Current Events in June 2012

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    Cooper Issues Tire Recall

    A tread separation problem could lead to crashes

    Cooper Tire & Rubber Company (Cooper) is recalling certain Cooper brand Discoverer H/T tires, sizes LT235/85R16 and P265/70R17; Discoverer LSX, size 265/70R17; and Mastercraft Courser HTR, size LT235/85R16. Also included in this recall are tires branded as Del-Nat Delta A/S SierraRadial or National A/S Commando, size 265/70R17; Pep Boys Definity Dakota H/T, size P265/70R17; and TBC Sigma Stampede Radial SUV, size P265/70R17. A total of 10,236 tires is being recalled. 

    Contaminated rubber may have been used in the tread compound, which could result in tread separation. Tread separation can result in loss of vehicle control, increasing the risk of a vehicle crash. 

    Cooper will notify owners, and dealers will replace the tires free of charge. Free mounting and balancing will also be included, as applicable. 

    Owners may contact Cooper Tire & Rubber Company’s consumer relations department at 1-800-854-6288.  Cooper’s recall number is 156. Owners may also contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's vehicle safety hotline at 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153).

    Contaminated rubber could lead to tread separation, posing threat of crashes....

    Big Cat Recalls Bicycle Due To Crash Hazard

    The possibility of a frame crack poses the risk injury to the rider

    Big Cat Human Powered Vehicles LLC, of Winter Garden, Fla., has recalled about 170 Catbike Musashi recumbent bicycles. 

    The bicycle is being recalled because the frame can crack, which can cause the rider to lose control and crash. There been on incidents or injuries reported. 

    This recall involves model year 2010 Catbike Musashi recumbent bicycles. They were sold in the following colors: black, white, silver, yellow, orange, red, lime green, pink, blue, candy purple, candy red, candy green, candy blue and sparkle orange. "Musashi" is printed on the frame and "Catbike" is printed on the seat, frame and headrest. 

    Serial numbers CBM0002 to CBM0170 are included in this recall. The serial number can be found underneath the main frame where the seat bottom is located. 

    The bikes were sold at Catbike authorized dealers nationwide from February 2010 through December 2010 for about $2,350. 

    Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled bicycle and contact a Catbike dealer for a free frame replacement. 

    For additional information, contact Big Cat Human Powered Vehicles toll-free at (866) 276-2281 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, or visit the firm's Web site

    The company is recalling its recubent bikes because of the possibility of injury to the rider...

    Nearly Half Of U.S. Consumers Don't Know Their Credit Score

    But survey shows consumers are getting credit card debt under control

    Do you know your credit score? It turns out a lot of people don't. A survey by finds 47 percent of U.S. adults don't have a clue what their credit score is.

    It's an important number to know since it can affect the interest rate you get on a home mortgage or a new car loan. In fact, it can determine whether you get the loan or not, since lenders have become more choosy about their customers. It can also affect your insurance premium and even determine whether you get that job you've been angling for.

    The survey found that 60 percent of young U.S. adults ages 18-34 were unaware of their credit scores. At the same time, only 42 percent of those ages 35 and up were unaware of their score.

    A credit score is determined by a consumer's debt load and payment habits. Paying your bills on time is the best way to raise your credit score. Having high credit limits and low balances also helps.

    To check your credit report, go to the government-affiliated site It is completely free and you are not asked for a credit card number.

    While credit score knowledge is lacking among consumers, many are mindful of how much debt they're carrying on their plastic. Ninety percent of consumers with credit card debt said they are aware of how much total credit card debt the have. One-in-ten said they didn't know how much credit card debt they had.

    Credit card debt has fallen

    Since the beginning of the Great Recession, consumers have significantly reduced their credit card debt. Thirty-eight percent report they have less than $1,000 in debt. At the same time, 21 percent say they are carrying a balance of at least $5,000.

    Here's a breakdown of current credit card debt, as measured by the survey:

    • $1,000 or less – 38 percent
    • $1,001 - $2,000 – 10 percent
    • $2,001 - $5,000 – 11 percent
    • $5,001 - $10,000 – 9 percent
    • $10,001 or more – 12 percent

    "While some credit card users report they are keeping their debt in check, others struggle with high interest payments and looming deadlines," said Jackie Warrick, President and Chief Savings Officer at "In fact, more than one-third of people we surveyed said they are concerned about how long it will take to pay off their cards. Keep your swiping in check and always have a grasp on the number of cards you have and how you're using them."

    How many credit cards do you carry? If you are typical, you make have at least two cards in your wallet. Thirty-five percent of respondents said they have three or more.

    Having cards is not a problem but using them without paying off the balances each month is. While credit cards make everyday purchases like groceries and gasoline convenient, make sure your have the money to pay off the balance each month. It is those increasing balances that get you in trouble.

    Do you know your credit score? It turns out a lot of people don't. A survey by finds 47 percent of U.S. adults don't have a clue what their...

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      Facebook Withdraws 'Friends Nearby' App

      Also gets flack for changing default email settings

      On Sunday Facebook rather quietly launched a new “find friends nearby” app. By Tuesday, after an Internet firestorm, the social networking site just as quietly took it down.

      The app, which was said to be in the testing mode, allowed mobile Facebook users to see the locations of their friends who were also mobile. To some, it seemed a dangerous invasion of privacy. To others, it just seemed creepy.

      How it worked

      According to technology websites that studied the app, it displayed Facebook users' names when those users turned on the mobile app and were in close geographic proximity to one another. The users did not necessarily have to be “friends” to show up on the list.

      It only worked when both parties had the app open on their mobile devices at the same time. In some ways, it was very similar to the “girls around me” app that proved controversial a couple of months ago.

      Some, however, saw nothing sinister in the app, pointing out it could be useful for finding someone you briefly met at a business function or party. Jared Newman, writing in PC World, said the app was “a good idea that needs work.”

      Commenters appeared to be divided, however. “Creepy, definitely creepy,” wrote one posting under the name LordInsidious. But “Puilamhenry” responded “how's that creepy? I have met lots of friends just by G+'s nearby feature.”

      You may have a new email address

      Facebook is also on the receiving end of some message board push-back for its new email policy. The social networking site has changed your default email address from the one you chose to your Facebook email address, even if you didn't know you had a Facebook email address.

      “Back in April, Facebook quietly announced that it would be giving users email addresses so that they matched their public username, used as the URL for users' profile pages,” Graham Cluley, of Sophos Security Software wrote in his blog. “However, the social network didn't make clear that it would also be making the email addresses the default address displayed to your online friends.”

      To change your default email setting, go to your “profile” page on Facebook and select “choose a different address.”

      On Sunday Facebook rather quietly launched a new “find friends nearby” app. By Tuesday, after an Internet firestorm, the social networking site...

      Poll: Safety Top Consideration In New Car Purchase

      Style and gadgets take backseat in poll

      You might think fuel economy would be the most important factor in a consumer's selection of a new car, but according to a new poll, it's not. Safety is.

      The survey, conducted by, an online marketplace for in-process vehicle leases, found that more than 60 percent of its users chose safety as the most important consideration in selecting a new car.

      Safety outranks “style and appearance,” which garnered 30 percent, “luxury and convenience,” at 12 percent and “electronic features,” at nine percent.

      "Safety has long been high on the list for prospective car buyers or lessees, and our survey shows that changing times don't always change people's priorities," said Scot Hall, EVP of Operations, of "Thanks to today's technology, we have an ever-growing list of features that make cars safer than ever before."

      Blind-spot warning

      What's the most important safety feature for drivers? Thirty-two percent said a blind-spot warning system was their favorite feature. Close behind were hands-free calling and a back-up camera.

      "It's interesting to note that people are so interested in the blind-spot warning system. It's the very latest in safety technology, and I know from personal experience that it's a wonderful feature," said Hall. "It's also currently priced at a premium, so whether consumer will put their money where their opinions are remains to be seen."

      Safest cars

      What cars have the most safety features? Last month the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recognized three vehicles - The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco, a midsize hybrid; 2012 Hyundai Azera, a large family car; and 2012 Toyota Prius c, a small hybrid - with the Institute's top award for good performance in front, side, rollover and rear impact evaluations.

      In the luxury and convenience category, heated/cooled seats were by far the most desired features. Next in order of rank were memory settings for things like seat and steering wheel placement; rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a heated steering wheel.

      In just a few years, GPS navigation systems have almost something drivers consider a standard option. In the electronics category, more than half the participating drivers selected that as a must-have feature.

      With the majority of other technology features falling in the entertainment category, iPod/MP3 compatibility was much more important than a CD or DVD players – 24 percent compared to 11 percent and 9 percent respectively.

      Upgraded interior trim and upgraded wheels took the top spots for style needs.

      You might think fuel economy would be the most important factor in a consumer's selection of a new car, but according to a new poll, it's not. Safety is....

      Joining a Gym? Exercise Your Right to Read the Contract

      Remember: Being fit doesn't necessarily mean belonging to a gym

      Everyone needs to exercise. That's no mystery. But choosing the right way to exercise can be a challenge. While some are able to stay self-motivated and do solitary exercises like jogging, or calisthenics, others need to get in their fitness by playing a team sport or joining an exercise group.

      But many consumers around the globe choose to join a gym, usually for the variety of exercise equipment, access to personal trainers, and having others around them for inspiration.

      Choosing the right gym can be as challenging as going through one of its exercise regiments. Not only in terms of finding a fitness center that meets your fitness desires, but also one that has fair and transparent payment clauses.

      Consumers rank LA Fitness

      Take LA Fitness for example, which as of this writing has received barely over one out of five stars in our ConsumerAffairs complaints and review section. Poor reviews from our readers about the gym are in the hundreds.

      Many of the complaints are from customers who have been affected by LA Fitness buying out Bally's Total Fitness in 2011. Consumers were promised by LA Fitness that Bally's members wouldn't be impacted in terms of having the same membership, and being able to access all of LA Fitness' gyms. Customers were also assured that prices wouldn't go up once they made the switch.

      This wasn't the case for Fred who wrote to ConsumerAffairs from Chicago, Ill.

      "In my case, I was going to the same Bally's for more than 20 years," he said. "Three months after LA Fitness closed the Bally's I went to, I was told that the replacement, an LA Fitness location 2 blocks away is a 'Signature Club.' LA Fitness claims that my Bally's membership is based in a suburb 30 miles away. I don't own a car and can't even get there. LA Fitness now said that if I want to use the location close to me, my membership will increase 4.5 times that it was before."

      Just to be sure our readers weren't overstating the case, we ran a computerized sentiment analysis of postings to social media by about 120,000 consumers over the last year. The findings: LA Fitness veered from a high of about 50% positive to a low of 28% in June.

      And just what is it consumers like and don't like about LA Fitness? It's a long list but this graph shows the highlights:

      Service issues

      And issues with LA Fitness don't stop with the gym not properly honoring Bally Memberships. Many people have complained that overall quality of service has declined since the two gyms merged.

      Csaba of San Pedro, Calif. said he received harassing calls from LA Fitness, about updating his credit card information. Obviously Csaba wasn't comfortable providing this info over the phone, so he declined and received rude and aggressive responses from the customer service department. And to make it worse he even received these invasive calls on Easter Sunday.

      One of the most popular complaints, not only for LA Fitness but all gyms, is the inability to cancel your membership when you decide to use another gym or simply work out at home. It's among the chief complaints with the Better Business Bureau when it comes to gym membership issues.

      No escape

      Many fitness centers already anticipate that you may cancel your membership early, so they purposely make it extremely difficult to do so. Similar to how Facebook or other social networking sites make cancellation difficult, in hopes people will find it too time-consuming and just choose to stay on.

      Experts say it's important to be extremely cognizant of a gym's cancellation clauses, and most times written notice within a specific time frame is needed to successfully cancel your membership.

      There are countless reported cases of consumers still paying for gym memberships years after they stopped using them. How to permanently cancel your membership should be the first question you ask when deciding to join an exercise facility. 

      Only the contract matters

      The next step is to remember that what the salesman tells you means absolutely nothing -- as in not one thing. Nada. The only thing that matters is what the contract says. Read it. And keep it in a file where you can find it. If you do not follow the procedure outlined in the contract to the letter, your heirs will be left to straighten things out.

      Some gyms will also covertly apply unexpected fees to your bill. Many consumers have reported being billed for new gym equipment offered, and some have been billed a pool or sauna fee in addition to their membership costs. It's also important to know exactly what membership fees will include, and if you'll ever be billed for any extras the gym provides.

      According to a report entitled "Fitness Industry Analysis 2012- Cost & Trends",  there are over 29,000 fitness centers in the U.S., which grew from only 17,000 about ten years ago. The report also shows that 41 million Americans hold gym memberships, and at least half of those consumes belong to nationwide gym franchises.

      All that glitters ...

      Gold's Gym won't be winning any popularity contests either. ConsumerAffairs analyzed about 63,000 consumer comments posted on social media over the last year. 

      We found Gold's net sentiment fluctuating wildly from about 100% to nearly zero -- sort of like a workout newbie trying to do a bench press without a spotter. 

      And if those 63,000 comments aren't enough for you, consider the 400 or so consumers who took the trouble to write extended ConsumerAffairs reviews about their Gold's experience, giving the slumping fitness chain barely more than one out of five stars.

      Consumers rank Gold's

      As consumers opinion goes, this isn't so hot. Gold's is in about the same shape as the hung-over meathead who drops a 45-pound plate on his foot.

      Valerie of Sebring, Fla. said although her two-year membership expired with Gold's, the company kept billing her. She then went to the bank and changed debit cards in hopes the company wouldn't be able to extract money from her account. But then she received a collection notice from Gold's Gym threatening to harm her credit.

      What's even more upsetting is that Gold's then offered her a new membership package, promising that if she signed up, her billing issues would be wiped clean. 

      Read the contract!

      This case is an example of why you have to make sure your membership isn't automatically renewed after your membership runs out. In many cases, contracts go to month-to-month status after the initial contract term. It is still up to the consumer -- that's you -- to exercise your right to cancel, usually by sending a certified letter to the address specified in the contract. 

      If you don't follow the procedure outlined in the contract, gyms wll keep taking money from your bank account. 

      Gold's retort

      ConsumerAffairs contacted the headquarters of Gold's Gym to ask them about the large amount of complaints concerning hidden fees and its cancelation policy.

      I spoke to a company rep named Libby who said, "Most people who phone us with angry complaints have failed to read our contract. If you're in a two-year contract, and you break it, you'll have to pay a $100 cancellation fee unless you move 25 miles out of the franchise area. We would then need a copy of a lease agreement or a utility bill to prove that you moved."

      Libby said the company had no plans to change its policy, despite the numerous complaints.

      OK, Libby, but our sentiment analysis finds a pretty big reservoir of ill will that somebody might want to take a look at.

      No flexibility

      The phone call demonstrated that the company has no flexibility in its policy no matter how inconvenient it is for the customer. This is a sign that Gold's Gym sort of counts on its customers not knowing what the clauses are.

      One would have to assume the company would lose a great amount of money if all of its customers were in the know about its gym policies.

      At this point, consumers might consider that too much time pumping iron and using their devilish exercise machines can make you muscle-bound. After all, flexibility and endurance are as important as brute strength and you don't need a gym to get them.

      Instead using big commercial exercise facilities, you might want to consider  working out at home, as many of the same fitness results can be achieved on your own. Furthermore, you'll save the hundreds sometimes thousands of dollars gym clubs charge, and you can use that money to purchase one or two pieces of equipment that specifically serve your fitness goals.

      Also, working out in front of strangers or in a big display window may not be a source of motivation for you, but instead be a hindrance. If you prefer having a personal trainer, you can hire one independently that will be a fraction of the cost of getting a trainer through a gym. However, be sure to check the trainer's credentials, or have a friend or neighbor suggest a trainer for you.

      With a constant stream of TV commercials, and ads about large gym facilities, one can easily forget there are many ways we can stay fit. Many exercise clubs make consumers feel if they don't join a gym they're doing their body and health a disservice, which is obviously not the case.

      Be sure to carefully select the type of workout plan you want, and if you decide that's an exercise facility, be sure to do your homework.

      Just because a gym is close to your home, or is heavily advertised doesn't mean it's right for your exercise goals or your wallet.

      Everyone needs to exercise. That's no mystery. But choosing the right way to exercise can be a challenge. While some are able to stay self-motivated and do...

      Poll: Honda, Mercedes Top Auto Brands

      Harris Interactive poll shows Honda displaces Ford as top full line auto company

      When you ask consumers what automotive brands they consider to be the best in terms of quality, Mercedes-Benz and Honda come out on top, according to the 2012 Harris Poll Equitrends.

      Mercedes-Benz earned the title of lead luxury auto brand for the second straight year.

      “Mercedes-Benz and Lexus have been battling over this top ranking for the last eight years,” said Mike Chadsey, Senior Consultant for Harris Interactive’s Customer Relationship Consulting team. “Mercedes has ranked at the top for two years in a row and four of the last eight years, while Lexus has made it to the top spot three times.”

      Consumers seem to agree. ConsumerAffairs conducted a computerized sentiment analysis of postings to social media over the last year to see what consumers had to say about Mercedes and Honda.

      Mercedes sentiment

      We found about 730,000 consumers posting comments about Mercedes, with a positive net sentiment approaching 80% throughout the year.

      Honda sentiment

      Honda, on the other hand, is more talked-about with about 3.8 million comments but is less admired, never climbing above the 60% mark during the last 12 months.  

       What is it consumers like and dislike about Honda?

      Ford gets bumped

      Chadsey says BMW is also usually within the top three, with especially strong scores over the last three years. Honda earned the top spot as America’s favorite full line automaker. Honda overtook both Toyota and Ford to claim the honor. It replaces last year’s top-ranked automaker, Ford.

      Toyota had a traumatic 2011 because of safety recalls but rebounded nicely this year. It claimed the second spot, up two notches from its fourth-place position in 2011, and that much closer to the top spot it held only two years ago in 2010. Toyota’s increase in brand equity is the largest of the brands measured in the category.

      Ford slipped to third place in the 2012 rankings, even though its equity score increased. It just didn't increase as much as Honda and Toyota. Chevrolet, Nissan, Subaru,Hyundai, and Volkswagen also rank above average in the full line automotive category.

      When you ask consumers what automotive brands they consider to be best in terms of quality, Mercedes-Benz and Honda come out on top, according to the 2012 ...

      Mortgage Delinquencies Fall To Three-Year Low

      OCC credits strengthening economy, among other factors, for the improvement

      More people are making their house payments on time for the first time in several years. 

      The percentage of first mortgages that were current and performing at the end of the first quarter of 2012 increased to the highest levels in three years, according to a report published by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency . 

      The OCC Mortgage Metrics Report for the First Quarter of 2012 showed percentages of mortgages that were 30 to 59 and 60 to 89 days delinquent also decreased to their lowest levels since the OCC began publishing its report on mortgage performance in first quarter of 2008. 

      The improvement in mortgage performance can be attributed to several factors, including strengthening economic conditions during the quarter, seasonal effects, servicing transfers, and the ongoing effects of home retention programs as well as home forfeiture actions. 

      Problems remain 

      The large number of delinquent loans continues to work through the loss mitigation process. Servicers initiated 352,989 new home retention actions—modifications, trial-period plans, and payment plans. During the past five quarters, servicers initiated more than 2.2 million home retention actions. 

      Completed foreclosures increased to 122,979 -- up 5.9 percent from the previous quarter and 2.7 percent from the first quarter of 2011. However, the number of new foreclosures initiated during the quarter decreased to 286,951 -- down 1.8 percent from the previous quarter. The inventory of foreclosures in process increased from the previous quarter to 1,269,921. The inventory stood at 1,308,757 a year ago. 

      Modifications helping 

      Servicers have modified 2,543,133 mortgages from the beginning of 2008 through the end of the fourth quarter of 2011. At the end of the first quarter of 2012, 50.7 percent of these modifications remained current or were paid off. Modifications made during that period that reduced borrower monthly payments by 10 percent or more performed better than those that reduced payments by less than 10 percent -- the greater the payment decrease, the better the subsequent performance. 

      At the end of the first quarter of 2012, 57.9 percent of modifications that reduced payments by 10 percent or more were current and performing, compared with 36.8 percent of those that reduced payments by less. 

      On average modifications implemented in the first quarter of 2012 reduced monthly principal and interest payments by $437, which is 31 percent more than modifications implemented during the first quarter of 2011. HAMP modification reduced payments by $588 on average. 

      The report covers 31 million first-lien mortgages worth $5.3 trillion in outstanding balances -- about 60 percent of all first-lien mortgages in the United States. 

      More people are staying current on their mortgage payments...

      Foreclosure Situation Improving For Some, But Not All

      Some homeowners find the process hopelessly frustrating

      News from the housing sector lately has been encouraging. Home sales are up and so are prices. Now Equifax, the credit agency, comes along with more good news.

      Severely delinquent balances among first mortgages are on the decline. While still high compared to historic levels, the May 2012 total of $450 billion in delinquent balances represents a 37 percent decline from the peak of more than $700 billion in January 2010. Of note is that 70% of outstanding delinquencies among first mortgages still remain tied to loans opened between 2005-2007.

      The greatest level of change was among severely delinquent non-agency first mortgage loans, which fell 45 percent to $320 billion in May from its peak of $580 billion in January 2010.

      "That severe mortgage delinquencies are trending downward is not surprising given generally improving economic conditions," said Equifax Chief Economist Amy Crews Cutts. "What is surprising is that even with the foreclosure moratoriums and the slow resolution of foreclosure backlogs, the downward trend has been a steady, consistent drumbeat of recovery. If this pace continues, we expect the volume of severely delinquent mortgage balances to return to mid-2007 levels by the end of 2014."

      For some, the nightmare continues

      But make no mistake, foreclosures are continuing and one thing has not changed in the last four years. People facing foreclosure continue to report maddening problems getting reliable, consistent information from their lenders.

      Martha Lynn, of Garden City, N.Y., says he has worked for two and a half years to modify her Bank of America mortgage after her husband lost his job.

      "We have filled out reams of identical papers numerous times, tolerated constant harassing phone calls, recorded conflicting statements by them on the telephone and have collected letters of clashing statements," Martha Lynn wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. "We even have one that says we did not get a modification because we are not in default, however, they had us in foreclosure status at that time."

      Lawyer can't seem to help

      Martha Lynn and her husband have a lawyer but that doesn't seem to have gotten them very far. After making modified payments for 11 months, she said Bank of America suddenly stopped accepting the payments. She and her husband have, instead, been depositing those checks into an escrow account.

      On June 18, she says she received a new packet of Bank of America modification forms to fill out. Two days later, she said she received a letter from a Bank of America executive saying her loan could not be modified "because you did not provide us with the documents we requested.”

      If you think Martha Lynn sounds frustrated, consider the story of Stephen, of Evanston, Ind., who lost his Wells Fargo-financed home to foreclosure in April 2011.

      "I was sent a letter from their lawyer on 5/2/2011 informing me the house was sold and I no longer have the right to possession of the property," Stephen wrote.

      Still responsible for insurance

      Stephen says he packed up his family and moved away, hoping to start fresh. But somehow his foreclosure followed him, adding insult to injury.

      "On May 11, 2011 Wells Fargo started a home owners policy on the sold property under my name and charged it to me," Stephen wrote. "They stated my old policy was cancelled!"

      Of course it was cancelled, Stephen pointed out, since he no longer owned he house, which now had a new owner.

      "Now I get in the mail an insurance renewal policy for the same house sold a year earlier for another year," Stephen wrote. "I tried to cancel the insurance but they wont let me."

      Mistakes happen, but Stephen reports he has been unable to get anyone at Wells Fargo to rectify the situation. He wants to know why it's his responsibility to inform Wells Fargo that they foreclosed on his home more than a year ago.

      Martha Lynn, meanwhile, is going public with her case, launching a website for people who are not only losing their homes, but are frustrated in their attempts to communicate with their lenders.

      News from the housing sector lately has been encouraging. Home sales are up and so are prices. Now Equifax, the credit agency, comes along with more good n...

      Wyndham Hotels In Hot Water Over Personal Information Protection

      Credit card data of hundreds of thousands of consumers compromised, millions lost to fraud

      When you go on vacation, the last thing you want to do is be hassled with a credit card problem because someone at your hotel screwed up. But, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), that’s what’s happened to a lot of folks who stayed at Wyndham Hotels. 

      The FTC has filed suit against global hospitality company Wyndham Worldwide Corporation and three of its subsidiaries for alleged data security failures that led to three data breaches at Wyndham hotels in less than two years. 

      According to the agency, these failures led to fraudulent charges on consumers’ accounts, millions of dollars in fraud loss and the export of hundreds of thousands of consumers’ payment card account information to an Internet domain address registered in Russia. 

      Whether this will hurt Wyndham's standing with its customers remains to be seen. ConsumerAffairs conducted a computerized sentiment analysis of about 150,000 postings on social media over the last year and found a distinct dip consumers' perceptions of Wyndham during May and June.

      The lodging and entertainment chain went from a 79% positive sentiment in January to just 39% by June.

      Privacy shortcomings were by far the most frequent negative sentiments displayed by consumers during the year. 

      The complaint 

      In its complaint, the FTC alleges that Wyndham’s privacy policy misrepresented the security measures that the company and its subsidiaries took to protect consumers’ personal information, and that its failure to safeguard personal information caused substantial consumer injury.  The agency charged that the security practices were unfair and deceptive and violated the FTC Act.  

      Wyndham and its subsidiaries license the Wyndham name to approximately 90 independently-owned hotels, under franchise and management agreements. 

      Since 2008 Wyndham has claimed, on its Wyndham Hotels and Resorts subsidiary’s Website that, “We recognize the importance of protecting the privacy of individual-specific (personally identifiable) information collected about guests, callers to our central reservation centers, visitors to our Web sites, and members participating in our Loyalty Program …” 

      According to the FTC’s complaint, the repeated security failures exposed consumers’ personal data to unauthorized access. Wyndham and its subsidiaries failed to take security measures such as complex user IDs and passwords, firewalls and network segmentation between the hotels and the corporate network, the agency alleged.  In addition, the defendants allowed improper software configurations that resulted in the storage of sensitive payment card information in clear readable text. 

      Each Wyndham-branded hotel has its own property management computer system that handles payment card transactions and stores information on such things as payment card account numbers, expiration dates, and security codes.  According to the FTC, in the first breach in April 2008, intruders gained access to a Phoenix, Arizona Wyndham-branded hotel's local computer network that was connected to the Internet and the corporate network of Wyndham Hotels and Resorts. 

      Because of Wyndham’s inadequate security procedures, the breach gave the intruders access to the corporate network of Wyndham’s Hotels and Resorts subsidiary, and the property management system servers of 41Wyndham-branded hotels.  This access enabled the intruders to: 

      • install “memory-scraping” malware on numerous Wyndham-branded hotels' property management system servers.
      • access files on Wyndham-branded hotels’ property management system servers that contained payment card account information for large numbers of consumers, which was improperly stored in clear readable text. 

      Ultimately, the breach led to the compromise of more than 500,000 payment card accounts, and the export hundreds of thousands of consumers’ payment card account numbers to a domain registered in Russia. 

      Continued violations 

      Even after faulty security led to one breach, the FTC charged, Wyndham still failed to remedy known security vulnerabilities; failed to employ reasonable measures to detect unauthorized access; and failed to follow proper incident response procedures.  As a result, Wyndham’s security was breached two more times in less than two years. 

      In March 2009, intruders again gained unauthorized access to Wyndham Hotels and Resorts' network, using similar techniques as in the first breach.  In addition to using memory-scraping malware, they reconfigured software at the Wyndham-branded hotels to obtain clear text files containing the payment card account numbers of guests.  

      In this second incident, the intruders were able to access information at 39 Wyndham-branded hotels for more than 50,000 consumer payment card accounts and use that information to make fraudulent charges using consumers’ accounts. 

      Later in 2009, intruders again installed memory-scraping malware and thereby compromised Wyndham Hotels and Resorts’ network and the property management system servers of 28 Wyndham-branded hotels.  

      As a result of this third incident, the intruders were able to access information for approximately 69,000 consumer payment card accounts and again make fraudulent purchases on those accounts. 

      The defendants in the case are:  Wyndham Worldwide Corporation; its subsidiary, Wyndham Hotel Group, LLC, which franchises and manages approximately 7,000 hotels; and two subsidiaries of Wyndham Hotel Group – Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, LLC and Wyndham Hotel Management, Inc.

      FTC charges hotel chain with lax identity protection polices...

      Court Blocks Sale Of Galaxy 10 Tablets In U.S.

      Grant's Apple's request for preliminary injunction in patent dispute

      Don't expect to purchase Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the U.S. for a while. A U.S. District Judge in San Jose, Calif., has granted Apple a preliminary injunction against the device in Apple's long-running patent dispute with Samsung.

      Samsung said it would immediately appeal the decision of Federal Judge Lucy H. Koh.

      Apple sued to block Samsung from selling the Galaxy 10.1 in the U.S., claiming it is "virtually indistinguishable from the iPad." In an earlier ruling, the court agreed with Apple but the judge has yet to file a final ruling.

      In granting the preliminary injunction, Koh required Apple to post a $2.6 million bond to compensate Samsung if the final ruling goes Samsung's way. 

      Apple filed suit last July accusing Samsung of violating its patent for the iPad. The case doesn't just center on the device's electronics, but also on its design.

      Light & thin

      Upon its release last year the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 won praise from technology reviewers, who called it "as thin as the iPad 2 and even lighter." It runs the Android operating system and features a three-megapixel back camera and two-megapixel front camera, with premium audio.

      The court's decision, at least temporarily, removes one of the iPad's main competitors from the marketplace. It also removes the one that many saw as having the best chance to overtake Apple in the tablet wars.

      "Apple sought a preliminary injunction of Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1, based on a single design patent that addressed just one aspect of the product's overall design," Samsung said in a statement. "Should Apple continue to make legal claims based on such a generic design patent, design innovation and progress in the industry could be restricted." 

      Don't expect to purchase Samsung's new Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the U.S. for a while. A U.S. District Judge in San Jose, Calif., has granted Apple a preliminary...

      Activists Want Airlines Barred From Forcing Toddlers to Travel Solo

      CREW says the polices of some carriers force an ‘outrageous scenario’ on parents

      Thirty-thousand feet is no place for a two-year-old to be all alone. 

      That’s the message being sent by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which is calling on Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to issue a new rule requiring airlines to seat small children with their adult guardians.  

      Airlines like US Airways and American now routinely separate children as young as two-years-old from their parents, according to CREW, seating them in middle seats next to complete strangers.  The group says the only way to avoid this “outrageous scenario” is for parents to pay often exorbitant fees allowing them to pick seats near their children. 

      “As if airline travel isn’t stressful enough, parents now have to worry about whether they will be seated with their toddlers,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan. “Further, unsuspecting passengers may find themselves with the choice of either relinquishing their more expensive seat for a middle seat elsewhere on the plane or serving as a babysitter for an overwrought child. 

      “Any rational person would find this situation completely absurd, but leave it to highly paid airline executives – who fly first class themselves – to find yet new indignities to thrust upon coach passengers,” she added.  “No wonder airlines are as hated as investment bankers and Congress.” 

      Significant consequences 

      The practical consequences of airlines’ failures to seat children with their parents are significant, the group maintains. Young travelers who may become distraught, ill, or need a diaper change are on their own, utterly dependent on seatmates who may be unwilling or unable to assist them.  

      Further, in the case of turbulence or an emergency, passengers are directed to remain in their seats, leaving parents unable to respond to or assist their scared or sick children. 

      Contradictory polices 

      Ironically, airlines such as US Airways and American prohibit children under age five from traveling alone, although seating children far from their parents effectively leaves them unaccompanied.  

      Airlines also charge additional fees for unaccompanied minors that are allegedly based on the additional services these young solo travelers receive.  In reality, such fees are just another revenue generating scheme. 

      “Since airlines have proven they can’t enact common sense policies on their own, the government must do it for them,” said Sloan. “Children must not be inhumanely separated from their parents by greedy airlines seeking to wrest another dollar from powerless passengers.  It is time for Secretary LaHood and the Department of Transportation to crack down on this preposterous practice.”

      Children traveling alone should be banned, group says...

      TBC Recalling SUV Tires

      Tread separation raises the risk of a crash

      TBC Corporation is recalling more than 900 Sigma Stampede Radial SUV tires, size P265/70R17, equipped with DOT code UTT6TX60112. Contaminated rubber may have been used in the tread compound, which could result in tread separation. Tread separation can result in loss of vehicle control, increasing the risk of a vehicle crash. 

      TBC will notify owners, and dealers will replace the tires free of charge. Free mounting and balancing will also be included, as applicable. The recall is expected to begin on July 2, 2012. Owners may contact TBC at 1-901-363-8030. 

       TBC’S recall number is 156. Owners may also contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153).

      Tire with tread defect is being recalled...

      Most Consumers Don't Have Emergency Savings

      Bankrate survey shows consumers know they need more cash on hand

      If you encountered a major financial setback, such as losing your job, would you be able to get by until you got back on your feet? Don't feel bad if you answered no. You're not alone -- most people don't have adequate emergency savings.

      A new poll by finds 49 percent of consumers do not have enough emergency savings to cover three months' expenses, up from 46 percent last year.

      Twenty-eight percent admit to having no emergency savings at all. The generally recommended cushion is six months' expenses, and only 25 percent have saved that much, according to the survey.

      As bad as it sounds, it used to be worse,. When Bankrate conducted a similar poll in 2006, before the credit crisis and real estate crash, 61 percent of consumers failed to have enough emergency savings to cover three months' expenses.

      Not enough progress

      "While we've seen some improvement since then, the bottom line is that much more progress is needed," said Greg McBride, CFA, senior financial analyst for "Having sufficient emergency savings is critical to avoiding high-cost credit card debt when unexpected expenses arise."

      In conjunction with the survey, Bankrate released its June 2012 Financial Security Index, showing it held steady from this same time last year. This is only the second time since polling began in Dec. 2010 that Americans are feeling greater financial security than the previous 12 months.

      The Index also shows that U.S. consumers are mindful of the need to save more money. Thirty-two percent of Americans are currently reporting that they are less comfortable with their savings versus one year ago, a new low and down from the peak of 47 percen that were less comfortable in August 2011.

      Eighteen percent said they are less comfortable with their debt than 12 months ago, a new low and down from the peak of 27 percent in October 2011 and November 2011.

      If you encountered a major financial setback, such as losing your job, would you be able to get by until you got back on your feet? Perhaps it is no surpri...

      How Long Should You Take Osteoporosis Drugs?

      The decision depends on a number of factors and consultation with your doctor

      A number of factors put both men and women at risk for osteoporosis, including age, race, family history and a sedentary lifestyle. 

      But there are also several ways you can reduce that risk, including:

      • getting adequate amounts of calcium and Vitamin D through foods
      • staying physically active, including weight-bearing exercise such as walking, jogging, skipping rope, and skiing
      • not smoking
      • limiting alcohol use 

      An up-close look 

      Researchers at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have taken a close look at the long-term benefit of bisphosphonates, a class of medications widely prescribed to treat osteoporosis. 

      An FDA review of clinical studies measuring the effectiveness of long-term bisphosphonates use shows that some patients may be able to stop using them after three to five years and still continue to benefit from their use, says Marcea Whitaker, M.D., a medical officer at FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. 

      If you're one of the 44 million Americans at risk for osteoporosis -- a disease in which bones become weak and are more likely to break -- you may be taking bisphosphonates. 

      This class of drugs has been successfully used since 1995 to slow or inhibit the loss of bone mass. Doctors commonly prescribe such brand-name drugs as Actonel, Atelvia, Boniva, and Fosamax (as well as a number of generic products) for osteoporosis. In fact, more than 150 million prescriptions were dispensed to patients between 2005 and 2009. 

      More info needed 

      According to the review, further investigation is needed on the long-term risks and benefits of these drugs. 

      "These drugs clearly work," Whitaker says. "We just don't know yet the optimum period of time individual patients should be on the drug to both maximize its effectiveness and minimize potential risks." 

      More research is needed on patients' risk of fracture after they stop taking bisphosphonates, and whether taking them again later on could prove beneficial, she adds.  As always, patients should talk to their health care provider about their continued need for therapy. 

      Several considerations

      The studies suggest that patients at low risk of fracture (for example, younger patients without a fracture history and with a bone mineral density approaching normal) may be good candidates for discontinuation of bisphosphonate therapy after three to five years. 

      In contrast, patients at increased risk for fractures (for example, older patients with a history of fracture and a bone mineral density remaining in the osteoporotic range) may benefit further from continued bisphosphonate therapy. 

      How the medication works 

      Bones go through a continual process of remodeling, in the form of bone resorption (disintegration) and bone formation. Bone loss related to osteoporosis occurs when resorption is greater than formation. Bisphosphonates decrease bone resorption, thereby slowing bone loss. 

      During treatment, bisphosphonates become part of the newly formed bone and can stay there for years, through many cycles of resorption and formation.  Patients continue to be exposed to the effects of the drug even long after they’ve stopped taking it. 

      According to Whitaker, the studies that FDA considered focused on patients who had been using bisphosphonates for at least three years and as many as 10. They looked at outcomes related both to bone mineral density and bone fractures. 

      Effective treatment – with caveats 

      "Bisphosphonates have been proven very effective in protecting against bone fractures in clinical trials lasting three to four years," says Whitaker. But it's still unknown whether the benefit lasts longer than that in decreasing the risk of fractures. 

      Bisphosphonate labels have carried a safety warning about severe jaw bone decay (osteonecrosis of the jaw) since 2002. In October 2010, FDA warned patients and health care professionals about the increased risk of unusual thigh bone fractures and directed manufacturers to include the warning in the safety labels and medication guides that come with prescription medications. 

      FDA continues to evaluate the possible association of bisphosphonates with esophageal cancer. These associations would suggest that health care professionals may want to reconsider how long patients should continue taking the drugs. 

      Your decision 

      Decisions to continue treatment must be based on individual assessments of risks and benefits and on patient preference, Whitaker says. 

      If you are taking bisphosphonates: 

      Talk to your physician about whether you should continue this therapy. Re-evaluate the decision on a periodic basis.

      Don't stop taking these (or any) prescribed drugs without talking to your physician first. If you do make the decision to discontinue use, talk to your physician before stopping therapy.

      Tell your health care professional if you develop new hip or thigh pain (commonly described as dull or aching pain), or have any concerns with your medications.

      Report unusual side effects of your bisphosphonate medication to FDA's MedWatch program.

      A number of factors enter into the decision to continue taking osteoporosis medication...

      Pending Home Sales Surge In May

      Latest indicator that housing market is recovering

      On the heels of a huge spike in new home sales, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports pending home sales rose 5.9 percent in May and are up more than 13 percent from May 2011. The Pending Home Sales Index is at the highest level in two years.

      Pending home sales are sales contracts for property that have been signed but not closed. They are usually considered a good early indicator of the housing market. May's numbers suggest June's home sale numbers will show continued gains.

      Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, has recent data shows the housing market is finally recovering.


      “The housing market is clearly superior this year compared with the past four years," Yun said. "The latest increase in home contract signings marks 13 consecutive months of year-over-year gains. Actual closings for existing-home sales have been notably higher since the beginning of the year and we’re on track to see a 9 to 10 percent improvement in total sales for 2012.

      A year ago pending home sales would suggest gains in the housing market, only to see actual sales fall the next month because many of the pending contracts would fall through. In many cases, would-be buyers found they could not get loans,or the property would fail to appraise for the agreed-upon price. In recent months, there have been fewer failed contracts.

      Yun said mortgage rates have never been lower but buyers still have difficulty qualifying for loans. Now, he says, there are fewer homes for sale.

      Could have been even better

      “If credit conditions returned to normal and if we had more inventory, especially in the lower price ranges, more people would become successful buyers," he said. "In an environment of historically favorable housing affordability conditions, it’s frustrating to see some consumers thwarted in the process.”

      Prices buyers are willing to pay for houses are also rising. Yun said the national median existing-home price is expected to rise 3.0 percent this year and another 5.7 percent in 2013.

      Regionally, pending home sales were up in May all across the country. The West led with a 14.5 percent gain. In the Midwest, pending sales were up 6.3 percent in May and 22.1 percent over May 2012.  

      On the heels of a huge spike in new home sales, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports pending home sales rose 5.9 percent in May and is up mor...

      HIV Testing Expanding Into Pharmacies

      A CDC pilot program aims to make HIV testing ‘routine’

      The day is coming when you’ll have to go no farther than your nearest shopping mall to be tested for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (DC) is launching a pilot project to train pharmacists and retail store clinic staff at 24 rural and urban sites to deliver confidential rapid HIV testing. 

      The goal of the initiative is to extend HIV testing and counseling into the standard everyday services offered by pharmacies and retail clinics. 

      CDC will use the results of the pilot effort to develop a model for implementation of HIV testing in these settings across the United States. The project is part of CDC’s efforts to support its 2006 testing recommendations, which call for all adults and adolescents to be tested for HIV at least once in their lives. 

      “We know that getting people tested, diagnosed and linked to care are critical steps in reducing new HIV infections,” said Kevin Fenton, M.D., director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention. “By bringing HIV testing into pharmacies, we believe we can reach more people by making testing more accessible and also reduce the stigma associated with HIV. 

      Improving the odds 

      CDC estimates that 1.1 million people are living with HIV in the United States, yet nearly 1 in 5 remains unaware of the infection. In addition, one-third of those with HIV are diagnosed so late in the course of their infection that they develop AIDS within one year, missing years of opportunities to receive life-extending medical care and treatment, and potentially reduce transmission to partners. 

      Community pharmacies and retail clinics, with their convenience and easy accessibility, could play a critical role in ensuring more Americans have access to an HIV test. Data suggest that more that millions Americans enter pharmacies every week, and an estimated 30 percent of the U.S. population lives within a 10-minute drive of a retail clinic. 

      Compared with health care settings and conventional HIV testing sites, these locations may provide an environment that is more accessible to those who may be anxious about seeking an HIV test. 

      Making it routine 

      “Our goal is to make HIV testing as routine as a blood pressure check,” said Jonathan Mermin, M.D., director of CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention. “This initiative is one example of how we can make testing routine and help identify the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are unaware that they are infected.” 

      Throughout the two-year initiative, CDC will provide training for staff in community pharmacies and retail clinics in 12 urban areas and 12 rural areas with high HIV prevalence or significant unmet HIV testing needs. 

      Training will focus on how to deliver rapid HIV testing and counseling and link those who are diagnosed with the virus to care and treatment. 

      Based on lessons learned, CDC will develop a comprehensive toolkit that pharmacists and retail clinic staff from around the country can use to implement HIV testing.

      The government wants to make HIV testing more convenient...

      Don't Drink the Water ... Or the Coke

      Study finds levels of carcinogen in Coca-Cola varies by country

      For decades, American tourists have avoided drinking the local water when touring internationally, often drinking soft drinks instead. But the results of a new study may make you switch to beer.

      And if Congress drank Cokes, its distinguished members might be alarmed at the levels found in the District of Columbia. 

      The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says that Coca-Cola sold in California now contains little of the cancer-causing chemical 4 methylimidizole (4-MI), but new laboratory tests show alarming levels of the carcinogen in Cokes sold elsewhere around the world.

      "Fortunately, people in China, Japan, Kenya, and some other countries drink much less soda than we Americans do, so their exposure to this dangerous chemical is proportionately lower," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "But now that we know it's possible to almost totally eliminate this carcinogen from colas, there's no excuse for Coca-Cola and other companies not to do so worldwide, and not just in California."

      The carcinogen forms when the ammoniated caramel coloring used in colas is industrially produced. Coke began using a less-contaminated caramel coloring earlier this year in California after the state required a cancer-warning notice on soft drinks with excessive levels of 4-MI. CSPI first released test results showing the levels of 4-MI in Coke and Pepsi in March.

      Coca-Cola obtained from Brazil had 267 micrograms (mcg) of the carcinogen per 12 fluid ounces (355 ml). Coca-Cola from Kenya had 177 mcg per 12 ounces. Cokes marketed in Canada, the United Arab Emirates, Mexico, and the United Kingdom had between 144 mcg and 160 mcg per 12 ounces. Coke from China had 56 mcg and in Japan had 72 mcg.

      CSPI graphic

      DC levels

      Coca-Cola purchased in Washington, DC, had 144 mcg per 12 fluid ounces, while Cokes bought in California contained only 4 mcg.

      To put those levels into context, the state of California requires a cancer-warning label if a food would lead to people consuming 30 mcg or more of 4-MI per day. Thus, people drinking one 12-ounce soda per day would ingest that much if the soda contained 30 mcg or more of 4-MI. The state estimates that that amount of 4-MI would cause cancer in one in 100,000 people over their lifetimes.

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) restricts carcinogenic contaminants in food to lower levels — amounts that would not cause more than one cancer per million people. If the FDA applied its standard, a Coke would have to have under 3 mcg of 4-MI.

      Coca-Cola marketed in California is close to meeting that standard, but Cokes in most other countries, even allowing for lower consumption in most countries, greatly exceed that standard, CSPI said.

      CSPI’s test results will be published shortly in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health (vol. 18, No. 3).

      Advocates abroad

      CSPI obtained the Coca-Cola from consumer advocates or others in the countries represented in this study. Some of those people are releasing the test results today to media in their counties and bringing the carcinogen to the attention of their respective health ministers.

      In February 2011 CSPI first urged the FDA to prohibit ammoniated caramel coloring and to use a more accurate term for the ingredient. In contrast to the caramel one might make at home by melting sugar in a saucepan, the artificial brown coloring in colas and some other products is made by reacting sugars with ammonia (and often sulfites) under high pressure and temperatures.

      Chemical reactions between the sugar and the ammonia result in the formation of 4-MI, which caused lung, liver, and thyroid cancer or leukemia in laboratory animals in studies conducted by the United States government’s premier testing laboratory. A major manufacturer (D.D. Williamson) of caramel colorings says that it offers a coloring that is totally free of 4-MI, but it is four times more expensive and beverage companies aren't purchasing it.

      Five prominent experts on animal carcinogenesis, including several who worked at the National Toxicology Program, joined CSPI then in calling on the FDA to bar the use of caramel colorings made with an ammonia process.

      "The American public should not be exposed to any cancer risk whatsoever as a result of consuming such chemicals, especially when they serve a non-essential, cosmetic purpose," the scientists wrote.

      Although the presence of a known chemical carcinogen in such a widely consumed product is troubling, CSPI says that consumers should be more worried about the much greater risk posed by the sugar or high-fructose corn syrup in Coca-Cola and other sugary beverages. Overconsumption of sugary drinks raises one’s risk of weight gain, obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, and other health problems.

      For decades, American tourists have avoided drinking the local water when touring internationally, often drinking soft drinks instead. But the results of a...

      U.S. Health Experts Say Pregnant Women Shouldn't Drink

      Call Danish study that reached opposite conclusion 'misleading'

      As predicted, some public health officials are taking exception to study results published last week suggesting it's okay for pregnant women to consume moderate amounts of alcohol.

      Experts at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine say it is not okay.

      At the center of the controversy, Danish researchers said they found children born to mothers who consumed fewer than six alcohol units per week were just as intelligent and well-developed as children of abstaining mothers. Mothers who had been drinking five or more drinks on a single occasion a limited number of times before realizing that they were pregnant also did not affect their offspring.

      The finding were published in the international medical journal of obstetrics and gynaecology, BJOG.

      Danish study misleading

      The UC San Diego researchers disagree. Kenneth Lyons Jones, MD, professor in the UCSD Department of Pediatrics and a renowned expert in birth defects, and Christina Chambers, MPH, PhD, director of the California Teratogen Information Service (CTIS) Pregnancy Health Information Line, say these studies are misleading to pregnant women, citing more than 30 years of research to the contrary.

      “This series of studies collected data on alcohol exposure during an interview conducted sometime between 7 and 39 weeks of pregnancy. The quantity and frequency of alcohol consumed was based on mother’s recall which may not be accurate,” said Jones who was one of the first doctors to identify Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) in 1973.

      The series of studies analyzed data from more than 1,600 women in the Danish National Birth Cohort. The amount of alcohol consumed by the women during their pregnancy was classified as either none, low, moderate, or high.

      In addition, binge drinking was defined as having five or more drinks on a single occasion. When the child reached the age of five, the children underwent various development tests. Researchers found no significant association between prenatal alcohol consumption at low and moderate levels and general intelligence, attention, executive function or IQ.

      Study weaknesses cited

      However, only half of the women invited in the follow-up studies agreed to participate, the U.S. experts note. It is possible that those women who drank during pregnancy and who agreed to participate were more likely to have higher functioning children.

      Chambers, a UCSD School of Medicine professor, pointed to what she called the overwhelming evidence of more than 30 years of research supporting the conclusion that alcohol, especially alcohol consumed in a binge pattern, can be harmful to the developing baby.

      “Individual women metabolize alcohol differently, and vary in terms of how susceptible they may be to having an affected child,” Chambers said. “Although we do not want to alarm women who find out they are pregnant and realize that they have consumed low levels of alcohol before they knew they were pregnant, we emphasize that a ‘safe’ amount of alcohol that any individual woman can drink while pregnant is impossible to establish. The best advice continues to be that women should avoid alcohol entirely during the nine months that she is carrying the baby.”

      As predicted, some public health officials are taking exception to study results published last week suggesting it's okay for pregnant women to consume mod...