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    The Low-Down on Energy Drinks

    Are they really that bad for you? Should they be replacing your morning coffee?

    I used to like a good cup of coffee in the morning. In early adulthood I would stagger to a bodega, as we call them in New York, on my way to work, with heavy and sleepy eyes as if my lids were made out of genuine leather.

    Black and sweet is how I would take it, and I would consider the stomach battle that followed a sort of trade-off for being awake at my cubicle. I would consider it a type of occupational hazard.

    Then slowly, all these energy drinks began to surface on commercials, billboards, and yes, on the shelf of my neighborhood bodega. I’ll give it a try, I thought. I mean how bad can a small skinny can of Red Bull really be for you?

    I slowly replaced my morning coffee with an energy drink, since it wasn’t that expensive, it was cold and sweet like soda, and there were no stomach pains involved. Well, at least not at first, but over time a few side effects crept in. Occasional jittery feelings, coupled with a bit of stomach rumblings made me rethink my drinking options for the morning time.

    Today, the energy drink business is in full swing and with products like 5-Hour Energy, AMP, and Rockstar Energy, the entire industry is making a pretty decent go at standing side by side with coffee when folks need a morning jolt or a much-needed afternoon pick-me-up.

    How safe?

    But how safe are these things if they’re overused, and just what type of side-effects should one expect to encounter from consumption?

    Melissa from San Diego, Calif. wrote to ConsumerAffairs about some pretty nasty ailments she received after frequently consuming Rockstar Energy Drinks.

    “I am a 25-year old single mother,” she wrote. I started drinking Rockstar Energy drinks to help me study and focus during a class I was taking. I would drink the smaller cans of Red Bull about twice a day, once a while three a day. Then I started drinking the larger cans twice a day. Eventually I started drinking Rockstars because Red Bulls seemed like they have side-effects, and I thought Rockstars had less caffeine.”

    “Over a 1.5 month period of time, I started experiencing these symptoms: Foot drop, foot and leg practically numb, tingly. If I sat too long in class my right foot and lower part of leg would stay practically numb,” she explained. “If I sat too long in class my right foot and lower part of leg would stay partially numb/tingly for about three hours. I had to walk differently due to the right foot not working right, it’s called foot drop.”

    Melissa goes on to explain how her symptoms eventually got worse, and how she had to go to the emergency room, while learning that her symptoms were similar to a patient having multiple sclerosis, said doctors. But they never found out what was wrong with her. 

    “Finally after 4 days in the hospital I left,” she added. “I have not drank one energy drink and my foot numbness is gone, my anxiety is almost gone, and all these symptoms were results of drinking too many and too often of those Rock Stars and Red Bulls.”

    Strange combiination

    Karen Ansel

    To get some expert advice on energy drinks, we reached out to a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Karen Ansel, MS, RD, who also co-authored the book, The Calendar Diet: A Month By Guide to Losing Weight While Living Your Life.

    Ansel says what can be dangerous about drinks like Rock Star and 5-Hour Energy is their strange combination of unnatural ingredients.

    “The concern with many energy drinks on the market is that they combine many ingredients not usually found together in nature," she said to ConsumerAffairs in an interview. “As a result, people who don’t know that they have underlying conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure or seizure disorders may unknowingly be susceptible to dangerous elevations in blood pressure and heart rate or the risk of seizures.”

    “In addition, energy drinks are easy to chug much faster than you would ever drink a cup of coffee so you could end up inhaling much more caffeine than you normally would from more natural sources such as coffee or tea. The labels of some of these suggest limits as to how much is safe per day, but few people actually read the label.

    Plus, “There’s nothing healthy about energy drinks. Even though they promise an energy boost they’re often packed with sugar, calories and excessive caffeine”, she said.

    Natural remedies

    Ansel suggests using natural remedies to give you a morning boost, and says what you choose to eat will have a direct impact on your energy level throughout the day.

    “One thing people can do if they want to stay alert and focused is to be sure to include some lean protein in each meal such as lean beef, skinless chicken or fish. Research reveals that protein packed meals are more likely to keep us alert while carb-heavy meals are prone to make us drowsy.”

    And people are taking huge risks by mixing energy drinks with alcohol, says Ansel.

    “Energy drinks and alcohol are a dangerous combination. When combined with alcohol, energy drinks interfere with the body’s natural sensation of inebriation so a person may not feel drunk even though they may have had way too much to drink,” she explains.

    Ansel also says that people really shouldn’t be replacing their coffee with energy drinks, as we mainly know what the ingredients are in coffee, and know much more about what it does to our bodies.

    “If you want an energy kick, stick with coffee,” she says. “It’s 100 percent natural and for the average healthy person, a couple cups of coffee a day are perfectly safe.”

    I used to like a good cup of coffee in the morning. In early adulthood I would stagger to a bodega, as we call them in New York, on my way to work, wi...
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    Bank of America to Pay $2.4 Billion to Settle Class Action

    Investors sued over Merrill Lynch merger, claiming they had been misled

    Another setback for Bank of America -- it has agreed to pay $2.4 billion to its investors to settle a class-action lawsuit resulting from the 2009 merger with Merrill Lynch & Co.

    The lawsuit charged that Bank of America made misleading statements to investors as it pursued the Merrill Lynch acquisition during the financial meltdown that caused it to suffer huge losses.

    In agreeing to settle the suit, Bank of America denied wrongdoing and said it agreed to the settlement to eliminate the uncertainties and expense of litigation.  

    "As we work to put these long-standing issues behind us, our primary focus is on the future and serving our customers and clients," Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan said in a statement.

    The settlement is awaiting final approval by Judge Kevin Castel in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

    Analysts gasp

    Consumers rate Bank of America

    The suit has been pending for some time and the settlement was not unexpected. But its size surprised financial analysts and is expected to drive down Bank of America's already sagging stock price even further.

    “This settlement is far larger than we expected given the weak merits of such suits and historical precedence,” David Trone, a JMP Securities LLC analyst, wrote in a note to clients, Bloomberg Businessweek reported. “Bank of America is attempting to rebuild its capital base, and these hits will essentially erase the past six months of progress.”

    Consumers grumble

    While the settlement doesn't directly involve consumers, it's nevertheless likely to further hammer BA's already sagging image with its customers.

    ConsumerAffairs analyzed about 1.2 million postings to social media and found that consumer perceptions, which had started to climb back into positive territory, slumped back towards zero in recent days, a trend likely to be hastened by the massive settlement.

    Long stretch of bad road

    Life has not been kind to Bank of America the last few years. Its record of missteps, errors and miscalculations is a lengthy one. Notable disasters include:

    • $25 Billion mortgage settlement Federal and state officials reach a landmark $25 billion  agreement with BA and four other mortgage servicers over foreclosure abuses and fraud, and unacceptable nationwide mortgage servicing practices  
    • $1 Billion fine for mortgage fraud  In February, the bank agreed to pay $1 billion for "fraudulently and recklessly" underwriting loans to unqualified borrowers, thereby defrauding the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).  
    • Great idea - let's charge more fees  Having failed to impose a fee on debit cards, BA thinks may it can change free checking to "free" checking. 
    • Homeowners charge "Pay Plan" was deceptiveA federal class action filed in June 2011 claimed BA told customers its "PayPlan" of automatic weekly or fortnightly mortgage payments would save them money on interest, then "systematically and persistently" took the payments late and charged them even more interest.
    • BA Settles Overdraft Suit  Lawsuit alleged BA charged excessive overdraft fees. The bank agreed to pay $410 million to put the action to rest.

    Another setback for Bank of America -- it has agreed to pay $2.4 billion to its investors to settle a class-action lawsuit resulting from the 2009 merger w...
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    Facebook Dislikes Phony Likes, Tries to Purge Them

    Social media becoming engulfed in paid content?

    We all know that lots of people "like" a lot of things on Facebook. But do they really like them like them? And are there really real people doing all this liking.

    It might all seem kind of silly, like a couple of pre-teen girls giggling about whether a certain dreamboat really likes them likes them or just plain old likes them.

    And in fact, it is all kind of silly. Who cares how many supposed louts like one type of beer compared to another? 

    On the other hand, we can't just admit that this is all pretty silly, especially since so much that Facebook has done lately has turned out be even worse than silly. So Facebook has resolved to do something about phony "likes," meaning those generated by malware, fake accounts and bulk buying services.

    This is sort of like Google trying to root out all the sites that spam its search engine through the use of deceptive Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tactics, as opposed to legitimate SEO tactics.  Sure, it can be a little hard to tell the difference, but it all comes down to protecting the brand, as they say in Marketing 101.

    After all, if nothing on Google or Facebook or Twitter can be trusted, where does that leave Western Civilization? Or social media? 

    It is always, of course, debatable how much any of the drama surrounding IPOs, class action lawsuits, regulatory actions and so forth mean to consumers. We analyzed more than 91 million comments about Facebook on various social media over the last year and found it maintaining a rather mediocre positive rating in the mid-20% range.

    Counting the cards

    Consumers rate Facebook

    Today, the results of Facebook's efforts are being tallied up by those keenly observant analysts who spend all day staring at their computer screens. It's quite possible no one else has noticed but at least no one can say Facebook isn't trying.

    The trade journal eCommerce Times reports that among the big losers is Texas HoldEm Poker, which lost more than 103,000 likes while Eminem lost more than 17,000.

    Back in the bad old days when people read ink squiggles on dead trees, it was headline writers who were lambasted for writing headlines that were "just designed to sell newspapers," as critics in that dim time had it.

    Today, it's the algorithmic wizards who claim they can reverse-engineer the inner workings of the search engines and social media sites. The actual content of the tweets, sites, pages, likes, etc. are beside the point, it's how the whole mess gets assembled that supposedly affects its ranking in the search engines and its prominence on social sites.

    There is a difference, of course. There were actual news stories underneath those headlines and, believe or not, they were written by lowly scribes who could not give less of a damn whether the publisher managed to sell any newspapers that day. Today, there is often no content to speak of, just manipulation.

    Over time, this erodes consumer confidence in social media and search engines. If everything that appears "real" is actually a disguised commercial, eyeballs eventually drift off towards something that appears a bit more legitimate.

    So what does this purge mean for average consumers? It may mean you can put a little more trust in the whole "like" phenomenon -- and it may also mean that when you choose to like or tweet or post about something you think is important, you have a better chance of being noticed and having a little influence, however fleeting.

    And that, now that you mention it, is pretty important.  

    We all know that lots of people "like" a lot of things on Facebook. But do they really like them like them? And are there really real people doing all this...
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      Gasoline Prices Provide Some Relief This Week

      National average price is down about a nickel a gallon in the last seven days

      After an uncharacteristic run-up at the end of the summer driving season, gasoline prices appear to be on their way down once again.

      The national average price of self-serve regular today is $3.787 per gallon, compared with $3.833 last Friday, according to AAA's Fuel Gauge Survey. That's two cents lower than a month ago but more than 32 cents higher than the price a year ago.

      The average price of diesel fuel today is $4.086 per gallon, versus $4.114 a week ago.

      Oil prices continue to fall

      For another week oil prices declined on world markets, removing some price pressure at the pump. However, the latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows U.S. oil supplies dropped unexpectedly during the week, mainly because of a drop in imports. At the same time, supplies of gasoline fell more than expected because of a pick-up in demand.

      In the states prices fell the most in the southeast. The average price fell 11 cents in Georgia, seven cents in South Carolina and nearly eights cents in Tennessee. Elsewhere, Illinois saw a nine cent drop.

      The states with the most expensive gas prices this week are:

      • Hawaii ($4.418)
      • California ($4.131)
      • Connecticut ($4.089)
      • New York ($4.079)
      • Alaska ($4.062)
      • Washington ($4.014)
      • North Dakota ($3.974)
      • Illinois ($3.968)
      • Oregon ($3.966)
      • Rhode Island ($3.936)
      • The states with the lowest gas prices this week are:
      • South Carolina ($3.524)
      • Mississippi ($3.549)
      • Alabama ($3.560)
      • Texas ($3.569)
      • Tennessee ($3.565)
      • Louisiana ($3.603)
      • Arkansas ($3.611)
      • Virginia ($3.628)
      • Georgia ($3.630)
      • Missouri ($3.631)
      After an uncharacteristic run-up at the end of the summer driving season, gasoline prices appear to be on their way down once again.The national average ...
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      Classic Beatles Vinyl Remasters Headed for November Release

      In the digital age, will music fans embrace the past?

      Beatles fans were no doubt thrilled a few years back when Apple -- the record label, not the electronics company -- released the Beatles' remastered studio albums on CD.

      Then a year later the albums were made available for digital download through iTunes. But for many old school Beatles fans, it probably just wasn't the same.

      Not to worry, the record label is rectifying that with the November 12 release of the entire collection on 180-gram, audiophile quality vinyl. Not only will you hear them the same way you did when you brought them home from the record store -- remember those? -- but all 14 albums will come with replicated artwork, including the poster in The Beatles (The White Album), the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band's cutouts, and special inner bags for some of the titles.

      Boxed set available

      The albums will be sold individually as well as in a limited edition boxed set.

      The titles include The Beatles' 12 original UK albums, first released between 1963 and 1970, the US-originated Magical Mystery Tour, now part of the group's core catalog, and Past Masters, Volumes One & Two, featuring non-album A-sides and B-sides, EP tracks and rarities.

      Since it was recorded, The Beatles' music has been heard on a variety of formats -- from cumbersome reel-to-reel tapes and eight-track cartridges to invisible computer files. For many music fans -- including some born long after albums had mostly disappeared -- there is a certain romance to listening to music on vinyl.

      More than a piece of cardboard

      Then there is the cardboard sleeve containing the vinyl disk. For many, it added to the whole music experience. Rather than a merely functional object to protect the disc, it was elevated to a stylish accessory.

      With the advent of the cassette tape in the seventies and the compact disc in the 1980s, album artwork was reduced in size and importance, losing much of its charm.

      Maybe that's why vinyl LPs have not, as predicted, been discarded. Below is a list of the Beatles albums included in the collection. Some albums were released in the U.S. under different names:

      • Please Please Me "Love Me Do" and "P.S. I Love You" are presented in mono (North American LP debut in stereo)
      • With The Beatles (North American LP debut in stereo)
      • A Hard Day's Night (North American LP debut in stereo)
      • Beatles For Sale (North American LP debut in stereo)
      • Help! Features George Martin's 1986 stereo remix
      • Rubber Soul Features George Martin's 1986 stereo remix
      • Revolver
      • Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Packaging includes replica psychedelic inner sleeve, cardboard cutout sheet and additional insert
      • Magical Mystery Tour Packaging includes 24-page color book
      • The Beatles (double album) Packaging includes double-sided photo montage/lyric sheet and 4 solo color photos
      • Yellow Submarine "Only A Northern Song" is presented in mono. Additional insert includes original American liner notes.
      • Abbey Road
      • Let It Be
      • Past Masters (double album) "Love Me Do" (original single version), "She Loves You," "I'll Get You," and "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)" are presented in mono. Packaging, notes and photographic content is based on the 2009 CD release.
      Beatles fans were no doubt thrilled a few years back when Apple -- the record label, not the electronics company -- released the Beatles' remastered studio...
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      Census Report Finds More Americans Moving 'Downtown'

      The lights are much brighter there, you can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares

      Americans are no longer infatuated with the suburbs, it seems. A U.S. Census Bureau report shows that in many of the largest cities of the most-populous metro areas, downtown is becoming a place not only to work but also to live.

      Between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, metro areas with five million or more people experienced double-digit population growth rates within their downtown areas, defined as within a two-mile radius of their largest city's city hall.

      Chicago experienced the largest gain in its downtown area, with a net increase of 48,000 residents over 10 years. New York, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City and Washington also posted large population increases close to city hall.

      Story continues below video

      Exceptions

      But not everyone is moving downtown. New Orleans and Baltimore experienced the greatest population declines in their downtown areas. New Orleans lost 35,000 downtown residents, no doubt an effect of its overall post-Katrina population loss.

      Downtown Baltimore lost more than 10,000 residents. Two smaller areas in Ohio -- Dayton and Toledo -- also saw downtown declines of more than 10,000.

      Just who are the people who are moving downtown? Mostly the people who once populated the suburbs.

      Leaving the suburbs

      The report found that non-Hispanic white population from 2000 to 2010 increased in the central areas of many of the largest principal cities, especially those in the largest metro areas.

      "The Washington metro area is a notable example of this pattern," said Steven Wilson, a co-author of the report. "We see increases in the non-Hispanic white population, in both numeric terms and share of the total population, in many of the District's census tracts in or close to the city's downtown area."

      At the same time, this group's share of the population declined by 10 or more percentage points in many tracts in the surrounding suburbs of Washington, DC.

      The report doesn't delve into why this migration is occurring. It's possible that it's a response, in part, to the escalation in home prices that occurred during the housing bubble. Neglected inner city property was renovated and sold, often at attractive prices.

      Many college-educated professionals who work in downtown areas no doubt decided to live there as well because of the cultural amenities these areas offer. And as traffic congestion worsens, the idea of spending less time commuting holds obvious appeal.

      City development and revitalization efforts may have contributed to the trend, or may be a response to it. Many major cities, such as Denver, have in recent years undertaken developments to make downtown a "magnet" for the work force.

      While many people obviously choose to live downtown for practical reasons, lifestyle probably enters the equation as well. There's a certain romance about the city -- especially one that has been revitalized -- captured in Petula Clark's 1965 hit song "Downtown."

      Americans are no longer infatuated with the suburbs, it seems. A U.S. Census Bureau report shows that in many of the largest cities of the most-populous me...
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      Following the Money in a Typical Household

      It's the end of the month, do you know where your money went?

      Unemployment is up and household income is down. It's still hard to make ends meet for millions of people. So where does the money goes in a typical household in a typical month?

      The Bureau of Labor Statistics has released a report on consumer spending in 2011 that shows just where we're spending our money. Not surprisingly, a lot of it went into our gas tank.

      Spending on transportation recorded the largest percentage increase last year, but it wasn't just for gasoline. That line item includes airline tickets and ground transportation too.

      Food spending rises

      Overall spending on food and cash contributions -- including payments for support of college students, alimony and child support, and giving to charities and religious organizations -- both increased by 5.4 percent.

      Consumers increased healthcare spending by 4.9 percent but clothing expenses by only 2.4 percent and entertainment by just 2.7 percent. Insurance premiums and pension contributions rose by only 0.9 percent.

      When government economists broke down transportation spending, they found spending on gasoline increased 33.7 percent during the period, on top of a 24.5-percent increase from 2010 to 2011.

      More spending on healthcare

      Healthcare spending rose from $3,126 in 2009 to $3,313 in 2011. The overall increase in healthcare spending was driven by a 7.7 percent increase in health insurance spending during the period. The level of spending for healthcare has increased every year starting in 1996, while the level of spending for health insurance has increased every year starting in 1997.

      Spending on telephone services -- primarily mobile phone services -- was up four percent last year, suggesting that cell phones are taking an ever-larger bite out of household budgets.

      Overall, the agency found annual spending was up 3.3 percent per consumer unit last year, following a decrease of two percent in 2010.

      Unemployment is up and household income is down. It's still hard to make ends meet for millions of people. So where does the money goes in a typical househ...
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      Harry & David Brand Peanut Products Recalled

      Action tied to recall of products produced by Sunland

      Harry and David is recalling its 12 oz. jars of Harry & David Crunchy Almond and Peanut Butter, Harry & David Creamy Banana Peanut Spread and Harry & David Creamy Raspberry Peanut Spread with “Best By” dates of 01MAY13 through 24SEPT13. 

      In addition, it is recalling the following multi-component food items which included the above-named peanut butter products as components: Harry & David Apple Snack Box, Wolferman’s Bee Sweet Gift Basket, Wolferman’s Hearty Snack Gift Basket, Wolferman’s All-Day Assortment Gift Basket and Wolferman’s Father’s Day Basket. 

      The “Best By” date is located on the upper part of the peanut butter product jar near the lid. The recalled peanut butter products were produced by Sunland, Inc. 

      The recall was initiated by Harry and David upon learning that Sunland had recalled products, including the above-named Harry & David brand peanut butter products, manufactured between May 1, 2012 and September 24, 2012, due to possible Salmonella contamination. 

      Products subject to this recall were sold nationwide through Harry & David and Wolferman’s catalogs and Websites, as well as through Harry & David stores, between May 1, 2012 and September 25, 2012. 

      Individual jars of the recalled peanut butter products sold through Harry & David stores have UPC numbers of 8099473871, 8099473872, or 8099473873 printed on the Bar Code. The recalled multi-component food items have lot code numbers of 1212M through 2372M, 1212H through 2372H, or 1212C through 2372C. 

      To date, there have been no illnesses or injuries reported in connection with the Harry & David brand recalled products, and no other Harry & David products are being recalled at this time. 

      Consumers with recalled product are urged not to eat the product, and to dispose of it or return it to any Harry & David retail store for a full refund. 

      Consumers with questions about the recalled products may phone the Harry & David Customer Service division at 800-233-1101, 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. PDT.  

      Harry and David is recalling its 12 oz. jars of Harry & David Crunchy Almond and Peanut Butter, Harry & David Creamy Banana Peanut Spread and Harry & David...
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      Kodak Getting Out of the Inkjet Printer Business

      Will focus on ink sales as it tries to emerge from bankruptcy

      As part of its process to get out of bankruptcy, Eastman Kodak says it will stop selling inkjet printers in 2013 and instead focus on selling ink for the printers it has already sold.

      Just a few years ago the company stopped making film to focus on the printer business, which it is now exiting.

      In a motion to the bankruptcy court, Kodak said it is making substantial progress toward reorganization goals since filing for Chapter 11 early in 2012.

      Aimed at emerging from Chapter 11

      “Kodak is making good progress toward emergence from Chapter 11, taking significant actions to reorganize our core ongoing businesses, reduce costs, sell assets and streamline our organizational structure,” said Antonio M. Perez, Kodak chairman and CEO. “Steps such as the sale of Personalized Imaging and Document Imaging, and the Consumer Inkjet decision, will substantially advance the transformation of our business to focus on commercial, packaging and functional printing solutions and enterprise services. As we complete the other key objectives of our restructuring in the weeks ahead, we will be well positioned to emerge successfully in 2013.”

      Kodak said it remains committed to its installed base of consumer inkjet printer customers who will still be able to purchase Kodak ink to operate the devices. Diane, of Prescott, AZ, isn't concerned about ink so much as she is the service on her ESP 520, which she says she purchased in November 2010.

      "On August 9, 2011, it stopped printing," Diane wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. "I was told I needed a new print head and was sent a whole new printer. On August 24, 2012, the print head went out again. This time, I had to buy my own. On September 21 the print head quit again. I'm not investing any more money in this piece of junk. No more Kodaks for this kid."

      Savings expected

      The company said that in the near term, it expects it will begin realizing savings from its new, more strategically focused business, workforce reductions and other cost-reduction initiatives. Kodak said it continues to look for ways to streamline operations and generate profits.

      “The actions we are taking are significant steps toward our successful emergence,” said Perez. “We are committed to take the remaining steps required for our emergence in 2013 as a profitable, sustainable company.”

      Founded as Eastman Kodak Company in 1892, the company has struggled to find its footing in the digital age. The company last reported a profit in 2007 as it moved into producing digital cameras and office equipment.

      As part of its process to get out of bankruptcy, Eastman Kodak says it will stop selling printers in 2013 and instead focus on selling ink for the printers...
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      Consumer Agency Warns of Children Drowning in Bathtubs, Bath Seats and Buckets

      More than 400 deaths estimated over a five-year period

      Nothing -- NOTHING -- is more devastating that the death of a child. And in today's world, there seem to be so many hazards. Take drowning, for instance. 

      Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death among children ages 1 to 4 years-old and it takes only a few inches of water for a young child to drown. With that in mind, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is urging parents and caregivers to look for and protect against drowning risks inside and around their homes. 

      A new CPSC report on in home drownings and non-fatal submersions in products such as bathtubs, buckets, bath seats, toilets, and landscaping features indicates that from 2006 to 2010, there were 684 incidents involving children younger than five-years-old. This figure includes 434 fatalities (an average of 87 per year), 233 injuries, and 17 incidents with no known injuries. 

      Little ones at risk 

      Eighty-two percent of the victims were younger than the age of two and 81 percent of the incidents involved bathtubs or bath related products. After pools, bathtubs are the second leading location where young children drown. CPSC's analysis of the fatalities found that 92 percent of the incidents occurred in residential settings. 

      "Too many young children are drowning," said Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. "Just as with pools, I urge parents and caregivers to childproof their home and constantly supervise young children around bathtubs, bath seats and buckets. Taking extra safety steps at home can help prevent a tragic drowning." 

      Of the reported fatalities, 28 percent involved a lapse in supervision, such as a parent or caregiver leaving the bathroom while the child was in the bathtub to answer the phone or door, or to retrieve a towel; in 23 percent, the child was left with another child, usually older; in 10 percent, the child was found in a product outside the home, such as decorative yard equipment or a bucket; and another 3 percent were found inside the home in a bucket/container or trash basket that was being used for cleaning. 

      Safety tips 

      CPSC's drowning prevention safety tips include: 

      • Never leave young children alone near any water or tub or basin with fluid. Young children can drown in even small amounts of liquid.
      • Always keep a young child within arm's reach in a bathtub. If you must leave, take the child with you.
      • Don't leave a baby or young child in a bathtub under the care of another child.
      • Never leave a bucket containing even a small amount of liquid unattended. Toddlers are top heavy and they can fall headfirst into buckets and drown. After using a bucket, always empty and store it where young children cannot reach it. Don't leave buckets outside where they can collect rainwater.
      • Consider placing locks on toilet seat covers in case a young child wanders into the bathroom.
      • Learn CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). It can be a lifesaver when seconds count.
      Nothing -- NOTHING -- is more devastating that the death of a child. And in today's world, there seem to be so many hazards. Take drowning, for instance...
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      Fresh Express Recalls Hearts Of Romaine Salad

      The salad contains a possible health risk from Listeria monocytogenes

      Fresh Express is recalling a limited quantity of expired 18 oz. Hearts of Romaine salad with the expired Use-by Date of September 26, 2012 and Product Code H256808.

      FRESH EXPRESS PRECAUTIONARY SALAD RECALL - 9/27/12

      (No other Fresh Express Salads are included in this recall)

       BRANDPRODUCT NAMESIZEUPCProduction
      Code
      Best If Used
      By Date
      POSSIBLE DISTRIBUTION STATES
      Fresh ExpressHearts of Romaine18 oz.071279-262017H256A08SEP 26CT, DE, ME, MD, MA, NH, NJ, NY, NC, OH, PA, RI, VT, VA, WV, 
      WASHINGTON D.C.

      The recall notification for the now-expired salad is being issued due to an isolated incident in which a sample of a single package of 18 oz. Hearts of Romaine salad yielded a positive result for Listeria monocytogenes. 

      No consumer complaints have been received by Fresh Express Consumer Response Center in association with this recall. No other Fresh Express products are being recalled. 

      The product was distributed primarily in Northeast and Midwest. 

      Fresh Express customer service representatives are contacting retailers to confirm the product was removed from their inventories and store shelves in accordance with standard procedures for products that have reached their expiration date. Customers with questions may contact their Fresh Express customer service representative 

      Should consumers have this expired product in their refrigerators, it should discarded and not consumed. Consumers with questions may call the Fresh Express Consumer Response Center at (800) 242-5472 during the hours of 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.

      Fresh Express is recalling a limited quantity of expired 18 oz. Hearts of Romaine salad with the expired Use-by Date of September 26, 2012 and Product Code...
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      Captain Cutlass Pirate Toy Guns Recalled

      The toy is in violation of the lead paint standard

      Dillon Importing of Oklahoma City is recalling about 6,970 Captain Cutlass toy pirate pistols. The surface paints on the pistols contain excessive levels of lead, a violation of the federal lead paint standard. No incidents or injuries have been reported. 

      This recall involves Captain Cutlass Pirate Pistol toys with a brown plastic grip, a black metallic stock and barrel, and a muzzle with an orange cap. The double-barreled toy pistol has one trigger and two hammers. A skull and crossbones motif is engraved on the grip. 

      The toy pistol, manufactured in China, was sold in Halloween and specialty stores nationwide from April 2008 through May 2012 for about $6.50. 

      Remedy: Consumers should immediately take the recalled pistol toys away from children and contact Dillon Importing for instructions on returning the product for a full refund. 

      For additional information, call (800) 654-3696 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. CT Monday through Friday.

      Dillon Importing of Oklahoma City is recalling about 6,970 Captain Cutlass toy pirate pistols. The surface paints on the pistols contain excessive levels o...
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      Deloitte Forecasts Modest Increase in Holiday Sales

      Double-digit non-store sales growth expected; Smartphones to influence $36 billion in retail store sales

      Wow! It's not even Halloween yet and we're already talking about Christmas shopping. Since that seems to be the way of the world now, a major business consulting firm is out with its shopping prognostication. 

      Deloitte's retail & distribution practice expects total holiday sales to climb to between $920 and $925 billion, representing a 3.5 to 4 percent increase in November through January holiday sales (excluding motor vehicles and gasoline) over last season. Last year's growth rate was 5.9 percent. 

      Additionally, Deloitte forecasts a 15 to 17 percent increase in non-store sales. Nearly three-quarters of non-store sales result from the online channel with additional sales coming from catalogs and interactive TV. 

      "Economic headwinds nagging consumers this fall include stubbornly high gasoline prices that continue to creep up and soft housing and job markets," said Carl Steidtmann, chief economist at Deloitte. "While consumers turned out in the summer to give retailers solid gains for a few months, that pace may be difficult to sustain through the end of the year. Consumers and businesses alike may pause in advance of the election; however, retailers may benefit from a post-election consumer spending boost." 

      Bargain hunters 

      Alison Paul, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP and retail & distribution sector leader, noted that consumers might consolidate or reduce trips to the store in response to higher gas prices. Conversely, she added, consumers are expected to keep a sharp eye on promotions and pricing, making retailers' digital connections with consumers before and during each shopping trip even more critical this year. 

      "Non-store sales continue to outpace overall growth, but increasingly influence consumers' experience with the retail store, from trip planning, to in-store product research, and post-purchase reviews and sharing," said Paul. "This holiday season, retailers' most lucrative customers may be the ones they engage across physical and virtual storefronts." 

      Paul anticipates retailers will come to the starting gate with true omni-channel pricing strategies, as opposed to disparate or reactionary strategies of the past. "Consumers should see more price transparency across mobile, online and store channels, and retailers will use these same channels to gain insights into their core customers' behavior,” she said. “Retailers that interpret and respond to real-time information about shoppers can hit the right notes on pricing and promotions that drive traffic without eroding margins." 

      Smartphone shoppers 

      Deloitte also anticipates that mobile-influenced retail store sales will account for 5.1 percent, or $36 billion, in retail store sales this year during the holiday season, driven by consumers' store-related smartphone activity such as product research, price comparison or mobile application use. 

      "Retailers that welcome the smartphone shopper in their stores with mobile applications and WI-fi access -- rather than fear the showrooming effect -- can be better positioned to accelerate their in-store sales this holiday season," said Paul. Recent research from Deloitte indicates that shoppers armed with smartphones are 14 percent more likely to make a purchase in the store than those who do not use a smartphone as part of their in-store journey. "The mobile channel is a powerful customer engagement tool, enabling retailers to capture a shopper's attention at the point-of-purchase, while gleaning valuable information about shopper behavior regardless of the shopper's location."

      Wow! It's not even Halloween yet and we're already talking about Christmas shopping. Since that seems to be the way of the world now, a major business cons...
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      Want to Shop Locally? Amazon Is Happy to Help

      Online giant's new Vine.com offers "local" products from its massive warehouses

      Look out, local retailers. Amazon is at it again. Until now, Amazon has mostly been selling big national brands -- basically offering the same thing no matter where you live. This makes it a headache for Best Buy and Walmart but doesn't do too much to upset local specialty shops.

      But that's all changed. Amazon now owns Vine.com -- which is sort of the online version of that cute little boutique in the quaint old building downtown that sells chintzy little crafts and maybe some fancy soaps and candles.

      Vine is part of Quidsi, which Amason bought in 2010. It also operates baby and toy sites but it's Vine.com that's likely to cause some pretty serious heartburn on Main Street. That's because it not only features organic products and "trusted green solutions" but also "local" products.

      "When you shop Local on our site, you're buying products made within 100 miles of your selected city," the site burbles. "That means you're the ultimate good neighbor -- helping local businesses thrive and supporting the economic wellbeing of your community."

      And what are these quaint little cities where you can buy locally made goods? Well, for now, it's an even dozen: New York City; San Francisco; Portland, Oregon; Philadelphia; Denver; Los Angeles; Chicago; Boston; Milwaukee; Raleigh, North Carolina; Minneapolis, and Seattle.

      We were a little insulted to see that our hometown of Washington, D.C., wasn't listed. But maybe because there's already so much of what we make here that nobody would want to buy any more of it. But that's another story.

      Perhaps what's likely to be most upsetting to local merchants is that shoppers won't realize that while they're trying to be a "good neighbor," they're really pouring more money into Amazon's coffers, instead of the ones on Main Street. That's because there's no mention of Amazon on the Vine.com site. 

      Do consumers care? Maybe not, especially when they're getting Amazon's super-efficient one- and two-day delivery while preserving the illusion that they're shopping locally.

      You'll recall that Amazon has recently begun making nice with local governments -- agreeing to pay sales tax in many cities. This enables it to open warehouses closer to big cities, making one-day and even same-day delivery more feasible, and making it that much harder for local retailers to defend their turf.

      Look out, local retailers. Amazon is at it again. Until now, Amazon has mostly been selling big national brands -- basically offering the same thing no mat...
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      Dish Network Offers New Satellite Internet Service

      New technology makes dishNET faster than previous versions, the company claims

      It's mighty nice being out there all by your lonesome, if that's the kind of thing that appeals to you. Whether it's on a mountaintop, out on the lone prairie or on the rocky coast of Maine, the solitary life appeals to many.

      There's one big drawback, though: no broadband Internet service. Cities and suburbs may be noisy, dirty and crowded but at least you can jump on Netflix and catch up with "Breaking Bad," right?

      Well, that may finally be about to change. After decades of disappointment with satellite Internet services, rural dwellers will soon get another chance. Dish Network is launching a nationwide broadband service next Monday under the brand name dishNet -- and it swears this one will work the way consumers want it to.

      dishNET still won't match the 305 Mbps you can get from FiOS but thanks to new satellite technology, Dish says it will deliver 4G-level service of about 10 Mbps; that's markedly better than the dismal 1.5 Mbps which has been about the best any of the current services have been able to achieve. 

      Data limits

      Ah, but here's the catch: there will be data limits. This is wireless service, after all, so dishNET will be offering tiered service, which is a fancy way of saying the more you use, the more you pay.

      The cheapest service -- starting at $39.99 per month -- offers five gigabytes a month of "anytime" service and five "offpeak" gigabytes that must be used between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m. Five gigabytes is roughly enough to stream three high-def movies, so you'll still have plenty of time to get out there and milk the cows, run the nets or whatever it is that lured you to the sticks in the first place.

      DISH's CEO Joseph Clayton is unveiling dishNET today at the flagship Cowboy Maloney's Electric City retail store in Jackson, Miss., the historic retail launch site of digital satellite TV and satellite radio services.

      "Today, we are launching a revolutionary consumer broadband service that delivers high-speed Internet available in metropolitan areas to rural markets nationwide," Clayton said. "With nearly one-in-four rural residents lacking a high-speed connection, reaching these underserved markets is vital. Our mission is to provide broadband at an outstanding value with fast speeds and large data plans."

      The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimates there are 19 million Americans without access to high-speed Internet. It has been wringing its hands and conducting studies for decades with about as much success as you'd expect. Namely none.

      Pricing plans

      In rural and outlying suburban regions nationwide, dishNET satellite broadband starts at $39.99 per month (plus equipment fees) for 5 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload speeds and data plans of 10 GB, when bundled with DISH's America's Top 120 or higher programming packages and with a two-year agreement.

      Combining dishNET with DISH TV saves $10 per month. Most satellite customers can upgrade to a 10 Mbps /1 Mbps plan available with 20 GB of data for $49.99 per month.

      Consumers rate Wild Blue Satellite Broadband

      Say what you will, dishNET has to be better than WildBlue, which Dish has been selling for the last few years.

      "First of all, I hate Wild Blue!" said Annie of Escondido, Calif., in a recent ConsumerAffairs posting. "Unfortunately, I must use satellite because I live and work in a rural area. San Diego county! Yes, one of the most progressive cities in the world. I live on the outskirts and have to use the awful satellite service. On my 4th year now and have always had problems with all of it."

      Joy of Fort Lupton, Colo., agrees: "I had Wild Blue for almost five years and the service was horrible the entire time."

      About the only consolation for WildBlue has been that customers of competing Hughes Network are even madder, or maybe there are just more of them.

      "Do not get Hughes Internet, the worst internet service I have ever seen," said Jim of Washington State. "They have no connection, horrible installation crew. They literally ran out of the house so they wouldn't have to help me get my computer running. Bad, bad, bad. ... You could walk to Europe and deliver a letter faster than you could email your neighbor."

      It's mighty nice being out there all by your lonesome, if that's the kind of thing that appeals to you. Whether it's on a mountaintop, out on the lone prai...
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      Survey: Car Insurance Rates Should Be Based on Driving Record

      Study finds using non-driving factors can increase premiums by 100 percent or more

      Consumers are often shocked to learn that their car insurance rates are based on more than just their driving record, and now a survey by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) confirms that consumers find it unfair that insurers use factors such as level of education, occupation, and lack of previous insurance in setting prices. 

      CFA found in a separate analysis that most major insurers use these types of non-driving factors, which greatly increases premiums for low- and moderate-income drivers, often by more than 100 percent.

      “Insurers are permitted to use factors such as education and occupation in setting prices even though these factors have nothing to do with driving and discriminate against lower-income drivers,” said Stephen Brobeck, Executive Director of CFA.  “Premiums should largely reflect factors such as accidents, speeding tickets, and miles driven, over which drivers have some control and which directly affect insurer costs.”

      Consumers rate State Farm Auto Insurance

      The analysis of auto insurance premiums, which used the websites of the five largest auto insurers, priced minimum liability coverage for a 35-year old woman with a good driving record in five cities, while altering characteristics such as marital status, educational levels, occupation, homeownership, and other attributes.

      The companies included in the study were State Farm, Allstate, GEICO, Progressive, and Farmer’s, which together have more than half the private passenger auto insurance market.  The cities studied were Baltimore, Miami, Louisville, Houston, and Los Angeles.

      The survey was undertaken for CFA by ORC International, which interviewed 1010 adult Americans in June of this year (margin of error, plus or minus three percentage points).    

      High premiums for unmarried clerical worker

      Consumers rate GEICO
      Like CFA’s survey of premiums for a moderate-income man and woman with good driving records, released last June, the new analysis reveals that most premiums quoted for the woman remain high when she is single, a renter in a moderate-income area, a high school graduate, a bank teller or clerical worker, and lacking continuous insurance coverage. 

      Twenty-five examples – involving five companies in five cities – were examined.  In three examples – involving Farmer’s, Allstate, and State Farm in Miami – the companies would not provide a quote.  In the remaining 22 examples, 15 of the quotes exceeded $1000, and eight exceeded $2000.  However, four of the five companies quoted premiums ranging between $616 and $810 in Los Angeles.

      “The lowest rate quotes are in California because it regulates insurance premiums more effectively than any other state,” noted J. Robert Hunter, CFA’s Director of Insurance and former Texas Insurance Commissioner.  “California prohibits or limits insurers from using non-driving factors to set premium levels,” he added.

      Lower premiums for married professional

      Consumers rate Allstate Auto Insurance
      CFA’s analysis considered the impact of seven non-driving factors on premium quotes.  The five insurer websites each asked for information on four to seven of these factors.

      In most of the 22 examples in which prices were quoted, changing these factors significantly lowered insurance premiums.  In twelve examples, these premiums declined by about half or even more.  In four of these examples, the premiums fell by at least 68 percent.  (CFA assumed a good credit score for this consumer in all cases.  If it had lowered the credit score, the rate differences would have been more extreme.) 

      For GEICO, changing marital status, level of education, occupation, continuity of coverage, and the ZIP code reduced premiums by 86 percent in Miami and 68 percent in Louisville.

      State Farm relied the least on non-driving factors in setting premium levels.  In fact, in two of their four priced examples, the premiums increased when the non-driving factors were varied.

      Consumers object

      Consumers rate Progressive Insurance
      In the CFA survey, ORC International asked respondents whether they thought it was fair for insurers to use each of eleven factors in pricing insurance.  All six factors rejected by consumers – gender, credit score, level of education, no previous insurance because the consumer did not own a car, occupation, and ZIP code of residence – do not relate to the consumer’s driving history and result  in  a wide variation in rates.   

      In particular, residence in a moderate-income neighborhood or the lack of a college degree resulted in sizable premium increases, which may discriminate against moderate-income drivers.  On the other hand, four of the five factors approved by consumers – traffic accidents, moving violations, number of years with a license, and miles driven – involve driving experience or frequency.  And the remaining factor, age, is related to years of experience.

      “Consumers strongly favor the use of factors related to driving, over which they have some control, in the pricing of auto insurance,” said CFA’s Hunter.  “And they reject factors unrelated to driving over which they have little or no control,” he added. 

      For example, only 31 percent favor the use of level of education, and 33 percent favor occupation, in setting prices.  On the other hand, 87 percent favor the use of traffic accidents caused, and 85 percent favor moving violations, in determining premium levels.

      Action urged

      A broad coalition of consumer, civil rights, and labor groups has written to insurance commissioners urging them to evaluate auto insurance premiums charged to low- and moderate-income drivers. 

      Consumers rate Farmers Auto Insurance
      In a lengthy report released last January, CFA found that most lower-income families need a car to take advantage of economic and other opportunities, yet because all but one state require the purchase of liability coverage, high insurance premiums act as a significant barrier to pursuing these opportunities.

      “Low- and moderate-income families who are disadvantaged by insurer pricing policies need affordable liability coverage so they can drive legally,” said CFA’s Brobeck.  “The fact that these families often can’t obtain this coverage helps explain why so many risk fines, or even imprisonment, by driving without insurance,” he added.

      CFA’s January report suggested several steps insurance commissioners could take to make rates fairer, lower, and more affordable:

      • Prohibit or severely restrict auto insurers from using factors unrelated to driving, such as education and occupation, in the pricing of policies.
      • Create programs in which lower-income drivers with good driving records can purchase required liability coverage for affordable rates.  California has such a program, with rates that are usually lower than $300 a year that cover the program’s costs with no subsidy from other drivers.
      • Urge state legislatures to lower minimum liability coverage and make certain that insurers are charging fair rates for this coverage.
      Consumers are often shocked to learn that their car insurance rates are based on more than just their driving record, and now a survey by the Con...
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      Missing iPad Tracked to TSA Agent's Home

      ABC News investigation finds 381 TSA officers fired for theft

      The Case of the Missing iPad is turning into a major embarassment for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). It's the latest apparent case in hundreds of thefts by TSA officers of passenger belongings.

      It involves an iPad left behind at a security checkpoint in the Orlando airport that was tracked as it moved 30 miles to the home of the TSA officer last seen handling it. Confronted two weeks later by ABC News, the TSA officer, Andy Ramirez, at first denied having the missing iPad, but ultimately turned it over after blaming his wife for taking it from the airport.

      The iPad was one of ten purposely left behind at TSA checkpoints at major airports with a history of theft by government screeners, as part of an ABC News investigation into the TSA's ongoing problem with theft from passengers.

      The full video report is being broadcast today on "Good Morning America," "ABC World News with Diane Sawyer" and "Nightline."

      The TSA is already among the most unpopular agencies even, with a recent survey finding that 90 percent of frequent flyers think the agency is doing either a poor or a fair job of performing security screenings.  

      An outrage

      "This is the tip of the iceberg," said Rep. John Mica, (R.-Fla.), chair of the House Transportation Committee and a frequent critic of TSA senior management. "It is an outrage to the public, and actually to our aviation system."

      The TSA said Ramirez was no longer with the agency as of Wednesday afternoon. In a statement to ABC News, the agency said it has "a zero-tolerance policy for theft and terminates any employee who is determined to have stolen from a passenger."

      According to the TSA, 381 TSA officers have been fired for theft between 2003 and 2012.

      The agency disputes that theft is a widespread problem, however, saying the number of officers fired "represents less than one-half of one percent of officers that have been employed" by TSA.

      In the ABC News investigation, TSA officers at nine of the ten airport checkpoints followed agency guidelines and immediately contacted the owner, whose name and phone number were displayed prominently on the iPad case.

      Luggage checked at the same airports with iPads and cash went through security undisturbed.

      Tracking device

      But in Orlando, the iPad was not immediately returned and two hours later its tracking application showed the device as it moved away from the airport to the home of the TSA officer.

      After waiting 15 days, ABC News went to the home and asked Ramirez to return the iPad. He denied knowing anything about the missing iPad and said any items left behind at security checkpoints are taken to lost and found.

      The Orlando airport lost and found said there was no record of an iPad being turned in on the day in question. 

      Ramirez produced the iPad only after ABC News activated an audio alarm feature, and turned it over after taking off his TSA uniform shirt. His explanation for the missing iPad in his home was that his wife had taken it from the airport.

      "I'm so embarrassed," he told ABC News. "My wife says she got the iPad and brought it home," he said.

      Moments later, his wife appeared at the door to say she had found it and "no told my husband."

      Asked how that was possible given that ABC News tape showed him handling the iPad at the security checkpoint, Ramirez shut the door and has not responded to questions since.

      No TSA official, including director John Pistole, would agree to be interviewed by ABC News about the issue of theft and what steps TSA has taken to address the long-standing problem.

      In its statement, the TSA said it "holds its employees to the highest ethical standards."

      Congressman Mica says TSA management has failed to properly do background checks on the employees it hires as officers, and had earlier this year asked the Government Accountability Office to do a full investigation of TSA's theft problems. 

      "[If] you're not vetting them before you put them on the job, and allow them to rummage through people's personal effects, there is something wrong," said Mica. 

       The Case of the Missing iPad is turning into a major embarassment for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). It's the latest apparent ca...
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      Refund Checks Going to Consumers Who Ordered 'Free' Services

      Nearly $1 million being refunded to 138,000 consumers

      The Federal Trade Commission is mailing refund checks to 138,737 consumers nationwide who allegedly were taken in by a group of telemarketers who falsely promised them “free” goods and services. In all, the FTC is returning more than $978,000 to consumers who lost money as part of the scheme.

      The refunds stem from settlements with the operators of telemarketing schemes that did business as Sure Touch Long Distance and DigiTouch Long Distance. 

      According to the complaint filed by the FTC, Sure Touch billed consumers for goods and services they never agreed to buy after bombarding them with confusing sales pitches over the telephone. Sure Touch contacted consumers with promises of “free” goods and services, including gift cards, gas cards, and resort vacations.  Sure Touch telemarketers often read their pitch so fast that consumers did not understand or realize they were being asked to pay for additional goods or services that were being offered. 

      Consumers who did understand the pitch were told that they would not be billed, since they did not provide their billing information. However, unbeknownst to consumers, Sure Touch already had their billing information and charged their credit cards or debited their bank accounts for the additional goods or services, and without providing the “free” goods or the services they promised. 

      The FTC filed suit against Sure Touch as part of the 2008 law enforcement sweep “Operation TELE-PHONEY,” which included more than 180 telemarketing cases brought by civil and criminal attorneys throughout the United States and Canada.

      Consumers victimized by Sure Touch will receive checks from Epiq Systems Inc., a refund administrator working for the FTC.  Consumers should cash the checks within two months of the date they are issued. 

      The redress checks are valid for 60 days from the date they are issued, after which they become void.  The FTC never requires the payment of money up front, or the provision of additional information, before consumers cash redress checks issued to them.  Consumers with questions should call the redress hotline at 1-877-841-8156.

      The Federal Trade Commission is mailing refund checks to 138,737 consumers nationwide who allegedly were taken in by a group of telemarketers who fals...
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      Homeowners Manage to Hold Their Own on Mortgage Payments

      Serious delinquency is sharply lower

      It's not sufficient for home sales to increase and prices to rise to constitute a full housing recovery. Current and future homeowners must be able to make their monthly payments. Lately the news on that front looks mixed but mostly encouraging.

      A new report from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) shows the overall quality of first-lien mortgages serviced by large national and federal savings banks improved from the same period a year ago but went down from the prior quarter.

      The percentage of mortgages that were current and performing at the end of the quarter was 88.7 percent. It was a little higher in the previous quarter, but only by a fraction of a point.

      The percentage of mortgages that were 30 to 59 days past due was 2.8 percent, up 12.1 percent from the prior quarter but down 7.5 percent from a year ago. Seriously delinquent mortgages -- 60 or more days past due or held by bankrupt borrowers whose payments are 30 or more days past due -- fell to their lowest level in three years. The percentage of mortgages that were seriously delinquent was 4.4 percent, down 0.8 percent from the prior quarter and 9.2 percent from a year earlier.

      Why it's important

      The numbers are important for a housing recovery for two reasons. People buying homes need to be able to afford them. Otherwise there are more foreclosures and the market sinks lower. For the most part, homeowners seem to be handling their payments, though the spike in past dues from the previous quarter bears watching. But serious past-dues appear to be receding.

      Secondly, mortgage lenders need reassurance to make it easier for qualified buyers to get loans. Right now Realtors complain that isn't happening. It probably won't until the delinquency rate goes down and prices begin rising on a predictable basis. If serious delinquencies continue to fall at their present rate, this could help.

      Meanwhile, the OCC has found that loan servicers are now going out of their way not to foreclose when a homeowner is struggling. Servicers implemented 416,036 new home retention actions during the quarter, while starting 302,636 new foreclosures. The number of home retention actions implemented by servicers increased 17.9 percent from the prior quarter but decreased 8.8 percent from a year earlier.

      The report found that, on average, the modifications implemented in the second quarter of 2012 reduced borrowers’ monthly principal and interest payments by 24.6 percent, or $381. Modifications made under the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) reduced payments by 35.3 percent on average, or $576.

      It's not sufficient for home sales to increase and prices to rise to constitute a full housing recovery. Current and future homeowners must be able to make...
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