Current Events in July 2012

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2012

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    Carfax Releases Mobile App for 'Droids

    Makes it easier for used car shoppers to check out possible deals

    Carfax today announced that an Android version of the Carfax Reports mobile app is available to smartphone users. Carfax Vehicle History Reports can be viewed in a matter of seconds with just a few screen taps.

    Used car shoppers needing Carfax information now have three ways to access it – entering the vehicle identification number (VIN), license plate or scanning the barcode.

    "Consumers love the ease and convenience of mobile apps," said Larry Gamache, communications director at Carfax. "Now, vital information from Carfax about a car's past is available to Android smartphone users anytime, anywhere. In addition, the license plate feature is especially useful when considering cars that are for sale by owner."

    The mobile app for Android features user-friendly interfaces to access Carfax. The streamlined process quickly delivers Carfax information that car buyers need to find the right used car. In addition, Carfax Vehicle History Reports run from any computer or device automatically populate to and are viewable in the app.

    The Carfax Reports app for Android is a free download on Google Play. Just search 'Carfax Reports' or click this link:http://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.carfax.consumer. Carfax also released the Carfax Reports mobile app for iPhone users in November 2011.

    Carfax today announced that an Android version of the Carfax Reports mobile app is available to smartphone users. Carfax Vehicle History Reports can be vie...

    'BMW on Demand' Coming to New York

    Short-term rentals fill the niche between car-sharing and traditional rentals

    Always wanted a BMW but thought you couldn't afford one?  Well, maybe you can't but you may soon be able to afford to rent one for a little while.

    BMW Group Financial Services is launching a pilot project called BMW on Demand at BMW dealerships next month in the New York metropolitan area.

    Customers will be able to make reservations for a BMW 328i online starting Aug. 13, said Ed Robinson, CEO of the finance company in Woodcliff Lake, N.J. Pricing will be disclosed later.

    Cars will be available for rental by the hour, day or weekend, according to the company's website. The program will initially be limited to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut and will at least through year-end.

    BMW is hoping the program will spur demand for new BMWs. After the cars have been in the rental fleet for a year or so, they will be offered to dealers for sale as used cars, just as off-lease cars are now handled.

    "BMW on Demand will fit the market niche between car sharing and rentals," Robinson said in an interview with Automotive News.

    Always wanted a BMW but thought you couldn't afford one?  Well, maybe you can't but you may soon be able to afford to rent one for a little while.BM...

    Additional 76 Counties Fall Victim To Drought

    Producers in 1,369 counties in 31 states eligible for disaster assistance

    Effects of the drought are spreading.           

    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has designated 76 additional counties in six states as primary natural disaster areas due to damage and losses caused by drought and excessive heat. 

    During the 2012 crop year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has designated 1,369 counties across 31 states as disaster areas -- 1,234 due to drought -- making all qualified farm operators in the areas eligible for low-interest emergency loans. 

    The additional counties designated are in Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin. The U.S. Drought Monitor currently reports that two-thirds of the continental U.S. is in a moderate to exceptional drought. 

    "As USDA officials visit drought-stricken areas to stand with our producers and rural communities, the urgency for Congress to pass a food, farm and jobs bill is greater than ever,” said Vilsack. “The hardworking Americans who produce our food and fiber, feed for our livestock, and contribute to a home-grown energy policy -- they need action now." 

    Failing crops 

    During the week ending July 22, the portion of the U.S. corn crop rated in very poor to poor condition climbed to 45 percent, according to USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service. Soybeans rated very poor to poor rose to 35 percent. Such ratings for both commodities have increased for seven consecutive weeks. 

    During the same period, from June 3 to July 22, the portion of the U.S. corn rated good to excellent fell from 72 to 26 percent. Soybeans rated good to excellent tumbled from 65 to 31 percent. 

    The current corn and soybean ratings represent the lowest conditions at any time of year since 1988. At the same time, more than half -- 55 percent -- of the nation's pastures and rangeland are rated in very poor or poor condition. 

    Primary counties and corresponding states newly designated as disaster areas are: 

    Illinois:

    • Crawford 
    • Pike 

    Indiana:

    • Blackford 
    • Boone 
    • Clinton 
    • Delaware 
    • Fountain 
    • Henry 
    • Madison 
    • Montgomery 
    • Rush 
    • Tippecanoe 
    • Tipton 
    • Vermillion 
    • Vigo 
    • White 

    Kansas:

    • Chase 
    • Dickinson 
    • Douglas 
    • Ellis 
    • Ellsworth 
    • Franklin 
    • Geary 
    • Jefferson 
    • Johnson 
    • Leavenworth 
    • Lincoln 
    • Marion 
    • Miami 
    • Mitchell 
    • Morris 
    • Osage 
    • Osborne 
    • Ottawa 
    • Rush 
    • Russell 
    • Saline 
    • Shawnee 
    • Smith 
    • Wabaunsee 
    • Wyandotte 

    Michigan:

    • Branch 
    • Cass 
    • Hillsdale 
    • St. Joseph 

    Nebraska: 

    • Boone 
    • Custer 
    • Greeley 
    • Howard 
    • Merrick 
    • Nance 
    • Sherman 
    • Valley 

    Wisconsin: 

    • Adams 
    • Columbia 
    • Crawford 
    • Dane 
    • Dodge 
    • Fond du Lac 
    • Grant 
    • Green 
    • Green Lake 
    • Iowa 
    • Jefferson 
    • Kenosha 
    • Lafayette 
    • Marquette 
    • Milwaukee 
    • Ozaukee 
    • Racine 
    • Richland 
    • Rock 
    • Sauk 
    • Walworth 
    • Washington 
    • Waukesha

    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has designated 76 additional counties in six states as primary natural disaster areas due to damage and losses caused by...

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      Experts Call for Label Change On Opioid Painkillers

      Drug companies should not be permitted to advertise long-term opioids for non-cancer pain, experts say

      Labels on opioid pain medications should be revised to prevent overprescribing, a coalition of doctors, researchers and public health officials said in a petition filed with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

      If the requested changes were adopted, they maintain, drug companies would not be able to claim the pain medications are safe and effective for long-term use by non-cancer patients. 

      According to the petition, opioid labels are overly broad because they fail to limit opioid use to severe pain, to include a time frame for use and to specify a maximum dose. Presently, the label on opioid analgesics simply states that they're approved for "moderate to severe pain." 

      The petition is signed by 37 experts, including leaders in the fields of pain medicine, addiction and primary care; health commissioners; researchers; and program directors at public interest groups.

      The requested changes relate specifically to when opioids are used for non-cancer pain. 

      Getting rid of ‘moderate’ 

      The petition calls for striking the term "moderate," adding a suggested maximum dose equivalent to 100 milligrams of morphine and adding a suggested duration of use. The petition's co-signers believe that preventing drug companies' aggressive promotion of these medications for moderate pain will help curtail overprescribing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  (CDC) says excessive prescribing of opioid analgesics is fueling an epidemic of addiction and overdose deaths. 

      The proposed label changes would have serious implications for drugmakers because federal law prohibits "off-label" advertising. Drugmakers wouldn't be able to promote opioids for continuous long-term use by people who don't have cancer. 

      The coalition of experts that signed the petition believes the label must be changed to reflect existing medical evidence. The long-term effectiveness and safety of opioid analgesics has not been established by scientific studies, and recent research calls into question the safety and effectiveness of these drugs when used long-term, particularly at higher dosage levels. 

      Longer-term studies proposed 

      The FDA typically approves conditions that a drug can be used to treat on the basis of clinical trials that are 12 weeks in length. In the case of opioid analgesics, Dr. Edward Covington, director of the Neurological Center for Pain at the Cleveland Clinic, believes that short-term studies like this are inadequate. 

      "It's clear that the short-term effects, on the basis for which they are approved and marketed, do not mirror their effects in long-term use,” he said. “In the absence of long-term studies demonstrating safety and effectiveness, we need limits on what drug companies can claim about opioids." Covington also believes that suggested dose limits must be added to the label "given the lack of experimental support for using high doses." 

      Although the proposed label changes would limit the way drug companies promote opioid analgesics, doctors would continue to be able to make prescribing decisions based on their clinical judgment, assessment of patient needs and response to treatment. "Off-label" prescribing is considered appropriate, even though "off-label" advertising is prohibited. 

      According to Dr. Jane Ballantyne, a pain specialist at the University of Washington in Seattle and a co-signer of the petition, "A form of constraint that controls overuse while preserving opioids for patients in need can only be a positive step towards more rational and safer prescribing." 

      "It's time to close the loophole on opioid labels," said Dr. Lewis Nelson, an emergency physician and medical toxicologist at NYU Langone Medical Center. He believes it amounts to "a mechanism that allows drug companies to promote opioids for unproven uses." Physicians are wrong to assume that "on-label" indications are evidence-based with regard to safety and efficacy. 

      "Over-prescribing of opioids is harming many chronic pain patients," Covington said. "The label change is a way for the FDA to let the medical community know that risks may outweigh benefits when used long-term. The issue is tricky, because a subset of chronic pain patients benefit from chronic opioids, usually in low to moderate doses, and it is important that access is not restricted for those who show lasting benefit. The label change we're requesting balances the need to preserve access for these patients with the need to reduce overprescribing."

      Labels on opioid pain medications should be revised to prevent overprescribing, a coalition of doctors, researchers and public health officials said in a p...

      Consumers Adapting To Smaller Vehicles

      Today's small cars not the 'econoboxes' of yesteryear

      Watch a movie made as recently as the late 1980s and one is struck by how big the cars are. On today's streets, most vehicles fit what would have been considered the "economy car," subcompact category just a few years ago.

      But few consumers, it seems, lament the passing of the gas-guzzling behemoth. A new study by J.D. Power and Associates finds that 27 percent of new-vehicle buyers who replaced a vehicle downsized, meaning they purchased a new vehicle in a smaller segment than the vehicle they replaced.

      In contrast, only 13 percent of buyers "upsized," while 60 percent purchased a new vehicle in the same size segment as their previous vehicle. The move down in size appears to be a matter of choice, not necessity.

      No sacrifice

      "New-vehicle buyers who downsize are not making the sacrifice that they once were," said David Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power and Associates. "Automakers are heavily focused on providing the U.S. market with appealing smaller models, and buyers may be surprised at just how good some of them are."

      And how good are they? To find out they asked consumers. Chevrolet received the highest number of segment awards of all brands included in the study for the Avalanche, Sonic and Volt models.

      Seven brands each received two model awards: Audi, for the A6 and A8; Dodge, for the Challenger and Charger; Ford, for the Expedition and Flex; Kia, for the Optima in a tie and Soul; MINI, for the Countryman and Coupe/Roadster; Nissan, for the Frontier and Quest; and Porsche, for the Cayenne and 911).

      High marks for Audi and Porsche

      The Audi A8 also recorded the highest APEAL Study score of any model in the industry in 2012.

      Porsche is the highest-ranking nameplate for an eighth consecutive year. Dodge, Jaguar and Ram achieve the greatest year-over-year improvements, increasing scores by 21, 20 and 19 points, respectively.

      Owners questioned in the study said their smaller models typically provide higher performance, have more pleasing styling, are more comfortable and include more features. They are not, they insist, the “econoboxes” that they may have once feared.

      More umph

      For example, most compact vehicles are more substantial than in the past and perform much better on the road. They also have many of the features and appointments that were previously found only on larger models. Vehicle owners who downsize are often finding that they are actually upgrading when they buy a new vehicle.

      While many consumers turn to smaller cars in hopes of better fuel economy, the editors at J.D. Power say consumers should have realistic expectations in that regard. Remember that the city/highway/combined mileage ranges listed on the window sticker are merely estimates provided by the EPA. Your actual miles per gallon will vary due to many factors, including driving and weather conditions, driving style, tire inflation and the overall condition of your vehicle.

      Before you buy, ask your salesperson to demonstrate all of the audio/entertainment/navigation features on the vehicle. Also, have them assist you in connecting your mobile device or portable audio player to the vehicle's communication system or audio interface in order to test for a good hands-free connection and to make sure the system recognizes your commands.

      Watch a movie made as recently as the late 1980s and one is struck by how big the cars are. On today's streets, most vehicles fit what would have been cons...

      Feds Urged To Ban Overdraft Fees On Prepaid Cards

      Consumer groups claim prepaid cards in danger of becoming new payday loans

      Consumer groups submitting comments to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) for rules on prepaid credit cards urged the government watchdog to ban overdraft and credit features on the cards.

      “The most important step that the CFPB can take to ensure that prepaid cards fulfill their promise, and to prevent unfair, deceptive or abusive practices, is to ensure that prepaid cards are true to their essence as a prepaid transaction product,” the groups said in their comments.

      The comments were submitted by the Center for Responsible Lending, the National Consumer Law Center and the Consumer Federation of America.

      Similar to debit cards

      Prepaid cards work like debit cards. Consumers “load” them by depositing money to their accounts, much like they would do at a bank. In fact, prepaid cards are growing in popularity because so many consumers have stopped using banks to escape high fees. But prepaid cards come with plenty of fees of their own.

      Now some prepaid card issuers are also offering credit features, which the consumer groups say is a bad idea, undermining the integrity of the prepaid card market and the safety of the consumers who use the cards.

      “Prepaid cards users are vulnerable consumers, who want controls on overspending,” the groups said. “Prepaid card credit features are promoted for large or unexpected expenses but designed to be used routinely, encouraging a cycle of debt -- a practice that is especially pernicious since prepaid cards do not underwrite for ability to pay.”

      The groups say banning overdraft fees and credit features will minimize account closures and protect access to transaction accounts.

      Card features are changing

      Theoretically, you shouldn't be able to overdraw your prepaid card because the spending limit should be determined by how much money is on the card. In the past, many cards didn't offer that feature. If you tried to spend money you didn't have, the card would be declined.

      Some consumers actually closed their bank accounts and obtained prepaid cards for that very reason. Now, the consumer groups warn that feature is being undone by the addition of overdraft and credit features, which they argue are just expensive loans.

      “Prepaid credit features will undo the elimination of rent-a-bank payday lending that was laboriously achieved a decade ago and be much more difficult to control if left to spread,” they warn. “Prepaid credit features are already being used to circumvent the law, but it is early enough to nip this trend in the bud.”

      Evading the law

      The groups charge credit on prepaid cards evades federal and state laws protecting public benefits and wages needed for necessities and protecting military service members. Prepaid cards with credit features are credit cards, they argue, but escape Truth In Lending's credit card protections.

      CFPB asked for comments on prepaid cards in May, suggesting at the time that it viewed the evolving industry as a potential problem for consumers. The agency said its rulemaking will focus on “General Purpose Reloadable” prepaid cards which allow consumers to load the cards with money upfront and use them as if they were checking account debit cards.

      According to a 2009 FDIC study, 9.7 percent of all households used these prepaid cards. Mercator Advisory Group reports that the prepaid market totals $57 billion and is expected to grow at a rate of 42 percent per year from 2010-2014. The two largest prepaid card program managers have reported a jump from 3.4 million active cards in 2009 to over 7 million this year. It is projected that the total dollar amount loaded onto prepaid cards will hit $167 billion in 2014.

      Consumer groups submitting comments to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) for rules on prepaid credit cards urged the government watchdog to b...

      Court: Airlines Must Include Taxes In Ads

      The cost means the WHOLE cost of getting from here to there

      Consumers will get a bit more information about the true cost of an airline ticket, thanks to a court ruling. A U.S. Court of Appeals said airlines must include taxes and other government fees in their advertised fares.

      The requirement is part of new U.S. Transportation Department rules designed to promote transparency in air fares. It said any advertised fare must be the entire price the consumer will pay for the ticket. The rule was challenged in court by Southwest Airlines, Spirit Air and Allegiant Travel.

      Some consumer groups wanted the rule to go even further, pointing out that nearly all airlines now charges fees for checked bags and other perks that were once included in the price of the ticket. Airlines have resisted including fees in ads, pointing out not everyone checks a bag, or the same number of bags.

      While some customers have gotten used to the baggage fees, James, a Delta customer from Smyrna, TN, says the airline is now adding insult to injury.

      Ads on bags

      “I recently flew from Charlotte to Atlanta,” James wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “I paid $60 to check 2 bags. When I picked up my luggage, there was an advertisement on each of them. It's called a 'Deltabagtag', and is a promotion for the Atlanta Braves. If I am going to pay $30 per bag, the last thing I want to do is have an advertisement placed on it. More to the point, if Delta is going to advertise directly on my luggage, it should be free to check a bag. It's disgusting that this airline, which got me to Atlanta 30 minutes late, rubs in my face the fact they charge exorbitant baggage fees by forcing me to remove advertisement tags from my luggage which they tied around the handles of my bags.”

      In the case before the court, the justices voted 2-1 to side with the Transportation Department, rejecting the airlines' arguments that advertising base fares are not deceptive. Airlines want to advertise the lowest fares possible for competitive reasons. Having to advertise higher fares might not lose business to other airlines, but it might cause consumers to seek alternate forms of travel.

      The court also upheld two other new rules requiring airlines to allow customers to cancel tickets without penalty within 24 hours of purchase, as long as they purchased them more than a week before the flight. And thanks to the court, airlines will be barred from raising fees after a customer has already purchased a ticket.

      Consumers will get a bit more information about the true cost of an airline ticket, thanks to a court ruling. A U.S. Court of Appeals said airlines must in...

      CPSC Prevents More Than 360,000 Hazardous Products From Reaching Consumers

      Shoddy children’s products top the list of imported goods stopped at the border

      Investigators for the  U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) are on the job at the nation’s ports of entry. 

      During the second quarter of fiscal year 2012, investigators screened more than 3,700 imported products and prevented more than 360,000 units of what are called “violative” and hazardous imported products from reaching the hands of consumers. 

      CPSC port investigators, working with Customs and Border Protection agents, successfully identified 319 different consumer products that were in violation of U.S. safety rules or found to be hazardous, between January 1 and April 30, 2012. 

      In the first half of the fiscal year, investigators screened more than 6,600 imported products at ports of entry and prevented more than one million units of violative or dangerous products from reaching consumers. 

      Kids products top of the list 

      Continuing to top the list of products stopped were children's products containing levels of lead exceeding the federal limits. This was also the leading category of products stopped in the first quarter. 

      Second was children's sleepwear that did not meet the federal flammability standards. 

      Toys and other articles with small parts that present a choking hazard for children younger than three years old also continued to be prominent in the second quarter. 

      In addition to violative toys, children's sleepwear and other children's products, other significant shipments stopped at import included noncompliant fireworks and mattresses. 

      CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum said the proactive work at the ports shows CPSC is on the front lines protecting consumers. 

      "CPSC investigators are standing shoulder to shoulder with Customs and Border Protection agents and working to prevent defective and violative products from ever reaching store shelves and the hands of consumers," said CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. 

      She also said consumers can be confident that the state of product safety is strong and built to last, noting, "the pilot risk assessment methodology that we are testing is aimed at early detection and targeting of high risk products and repeat offenders at import. "I believe this will make CPSC even more effective in using our limited resources." 

      Fiscal 2011 record

      During fiscal year 2011, CPSC inspected more than 9,900 product shipments at the ports nationwide and stopped almost 4.5 million units of violative or hazardous consumer products from entering the stores and homes of U.S. consumers. 

      CPSC has been screening products at ports since it began operating in 1973.The agency intensified its efforts in 2008 with the creation of an import surveillance division, and again in 2011 with the creation of the Office of Import Surveillance and Inspection.

      During the second quarter of fiscal year 2012, investigators screened more than 3,700 imported products and prevented more than 360,000 units of what are c...

      Home Values Finally Going Up, Zillow Says

      Real estate site says this could be the market bottom

      The last several months have brought mostly encouraging news from the housing front, suggesting that the long-awaiting recovery was just around the corner. Zillow, the real estate site, says it's finally arrived.

      The Zillow Home Value Index (ZHVI) rose in the second quarter on an annual basis for the first time since 2007 -- increasing 0.2 percent year-over-year to $149,300. Home values have now risen for four consecutive months.

      Nearly one-third of metros, or 53 of the 167 covered by the Real Estate Market Reports, posted annual increases in home values. The largest increase was in Phoenix where home values are up 12.1 percent from the second quarter of 2011 to the second quarter of 2012. Phoenix was one of the hardest hit cities in the housing collapse.

      Continuing trend?

      Zillow predicts the trend will continue. Two in five, or 67 of the 156 markets covered by the Zillow Home Value Forecast, are expected to see increases in home values over the next year, with the largest increases expected in the Phoenix and Miami metros. U.S. home values are expected to rise 1.1 percent.

      "After four months with rising home values and increasingly positive forecast data, it seems clear that the country has hit a bottom in home values," said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Stan Humphries. "The housing recovery is holding together despite lower-than-expected job growth, indicating that it has some organic strength of its own.”

      Fewer homes on the market

      What's behind the recovery? For one thing, the National Association of Realtors has reported a sharp decline in the number of homes for sale over the last couple of months. With fewer homes for sale, buyers have less leverage to force down prices.

      There has been a drop in the number of distressed properties on the market, though Humphries says that can quickly change.

      "Of course, there is still some risk as we look down the foreclosure pipeline and see foreclosure starts picking up,” he said. “This will translate into more homes on the market by the end of the year, but we think demand will rise to absorb that, particularly in markets where there are acute inventory shortages now.”

      The problem until now has been the tighter lending standards that have prevented some otherwise creditworthy buyers from getting into the market. Analysts say the rise in home values is a positive sign because it will make lenders more confident when they make loans.

      The last several months have brought mostly encouraging news from the housing front, suggesting that the long-awaiting recovery was just around the corner....

      Peg Perego Recalls Strollers

      Risk of entrapment and strangulation; one child death reported

      Peg Perego USA Inc., of Fort Wayne, IN, is recalling about 223,000 strollers due to a risk of entrapment and strangulation. 

      A 6-month-old baby boy from Tarzana, Calif. died of strangulation after his head was trapped between the seat and the tray of his Peg Perego stroller in 2004. Another baby, a 7-month-old girl from New York, N.Y., nearly strangled when her head became trapped between the seat and the tray of her stroller in 2006. 

      Entrapment and strangulation can occur, especially to infants younger than one year of age, when the child is not harnessed. An infant can pass through the opening between the stroller tray and seat bottom, but his/her head and neck can become entrapped by the tray. Infants who become entrapped at the neck are at risk of strangulation. 

      The recall involves two different older versions of the Peg Perego strollers -- Venezia and Pliko-P3 -- manufactured between January 2004 and September 2007, in a variety of colors. 

      They were manufactured prior to the existence of the January 2008 voluntary industry standard that addresses the height of the opening between the stroller's tray and the seat bottom. The voluntary standard requires larger stroller openings that prevent infant entrapment and strangulation hazards. 

      Only strollers that have a child tray with one cup holder are part of this recall. Strollers with a bumper bar in front of the child or a tray with two cup holders are not included in this recall. 

      The following Venezia and Pliko-P3 stroller model numbers that begin with the following numbers are included in this recall. The model number is printed on a white label on the back of the Pliko P-3's stroller seat and on the Venezia stroller's footboard.

      Pliko-P3 Stroller
      Model Numbers
      Venezia Stroller
      Model Numbers
      IPFR28US34xxxxxxxxIPPF28NA32IPVA13MU09
      IPFT28NA63IPPF28NA57IPVA13MU10
      IPFT28NA64IPPF28NA65IPVA13US09
      IPP328MU10IPPF28NA66IPVA13US10
      IPP328MU09IPPF28NA67IPVA13US32
      IPP328US09IPPF28NA68IPVA13US34
      IPP328US10IPPO28US32IPVC13NA32
      IPP329US10IPPO28US34IPVC13NA34
      IPPA28US32IPPO28US62
      IPPA28US33IPPO28US69
      IPPA28US34IPPO28US70
      IPPD28NA34IPPO28US71

      "Peg Perego" and "Venezia" or "Pliko-P3" are printed on the side of the strollers. 

      The strollers were sold at various retailers nationwide, including Babies R Us and Buy Buy Baby from January 2004 through September 2010 for between $270 and $330 for the Pliko P-3 stroller and between $350 and $450 for the Venezia stroller. They were manufactured in Italy. 

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled strollers and contact the firm for a free repair kit. Do not return the stroller to the retailers as they will not be able to provide the repair kit. 

      For additional information, call Peg Perego at (888) 734-6020 anytime or visit the firm's Website.

      These strollers may be available on the secondhand market, in thrift stores or at yard sales. Consumers should not buy or sell these recalled strollers until the repair kit is installed. 

      Peg Perego USA Inc., of Fort Wayne, IN, is recalling about 223,000 strollers due to a risk of entrapment and strangulation....

      Car Insurance Rate Hikes Not Uncommon This Year

      There may -- or may not -- be a legitimate reason

      Many consumers have opened letters from their car insurance company this year and been disappointed to learn that their premiums are going up. Sometimes by a lot.

      Lynette of Boca Raton, Fla., said she and her husband have been insured with The Hartford, through AARP, for years.

      “Many years with company never a late payment. Never a claim, no tickets, no accidents, clean driving record, no arrests,” Lynette wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “And a $600.00 increase! Their commercial says will never drop you for any reason. But they sure know how to force you out!”

      Before Lynette changes insurance companies she should call The Hartford. She is entitled to ask why her rate went up, especially by so much. It's possible that it's a error that could be corrected. It never hurts to ask.

      Just because Lynette and her husband are good drivers and haven't submitted a claim doesn't mean their rate can't go up. Insurance is a shared risk, and if claims have jumped in Lynette's geographic area, all policyholders might be hit by a rate increase. And according to one insurance professional, that could well be one explanation.

      Tough year for premiums

      “I know you don’t want to hear this, but 2012 is going to be a tough year for your premium,” Keith Verisario, Vice-President of Chicago-area All-Security Insurance, writes in his blog. In 2011 insurance companies paid $1.16 for every $1.00 collected. They paid over $100 billion in worldwide losses. In the U.S. they paid $36 billion in losses. In 2010 it was about $18 billion -- that is a lot of negative profit, or in other words, insurance companies lost a lot of money.”

      Verisario suggests consumers faced with a big rate hike contact an independent insurance agent that can offer quotes from multiple A to A++ rated carriers. Another way to get a lower rate is to bundle your homeowners and auto policies with the same carrier.

      In Lynette's case, she should definitely follow up with The Hartford to learn the reason for her rate hike and to make sure it isn't a mistake. Sometimes rates can be affected by a change in your credit score. By following up with the company she can make sure there isn't adverse information in her credit report that she doesn't know about.

      Another Florida consumer -- Patricia, of Merritt Island -- provides hope.

      “AARP/Hartford raised my car insurance from $604.00 to $732.00 and they told me that the State of Florida allowed them to do so,” Patricia wrote to ConsumerAffairs. “I cancelled my policy and got new insurance for less than $300.00 a year.”

      Many consumers have opened letters from their car insurance company this year and been disappointed to learn that their premiums are going up. Sometimes by...

      Gun Violence: How Divided Are We?

      NRA takes a hit but overall, consumers remain divided on gun control

      The horrific shooting in a Colorado theater is the latest in an astonishing series of mass murders allegedly carried out by seemingly intelligent but socially isolated young white men.

      Though attention-getting, these attacks are outnumbered by the daily shootings that occur as a result of drug deals gone bad, botched hold-ups and family feuds. About 100,000 are shot each year; about a third die.

      The pattern is by now familiar but what seems to be changing is that there is less discussion of whether or not some form of gun control would stop or at least slow the pace of violent attacks in America. Liberals charge that gun control advocates have been intimidated into silence. Conservatives generally argue that criminals and the unbalanced would simply switch to other weapons if guns were not available.

      Third rail

      What does seem to be true is that gun control has become the new third rail of American politics, displacing Social Security and other once-sacrosanct programs. The National Rifle Association generally gets the blame -- or the credit, depending on your point of view -- for maintaining a ferociously effective lobbying machine that can quickly end the career of any politician who dares cross it.

      This doesn't mean, of course, that the American public is unanimously standing its ground against gun control and a ConsumerAffairs study of consumer sentiment indicates that, in fact, Americans remain just about evenly divided on the issue, as they are on so many other red-blue topics.

      We conducted a computerized sentiment analysis of about 400,000 comments that used the phrase "gun control" on social media like Facebook and Twitter over the last year and found that net public sentiment hovers within a few points of zero -- about evenly divided, as shown in this graph:

      Note that, although the number of comments increases dramatically within days of the Colorado shootings, the net sentiment remains about evently divided.

      Looking more closely at the comments made by consumers, however, it becomes apparent that those who favor gun control are somewhat divided on their motivations, opponents are quite clear: they feel it would negatively affect law-abiding citizens and would be ineffective.

      The NRA

      So how about the NRA? Demonized by gun control advocates, the National Rifle Association portrays itself as the champion of the law-abiding, gun-owning sportsman.  

      We analyzed 550,000 social media comments and found the NRA generally flying high, with a net positive sentiment around 50% for most of the year. However, it took a sharp dive in the wake of the Colorado massacre, falling to the year's low of 17% positive. 

      No way out? 

      NRA Headquarters

      The NRA doesn't particularly care whether the general public agrees with its views, of course. It is most concerned with keeping its four million or so members fired up and in line and there are no signs that NRA members are massing in front of the organization's Fairfax, Va, headquarters to blast holes in their membership cards.

      So is there any way to begin chipping away at the problem of mass murders in the U.S.? One comment we ran across on Facebook suggested that every citizen be mandated to take a psychiatric exam once a year. Those who were found to be teetering on the brink would be dispatched for treatment.

      This is no doubt a fine idea but would be about as easy to implement as legislating a 26-hour day. If gun control is unconstitutional, probing the psyches of citizens who have not yet done anything wrong surely ranks close behind. 

      As long as public opinion remains as deeply -- and evenly -- divided as it is now, the likelihood of even a modest attempt at a political solution appears remote.

      That doesn't mean it will never happen, though.

      Some issues, like gay marriage or legalized marijuana, linger for years as talking points on the margins of society but, once a tipping point is reached, move rapidly to general acceptance. This seems to be happening now with the gay marriage issue and many think marijuana will be next. 

      Gun control or some other as-yet-unimagined public safety measure? Still out in orbit somewhere.

      The horrific shooting in a Colorado theater is the latest in an astonishing series of   attacks allegedly carried out by seemingly intelligent but soc...

      Ora TV: Can Larry King Change Online Programming?

      New venture brings network-quality TV to the Internet

      Television is constantly evolving.

      In just the last few decades consumers have gone from having to manually turn a dial to select from a handful of channels, to having access to hundreds of channels.

      According to statistics released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person spends 2.8 hours per day in front of the television, which shows that channel flipping is still a popular pasttime.

      But large portions of the viewing population have decreased their time on the couch and choose instead to watch their programs on the go.

      So billionaire investor Carlos Slim Helu decided to capitalize on this growing trend and put some of his dollars behind a new Internet venture which he calls Ora TV.

      Ora, which is Italian for "now," claims to bring together the best of the Internet and the best of traditional televeision for one unique viewing experience.

      Executives say the channel will especially cater to people who watch their shows on mobile devices. Unlike other web channels, Ora will provide high-quality video programming on smartphones, tablets, laptops and connected televisions, says the company.

      It will also be the first online channel to be run like a traditional TV network.

      Ideal time

      Ora TV's CEO Jon Housman says now is the ideal time to offer a station that only provides Internet content, since the way people watch TV today has greatly shifted.

      The first program to be broadcast will be the "Larry King Now" show, which debuted last week.

       "With the exponential burst in video consumption via Internet-connected devices, this is an incredible moment to be launching a digital network and studio, says Housman. ”Moreover, to create a new network with Carlos Slim and Larry King, arguably two of the most accomplished individuals in the worlds of business and broadcast journalism, is an unprecedented opportunity,”

      Back into the fray

      It's also a wonderful opportunity for TV legend Larry King to jump back into the media fray and establish himself among younger viewers who may have missed his popular CNN show which ran for 25 years.

      King retired from his interview-based cable program in 2010.

      "I am thrilled to be working with Carlos and Jon to create Ora TV, a bold new model for digital television," King said in a statement to the press. "The backing of Carlos given his stellar track record in the business combined with Jon's track record of leadership and innovation is a recipe for success."

      The on-demand channel says it will provide the same production quality as  traditional programming, but will offer shows in many formats, including short-form segments.

      "In addition to traditionally styled programs, we will produce shows in alternative formats and varying lengths so that viewers can find and get information and insights they really care about in ways designed to harness the new mobile and interactive platforms," said Housman.

      "This approach will allow us to thoughtfully address topics and ideas that might not be as well suited to traditional TV. Additionally with Ora, we will be able to incorporate content, social interactions, and technologies in ways that are difficult to pull off with linear platforms," he added.

      King Hulu

      Just a few days ago Ora announced that it signed a licensing and distribution deal with Hulu, to stream the Larry King Now program exclusively. Each show will run for 30 minutes and will be digitally broadcast in the evening, Monday through Thursday, Easter Standard Time.

      The buzzed-about talk show can be viewed free of charge on Hulu, Hulu Plus subscription services, Ora TV and on-demand.

      Ora says it will also be releasing other shows, and hopes to be a pioneering force in the way people watch TV today.

      If the station truly wants to be successful it will have to develop programming that caters to the younger portion of consumers, since they are the group most likely to watch online programming instead of traditional television.

      According to a study conducted by Nielsen Media Research, those age 25 to 34 watched four and a half hours less television in 2011's third quarter, than they did the same time one year prior.

      The study, which was first reported by the New York Times, also showed that viewers age 12 through 17 watched nine fewer minutes of TV a day, and 18 to 24 viewers watched six fewer minutes a day, which shows younger consumers are choosing other mediums to watch their programs on.

      And Carlos Helu, who is considered the richest man in the world, says this venture with Ora TV will change the way digital media is presented, and feels the company is at the beginning of a digital revolution in the realms of Internet-based programming

      "Ora TV represents a great opportunity," he said. "The business model is sound and the team brings the talent and industry understanding that will help Ora stand out in digital television, a category which is primed for exponential growth."

      Television is constantly evolving.In just the last few decades consumers have gone from having to manually turn a dial, to having access to hundreds of c...

      Kolcraft Recalls Contours Tandem Strollers

      Strollers contain fall and choking hazards

      Kolcraft Enterprises Inc., of Chicago, IL, is recalling about 5,600 Contours Options LT Tandem Strollers. 

      The front wheel assembly can break, posing a fall hazard to the child in the stroller. In addition, for strollers manufactured in January and February 2012, the nuts that hold the stroller's basket support screws in place can detach, posing a choking hazard to young children. 

      Kolcraft has received six reports of front caster wheels breaking and two reports of the basket's support screws and nuts detaching. No injuries have been reported. 

      The recall involves all Contours Options LT tandem strollers with model number ZT012. The model number and date of manufacture are printed on a label found on the rear leg of the stroller. The dual-seat strollers have one mesh basket beneath both seats and were sold in two color schemes; black with red canopies and accents, and gray with yellow canopies and accents. "Options LT" is printed on a bar along the side of the stroller. 

      The strollers, manufactured in China, were sold at Burlington Coat Factory and juvenile product specialty stores nationwide and online at Amazon.com, Target.com and other online retailers between February 2012 and July 2012 for about $250. 

      Consumers should immediately stop using the product and contact the company to receive free replacement wheels. Consumers with strollers manufactured in January and February 2012 will also receive replacement nuts for the basket support screws. 

      For additional information, contact Kolcraft toll-free at (800) 453-7673 between 8 a.m. and 6:45 p.m. ET Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. ET Friday, or visit the firm's Website

      Under federal law, it is illegal to attempt to sell or resell this or any other recalled product.

      Kolcraft Enterprises Inc., of Chicago, IL, is recalling about 5,600 Contours Options LT Tandem Strollers....

      Study: Facebook Could Cost You Your Next Job

      Researchers say they've confirmed what many suspect

      It's been suggested that what you post about yourself on Facebook and other social media sites could torpedo your job application. Now a, in-depth study of employers from six different industries confirms it.

      The study reveals that many employers are using the Facebook profiles of job candidates to filter out weaker applicants based on perception of lifestyle, attitudes and personal appearance. In other words, it could keep you from making the final cut.

      Facebook now has more than 800 million members world-wide and has become one of the most popular sites for staying in touch with family and friends. People engage in give and take, often making off-color comments or expressing strong political views. It's all out there for a potential employer to see.

      The researchers from Florida International University suggest that employers using Facebook to assess those applying for a job with them are creating a new digital divide, as well as revealing how freedom with regard to virtual identity is being encroached upon increasingly by the world of work.

      Screening tool

      "While employers are using Facebook to monitor their employees, they have also begun to use it as a screening tool when considering potential candidates," said researcher Vanessa de la Llama and colleagues. "Because this is a fairly new trend, a standardized set of guidelines has yet to be established, with employers often assessing job applicants in a subjective manner."

      The research team interviewed representatives from the areas of information technology, healthcare and wellness, education, law enforcement, food and drink, travel, advertising and suggest that their findings shed light on a growing trend.

      They say they hope to raise the ethical questions for debate surrounding whether or not employers should be using Facebook and perhaps other social networking sites to screen candidates. This question is this -- are employers overstepping the bounds of privacy, or is examining a Facebook profile an acceptable way to gauge someone's personality?

      "Job seekers should be aware that their future employers are closely observing their Facebook profiles in search of a window into their personality," the research team concludes. "Though this practice raises many ethical issues, it is an emerging phenomenon that is not slowing."

      It's been suggested that what you post about yourself on Facebook and other social media sites could torpedo your job application. Now a, in-depth study of...

      Boomers Beware: Scammers Are Targeting You

      Baby Boomers are where the money is

      The investment plan sounded very good. A New Jersey marketing company said it was preparing to launch a pre-paid debit card with international calling features which would be marketed to Hispanic consumers who were unable to procure a traditional credit card.

      The pitch found a number of willing investors. New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa says more than 50 investors pledged $1.4 million to the venture. But Chiesa says there was a problem. Earlier this month he and the New Jersey Bureau of Securities sued Branded Marketing and three top executives, claiming multiple violations of securities laws.

      The complaint alleges that, among other violations, instead of using the money for legitimate business purposes as they had represented to investors, the defendants misused hundreds of thousands of dollars of Branded Marketing and investor funds for personal use, including the purchase of a 28-foot boat, installation of a home theater, meals and gifts, among other items.

      Song and dance routine

      “These defendants pitched what appeared to be a legitimate investment opportunity but was actually just a song-and-dance routine to get investors to part with their money,” said Eric T. Kanefsky, Acting Director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. “They used deceit and lies to line their pockets with investors’ money.”

      Investment fraud is becoming more common as Baby Boomers age. Boomers are becoming the new seniors -- the longtime favorite target for scammers. Boomers are even more attractive since many have accumulated large nest eggs for retirement.

      Watch out!

      AARP has begun advising its members to be extra cautious when making financial decisions. It says you should run if you hear phrases like “your profit is guaranteed,” “there's no risk,” “you can get in on the ground floor,” “or this offer is only available today.”

      Most investments are some form of security that must be registered with your state securities regulator or with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Find out how to contact your regulator on the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA). A simple rule is, if it's not registered, don't invest.

      Boomers, especially those who have done well in life, can expect even more attention from scammers as they age, as the statistics appear to indicate. In 2010, NASAA says state securities regulators opened 1,241 enforcement actions, including criminal complaints and cease-and-desist orders, involving investors ages 50 or older. The previous year, the number was only 506.

      The investment plan sounded very good. A New Jersey marketing company said it was preparing to launch a pre-paid debit card with international calling feat...

      FDA Approves Tudorza Pressair To Treat COPD

      The med helps muscles around the large airways of the lungs stay relaxed to improve airflow.

      Here’s something that may help you breathe easier. 

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Tudorza Pressair (aclidinium bromide) for the long-term maintenance treatment of bronchospasm (narrowing of the airways in the lung) associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including chronic bronchitis and emphysema. 

      COPD is a serious lung disease that makes breathing difficult. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of COPD, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. It is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. Symptoms can include chest tightness, chronic cough, and excessive phlegm. 

      Tudorza Pressair, a dry powder inhaler used twice daily, is a long-acting antimuscarinic agent that helps muscles around the large airways of the lungs stay relaxed to improve airflow. 

      “COPD is a serious disease that gets worse over time,” said Curtis Rosebraugh, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Office of Drug Evaluation II in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “The availability of long-term maintenance drugs for COPD provides additional treatment options for the millions of people who suffer with this debilitating disease.” 

      The safety and efficacy of Tudorza Pressair were demonstrated in three randomized, placebo-controlled confirmatory clinical trials that included 1,276 patients ages 40 and older with a clinical diagnosis of COPD. Those treated had a smoking history of at least one pack a day for 10 years. 

      Possible side effects 

      Tudorza Pressair may cause serious side effects, including paradoxical bronchospasm, new or worsened increased pressure in the eyes (acute narrow-angle glaucoma), or new or worsened urinary retention. It should not be used as a rescue therapy to treat sudden breathing problems (acute bronchospasm) and is not recommended for people younger than 18 years. 

      The most common side effects reported by patients using Tudorza Pressair include headache, inflammation of the nasal passage (nasopharyngitis), and cough. 

      Tudorza Pressair is distributed by St. Louis-based Forest Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Forest Laboratories.

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Tudorza Pressair (aclidinium bromide) for the long-term maintenance treatment of bronchospasm (narrowing...

      Consumers Going Longer Between Auto Purchases

      The days of trading in every two or three years appear to be long gone

      Once upon a time a consumer might purchase a new car every two or three years, trading in their vehicle on a newer model. It probably never made a lot of financial since and makes even less today.

      Not surprisingly, data supplied from a survey of nearly 4,000 car owners suggest very few people think frequent trade-ins are practical. Seventy-eight percent of those questioned said owning a car for 10 or more years, “or until it dies,” is the appropriate vehicle life span.

      Over 50 percent of the drivers in the survey said even a better economy wouldn't change that.

      In spite of reports from automakers showing near record sales, the data suggest the U.S. automotive fleet is aging. In part that's because today's cars last longer than those of the past.

      When consumers engaged in frequent trade-ins, it was also spurred by “planned obsolescence,” when the average car was ready for replacement a lot sooner. Driving a car 100,000 miles was unusual.

      Now 100,000 miles is considered young for some cars, especially if they have been well cared-for by their owners. It's not unusual for many models to hold up for 200,000 or more miles.

      100K and counting

      For the second year in a row, 60 percent of respondents in the AutoMD survey say their primary vehicle has over 100K miles. Sixty-six percent plan to drive their primary vehicle for over 150K –- or until it dies -- and over half plan to rack up 75K more miles than on their previous vehicle.

      While the economy continues to be the number one reason for holding on to vehicles, improvements in initial quality and maintenance now appear to be a main driver.

      "There is nothing surprising about the economy driving car owners to hold onto their vehicles for longer -- our data has been showing this trend for the past three years,” said Brian Hafer, VP of Marketing at AutoMD.com. “But what is most compelling is that longer ownership has become an embedded habit for car owners, regardless of what the economy does."

      Another factor in longer ownership is cost. A new car can easily cost $30,000. A consumer making payments for five or more years will want to drive it a long as possible without making payments to get the full value.

      Hafer said he believes this is a trend that's here to stay, supported by better vehicles and more repair options.

      Once upon a time a consumer might purchase a new car every two or three years, trading in their vehicle on a newer model. It probably never made a lot of f...

      Hertz Targets Enterprise In Move To Neighborhoods

      Seeks to provide rental services away from airport locations

      Hertz has long claimed to be number one in car rentals but the company may be looking over its shoulder at Enterprise.

      Enterprise secured its position in the marketplace by establishing rental car locations away from airports, where most of its competitors were clustered. Enterprise targeted consumers who weren't necessarily visiting from out of the area but were local residents who just needed to rent a car.

      In a shift in expansion strategy, Hertz now appears to be following a similar model. While retaining its airport locations, the company is expanding into what it calls the “neighborhood” car rental market servicing replacement, leisure and business customers.

      Adding locations

      Since the beginning of 2012, Hertz has opened 275 new locations with more to come. Most of these are in the neighborhood market.

      Hertz said it now has approximately 2,350 neighborhood locations nationwide, the majority of which offer pickup and delivery service as well as insurance replacement rentals.

      Replacement rentals are usually tied in with insurance companies, where policy holders are provided a replacement vehicle while their car is being repaired. Hertz said it is now a recognized supplier to more than 193 of the 209 largest insurance companies.

      Lower fees

      For consumers, having rental car stores in neighborhoods is not only an added convenience but can also save money. Renting a car from an airport location is usually more expensive because the airport adds on a lot of fees that have to be passed along.

      A recent Travelocity student showed the average airport tax on rental cars is just over 28 percent. Off-airport locations reported taxes about half that.

      If you are going to be renting a car for several days, it might pay to compare prices at airport and neighborhood locations. Even if you have to take a cab from the airport to the neighborhood location, you might still come out ahead.

      Hertz has long claimed to be number one in car rentals but the company may be looking over its shoulder at Enterprise.Enterprise secured its position in...