Current Events in April 2012

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    Dole Fresh Vegetables Recalls Salads

    May be contaminated with Salmonella

    Dole Fresh Vegetables is voluntarily recalling 756 cases of DOLE Seven Lettuces salad with Use-by Date of April 11, 2012, UPC code 71430 01057 and Product Codes 0577N089112A and 0577N089112B, due to a possible health risk from Salmonella. Dole Fresh Vegetables is coordinating closely with regulatory officials.  No illnesses have been reported in association with the recall.

    The Product Code and Use-by Date are in the upper right-hand corner of the package; the UPC code is on the back of the package, below the barcode. The salads were distributed in fifteen U.S. states (Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin). 

    No illnesses have been reported in association with the recall. This precautionary recall notification is being issued due to an isolated instance in which a sample of Seven Lettuces salad yielded a positive result for Salmonella in a random sample test collected and conducted by the State of New York.

    No other Dole salads are included in the recall. Only the specific Product Codes, UPC codes and April 11, 2012 Use-by-Date of Seven Lettuces salads identified above are included in the recall. Consumers who have any remaining product with these Product Codes should not consume it, but rather discard it. Retailers and consumers with questions may call the Dole Food Company Consumer Response Center at (800) 356-3111, which is open 8:00 am to 3:00 pm (PDT) Monday - Friday. 

    Retailers should check their inventories and store shelves to confirm that none of the product is mistakenly present or available for purchase by consumers or in warehouse inventories. Dole Fresh Vegetables customer service representatives are already contacting retailers and are in the process of confirming that the recalled product is not in the stream of commerce. 

    Salmonella is an organism that can cause foodborne illness in a person who eats a food item contaminated with it. Symptoms of infection may experience fever and gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, vomiting or abdominal pain. The illness primarily impacts young children, frail and elderly people and those with weakened immune systems. Most healthy adults and children rarely become seriously ill.

    Dole Fresh Vegetables is voluntarily recalling 756 cases of DOLE Seven Lettuces salad with Use-by Date of April 11, 2012, UPC code 71430 01057 and Product ...

    Green Millionaire to Pay $2 Million in Refunds

    Caught up in FTC 'negative option' crackdown

    There's no free lunch. Haven't we all been told that time after time? So when marketers offered a “free” book telling consumers how to fuel their cars and power their homes at no cost, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was more than a little dubious.

    The catch, the FTC says, was consumers who requested the book got a bill for an online magazine they never ordered. In a settlement, Green Millionaire LLC has agreed to pay almost $2 million in refunds and not make misleading product claims in the future.

    Negative option

    The FTC says the case is an example of its effort to end abuses associated with “negative option” marketing, in which the seller interprets consumers' silence or inaction as permission to charge them. In particular, regarding Internet-based negative-option offers, the order requires the defendants to provide a check box disclosing the most critical terms of the negative-option program: all costs associated with it, that consumers are agreeing to pay the costs, the length of any trial period, and that consumers must cancel to avoid the charges. Consumers must then affirmatively select the check box for the defendants to process any billing information.

    That's very different, the FTC complaint says, from the way the defendants marketed the Green Millionaire Book in television and Internet ads. The ads falsely claimed the book would describe "how to get free gas for life," "how to put solar panels on your roof for free," and "how to make your electricity meter go backwards paying you," with phony testimonial statements such as "I don't pay for electricity" and "I don't have car payments, and I don't pay for fuel."

    'Just pay a small shipping charge'

    The Green Millionaire websites allegedly asked consumers to provide their credit card or bank account number to pay a small shipping and handling fee, without clearly disclosing that they would be charged $29.95 for a two-month subscription to an e-magazine, or $89.95 for a one-year subscription.

    The defendants allegedly violated the FTC Act by failing to disclose the subscription program, that customers would have to cancel it to avoid additional charges, the program's cost and how to cancel it, and when they must cancel to avoid charges. They also allegedly debited or charged consumers' bank or credit card accounts without their consent, misrepresented the book's contents, and used unsubstantiated endorsements.

    Green Millionaire not alone

    These same tactics are used by dozens of other marketers to sell other types of products to unsuspecting consumers. It's possible this is the first of other similar settlements to come.

    In an encouraging sign for consumers, the settlement order also prohibits the defendants from using consumers' billing information to obtain payment without first getting their consent, as well as failing to clearly disclose the terms of any refund or cancellation policy and failing to promptly honor a consumer's request for a refund or cancellation.

    If other marketers are also required to meet these standards, it could well reduce the number of consumers complaining they are being billed for products and services they don't want and never ordered.

    Same tactics are used by dozens of other marketers to sell other types of products to unsuspecting consumers. It's possible this is the first of other simi...

    How Green Is Your Electric Vehicle? It Depends Where You Live

    Cars charged with electricity from coal-fired plants are still better than gas-powered

    Electric vehicles, like the Nissan Leaf, are gaining popularity among green consumers, those who want to live lightly on the earth, because they burn no gasoline and emit no tailpipe fumes. But just how much better for the environment electric cars actually are depends on where they get plugged in at night, according to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). 

    The UCS report, “State of Charge: Electric Vehicles’ Global Warming Emissions and Fuel Cost Savings Across the United States,” is a first-of-its-kind analysis of the emissions EVs create from charging on an electric grid and how the cost of that charging compares to filling up a gasoline-powered vehicle. 

    Regional differences

    Broken down by category and divided by electric grid regions, the analysis concludes that in every part of the country, EVs outperform most gasoline-powered vehicles when it comes to global warming emissions. The analysis breaks the country into regions that are good, better or best for an EV. 

    In fact, nearly half (45 percent) of Americans live in ‘best’ regions where an EV has lower global warming emissions than a 50 mile per gallon (mpg) gasoline-powered vehicle, topping even the best gasoline hybrids on the market. In places like California and most of New York, EV’s environmental performance could be as high as an 80 mpg gasoline-powered vehicle.

    “This report shows drivers should feel confident that owning an electric vehicle is a good choice for reducing global warming pollution, cutting fuel costs, and slashing oil consumption,” said Don Anair, the report’s author and senior engineer for UCS’s Clean Vehicles Program. “Those in the market for a new car may have been uncertain how the global warming emissions and fuel costs of EVs stack up to gasoline-powered vehicles. Now, drivers can for the first time see just how much driving an electric vehicle in their hometown will lower global warming emissions and save them money on fuel costs.” 

    Even in regions where coal dominates the electricity grid, EVs are still “good” when it comes to global warming emissions. In parts of the Rocky Mountain region, where much of the electricity comes from coal-burning plants, driving an EV produces global warming emissions equivalent to a gasoline vehicle with a fuel economy rating of 33 mpg, similar to the best non-hybrid compact gasoline vehicles available today – all while cutting our nation’s oil consumption.

    While the environmental benefits of driving an EV vary depending on where the driver charges the EV, electric grids across the country are getting cleaner. In fact, 29 states and the District of Columbia are implementing renewable electricity standards while a greater number of older and dirtier coal plants are retired. 

    “The good news is that as the nation’s electric grids get cleaner, consumers who buy an EV today can expect to see their car’s emissions go down over the lifetime of the vehicle,” said Anair.

    More economical

    Wherever EV owners charge their vehicles, they will also save money. Based on electricity rates in 50 cities across the United States, the analysis found drivers can save $750 to $1,200 dollars a year compared to operating an average new compact gasoline vehicle (27 mpg) fueled with gasoline at $3.50 per gallon. Higher gas prices would mean even greater EV fuel cost savings. For each 50 cent increase in gas prices, an EV driver can expect save an extra $200 a year.

    In some cases, especially in California, switching to a Time-Of-Use (TOU) electricity rate from a standard residential rate plan is necessary to save the most money, amounting to hundreds of dollars per year. TOU electricity rates allow consumers to access cheaper electricity when vehicles are being charged overnight. Consumers will need to educate themselves about the different kinds of rate plans their local utility has to offer when plugging in their vehicle at home.

    With more than 10 new electric vehicle models expected from automakers in 2012, and even more models on the drawing board, consumers will have more alternatives that can help reduce oil consumption and improve America’s energy security.

    But to fully realize the benefits of EVs will require changing not just the kind of vehicles people drive, but also the power that drives them, the report concludes. Electric drive vehicles can be zero emission today, when powered by renewables like solar and wind. But it will take continued steps to ramp down coal and ramp up renewables so that every region can enjoy clean energy and the best benefits EVs have to offer. 

    “As consumers get more electric vehicle choices over the coming years, it will be increasingly important to change how we generate our electricity,” said Anair. “These vehicles can play a central role in a clean transportation future, and as we move to a cleaner electric grid, we will see that future move closer to reality.”

    Electric vehicles, like the Nissan Leaf, are gaining popularity among green consumers, those who want to live lightly on the earth, because they burn no ga...

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      More Pressure On Fannie and Freddie to Write Down Mortgages

      State attorneys general say it could ease foreclosure crisis

      Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has joined those who are urging the overseer of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which own a majority of the nation’s home loans, to reverse his refusal to implement loan principal forgiveness in the agencies’ loan modification programs.

      In a letter to Edward DeMarco, Acting Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), Miller and a coalition of 11 state attorneys general argue that the failure to offer underwater borrowers principal write-downs obstructs the effective resolution of the nation’s foreclosure crisis and harms struggling homeowners and investors.

      Goal is to lower re-defaults

      “We think that it’s pretty clear that when principal reduction is used in the right circumstances, the re-default rate will be very low. I feel strongly that it’s one more tool needed to help rebuild our economy through addressing the foreclosure crisis,” Miller said.

      Miller is no stranger to the issue. Last year he chaired the task force of 50 state attorneys general who negotiated a settlement with five major loan servicers implicated in the the robo-signing scandal.

      Given Demarco’s recent acknowledgment that principal forgiveness may be beneficial to both homeowners and investors, Miller says the letter advocates for swift implementation of principal forgiveness in federal loan modification programs.

      “FHFA's continued position that principal forgiveness conflicts with its goal of asset preservation is not supported by real data,” the attorneys general write.


      The state officials argue that principal forgiveness restores a borrower’s status as a stakeholder and provides them a stronger incentive to maintain payments.

      In the letter, the attorneys general argued that the increase of incentive payments to investors for allowing forgiveness under the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) should also reduce concerns regarding the potential impact on the financial stability of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as either owner or guarantor of these loans.

      The letter also says that reluctance to engage in principal forgiveness based on the inability of internal computer systems to handle new programs is not an excuse as the nations’ largest banks overcame similar concerns after the national mortgage servicing settlement just finalized.

      “More than five million people have lost their homes due to foreclosure in the past five years, with millions more on the brink of foreclosure,” the letter points out. “Effectively resolving this foreclosure crisis is a key to restoring a healthy economy for our entire country.”

      Because Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac own a majority of the nation’s home loans, Miller says they must be a leader in the arena of loan modification best practices, and not an obstruction.

      More Pressure On Fannie and Freddie to Write Down Mortgages...

      Best Buy Identifies Stores Being Closed

      Giant electronics retailer struggles to compete effectively against Amazon, other online stores

      Best Buy has identified the 50 "big box" stores that will be closed as the company tries to shrink its footprint of about 1,100 big-box locations in the U.S.

      The company said it has already closed two stores this year (one in Kansas City, Mo., and one in Scottsdale, Ariz.), and has notified five Twin Cities stores and one San Antonio store that they will close later this year. Employees of the 42 remaining stores were notified over the weekend that their stores would be closing.

      Best Buy has been struggling for the last few years to compete effectively against Amazon and other online retailers, who often undercut in-store prices and, in many cases, do not charge sales tax.

      "This was not an easy decision to make," the company said in a prepared statement. "We chose these stores carefully, and are working to ensure the impact to our employees will be as minimal as possible. ... But we also recognize the impact this news has on the people who deserve respect for the contributions they have made to our business.

      The announcement from Best Buy said that most of the doomed stores will permanently close by May 12. Three additional locations are expected to permanently close later this summer. 

      Here is the list of store closings, as provided by Best Buy: 

      Store Name




      Casa Grande

      1004 N Promenade Pwy

      Casa Grande


      Lake Pleasant

      10134 W Happy Valley Rd



      East Palo Alto

      1751 E Bayshore Rd

      East Palo Alto



      10861 Weyburn Ave

      Los Angeles



      934 Perimeter Dr



      Moreno Valley East

      27220 Eucalyptus

      Moreno Valley



      4120 E 4th St




      4405 Century Blvd




      2857 Park Ave



      Arapahoe & Parker

      15800 E Briarwood Cir



      The Forum

      9370 Dynasty Dr

      Fort Myers



      11655 W Hillsborough Ave




      128 Pavilion Pkwy




      4014 Atlanta Hwy




      1038 N Rohlwing Rd



      87th & Dan Ryan

      8900 S Lafayette Ave




      200 S Waukegan Rd




      4707 Lincoln Mall Dr




      1100 N Rt 83



      West Dundee

      979 W Main St

      West Dundee



      10500 Parallel Pkwy

      Kansas City


      Back Bay

      360 Newbury St




      2421 Cranberry Hwy



      Inner Harbor

      600 E Pratt St



      Hunt Valley

      118 Shawan Rd

      Hunt Valley



      405 Mariner Way



      *Brooklyn Center

      5925 Earle Brown Dr

      Brooklyn Center



      3200 Southdale Cir




      1350 Hwy 15 S




      18350 Orchard Trl



      Rochester South

      4540 Maine Ave Se




      20870 Rogers Dr




      15678 Manchester Rd




      3151 W Highway 74



      Rocky Mount

      1100 N Wesleyan Blvd

      Rocky Mount



      12210 K Plz



      East River Plaza

      517 E 117th St

      New York


      Steelyard Commons

      3506 Steelyard Dr



      Salem Mall

      5031 Salem Ave




      Las Americas Expry PR52 Zafiro




      890 W Main Rd



      Hickory Hollow

      5255 Hickory Hollow Pkwy




      12901 North I-35



      *Woodlake Parkway

      6218 Woodglen

      San Antonio


      Landmark Mall

      5901 Stevenson Ave



      Cosner's Corner

      9745 Jefferson Davis Hwy



      East Richmond

      4410 S Laburnum Ave



      Mill Plain

      16611 Se Mill Plain Blvd



      * indicates stores notified March 29, 2012 of closure plans

      Note: Two stores in Kansas City, MO (Metro North) and Scottsdale, AZ (Shea) permanently closed in February 2012.

      Best Buy has identified the 50 "big box" stores that will be closed as the company tries to shrink its footprint of about 1,100 big-box locations in the U....

      Despite Weak Economy, Prom Spending Surges

      Spiraling out of control, Visa warns

      Times are still tough, gasoline is expensive, and families everywhere are having to tighten their belts. Except, it appears, for families this time of year with teenagers who have a date for the prom.

      Despite continuing economic sluggishness, a survey by Visa shows that when it comes to high school proms, Americans are partying like it's 1999. This year, Visa says it appears that families with teenagers will spend an average of $1,078 each on the prom, a 33.6 percent increase over the $807 spent in 2011.

      Out of control

      "Prom season spending is spiraling out of control as teens continuously try to one-up each other," said Jason Alderman, Senior Director of Global Financial Education, Visa Inc. "It's important to remember that the prom is a high school dance, not a wedding, and parents need to set limits in order to demonstrate financial responsibility."

      The survey also revealed some interesting regional and income level disparities. Families in the Northeast will spend twice as much as every other region of the country. Regionally, the survey found:

      • Northeastern families will spend an average of $1,944
      • Southern families will spend an average of $1,047
      • Western families will spend an average of $744
      • Midwestern families will spend an average of $696

      Low income families spend the most

      Unfortunately, Alderman says, the data shows parents in the lowest income brackets plan to spend more than the national average on their children's big night, usually going into debt. Families that earn between $20,000 and $30,000 plan to spend the most – an average of $2,635.

      How could you possibly spend that much on a teen-age party? Well, there's a dress or a tuxedo, limousine rental, flowers, food, accommodations, and parties after the party.

      To save on prom costs, here are a few ideas:

      • Shop for formal wear at consignment stores or online. As with tuxedos, many outlets rent formal dresses and accessories for one-time use.
      • Have make-up done at a department store's cosmetics department or find a talented friend to help out.
      • Split the cost of a limo with other couples, or drive yourselves.
      • Take pre-prom photos yourself and have the kids use cell phones or digital cameras for candid shots at various events.
      • Work out a separate prom budget with your child well in advance to determine what you can afford. Set a limit of what you will contribute and stick to it. If teens want to spend more than that, encourage them to earn the money to pay for it or decide which items they can live without.

      Times are still tough, gasoline is expensive, and families everywhere are having to tighten their belts. Except, it appears, for families this time of year...

      Michigan Repeals Motorcycle Helmet Law

      Safety and insurance groups not pleased

      Michigan has become the 31st state to repeal its law requiring adult motorcycle riders to wear a protective helmet. Motorcycle enthusiasts hailed the move as long overdue, saying adults should have the right to decide whether or not they should wear a helmet.

      But not everyone is cheering. Insurance and safety advocates call it a step backward. Even AAA Michigan issued a statement saying it is extremely disappointed that Michigan Gov. Rich Snyder chose to sign the bill into law. It said Public Act 98, which took effect Friday, is poor public policy and will increase motorcycle fatalities and injuries.

      30-year old law

      The repeal erases more than three decades of Michigan's mandatory helmet law. The new law allows motorcyclists to ride without a helmet if they have a $20,000 medical policy, have had the cycle endorsement for at least two years, or completed a motorcycle safety course.

      The governor had earlier indicated he would not be supportive of the helmet law unless it was tied to some form of no-fault auto insurance reform.

      “Because the repeal will result in additional injuries -- which will ultimately be paid for by all Michigan motorists -- the need is even more critical for changes in the state's current no-fault system,” AAA Michigan said in a statement.

      According to AAA, the repeal of the motorcycle helmet law will result in at least 30 additional motorcycle fatalities each year, along with 127 more incapacitating injuries and $129 million in added economic costs to Michigan residents. The group sites an analysis by the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, which it said was based on the experience of other states where similar measures have been enacted.

      Higher insurance costs?

      Pete Kuhnmuench, executive director of the Insurance Institute of Michigan, joined AAA in expressing his disappointment.

      "It is disappointing that a law that saved lives and reduced injuries in the Great Lakes State has been repealed,"Kuhnmuench said in a statement.

      He said motorcyclists who are injured in a crash with a motor vehicle are able to collect no-fault auto insurance benefits through the vehicle driver’s auto insurance policy. That means that all auto insurance policyholders pay for motorcyclists’ injuries, Kuhnmuench said.

      Michigan Repeals Motorcycle Helmet Law...

      Implantable Device Could Warn of Impending Heart Attack

      Researchers believe heart attack victims could get advance warning

      It's a stark statistic. More than one million people in the United States suffer a heart attack every year and more than 30 percent of them die before they can receive medical attention.

      One big reason for that, doctors say, is that most victims are unaware that they are suffering a life-threatening attack until it is too late. The average time from the onset of symptoms to when a victim arrives at a hospital is about three hours.

      What if your heart had an alarm that could sound when it was about to go into arrest? That may not be so far-fetched.

      AngelMed Guardian

      Clinical trials are now underway for an implantable device called the AngelMed Guardian. It is designed to alert users about a potential heart attack through a combination of vibrations, audible tones, and visual warnings.

      The concept stemmed from the hospital environment itself. Vibrotactile, or vibrating alarms are sometimes used to warn medical personnel in operating rooms or ICUs of an emergency. Now, research is focusing on their use as a means to warn patients that something in their body is going wrong.

      Auditory alarms are provided with selected implantable heart defibrillators, but research indicates that some patients - particularly the elderly - are unable to hear the alarms.

      Dual advantages

      “A vibrotactile alarm provided by the implanted device has two major advantages,” said Mary Carol Day, a researcher who has studied the device. “First, the implanted device can’t be left behind like a portable device. Second, a vibrotactile alarm from the implanted device is more likely to be felt than an auditory alarm is to be heard because, for example, the patient may be wearing heavy clothing, has hearing loss, or is in a noisy environment.”

      The device offers two levels of alarm urgency: a high-priority alarm indicates that the patient may be having a heart attack and should call 911, and a low-priority alarms indicates that a condition has been detected that requires a doctor visit within 48 hours.

      The alarms are provided by an implanted medical device, similar in size to a pacemaker, that is placed in the upper left chest, plus an external device, similar to a pager, that emits an auditory alarm and flashes a red or yellow warning light.

      The device is not yet available for consumers, but might be in the future, depending on the results of the clinical trials.

      “If the Guardian is approved for sale by the FDA, it might be extended in ways that will change the way the patient interacts with the system as a whole,” Day said. “This would require more research and simulated-use studies to refine and validate the new interactions between the patient and the system.”

      It's a stark statistic. More than one million people in the United States suffer a heart attack every year and more than 30 percent of them die before they...

      Nevada Man Arrested In Alleged Mortgage Modification Scheme

      Desperate homeowners cautioned about offers of help that require an advance fee

      Police in Nevada have arrested a 46-year old businessman accused of defrauding desperate homeowners with a mortgage modification scheme.

      Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto says Stephen Vitalich, doing business as Consumer Loan Excellence of America, LLC or NBMS of America, LLC, faces charges of theft.

      The criminal complaint alleges Vitalich promised clients he would obtain mortgage loan modifications that would substantially reduce clients’ monthly mortgage payments. The complaint further alleges that after collecting large advance fees, Vitalich performed no substantive work on his clients’ behalf and eventually disappeared with their money.

      Since Nevada is ground zero in the nation's foreclosure crisis, Masto said Vitalich didn't have to look hard to find victims.

      “Nevadans continue to struggle with the economic downturn which has wreaked havoc on our state’s housing market,” said Masto. “Some homeowners will do anything they can to stay in their home, including unknowingly turning to predators. I hope this prosecution serves as a warning to other would be predators to think twice taking advantage of Nevada homeowners.”

      2010 investigation

      In early 2010, Masto launched an investigation of Consumer Loan Excellence of America in response to numerous consumer complaints filed with her office. The case was investigated and is being prosecuted by the Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Justice Fraud Unit.

      Nevada is not the only state struggling to protect homeowners for abusive mortgage modification schemes. Illinois and Indiana have, in recent months, sued various companies charging advance fees and then offering little or no help to struggling homeowners.

      Masto says homeowners should never pay up front fees to reduce their loans. Help is free and generally speaking, no one should pay for assistance.

      Homeowners who face mortgage difficulties should instead contact a non-profit housing counselor, either through or a local non-profit housing clinic, to learn about the mortgage process and their rights as homeowners.

      Nevada Man Arrested In Alleged Mortgage Modification Scheme...

      FCC: Google 'Deliberately Impeded' Spy-Fi Probe

      Agency staff, exasperated with foot-dragging, proposes a $25,000 fine

      If this were a movie, Google would be the Nixon White House and intrepid Federal Communications Commission (FCC) staffers would be the guys holding clandestine meetings in Washington parking garages, trying to find out what the big secret is. 

      But it's not. At least not yet. However, the FCC's investigation into Google's collection of sensitive personal information from wireless networks is starting to closely resemble the kind of political drama that involves stonewalling, witnesses taking the Fifth Amendment and press secretaries releasing innocuous statements. A review of recent history finds such incidents usually end badly for the stonewallers.

      This particular epic started a few years ago when Google revealed that cars it was using to map streets for its Street View project were also inadvertently eavesdropping on unencrypted personal and commercial wireless networks, scooping up all kinds of dirt on individuals great and small.  

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigated and accepted Google's explanation that the eavesdropping was accidental. Google even said it was "mortified."

      But when the FCC tried to follow up on the FTC probe, it was the FCC that was soon mortified -- mortified by how slow Google was to respond to requests for the names of the employees involved and for copies of emails surrounding the incident.

      The New York Times reported yesterday that Google at one point said it was be too "time-consuming and burdensome" to find the emails the FCC wanted to see. Since Google operates the world's biggest search engine and routinely scans billions of email messages to match them up with advertisements, the FCC found this explanation particularly unconvincing, according to the Times.

      The FCC was again stymied when it asked for the identity of the engineer who was responsible for the Street View project. Sorry, said Google, the employee wanted to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

      And besides, said Google, making the employees available would "serve no useful purpose," the Times reported.

      Google's response

      In a masterpiece of non-responsive rhetoric, worthy of being tagged as "inoperative" by onetime Nixon aide Ron Nessen, a Google spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal: "We worked in good faith to answer the FCC's questions throughout the inquiry, and we are pleased that they have concluded that we complied with the law." 

      The FCC has said that so far it has not found that Google did anything illegal in collecting the information. The proposed $25,000 fine is simply for impeding the investigation, but it doesn't do much to dispel a growing feeling in Washington that the online privacy issue may be worthy of more investigation.

      Google has said it is "profoundly sorry" for having mistakenly collected payload data from unencrypted wireless networks. "As soon as we realized what had happened, we stopped collecting all Wi-Fi data from our Street View cars and immediately informed the authorities," a company spokesman said back in 2011. "We did not want and have never used the payload data in any of our products and services.”

      In January 2011, Google reached an agreement with a 40-state coalition over a subpoena for the so-called "payload" data. The company had said then that it wanted to delete the data but was barred from doing so by the subpoena issued by then-Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, now a Democratic Congressman. 

      If this were a movie, Google would be the Nixon White House and intrepid Federal Communications Commission (FCC) staffers would be the guys holding clandes...

      More From Downton Abbey ... After This

      Appeals court tosses rules against commercials on public TV

      If you're eagerly awaiting the next season of Downton Abbey, you may be dismayed to learn that political and "public-interest" ads may soon be coming to a public television station near you. 

      In one of two decisions not likely to be popular with those who dislike advertising, a federal appeals court in California has overturned a federal law barring public broadcast stations from accepting political and public-issue ads (you know, the ones about how great oil drilling is), saying the restriction is unconstitutional.

      Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, a federal judge has ruled that Worcester's ban on outdoor tobacco ads is also unconstitutional, saying it bars tobacco companies from advertising their products -- which are legal, after all -- to adults who may legally purchase them.

      What's next? Ads on Cuban TV?  

      Perhaps ironically, here in the Land of the Free, the advertising that supports the free press that underpins democracy is reviled on every hand, while "public" television -- which is what foundation- and government-supported TV calls itself -- is somehow seen as inhabiting a higher plane.

      But this holier-than-thou attitude cut no ice with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which reversed 2-1 a decision by a lower court that upheld the federal advertising ban.

      What? You think there's already advertising on public television? No, no, those are just underwriting announcements from public-spirited corporations and foundations that are strictly interested in uplifting public culture, educating the teeming masses and so forth. You know, the oil and drug companies.

      The way the Ninth sees it, ads that push ideas -- like political and public-interest ads -- are protected by the First Amendment while ads that try to sell something, like cars or soap, are "commercial" speech, which has always been accorded less protection than the ravings of the nearest zealot on a soapbox.

      Whether public TV and radio stations decide to hire flotillas of advertising salespeople remains to be seen, but it's hard to see how the tide can be held at bay for too long, given the rather threadbare condition of many public stations, set upon by the likes of YouTube and Vimeo, not to mention Hulu and Netflix and the dread gargantua Amazon. 

      Public outcast

      The case before the Ninth involved a relative outcast of the self-consciously patrician public broadcasting world -- KMTP, a San Francisco station operated by the nonprofit Minority Television Project.  It doesn't receive funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and subsists entirely on what it is able to scrape together from donations, corporate sponsorships and the occasional grant. 

      It broadcasts a hodge-podge of programming, everything from what appears to be a wedding channel to German, Russian and Italian programming.  

      In 2002, the Federal Communications Commission fined the station $10,000 for airing commercials. For whatever reason, the Ninth didn't see fit to return the $10,000, even though little KMTP could probably use the money.

      Blunt bans

      In the Worcester case, U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock found that, however much it may wish its residents didn't smoke, "Worcester may not prohibit tobacco advertisements in order to prevent adults from making the choice to legally purchase tobacco products."

      The judge also snuffed out Worcester's banning of ads for "blunt wraps," rolling papers generally used to assemble marijuana joints. 

      Even though Worcester has outlined the sale of blunts, they are legal in neighboring Fitchburg and, therefore, can be advertised in Worcester, the court held.

      If you're eagerly awaiting the next season of Downton Abbey, you may be dismayed to learn that political and "public-interest" ads may soon be coming to a ...

      New Sony CEO Vows to Improve TV Business, Restore Quality

      Company faces big challenge in its TV unit, which draws consumer complaints

      Consumers rate Sony TVs

      Sony, which once dominated the consumer electronics business, is now fighting for survival. New CEO Kazuo Harai says the company will eliminate 10,000 jobs worldwide as it tries to regain profitability.

      Sony announced this week that its annual net loss would be approximately double its earlier projection. The company has lost money four straight years and has lost money on its television division for the last eight years, partly due to expensive recalls. And as ConsumerAffairs readers well know, it's Sony's televisions that seem to draw the most consumer complaints.

      The company still has its fans, though, as our sample of about 37,000 consumer comments on social networks like Twitter and Facebook shows:


      "Less than two years after purchasing a Sony Bravia 52BR 9 TV, the LCD panel went bad," Joan, of Palm Gardens, Fla., wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. "Sony refuses to acknowledge this as a recall problem and read their script every time I called, which was maddening! I spent $2,200 on this TV which gave me 11 months of service."

      Michelle, of Norfolk, Va., says she bought a 46 inch Bravia in February 2011. One day before the warranty expired, she says she began having problems.

      "Sony said it was probably our cable connection and confirmed it was not the TV," Michelle wrote. "Not long afterward, our picture became worse. We now had horizontal lines through the screen; on the left hand side, there was an egg-shaped discoloration. I felt because our initial call was prior to the expiration on the limited warranty, they should have been more than happy to replace our TV as it the right thing to do. Boy, was I wrong!"

      Sony has long had a reputation for quality in the consumer electronics industry. While all flat screen TVs have issues. consumers, like Norm, of Alberta, Canada, get particularly angry when they encounter quality problems with their Sony TV.

      "I have bought Sony electronics for 30 years, always thought they were the top shop," Norm writes. "It adds insult to injury for them to require you to spend $120 for them to tell you they won't help you."

      Glory days

      At a news conference in Tokyo, Harai said he is committed to reversing Sony's fotunes and restoring the brand to its former glory.

      Efforts in the TV business will focus first on stopping the red ink on the ledger sheet. Harai said he hopes to make the unit profitable again by 2014 by cutting fixed and operating costs.

      But until Sony and other TV manufacturers address what appear to be quality issues - many of these expensive sets don't last six years - they may face strong headwinds. Not to mention a new level of competition when and if Apple follows through on rumored plans to move deeper into the TV set space.

      Sony, which once dominated the consumer electronics business, is now fighting for survival. New CEO Kazuo Harai says the company will eliminate 10,000 jobs...

      Is Your Pre-Owned Small Car Value Spiking?

      New NADA Report Shows Big Gains for Fuel Efficient Small Cars in 2012

      The National Automobile Dealers Association or NADA is alerting American vehicle owners that the slightly used models in their driveways could be worth more than they think; in an April 10 notice, NADA cited swift increases in the values of a range of used cars, particularly small and compact cars that get good fuel mileage.

      According to NADA’s numbers, an increase of 2.6% in prices of compact and mid-size segments throughout the past month means that many pre-owned cars of these model types have now gained around $300 in value. For the year, NADA claims the same values have gone up over 4%, an average increase of $500.

      Trade now?

      NADA executive automotive analyst Jonathan Banks is urging drivers to take advantage of current high trade-in values.

      “The most advantageous time this year to trade in a used car will be April through May because values will be higher," said Banks, adding that values of compact and mid-size cars will continue to rise faster than the market average.

      According to Banks and many others who look closely at the auto industry, the simple fact is that, though domestic and foreign auto makers are quickly building dazzling fuel efficient technologies into modern designs, there’s a hunger for high-mpg cars that is still not sated, and a buying public that is still on the hunt for a good, fuel-efficient small vehicle.

      Rising gas prices, say analysts, are only part of the equation. Banks cites “shortage of inventory” and “strong consumer demand for fuel-efficient vehicles.” North American car buyers seem to have their minds made up, settling in on fuel economy as a must-have for the road ahead.

      Most sought-after models

      Topping the list of rapidly appreciating high-mpg cars is the 2011 Kia Rio, with an estimated four-month increase in 2012 of 15%, or $1400. At ConsumerAffairs, we recently took a look at awards and consumer attention for new Kia Rio models, where fuel efficiency and more are making these Korean offerings popular stateside.

      Also, 2009 Toyota Prius and Toyota Camry hybrid vehicles also gained 12% and 11% respectively, according to NADA, along with the 2011 Mazda3 and the 2009 Nissan Altima. Another big gainer is a bit older; NADA estimates an 11% increase for the 2007 Honda Civic, showing that although the Civic brand may have lost a bit of its luster in recent years, this early-2000s favorite is still enjoying a significant following.

      With an estimated average increase of 10%, the relatively obscure and kind of odd-looking 2010 Dodge Caliber shares the stage with the popular 2010 Ford Focus, the 2010 Chevrolet Aveo, and the 2009 Chevy Cobalt.

      A word on trade-ins

      While it may be solid advice to look at trade-in values as some prices rise, it should be said that some dealers will blanket consumers with aggressive trade-in promotions without really offering the on-lot values that their customers are entitled to.

      If you get a flyer from your dealer saying that the lot “must have” your pre-owned car, do the research. A trade-in may be in your favor, but without some careful analysis of current blue book values, it may be hard to know whether you’re getting a good deal or not.

      Keep in mind that the best way to get top dollar for your pre-owned car is to sell it yourself. and are just a few of the sites that do a brisk business in putting buyers and sellers together.

      In the end, if you are the proud owner of one of the cars on NADA’s list, you could upgrade your ride this spring at a distinct advantage.

      All evidence from today's market is that Americans are willing to pay top prices for small cars with high mpg...

      Mayo Clinic Offers New Treatment for Acid Reflux

      FDA approved the new treatment device last month

      You can call it heartburn, acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). But whatever you call it, it can lead to serious health issues.

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has just approved a new device to treat the condition and the Mayo Clinic in Florida says it will be one of the first health care institutions in the U.S. to use it.

      “Mayo has been a leader in the treatment of esophageal diseases, especially GERD, and we are pleased to be offering this new treatment to our patients immediately,” said C. Daniel Smith, M.D., chair of the Surgery Department at Mayo Clinic in Florida.

      Took part in clinical trials

      Mayo Florida is quick to ramp up on the treatment because it was one of only 14 U.S. medical centers that took part in clinical trials for the device. Previously, treatments for GERD were either medication of surgery.

      The device offers a middle alternative; more powerful than medication but not as invasive as the complex surgery.

      GERD is a condition in which liquid, or food, in the stomach flows back up into the esophagus due to the inability of a ring of muscle between the lower esophagus and the top of the stomach to close properly.

      If drugs aimed at neutralizing the acid in the stomach fails to prevent GERD, Smith estimates as many as two million patients might benefit from the new treatment.

      Long-needed option

      “The new system will offer a long-needed treatment option for a large group of underserved patients,” he said.

      The implanted device is a ring of tiny magnetic titanium beads that is wrapped around the junction between the stomach and esophagus, serving as a mechanical augmentation of the lower esophageal sphincter. The magnetic attraction between the beads is strong enough to keep the sphincter closed to refluxing acid, but weak enough so that food can pass through it into the stomach.

      The device can be implanted using minimally invasive surgery methods.

      “The system offers effective control of GERD with limited side effects and thus far an excellent safety record,” Smith said.

      If it's not controlled, acid reflux or GERD can result in serious problems, including esophagitis, esophageal bleeding and ulcers,Barrett's esophagus, strictures, and an increased risk of esophagealcancer.  

      You can call it heartburn, acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). But whatever you call it, it can lead to serious health issues.The U.S....

      Feds Propose Remedy for Unintended Acceleration

      "Brake-Throttle Override" would stop the car when both brake and accelerator are depressed

      Federal safety regulators are proposing a "brake-throttle override" requirement for cars, hoping to reduce the number of unintended acceleration incidents. 

      “America’s drivers should feel confident that anytime they get behind the wheel they can easily maintain control of their vehicles—especially in the event of an emergency,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “By updating our safety standards, we’re helping give drivers peace of mind that their brakes will work even if the gas pedal is stuck down while the driver is trying to brake.”

      The proposal grows out of research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which has been looking for ways to reduce the risks of high-speed unintended acceleration and prevent crashes involving a stuck or trapped accelerator pedal by allowing the driver to maintain control through normal application of the vehicle’s brakes.   

      The NHTSA proposal aims to minimize the risk that drivers will lose control of their vehicles as a result of either accelerator control system disconnections or accelerator pedal sticking or floormat entrapment.  The proposal would amend federal standards by updating the throttle control disconnection test procedures for all passenger cars, multipurpose passenger vehicles, trucks and buses, regardless of weight. For vehicles that have Electronic Throttle Control (ETC) and a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 10,000 pounds or less, the proposal would also require manufacturers to include a Brake-Throttle Override (BTO) system to ensure the vehicle would stop if both the brake and the accelerator pedals are simultaneously applied.  Many manufacturers are already including BTO systems in their vehicle fleets.

      “We learned as part of the comprehensive NASA and NHTSA studies of high-speed unintended acceleration that brake override systems could help drivers avoid crashes,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “While NHTSA’s defect investigation program will continue to monitor and consider consumer complaints of any potential vehicle safety issues, this proposal is one way the agency is helping keep drivers safe and continuing to work to reduce the risk of injury from sticky pedals or pedal entrapment issues.”

      Wild in the streets

      Complaints about unintended acceleration have been around ever since the horse was the primary means of conveyance.  Many complaints are never solved and engineers have been known to scoff at drivers' claims, calling them the result of an overworked imagination or a misplaced foot.  But whatever the cause, accidents do happen and they often involve drivers whose qualifications make it unlikely they didn't know which pedal was which.

      In August 2009, a California highway patrolman and his family were killed in their runaway Lexus ES 350 on a San Diego freeway. Someone calling from the car before it crashed at over 100 miles per hour said they couldn't stop it. Seconds later, it struck an SUV. The accident helped put unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles at the top of the safety agenda and eventually led to the 2010 recall of millions of Toyota and Lexus models.

      Jeeps have also been the subject of complaints. In June 2006, then-Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal told federal regulators that they ought to investigate Jeeps after a 52-year-old man was run over and killed by a Grand Cherokee in a Connecticut car wash.

      Don't get them dirty

      In fact, Jeeps seem to have acquired an especially fearsome reputation among car wash operators, like Dan of Palmyra, Pa. 

      "My family has owned and operated automatic car washes for nearly 50 years. Over the past 10 years, we have had half a dozen incidents with Jeep Grand Cherokees accelerating out of control," Dan said in a 2011 ConsumerAffairs posting. "Every time it has happened, our employees have maintained that the vehicle took off on them and they could not stop it. The first few times it happened, we assumed it was driver error but not anymore. There is case after case of this happening and nobody at Chrysler will do anything about it.

      "On Friday, Nov. 25th 2011, we had a Jeep Grand Cherokee come into one of our full service locations and when my drive-off guy, a 25 year veteran, started it up and put it into gear, it took off on him rapidly accelerating. He narrowly missed other employees and customers and plowed into a utility pole. He has cuts and bruises from the air bag and is in a lot of pain but he maintains that he had his foot on the brake and not the gas. This employee's only job is to pull cars off of the conveyor and as I said, he is a 25-year veteran guy. We will only push jeep Grand Cherokees off the conveyor. We will not start them," Dan said.

      Other complaints, not involving car washes, have been received steadily over the years from consumers like Jerry of Brilliant, Ohio, who told ConsumerAffairs about a similar incident last month.

      "My wife was coming to pick me up. She got in the 2012 Jeep (Wrangler) and started it up, then put in reverse and then the jeep took off like full speed and the parking brake was on. It went over the hill and slammed into the neighbor's garage and the thing is my jeep had less than 2,000 miles and we only had it in a month," Jerry said.

      Federal safety regulators are proposing a "brake-throttle override" requirement for cars, hoping to reduce the number of unintended acceleration incidents....

      VW's American Blitzkrieg Topples Foes

      Volkswagen's new Tennessee plant races to keep up with sales

      Some new numbers from German automaker Volkswagen are showing how a number of initiatives are paying off big for the VW brand in the U.S. This month, the company released sales figures showing an increase of over 40% for the first quarter of the year -- the best first quarter for Volkswagen in over three decades.  It also represents a staggering 31 consecutive months of growing sales, with six straight months of monthly gains over 30%.

      Of the March sales total of over 36,000 units, VW estimates that over 23% of that volume was for “clean diesel” TDI VW models utilizing the power of diesel fuel to give drivers more mpg.

      Consumers have been turning towards more fuel-efficient vehicles lately, partially a response to high gas prices, but also a response to a few models years where domestic and foreign automakers are competing, not through brawn or bells and whistles, but through new engineering to save vehicle owners money at the pump.

      High-efficiency diesel engines are grabbing a lot of the fuel-thrifty market, holding their own against the hybrid and the electric plug-in, both of which are still making significant but somewhat plodding advances into the market.

      Volkswagen’s huge sales are a sign that diesel will continue to be a popular choice for many American drivers who don’t want to drive a battery-powered or battery-assisted engine without giving up the torque they've come to love. 

      American approach

      The spike in sales for VW is a continuation of a very positive trend for a manufacturer that has invested in an “American approach,” opening a huge plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee that employs over 2,000 workers.

      Since its inauguration last year, the Tennessee facility has cranked out over 10,000 Passat vehicles, which are aimed at the American consumer in a deliberate way. The Passat, a top IIHS safety pick with estimated city/highway mpg of 21/32 on the base model, is a vehicle that VW says is made “specifically for the North American consumer.”

      A recent press release providing VW’s gleaming numbers shows execs marveling at how the 2011 year sales total for the Passat, around 10,000, is already rivaled by the March 2012 sales alone. These great leaps in volume should make 2012 a great year for VW, a company that made a calculated play to source some of its new production stateside.

      "Volkswagen is clearly committed to the US market," said Volkswagen Group of America exec Jonathan Browning in an April press release, "During the worst recession in the past century we never wavered with our investment of a billion dollars to create this world class facility.”

      Along with producing  impressive volumes, the plant has garnered a prime Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED rating from the U.S. Green Building Council for its building design, a win for VW’s sustainability rating. VW execs cited an “ultra-clean paint shop” and other features of a plan to really control the environmental impact of local operations.

      With its plans neatly in place, Volkswagen seems poised to deliver more of the company’s products to an American audience looking to save at the pump. 

      The horizon looks bright for Volkswagen and its new base of operations in Chattanooga, Tennessee...

      For Foreclosures, the Calm Before the Storm

      Foreclosures are down but ready to surge, now that settlement is signed

      In the first three months of 2012, there were 572,928 foreclosure filings -- everything from default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions. According to RealtyTrac, a company that markets foreclosed properties, that's down two percent from the previous quarter and off 16 percent from the first quarter of 2011.

      But don't take that as a sign that the housing market has kicked into recovery mode -- it hasn't.

      "The low foreclosure numbers in the first quarter are not an indication that the massive reservoir of distressed properties built up over the past few years has somehow miraculously evaporated," said Brandon Moore, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac. "There are hairline cracks in the dam, evident in the sizable foreclosure activity increases in judicial foreclosure states over the past several months, along with an increase in foreclosure starts in many judicial and non-judicial states in March.

      "The dam may not burst in the next 30 to 45 days, but it will eventually burst, and everyone downstream should be prepared for that to happen -- both in terms of new foreclosure activity and new short sale activity."

      More homes headed for the market

      What's happening, according to RealtyTrac, is that banks are preparing to foreclose on properties that are in default, after postponing that action while federal and state regulators worked out a settlement deal with major lenders. Now that the settlement is done, the market could be flooded with distressed properties for sale.

      It's already beginning to happen in states that use the judicial foreclosure process. It was in those states where robo-signing and other abuses came to light, resulting in the lender settlement with states and the federal government. With the settlement signed, those states are beginning to clear the backlog of distressed homes.

      RealtyTrac found that these judicial states posted some of the biggest year-over-year increases in foreclosure activity in the first quarter. Foreclosure filing were up 45 percent in Indiana, up 38 percent in Connecticut, up 26 percent in Massachusetts, Florida and South Carolina, and up 23 percent in Pennsylvania.

      Meanwhile, 20 non-judicial states registered year-over-year decreases in foreclosure activity, led by Arkansas, with a 79 percent drop, and Nevada, with a 62 percent drop.

      Next move

      But RealtyTrac says there are still plenty of distressed homes in those states. What happens when they hit the market is anyone's guess.

      The impact, in large part, will be determined by how many buyers are ready and willing to scoop up bargain-priced homes when they come on the market. Recent indicators have been slightly encouraging.

      Investors have been consistently active in the market, making about 30 percent of home purchasesw each month. As rents continue to rise and home prices continue to dip, investing in real estate becomes a more attractive option.

      Foreclosures are down but ready to surge, now that settlement is signed...

      Subprime Lending On the Rise Once Again

      Lenders making more loans to higher-risk customers

      The credit crisis of 2008 was caused, in part, by too much lending to people who couldn't afford the loans. So-called subprime loans were particularly harmful to the housing market, because high-risk borrowers were lured in with low-rate "teaser loans" that readjusted to unaffordable monthly payments.

      Equifax, one of the three credit reporting agencies, says after a big drop, subprime loans are beginning to rise again. The biggest increase is seen in subprime credit cards accounts.

      The report shows lending to sub-prime consumers showed a 41 percent increase from 2010 to 2011 as sub-prime borrowing hit a four-year high in Dec. 2011 with 1.1 million new bank credit cards issued.

      New sub-prime card limits grew 55 percent from 2010 to 2011. At $12.5 billion in 2011, bankcard limits are at their highest level since 2008, when they hit $27.4 billion.

      Subprime credit cards

      Bank credit card growth continues, but is still well below pre-recession levels. In 2011 39.9 million bankcards were opened, an 18 percent increase from 2010 and the highest total since 2008.

      "The evidence of increased lending to sub-prime consumers demonstrates banks' ongoing efforts to grow lending by providing credit opportunities to more consumers," said Equifax Chief Economist Amy Crews Cutts. "Year-over-year results show borrowers are taking advantage of the new opportunities and seeking to diversify their financial activity, which is building momentum toward economic improvement."

      But will history repeat itself? Will subprime borrowers get lured into loans that they really can't afford? The jury is still out.

      Leading up to the 2008 credit crisis, subprime mortgages were the biggest culprit. But these days, banks are lending less money for houses, period.

      Subprime auto loans

      Instead, there are more subprime auto loans, which has helped carmakers record robust sales figures over the last year or so. Subprime borrowers are gaining share in new auto loan originations, especially in the auto finance segment where they now make up over 46 percent of the market; prime borrowers make up a larger share - 83 percent - among auto bank originations, but have also lost share over the past two years to subprime borrowers. New auto finance loan amounts increased $11.6 billion from 2010 to 2011, hitting the highest originations level since 2007.

      Similarly, auto bank loan amounts were up 14% from 2010 ($162.1 billion) to 2011 ($187 billion), nearly reaching the levels seen pre-recession.

      According to Equifax, subprime lending has also increased in the area of college loans. As of December 2011, nearly 66 percent of newly originated student loans were held by higher-risk borrowers.

      Among total outstanding student loan balances, low-risk borrowers have seen declining share though they still dominate; as of February 2012, low-risk borrowers accounted for 37 percent of outstanding student loan balances, while high-risk student borrowers accounted for almost 35 percent.

      Total consumer debt in the U.S. currently stands at $11 trillion, a decrease of 11 percent from its peak in Q4 2008 at $12.4 trillion. The drop is driven by a nearly 12 percent drop in home financing balances, which fell from $9.8 trillion in 2008 to $8.7 trillion in February 2012. Non-mortgage and non-student consumer debt balances also fell sharply from the early 2008 peak of $2.05 trillion. After reaching a post-recession low of $1.60 trillion in May 2011, consumer debt balances have risen about two percent.

      Credit crisis of 2008 was caused, in part, by too much lending to people who couldn't afford the loans. So-called subprime loans were particularly harmful ...

      National Effort Aims To Reduce Harm From Stolen Cell Phones

      Industry to help consumers recover when devices are lost or stolen

      In many ways, losing your cell phone is like losing your wallet. Not only can the finder make unlimited calls, they can download all sorts of expensive games and other software, charging it, of course, to you.

      As smartphones have gotten more expensive, the devices themselves can bring money on the black market.

      Now the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the major wireless carriers have set up a central database of stolen cell phones, helping to prevent reduce their value to criminals.

      Two-year ramp-up

      Wireless providers will set up and maintain the database during the two-year ramp-up period.

      More than 40 percent of all robberies in New York City involve smartphones and other cell phones. The situation is getting worse: In Washington, D.C., cell phones were taken in 54 percent more robberies in 2011 than in 2007, and cell phones are now taken in 38 percent of all DC robberies.

      Other major cities have similar statistics, with robberies involving cell phones comprising 30-40 percent of all robberies.

      A recent Symantec study indicates that a loss or theft of an unsecured smartphone often results in access to sensitive personal data. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, with the support of major city police chiefs and the wireless industry, announced the new initiatives by wireless carriers, initially including AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint who cover 90 percent of US subscribers, to deter theft and secure customer data.

      System to be online in six months

      Within six months, when Americans call their participating wireless provider and report their wireless devices stolen, their provider will block that device from being used again. This system will be rolling out globally using common databases across carriers over the next 18 months, according to the FCC.

      A parallel campaign will encourage users to lock their phones with passwords. Smartphone makers will notify and educate users in the most highly visible ways—through messages on the smartphone itself and through “Quick Start” user guides—about how to use passwords to deter theft and protect their data.

      The industry will also educate users on lock/locate/wipe applications. Wireless providers will directly inform their customers about how to find and use applications that enable customers to lock/locate/and wipe smartphones remotely.

      National Efforts Aims To Reduce Harm From Stolen Cell Phones...