Current Events in July 2012

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    CDC: Universal Motorcycle Helmet Laws Save Money

    The agency also found such laws increase helmet use

    The use of helmets by motorcycle riders not only saves lives -- it saves money too, according to a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    In fact, annual cost savings in states with universal motorcycle helmet laws were nearly four times greater (per registered motorcycle) than in states without these comprehensive laws. Universal helmet laws require that motorcycle riders and passengers wear a helmet every time they ride. 

    Big savings 

    Annual costs saved from helmet use -- in terms of medical, productivity and other costs -- ranged from a high of $394 million in California (which has a universal helmet law) to a low of $2.6 million in New Mexico (which has a partial law). Partial helmet laws require that only certain riders, such as those under age 21, wear a helmet. 

    Universal helmet laws result in cost savings by increasing helmet use among riders and passengers, which reduces crash-related injuries and deaths. According to a CDC analysis of fatal crash data from 2008 to 2010, 12 percent of motorcyclists in states with universal helmet laws were not wearing helmets.  

    In comparison, 64 percent of riders were not wearing helmets in states with partial helmet laws, and 79 percent of riders were not wearing helmets in states with no helmet laws. 

    “Increasing motorcycle helmet use can save lives and money,” said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “In 2010, more than $3 billion in economic costs were saved due to helmet use in the United States. Another $1.4 billion could have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn helmets.” 

    Life savers 

    Helmets prevent 37 percent of crash deaths among riders and 41 percent among passengers. They also prevent 13 percent of serious injuries and 8 percent of minor injuries to riders and passengers. 

    For the study, CDC researchers analyzed data from two national sources: 2008-2010 Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data and 2010 data on economic costs saved by motorcycle helmet use -- both from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 

    Fatal crash data from FARS provide an accurate means of determining in each state whether riders wore helmets at the time of these severe crashes. Cost savings estimates included medical and emergency services costs, work-related and household productivity losses, insurance administration costs, and legal costs resulting from deaths and injuries from motorcycle crashes. 

    Universal helmet laws are the most effective strategy for increasing helmet use and protecting motorcycle riders and their passengers. As of May 2012, 19 states and the District of Columbia had universal helmet laws, 28 states had partial helmet laws, and three states had no helmet law. 

    New safety guide 

    CDC is also releasing an updated version of Motorcycle Safety: How To Save Lives and Save Money (Motorcycle Safety Guide), designed to convey evidence-based motorcycle safety information in an easy-to-use format. 

    "It’s simple advice -- wear a helmet to save your life. Motorcycling is fun and provides riders a sense of freedom, but that also brings responsibility to use proper safety equipment, including helmets,” said Linda C. Degutis, Dr. P.H., M.S.N., director of CDC's Injury Center. 

    CDC encourages motorcycle riders to:

    • Always wear a helmet.
    • Never ride a motorcycle after drinking.
    • Wear protective clothing that provides some level of injury protection.
    • Avoid tailgating.
    • Maintain a safe speed and exercise caution when traveling over slippery surfaces or gravel.

    The use of helmets by motorcycle riders not only saves lives -- it saves money too, according to a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report study released by...

    TBC Recalling Mirada and Big Foot/Big O Tires

    A manufacturing anomaly poses the risk of a vehicle crash

    TBC Corporation (TBC) is recalling certain Mirada Cross Tour SLX and Big Foot/Big O S/T tires, sizes 235/70R16 and 265/70R17, manufactured from from January 2009 through January 2011 (weeks 0409 through 0411). 

    The following tires are included in the recall: 

    • Big Foot / Big O S/T / 235/70R16                    
    • Big Foot / Big O S/T / 265/70R17                    
    • Mirada / Cross Tour SLX / 235/70R16                    
    • Mirada / Cross Tour SLX / 265/70R17 

    These tires possess a manufacturing anomaly which may result in a crack or separation in the lower sidewall. If left in service, the crack/separation could grow and rapid air loss may occur, 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 20, 2012. 

    TBC Corporation (TBC) is recalling certain Mirada Cross Tour SLX and Big Foot/Big O S/T tires, sizes 235/70R16 and 265/70R17, manufactured from from Januar...

    Consumers Find New Causes Of Unauthorized Charges

    Would someone steal a credit card to purchase a credit report?

    Unauthorized charges often show up on consumers' credit card bills when they accept a free or trial offer. Now it appears that unauthorized charges from Experian can also result from a job search or for no reason at all.

    Julie, of Louisville, KY, says she is a recent college graduate who started her job search last March using job sites like Careerbuilder and

    “After a lot of hiring agencies contacting me, I got a few legit-looking emails, one of which asked me to fill out a free credit report, because the job required my dealing with money,” Julie wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “I naively did, making sure to not click on any button for 'memberships' or that involved any number higher than free. Found out today, though, that they'd been charging my debit card $19.95 for the past three months.”

    Red flag

    Julie had to enter her debit card information in order to receive the credit report, which should have been her first tip-off that she was being signed up for something that would eventually cost her money. In this case it was a credit monitoring service offered by Experian.

    “I called my bank (Chase), and they said all they could do was block future charges from Experian and gave me a number to contact that company,” Julie wrote. “I did, and talked a very nice woman who said all she could do was cancel my membership and refund one month. I should be receiving a single amount of $19.95 in the next seven business days. Though my temper flared when she tried to coerce me into keeping the membership, she still maintained etiquette and even congratulated me on graduating. As nice as she was, I'm still out $40.”

    Ashley, of Chico, CA, says she found three months worth of charges from Experian Credit Scores on her bank statement.

    “I have never signed up for any credit report Website,” she wrote to ConsumerAffairs. “I called Experian, and the representative told me apparently a Natasha and an Amy were authorized to use my bank account to order credit score reports. I do not know anyone with those names, and even if I did, I would not be so stupid as to authorize anyone to use my bank card.”

    Odd purchase

    Ashley isn't the only consumer to have this experience. During June several consumers have reported that Experian credit reports were ordered, using their cards, by people they had never heard of.

    Gayle, of Wayne, PA, disputed a $19.95 charge for an Experian credit service that Experian said had been placed by another person using Gayle's card.

    “They then offered to reimburse me the money without my giving them the expiration date on my credit card or the code on the back of it,” Gayle wrote. “Why would they be so eager to reimburse me the money? It sounds so fishy. I have read that this has happened to other people and it follows the same pattern. They claim a second party uses your credit card to access a report. I don't believe that. I think if someone has your credit card number, they would go to Walmart and purchase stuff rather than a credit report. I suspect that Experian is the source of the fraud.”

    Whatever the source of the rash of unauthorized charges, it underscores the need for consumers to carefully review bank statements and credit card bills each month.

    Unauthorized charges often show up on consumers' credit card bills when they accept a free or trial offer. Now it appears that unauthorized charges from Ex...

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      Beats Electronics Partners With MOG

      First major expansion move by Beats since it split from Monster Cable

       Dr. Dre

      Beats Electronics, co-founded by music biz honchos Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre, just purchased the digital music site Music on The Go (MOG).

      This is the first major expansion move for Beats Electronics since announcing its split with partners Monster Cable Products earlier this year. The two companies had an incredibly successful run with their Beats by Dre headphones, which made purchasing $300 headphones quite normal for today's consumers.

      MOG, based in Berkeley, Calif., is a music site and blog that allows users to access a vast number of releases by paying a subscription fee. It also lets members stream music on computers, handheld devices and TVs if they choose. 

      Songs can also be stored and transferred to any mobile device, and users can download songs instead of just being able to stream them. MOG is sort of a combination of Spotify and iTunes that claims to be an "all you can eat" music site.

      MOG is sounding on-key to consumers. A ConsumerAffairs sentiment analysis of about 160,000 postings to social media over the last year finds the service running up and down the scales to wind up at an 89% approval rating in July.

      Compare this to the much larger iTunes. We found 11 million postings by consumers in the last 12 months, with net sentiment nearing the bass clef with a 27% positive rating in July.

      MOG is also absent from the ConsumerAffairs review section, not yet piling up any negative reviews, whereas Apple's iTunes is something of a complaint engine.

      Consumers rate iTunes

      "I have been charged $99 for iTunes which I don't even use," said a ConsumerAffairs reader, who received a suspicious looking charge from Apple, but received no help when trying to speak with a company representative to remedy the problem. "Obviously, Apple doesn't care or they would have safeguards in place," the reader said.


      The independent company grew in popularity in 2007, when it partnered with Rhapsody and gave members access to all of Rhapsody's music files. MOG expanded even further after creating a vast array of music apps in 2010, allowing users to access the  site on Android phones, iPhones, and the iPad Touch.

      Beats Electronics says it wants to be an A-to-Z music service for consumers, and the company's headphone collection certainly turned out to be a good start. According to reports, the Beats by Dre headphones made up 53 percent of headphone sales in 2011 and also sparked the beginning of many imitators.

      Apparently 2011 was a great year for Beats Electronics, as 51 percent of its shares were purchased by HTC for a hefty $300 million, making the company a major player in the realm of electronics and music accessories.

      The Beats company says it believes that music has taken a turn for the worse since going largely digital, and wants to be catalysts in repairing the way music is now listened to and experienced.

      This sounds pretty good to the consumers who were part of our sentiment ananlysis, as shown in this graph:

      Again, MOG makes much prettier music than iTunes, which sounds downright discordant to many listeners:

      Degradation of sound

      "Beats By Dre was born out of a need to restore the emotional connection with music that was lost by the degradation of sound from the digital music revolution, starting with the weakest link in the experience at the time --  headphones, said Luke Wood, Beats Electronics President.

      "But it was never about just headphones. We've since expanded the Beats mission to every other link in the music experience chain-speakers, mobile phones, personal computers and automobile sound systems. With MOG, we are adding the best music service to the Beats portfolio for the first truly end-to-end music experience. With their talent and technology, the possibilities around future innovation are endless."

      That's a philosophy that sounds familiar to MOG, which claims to offer the best  sound available, streaming at 320 kbps. 

      To informally test this assertion, we cranked up the ConsumerAffairs PylePro amplifier feeding a couple of Klipsch Reference speakers and did a quick A-B test between Spotify and MOG, listening to the Delfonics on each.

      First and most noticeably, the level was much higher on the MOG feed, for the simple reason that with a higher sampling rate there's more sound there. More importantly, we were able to listen to MOG at levels high enough to be painful, not something we'd recommend for Spotify, iTunes or most other streaming feeds. OK, it's not a CD but it's closer than the other guys. 

      Whether the partnership between MOG and Beats Electronics will take consumers away from similar companies like Spotify remains to be seen, as Spotify recently stepped up its efforts to match GrooveShark and iTunes for digital music supremacy.

      Quincy Jones, International DJ Tiesto, Punk music heroes Rancid, and the metal band Disturbed, are all working with Spotify to release artist-designed apps.

      Fans of the artists will not only be able to listen to entire catalogues, but they will also be able to hear background stories of the musicians, as well as read bios, join contest, and get exclusive content.

      Spotify says it will also work with other major artists to produce new apps, so the music consumer can get a wide and full music experience that goes beyond just being able to stream songs.

      "The Spotify Artist App is a wonderful opportunity to share some of the behind the scenes stories of a few of the memorable recordings that I have been fortunate enough to make," said legendary producer Quincy Jones in a statement. "I think this App will give entertaining insight and value for these recordings to both music fans and aficionados."

      A great time

      It's truly a great time for music consumers, as now people have a plethora of ways to access the music they love, while being able to better cast out music that doesn't meet their tastes.

      It will be interesting to see just how Beats Electronics' new venture with the social music site will really benefit the music consumer.

      MOG feels Beats is the ideal company to help them expand its brand, and pull in those millions of customers that have already bought a pair of Beats By Dre headphones.

      "We're thrilled to be joining forces with Beats, a company that's committed at the highest level to the experience surrounding music delivery, the fit feels perfectly natural" said David Hyman MOG's CEO.

      The company also says the merger will not change any of the current functions of its site and will still remain independent.

      "MOG subscribers can expect continued excellence from the best music service in the market, and we look forward to putting premium experiences in the hands of millions of music lovers everywhere," said Hyman.

      Beats Electronics which was co-founded by music biz honchos Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre just purchased the digital music site Music on The Go (MOG).This is ...

      VW Completing its Takeover of Porsche

      Long-running family intrigue ends in a victory for Volkswagen faction

      A 1999 Porsche 911

      No doubt someone is already working on a long-running television series, on the order of "Lost," that tells the story of how niche automaker Porsche's attempt to take over its gigantic cousin Volkswagen backfired, letting VW get control of Porsche.

      The credits on the final episode are just about to roll, as VW announced htis week that it has reached a deal to acquire the remaining 50.1% of Porsche that it doesn't already own.

      The story is too long to tell here and the family genealogy is way too complex and, frankly, the names too difficult to spell. The ongoing drama hasn't damaged the Porsche name with consumers, according to a ConsumerAffairs sentiment analysis of about 1.7 million postings to social media over the last year. We found net sentiment around 60% for most of the year, which a slight uptick over the last few months.

      Consumer emotions are about what you'd expect -- positive among those who like fast, expensive cars, negative among those who see cars as appliances.

      White knuckles

      What has car enthusiasts on the edge of their bucket seats at the moment is what the effect of the VW takeover will be.

      First off, no one is really concerned that Porsches -- known for their quirky styling and obsessive attention to speed and handling -- will magically morph into Volkswagens, which are near the top of the heap of the economy family car sector but certainly not in Porsche's league.

      Sadly, Porsches are also known for the dumb things people do in them. We're thinking of Lindsey Lohan's Porsche driving into the back of a garbage truck on the Pacific Coast Highway, a venue where lots of dumb things have been done in Porsches over the years. In fairness, Porsche just makes the cars; it can't help what people do with them.

      What concerns Porsche aficionados is that their beloved marque -- which is as nimble in its executive suite as it is on the track -- will get bogged down in Volkswagen's fabled bureaucracy and turn into another lumbering corporate giant that takes forever to make decisions and respond to market forces and new technologies.

      Then there's the fear that Porsche will become a badge that's simply slapped onto souped-up VWs. This is perhaps a bit overstated, given that VW already owns Audi, Lamborghini, Bentley and Bugatti and no one we know of has recently mistaken a Bentley for a Passat.

      Long history

      Dr. Ferdinand Porsche

      Porsche and VW already have a long history of sharing parts and even platforms, the most famous example being the VW Toureg-Porsche Cayenne project. Either one could easily vie for the title of top SUV but each has its own personality and successfully targets its own distinct market niche.

      Or as Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, director of the Center for Automotive Research at the University of Duisburg-Essenas, told the Wall Street Journal: "Porsche is already more or less a VW company."

      Indeed, what most observers think most likely is that VW will put the design and marketing pedals to the metal to begin cranking out a fuller line of vehicles bearing the Porsche name.

      For years, Porsche made sports cars and nothing else, concentrating its efforts on continually perfecting the iconic 911.  It cautiously expanded in recent years, turning out the Cayenne SUV, now its biggest seller in the U.S., and more recently the Panamera sedan, not to mention the Boxster, which is sort of a junior 911.

      With VW at the wheel, it seems likely we'll be seeing a Porsche crossover, along the lines of the VW Tiguan, perhaps another sedan and maybe even that most unPorschelike of all vehicles -- a station wagon.

      This may be bitter sauerkraut to diehard Porsche loyalists but it's likely to result in some pretty interesting cars for everyone else, especially if VW becomes infected with Porsche's outstanding reliability, not something VW has always been known for.  

      No doubt someone is already working a long-running television series, on the order of "Lost," that tells the story of how niche automaker Porsche's attempt...

      Study Suggests Daily Deal Sites Have Staying Power

      Rice University researcher says consumers can count on them lasting

      In the last year or so, coupons have moved to your computer and mobile phone. Consumers seems to love these daily deals and researchers at Rice University say the trend appears to have staying power.

      A recent study suggested electronic coupons might be a passing fad, especially if it turns out that the businesses who pay for them don't see any long-term benefit.

      Rice management professor Utpal Dholakia examined the performance of daily deals using survey data from 641 small and medium-sized businesses obtained at three time periods: April-May 2011, October 2011, and May 2012. 

      Here to stay

      His conclusion? Daily deal offerings from Groupon and other coupon companies are probably here to stay.

      “Overall, the results find little or no evidence of deterioration in the performance of daily deal promotions over the past year or as the business operator runs multiple daily deals,” Dholakia said. “Rather, there is improvement on some metrics.”

      While fewer than half of the businesses running their first daily deal report profitable promotions, three-quarters of those running seven or more deals report profits from these promotions. The percentage of businesses making money jumped by about six percentage points in the May 2012 sample -- from 55.5 percent in spring 2011 to 61.5 percent.

      That's important because businesses will stop offering coupons if they lose money.

      Businesses doing little advertising also benefit

      Dholakia also found that daily deals work just as well for businesses that do little other advertising as those that have large advertising budgets. That suggests a greater diversity of deals as non-advertisers get into the game.

      Best of all for businesses, nearly 80 percent of daily deal patrons are new customers, even for businesses running their seventh or more daily deal. After all, the whole idea of a coupon is to bring in new customers.

      “These findings indicate that daily deal promotions appear to be sustainable marketing programs for about one-third of the businesses that try them,” Dholakia said. “The challenge for the daily deal sites in the coming months will be to find these businesses and earn a greater share of their business.”

      In the last year or so, coupons have moved to your computer and mobile phone. Consumers seems to love these daily deals and researchers at Rice University ...

      Gas Prices Start Moving Higher Again

      Tensions in Persian Gulf and relief in Europe end price decline that began in April

      After weeks of steady declines, the retail price of gasoline began moving higher this week. Whether this is a temporary or long-term trend remains to be seen.

      The national average price of self-serve regular today is $3.358 per gallon, up from $3.353 last Friday, according to AAA's Fuel Gauge Survey. Gas prices are still 21 cents a gallon lower than they were a month ago.

      The average price of diesel fuel today is $3.662 per gallon, down from $3.670 a week ago.

      What's behind the reversal in declining prices? Two things. Last Friday the price of crude oil surged nearly 10 percent following encouraging news from the European Union summit addressing economic concerns in that region. That suggested that the world might not be headed for a global recession after all.

      Also, tensions with Iran heightened once again over it's nuclear program. The U.S. Navy moved a task force to the Persian Gulf region.

      That's when prices at the pump stopped falling for the first time since mid April and started ticking up again by about one or two cents a day. Prices still continued falling in states with the most expensive fuel, like Hawaii, California and Oregon.

      In states with the cheapest fuel, the price decline slowed to a stop, or in the case of South Carolina, with the nation's cheapest gas, actually moved up a bit.

      The states with the highest gas prices this week are:

      • Hawaii ($4.229)
      • Alaska ($4.077)
      • California ($3.723)
      • Connecticut ($3.637)
      • Washington State ($3.612)
      • Idaho ($3.615)
      • New York ($3.610)
      • Colorado ($3.593)
      • Oregon ($3.573)
      • Illinois ($3.576)

       The states with the lowest gas prices this week are:

      • South Carolina ($2.960)
      • Mississippi ($3.014)
      • Tennessee ($3.035)
      • Alabama ($3.037)
      • Louisiana ($3.102)
      • Arkansas ($3.155)
      • Georgia ($3.162)
      • Virginia ($3.176)
      • Texas ($3.176)
      • Missouri ($3.209)

      After weeks of steady declines, the retail price of gasoline began moving higher this week. Whether this is a temporary or long-term trend remains to be se...

      FDA Proposes Unique ID System for Medical Devices

      The UDI could improve the transmission of medical device information in emergencies

      Recalls of medical devices could be issued faster, thanks to a a new device identification system under consideration.

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing that most medical devices distributed in the United States carry a unique device identifier, or UDI. 

      A UDI system has the potential to improve the quality of information in medical device adverse events reports, which will help the FDA identify product problems more quickly, better target recalls, and improve patient safety. 

      The FDA has worked closely with industry, the clinical community and patient and consumer groups and conducted four pilot studies in the development of this proposed rule. 

      "The safety of medical devices is a top priority for the FDA, Congress, industry, and patients," said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. "The unique identification system will enhance the flow of information about medical devices, especially adverse events and, as a result, will advance our ability to improve patient safety." 

      With certain exceptions, under the proposed rule, a UDI would include: 

      • a device identifier, which is a unique numeric or alphanumeric code specific to a device model; and
      • a production identifier, which includes the current production information for a device.

      The FDA is proposing a risk-based, phased-in approach to implementation, focusing on the highest-risk medical devices first and exempting low-risk devices from some or all of the requirements. The FDA is proposing to exempt over-the-counter devices sold at retail; these devices generally have UPC codes in place. 

      How it works 

      A UDI is a unique numeric or alphanumeric code that acts as a key to certain basic identifying information about a device, such as the name of the manufacturer and the type of device, and may represent certain other information about the device, such as its expiration date and batch or lot number. 

      This information will be contained in a publicly available UDI database, and no identifying patient information will be stored in this device information center. 

      The proposed rule reflects the considerable input the FDA received from the medical device industry, the clinical community, patients and consumers, and industry experts. To minimize industry costs and expedite implementation, the proposed rule builds upon current standards and systems already in use by some companies. 

      Numerous benefits 

      A UDI system can provide multiple benefits, including: 

      • Allow more accurate reporting, reviewing and analyzing of adverse event reports so that problem devices can be identified and corrected more quickly.
      • Reduce medical errors by enabling health care professionals and others to more rapidly and precisely identify a device and obtain important information concerning the characteristics of the device.
      • Provide a consistent way to enter information about devices in electronic health records and clinical information systems.
      • Provide a standardized identifier that will allow manufacturers, distributors and healthcare facilities to more effectively manage medical device recalls.
      • Provide a foundation for a global, secure distribution chain, helping to address counterfeiting and diversion and prepare for medical emergencies. 

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing that most medical devices distributed in the United States carry a unique device identifier, or UD...

      Unapproved Oxycodone Products Being Pulled From Market

      The action comes as the FDA issues a notice regarding the manufacturing and distribution of the ordering the drugs

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants companies to stop manufacturing and distributing certain unapproved drugs that contain oxycodone. 

      The FDA notice, published in today’s Federal Register, is part of the agency’s Unapproved Drugs Initiative to remove unapproved new drugs from the market.  

      Oral dosage targeted 

      The FDA action affects companies that manufacture and distribute unapproved single-ingredient, immediate-release oxycodone drug products in oral dosage forms -- including tablets, capsules and oral solutions. 

      These products have not been evaluated by the FDA for safety, effectiveness, manufacturing quality, or appropriate labeling, including dosing information and warnings, and cannot be legally marketed in the United States. 

      Powerful med 

      Oxycodone is an opioid analgesic, a class of powerful pain medications. Oxycodone is listed under Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act with an abuse liability similar to other opioid agonists. Improper labeling and use of oxycodone can lead to overdose and death. 

      FDA says it recognizes that opioid medications are associated with prescription drug misuse, abuse, and addiction, which have resulted in an increase in injuries and deaths across the United States over the last 10 years. 

      “It’s a high public health priority for FDA to remove these unapproved products from the market to minimize consumer exposure to drugs that may be unsafe, ineffective, and of poor quality,” said Ilisa Bernstein, acting director of the Office of Compliance in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Since FDA-approved versions of these oral dosage forms are available by prescription, there should be no negative impact on consumers as a result of this action and no disruptions to the drug supply.” 

      Affected products 

      Companies with certain products that are subject to this action are expected to stop manufacturing the products within 45 days and stop shipping the products within 90 days. Products that are subject to these timeframes are products that: 

      • were introduced onto the market before Sept. 19, 2011,
      • were listed in the FDA’s Drug Registration and Listing System before July 6, 2012, and
      • were being commercially used or sold before July 6, 2012. 

      Companies that continue to market products that fall within this scope of this Federal Register notice are subject to enforcement action including seizure, injunction, or other judicial or administrative proceeding. 

      Consumers and health care professionals are encouraged to report adverse side effects or medication errors from the use of prescription drug products to the FDA’s MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program or by calling 800-332-1088.

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration wants companies to stop manufacturing and distributing certain unapproved drugs that contain oxycodone....

      Study: U.S. Hospitals Need To Improve Safety

      Consumer Reports finds many fall short in several areas

      If you have to go to the hospital, you not only want to get better, you would like to think the hospital isn't going to do something to make your condition worse. Previous studies have made clear that some hospitals are more reliable at this than others.

      With that in mind Consumer Reports has rated 1,159 hospitals in 44 states, giving them each a score on patient safety. The bad news? Fifty-one percent of the hospitals received a score below 50 on a scale of 1-100.

      "The safety scores provide a window into our nation's hospitals, exposing worrisome risks that are mostly preventable," said John Santa, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center. "A consumer who enters a hospital thinking it's a place to get better deserves to know if that is indeed the case."

      Room for improvement

      The ranking suggests even the highest scoring hospitals have some room for improvement. Billings Clinic in Montana was at the top of Consumer Reports' list, but it got a safety score of just 72.

      The ranking broke the safety scores down into six categories: infections, readmissions, overuse of scanning, communication about new medications and discharge, complications, and mortality.

      Infections, surgical mistakes, and other medical harm contribute to the deaths of 180,000 hospital patients a year, according to projections based on a 2010 report by the Department of Health and Human Services. And that figure only applies to Medicare patients.

      About one in 20 hospitalized patients will develop an infection that can be devastating -- even deadly -- the survey found. Of the hospitals rated by Consumer Reports, 202 hospitals reported infections at rates higher than the national benchmark, and only 148 reported zero infections.


      Other potential risks include radiation overload. For example, if you are subjected to unnecessary CT scans it can expose you to dangerous levels of radiation. Radiation from CT scans -- which are equivalent to between 100 and 500 chest X-rays -- might contribute to an estimated 29,000 future cancers a year, a 2009 study suggests.

      Consumer Reports' Ratings report found a double scans -- ordering twice for the same patient, once with contrast, and once without -- is not an uncommon practice. According to one doctor interviewed for the report, probably less than one percent of patients undergoing chest CT scans should get double scans.

      Medical errors

      When it comes to medical errors there are a lot of question marks. Consumer Reports said it used the most current data available at the time of its analysis, supplementing its ratings by interviewing patients, physicians, hospital administrators and safety experts. The ratings include only 18 percent of U.S. hospitals, however, because data on patient safety still isn't reported fully and consistently nationwide.

      "Medical harm is probably one of the three leading causes of death in the U.S., but the government doesn't adequately track it as it does deaths from automobiles, plane crashes, and cancer,” said Peter Pronovost, M.D., senior vice president for patient safety at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, Md. “It's appalling.”

      If you have to go to the hospital, you not only want to get better, you would like to think the hospital isn't going to do something to make your condition...

      Debt Relief Scammers Shut Down

      Consumers looking for help with their debts were deceived

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has dropped the hammer on a pair of outfits that lied to consumers who were looking for help dealing with their debts. One of the firms went so far as to trick people by impersonating federal government agencies.  

      The two firms agreed to settlements with the FTC that ban them from the business of debt relief services. 

      Fake fed 

      The FTC obtained one settlement against a telemarketer who allegedly pretended to be affiliated with federal consumer agencies and then steered consumers towards debt relief, tax relief and mortgage assistance relief services by making deceptive claims.  

      The other settlement resolves FTC charges against an operation that allegedly billed consumers hundreds of dollars in up-front fees, based on bogus promises to either provide them with a new low-interest rate credit card, or work with the consumers’ existing credit card issuers to lower the interest rates. 

      Christopher Mallett 

      Last  year, the FTC charged Christopher Mallett with multiple violations of the Federal Trade Commission Act, the agency’s Telemarketing Sales Rule and the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule for misrepresenting his affiliations with federal agencies, misrepresenting that the services advertised on his Websites were government-approved, and making deceptive claims while marketing debt relief, tax relief, and mortgage-assistance relief services. 

      A San Antonio, Texas-based “lead generator,” Mallett promised that the consumers’ debts would be substantially reduced or eliminated, in some cases citing specific percentages, according to the complaint.  He impersonated the FTC by using its official seal and lifting language almost verbatim from its site.  He also created a fictitious government agency -- the “Department of Consumer Services Protection Commission” --  that appeared to combine two real agencies, the FTC and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the complaint stated. 

      According to the FTC, Mallett created another fictitious government agency on his Website, which featured a picture of the U.S. Capitol building.  He called the agency the “U.S. Mortgage Relief Counsel.”  He also did business using Website names such as,, and 

      The settlement with Mallett bans him from engaging in debt relief, tax relief, or mortgage assistance relief services and prohibits him from making any further misleading claims.  It also imposes a $129,695 judgment, which will be suspended due to his inability to pay.  

      Premier Nationwide Corporation 

      Last January, the FTC alleged that Eric C. Synstad and the Arizona-based company he controlled, Premier Nationwide Corporation, cold-called consumers, promising to consolidate debts on a new credit card with an interest rate as low as nine percent, or work with consumers’ existing credit card issuers to lower monthly payments and interest rates in exchange for an up-front fee that typically ranged from $149 to $599.  

      The defendants claimed the fee would quickly be offset by the savings achieved from services they provided, and promised that if they could not significantly reduce consumers’ debt, they would provide full refunds, minus a 20 percent “processing fee,” according to the complaint. 

      The FTC charged Synstad and Premier with violating the Federal Trade Commission Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule.  Changes made to the Rule in 2010 prohibit companies that sell debt relief services over the telephone from charging fees before achieving the promised results.  In January, at the FTC’s request, a federal district court froze the defendants’ assets and ordered the illegal conduct to stop, pending resolution of the case. 

      The FTC alleged that in contrast to what the defendants promised, consumers who signed up for the credit card debt consolidation service were merely given a list of banks and told to apply for low-interest credit cards on their own.  Those who signed up for the interest rate reduction were told they would have to pay an additional monthly fee to a different company that would work to obtain reduced monthly payments and interest rates, according to the Commission.  Also, the complaint alleged that in numerous cases consumers who sought the promised refund were denied. 

      Synstad agreed to a settlement with the FTC that bans him and his company from marketing debt relief services, and prohibits them from making any further misleading claims.  

      The proposed settlement imposes a $15 million judgment against Synstad and Premier Nationwide Corporation, which will be suspended due to their inability to pay when Synstad surrenders assets, including most of the proceeds from the sale a 2005 Mercedes and another vehicle, and when he and Premier relinquish money held in two payment processor reserve accounts. 

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has dropped the hammer on a pair of outfits that lied to consumers who were looking for help dealing with their debts. O...

      Will Your Internet Service Work on Monday?

      It won't if you're infected with malware distributed more than a year ago

      For months, warnings have been issued about a really malicious little piece of malware that's been sneaking around the Internet for the past year or so. 

      It has infected tens of thousands of computers -- maybe more -- and is set to claw its way out of hiding Monday and, maybe, take over your machine.

      Well, actually, it won't really take over your machine but it will start sending you to places you don't want to go. The malware corrupts your DNS settings -- the coded instructions that tell your computer where to go on the Internet to reach a certain address.

      Although the visible Internet addresses we're all used to are in words -- and so forth -- the real address is a number, similar to a phone number. There are Domain Name Servers (DNS) that your machine uses to translate the hard-to-remember number into an easy-to-remember Web site name.

      DNS service is usually provided by your telephone or cable company, wireless provider or whoever provides your Internet connectivity. The malware in question changes the setting so that on Monday, your machine will start looking at a DNS server that will take you to a bunch of scam sites disguised to look like legitimate sites.

      How do you know if your computer is infected? The FBI has contracted with a provider to set up a test site that will tell you in a second. Just go to and follow the instructions. In Canada, users can follow instructions on how to check for the virus here:

      By the way, you don't have to be held hostage by Verizon or Time Warner or other service providers. There are lots of independent DNS servers that are often faster, better and more up to date. The best one we know if provided by -- who else? -- Google.  It's called Google Public DNS. It's free, works great and is easy to set up if you're at all handy with computers.

      You can read all about it on the Google Developers site.

      For months, warnings have been issued about a really malicious little piece of malware that's been sneaking around the Internet for the past year or so. ...

      Industry Agrees to Cut Back on 'Greaseproofing' Chemicals

      C-8 compounds used on pizza boxes, popcorn bags -- but at what cost?

      It's not just food we have to worry about  but also what it's wrapped in. The chemical industry and the Food and Drug Administration have reached an agreement to begin phasing out the so-called "C-8" group of chemical compounds widely used in pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags, fast food wrappers and other food packaging.

      The chemicals basically make the food wrappers more grease-proof -- so the grease from your pizza doesn't make the box completely soggy by the time the delivery guy gets it to your door. Thus, just to be clear, what we're talking about here is potentially dangerous chemicals being used to keep unhealthy grease off your fingers and furniture while you scoop it into your mouth.

      But environmental activists say the agreement to phase out toxic perfluorinated compounds doesn't go far enough.  

      “Prior to this voluntary phase-out, these manufacturers have polluted the planet with these persistent and carcinogenic compounds,” Renee Sharp, Environmental Working Group (EWG) senior scientist, said. “While we’re glad that some progress is being made to take these harmful chemicals off the market, the chemical industry hardly deserves a pat on the back.”

      The FDA announced earlier this week that five of these compounds, known as “C-8” compounds, “will no longer be sold for application on paper or paperboard intended for food contact use.”

      The five chemicals are all very similar to PFOA, one of the most notorious and widespread chemicals ever made. Perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, is found in the blood of more than 98 percent of Americans, builds up in the food chain, contaminates wildlife around the globe, and is linked to a wide array of health effects. In April of this year, an independent scientific panel approved by the DuPont company as part of a class action lawsuit linked PFOA to kidney and testicular cancer in humans.

      In 2005, the Environmental Protection Agency fined DuPont $10 million – the largest civil penalty ever levied under any environmental statute at the time – for hiding information that PFOA was a serious public health risk.

      Snail's pace

      Chemical manufacturers have been moving at a snail’s pace to protect the public from the dangers posed by these compounds, EWG said. Unfortunately, while manufacturers came up with substitutes after the FDA and the industry agreed to phase out C-8 compounds, public records show that some of these alternatives may be just as bad or worse.

      PFOA is sometimes called C-8 because it has 8 carbon atoms. A key replacement chemical, perfluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA), contains 6 carbon atoms and is often called C6. The chemical industry would have us believe that the removal of two carbon atoms removes human health risks. Yet these C-6 compounds are extraordinarily persistent in the environment, cross the placenta to contaminate children before birth and are potentially 3 to 5 times more toxic than C-8 to aquatic organisms.

      A 2008 EWG review of FDA safety assessments for 8 new fluorochemical-based food packaging chemicals found no evidence that FDA adequately assessed the safety of people's exposures to C-6 from these coatings, and found the toxicity data for the C-8 replacements to be sparse.

      “Health agencies should be looking beyond food packaging to see the full use of these disturbing compounds,” Sharp said. “Until manufacturers conduct transparent, thorough safety analyses of these materials, we cannot trust their green-washed replacements.”

      It's not just food we have to worry about but also what it's wrapped in. The chemical industry and the Food and Drug Administration have reached an agreem... Has It Graduated and Gone Straight?

      Consumers remember their Classmates and find similar experiences in Memory Lane

      Remember these two? Where are they now?

      It can be nice to connect with old classmates. Before social sites like MySpace, and Facebook existed, people had to wait until their 10- or 20-year reunion to connect with old school chums.

      Created in 1995,, now called Memory Lane, leapt at the chance to be industry leaders in connecting people to their past. Once the Internet became a household norm by the late 90s the company was already in the perfect place to match technology with the selling of nostalgia.

      As widely reported, things did not go well for the social networking site, as it has been inundated with lawsuits, customer complaints and bad press.

      Consumers rate Classmates

      In our ConsumersAffairs Reviews section, bad experiences with are in the thousands, and finding it difficult to cancel membership is among some of the most popular complaints from our readers.

      "They make it difficult and impossible to cancel membership online," said one reader. "When I clicked on multiple links they provided, I was never taken to where I could cancel. They do not list a phone number or email to do this."

      In addition, "I found a phone number online but of course they are only open during business hours. I will never, ever become a member again unless they become more transparent in their business practices. I wish I had investigated the complaints online before judging."

      And many people wish they did too, as the concept of strolling down the avenue of yesteryear seemed like a great idea, especially for older consumers who never cared for Facebook, and never created a network of friends through the Mark Zuckerberg created website.

      Legal troubles

      But legal troubles persisted for beginning in 2010, as the site agreed to pay a $9.5 million settlement for providing false advertising to its users, and using deceptive emails to lure in more consumer interest.

      Here's how they did it: Classmates sent emails to users indicating old schoolmates were trying to contact them, and a payment would have to be made to see exactly who it was. Once payments were made, users learned that nobody was actually trying to contact them, and it was all just a big sales ploy, the suits alleged. has also been at the forefront of the automatic renewal schemes that many online companies have adopted in an effort to keep customers around longer. 

      Once the novelty of using Classmates wore off, and people let their memberships expire, consumers were continually charged on a monthly basis, even years after not using the site. In a consumer test conducted by PCWorld, received the worst scores for automatically renewing memberships out of the many companies tested.

      The site, now known as Memory Lane, has said it will no longer do automatic renewals, and said this in a statement:

      "Please be assured that your membership is no longer enrolled in the automatic renewal program, and you will not be charged again. Your Gold membership will expire and revert to free status on March 20, 2011."

      But has that been the case? Has Memory Lane improved the ways of its old classmate,

      Merely a few days ago, Jane of Woodstock, Ga. wrote to ConsumerAffairs  that she was still being automatically billed. Mind you, this is one year after Classmates said it would no longer use these kinds of tactics, as it promised to keep members better updated about their accounts.

      In June of 2012, Jane checked her bank account and saw a random charge of $39 that forced her checking account to be overdrawn. Since she didn't renew and hasn't used the site in quite some time, Jane decided to take action against the nostalgia site by filing a fraud claim through her bank. 

      When the bank employee attempted to contact Classmates for some answers, the customer service number provided seemed to be the wrong contact info.

      All of this simply because Jane decided to sign up for free, which is a common baiting tactic to hook members. The word "free" in any business transaction should automatically raise your suspicions.

      And the others?

      What about other social sites that allow people to revisit their past days of adolescence? Are they any better?, now called MyLife, also gives consumers the chance to reach out to former school buddies. But users have found the site to be just as bad as Classmates.

      "I'm not on the site; they have created relatives for me!" said Whitney of Nashville, in a posting to ConsumerAffairs. "I Googled myself and saw that these criminals have me listed on, and stated that I am related to people with whom I am not related. Now, I am getting collection calls from people in Ohio."

      Peggy of California has also been trying to get her personal information pulled off the site with no luck. After sending letter upon letter to the company, Peggy hasn't received any correspondence or help with getting her information removed from the site.

      Experts say before signing up for any so-called free site, consumers should get a firm understanding of the company’s renewal policy. Many sites allow you to disable the renewal feature, but often hide the button or link deep within its website pages to throw you off.

      Consumers should take the time to learn exactly where these disabling functions are and make note of them. It's a good idea to print out the page and save it.

      Also, consumers should try their hardest not to be tempted by free deals, especially from startup companies that are desperate to build their customer base.

      Before dealing with any company, it's smart to do a bit of research to see if its owners were ever brought up on any lawsuits. It's also good to know if the company has been accused of committing unfair business practices in the past. Luckily for the consumer, few can hide from the all seeing eye of the Internet.

      ConsumerAffairs attempted to contact the corporate office of United Online, the company that owns Classmates, but calls were not returned.

      It can be nice to connect with old classmates. Before social sites like MySpace, and Facebook existed, people had to wait until their 10 or 20 year reunion...

      AMC, Dish Network Continue Standoff

      'Breaking Bad' about to start and viewers are feeling like the 'Walking Dead'

      AMC Networks, which owns AMC, IFC, WeTV and Sundance, has reached agreement with AT&T to continue carrying the channels on AT&T's U-Verse system. An agreement with satellite TV provider Dish Network  remains elusive, however.

      "It's telling that AMC Networks has historically been able to negotiate fair agreements with television providers that reflect the value of our content," the network said in a statement. "Yet Dish, which dropped our networks as of July 1, never engaged with us in any rate discussions. Dish customers have lost some of their favorite shows because of an unrelated lawsuit which has nothing at all to do with our programming, our ratings or our rates."

      Some viewers are also beginning to enter the fray. Larry, of Breckinridge, Minn., says he has been a long-time Dish Network subscriber with the full “everything package.” He doesn't see why Dish couldn't reach a deal with the network.

      Viewers vent

      “They proclaim that subscribers are not willing to accept a increase of rates to keep these channels, yet I as one of their top customers never received a poll or survey asking my opinion,” Larry wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “Another problem is that they are giving me a 12 month monthly rebate of $15.00 to defer the cost of seeing my programs (Walking dead, Hell on Wheels, etc) on other sources like but are only giving these rebates to members who complain and ask for them, and are not notifying the affected subscribers. I believe this failure to negotiate is showing that Dish Network is not living up to their service contracts.”

      Frank, of Blythe, Calif., said he called Dish multiple times last month and each time was assured by a customer service rep that AMC would be retained.

      “Guess what, come July 2 no more AMC,” Frank wrote to ConsumerAffairs. “Wish I had stayed with DirecTV.”

      “They removed this channel right when Breaking Bad is about to start,” Ernie, of California complained. “Why don't they get rid of the 10 shopping networks instead?”

      High profile feud

      Many Dish subscribers only became aware of the standoff last month when they tuned in for the season finale of Mad Men and saw multiple AMC announcements that they were not being renewed by Dish. Viewers of that highly acclaimed series had a little extra effort to even find the season finale, as Dish moved the network from its long-time spot at Channel 130 to Channel 9069.

      Dish, meanwhile, says the dispute is over bundling, with AMC trying to use its growing clout to force the provider to carry all of its networks.

      AMC Networks, which owns AMC, IFC, WeTV and Sundance, has reached agreement with AT&T to continue carrying the channels on AT&T's U-Verse system. A...

      Mortgage Rates: How Low Can They Go?

      Housing recovery could raise record low rates

      For consumers who want to buy a home and can't qualify for a mortgage, it has to be agony. Mortgage interest rates continue to fall, making homes even more affordable.

      The big if, of course, is if you can qualify for a mortgage. But the decline in rates, coupled with rising home values, just might improve your chances.

      Freddie Mac reports the average rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate loan, the most popular mortgage product, dropped to 3.62 percent from 3.66 percent last week. That's another new low, the 10th in the last 11 weeks if you are counting.

      Rates continue to fall because depressing economic news has pushed Treasury yields lower. Since mortgage rates are tied to Treasuries, rates have reached another record low.'s weekly survey puts the average 30-year fixed rate a bit higher, at 3.87 percent, but still near record lows.

      Remember when six percent sounded low?

      The last time mortgage rates were above 6 percent was Nov. 2008. At the time, the average 30-year fixed rate was 6.33 percent, meaning a $200,000 loan would have carried a monthly payment of $1,241.86. With the average rate now 3.87 percent, the monthly payment for the same size loan would be $939.90, a difference of nearly $302 per month for anyone refinancing now.

      That savings might make the difference for prospective buyers who narrowly missed getting a loan. With the lower rate and lower monthly payment, the home they want to buy might now be in their price range.

      Of course, there are other factors that can determine whether they qualify. They must have a good credit score, usually above 720. Also, they must bring a large chunk of cash to the table. Lenders have insisted that buyers put down 20 percent before getting a mortgage, though that could soften a bit now that home values appear to have begun rising again.

      'Excessively tight' credit

      "The recovery is occurring despite excessively tight credit conditions and higher downpayment requirements, which are negating the impact of record high affordability conditions," said Larrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors.

      If lenders begin to see that housing demand is increasing and home values are rising, they may, indeed, begin to loosen those “excessively tight” credit standards. That could boost home sales and, eventually, mortgage rates.

      Can mortgage rates go any lower? Some people might not have expected to ever see 3.62 percent so calling a floor is risky. But if Realtors are correct that housing is beginning to recover, it might not be long before rates are rising once again.

      For consumers who want to buy a home and can't qualify for a mortgage, it has to be agony. Mortgage interest rates continue to fall, making homes even more...

      Retail Theft Down In 2011

      Sticky fingers still a major problem, though

      Though retail theft rates in 2011 decreased, recent survey data finds retailers are still grappling with a multi-billion dollar problem.  

      Preliminary results of the latest National Retail Security Survey show that retail shrinkage -- a loss of inventory due to employee theft, shoplifting, paperwork errors, or supplier fraud -- decreased to 1.41 percent of retail sales in 2011 ($34.5 billion) from 1.49  percent in 2010 ($37.1 billion).  

      The survey is a collaborative effort between NRF and the University of Florida. 

      “Retail theft continues to plague the industry, with billions of dollars of merchandise walking out of the store every day without ever being paid for,” said NRF Vice President of Loss Prevention Rich Mellor. “Fighting these self-serving and unethical criminals has been a tedious battle, but we remain resolute in our efforts and our partnerships with law enforcement to combat this growing problem.” 

      Mob factor 

      Although overall shrink rates have decreased, when it comes to organized crime, retailers are seeing a rise in activity. NRF’s recently released Organized Retail Crime survey found that 96 percent of retailers have been victimized by organized retail crime over the last 12 months. 

      According to the preliminary survey findings, the majority of retail shrinkage last year was due to employee theft, accounting for 43.9 percent of total losses. Additionally, shoplifting accounted for approximately 35.7 percent of total losses, up from just over 32 percent last year. Other losses included administrative error (12.1% of shrinkage) and vendor fraud (5.0% of shrinkage). Retailers said that the cause of the remaining shrinkage was unknown. 

      The survey 

      The National Retail Security Survey is an annual survey of loss prevention executives that benchmarks retail shrinkage and operational information about how retailers are combating losses. 

      The study, which surveyed 100 retailers in the first half of 2012 and uses data from 2011, is the result of a partnership between the University of Florida and the National Retail Federation.

      Survey on theft in the retail industry...

      Reasons To Be Optimistic About The Job Market

      Employers appear to be shaking off recent bad economic news

      Friday's June employment report will tell the tale about the prospects of getting a job – or keeping the one you have – but the advance indicators look promising.

      The ADP National Employment Report shows private employers stepped up their hiring last month. At the same time, the government reported today that weekly claims for unemployment benefits fell last week. In fact, it was the biggest drop in two months.

      The folks at CareerBuilder say they aren't surprised. While the jobs recovery continues to lag previous recessions, the outlook for the back half of 2012 shows continued improvement over 2011, the jobs site says.

      According to its forecast, 44 percent of private sector employers reported they are planning to hire full-time, permanent staff from July 1 through December 31, 2012, an increase of nine percentage points over the same period last year.

      In last year's forecast, that percentage was just 35 percent.

      Slow but stable

      "The rate of job creation has been slower than what we would have expected at this point in the recovery, but the market is stable," said Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder.

      Here's another reason for optimism, Ferguson says. Two years ago, the hiring activity in the U.S. was driven primarily by large employers recruiting in metropolitan areas for a handful of industries or job functions.

      Today, there are more job listings in all industries, market sizes and company sizes.

      Outlook improving

      “The outlook for the remainder of the year is better than 2011, but it will follow the same pattern of steady progress rather than a surge in job growth,” Ferguson said. “Employers will remain careful as they assess barriers and opportunities for growth in the economy and their own businesses.”

      If you're looking for a job, your chances may be better at a large company than a smaller one. The survey shows businesses with 50 or fewer employees continue to be more cautious than other segments and reported little change in recruitment plans from last year.

      Still, 21 percent of these businesses plan to hire full-time, permanent employees, up from 20 percent in 2011.

      Friday's June employment report will tell the tale about the prospects of getting a job – or keeping the one you have – but the advance indicat...

      Volvo Penalized for Delayed Reporting of Recalls in 2010, 2012

      The automaker has agreed to pay more than a million dollars in civil fines

      Volvo got a ticket. A big one.

      Volvo Cars North America, LLC will pay $1.5 million in civil penalties in response for failing to report safety defects and noncompliances to the federal government in a timely manner. 

      Federal law requires all auto manufacturers to notify the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) within five business days of determining that a safety defect exists or that the manufacturer is not in compliance with federal motor vehicle safety standards -- and to conduct a recall promptly. 

      “With millions of vehicles traveling our highways every single day, we take our responsibility to safeguard the driving public very seriously and we expect automakers to do the same,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Manufacturers are required to handle any safety issues both quickly and appropriately.” 

      The NHTSA probe 

      In January 2011, NHTSA launched an investigation to determine whether Volvo met its obligation under the law to notify the agency of a safety defect and conduct a recall in a timely manner. 

      NHTSA’s evaluation of six recalls issued in 2010 and one recall announced in 2012 found evidence that Volvo failed to report safety defects and noncompliances to the agency in accordance with federal law. As part of the settlement, Volvo Cars North America, LLC and its parent company Volvo Car Corporation agreed to make internal changes to its recall decision-making process to ensure timely reporting to consumers and the federal government in the future. 

      “It’s critical to the safety of everyone on our roadways that automakers promptly report safety defects – and take immediate action to resolve the issue,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “NHTSA expects all manufacturers to obey the law and address automotive safety concerns without delay.” 

      NHTSA’s investigation led the agency to believe that Volvo did not report known safety defects within five days, as required under the law. The fines received from the automaker will be paid into the General Fund of the U.S. Treasury.

      Volvo will pay millions for violating recall rules...

      So How's Your Bank Holding Up?

      Reports finds banks weakened by continued slumping economy

      How secure is your bank? 

      According to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), top risks facing national banks and federal savings associations include the lingering effects of a weak housing market, revenue challenges related to slow economic growth and market volatility, and the potential that banks may take excessive risks in an effort to improve profitability. 

      Specific risks 

      Those are among the risks cited in a new OCC report, the Semiannual Risk Perspective for spring 2012. Key points regarding these risks facing banks include: 

      • The overhang of severely delinquent and in-process-of-foreclosure residential mortgages continues to challenge large banks with extensive mortgage operations and continues to affect the economic environment for all banks.
      • Increased operational risk is a key concern as banks try to economize on systems and processes to enhance income and operating economies. This risk may be amplified by the use of third-party products or distribution systems.
      • Asset-quality indicators show continuing improvement across small and large banks. Small bank delinquency and loss rates did not reach the peaks seen at the larger banks, but their pace of improvement has been slower. Housing-related loans continue to demonstrate above-average rates of delinquency and charge-off. Commercial real estate performance is improving, but vacancy rates and the level of problem assets continue to be high.
      • Outside of commercial and industrial lending, loan growth remains tepid, which has weighed on net interest income by pressuring asset yields for banks of all sizes. Underwriting standards are under pressure as banks compete for higher earning assets to improve profitability.
      • The persistence of historically low interest rates continues to hamper margin upside, by limiting the ability of many banks to further reduce funding costs. As net interest income has declined, non-interest income faces pressures from legislative, regulatory, and market changes that have depressed fee income, servicing and securitization income, and may restrain future trading revenue.
      • More generally, the low interest rate environment continues to make banks vulnerable to rate shocks. Small banks, in particular, are increasingly adding to investment portfolio positions and increasing duration to obtain higher yields. “New product” risk is increasing as banks seek to enter new or less familiar markets to offset declines in revenues from core lines of business.
      • European sovereign debt issues and the threat of a break-up of the Euro have led to a sharp slowdown in European economic growth, contributed to worsening credit quality, increased financial market uncertainty, and perceptibly weakened global economic activity. These developments have contributed to an increase in the cost of long-term debt and equity financing for large European and U.S. financial institutions as these issues continue to weigh on market confidence and the economic recovery in Europe and the United States.

      Not all bad news 

      According to the report, levels of capital and allowance for loan losses across the industry are more robust and of higher quality than prior to the recession. The higher levels and better quality of capital are noticeable across the industry, but most notable at the largest banks. 

      However, the U.S. banking industry continues to recover from the recent recession and to adjust to significant shifts in its operating and regulatory environments. These shifts are inducing large changes in the risk and profitability profiles of all banks, but may affect community banks differently than large banks. Combined, these conditions present significant operational risk for banks of all sizes. 

      The report presents data in four main areas: 

      • The operating environment;
      • the condition and performance of the national banking system;
      • funding, liquidity, and interest rate risk; and
      • regulatory actions. 

      The report focuses on issues that pose threats to the safety and soundness of those financial institutions regulated by the OCC and is intended as a resource to the industry, examiners, and the general public. The report reflects data as of December 31, 2011. 

      The OCC plans to release the report twice a year.

      top risks facing national banks and federal savings associations include the lingering effects of a weak housing market, revenue challenges related to slow...