Current Events in October 2012

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    How to Read a New Car's Window Sticker

    10 pieces of information you should look for

    If you've ever shopped for a new car, your first step was probably to glance at the car's window sticker. After seeing the price, maybe a few options and the EPA mileage rating, you might have moved on to a closer inspection of the vehicle itself.

    But that sticker has a lot of useful information about the car and it pays to read it closely. It can mean the difference it making a smart or bad buying decision.

    "By taking the time to carefully review and understand the window sticker's information, car buyers can have an easier time comparing the vehicles on their shopping lists," said Consumer Advice Editor Ron Montoya. "The layout of a window sticker can change depending on the automaker, but the information on what the industry calls the 'Monroney label' is required by law to be the same across all manufacturers."

    That's important because it means you are comparing “apples to apples” in your car search. Including the price, there are 10 items on a window sticker that you should absorb:

    1. Model Information — Check this part of the sticker to ensure that the car in front of you has the engine, trim and color configuration you're looking for.
    2. Standard Equipment — This section lists all items and features that are included as a part of the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP).
    3. Warranty Information — This lists the length of the car's bumper-to-bumper and powertrain warranties and free maintenance programs, and notes any roadside assistance package that the manufacturer offers.
    4. Optional Equipment — Here you'll find information on the car's factory-installed options. Some carmakers bundle them into packages. Others offer them à la carte.
    5. Pricing Information — This is where you'll find the base price of the vehicle and a breakdown of the costs of options and some of the fees associated with the purchase. Other items that appear here are the destination charge and any gas-guzzler tax.
    6. Parts Content Information — This section lists where the vehicle was assembled and often the percentage of U.S. and Canadian parts it contains.
    7. Total Price — You don't have to pay this price (also known as the MSRP), but it does give you a point of reference in your negotiations. Use's True Market Value (TMV) calculator to help you determine a fair price.
    8. Fuel Economy Label — The EPA label is all-new for the 2013 model year and provides more information than it previously had. Use this label to compare the MPG numbers between vehicles.
    9. QR Code — Scan this pixelated square with a smartphone camera to link to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mobile Website. You can then customize your driving stats to get personalized fuel economy data for the vehicle.
    10. Safety Ratings — This section posts the results of NHTSA's or, occasionally, IIHS's safety ratings for that vehicle. Because NHTSA doesn't test every car on the market, the safety-rating section will sometimes be blank.

    If you've ever shopped for a new car, your first step was probably to glance at the car's window sticker. After seeing the price, maybe a few options and t...

    Want to Help Sandy Victims? Here's How

    FEMA offers advice for those who want to help

    As recovery and clean up begins along much of the East Coast, people across the country are asking what they can do to offer to aid their fellow Americans.

    FEMA offers this list of suggestions:

    • Cash is the most efficient method of donating. Cash offers voluntary agencies the most flexibility in obtaining the most-needed resources and pumps money into the local economy to help businesses recover. Remember, unsolicited donated goods such as used clothing, miscellaneous household items, and mixed or perishable foodstuffs require helping agencies to redirect valuable resources away from providing services to sort, package, transport, warehouse, and distribute items that may not meet the needs of disaster survivors.
    • Donate through a trusted organization. At the national level, many voluntary-, faith- and community-based organizations are active in disasters, and are trusted ways to donate to disaster survivors. In addition to the national members, each state has its own list of voluntary organizations active in disasters. If you’d like to donate or volunteer to assist those affected by Sandy, these organizations are the best place to start.
    • Give blood. Numerous blood drives have been canceled as a result of the storm and the Red Cross has a need for blood donations. To schedule a blood donation or for more information about giving blood or platelets, visit or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).
    • Affiliate with existing non-profit organizations before coming to the disaster area. Immediately following a disaster, a community can become easily overwhelmed by the amount of generous people who want to help. Contacting and affiliating with an established organization will help to ensure that you are appropriately trained to respond in the most effective way.
    • Be safe. Do not self deploy until a need has been identified and the local community impacted has requested support. Wait until it is safe to travel to volunteer sites and opportunities have been identified. Once assigned a position, make sure you have been given an assignment and are wearing proper safety gear for the task.
    • Be patient. Recovery lasts a lot longer than the media attention. There will be volunteer needs for many months, often years, after the disaster - especially when the community enters the long-term recovery period.

    For more information, check out this volunteering resource page from FEMA. 

    FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, left, and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, center, participate in a briefing on Hurricane San...

    IRS Gives Extra Time to Hurricane Sandy Victims

    File and pay deadline put off to Nov. 7

    The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is granting taxpayers and tax preparers affected by Hurricane Sandy until Nov. 7 to file returns and accompanying payments normally due today.

    The relief applies to taxpayers and tax preparers in an area affected by Hurricane Sandy, which hit the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States this week.

    Businesses largely affected

    This relief primarily applies to businesses whose payroll and excise tax returns and payments are normally due today. No action is required by the taxpayer; this relief is automatic. Regular federal tax deposits are due according to current rules.

    However, the IRS notes that if taxpayers or tax practitioners receive a penalty notice for this period, they can contact the IRS at the number on the notice to request penalty abatement due to reasonable cause on account of the storm.

    IRS expects to grant additional filing and payment relief as qualifying disaster declarations are issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  

    The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is granting taxpayers and tax preparers affected by Hurricane Sandy until Nov. 7 to file returns and accompanying paymen...

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      Sandy's Wrath Will Be Felt Nationwide

      Lean inventories mean bare shelves will soon be evident around the country

      The catastrophic damage left behind by Superstorm Sandy may be physically limited to the East Coast but its effects are already spreading rapidly across the country, as the extent of the damage to the transportation network in New York and New Jersey becomes clear.

      This has great significance for consumers, who may experience unexpected spikes in prices and dips in availability of popular items -- and may want to do their holiday shopping now. 

      Forget Wall Street, the subways, Broadway and the television networks for a minute. The Greater New York area -- New Jersey in particular -- moves a huge portion of the merchandise, raw material and parts that fuel the manufacturing and retailing sectors.  

      For the third day in a row, the cargo that normally moves through the New York area is trapped, sitting in warehouses, on loading docks and on trains and trucks that are unable to move.  Each day that goes by limits the supply of goods to the rest of the country and blocks the flow of American goods normally exported through New York and New Jersey ports.

      On track

      Most cargo at some point is moved by trains. Even goods that are shipped into and out of the New York area by sea, truck or air are often moved by rail through the complex network of railyards and ports in the Northeast. Until trains are moving again, much of that cargo will remain stuck somewhere. 

      As New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie put it yesterday: "There is major damage on each and every one of New Jersey's rail lines." 

      While the Midwest is sometimes called the heartland, New Jersey is a barrel that's open on both ends. Things flow through it. Raw materials flow into the region and flow back out as manufactured products. Imported products come into the ports in the Tri-State region and flow through New Jersey to get to the rest of the country.

      "From a transportation standpoint, you couldn't do a lot worse than take out New Jersey," said Martin Pietrucha, director of transportation studies at Penn State, according to The Wall Street Journal.

      Roads blocked

      It's not just the railroads that are damaged. Highways, bridges and tunnels throughout the region are damaged. Many are still flooded and blocked with debris.

      The region's three major airports -- JFK, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty, which normally move 19,000 flights per day -- are struggling to resume operations. JFL and LaGuardia expect to resume a limited number of flights today but Newark is still closed.

      Economists have estimated the storm caused $20 billion in property damages and $10 billion to $30 billion more in lost business.

      Long-term, the storm may actually be a boost to the economy, as money is spent to repair and rebuild all those bridges, rails, tunnel, roads and buildings that were damaged but before that happens, there will be a huge economic loss to businesses unable to get the supplies they need to meet consumer demands.

      While some major purchases may be only delayed until products are available, much of what consumers buy everyday is disposable -- meaning that if they don't buy it today, they never will and the money will be lost to the merchant in question. 

      No fish

      For example, if a seafood restaurant is unable to get its daily supply of fresh seafood, it will sell fewer dinners and will not be able to make up the loss later.

      The crisis comes at a particularly bad time for retailers, who are able to start their annual hoped-for march to profitability as holiday shopping gets into gear after Halloween. If consumer goods don't make it to the shelves, both retailers and consumers will suffer.

      Online shopping isn't necessarily the answer either. The goods shipped by online merchants rely on the same network of trains, trucks, ships and airplanes as those sold through bricks-and-mortar stores.

      Advice to shoppers

      At its most basic level, what it comes down to for consumers is this: It might be a good idea to start your holiday shopping now -- today -- while retailers' shelves are still stocked.  The damange to the supply chain is also an argument to shop at physical outlets and to buy only items that you can carry home with you.

      Even if retailers manage to restock popular holiday gift items, they're likely to be more expensive, as supply is likely to outpace demand.

      The catastrophic damage left behind by Superstorm Sandy may be physically limited to the East Coast but its effects are already spreading rapidly across th...

      Study Names Panera Bread the Best Sandwich Chain

      Eight sandwich restaurants made the list, and you might be surprised who was dead last

      When it comes to the best things ever created by human hands, the sandwich has to lie somewhere between the light bulb and the wheel.

      Think about it—it’s the perfect invention.

      A sandwich can be eaten on the go, it usually has the perfect balance of textures between the softness of the bread and the crunch of the fixings, and it’s typically not that expensive.

      And although it’s one of the most basic foods in the world, a sandwich can still be eaten in a countless number of ways.

      It’s simplistic but complex. Not too filling but filling enough. And the fact that you can eat a sandwich with your hands and still maintain a level of social decency, makes eating one all the more satisfying, doesn’t it?

      Big bites

      Well, a company by the name of Market Force wanted to see which sandwich chain was the most satisfying for customers, in a recent survey conducted among 7,600 American consumers.

      The market research firm tallied all of the consumer votes and took into consideration the number of locations each chain possessed, which is the reason Subway had the most votes.

      Consumers rate Subway
      Interestingly enough, although Subway scored the most votes, the ubiquitous chain scored last on the list for favorite sandwich restaurant among consumers.

      Could Subway be focusing too hard on the quantity of stores and not on the quality of its sandwiches?  According to some of our readers that could definitely be the case.

      “I purchased a Cold-Cut-Trio Foot Long on wheat bread. I got home and ate the sandwich and while eating it I noticed green mold on the end of the meat,” wrote Glen of North Carolina in a posting to ConsumerAffairs.

      Glen then explained how he confronted the manager, and how he didn’t get his money back or a new sandwich.

      “He [the manager] continued to insult and embarrass me in front of other customers,” Glen said. “He would not give me a refund or just another sandwich for which I did not want at that point. He then said, ‘You go and call the district office and complain to them because here you get nothing.’”

      According to Glen, the Subway manager accused him of trying to pull a fast one.

      Panera ranks first

      First on the list in the Market Force survey in terms of taste, cleanliness, service, atmosphere and overall value was the Missouri-based sandwich chain Panera Bread (2.38 percent).

      Second on the list was Jason’s Deli, receiving 1.99 percent of the votes, followed by McAlister’s Deli (1.10 percent), Firehouse Subs (0.85 percent), and Quiznos (0.57 percent).

      At the bottom of the top eight lists was Jimmy John’s (0.50 percent) Arby’s (0.33 percent) and Subway (0.28 percent).

      One could easily say that Subway’s success and rapid expansion has been both a gift and a curse for the 47-year-old franchise chain. While Subway has appealed to enough palettes to be the largest food chain, its sheer size makes it a challenge for each restaurant to maintain a strict level of uniformity.

      Of course it’s easy for Subway to make sure the staff wears similar uniforms, and to make sure all the U.S. menus offer similar food items, but when it comes to making sure each ingredient is fresh, and every staff person, manager, and store owner provides the very best service—it’s extremely difficult for the company to do.

      Also, since there’s a Subway on seemingly every city block and suburb, there’s a good chance consumers take it for granted and seek out other sandwich options. Or maybe other chains are simply trying harder and providing better service to keep up with Subway.

      Must try harder

      Market Force’s Chief Marketing Officer Janet Eden-Harris, says due to subway’s sheer size and reach, it’s going to have to do more than a smaller sandwich chain to win over consumers.

      “Subway is the largest QSR (quick-service restaurant) chain, and that gives them the big advantage in ubiquity for people to select them, but then it becomes a large denominator,” she said. “If you have that large of a number you need some really enthusiastic votes to overcome your size.”

      Although Panera scored first overall in customer satisfaction in Market Force's survey, it didn’t score first in each individual category, as the study showed that atmosphere and the overall surroundings of the bread chain is what drew people in the most.

      Eden-Harris says it’s not necessarily the prices that make chains popular or not, it’s the service, atmosphere and other things that people look for when choosing to get a quick bit.

      “When you ask a consumer which is your favorite restaurant, they almost don’t pick the value brand,” she said.

      “When you ask, ‘why do you love going there,’ it’s not typically because it is fast or has a good value. Five Guys and In-N-Out aren’t cheap either, and burger aficionados love them. Folks on the other end of the value scope won’t necessarily get as many of those favorite votes,” said Eden-Harris. 

      When it comes to the best things ever created by human hands, the sandwich has to lie somewhere between the light bulb and the wheel for the greatest inven...

      Deadly Dangers Linger After Hurricane Sandy Passes

      Feds urge caution with generators, charcoal grills and gas

      Hurricane Sandy was a massive, slow moving storm that has left millions of Americans along the East Coast without electricity. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and U.S. Fire Administration(USFA) are warning residents in hurricane-affected areas about the deadly dangers that remain.

      Consumers need to use great caution during a loss of electrical power, as the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from portable generators, fire from candles, and electrical shock from downed power lines increases.

      Getting power

      In order to power lights, keep food cold or cook, consumers often use gas-powered generators. CPSC, FEMA, and USFA warn consumers never to use portable generators indoors, in basements, garages, or close to a home. The exhaust from generators contains high levels of carbon monoxide (CO), greater than that of multiple cars running in a garage, which can quickly incapacitate and kill.

      "Our goal is to save lives and prevent further disasters in the aftermath of Sandy," said CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. "Never run a generator in or right next to a home. Carbon monoxide is an invisible killer. CO is odorless and colorless and it can kill you and your family in minutes."

      Deaths involving portable generators have been on the rise since 1999 when generators became widely available to consumers. There have been at least 755 CO deaths involving generators from 1999 through 2011. While reporting of incidents for 2011 is ongoing, there were at least 73 CO related deaths involving generators last year. The majority of the deaths occurred as a result of using a generator inside a home's living space, in the basement or in the garage.

      Do not put your family at risk. Follow these important safety tips in the aftermath of the storm.

      Portable generators

      • Never use a generator inside a home, basement, shed or garage even if doors and windows are open. Keep generators outside and far away from windows, doors and vents. Read both the label on your generator and the owner's manual and follow the instructions. Any electrical cables you use with the generator should be free of damage and suitable for outdoor use.

      Charcoal grills and camp stoves

      • Never use charcoal grills or camp stoves indoors. Deaths have occurred when consumers burned charcoal or used camp stoves in enclosed spaces, which produced lethal levels of carbon monoxide.

      CO alarms

      • Install carbon monoxide alarms immediately outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home to protect against CO poisoning. Change the alarms' batteries every year.

      Electrical and gas safety

      • Stay away from any downed wires, including cable TV feeds. They may be live with deadly voltage. If you are standing in water, do not handle or operate electrical appliances. Electrical components, including circuit breakers, wiring in the walls and outlets that have been under water should not be turned on. They should be replaced unless properly inspected and tested by a qualified electrician.
      • Natural gas or propane valves that have been under water should be replaced. Smell and listen for leaky gas connections. If you believe there is a gas leak, immediately leave the house, leave the door(s) open, and call 911. Never strike a match. Any size flame can spark an explosion. Before turning the gas back on, have the gas system checked by a professional.


      • Use caution with candles. If possible, use flashlights instead. If you must use candles, do not burn them on or near anything that can catch fire. Never leave burning candles unattended. Extinguish candles when you leave the room.

      Hurricane Sandy was a massive, slow moving storm that has left millions of Americans along the East Coast without electricity. The U.S. Consumer Product Sa...

      Switching Banks Isn't Always Easy

      Consumers Union presses banks to make parting company more seamless

      It was one year ago next week that a grassroots movement urged consumers to move their bank accounts from large national banks with high fees to smaller community banks and credit unions. Many did, but a large number haven't, one year later.

      "Consumer frustration has only grown over the past year as bank fees have continued to rise," said Suzanne Martindale, staff attorney for Consumers Union. "But many frustrated consumers end up staying with their bank because switching to a new financial institution can turn into a big hassle. It's time to make it easier for consumers to move their money so they have a real choice when it comes to where to bank."

      It's not that consumers are too lazy to go through the effort of closing one account and opening another. If the consumer has auto payments and direct deposits, those must be transferred to the new account. And again, it's more that just simple effort. Timing is a factor.

      Obstacles to moving

      In July, a Consumer Reports national public opinion poll found that nearly one fifth of consumers had considered switching to a new financial institution in the previous 12 months, but the challenge of transferring automatic payments and other factors kept half of them from making the switch.

      Consumers Union says banks lock in customers by encouraging them to use certain services like automatic payments and direct deposits in order to avoid monthly fees. Re-routing automatic payments and deposits into a new account can take four to six weeks and can be a very intimidating and complicated process for some consumers. Research shows that customers who utilize automatic deposits and payments are far less likely to switch accounts.

      But it's more than just a matter of time. Having enough money to maintain two accounts during the switching process also can pose a significant barrier.

      Maintaining two accounts

      Because switching accounts can take up to six weeks, the only safe bet is to have enough money in both accounts to cover any potential automatic debits. Consumers may also be confronted with fees to close accounts or to transfer money into new accounts.

      Figuring out how to make the switch can be a confusing process for many consumers. None of the top ten largest banks reviewed by Consumers Union provided customers with clear instructions for closing accounts on their web sites or in written account disclosures.

      "Obstacles to switching banks can trip up even the most determined consumer," said Pamela Banks, senior policy counsel at Consumers Union. "All of these hurdles create customer inertia and stifle the kind of competition we need to make banks more responsive to consumers."

      Consumers Union has proposed a solution. It wants Congress and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to require banks to assume the responsibility for transferring a customer's automatic payments and deposits from the old account to the new account within 14 days.

      It also says banks should provide same-day electronic fund transfers at no cost to consumers and take additional steps to make it easier for consumers to move from one bank to another.

      It was one year ago next week that a grassroots movement urged consumers to move their bank accounts from large national banks with high fees to smaller co...

      California Targets Lack of Privacy Policy on Mobile Apps

      State is stepping up enforcement of new privacy law

      Some words of advice to mobile app developers and companies that have a mobile presence: make sure you have an easy-to-find privacy policy.

      Otherwise, you could be hearing from California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Harris this week began formally notifying scores of mobile application developers and companies that they are not in compliance with California privacy law.

      “Protecting the privacy of online consumers is a serious law enforcement matter,” Harris said. “We have worked hard to ensure that app developers are aware of their legal obligations to respect the privacy of Californians, but it is critical that we take all necessary steps to enforce California’s privacy laws.”

      Must post a privacy policy

      The law requires that developers post a privacy policy within their app that informs users of what personally identifiable information about them is being collected and what will be done with that private information. Companies found to be in violation will be given 30 days to get in compliance.

      Companies can face fines of up to $2,500 each time a non-compliant app is downloaded.

      Letters are being sent out to up to 100 non-compliant apps, starting with those who have the most popular apps available on mobile platforms.

      Harris is following up on action she took with the seven leading mobile and social app platforms to improve privacy protections for millions of users around the globe who use apps on their smartphones, tablets, and other electronic devices. Those platforms -- Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, and Research in Motion -- agreed to privacy principles designed to bring the industry in line with California law requiring mobile apps that collect personal information to have a privacy policy.

      Review the policy before downloading the app

      That agreement allows consumers the opportunity to review an app’s privacy policy before they download the app rather than after, and offers consumers a consistent location for an app’s privacy policy on the application-download screen in the platform store.

      Harris has set up a special unit within her office to enforce the California Online Privacy Protection Act. She said the unit's investigators and researchers will enforce both federal and state privacy laws regulating the collection, retention, disclosure and destruction of private or sensitive information by individuals, organizations and the government.

      A word to the wise mobile app developers and companies that have a mobile presence; make sure you have an easy-to-find privacy policy.Otherwise, you coul...

      Kays Classic Vanilla Bean Ice Cream Recalled

      The product contains pecans -- an undeclared allergen

      Schoep's Ice Cream Company of Madison, WI, is alerting customers that because of a packaging error, Kays Classic Vanilla Bean Ice Cream contains an undeclared allergen.

      Consumers, who have an allergy or severe sensitivity to pecans, run the risk of serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume this product.

      The following product is included in the recall:

      • Kays Classic Vanilla Bean Ice Cream 48 oz. Round – UPC #0-87848-13021 with a Best if Used By Date of 02/28/14

      The product was shipped to Food City and Super Dollar stores Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee.

      This recall was initiated upon discovery that certain containers of Kays Vanilla Bean Ice Cream contained Kays Butter Pecan Ice Cream.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      Consumers who have purchased the affected product are urged to return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Anyone with questions or concerns may contact Schoep's, the manufacturer, at 1-800-891-6411 extension 71.

      Schoep's Ice Cream Company of Madison, WI, is alerting customers that because of a packaging error, Kays Classic Vanilla Bean Ice Cream contains an undecla...

      DOT Sends Emergency Funds for Hurricane Sandy Damage in New York and Rhode Island

      Additional funding expected as states continue damage assessments

      Money from Uncle Sam is on the way to help two of the states devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

      The U.S Department of Transportation (DOT) is making $13 million in quick release emergency relief funds immediately available to New York and Rhode Island to help begin repairing the damage caused by the monster storm. Assessments are continuing throughout the Northeast to determine the full extent of the damage.

      The announcement by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood builds on the disaster assistance for these states approved by President Obama in the last several days, including the major disaster declaration approved for New York, which make federal assistance available to supplement state and local response and recovery efforts.

      First requests

      The $13 million represents 100 percent of the state-requested funds -- $10 million from New York and $3 million from Rhode Island. These two requests are just the first to arrive at DOT and represent the first installment of federal-aid highway funds to help repair roads, bridges and tunnels in these two states. DOT is expecting other states slammed by Hurricane Sandy to apply for additional emergency relief funding in the coming days.

      “President Obama has directed us to immediately help restore vital transportation infrastructure following this unprecedented and devastating storm -- and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” said LaHood. "These emergency relief funds are just a down payment on our commitment to all of the states impacted by Hurricane Sandy.”

      Infrastructure repair

      Quick release emergency funds provided by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) will be used to pay for a variety of repairs to roads and bridges that are immediately necessary. Rhode Island will use the funding to repair damaged sea walls supporting roadways; New York will use it for general emergency repairs to federal aid highways.

      “This funding is only the first step in the difficult process of helping the region recover,” said FHWA Administrator Victor Mendez. "The federal government stands ready to assist in helping affected states repair roads and bridges so that residents can begin to resume daily activities.”

      To further speed access to critical repair funds, LaHood held a conference call Tuesday afternoon with officials from 14 states to outline how they can apply for quick release emergency relief funding. He also described other steps DOT has taken to assist states, including an Eastern Regional Emergency Declaration from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to lift hours-of-service requirements and other regulations to assist interstate motor carrier drivers and operators providing direct emergency relief.

      FHWA's emergency relief program provides funds for the repair or reconstruction of federal-aid roads and bridges damaged by natural disasters or catastrophic events. 

      Money from Uncle Sam is on the way to help two of the states devastated by Hurricane Sandy. The U.S Department of Transportation (DOT) is making $13 mill...

      Correction to Kevin Trudeau Article

      On October 26, 2010, published an article entitled “Kevin Trudeau Loses Appeal of $54 Million Judgment.” The article inaccurately reported that a federal appeals court presiding over a lawsuit entitled Federal Trade Commission v. Direct Marketing Concepts, al. upheld a $54 million judgment against Mr. Trudeau and made negative comments about arguments Mr. Trudeau had advanced in that lawsuit. The article also inaccurately reported that Mr. Trudeau was awaiting sentencing at the time on a criminal contempt charge.

      In fact, Mr. Trudeau was not a party to that lawsuit, and the appeals court did not uphold any judgment against Mr. Trudeau or otherwise find that Mr. Trudeau participated in any prohibited activity. In addition, Mr. Trudeau was not awaiting sentencing for a criminal contempt charge. sincerely regrets the errors. 

      On October 26, 2010, published an article entitled “Kevin Trudeau Loses Appeal of $54 Million Judgment.” The article inaccurately repor...

      Texas Firm Recalls Chicken Enchilada Products

      The products are suspected of containing foreign materials

      Food Source of McKinney, TX, is recalling approximately 11,400 pounds of frozen chicken enchilada products that may contain fragments of plastic.

      The products subject to recall include:

      • 57-oz. boxes of “Bremer Party Size White Meat Chicken Enchiladas”

      The cartons bear the establishment number “P-13130” inside the USDA mark of inspection and the UPC code 0-41498-16921-3. The products have a best by date of “09/30/13.” The products were packaged on Aug. 31, 2012 and shipped to retail stores in New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

      The company alerted the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the problem after receiving two consumer complaints. There are no reports of injury associated with consumption of this product.

      Consumers with questions should contact Richard Riccardi at (972) 548-9001.  

      Food Source of McKinney, TX, is recalling approximately 11,400 pounds of frozen chicken enchilada products that may contain fragments of plastic. The produ...

      Community College: Education's Overlooked Bargain

      Typical two-year school costs less than half of what a state university does

      People love bargains, except, apparently, when it comes to education. In pursuit of a college degree, students and their families run up huge debts, to the point that total student loan indebtedness is now over $1 trillion.

      But is it really necessary to spend tens of thousands of dollars in pursuit of a college degree? Community colleges offer an overlooked alternative.

      Community colleges started out almost as vocational schools. Students attended for two years getting a degree that prepared them for a particular vocational field, such as nursing.

      Path to four-year degree

      But community colleges also offer study in academic fields and increasingly, their credits transfer to most four-year colleges and universities. In many states, community colleges have become aligned with the state's university system, so that community college credits easily transfer to state-supported four-year schools.

      The tuition at a typical community college is usually less than half of what it costs to attend a four-year public university. It is much less than a typical private or for-profit university. In fact, many students make the costly mistake of enrolling at an expensive for-profit school to obtain a two-year associates degree.

      Sherley, of Hackettstown, NJ, said she pursued an associates degree from Katherine Gibbs, a for-profit school, hoping she could work as an administrative assistant. She said she ran up $50,000 in loans for a two-year degree that would have cost 10 percent of that -- or less -- at a community college.

      “After eight years I am still unable to find a job in that field,” she wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. ”Now I am stuck with a load of bills from two different lenders.”

      Better education

      Not only do community colleges cost less, the quality of education continues to improve, so that students who do their first two years of work there go on to have successful academic careers when they transfer to a four year college.

      Tomas Hult, Director of Michigan State University's International Business Center, says community colleges do an exceptional job in providing courses in international business. His study found that in 2008, about 51 percent of community colleges offered a basic course in international business. Four years later that number had jumped to 85 percent.

      “The most important takeaway is that we as a nation appear to be putting funds into community college education to infuse a global mindset in a much larger way than in the past few years,” Hult said. “International business education is really starting to flourish at two-year schools.”

      Playing a pivotal role

      Forty-four percent of college students -- about 13 million students -- attend about 1,200 community colleges in the United States, so the schools play a pivotal role in educating the 21st-century global workforce, he said.

      And how can they do it so much more cheaply than four-year schools? It probably comes down to spending less money.

      In recent years the typical four-year school has spent millions of dollars constructing luxury dormitories and other creature comforts to attract students -- not to mention football stadiums and basketball arenas. For-profit schools, of course, have to show a profit for stockholders.

      Community colleges generally don't have those cost burdens. In many ways they operate the way colleges did decades ago -- a time when a college education wasn't so expensive.

      People love bargains, except, apparently, when it comes to education. In pursuit of a college degree, students and their families run up huge debts, to the...

      VA Guarantees 20 Millionth Home Loan

      VA loans boast the lowest foreclosure and delinquency rates

      A milestone for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

      The agency has now guaranteed 20 million home loans since its home loan program was established in 1944 as part of the original GI Bill of Rights for returning World War II Veterans. The 20 millionth loan was guaranteed for a home in Woodbridge, VA, purchased by the surviving spouse of an Iraq War Veteran who died in 2010.

      Given the current low interest rates, the program has grown significantly in the past five years, with 71 percent more purchases and 20 times as many refinances processed in fiscal year (FY) 2012 than in FY 2007. Currently, there are 1.7 million VA guaranteed home loans in existence with a total value of $284 billion. VA has guaranteed 540,000 mortgages so far this year.

      “The 20 millionth VA home loan is a major milestone and is a testament to VA’s commitment to support and enhance the lives of Veterans, Servicemembers, their families and survivors,” said Allison A. Hickey, VA’s undersecretary for benefits. “As a result of their service and sacrifice, as a group, they prove to be disciplined, reliable, and honorable—traits that are ideal for this kind of national investment.”

      Advancing the America Dream

      The program makes home ownership more affordable for eligible veterans, servicemembers and surviving spouses by providing access to lower cost financing. VA loans are also attractive within the mortgage industry because they protect lenders from loss if the borrower fails to repay the loan.

      Mortgages guaranteed by VA have had the lowest foreclosure rate for the last 17 quarters and the lowest delinquency rate for the last 14 quarters compared with all other types of home loans in the nation, including prime loans, according to a report by the Mortgage Bankers Association.

      Much of the strength of VA’s home loan program stems from the efforts of VA employees and its industry partners nationwide to ensure Veterans receive every possible opportunity to remain in their homes and avoid foreclosure.

      Since 2009, VA’s efforts have resulted in over $8 billion in savings to taxpayers in foreclosure avoidance.

      A milestone for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The agency has now guaranteed 20 million home loans since its home loan program was established in 194...

      Americans Spend More on Drugs to Fight Aging than to Fight Disease

      Anti-aging meds becoming bigger part of health care expense

      U.S. consumers now spend more money for medications to ward off the effects of aging than they spend on drugs to treat chronic disease. Researchers at Express Scripts presented their findings at the American Public Health Association’s 140th Annual Meeting in San Francisco, Calif.

      The research focused on medications used to treat conditions that have always been considered a normal part of aging. The include conditions like hormone replacement, sexual dysfunction and mental alertness.

      Just behind diabetes and cholesterol drugs

      The researchers found that these medications have become so popular that they now rank third for cost impact only behind diabetes and cholesterol drugs among commercially insured patients.

      The study was based on trends in prescriptions filled for aging medications among those commercially insured and it found that in 2011 alone, per member cost for aging medications -- $73.30 -- was 16 percent greater than the amount spent on both high blood pressure and heart disease medications, which was $62.80.

      The cost for diabetes medications was $81.12 and high cholesterol medications was $78.38. The cost for aging medications increased 46 percent from 2006. And this has an impact on public policy.

      32 percent increase

      Between 2007 and 2011, Medicare beneficiaries increased their use of these anti-aging drugs by 32 percent. Utilization increased by 18.5 percent among the commercially insured.

      “At a time when people are forgoing care due to rising health costs, this study reveals a growing trend on where the public is placing its health care dollars,” said Reethi Iyengar, PhD, researcher at Express Scripts and an APHA Annual Meeting presenter. “Continued monitoring and potential management may be warranted for this category of medications.”

      Without some intervention, this is a trend that is likely to continue. After all, the baby boom generation is entering old age. Not only is it a large population, it is by and large made up of people who will use whatever tools are available to ward off the effects of aging.

      U.S. consumers now spend more money for medications to ward off the effects of aging than they spend on drugs to treat chronic disease. Researchers at Expr...

      The Morning After: Homeowners Insurance Questions

      Photograph everything, make small repairs now to prevent further damage

      Millions of homeowners today are wishing they had read their homeowner's insurance policy more closely. With wind and water damage from Superstorm Sandy stretching from North Carolina to New England, a staggering number of claims will be filed over the coming days.

      There are often questions and disputes about whether damage was caused by flooding or wind. Homeowners often find themselves being told that damage to their home is not covered because it was caused by flooding, which is not generally covered in homeowners policies. You need separate flood insurance for that.

      Disputes often erupt about whether the water that caused the damage was the result of flooding or whether it was wind-driven, in which case the damage generally would be covered.

      Day-after tips 

      For now, here are some day-after tips from the New Hampshire Insurance Department:

      Take photos. Document all of the damage, especially of thing you need to dispose of quickly, like wet carpeting or spoiled food.

      Make small repairs now. If you have broken windows or other minor damage, repair it now to prevent further damage to your property. Major repairs should wait until insurance adjusters have visited your property.

      If possible, get multiple bids before undertaking major repairs. Your insurance company may have specific steps it wants you to follow.

      Check out your contractor. In areas with widespread damage, it may not be possible to find a local contractor. If you hire someone from another city or state, ask to see a business license and evidence of liability insurance and record that information. It's also a good idea to make a note of the contractor's license plate number.

      Be very wary of contractors who demand payment upfront or pressure you to make a decision right away. 

      File your insurance claim as soon as possible. After a large disaster, it can take longer than normal for your claim to be processed. Starting early helps ensure timely payment.

      Check with your state insurance department for specifics in your state. Here are the state insurance departments for the areas hardest hit by Sandy:

      Millions of homeowners today are wishing they had read their homeowner's insurance policy more closely. With wind and water damage from Superstorm Sandy st...

      Consumers Are Generally Satisfied with Their Auto Insurance Claims Settlements

      J.D. Power says satisfaction is up even though consumers are paying more

      We often hear how unhappy some people are with the settlements they received from their auto insurers.

      Take Gloria of Acworth, GA, who is insured by Allstate. “After over 30 years with no insurance claims, I had one minor accident backing out of my driveway,” she says in a ConsumerAffairs post. “Allstate paid $1105 for the repair of my neighbor's vehicle and jacked my premiums $353 every 6 months for the next 3 years. My premium is going up $2118 because they paid an $1105 claim.”

      Or John of Congers, NY, regarding his experience with AAA: “Car broke down in Englewood Cliffs and was towed to White Plains. Front bumper was torn from car during the tow. AAA first accused me of doing the damage myself,” he wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post, “then lied and said car was inspected by me and tow truck driver which it was not. Car was towed to an AAA garage, who found the damage and quoted a repair. Then AAA asked me to settle for $150 for a $900 repair job.”

      Despite these and other complaints, the J.D. Power and Associates 2012 U.S. Auto Claims Satisfaction Study found that claimant satisfaction with their auto claims experience has increased from last year, driven primarily by an improvement in their perceptions of the fairness of settlement terms.

      The study measures claimant satisfaction with the claims experience for auto physical damage loss. Depending on the complexity of the claim, a claimant may experience some or all of the following factors measured in the study: first notice of loss; service interaction; appraisal; repair process; rental experience; and settlement.

      Auto-Owners Insurance on top

      For a fifth consecutive year, Auto-Owners Insurance ranks highest in overall satisfaction with a score of 887 (on a 1,000-point scale). Following Auto-Owners Insurance are Amica Mutual and Erie Insurance in a tie (876) and Automobile Club of Southern California (AAA) and COUNTRY in a tie (874).

      Overall claimant satisfaction has increased significantly to 852 index points -- a 6-point improvement from 2011. Satisfaction has increased in five of the six factors year over year, with settlement, the most important factor contributing to overall satisfaction, increasing by nine points to 846.

      Settlement satisfaction has increased by 16 points among claimants with a total loss. The average total loss settlement has increased by nearly $690, compared with 2011, driven by increasing used-vehicle values throughout much of 2012.

      "As used vehicle sale prices increase, the value of the loss settlement also increases," said Jeremy Bowler, senior director of the insurance practice at J.D. Power and Associates. "According to our Power Information Network, a database of vehicle sales transactions, used-vehicle sales prices peaked in May and June of this year, averaging nearly $18,500, compared with approximately $17,700 in January of this year."

      Rising costs

      Satisfaction with settlement has improved overall despite claimants spending more of their own money. The average out-of-pocket costs incurred have increased by $26 from 2011, to $403. Out-of-pocket costs include claimants' deductible and any additional expenses incurred, such as rental car or repair costs. Settlement satisfaction relies heavily on claimants' perceptions of the fairness of the settlement. In the 2012 study, this is an indication that insurers are managing claimants' expectations more effectively, as satisfaction has increased despite the increase in costs incurred by claimants.

      "Providing exceptional customer service is an important element in driving the perception of being treated fairly," said Bowler "Claimants' perception of fairness is more than just the amount of the settlement, especially for repairable vehicles, where claimants are more focused on their vehicle being returned in its pre-accident condition. Focusing on keeping claimants updated and quickly communicating what will be covered in the claim also have a major impact on their perceptions of how fairly they are treated."

      Big improvement

      One area in which insurers improve the most this year is increasingly offering more options to keep claimants informed of the progress of their claim, with 64 percent of claimants indicating having been offered options, compared with 61 percent in 2011.

      Failing to explain and update claimants adequately may lead to their questioning the settlement offer and potentially increasing the rate of negotiations, which negatively impact overall satisfaction.

      The 2012 U.S. Auto Claims Satisfaction Study is based on responses from more than 12,508 auto insurance customers who settled a claim within the past 6 months. The study excludes claimants whose vehicle only incurred glass/windshield damage or was stolen, or who only filed roadside assistance claims. Survey data were collected between November 2011 and September 2012.

      We often hear how unhappy some people are with the settlements they received from their auto insurers. Take Gloria of Acworth, GA, who is insured by Alls...

      Lumosity: Brain Exercises That Are Supposed to Improve Memory

      But researchers say there are other things you can do for mental strength

      Do you find it harder and harder to remember a person’s name after first meeting them? Or have you ever read a page from a magazine and forgotten what the writer just conveyed? If so, you’re certainly not alone, as many folks, both young and old, have experienced a memory lapse or two at some point.

      The company Lumos Labs has created what it calls Lumosity, which the company says is a web based tool that improves both memory and brain function.

      You might have seen the commercials already, as they’ve been airing on TV for the past few months or so, and interestingly enough, the company has started its ad campaign geared towards younger people, which is most likely a technique Lumosity is using to show that all ages could use some memory strengthening, not just seniors.

      What’s slightly different about Lumosity from other memory games or techniques is that exercises aren’t just randomly slapped together by software developers or game creators. The company says the mental exercises were put together under its Scientific Advisory Board, which is supposed to be made up of experts and researchers from Stanford, and the University of California, San Francisco.  

      Brain exercises

      Along with the company’s team of in-house neuroscientists, the creators of Lumosity say it has made a series of brain exercises to improve overall memory and sharpen the mind’s processing speed, and uses about 30 different sessions within the drills that include games, mental exercises, and health tips for the brain.

      Lumosity even gives you progress reports on how well your brain and memory are improving with each exercise.

      One of the exercises uses a virtual maze filled with various hazards that users must memorize and avoid during the course of the game. This is supposed to sharpen memory, improve attention and help the mind retain things better,  says the company.

      Lumosity designed these games to be played on a daily basis, as opposed to just using them when you feel like giving your memory a quick  jolt.

      The lead scientist at Lumos Labs, Michael Scanlon, says people should be approaching mental exercises in the same way they do physical exercises, because both should be done daily and both should be taken very seriously.

      “Research has shown that making brain fitness part of a healthy lifestyle early will lead to optimal cognitive performance and better long-term brain health,” said Scanlon in a written statement.

      “We designed Lumosity to help adults of any age build their cognitive abilities without feeling like they’re doing homework. People have to be motivated to train, and we believe that the results we’re seeing stem in part from the fact that the program is enjoyable and you can see your progress," he said.

      Five years

      The company says improvements in the areas of mental processing speed, attention and retention will last for five years after doing the exercises, which is a pretty bold guarantee.

      The cost of Lumosity differs depending on whether you choose a monthly or yearly subscription, but a press release the company released when introducing the website a few years back, offers the exercises for a little under $80 for one full year of unlimited access.

      Researchers at the University Of Utah School Of Medicine have also studied how people can improve memory and apply that progress into their daily lives.

      They first say by organizing things we have to remember, it will put less pressure on our brains to memorize information. And the best way to organize information is by first giving it some sort of meaning or easy to remember association, say the researchers.

      The research group also suggests grasping entire concepts of things you want to recall before trying to remember the small details.

      This really works when you’re trying to understand something new for a test you’re studying for, or when you have to tackle a new project at work. By understanding the main components of new information, it will make it much easier to grasp and remember its details when you have to, say the researchers.

      Stop to reflect

      The Utah research team also said we should stop to reflect upon the new things we’re learning.

      Sometimes we’re so eager to grasp and apply new pieces of information-- like someone’s name or something your boss said in a meeting--that we quickly try to lock it into our minds and thought process.

      But if we take just a few moments to reflect or even meditate on what we’ve just learned, it’s more likely the new information will stick, which will make it easier for us to access it whenever we have to.

      Whether games like Lumosity will really improve your memory remains to be seen, and it will be interesting to see what readers say after the product and company builds and even bigger reputation for itself.

      Until then, people can simply improve their mental functions by challenging their brains, by maybe reading material that forces you to learn new concepts, or pondering ideas you usually wouldn’t ponder.

      Experts also say physical activity and exercise can also improve brain function, so fortunately we don’t have to buy a game or product to help us with remembering somebody’s name. There are a lot of things we can do by ourselves. We just have to do them.

      Do you find it harder and harder to remember a person’s name after first meeting them? Or have you ever read a page from a magazine and forgot what t...

      Ford Skids in Consumer Reports Reliability Ratings

      U.S. automaker dips as Japanese carmakers surge

      What's happened to Ford? Two years ago it was Detroit’s poster child for reliability. It cracked the top 10 among brands in Consumer Reports predicted-reliability scores, with more than 90 percent of its models being average or better.

      This year the top seven spots are all held by Japanese brands.

      “Ford’s bumpy road can be seen in the numbers,” said Jake Fisher, director of automotive testing for Consumer Reports, which has just issued its 2012 Annual Auto Reliability Survey.”Sixty percent of Ford-branded models and half of Lincolns were below average in predicted reliability, and none placed above average.”

      What could have happened in two years to cause this reversal of fortune? Several factors may have contributed to Ford’s decline.

      More problems than usual

      A few new or redesigned models, including the Explorer, Fiesta, and Focus, came out of the gate with more problems than normal. Ford has also added the MyFord/MyLincoln Touch electronic infotainment system, which has been problematic so far, to many vehicles.

      In addition, three historically reliable models—the Ford Escape, Fusion and the Lincoln MKZ—are not included in the analysis; the three were redesigned for 2013 and Consumer Reports doesn’t yet have reliability data on them.

      “My boyfriend and I bought a slightly used 2012 Ford Focus on September 1,” Sonia, of Huntington Beach, CA, wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “After driving the car for a couple of days, my boyfriend noticed that the transmission was not right but he thought this was just because the car was new to us. Then when driving to work, I noticed that when I stopped on any inclined street between taking the foot off the brake and placing it on the accelerator, the car rolled back quite quickly to the point that I almost hit the car behind me.”

      Toyota's back

      Besides the complaints like the one above, Ford may be suffering more this year in comparison to competitors who have stepped up their game. Toyota, for example, has excelled in Consumer Reports latest ratings after a year marred buy recalls and the aftermath of an earthquake and tsunami.

      Its three brands—Scion, Toyota, and Lexus—swept the top spots. Consumer Reports says Toyota is “clearly setting the pace in reliability.” Of the 27 models in the brand’s lineup, 16 earned the highest rating.

      Mixed bag for domestics

      Cadillac, meanwhile, is the top U.S. brand, having moved up 14 spots this year. Its CTS coupe was the most reliable domestic car.

      A number of other General Motors nameplates—Buick, Chevrolet, GMC—also moved up in the ranking. The Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric car continues to have above-average reliability, and the compact Chevrolet Cruze, dismal in its first year, improved to average.

      What's happened to Ford? Two years ago it was Detroit’s poster child for reliability. It cracked the top 10 among brands in Consumer Reports predicte...

      Want to Be On National TV? Youtoo Allows Viewers To Be Television Stars

      This could be the next step in interactive television. You don't just watch--you're on TV too

      In case you haven’t noticed, we’re currently living in a time when there’s a fine line between television celebrities and the viewing audience.  

      With reality shows like American Idol, The Voice, and The Amazing Race, the chance of everyday people getting on television and becoming famous or at least infamous is at an all-time high.

      Certainly, the desire to be on TV is nothing new, as many people develop stars in their eyes and want to give fame, fortune and widespread notoriety a try.

      Well, the company Youtoo is giving people their chance to be in the television spotlight, by allowing consumers to upload a brief video from their computers or smartphones, which can then be submitted to the company to be aired on national TV.

      Here’s how it works: Viewers need to subscribe to Youtoo’s cable channel and download either the network’s app or go to its website to record their video or “Famespot” as the company calls it.

      Once the video is made you then send it electronically to Youtoo where it gets distributed to a TV producer--and if your video is selected, it will run during the course of one of the network's television shows.

      Not grainy

      And your TV spot won’t be the dark grainy image that's sometimes seen on YouTube posts, as it will be converted to a high-quality format so it matches the TV show's level of visual clarity.

      A few years ago when HBO pretty much owned Sunday nights with its back- to-back triple threat of Sex And The City,The Sopranos and Six Feet Under, the network also included short video spots in between the programming, where everyday people walked into video booths and spoke about different topics--which turned the average citizens into 15-minute celebrities.

      Youtoo kind of works in the same way, but instead of recording your video spot in front of others, you can do it in the privacy of your own home, and simply send your Famespot directly to the network.

      Strict rules

      Of course there are strict rules to follow if one expects their video to make it onto TV. Nothing offensive can be used. Obviously, things like swearing or presenting divisive viewpoints are a big no-no, and viewers cannot submit any copyrighted material like song lyrics, other show clips or logos.

      Youtoo also has a social media component with its own profile page, so users can notify their friends and followers when their video runs on TV. Also, the app and website can be connected to your Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts--so once your video airs, all of your followers will be alerted pretty much immediately.

      The company’s CEO, Chris Wyatt, says Youtoo is ideal for those people who always had a desire to be on television and for those folks who regularly use  social media pages.

      “Since millions of people want to be on TV, we have an app for that,” he said in a written statement. “Think of it as Facebook meets TV. It’s the evolution of the social network. In addition to interacting with your friends and followers, you can be on national television and interact with millions of people.”

      The Famespots aren’t TV commercials or ads, the videos will be about specific questions Youtoo will ask like, “What’s the best vacation place you’ve been to?” so instead of viewers trying to figure out what to say in their videos, the network gives a guideline, so people can inject their own stories and personalities into the video.

      True interactivity

      The network itself will host a combination of original programming and older shows, and says it’s the first true interactive channel in television history.

      Youtoo is also rumored to have a show entitled Say Yes & Marry Me, which allows viewers to propose to their mates on national television. The service certainly isn’t for the shy or those folks who would rather remain low-key.

      The submitted videos have to be 15 seconds in length in order to be considered, and the network has specific technology that will automatically sift out any content that it deems inappropriate like hate speech, harsh language or nudity--so those looking to test the show's editorial limits will not make it past the electronic gatekeepers.

      For those interested in downloading the Youtoo app can get the Android and iOS versions for free on the company’s website, or go directly to the iTunes or Android app store. They can also upload videos through the company website.

      Unless you haven’t noticed, we’re currently living in a time when there’s a fine line between television celebrities and the viewing audi...