sell or transfer any kits or parts, they must tell the FTC each buyer's name and address and describe any prior business relationship they may have had with the buyer.

      The order also prohibits the defendants from misrepresenting any good or service, and from selling or otherwise benefitting from customers' personal information, and requires them to properly dispose of customers' personal information within 30 days.

      In addition, the order imposes a judgment of more than $2.7 million against the defendants, all but $230,356 of which will be suspended when they have surrendered frozen assets. The full judgment will become due immediately if the defendants are found to have misrepresented their financial condition.

      Turn any vehicle into a hybrid?  Don't think so.  And neither does the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which has put a stop to the phony claims o...
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      What's On Your Mind? Emerson, Sirius XM, VistaPrint

      Our daily look at consumer reviews

      Shopping for a new microwave oven? Nancy, of Manns Choice, Pa., writes to say she has been very disappointed in her Emerson Microwave she purchased two years ago.

      "It is only two years old and the inside of it is rusting everywhere," Nancy told ConsumerAffairs.com. "The paint is bubbling and rusting. Also the door will not shut or open most of the time. I contacted the company by email and ask them about the rust and they said it's my fault and they cannot help me. The way I am cleaning it and so forth and not to use it. Well, who has money to buy a new one every other year? They should last a while.I have had numerous other ovens and NEVER seen the inside rust. Never!

      The inside of a microwave should not be rusting. It's hard to imagine that the method of cleaning could cause rust, unless there was some problem with the paint.

      Starting over

      Wayne, of Old Town, Fla., is another consumer who reports difficulty in cancelling a subscription to Sirius XM Satellite Radio.

      "Tried to cancel order 60 days before expiration and withdrew credit card info," Wayne. "They said I would have to wait till it expires. They then gave me free month and auto renew my contract. Then turned me over to collection agency when I wouldn't pay. Settled with them for $20.00 and said they would not provide any evidence that I accepted a free month."

      Offering a cancelling customer a "free month" as a good will token is simply a trick. If the customer accepts the free month, they have negated their cancellation - the account is still active. They have to call again to cancel it. Only they don't call because they think they already have cancelled it. It is only when they see the charge on their credit card that they realize the account is still active. By then they are into another month. The lesson? Never accept a "free month" when you are cancelling a service.

      Bah, humbug!

      Dana, of Braintree, Mass., isn't sending out any Christmas greetings this year. It's not that she didn't want to.

      "I ordered Christmas Cards from VistaPrint on Dec 9," Dana said. "They arrived Dec 19 and were totally creased and unusable. The offer I got from VistaPrint was that they would resend them by Dec 23, not enough time to get out for Christmas. Since I used a Groupon, they offered no refund and told me to take up my concern with Groupon."

      It seems Dana waited a little late to order Christmas cards. She might have been better off picking up some at a local gift shop or department store.  

      Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Emerson, Sirius XM, VistaPrint, Starting over and Bah, humbug....
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      Google Planning a Tablet to Compete with iPad

      Amazon's Fire blazing new trails in ad growth

      Forget smartphones, tablets are taking over.  Google is the latest to enter the tablet derby, saying it will have a media tablet "of the highest quality" to compete with the Apple iPad within the next six months. And the Kindle Fire is burning up ad budgets.

      In an interview with an Italian newspaper, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said the company was working on a technologically advanced tablet.

      in an interview with an Italian newspaper, Schmidt credited Apple's Steve Jobs with understanding better than anyone the revolutionary potential of the tablet and went on to create the iPad, which Schmidt called "an amazing product."

      However, Schmidt said it's the nature of capitalism to compete and Google will be trying to go Apple one better when its tablet debuts.

      Schmidt said the Android-based Google tablet will compete with the next-generation iPad and such premium Android slates as the Asus Eee Pad, not with the more humble Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook.

      The Fire's on fire

      OK Eric, but the Kindle Fire from Amazon is not only selling in huge numbers, it's also blazing away on the advertising front. 

      According to data from mobile ad network Millennial Media, the Fire has seen its ad impressions grow at an average daily rate of 19% since its launch. In fact, the Kindle Fire’s impression growth on the platform has slightly outpaced that of the iPad when that device launched in early 2010.

      "We're not just seeing millions of impressions, we're seeing a monthly run rate of hundreds of millions of impressions," said Millennial’s report of the Fire.

      Forget smartphones, tablets are taking over.  Google is the latest to enter the tablet derby, saying it will have a media tablet "of the highest quali...
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      Demise of AT&T/T-Mobile Deal Leaves Questions for Consumers

      AT&T still short of spectrum, T-Mobile's future remains hazy

      Consumer groups and other activist organizations swooned in ecstasy as AT&T bowed to pressure from the Obama Administration and abandoned its attempt to take over T-Mobile.

      • Parul P. Desai, policy counsel for Consumers Union said, “It’s an early holiday gift for consumers. From the first day that this deal was announced, we have warned regulators, lawmakers, and consumers of the dangerous consequences of this merger."
      • Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron said, "The Obama administration deserves praise and credit for standing up to AT&T's relentless lobbying and propaganda. And the American public can breathe a sigh of relief that this time the public interest trumped AT&T's self-serving attempt to kill off what little competition remains in the wireless market."
      • Media Access Project’s Senior Vice President and Policy Director Andrew Jay Schwartzman said: "While AT&T surely will say that it must quickly obtain additional spectrum, the filings in this case show that AT&T has been hoarding spectrum.  It should instead use its existing spectrum more efficiently and expedite deployment of more efficient LTE technology."

      They should perhaps have talked to some T-Mobile customers.

      "T-Mobile customer care representatives explained to me that it is not their problem if I do not have reception in an area where I moved to," said Jessica of Mulberry, Fla., one of the thousands of customers who have written to ConsumerAffairs.com complaining of billing disputes, network problems, defective phones and poor customer service.

      "They also misinformed me about my contract telling me that only one of the phone lines was going to be extended. Instead, they extended all four of my contracts and will charge me $800 to cancel all four lines!" Jessica said.

      Union endorsed deal

      The Communications Workers of America had endorsed the merger, saying it would create 96,000 American jobs and protect existing workers from losing their jobs.

      The CWA said opponents of the merger were "misguided" and wrong in their contention that previous mergers had created job losses at AT&T Wireless.

      The deal would have created the largest single wireless carrier and, according to AT&T, would have hastened the deployment of wireless broadband and 4G LTE cellphone service to underserved areas.

      It might also have brought relief to AT&T customers, long plagued by dropped calls and other symptoms of a network that's trying to carry more data than it can accommodate -- trying to put three gallons into a two-gallon bucket, to put it simply.

      The Justice Department, FCC and other opponents didn't buy the argument, though, predicting that AT&T would just gobble up T-Mobile, concentrate its resources in the most profitable (i.e., most populous) areas, leaving rural and other underserved areas no better off than they are now.

      But at this point, arguing over what might have been is like arguing over whether to buy a Saab or a Saturn.  The question is: what does the deal's demise mean for consumers?

      Now what?

      It's not likely AT&T wireless customers will see any immediate effects from the breakdown.  That's not necessarily good, of course, since many AT&T customers are in a perpetual snit over dropped calls, slow data and other annoyances.

      T-Mobile customers, on the other hand, may want to consider their options.  T-Mobile's German owners, Deutsche Telekom AG, have been reluctant to make the long-overdue investment that's needed to expand the company's network and compete vigorously in the marketplace and CEO René Obermann isn't painting a rosy picture.

      Just hours after the deal went south, Obermann said that long-term challenges for T-Mobile remain and confessed he found it  "not understandable" that U.S. regulators had opposed the deal so vigorously.

      Obermann walks away with a $3 billion break-up fee and a few bushels of spectrum from AT&T but that's hardly enough to awaken much enthusiasm in Deutsche Telekom executives, who have their hands full with their much more successful European properties and don't want to divert resources to what increasingly looks like a failing U.S. property.

      With the AT&T deal in tatters, T-Mobile is the only national carrier that isn't building its own LTE network, and also the only one not selling the iPhone. This isn't exactly great for business, which may be why T-Mobile lost 850,000 customers in the first nine months of the year.

      Although opponents of the merger heaped effusive praise on T-Mobile, it is hardly breaking new trails in pricing, customer service or technical excellence.

      It's hard to see how Obermann and company will be motivated to put much more into the venture, given the back-breaking costs of competing more effectively.  

      Even more galling is the barrier to exit the Germans now face.  Having been blocked from selling their company for reasons best described as inexplicable to European telecom executives, they may be tempted to view the entire exercise as futile.

      Consumer groups and other activist organizations swooned in ecstasy as AT&T bowed to pressure from the Obama Administration and abandoned its attempt t...
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      Study: Alcohol Marketed Heavily On Digital Media

      Beer and spirits marketers increasingly turning to social media

      It's illegal to sell alcoholic beverages to anyone under 21 years of age, but a new study concludes that hasn't stopped the industry from marketing to underage consumers.

      The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has documented what it says is the alcohol industry’s push into digital marketing. The findings, the center says, raise questions whether the industry’s self-regulation is adequately protecting underage youth from exposure to the “alcohol experience” available on social marketing platforms such as FaceBook, YouTube and Twitter.

      CAMY, in turn, has used the Internet to fight back, releasing its findings in a series of YouTube videos.

      Large Facebook presence

      The study found that 10 leading alcohol brands have more than 16.5 million people "liking" their Facebook brand pages, and as of November 2011, 10 alcohol brands with youth appeal had uploaded 35,725 photos and 377 videos to their Facebook pages. Fans of brands with youth appeal had also uploaded 15,416 photos and 98 videos to the brand Facebook pages, taking their messages viral.

      Images of Santa, toys, and sexually suggestive photos as well as those indicating binge consumption of alcohol are on the industry’s social media sites despite the industry standards, the center said.

      CAMY said it also tested the adequacy of the industry’s “age affirmation” technology that is aimed at preventing exposure of this marketing to underage youth. The result? "Essentially meaningless," the center said. “Age affirmation” means a social media site user needs to state their age, but the age is not verified.

      Number one problem

      CAMY says alcohol is the number one drug problem among American youth. Each year, an estimated 4,700 youth die from excessive alcohol use. More young people drink alcohol than smoke tobacco or use marijuana, though a recent survey suggested the number of teens drinking alcohol is declining while the number smoking marijuana is climbing.

      In 2003, trade groups for beer and distilled spirits committed to placing alcohol ads in media venues only when underage youth comprises less than or equal to 30 percent of the audience. At least 14 longitudinal scientific studies have found that the more young people are exposed to alcohol marketing, the more likely they are to start drinking or, if already drinking, to drink more.

      “Over and over again, youth are more likely to hear, read or see alcohol ads in mainstream media, and brands are now taking their messages from their branded sites to social media platforms such as YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, and Facebook,” said David Jernigan, director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth. “As teens are early adopters of social media and there are viral elements of this media, parents need to be more aware of this marketing and to educate their children about the real harms of underage drinking in spite of the industry’s message of glamour and allure.”

      Beer and spirits producers moving heavily into digital marketing...
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      Advice to Journalists: Keep Your Hands Clean

      Reporters, editors should stay out of politics, organization advises

      Given the revolving door between politics and journalism at the network TV level, any mention of journalists avoiding political involvement is usually greeted with gales of laughter.

      But, believe it or not, "journalism" and "ethics" are sometimes used in the same sentence and smaller, less star-struck organizations still take such things seriously.

      The Society for Professional Journalists (SPJ) is so concerned by the horrible examples being set at the national level -- presidential advisers and even family members being magically "transformed" into journalists -- that it has issued a position paper to provide guidance to reporters and editors who may be tempted to stray onto forbidden turf.

      The SPJ Ethics Committee says in a preface to the report that it gets a significant number of questions about whether journalists should engage in political activity.

      The answer is no

      "The simplest answer is 'No.' Don’t do it. Don’t get involved. Don’t contribute money, don’t work in a campaign, don’t lobby, and especially, don’t run for office yourself," the comittee advised, but concedes there is a little bit more to it than that.

      In its position paper, the committee advises journalists:

      • Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived
      • Remain free of associations that may compromise integrity or damage credibility


      While those are the most directly relevant provisions, the committee advises the following also apply, but in different ways:

      • Disclose unavoidable conflicts
      • Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable
      • Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context
      • Recognize a special obligation to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open and that government records are open to inspection


      "Objectivity in today’s superheated political environment may be impossible, but impartiality should still be a reporter’s goal," the report advises. "Even those who are paid to have opinions — columnists, editorial writers, talk show hosts, bloggers (OK, maybe not always paid) — should at least be aware of all relevant points of view."

      While there may be some leeway for media types not directly involved in reporting and editing, the group advises that reporters covering politics are at the other end of this spectrum of what may be tolerated.

      "For them, almost no political activity is OK. Some reporters interpret this as meaning it’s off-limits even to register to vote as a Democrat or Republican or third-party member. Some take it to extremes and even decline to vote in a general election. Those are extreme positions, and unnecessarily prim. The proof of a reporter’s impartiality should be in the performance," the report advises.

      Oh, and by the way, yard signs, bumper stickers and even campaign buttons should be considered off-limits, SPJ cautioned. 

      Given the revolving door between politics and journalism at the network TV level, any mention of journalists avoiding political involvement is usually gree...
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      Survey: Job Security is Workers' Top Concern

      Employees worried about career development, advancement

      A new survey finds more than three-quarters of U.S. employees are satisfied overall with their jobs, but fewer than one-half of them are happy with opportunities for career development and advancement -- and nearly everyone is concerned about job security.

      The findings are from the 2011 Job Satisfaction and Engagement Research Report released by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

      The significance of the research results, according to Mark Schmit, SHRM’s vice president for research: “As we slowly come out of the recession, the war for talent will be back on. When that happens, there is the potential for turnover given the dissatisfaction that employees seem to have with the real or perceived lack of advancement opportunities.”

      SHRM’s new research showed that 83 percent of U.S. employees reported overall satisfaction with their current jobs. Although declining slightly since 2009, the percent of satisfied employees hasn’t changed significantly in the last 10 years, Schmit noted.

      “In general, people find ways to be satisfied at work,” he said.

      But only slightly more than 40 percent were satisfied with their career development and advancement opportunities.

      For the first time since SHRM’s annual job satisfaction survey began almost 10 years ago, the research also examined employee engagement — how connected or committed employees are to their organization.

      Moderately engaged

      About seven out of 10 employees reported being moderately engaged in their work, determined to accomplish work goals and completely focused on work projects. They also reported putting extra effort into their work. At the same time, however, only about one-half of employees felt completely plugged in at work (52 percent) or enjoyed volunteering for activities beyond what the job requires (53 percent).

      “Employees seem to be saying: I’m not getting training or opportunities for development, so why would I volunteer to do extra things to advance my career by helping out the organization,” Schmit said. “But it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that has implications not only for employees but for HR professionals and business leaders who manage the talent in their organizations.”

      The survey polled 600 randomly selected employees at small to large companies. Other findings included:

      • Job security remains the biggest driver of job satisfaction for the fourth year, with 63 percent of respondents saying it was very important to them. But only 28 percent of respondents were very satisfied with their job security. Women felt less satisfied with job security than men.

      • Employees also value communication with senior managers, but less than one-third of employees reported feeling very satisfied with that communication. “This is driven in part by economic conditions,” Schmit said. “If employers don’t have good news, it’s hard for them to be communicative with their employees.”

      • Employees were moderately engaged in 2011. Seventy percent frequently felt that they were putting all their effort into their work and were completely focused on work projects.

      A new survey finds more than three-quarters of U.S. employees are satisfied overall with their jobs, but fewer than one-half of them are happy with opportu...
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      Liberty Mutual Charged With Ordering Used Parts For Car Repairs

      West Virginia sues, seeks restitution

      When you're in an accident, the insurance company has a lot of leeway in the repair process, even approving the body shop doing the repair work. But in West Virginia, insurance companies must meet one hard and fast rule – they aren't allowed to mandate used or refurbished parts for the repair.

      West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw has sued Liberty Mutual Insurance Company and a West Virginia repair shop - Greg Chandler’s Frame & Body, LLC - for repairing vehicles with junkyard parts in violation of state law.

      The suit lists what it says were repeated violations of the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act by Liberty Mutual and Greg’s Body Shop. McGraw’s office alleges that Liberty Mutual required body shops to repair vehicles with reconditioned, re-manufactured, and used parts in violation of West Virginia law. In addition, he said Liberty Mutual failed to provide the proper notices and written statements to consumers.

      In West Virginia, it is unlawful for an insurance company to require the use of salvaged, used, or reconditioned OEM crash parts when negotiating repairs of motor vehicles within three years of manufacture, without acquiring the motor vehicle owner’s consent.

      Complaints about junkyard parts


      The attorney general began investigating Liberty Mutual and Greg’s Body Shop after receiving evidence that new vehicles were being repaired with junkyard parts. The investigation by McGraw’s Consumer Protection Division confirmed that Liberty Mutual employed a policy that violated state law.

      McGraw’s lawsuit asks the court to enjoin the defendants from engaging in this unlawful activity in the future, seeks restitution for consumers whose cars were illegally repaired with junkyard crash parts, and asks for civil penalties.

      “My office will always work to insure that West Virginians receive safe, high quality, competent, and lawful repairs to their vehicles,” McGraw said. “Implementing policies that thwart state law in an effort to increase profits is unacceptable.”

      Consumers who think they have been a victim of this policy should contact Attorney General Darrell McGraw’s consumer protection hotline at 1-800-368-8808.

      For consumers in states other than West Virginia, it might be prudent to call your state insurance commissioner's office when your car is being repaired by an insurance company. Ask what the law states about the use of used, or after-market parts and make sure the insurance company is complying with the law.

      West Virginia accuses Liberty Mutual of repairing cars with junkyard parts...
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      Payday Lender Ordered to Pay $294,000

      Ecash and Getecash illegally tried to garnish borrowers' wages

      At the request of the Federal Trade Commission, a federal court has ordered one of the individuals behind a payday lending scheme to pay $294,536 for illegally trying to garnish borrowers’ wages, and for using other illegal debt-collection practices.

      The order bans Joe S. Strom and two companies he controls from the illegal lending and collection practices challenged by the FTC in this case.

      The court found that the defendants sought repayment of loans they made by taking money from borrowers’ paychecks.  Online loan applicants checked a box indicating their agreement with loan terms, including an inconspicuous “wage assignment” clause providing that their wages would be garnished to cover delinquent loan payments. 

      The court held that the clause violated the FTC’s Credit Practices Rule, which bans wage assignment clauses in consumer contracts in many cases.

      U.S. law allows federal agencies – but not private companies – to require employers to garnish employees’ wages without a court order when the employees owe the government money.  The court determined that the defendants misrepresented that they had the same collection rights as the government.

      Violated FDCPA

      The court also found that the defendants falsely told consumers’ employers that the consumers knew their pay would be garnished and had had an opportunity to dispute the debt, in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and the FTC Act, and that they violated the FDCPA by telling employers and co-workers about consumers’ debts without their consent.

      The order prohibits Strom, LoanPointe, LLC and Eastbrook, LLC, also doing business as Ecash and Getecash, from misrepresenting either the available terms, rates, conditions, or amounts of any loans or other extensions of credit; or any other fact that is relevant to a consumer’s decision to obtain credit.

      At the request of the Federal Trade Commission, a federal court has ordered one of the individuals behind a payday lending scheme to pay $294,536...
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