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    Would Fructose By Any Other Name Taste As Sweet?

    The FDA refuses to change the name of high-fructose corn syrup

    What's in a name? Plenty, if the name has anything to do with sugar. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has rejected a request by corn-refining giants to change the name of the widely used and widely despised food ingredient "high-fructose corn syrup" to "corn sugar." 

    The sweetener is cheap and sweet, which is why it's widely used in snack foods, condiments and soft drinks. Critics, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, say those sugary snacks and drinks are contributing to the nation's obesity problem. Bloomberg's answer is to ban large sugary drinks.

    Of course, changing the name won't make the sugar any less sweet.  Or any less fattening, for that matter. But it's a tried-and-try public relations gimmick: change the name of an offending product or substance and hope no one remembers. The Corn Refiners Association -- which includes such industry giants as Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Cargill Inc. -- has been trying to do just that for years. It formally sought the name change in a petition to the FDA in 2010.

    Not enough

    The FDA said the corny p.r. group didn't provide sufficient grounds for a name change. And besides, said the FDA, it defines sugar as "a solid, dried and crystallized food," while syrup is a "liquid food." High-fructose corn syrup is a liquid, it should be noted.

    But not wanting to put all their corn in one bin, the Corn Refiners have been fighting on another front as well, just in case the name-change ploy went sour. the trade group has been running a series of controversial TV commercials, basically saying "sugar is sugar" and claiming "your body can't tell the difference" between high-fructose corn syrup and sugar.

    This doesn't go over well with the sugar farmers, as you might suppose, and several of them filed a federal lawsuit against the fructose claims. A federal judge found the farmers showed "a reasonable probability of success on their argument that the statements are false" but the case is likely to remain solidly in the courts for a bit longer before it dissolves fully.

    Enough already

    The farmers argue that the fructose refiners are putting out false product claims, and hurting the natural sugar industry.

    "Enough is enough," said sugar farmer attorney Mark Lanier. "Neither HFCS nor fructose is the same as sucrose, what consumers know as sugar, and has been a part of diets for more than 2,000 years."

    "Consumers need the facts about how sweeteners differ chemically and how the body can tell the difference between them. The Sugar Association seeks to educate consumers and encourages the media and researchers to embrace a scientific dialogue based on facts and not scare tactics," Lanier said.

    Too much already

    But while the arguments about what's sugar and what's not rage on, the fact remains that -- whatever it is -- we're probably eating too much of it. 

    "So many things have happened in our environment in the past fifty years, from a total increase in calories to a decrease in activity — it’s absurd to pin the entire obesity problem on a single food such as fructose or even sugar consumption as a whole," said David Klerfeld, a national program leader in Human Nutrition for the USDA." Why aren’t we focusing on ginormous portions rather than wasting time looking at single ingredients?"

    So the debate over HFCS and all-natural sugur looms on, and more TV commercials and lawsuits are probably soon to follow.  But consumers can also remember that using a food sweetener isn't a law, and many foods and drinks consumed actually don't need sugar. Natural or man-made.

    There's been a series of controversial TV commercials circulating over the past couple of years. It speaks about how safe high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) i...
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    New York City to Ban Large Sugary Drinks

    Mayor's latest prescription draws outcry from the beverage industry

    Wikipedia photo

    A few decades ago, New York City Mayor Ed Koch tackled head-on the problem of New Yorkers parking wherever they felt like with large signs reading, "Don't even think of parking here!"

    Fast forward to 2012.  There's still no place to park but the current mayor, one Michael Bloomberg, could care less. He takes the subway or his private jet, after all. No, it's oversized New Yorkers who get his goat.  And don't even think about smoking there!

    In Bloomberg's latest attempt to rebuild New Yorkers in his image, His Honor has announced his intention to ban the sale of large-sized sugary beverages at restaurants, theaters and concession stands in the city.

    The proposed ban would include soda, iced tea and energy drinks that are sweetened with sugar and sold in cups or containers that exceed 16 ounces. Diet drinks, of course, would be exempt from the ban. So would fruit juice beverages, drinks made from dairy products, like milk shakes, and oddly, alcoholic beverages. (The mayor likes a glass or two of wine with dinner, we're told).

    The ban would also not extend to giant-sized sugary beverages sold in grocery or convenience stores. Go figure.

    In a New York minute

    The proposed ban would go into effect early next year, barring litigation -- which is as certain as a morning back-up on the FDR Drive. For one, the New York City Beverage Association immediately criticized the idea.

    “The New York City health department’s unhealthy obsession with attacking soft drinks is again pushing them over the top,” said association spokesman Stefan Friedman.

    The ban on giant-sized sugary drinks is just the latest effort on Bloomberg's part to force changes in health habits in his jurisdiction. In the past he pushed for, and obtained, bans on smoking in restaurants and parks, removed trans fat from restaurant food and forced restaurants to post their health department inspection grades in their windows.

    New York City also was among the first jurisdictions in the nation to require fast food outlets to post calorie information on their menu boards.

    If all this frustrates you so much you want to go outside for a smoke, forget about it. Bloomberg has outlawed that as well. The New York City Health Department said that one year after a ban on smoking in parks and beaches took effect, smoking in select city parks declined by two-thirds between the fall of 2010 and the fall of 2011.

    The city also says smoking-related litter on beaches declined by about two-thirds between the summer of 2010 and 2011, and there was a significant decrease in smoking litter on playgrounds, where smoking has been banned since 2002. The department said the results are based on an internal observational study. Just from lookin' around, in other words.

    You'd think that, now and then, somebody would look around and notice that, as a group, New Yorkers are a pretty thin bunch, compared to the rest of the country. And why is that? Well, one theory is that they walk so much getting to and from the subways, trains and buses. 

    After all, you can't even think of parking there.

    In an increasing crackdown on obesity, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has announced his intention to ban the sale of large-sized beverages at restau...
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    Consumers Getting Greener

    Survey finds consumers increasingly seek out environmentally friendly products

    Many outside factors come into play when one selects a product to purchase. Whether it's good customer reviews, or any eye catching advertisement, there are numerous ways a consumer can come to trust a particular brand or product.

    According to consultants Harris Interactive, a brand's connection to environmental issues has a big effect on what customers choose to spend their money on.

    Harris Interactive conducted what it calls "The Harris Poll", surveying 2,451 U.S. adults, ages 18 and over. The results showed that 26 percent of respondents said environmental issues are either "extremely" or "very" important when it came to choosing a product or service to buy. And that percentage was virtually unchanged across, geography, education, income or gender lines.

    These percentages have remained nearly unchanged in the last two years, as 27 percent of U.S. adults in 2010, said environmental issues were extremely or very important to them when selecting a product.

    18-24

    However, percentages were even higher among 18-24 year olds. The report showed 31 percent of this consumer group factored in a brands connection to an environmental issue when selecting a product, a percentage which has increased in the last three years from 22 percent in 2009 and 24 percent in 2010.

    American consumers also chose products that are better for the environment over those products that weren't. Results showed that 79 percent looked for green products, which rose from 78 percent in 2010 and 76 percent in 2009.

    The report also showed that consumers are willing to shell out more money for environmentally safe products, as 31 percent of U.S. adults said they would pay extra for such products, which is up from 2010 when 28 percent said they would spend more.

    In 2009, 28 percent said they would dig deeper into their pockets for greener products, which shows a growing awareness and concern for the environment across all age groups.

    For 18 -24 year olds surveyed, 35 percent said they are willing to spend extra for a green product, which is up from 27 percent in 2010 and 25 percent in 2009. 

    The survey also showed only 4 percent of all U.S. consumers looked for green products and services no matter the cost, while 11 percent of 18-24 year olds said price didn't matter, as long as a product or service was helpful to the environment.

    Next generation

    This indicates the next generation of consumers may be more savvy on not only environmental issues, but which products will hurt or help the environment.

    But still half (51 percent) of the 18-24 year old demographic said they weren't willing to spend more on green products.

    Many outside factors come into play when one selects a product to purchase. Whether it's good customer reviews, or any eye catching advertisement, there ar...
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      How Does 203 Miles Per Gallon Sound?

      Virginia man tallies up a year's driving in his Chevy Volt

      Dennis Dineen (left) displays the features of his Chevy Volt to environmental activist John Cross

      Want to get 203 miles per gallon of gas? Dennis Dineen, a semi-retired general contractor in Northern Virginia does it with his Chevy Volt. Dineen and his car were the centerpieces today as Environment Virginia released a report claiming that Virginia motorists could save 455 million gallons of gasoline this summer if everyone drove a Volt or a similar hybrid or all-electric car.

      That sounds about right to Dineen, who was happy to let reporters slide behind the wheel of his year-old Volt today and examine the odometer and onboard computer. It showed he has driven 12,190 miles and has used 59.9 gallons of gas — about three tankfuls in a regular gas-powered car — in the last 12 months. Sure enough, that works out to an average of 203.4 miles per gallon.

      And Dineen is quick to assure us that not all that driving was local. While it’s true that the Volt has a range of only about 40 miles on a fully-charged battery, the four-cylinder gas engine kicks in seamlessly when the battery runs out of juice, he said. Dineen said he has made trips from the Washington, D.C., area to South Carolina and Annapolis, Md., in the last year. Most of the gas was consumed on the South Carolina trip, he said.

      The occasion for all this car talk was the release of an Environment Virginia report that found the average Virginia family could save $560 at the gas pump this summer by switching to a hybrid or all-electric car. This sounds great, of course, but the new-fangled cars are pretty expensive to buy.

      Dineen insists that’s not the way to look at it. He paid about $42,000 for his Volt and got an immediate $7,500 tax credit. He calculates he is saving about $1,500 a year on gas. So if he keeps the car for ten years, he will have saved $22,500, including the tax credit, which would put the long-term cost of owning the car over those ten years at roughly $19,500, not counting the cost of electricity.

      Much cheaper

      Looked at that way, the hybrid is actually much cheaper than a comparable gas-powered car, says Dineen. And speaking of which, Dineen is quick to demonstrate that the Volt is no slacker or stripper. It’s a sports sedan comparable in appearance, styling and interior geegaws to an Audi or BMW and, judging from a brief test ride on Arlington streets, handles about as well and accelerates quickly and smoothly. And quietly, something to keep in mind in pedestrian-infested areas.

      So enthusiastic is Dineen about the car that the paid staff of Environment Virginia had little to do at a press event near the Pentagon this morning other than stand back and let Dineen talk.

      The event was held at an apartment complex that demonstrates its trendiness by having parking spaces for Zipcars and a 220-volt electric charging station that would charge Dineen’s car in four hours. He eschews such luxuries though and says he charges his car out of any plain old 110-volt outlet that’s handy — “just like a toaster,” as he put it. It takes about eight hours to charge it up overnight, which suits him fine, as that’s about how long it takes him to get a night’s sleep.

      Come morning, Dennis and his car are charged up and ready for 40 miles of gas-free driving.

      Global warming

      Congressman Jim Moran (D-Va.) is on board with the notion. “From an economic, environmental and national security perspective, we must reduce our dependency on oil. This news report from Environment America highlights the importance of moving forward with cleaner, more fuel efficient cars,” Moran said in a statement.

      The press event was held across the Potomac from Washington as the Obama administration is on the verge of finalizing fuel efficiency and global warming pollution standards for cars and light trucks that achieve a 54.5 mpg standard by 2025.

      Obama proposed the new 54.5 mpg standard this past fall. The proposal has the support of 13 major automakers, as well as the United Auto Workers and numerous environmental and consumer groups. These national standards grew out of the leadership of 14 states, led by California, which previously adopted state-level standards.

      Dennis Dineen (left) displays the features of his Chevy Volt to environmental activist John CrossWant to get 203 miles per gallon of ga...
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      Peer-to-Peer Car Rental Can Be Risky

      It sounds great but renting your car to strangers carries serious legal risks

      Peer-to-peer car rental services, like RelayRides, are gaining quite a bit of attention but an attorney specializing in asset protection planning says they can also present a serious risk to your financial well-being. 

      RelayRides went nationwide in March this year after launching in Boston in 2010. Many participants loan their cars as a good deed to open up parking along busy urban streets, promote environmentally sound habits or simply to help those in need of a ride. Most, however, opt to rent their vehicles for a variable rate – usually about $10 per hour.

      “Every car loaned or rented through the program gets $1 million in liability insurance coverage from RelayRides, but even that may not be enough,” says attorney Hillel L. Presser.

      “When there’s an accident involving serious injuries, the victims simply have no choice but to sue for at least $1 million, and often more. If you rented the car and you have assets, you could become a target.”

      Earlier this year, a man who rented a car through the program was killed in an accident while driving the wrong way on a highway, Presser says, citing a New York Times report. Four people in the car he hit were seriously injured.

      “Medical expenses are expected to exceed RelayRides’ insurance coverage,” Presser says. “The owner of the car is a part-time Google systems administrator – which means she probably makes good money. Who will pay the overage, and who might be sued, is still yet to be determined.”

      In today’s world, lawyers have gotten very creative in what they’ll go after, which is why comprehensive protection of assets is absolutely crucial, he says.

      While it's fine to complain about lawyers, the harsh truth is that $1 million is not very much money if one or more victims of an accident are severely injured and face years of costly care and reduced earning capacity.  Lawsuits in such cases often produce awards of many millions of dollars.

      Presser doesn't just talk about such disasters, he's written a book about them, called Financial Self-Defense. He offers these tips:

      • Account for ALL of your assets: Not sure of what you have? Don’t wait for a plaintiff’s lawyer to tell you exactly what that is before he or she takes it from you. Take stock of valuable domain names, telephone numbers, intellectual property, potential inheritances, and other non-liquid assets.

      • Liability insurance is no guarantee: Buy as much insurance as you can; it’s cheap and it helps you sleep at night. But realize that 70 percent of claims will not be covered. Your coverage may be inadequate for a particular suit, and your insurance company may go bankrupt. Having insurance and an asset protection plan is the belt-and-suspenders approach for hanging onto your pants.

      • Convert non-exempt assets into exempt assets: State laws protect some personal assets from lawsuits and creditors. Those assets typically include your primary residence; personal items such as furniture and clothing; pensions and retirement funds; and life insurance. Find out the exemptions for your state and convert non-exempt assets, such as cash, into exempt assets, such as life insurance.

      • Transfer your assets to a protective entity: The key to asset protection is to own nothing while controlling everything. Transfer any non-exempt assets out of your name to protective entities such as trusts, limited liability companies, limited partnerships and others.

      • Don’t loan out your car – even to your kid: If your children are going to drive, they should drive cars titled in their name alone. And if they pay for the cars themselves, you add another layer of protection. Courts may find that parents who are obviously paying for their children’s cars liable to some degree, even if the car title is in the child’s name.


      Peer-to-peer car rental services, like RelayRides, are gaining quite a bit of attention but an attorney specializing in asset protection planning says they...
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      Cricket Wireless to Offer iPhone in June

      First pre-paid wireless provider to offer the device

      Cricket Communications, Inc., will become the first U.S. prepaid wireless provider to offer customers an iPhone. Starting Friday, June 22, Cricket will offer iPhone 4S and iPhone 4 with a $55 per-month, unlimited talk, text and data plan.

      Previously, the iPhone has only been sold through traditional contract carriers AT&T,Verizon Wireless and Sprint.

      "Our customers want the best products available and we are excited to bring iPhone to our prepaid consumers with an industry leading $55 per-month service plan," said Doug Hutcheson, president and chief executive officer, Leap Wireless International, Inc. "Launching iPhone is a major milestone for us and we are proud to offer iPhone customers attractive nationwide coverage, a robust 3G data network and a value-packed, no-contract plan."

      iPhone 4S and iPhone 4 will be available in Cricket company-owned stores and select dealers in nearly 60 markets.

      Consumers chirp about Cricket

      Cricket's service plans feature all-inclusive pricing packages with no service fees or overage charges. The advantage, says Cricket, is that the bill that doesn't fluctuate based upon monthly usage. 

      Because there is no contract, consumers pay the full, retail price for the handsets. In the case of the iPhone, Cricket will sell the 16 GB iPhone 4S for $499.99 and the 16 GB iPhone 4 for $399.

      The 16GB iPhone 4S sells for $199 at other carriers that subsidize the cost to the consumer through a two year service agreement.

      Cricket Communications, Inc., will become the first U.S. pre-paid wireless provider to offer customers an iPhone. Starting Friday, June 22, Cricket will of...
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      More Favorable Car Financing Rates Ahead

      Lower interest rates, relaxed lending standards helping spur car sales

      If you've been wanting to replace yoru car but couldn't because of poor credit scores, things could be looking upward for you in the near future.

      According to a report from Experian Automotive, lower interest rates, coupled with increased loan terms now allows more purchasing opportunities for the consumer.

      According to the quarterly report, the average credit score for financing a new car decreased six points to 760, and decreeased four points to 659 for used cars. This is down from 2008 when first quarter credit averages were 753 for new vehicles and 653 for used ones.

      "During the first quarter of 2012, car shoppers definitely found more favorable conditions for their vehicle loans," said Melinda Zabritski, director of automotive credit for Experian. "A reduction in average credit scores, lower interest rates and a lengthening of loan terms are all very good signs for the market and offer great opportunities for consumers looking to make a deal on a new or used vehicle."

      Interest dropping

      With new vehicle loan interest rates dropping to 4.56 percent and used vehicle rates dropping to 9.02 percent, consumers could be seeing lower monthly payments. Also, the terms of a vehicle loan are being extended, as new vechicles now come with a 64-month loan, and used vehicles 59.

      The report also showed a rise in the average amount financed, as new vehicles increased by $589 in the first quarter of 2012, totaling $25,995, and for used vehicles a $411 increase brought its average total to $17,050.

      "Our report shows automotive lending is as healthy as it's been since the market bottomed out in 2008," continued said Zabritski.

      "With consumers doing a good job of paying back loans on time and the percentage of dollars at risk reaching its lowest point in six years, lenders are able to extend terms and provide lower rates. This thawing of the credit pipeline has been good for everyone, from consumers to lenders to automotive retailers."

      Additional findings of the report include:

      • Auto repossession rates are down by 37.1 percent.
      • Thirty-day delinquencies dropped by 7.6 percent; 60-day delinquencies dropped by 12.1 percent
      • Vehicle loans to nonprime, subprime and deep-subprime customers increased by 11.4 percent
      • Banks and credit unions gained market share. Banks grew by 7.5 percent to 40.21 percent market share, while credit unions grew by 10.5 percent to 16.89 percent market share.
      For those who have wanted to finance a new vehicle, but couldn't because of poor credit scores, things could be looking upward for you in the near future....
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      Homeowner Bill of Rights Moves Ahead in California

      Measure would put some teeth in consumer protection laws

      Kamala Harris

      Homeowners and renters are frequently targeted by scams that often go unprosecuted but a package of legislation that's moving through the California Assembly and Senate would put some teeth in existing laws and give prosecutors more enforcement power.

      By far the nation's largest state, California is often a trend-setter in consumer protection and the progress of the measure is being carefully watched by consumer advocates and lawmakers around the country.

      "California was the epicenter of the mortgage and foreclosure crisis and scammers have been preying on vulnerable citizens who simply want to keep their homes," said Attorney General Kamala D. Harris. "These bills will aid our efforts to prosecute and convict these criminals." 

      The bills enhance the Attorney General's enforcement powers and allow the Attorney General to use special grand juries to prosecute multi-jurisdictional financial crimes. The Mortgage Fraud Strike Force established by the Attorney General has been investigating and prosecuting a wide range of crimes related to mortgages, foreclosures and real estate. 

      These are two of the six bills in the California Homeowner Bill of Rights. Other portions of the package are being considered in a Joint Legislative Conference Committee, including elements to restrict unnecessary foreclosures and protect the due process rights of borrowers and homeowners. 

      Special grand jury

      One set of bills would allow the Attorney General to convene a special grand jury to investigate and indict the perpetrators of financial crimes involving victims in multiple jurisdictions. Both bills passed out of their respective houses unanimously with bipartisan support. 

      The special grand jury would convene in cases involving fraud or theft that occurs in more than one county and where all potential charges are against a single defendant or multiple defendants working together. 

      Crimes of a financial nature often occur in multiple jurisdictions. Under current law, crimes where the fraud victims are all over the state require separate grand juries and charges filed in each county where the defendant committed the crime. This legislation would provide for the option of a special grand jury that can investigate financial crimes beyond the scope of single-county grand juries. 

      "The Attorney General is currently engaged in the investigation of significant crimes," Senator Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) said. "Unfortunately, county-by-county grand juries do not work well in dealing with large-scale wrongdoing in multiple jurisdictions. With this bill, the Attorney General can investigate multijurisdictional crimes - it will provide protection when Californians need it the most." 

      In addition, AB 1950, by Assemblymember Mike Davis (D-Los Angeles), will extend to three years the statute of limitations on mortgage related crimes. The current statute of limitations of one year can make it difficult to prosecute crimes such as the prohibition on charging up front fees for loan modification services. Because the foreclosure process is so protracted, some homeowners may not even realize that they have been the victim of a scam before it is too late for prosecution. 

      "AB 1950 equips the Attorney General to do her job; to go after the bad actors that have taken advantage of homeowners. It accomplishes this by providing the Attorney General with appropriate time to investigate and prosecute those who prey on California homeowners," said Davis. The bill passed out of the Assembly on a 46 to 18 vote. 

      Kamala HarrisHomeowners and renters are frequently targeted by scams that often go unprosecuted but a package of legislation that's mov...
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      Feds Close Down 26 Bus Lines for Safety Violations

      Year-long probe finds curbside operators pose "imminent hazard"

      The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced today it has shut down 26 bus operations, declaring them imminent hazards to public safety.  It's the largest single safety crackdown in the agency’s history. 

      Additionally, FMCSA ordered 10 individual bus company owners, managers and employees to cease all passenger transportation operations, which includes selling bus tickets to passengers.  The bus companies transported over 1,800 passengers a day along Interstate 95, from New York to Florida.

      Following a year-long investigation, FMCSA shut down three primary companies -- Apex Bus, Inc.I-95 Coach, Inc. and New Century Travel, Inc. – that oversaw a broad network of other bus companies. The 26 shutdown orders apply to one ticket seller, nine active bus companies, 13 companies already ordered out of service that were continuing to operate and three companies attempting to apply for operating authority.

      The various companies are based out of Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

      Federal safety investigators found all of the carriers had multiple safety violations, including a continuous pattern of using drivers without valid commercial driver's licenses (CDLs) and failure to have alcohol and drug testing programs.  In addition, the companies operated vehicles that had not been regularly inspected and repaired. The companies’ drivers also had serious hours-of-service and driver qualification violations. 

      Serious threat

      These many safety deficiencies, individually and in combination, posed a serious safety threat to passengers and motorists on the nation's roadways, the agency said.

      “These aggressive enforcement actions against unsafe bus companies send a clear signal:  If you put passengers’ safety at risk, we will shut you down,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.  “Safety is and will always be our highest priority.”

      “The egregious acts of these carriers put the unsuspecting public at risk, and they must be removed from our highways immediately,” said FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro. “With the help of multiple state law enforcement partners, we are putting every unsafe bus and truck company on notice to follow the safety laws or be shut down.”

      In addition to the Imminent Hazard Orders, FMCSA is taking further steps to ensure the bus companies they shut down today cannot continue to operate under other names.  Under a new FMCSA rule, FMCSA has revoked the carriers’ operating authority and linked the active companies to other companies previously placed out of service. 

      This new rule, published in April, expands FMCSA’s authority to take action against unsafe motor carriers that attempt to evade enforcement by “reincarnating” into other forms or by illegally continuing their operations through affiliate companies.  FMCSA will continue to work closely with local, state and federal law enforcement officials to ensure these companies remain out of service.

      FMCSA began investigating the network of carriers operating along I-95 following a series of deadly bus crashes last spring.  FMCSA ordered several bus companies to shut down last summer after a comprehensive compliance review of their operations.  The investigation of those operators uncovered additional problems and serious safety violations with other I-95 carriers, and FMCSA investigators have been working diligently ever since to establish the links between the bus networks.

      Congress is also currently considering surface transportation legislation which, if passed, would adopt several new safety policy proposals to further protect bus customers, including:  

      • Granting FMCSA greater authority to pursue enforcement action against unsafe “reincarnated” companies by establishing a single national standard for successor liability that eliminates the loophole allowing bus and truck companies that have been shut down for unsafe operations to recreate themselves;
      • Eliminating the jurisdictional gap that prevents FMCSA from  directly regulating passenger carrier brokers, including ticket sellers that are not also motor carriers;
      • Enhancing FMCSA and its state partners’ authority to inspect buses at locations with adequate food, shelter and sanitation facilities for passengers;
      • Requiring new passenger carriers to undergo a full safety audit before receiving operating authority; and
      • Raising the penalty from $2,200 to $25,000 a day against passenger carriers that attempt to operate without valid USDOT operating authority.

      Consumers are encouraged to report any unsafe bus company, vehicle or driver to the FMCSA through a toll-free hotline 1-888-DOT-SAFT (1-888-368-7238) or FMCSA's online National Consumer Complaint Database.

      The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced today it has shut down 26 bus operation...
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      Foreclosures, Short Sales Increased in First Quarter

      Distressed sales contributed to dip in average sale price

      Recent data shows the price of the average home dipped in the first three months of 2012. The latest foreclosure data explains why.

      Sales of homes that were in some stage of foreclosure or bank-owned accounted for 26 percent of all U.S. residential sales during the first quarter — up from 22 percent of all sales in the fourth quarter and up from 25 percent of all sales in the first quarter of 2011, according to Realtytrac, an online foreclosure marketplace.

      Distressed properties - foreclosures and short-sales - usually sell at a substantial discount to similar properties. As distressed sales increase, it brings down the average sale price. While lenders have, until now, been reluctant to approve short-sales at bargain basement prices, there's no evidence they've changed their view. Short-sales were up and prices were down.

      Rising sales

      Third parties purchased a total of 233,299 residential properties in some stage of pre-foreclosure (defaults and scheduled foreclosure auctions) or bank-owned (REO) during the first quarter, an increase of eight percent from the previous quarter and virtually unchanged from the first quarter of 2011.

      The average sales price of homes in foreclosure or bank owned was $161,214 in the first quarter, down one percent from the previous quarter and down two percent from the first quarter of 2011. That average sales price was 27 percent below the average sales price of homes not in foreclosure or bank-owned during the quarter — matching a 27 percent foreclosure discount in the previous quarter but down from a 29 percent foreclosure discount in the first quarter of 2011.

      “Foreclosure-related sales picked up in the first quarter, particularly pre-foreclosure sales where a distressed homeowner is selling to avoid foreclosure — typically via short-sale,” said Brandon Moore, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac. “Those pre-foreclosure sales hit a three-year high in the first quarter even as the average pre-foreclosure sales price dropped to a record low for our report. Lenders are approving more aggressively priced short sales, which in turn is resulting in more successful short sale transactions.

      Some prices are rising

      But that doesn't mean the value of all real estate is falling. Actually, the Realtytrac data shows the average price of a bank-owned home is stabilizing and even increasing in some areas where a slowdown in REO activity over the past year has resulted in a restricted supply of REO homes available.

      “Still, REO sales did increase on a quarterly basis in 21 states, indicating that lenders are still working through a bottleneck of unsold REO inventory in many areas,” Moore said.

      Third parties purchased a total of 109,521 pre-foreclosure homes, up 16 percent from the previous quarter. Pre-foreclosure sales accounted for 12 percent of all sales during the first quarter, up from 10 percent of all sales in the previous quarter and nine percent of all sales in the first quarter of 2011.

      The average pre-foreclosure sales price in the first quarter was the lowest quarterly average pre-foreclosure sales price in the history of the RealtyTrac foreclosure sales report, which tracks foreclosure sales back to the first quarter of 2005.

      Recent data shows the price of the average home dipped in the first three months of 2012. The latest foreclosure data explains why.Sales of homes that we...
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      Nutrition Degrees May Offer Above-Average Job Security

      Looking for a growth field? Look no further than nutrition and food science

      For those college students who still haven't declared a field of study and are eyeing basket weaving or archery, it may be time to consider nutrition as a major.

      A recent report by the The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the nutrition and dietitian field will expand 20 percent faster than other specialty within the next eight years.

      With consumers growing more health-conscious by the day, and companies trying to tap into the health food and organic markets, experts believe now is the ideal time for undecided college students to become nutrition or dietician majors to ensure job security upon graduation.

      According to Payscale.com., entry level nutritionists made about $55,000 annually as of June 2011, with salaries swelling  over $65,000 a year in bigger U.S. cities. Not bad for a college student whose sole income was that $100 monthly check sent by mom and dad along with a care package.

      Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois for example, has a program offering a degree in nutrition and wellness, combined with a Master of Science degree. And similar programs around the U.S. are not only preparing college students for the growing nutrition industry, but also helping to train them through hands-on internship programs.

      Food safety

      Benedictine University notes that consumers heavily rely on professionals such as agricultural scientists, food inspectors, and nutritionists to dictate what is safe for the public to consume and what consumers should stay away from, thus making the role of the nutritionists a very important and highly needed specialty.

      According to a survey by the Council for Responsible Nutrition, 69 percent of adults in the U.S. use dietary supplement products, which are also regulated by nutrionists, thus driving the demand for such experts even higher.

      Benedictine also says that more health programs being implemented by public officials, due to First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign, further increase the demand for nutrionists and dieticians even more, showing even further the many career paths students with nutrition degrees can eventually take.

      In fact, experts say the sheer amount of career options for those who obtain a nutritionist's degree is quite unique compared to other fields, which is one of the main draws for choosing such a career path.

      Here are some of the various ways a nutritionists degree can be used:

      • Hospital Nutritionists and Dieticians
      • Registered Dietician
      • Certified Nutritional Consultant
      • School Nutritionists and Dieticians
      • Clinical Dietitians
      • Community Dietitians
      • Management Dietitians
      • Consultant Dietitians
      • Food Scientists
      For those college students who still haven't declared a field of study and are eyeing useless majors like basket weaving or archery, may want to consider n...
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      Researchers Say Tart Cherries Can Reduce Pain in Your Joints

      Daily use of tart cherries found to lower arthritis and muscle pains

      Tired of those perpetual aches and pains? Does it hurt to do simple things like.... exist? Well, if you suffer from aching joints and chronic inflammation, pop a couple of cherries in your mouth.

      And not some nasty cherry flavored pain concoction, but actual cherries. According to Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) tart cherries instead of sweet ones can help eliminate all types of joint pains and discomfort.

      Reported at the American College of Sports Medicine Conference, in San Francisco, researchers said that tart cherries may assist in the reduction of joint pain as well as arthritis. Reason being, is tart cherries have the "highest anti-inflammatory content of any food", which can be an asset when it comes to managing pain, specifically those with osteoarthritis (OA). 

      Wear and tear

      OA is wear and tear on the joints, and usually happens to people as they grow older.

      "With millions of Americans looking for ways to naturally manage pain, it's promising that tart cherries can help, without the possible side effects often associated with arthritis medications," said Kerry Kuehl, M.D at Oregon Health & Science University, and the studies lead researcher. "I'm intrigued by the potential for a real food to offer such a powerful anti-inflammatory benefit – especially for active adults."

      According to the National Library of Medicine, OA occurs in both men and women when they hit their mid 50s, and pain symptoms can be infrequent, acute or chronic.

      OA can also be hereditary and those who are overweight may suffer from the disease regardless of age.  Also, those who do heavy squatting, kneeling or lifting through work or exercise, also have a high risk of getting the annoyingly painful joint condition.

      OHSU conducted a study of twenty women between the ages of 40 and 70, who all suffered from inflammatory Osteoarthritis. The study revealed that drinking tart cherry juice twice each day for a three week period led to substantial decreases in "important inflammation markers," especially for women sufferers.

      Good for athletes

      Scientists have also suggested that athletes use tart cherries. A previous study showed that drinking the tart cherry juice while athletes were training for a marathon or long distance run, said they had less pain after working out than those who didn't drink the cherry juice.

      A past study conducted by Baylor Research Institute confirmed that daily use of tart cherries helped lower osteoarthritis pain by more than 20 percent for most men and women, and also for athletes while they're recovering from joint soreness or muscle pain.

      Some sport nutritionists and trainers have incorporated tart cherries into training regiments for athletes, namely Leslie Bonci who is a sports nutritionist at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center for Sports Medicine.  She says cherries are a wonderful way to manage pain and are far better than awful tasting oral medications, that sometimes have side effects. And tart cherries are also better than messy ointments or joint creams.

      "Why not eat red when there's so much science to support the anti-inflammatory benefits of this Super Fruit?" she said. "And for athletes whose palates prefer the tart-sweet flavor profile of tart cherries, it's the optimal ingredient."

      So the next time you're in the grocery store, pick up some tart cherries for your joint pains. Even if you haven't been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, they'll still make a pretty decent snack.

      Tired of those perpetual aches and pains? Does it hurt to do simple things like.... exist? Well, if you suffer from aching joints and chronic inflammation,...
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      Having It Both Ways on Climate Change

      Half of reviewed companies misrepresent climate science despite public expressions of concern

      It's not just politicians who talk out of both sides of their mouths. A new analysis finds many of the nation's leading corporations say one thing about climate science in public while taking contradictory action behind the scenes.

      The analysis published by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) examined 28 companies in the S&P 500 that participated in climate policy debates over the past several years. All of them publicly expressed concern about climate change or a commitment to reducing emissions through websites and public statements, but half (14) also misrepresented climate science in their public communications.

      Many more contributed to the spread of misinformation about climate science in less direct ways, such as through political contributions, trade group memberships, and think tank funding.

      Francesca Grifo

      “Corporations' increased ability to influence policy should come with an increased responsibility to let the public know how they are doing so,” said Francesca Grifo, director of UCS's Scientific Integrity Program and a contributor to the report. “Companies may play a role in policy discussions, but right now, it’s simply far too easy for them to get away with misrepresenting science to achieve their goals.”

      Utilizing an array of publicly available data, the report systematically examines how corporate influence fosters confusion on climate change. The analysis found that some American companies, including NRG Energy, Inc., NIKE, Inc. and AES Corporation, accept the findings of climate science and have taken actions in support of science-based policy.

      Other corporations, including Peabody Energy Corporation, Valero Energy Corporation, and FMC Corporation, have worked aggressively to undermine climate policies and have misrepresented climate science to do so.

      Despite efforts to deny or downplay the existence of climate change, however, consumers display a high level of concern and anxiety, according to a ConsumerAffairs analysis of about 2.2 million comments posted on social media over the last year. 

      The computerized sentiment analysis finds consumers consistently negative about the effects of climate change with many blaming lack of action by the governments of the industrialized nations.  

      "Climate change is an evil caused by the greedy industrial nations," tweeted Hassan A.halim Daour. In Britain, which was experiencing the coldest May in 100 years, one poster said, "I blame the evil climate change." Many noted that CNN meteoroligst Michelle Malkin blamed recent Texas tornadoes on climate change.

      Creepy crawly

      Several companies stand out for taking contradictory actions on climate change, the UCS study found.

      Caterpillar Inc., for instance, highlights its commitment to sustainability and climate change mitigation on its website. But the company also serves on the boards of two trade groups that regularly attempt to undermine public understanding of climate science: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. Caterpillar also funds the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, two think tanks that have misrepresented climate science.

      Similarly, ConocoPhillips says on its website that it recognizes human activity is “contributing to increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that can lead to adverse changes in global climate.” But in comments to the Environmental Protection Agency, the company criticized scientific evidence on the ways climate change can harm public health.

      “The difference between what many of these companies say and what they actually do is quite stark,” said Gretchen Goldman, an analyst in the UCS Scientific Integrity Program and a report contributor. “And because we know only limited amounts about their activities, it’s relatively simple for companies to show one face to the public and another to policymakers.”

      Lobbying expenditures

      The report found that companies also utilized their considerable financial resources to oppose climate policy. Lobbying expenditures for energy sector companies increased by 92 percent from 2007 to 2009, when climate change bills were actively debated in Congress. Meanwhile, Valero Energy Corporation donated more than $4 million to the Yes on Prop 23 campaign, which sought to undermine California’s climate change law, but was ultimately rejected by voters.

      “The actions of many of these companies come right from the tobacco industry playbook, where the end goal is delaying sensible regulations that protect our health and safety,” said Grifo. “Companies generally find that complying with new rules is not as burdensome as they first imagined. But that doesn’t prevent them from obfuscating the science to create confusion and delay.” 

      This report, while as comprehensive as possible, is limited because companies are not required to reveal sufficient information about their activities—such as the purpose of lobbying expenditures and contributions to political action committees, industry advocacy groups and think tanks.

      “This lack of disclosure of how corporations spend their money means they can get away with taking different positions on climate change with different audiences,” said Goldman. “Greater transparency would allow citizens, investors, and policymakers to make better-informed decisions and hold corporations accountable.”

      Simple steps

      Rep. Van Hollen

      There are several relatively simple steps that would allow the public and policymakers to better hold companies accountable, including expanded reporting requirements to the Securities and Exchange Commission and passage of the DISCLOSE Act, which would require corporations to share more information about their political spending.

      “This report quantifies and reinforces the urgent need to shine a light on the special interest money that is designed to distort science and influence our public policies,” said Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who joined UCS in its launch of the report. “As this report documents, the amount of money dedicated to influence our debates is dramatically increasing and, unfortunately, is frequently channeled through third parties.”

      Van Hollen said that the problem has increased due to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision allowing secret money from outside groups to flow into elections. He said legislation like the DISCLOSE Act will inject much needed transparency into elections and should be brought for a vote in Congress without delay.

      “Voters have a right to know who is bankrolling the campaign ads that are designed to influence their votes,” said Van Hollen. “An informed electorate is essential to our democracy.”

      It's not just politicians who talk out of both sides of their mouths. A new analysis finds many of the nation's leading corporations say one thing about cl...
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      Report: Groundwater Depletion Threatens Food Supply

      Irrigated agriculture may not be sustainable for much longer, scientists say

      A growing population increases demands on the water supply. Add to that the demands of irrigated agriculture and what you have is a threat to the food supply, according to a study appearing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

      The study, prepared by researchers at the University of Texas, paints a grim picture of how groundwater depletion varies across space and time in California's Central Valley and the High Plains of the central U.S. Researchers say they hope this information will enable more sustainable use of water in these areas, although they think irrigated agriculture may be unsustainable in some parts.

      "We're already seeing changes in both areas," said Bridget Scanlon, senior research scientist at The University of Texas at Austin's Bureau of Economic Geology and lead author of the study. "We're seeing decreases in rural populations in the High Plains. Increasing urbanization is replacing farms in the Central Valley. And during droughts some farmers are forced to fallow their land. These trends will only accelerate as water scarcity issues become more severe."

      Worrisome

      Three results of the new study are particularly worrisome. First, during the most recent drought in California's Central Valley, from 2006 to 2009, farmers in the south depleted enough groundwater to fill the nation's largest man-made reservoir, Lake Mead near Las Vegas—a level of groundwater depletion that is unsustainable at current recharge rates.

      Second, a third of the groundwater depletion in the High Plains occurs in just four percent of the land area. And third, the researchers project that if current trends continue some parts of the southern High Plains that currently support irrigated agriculture, mostly in the Texas Panhandle and western Kansas, will be unable to do so within a few decades.

      California's Central Valley is sometimes called the nation's "fruit and vegetable basket." The High Plains, which run from northwest Texas to southern Wyoming and South Dakota, are sometimes called the country's "grain basket."

      Combined, these two regions produced agricultural products worth $56 billion in 2007, accounting for much of the nation's food production. They also account for half of all groundwater depletion in the U.S., mainly as a result of irrigating crops, according to the study.

      A growing population increases demands on the water supply. Add to that the demands of irrigated agriculture and what you have is a threat to the food supp...
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      Consumers Send Mixed Signals About Their Mood

      Weeks of optimism seem to disappear overnight

      For a while, it seemed like consumers had gotten their mojo back. Since the Great Recession they've paid down debt and started spending more. Last week's University of Michigan Index of Consumer Confidence showed a healthy gain over April.

      But The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index shows just the opposite. The Max index fell to a four-month low of 64.9, down from a revised 68.7 April reading. Even falling gas prices failed to lift consumers out of their funk.

      “Confidence plays a major role in the willingness to spend, especially when changes in outlook are linked to economic factors,” said economist Joel Naroff, of Naroff Economic Advisors, in Holland, Pa. “It looks like households may be a little more uncertain about the shape of the economy right now and that does not bode well for consumption.”

      Households are not only less certain about the future but their reading of the current situation dropped markedly as well. In particular the view on the labor market turned more sour as a growing proportion of people think jobs will be harder to get in the near future while fewer think there will be more jobs available.

      More respondents also noted that it is harder to get a job and in an economy where job availability equates to job security, that is not good news.

      Facebook's a drag

      The news from Wall Street hasn't been particularly good lately, either. The Facebook IPO debacle seems to have dampened enthusiasm, once again exposing market excesses and miscalculations.

      The Facebook fallout continued this week as the price of the stock, initially priced at $38, fell below $30 in Tuesday's trading, continuing to wipe out millions of dollars in wealth. Now that options trading has begun, investors can “short” Facebook, in essence betting that its price will fall even lower.

      Meanwhile, there is more finger-pointing and “I-told-you-sos” in the investment community. A look back at the events leading up to the IPO show that the offering was initially valued at $5 billion but suddenly surged to over $100 billion.

      On May 9 Facebook amended its IPO, cautioning that it had doubts about how it was going to monetize its mobile platform. Despite those doubts, the company increased the number of shares in the IPO by 25 percent a week later.

      And the carnage may be far from over. Marketwatch columnist Mark Hulbert devised a valuation formula, based on the average revenue growth rate for all recent IPOs, and came up with a price of $13.80 a share for Facebook.

      For a while, it seemed like consumers had gotten their mojo back. Since the Great Recession they've paid down debt and started spending more. Last weeks Un...
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      Samsung Competes With iTunes For Download Dominance

      Music Hub houses 19 million songs in a cloud catalog

      Companies dueling it out to win the dollars of consumers are similar to little kids on a playground vying for a vacant swing, or a place on the monkey bars.  Usually there is one playground king, or sometimes bully, that gets first dibs on all of the cool playground attractions.

      But after watching from the sidelines, there's always one kid who is brave enough to face down the playground king and compete for dominance. Well, Apple is the playground king when it comes to offering downloadable music, and Samsung is the once uncertain kid that is now completely certain that it's ready to go to battle.

      Samsung has just began a service that lets users purchase songs onto their Galaxy S III smartphone. The new service has been rolled out to 28 countries in Europe and will be released to other parts of the globe in the near future. The service called "Music Hub" houses 19 million songs from a cloud-based catalog, and users can also stream music on to their devices for a monthly fee, if they choose not to purchase individual songs.

      Following in the digital footsteps of Apple's iPod device and iTunes music store, users do not need an internet connection to listen to songs, unlike Sony Corp., which also released a music service in order to win over some of iTune's loyalists.

      mSpot

      Samsung recently partnered with mSpot, a mobile content provider to provide a wide musical catalogue for today's music listener, who typically isn't loyal to only one genre or brand of music.

      "When you ask yourself, 'what do I want to listen to?' there is now one simple answer, for every mood, every place and everyone," explained TJ Kang, Senior Vice President of Samsung Electronics' Media Solution Center. "With the new Music Hub, we're bringing the joy back to music -- listening, collecting and sharing."

      Customers can either download a free version of the Music Hub, or purchase a premium  version in Europe for £9.99 (about $15), where users have access to an unlimited amount of streams for a fixed amount.

      In June 2011, it was reported there were 1 billion iTunes customers, which seems like a huge consumer hill to climb for Samsung.  But as previously reported by ConsumerAffairs, Samsung has been making its way up the mobile device ladder, by beating out the Amazon Kindle for the number two spot in first quarter device sales.

      With Apple still holding the number one spot, Samsung's Music Hub could be all the leverage it needs to really make a run for the top tier position and finally get its turn on the swing-set.

      Here are the included features of Samsung's Music Hub:

      • Scan & Match Cloud Locker: Upload your music to the cloud so you can play it anywhere. Music Hub utilizes scan & match technology to decrease upload time and ensure high-quality playback. Any unmatched songs are directly uploaded from your library so you can access rare or personal recordings (100 GB of storage for all unmatched songs). When you edit playlists or purchase music, your collection stays automatically updated across all authorized devices
      • Radio: Listen to the music you like with personal radio and programmed stations. Create personal stations based on songs and artists you love, or browse genre stations recommended and tailor-crafted by the Music Hub team. Hear a song you like? Tag it so you can find it later and play it again whenever you want.
      • Optimized for Mobile: Music Hub is optimized specifically for the Samsung device. Advanced streaming and downloading options let you save storage space, play music when offline, and cut down on cellular data usage. Audio settings are designed to prolong battery life and ensure smooth streaming even under spotty network coverage.

      Companies duling it out to win the dollars of consumers are similar to little kids on a playground vying for a vacant swing, or a place on the monkey bars....
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      Sale of Pep Boys Falls Through

      Private equity firm cites deteriorating business

      Struggling automotive services provider Pep Boys appears to be stalled once again. Hopes had risen for a turn-around after the private equity firm Gores Group agreed to buy the company for $4 billion. But now, the deal is off.

      The deal was put together back in January but earlier this month the closing was delayed. Gores cited “serious deterioration” in Pep Boys' business, which was apparently the reason it finally scuttled the deal.

      Pep Boys reported a slight profit in its most recent quarter but reported a loss the previous three months.

      Consumers posting complaints at ConsumerAffairs have voiced frustrations in dealing with various Pep Boys stores on a wide range of car issues. Maria, of Sherman Oaks, Calif., says she had brake pads replaced earlier this month at her local Pep Boys shop.

      Complaints

      “As I was driving my car away from the shop and I stepped on the brake paddle, it almost went to the floor,” Maria wrote. “I drove back to tell the mechanic what just happened and he in turn inspected the car, 'bleeding the brakes,' I was told. After that, the paddle seemed a little more responsive but it was still feeling like a "marshmallow" making it very difficult to stop.”

      Maria said she continued to drive the car a few more days but said she felt very uneasy. That's when she said she took it to another Pep Boys location for a brake inspection.

      “The mechanics there were shocked when they took off the wheels from my car and saw how the brakes had been installed, backwards metal to metal.,” Maria wrote. “They were in disbelief that I was driving under those conditions.”

      Gregg, of Hesperia, Calif., reported a similar experience when he bought tires.

      “The guys in Pep Boys Automotive Service put new tires on my truck,” Gregg wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “They put the wrong size twice and did not check the air pressure when they were asked to do so. They did not do anything to help resolve my complaint. When we went to their manager, they would not work with us to satisfy us.”

      Strong headwinds

      Every business draws some complaints, of course, but when added to other factors, it can create strong headwinds for trying to move a business out of a rough patch.

      And with the recession, more consumers are working on their cars themselves. Forbes notes that Pep Boys has faced strong competition from Auto Zone, Advance Auto Parts and O'Reilly Automotive.

      Struggling automotive services provider Pep Boys appears to be stalled once again. Hopes had risen for a turn-around after the private equity firm Gores Gr...
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      Auto Warranty Firm Settles Charges With Missouri

      Company agrees to clean up its sales practices

      As soon as you buy a used car, your mailbox quickly fills with urgent messages from companies that want to sell you an extended service contract, often called extended warranties.

      Missiouri Attorney General Chris Koster says his office has reached a settlement with one of the companies that sends out these notices, Dealership Warranties, Inc., a company that is now doing business as National Vehicle Protection Services.

      Under the settlement, the company will restructure the way it sells vehicle service contracts. Dealership Warranties will also pay $18,500 to the state in restitution and costs.

      No deceptive sales tactics

      The consent judgment against Dealership Warranties prohibits deceptive sales techniques in the sale of vehicle repair coverage. The judgment also requires the company’s sales people to describe during sales phone calls the details of the written contract. In the past, the company has drawn complaints from consumers.

      “I signed up with a warranty with this company because I received a notice that my warranty was going to expire,” Lisa, of Allentown, Pa., wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “When I signed up with them, I realized with my bank that I already have an extended warranty that I'm already paying for on a monthly basis. I tried call Dealership Warranties to cancel this transaction, but after 30 minutes I received the run around. They already charged $395 to my bank and expect to receive $208 monthly for 12 months, which I've already closed my banking account to avoid any further transaction.”

      Alan, of Eugene, Ore., said he got a postcard in the mail from the company that made this suspicious.

      “We received a card in the mail from this company requesting 'Immediate Response,”'' Alan wrote to ConsumerAffairs. "'This notification is to inform you that your factory warranty has expired or may expire soon based on mileage or age. To avoid the high cost of automobile repairs, call us immediately with you Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) & exact miles to extend coverage on your vehicle.'"

      Will provide more information

      In many cases, recipients of these communications are confused and act without fully understanding the transaction. Under the settlement the company will provide more information, including:

      • The identity of the service contract provider (the party responsible for paying claims under the contract, which is not Dealership Warranties);
      • Information about what is not covered and the limits of coverage provided;
      • Any deductibles under the contract;
      • Requirements for prior approval of vehicle repair;
      • Obligations of the consumer to perform and document past or future maintenance;
      • The procedures for canceling and the consumer’s right to cancel the contract within a certain period of time and receive all of his or her money back; and
      • The consumer’s right to a pro rata refund if the contract is canceled before the full term of the contract.

      Rights

      “Missouri law says consumers have a right to see a written service contract and agree to its terms,” Koster said. “Customers who purchase vehicle repair coverage by telephone often later realize the significant limits to coverage in the written contract. It is important for Missouri consumers to protect themselves by carefully reviewing vehicle service contracts to make sure they contain the provisions promised.”

      If Dealership Warranties completes the contract in a telephone transaction, it is required under the consent judgment to record the transaction electronically and to mail the written contract within three business days.

      As soon as you buy a used car, your mailbox quickly fills with urgent messages from companies that want to sell you an extended service contract, often cal...
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      Not All Distractions Are in the Front Seat

      British insurance company finds back-seat drivers contribute to accidents

      Public safety officials have, in recent months, stepped up their campaign against “distracted” driving, which usually focuses on using a cell phone behind the wheel, fiddling with a car's music system, eating or putting on makeup.

      But Confused.com, a British website offering comparisons of insurance policies, has found some of the biggest distractions for drivers are sitting in the back seat.

      In a recent survey, the site found two thirds of British motorists have been victims of unwanted attention from self-appointed backseat drivers, and almost one in four have been in an accident while dealing with the distractions of other passengers.

      The company has placed a price tag on these distractions, estimating the accidents they cause cost the average motorist about £500, or $783 in repair bills.

      The research also reveals that the worst backseat pests are bus drivers, train drivers and delivery men who obviously forget that they're off duty. On the other hand, teachers are the most patient of passengers and usually put up with the driver's bad habits.

      Family members are the worst

      Most respondents also confessed that they would rather travel with colleagues than loved ones. This is because partners are apparently the worst backseat drivers, with husbands and boyfriends disrupting the driver most often and 45 percent of them voicing their traffic-tips several times during the shortest of trips.

      Women and the elderly are the most likely to be the victim of backseat distractions. Over two thirds of women, and a shocking 70 percent of drivers over the age of 55 find themselves on the receiving end of this bad etiquette, the researchers note.

      "As motoring costs continue to rise at a meteoric rate, it's never been more important for drivers to keep their costs as low as possible,” said Gareth Kloet, Head of Car Insurance at Confused.com. "Our research shows that having other people in the car can distract us from the road, and lead to accidents which in turn increase the cost of our car insurance policies."

      Public safety officials have, in recent months, stepped up their campaign against “distracted” driving, which usually focuses on using a cell p...
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      Big Drop in Used Car Prices Expected

      Falling gas prices reduce demand for compacts

      If you have been thinking about buying a used car but have put it off, the delay may work to your advantage. It turns out the recent relief at the gas pump is yielding dividends on the car lot as well.

      After double-digit percentage gains from January through May, prices on many popular used compact and midsize cars are expected to drop up to up to five percent in June compared to May, according to Jonathan Banks, senior analyst with the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Used Car Guide.

      "The trend of rising prices for used cars will reverse course in June because of declining gasoline prices combined with a normal seasonal slowdown in consumer demand for used cars," Banks said.

      Car prices will fall faster than truck prices

      Used car values are expected to fall by about two percent, while truck values will decline by about one percent or half of the amount of cars, according to the June edition of the NADA Official Used Car Guide. Prices for used compact and midsize cars will fall by an average of 2.4 percent and many used cars will see larger declines.

      For example, after appreciating by $1,200 or 11 percent from January through May, the value of a 2009 Honda Civic Sedan 4D LX will fall by $600 in June.

      "Prices on the Toyota Prius will drop even more dramatically in June," Banks said. "Rapid depreciation for hybrid vehicles is not uncommon after surging gasoline prices reach a peak and then begin to quickly fall."

      After increasing in value by $2,350 from January through May, prices on the 2011 Toyota Prius Liftback 5D will fall $900 in June, according to the NADA Used Car Guide.

      Volatile hybrid prices

      "During periods of rapidly changing gasoline prices, values of hybrid vehicles become more volatile because consumer demand for hybrids rises and falls along with the price of gasoline," Banks said.

      For example, when gasoline prices increased during the first four months of 2011, the 2009 Toyota Prius increased in value by about $4,500 from January through April 2011. In the fall of 2011, the Prius dropped in value by $4,800.

      The value of a 2010 Hyundai Elantra rose 13 percent from January through May, but is expected to fall by $500, or four percent, in June. A 2011 Nissan Versa increased in value by 11 percent in the first five months of the year, but should also go down by four percent in June. A 2009 Toyota Camry rose in price by 15 percent from January through May, but is expected to sell for five percent less in June.

      Still, you don't have to be in a rush. Looking ahead to July, the NADA Used Car Guide is forecasting that depreciation for small and midsize cars, which experienced the greatest appreciation over the first part of 2012, will see values continue to drop sharply.

      If you have been thinking about buying a used car but have put it off, the delay may work to your advantage. It turns out the recent relief at the gas pump...
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