Current Events in December 2012

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    Lasik Surgery: Have the risks been properly communicated?

    The federal government says eye care providers aren't being totally honest

    Back in the day if a doctor told you they would be able to shoot a laser directly into your eye to correct your vision one day, you might have thought they were either a quack or a sadist.

    Well, today Laser-Assisted in Situ Keratomeleusis -- Lasik surgery -- is a commonly-used procedure to permanently correct one’s impaired vision, specifically those with nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism.

    The procedure involves reshaping the eye’s cornea with a laser to correct vision.

    According to the research firm Market Scope, there were over 600,000 Lasik surgeries performed in 2011 and although many people have reported improved sight with no vision problems after the procedure, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still warns consumers about many potential side effects.

    One of the first things to do before opting for Lasik surgery is to determine if you’re really a candidate for the procedure, says the FDA, as the surgery isn’t the answer for all people who have vision problems.

    Story continues below video

    Side effects, contraindications

    Those who aren’t good candidates for Lasik surgery include people who had changes in their glasses or contact lenses in the past year, those who have certain chronic ailments like diabetes, and those who take medications like Prednisone, which can slow down post-surgery healing.  

    The FDA also says those with a history of eye diseases such as glaucoma may also be ineligible for Lasik, which is why it’s important to do all the research you’re able to before speaking to your doctor, so you’re able to ask the questions that are most pertinent to your specific case.

    The FDA put up a Lasik website and informational video (below) and emphasizes the importance of patients speaking to their ophthalmologist about any previous eye injuries or eye surgeries.

    Experts say if used on the right candidate, Lasik can be a very effective type of surgery.

    “The FDA reviews the clinical data from Lasik Laser manufacturers,” said Anita Rayner, an expert on FDA patient safety regulations. “These data showed that when Lasik is done properly, and on the right patients, the benefits outweigh the risks.”

    90% successful

    However the AAO also warns that although many achieve 20/20 after the surgery, it may not be the 20/20 that most people are used to through their contact lenses, as many people have reported that their vision was improved by leaps and bounds, but their sight still wasn’t as sharp as it was when visual aids were worn.

    In fact, this dullness of vision has been so prevalent among some Lasik patients that the ophthalmic community has coined the term “loss of contrast sensitivity” and warns people who are in jobs that require a lot of visual focus like an editor, painter or numbers cruncher, to give an extra amount of consideration to determine if undergoing Lasik is really worth the risks.

    Other serious side effects patients can encounter include night vision problems, halos, starburst, light sensitivity and double vision, which can either be temporary or permanent depending on several factors that should be discussed beforehand with your doctor.

    Take it seriously

    In an published interview Morris Waxler, who directed the FDA’s initiative to regulate Lasik, said although the FDA revealed the side effects and dangers associated with the procedure, the general public -- the health community included -- should have taken the warnings much more seriously.

    “I wouldn’t say it was pooh-poohed so much as it was just sort of shoved aside,” he said. “It’s right there in the record. The agencies and the refractive surgeons' people know these problems occur and there doesn’t seem to be a plan to handle some of the more difficult problems that are created.”

    To assure that eye care providers properly communicate the risks involved with Lasik surgery, the FDA sent letters to eye-care facilities in Georgia, Indiana, Florida, Texas and California this week, warning them to halt their misleading advertising that fails to warn consumers about the many risks involved with Lasik.

    The letters are part of an ongoing effort by the FDA to provide a better balance of information about the benefits and potential harm of Lasik and what consumers should keep in mind before going forward with surgery.

    “Providers whose advertising does not provide adequate risk information are finding out today that the FDA is serious about consumer protection,” said FDA’s compliance director for its Center for Devices and Radiological Health division.

    “The FDA reminds consumers that eye surgery such as Lasik is irreversible, that not all patients will achieve optimal results, and that some patients may need additional procedures.”

    Back in the day if a doctor told you they would be able to shoot a laser directly into your eye to correct your vision one day, you might have thought...

    Dating sites that cut to the chase

    New breed of site matches the 'attractive' with the 'generous'

    When a consumer signs up with a dating site, they are usually in search of something. And dating sites usually have their niche, based on that desire.

    eHarmony, for example, is usually favored by those who are looking for a deep, long-lasting relationship. Match.com by those who want to meet someone new. Busy professionals sometimes favor It's Just Lunch.

    But there's a new breed of dating site that is a bit more direct. These are what are called "paid" dating sites. As in, paid to go on a date.

    SeekingArrangements.com is one such site, promising to match up "attractive" women with wealthy dates. According to the site, an arrangement is short for "Mutually Beneficial Relationship" between two people.

    Mutually beneficial

    "At Seeking Arrangement, we believe that successful relationships are all Mutually Beneficial Relationships in that they are two way street, i.e., two people giving as much as they take from each other," the site says.

    "So no matter what you are seeking whether it is love, companionship, friendship or some financial help, and whether it will be for a short-term, long-term or life-long arrangement, we hope you will find the perfect match here," the company says on its website. "Remember, it takes time to find your perfect soul-mate, but because you only live once, you ought to have fun while looking for that special someone."

    Protection from economic turbulence

    The site is currently promoting itself as a way attractive women can protect themselves from fallout from the fiscal cliff. A video on the site advises women that attractive women can improve their financial situation if they date successful and generous men.

    WhatsYourPrice.com, which was founded by the same person as SeekingArrangements.com, is even more direct. It's divided into "attractive members" and "generous members." The generous members "bid" for the opportunity to have a first date with he attractive members. A company video describes how it works.

    The site also offers "first date ideas" and etiquette tips. The etiquette tips include asking for 50 percent of the payment at the start of the date and 50 percent at the end, and only accepting cash.

    When a consumer signs up with a dating site, they are usually in search of something. And dating sites usually have their niche, based on that desire.EHa...

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      E-reader use jumps seven percent this year

      Nearly a quarter of U.S. consumers have read an e-book this year

      More consumers are reading books on tablets and e-readers. A survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that in the past year, the number of those who read e-books increased from 16 percent of all Americans ages 16 and older to 23 percent.

      At the same time, the number of consumers who read a printed book in the previous 12 months fell from 72 percent to 67 percent.

      It should come as no surprise that the trend toward e-reading is occurring at a time when more consumers own a tablet or e-reader. The number of people who own either a tablet computer or e-book reading device such as a Kindle or Nook grew from 18 percent in late 2011 to 33 percent in late 2012.

      Rapid growth

      As of November about 25 percent of U.S. consumers ages 16 and older own tablet computers such as iPads or e-readers like Kindle Fires, up from 10 percent who owned tablets in late 2011. In the latter part of this year 19 percent of Americans ages 16 and older owned e-book reading devices such as Kindles and Nooks, compared with 10 percent who owned the devices at the same time last year.

      Thanks to the iPad, tablet ownership has overtaken e-readers in the U.S., according to the survey. In May of 2010 four percent of the population had an e-reader opposed to three percent who owned tablets. By November of this year, 25 percent owned a tablet whole 19 percent had an e-reader.

      It should also come as no surprise that people who read e-books have more income and more education. The survey found that those most likely to have read an e-book have a college or graduate degree and live in households earning more than $75,000 a year.

      A demographic breakdown of consumers shows growth in e-book consumption across the board. Men and women use them almost equally and the largest age group reporting e-book use is the 30-49 segment.

      Not yet peaked

      In the breakdown, all groups showed an increase in e-book use in the last year, suggesting the trend has yet to peak.

      Amazon.com pioneered the e-book with the first Kindle, a gray-scale electronic reader that could download an electronic version of a book. It was introduced in 2007 as a single device. Today there are several versions, including the full color Kindle Fire, which is more of a tablet.

      Barnes and Noble introduced an e-reader called the Nook in November 2009. The original Nook included both Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity.

      In April 2010 Apple changed the game with the introduction of the iPad tablet computer, which also operated as an e-reader. Since then other manufacturers have produced by e-readers and tablets, making e-books more accessible to consumers.

      More consumers are reading books on tablets and e-readers. A survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that in the past year, the number...

      Mortgage rates end 2012 near record low

      Fiscal cliff fears are keeping rates down

      It turns out last week's jump in mortgage rates may have been an aberration. In two weekly surveys mortgage rates have pulled back to end the year near a record low.

      Freddie Mac's weekly Primary Mortgage Market Survey shows the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) dipped to 3.35 percent with an average 0.7 point for the week ending today, down from last week when it averaged 3.37. A year ago this week the average 30-year FRM was 3.95 percent.

      The 15-year FRM this week averaged 2.65 percent with an average 0.7 point -- unchanged from last week. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.24 percent.

      The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.70 percent this week with an average 0.7 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.71 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 2.88 percent.

      Low rates throughout 2012

      "The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.66 percent for 2012, the lowest annual average in at least 65 years," said Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist, Freddie Mac. "Rates on 30-year fixed mortgages were nearly 0.6 percentage points below that of the beginning of the year, which translates into an interest payment savings of nearly $98,600 over the life of a $200,000 loan."

      Rates in Bankrate.com's weekly national survey were slightly higher but were also down a bit from the previous week.

      The average 30-year FRM was 3.59 percent, down from 3.62 percent the week before. The average 15-year FRM was 2.87 percent, down from 2.89 percent the previous week.

      Bankrate found the 5/1 ARM averaged 2.77 percent this week. That's down from 2.78 percent the week before.

      Bankrate analysts attributed the pull-back to renewed worries that the government would not resolve the fiscal cliff, making a 2013 recession more likely. Those fears prompt more investors to move into bonds for safety, thereby helping keep rates low.

      It turns out last week's jump in mortgage rates may have been an aberration. In two weekly surveys mortgage rates have pulled back to end the year near a r...

      The strawberries are about to disappear from the labels of Strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups

      A settlement agreement reached with General Mills resolves a lawsuit

      You'll soon have a hard time finding any strawberries on the labels of Strawberry Naturally Flavored Fruit Roll-Ups.

      That's because General Mills has resolved a lawsuit over the labels brought against the company by Annie Lam, who was represented by the nonprofit nutrition watchdog group the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the consumer protection law firm Reese Richman LLP.

      Strawberry Naturally Flavored Fruit Roll-Ups contain no strawberries but are made with pears from concentrate, corn syrup, dried corn syrup, sugar, partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, and 2 percent or less various natural and artificial ingredients.

      Good-by strawberries

      So long as the product continues not to contain strawberries, the new labels will not depict images of strawberries, according to the agreement.

      And, so long as the product's label carries the claim "Made with Real Fruit," such claims will be required to include the actual percentage of fruit in the product. Both of those changes will take effect in 2014.

      "By stating the actual percentage of fruit in the product, these labels will be less likely to lead consumers to believe that the product is all or mostly fruit," said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner. "A more accurate name for the product would be Pear Naturally Flavored Fruit Roll-Ups, since pear is present and strawberry is absent. But the removal of pictures of strawberries is a step in the right direction.”

      Other lawsuits

      In recent years, CSPI's litigation unit has negotiated agreements or otherwise spurred improvements in labeling or advertising for products as diverse as Airborne dietary supplements, Centrum multivitamins and Aunt Jemima Blueberry Waffles . CSPI negotiated a settlement agreement improving the nutritional quality of Kellogg products marketed to children, and its lawsuit against KFC spurred that company to cease using partially hydrogenated oil.

      CSPI currently is pursuing litigation aimed at correcting labeling and advertising for Coca-Cola's Vitaminwater and Dr Pepper Snapple Group's 7UP "Antioxidant" varieties.

      You may have a hard time finding any strawberries on the labels of Strawberry Naturally Flavored Fruit Roll-Ups. That's because General Mills has resolved ...

      Four retailers to stop sale and recall Nap Nanny recliners

      The actions are prompted by reports of five infant deaths

      Four major retailers -- Amazon.com, Buy Buy Baby, Diapers.com and Toys R Us/Babies R Us -- are announcing a voluntary recall to consumers who own Nap Nanny recliners made by Baby Matters of Berwyn, PA.

      At the request of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), these retailers have agreed to voluntarily participate because the manufacturer is unable or unwilling to participate in the recall.

      Design defect

      CPSC is warning parents and caregivers that these baby recliners contain defects in the design, warnings and instructions, which pose a substantial risk of injury and death to infants. This recall includes the Nap Nanny Generations One and Two, and the Chill model infant recliners.

      In July 2010, CPSC and Baby Matters, LLC issued a joint recall news release that offered a discount coupon to Generation One owners toward the purchase of a newer model Nap Nanny, and improved instructions and warnings to consumers who owned the Generation Two model of Nap Nanny recliners.

      At the time of the 2010 recall, CPSC was aware of one death that had occurred in a Nap Nanny recliner and 22 reports of infants hanging or falling out over the side of the Nap Nanny, even though most of the infants had been placed in the harness.

      Additional deaths reported

      Subsequently, despite the improvements to the warnings and instructions, additional deaths using the Nap Nanny recliners were reported, including one in a Chill model. Since the 2010 recall, CPSC has received an additional 70 reports of children nearly falling out of the product.

      The Nap Nanny is a portable infant recliner designed for sleeping, resting and playing. The recliner includes a bucket seat shaped foam base and a fitted fabric cover with a three point harness. Five thousand Nap Nanny Generation One and 50,000 Generation Two models were sold between 2009 and early 2012 and have been discontinued. One hundred thousand Chill Models have been sold since January 2011.

      The recalled Nap Nanny recliners were sold at toy and children's retail stores nationwide and online. All models were priced around $130.

      For more information, consumers should review the return policy of the individual retailer from which they purchased a Nap Nanny recliner. If the product was purchased at one of the retailers below, see the link or call for instructions on returns:

      Amazon.com

      Buy Buy Baby: Toll-free at (877) 328-9222, 

      Diapers.com: (800) 342-7377

      Toys R Us/Babies R Us: (800) 869-7787, 

      Four major retailers -- Amazon.com, Buy Buy Baby, Diapers.com and Toys R Us/Babies R Us -- are announcing a voluntary recall to consumers who own Nap Nanny...

      Seven small steps toward improved financial health

      Even minor changes in money management can pay off big

      Money can't buy happiness, they say, but effectively managing your money just might. It can help you avoid lots of headaches that make life less enjoyable.

      Personal finance experts say reducing debt is one of the best ways to exercise control over your financial life. However, don't fall for the heavily-advertised debt settlement programs that make getting out of debt sound easy. It's usually not, unless you win the lottery.

      However, there are seven small steps you can take in the coming year that might put you on the path to better financial stability.

      Start with the basics

      1. Ask for your free credit report. Every consumer is entitled to a free copy of their credit report from all three credit reporting agencies -- Experian, Equifax and Trans Union -- once a year. Just make sure you go to www.AnnualCreditReport.com and not one of the commercial services that have the word "free" in their name. You'll know you're in the wrong place if you are asked to provide a credit card number. Getting your credit report will let you see where you stand credit-wise. It will also allow you to ensure no one has stolen your identity and begun opening accounts in your name.
      2. Create a budget. This is basic personal finance 101. It will allow you to see exactly where your money goes each month. and help eliminate non-essentials from your spending habits.
      3. Create a goal. It's easier to exercise financial discipline when there's a reason for it. The goal doesn't have to be a purchase -- it could also be to pay down debt.
      4. Develop a plan for paying down debt. Working with a financial planner or using an online debt management tool can help you prioritize debts.
      5. Analyze major purchases. If you are considering a new car or big screen TV create a list of pros and cons to help you make a smart financial decision. Make sure it fits within your overall budget plan.
      6. Pay your bills on time. Past-due bills can incur late fees and will negatively affect your credit score. They can also knock you off your financial discipline game very quickly.
      7. Manage your available credit. Avoid opening extra credit card accounts, even when retailers offer discounts for doing so. Just opening one could have a negative impact on your credit score.

      Small steps

      "It may seem daunting at first, but by taking even small steps in 2013, you can reduce debt and take more control of your own finances," said Trey Loughran , president of the Personal Solutions unit at Equifax. "This is a new year's resolution worth keeping all year long."

      Money can't buy happiness, they say, but effectively managing your money just might. It can help you avoid lots of headaches that make life less enjoyable....

      Want to eat healthy in 2013? Here's how

      eMeals suggests some small changes that can make a big difference

      “This year, I'm going to eat healthy.” How many times have you said that on January 1 and by February 1 been back on the diet of a Big Mac for lunch and pizza for dinner? Thought so.

      In an effort to give you a real shot at keeping at least one new year's resolution, the online meal planning service eMeals offers the following tips

      • Adopt Meatless Mondays -- Going meatless just one day a week can reduce your risk of several chronic diseases as well as shrink your carbon footprint. VIPs from Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson and ex-Beatle Sir Paul McCartney to actress Emily Deschanel, The Biggest Loser's Bob Harper and Food Network chef Giada De Laurentiis have endorsed the strategy for both the body and the planet.
      • Try "clean eating" -- Replace pizza and processed foods with fresh meats, produce and seasonal items.
      • Dump the “bad” oils -- Banish butter and bacon grease and replace them with healthy fats like canola and olive oil. Try making your own salad dressing with oil and your favorite vinegar. Your cholesterol level will thank you.
      • Eat breakfast every day -- The adage is true: breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. It fuels your body and brain with the energy you need to face the day.
      • Purge your pantry and fridge -- Get rid of anything that's expired or unhealthy, then restock with healthy staples like brown rice, dried beans, canned tuna and prepared pasta sauce for quick and nutritious meals.
      • Brown-bag it at least 3 days a week -- Pack your lunch for work or school to eat better and save money too.
      • Eat a colorful ROYGBIV diet -- Red foods like tomatoes, watermelon, grapefruit, red bell pepper and red cabbage contain lycopene, which may reduce the risk of some cancers. Orange choices are filled with Vitamin A and carotenoids that are good for your eyesight. Blue/purple produce includes anthycyanins that support heart health. And green veggies contain isothyiocyanates that help flush cancer-causing compounds out of the body. Bonus: the Vitamin K in leafy greens helps regulate blood pressure, too.
      • Downsize your plates -- We all tend to eat everything we put on our plates, and usually that's way too much. If you start a meal with salad, that helps fill you up so you won't overeat the rest of your dinner.
      • Switch out soda -- All of the calories in soda and sugary drinks are empty calories, meaning they contribute no healthy nutrients. Swap soda for calorie-free beverages like water or sparkling water (add a splash of lemon or lime for flavor), or beverages with some nutritional value, like skim milk or small amounts of 100% fruit juice.
      • Add kale, quinoa or both to your plate -- Just one cup of kale contains 180% of the daily requirement of Vitamin A, 200% of Vitamin C, and 1,020% of Vitamin K, making it a cancer-fighting superfood. Quinoa is a gluten-free whole grain and a complete protein ideal for gluten-free, vegetarian, or overall healthy diets.
      • Make half your plate fresh fruit and vegetables -- Diets high in fruits and vegetables contribute to a reduced risk of heart disease, some cancers, obesity and Type II Diabetes. They're also high in fiber, so they fill you up with fewer calories than other foods.
      • Take the Paleo plunge -- This one is for the more adventurous, but it's not as difficult as it seems. The 'caveman diet' focuses on meat, fish, shellfish, eggs, fresh produce, tree nuts and seeds, and healthy fats, eliminating processed foods, grains, dairy, sugar, legumes and potatoes.
      • Try meal planning and avoid the 6 o'clock drive through run -- You'll save time and money and also eat healthier when you plan.  

      “This year, I'm going to eat healthy.” How many times have you said that on January 1 and by February 1 been back on the diet of a Big Mac for lunch and pi...

      Some New Millennium Bank customers to get refunds

      Bank settles with FDIC and exits the credit card business

      In a settlement with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), New Millennium Bank has agreed to make restitution to certain credit card customers.

      The consent order stems from action FDIC took against the bank in 2010 regarding its credit card marketing and administrative practices. Under the order, the bank will make restitution payments to certain customers adversely affected by its prior practices, and pay to the FDIC a civil penalty.

      New Millennium was a major supplier of secured credit cards offered to consumers with a poor credit rating. The cards had a low credit limit and large fees, even though they were secured by a fairly large payment by the consumer and held by the bank.

      Lots of complaints

      ConsumerAffairs received a barrage of complaints in 2010 from consumers who either didn't understand the terms of the card agreement or who were unable to get a card, even after sending in a payment.

      "I applied for a secured credit card in April 2010 and had to pay a $99.95 processing fee," Paul, of Albany, NY, wrote in July 2010. "I did not receive the welcome kit I was supposed to receive. I called today because I have not received a welcome kit and was told that there was a suspension placed on issuing new cards or accepting deposits because of the new credit card regulations, that this started two weeks ago and that it would be resolved soon, but that there was no specific date the cards would be issued. I Googled it afterwards and found out this has been in place since May 10. I am not expecting my card, a refund, or the suspension to be lifted."

      Waiting for a card

      Gwendolyn, of Orlando, Fla., reported that same year that she responded to a mailer from the bank but got no card. Abraham of Far Rockaway, NY, reported a similar experience.

      "I was pre-approved for a credit card with the premise that I must first send a processing fees," Abraham wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. "My check was cashed and there was no card. I have waited for over two months now."

      New Millennium came under FDIC investigation in 2010 and later that year, the agency forced the bank to suspend its credit card activities because of its consumer disclosure and compliance program.

      In announcing its settlement with FDIC, New Millennium announced it is selling its remaining credit card portfolio to another financial institution and fully exiting the credit card business. The transaction is expected to close soon, subject to regulatory approval.

      In a settlement with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), New Millennium Bank has agreed to make restitution to certain credit card customers....

      The companies and brands that angered you the most in 2012

      There were plenty of companies that didn't get it right this year

      Well, it’s almost that time of year again where we break out the Champagne, gather the confetti and put on those silly paper hats. And as people try to mouth the words to Auld Lang Syne, they’ll also be recalling some of their experiences over the past 12 months, which will be a combination of memory flashes surrounding work experiences, the happenings in their personal lives and the events that took place with their friends, family members and co-workers.

      Many will also recall some of the experiences they had with certain products, brands and companies in 2012, as consumers wrote to us about everything from furniture they purchased, to plunking money down on dating sites and not finding the love they were looking for.

      Here's a look at a few of the companies that were on consumers' minds in 2012. These companies were selected not on the basis of how often they were reviewed but rather, how often consumers viewed their pages on our site.

      So, being ono this list doesn't necessarily mean consumers are more upset with these companies than with others, it just means they're interested in finding out more about them.

      Emerson TV

      Consumers rate Emerson TVs

      Probably the most talked-about company this year was Emerson, which released a string of new TVs that a lot of people weren’t too thrilled about.

      The first comment in 2012 about Emerson TVs came on January 3, from Mike of Webberville, Mich., and the last comment was written by Jill of Topsahm, Vt. on December 21.

      Both readers -- and many in-between -- gave Emerson a negative review and each gave the company a personal satisfaction rating of just one out of five stars.

      Jill received an Emerson TV by delivery with no power cord and received practically no assistance from the company to get it delivered, Mike bought two TVs that didn’t even work.

      There’s no doubt that it’s been a rough year for the electronics company, according to some reviews, and whether Emerson is able to improve some of its products and customer service issues in 2013 remains to be seen. 

      “I bought two Emerson 32-inch LCD TVs at Christmas and neither one worked,” wrote Mike just two days into 2012. “What a joke. I have a lot better things to do with my time than drag TVs back and forth to Wal-Mart.”

      Samsung TV

      Consumers rate Samsung TV

      Samsung TV was close behind Emerson, thanks largely to problems with a capacitor in the power supply that can cause the flat-screen TVs to fail at an early age.

      "I called Samsung with the problem and set up a service. They came out today and replaced the capacitor that Samsung would pay for. The TV is still doing the same thing. The TV is still turning on and off even after being 'repaired,'" Karen of Lakeland, Fla., wrote. "I was then told by the repairman that it was the main board that's needed to be replaced. Samsung's not paying for that.

      "I called Samsung and they said that the main board is not covered under the defect with the TV. I looked at all the complaints and now know that other customers are having the same problem even after repair. Same thing - main board needs to be replaced. Samsung is supposed to have someone call me in 2-3 days. We'll see. Very disappointed. I paid over $1,500 for this TV!"

      Whatever the brand, the sad truth is that flat-screen TVs are more prone to problems than their ancestors. They also use a lot more power than traditional TVs and cost a lot more. So maybe it's time to get used to watching TV and movies on our iPads and other handheld devices?

      Kevin Trudeau

      Consumers rate Kevin Trudeau

      Another huge topic of conversation among readers in 2012 was Mr. Kevin Trudeau and his many They-Don’t-Want-You-to-Know-About books and infomercials.

      Robert of Newnan, Ga. posted about Trudeau’s book Free Money and said there was nothing free about the ideas offered and the book itself was a waste of time and cost.

      “My wife bought the book Free Money without researching it or Mr. Trudeau,” he wrote. 

      “Anyone can go on the Internet and note the things written in this worthless book. Our 10-year-old daughter took one look at it and said, ‘Nothing is free.’ It’s wisdom from the mouth of a child. The only person making 'Free Money' is Mr. Trudeau.”

      Select Comfort

      Consumers rate Select Comfort - Sleep Number

      Readers also had plenty to share about the Select Comfort Corporation and its popular Sleep Number Beds, as the company received a bevy of consumer reviews that had a lot to do with the bed’s motor not functioning properly, the firmness and softness levels of the mattress being inaccurate and experiencing delays in delivery.

      Although there were some satisfied customers who wrote to us about the Sleep Number bed, the majority of readers felt they were short changed in the area of the actual product or by the customer service reps they dealt with.

      Judith of Pennsylvania wrote in July of this year about having to fork over extra amounts of money for a faulty motor to be replaced.

      “They said they I needed a new motor as it was losing air,” she wrote. “I replaced the motor with the remote and had to pay $275. This August, the chamber is still losing air. They had me cap it off and guess what, it’s still losing air. Now, I need to replace the bed which is now going to cost me $125.”

      Quicken Loans

      Consumers rate Quicken Loans

      Quicken Loans was also on the minds of consumers this year, as the company angered a lot of readers who wanted to settle a variety of financial issues.

      In September, Eddie of Richmond, Va. warned consumers about what he saw as the  company’s level of disorganization, and he said if you use Quicken Loans you'd  better proceed with a lot of patience and allow extra time for mistakes.

      “I applied for a mortgage loan with Quicken Loans,” Eddie wrote. “They have an inexperienced team who do nothing but drag their feet for two months through the whole loan process. They will have you resubmitting the same paperwork over and over because they are so disorganized.”

      Not all bad

      It's always worth noting that our site tends to attract more negative than positive reviews, simply because consumers are more motivated to post negative reviews. No doubt there are thousands if not millions of consumers who have been at least somewhat happy with products from the companies mentioned here.

      But, on the other hand, it never hurts to be cautious. Before making any major purchase, it's always a good idea to check what other consumers are saying about the product or service you're considering. 

      Thanks for being with us in 2012. It's consumer input that powers our site, and we're looking forward to our 15th year with you in 2013.

      Well, it’s almost that time of year again where we break out the champagne, gather the confetti and put on those silly paper gold top hats that some ...

      Warning: SpamSoldier is invading Android devices

      Mobile devices are increasingly vulnerable

      The mobile world continues to become more vulnerable to malware with a newly discovered SMS spamming botnet called SpamSoldier causing concern.

      It reportedly infects users of Android phones to send out a stream of spam in the form of text messages, much like some PCs become "zombie" computers in the service of spammers.

      Victims are lured in with text messages that tell them they have won a $1,000 gift card at Target, but must enter a code at a special site. When they go to the site they download the malware.

      Clicking will be costly

      “Before you click on a link that is texted to you, understand it’s probably going to cost you,” said Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna. “That text that appears to come from a reputable retailer is usually a trick to take your money, install a virus, or both.”

      SpamSoldier is also spreading through messages that advertise free versions of popular paid games like Angry Birds Space. It is also found on disreputable, third-party app stores. Once it’s infiltrated an Android handset, it uses the subscriber’s allotment of text messages to send out more spam messages.

      Someone who clicks on the link might actually receive a free game. But she will also install an application that in coordination with a kind of mother ship -- a server somewhere in cyberspace -- seeks to reproduce itself.

      Difficult to detect

      McKenna says detecting SpamSoldier can be difficult because the app is programmed to intercept responses to its texts before consumers see them. Still, those who pay by the text or have a limited number per month will eventually notice the activity.

      There are ways to avoid SpamSoldier and other malicious apps. They include:

      • Only download apps from reputable vendors such as the app store pre-installed on your phone.
      • Do not download apps from a vendor who sends you a text.
      • Don’t fall for texts saying you’ve won something.
      • Regularly check your bill with an eye for texts you do not remember sending or for charges you did not authorize.
      • Check your smartphone’s security by visiting the FCC’s Smartphone Security Checker.

      The mobile world continues to become more vulnerable to malware with a newly discovered SMS spamming botnet called SpamSoldier causing concern.It reporte...

      Suzuki sales jump as company winds down its U.S. operations

      The company is importing one last batch of cars to meet the demand

      When American Suzuki announced in November that it was filing for bankruptcy and exiting the U.S. car market, that seemed to be the end of the road for the slow-selling Japanese brand.

      But not only have dealers been clearing out their inventory, they're crying for more, Bloomberg News reported. Suzuki says it will import one final batch of about 2,500 cars to meet the demand that surged after the bankruptcy was announced.

      November sales jumped 22% to 2,224 units and sales have remained strong in December, the company said.

      Adopting an orphan

      Why are so many consumers eager to buy a car that's about to become an orphan? It's most likely the allure of generous incentives and a seven-year warranty the company is offering during its final days.

      What good is a warranty if the company is gone? Good question, but Suzuki insists it will maintain relations with its dealers, even though those dealers will no longer be selling new Suzukis and says it will provide full support for all of its cars in the U.S.

      Could be, but before jumping to buy a Suzuki, consumers should check with owners of Peugeots, Alfa Romeos, Daewoos and other brands whose owners sailed away, leaving behind a support network that may have been adequate but was nowhere near as good as having full-fledged dealerships nearby.

      There's also the little matter of resale value. Cars shed value like a cat sheds fur under the best of circumstances. Orphaned cars -- unless they are genuine collector items -- quickly become nearly worthless, the possible  exceptions being Saturns and Pontiacs, which are still fully supported by General Motors.

      Is it possible Suzuki might change its mind? No way, say company executives, who insist that no further cars are being made to U.S. specifications.

      Anyone just dying to own something with a Suzuki nameplate can still find motorcycles, boats and ATVs, although it might be a good idea to keep a careful eye out for safety recalls, which have been a frequent occurrence in the past.

      Company quibbles

      Suzuki publicists expressed surprise that we would caution consumers about buying a soon-to-be-orphaned car.

      "I hope you’ll agree that with all of the top 50 dealers converting to parts & service operations, there is absolutely no question that consumers will have easy access to dealers that will continue to honor all auto warranties and service needs.  97% of Suzuki dealers signed agreement to become parts and service operations, and these agreements were approved in court last week," said Rachel Rosenblatt of FTI Consulting in an email. 

      When American Suzuki announced in November that it was filing for bankruptcy, exiting the U.S. market and dumping its dealer network, that seemed to be the...

      Resolving to be a smarter shopper

      A good 2013 resolution may be to make your money go further

      There are different ways to accumulate wealth. You can earn more income or, when you make purchases, you can get more for your money. While earning more is nice, it might be easier to make your money go further.

      Personal finance experts say the hardest part about being a smarter shopper is committing to it and not sliding back into old familiar patterns.

      "Before you go to the supermarket or the big-box store, make a list of what you need and only buy those things," said Michelle Perry Higgins, a financial planner and principal of California Financial Advisors in San Ramon, Calif.

      By sticking to your list, she says you can avoid purchasing things that waste money. "You'll be amazed how much you'll save."

      Couponing

      Coupons are another way to stretch your dollar. Again, it takes time and commitment to search out the savings. Daily deal coupon sites have recently made it easier, but Higgins warns they can also be a trap, if you end up buying things just because they are on sale.

      "It's only a bargain if you already use the item in the coupon," she said.

      The best way to get the most for your money is to research major purchases carefully. The Internet is a great tool for price comparisons and smartphones give you the ability to do it on the go. In fact, "showrooming" has become a new, hated trend in the retail industry because more consumers are using their phones to price check when they spot an item in a store they are considering purchasing.

      Sometimes there are ways to cut recurring expenses. Is your cable TV continuing to go up? A number of consumers have reported good results when they call their provider and politely say that, due to rising costs, they are considering switching to another provider. Many times, consumers report, a provider will offer a promotional rate -- at least temporarily -- to keep your business.

      Can you cut insurance costs?

      If you think you might be paying too much for car insurance, call some competing companies and ask for a quote. Just make sure you are comparing the same kind of coverage you currently have with the coverage you are considering replacing it with.

      When it comes to auto and homeowners insurance, the amount of the deductible influences the rate. The higher the deductible -- the amount you are responsible for paying for any claim -- the lower the premium. By assuming more of the risk yourself, you can reduce your payments. Just be sure you can afford to pay the higher deductible in the event you make a claim.

      Household incomes have gone down over the last three years. For consumers trying to get ahead, stretching their dollars may make the most sense. But it requires doing some research and being willing to make some changes.

      And the beginning of a new year is a perfect time to do that.

      There are different ways to accumulate wealth. You can earn more income or, when you make purchases, you can get more for your money. While earning more is...

      Journal: feds may expand mortgage refinance program

      Currently, the program helps only homeowners whose mortgages are owned by Fannie or Freddie

      The government has a program that helps struggling homeowners refinance their mortgages, but a number of criteria must be met in order to participate. For example, your loan must be owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

      But the Wall Street Journal, quoting "people familiar with discussions," reports the government is considering a move to expand the program, for the first time opening it up to homeowners whose mortgages are not owned by either of the Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSE). That would allow of some of the riskier mortgages held by private investors to be transferred to the government.

      By allowing struggling homeowners to refinance, even if they owe more on their mortgage than the home is now worth, it would lower their mortgage payments, potentially by several hundred dollars a month. Such a move, it is argued, could help strengthen the economy as well as further stabilize the housing market.

      Current program

      Fannie and Freddie's Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) is designed specifically to help borrowers who may be ineligible for traditional refinancing due to a loss of home value or because they have little or no equity. Like other refinancing options, with HARP you receive a completely new mortgage with new terms, interest rates and monthly payments.

      The new loan completely replaces your current mortgage and may lower your payment or move you into a more stable loan product, which could help improve your monthly financial situation.

      Homeowners are eligible if Fannie or Freddie owns their mortgage, they are current in their payments, they have limited equity and their home has lost value.

      The proposal, which would require action by Congress to implement, would transfer risk for the loans to the government. The GSEs would pay for that increased risk by charging borrowers more for loans.

      The government has a program that helps struggling homeowners refinance their mortgages, but a number of criteria must be met in order to participate. For ...

      West Virginia issues subpoenas against two car title loan companies

      State is investigating debt collection practices

      Why shouldn't you take out a car title loan? Think of it this way -- the risk is much more than the reward. Take it from Steven, of Wilmington, Del.

      "I took a loan for $200, couldn't pay the loan back when they wanted it. So they took my car," Steven wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post about Cashpoint. "Now I paid $2300 for the car and the car was worth way more than $200. So they said I have to pay back $1242 if I wanted my car back."

      This, unfortunately, is not an unusual situation and has prompted several states, including West Virginia, to severely restrict car title loan companies and the way they collect debts. West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw says he has filed suit against Cashpoint, and another Virginia-based company, Approved Cash Advance, as part of his investigation of consumer complaints in his state.

      Investigative subpoenas

      The suits were filed to enforce investigative subpoenas.

      "The use of investigative subpoenas may be the most important tool we have to uncover violations of the law and to determine whether to bring enforcement actions when necessary to protect consumers," McGraw said. "If the law is being violated, we typically seek a company’s voluntary promise to comply without resort to litigation. Regretfully, when companies fail to comply with our subpoenas, we cannot complete the investigation that the Legislature expects us to conduct, which leads to subpoena enforcement proceedings such as these."

      West Virginia law allows the attorney general to issue investigative subpoenas to obtain documents and other information when it has reason to believe that a person or company may be violating state consumer protection laws, or even to make sure that it is not.

      Consumer complaints

      In these cases, McGraw said he received complaints or other information indicating that the companies may be engaging in unlawful debt-collection practices, which led to the issuance of the subpoenas. When companies fail to comply with the subpoenas, as occurred in these cases, the attorney general must ask a court to issue an order enforcing.

      Car title loans work much like payday loans, except rather than putting a paycheck up as collateral, the borrower signs over the title to an automobile. If the consumer defaults, he loses his car.

      Why shouldn't you take out a car title loan? Think of it this way -- the risk is much more than the reward. Take it from Steven, of Wilmington, Del.I too...

      Tamiflu use expanded to include infants

      The flu treatment can now be used in treatment of children younger than 1 year

      Tamiflu (oseltamivir) may now be used to treat children as young as 2-weeks-old who have shown symptoms of flu for no longer than two days.

      Under terms of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, the drug is not approved to prevent flu infection in this population. In addition, the safety and efficacy of Tamiflu to treat flu infection has not been established in children younger than 2-weeks-old.

      Tamiflu was approved in 1999 to treat adults infected with flu who have shown symptoms for no longer than two days. It has since been approved to treat flu in children ages 1 year and older who have shown symptoms of flu for no longer than two days, and to prevent flu in adults and children ages 1 year and older.

      Careful dosing a must

      Although there is a fixed dosing regimen for patients 1 year and older according to weight categories, the dosing for children younger than 1 year must be calculated for each patient based on their exact weight. These children should receive 3 milligrams per kilogram twice daily for five days. These smaller doses will require a different dispenser than what is currently co-packaged with Tamiflu.

      “Pharmacists must provide the proper dispenser when filling a prescription so parents can measure and administer the correct dose to their children,” said Edward Cox, M.D., M.P.H, director of the Office of Antimicrobial Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Parents and pediatricians must make sure children receive only the amount of Tamiflu appropriate for their weight.”

      Younger patients at risk for flu complications

      Tamiflu is the only product approved to treat flu infection in children younger than 1 year old, providing an important treatment option for a vulnerable population. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children younger than 2 years are at higher risk for developing complications from the flu -- with the highest rates of hospitalization in those less than 6 months of age.

      The FDA expanded the approved use of Tamiflu in children younger than 1 year based on extrapolation of data from previous study results in adults and older children, and additional supporting safety and pharmacokinetic studies sponsored by both the National Institutes of Health and Roche Group, Tamiflu’s manufacturer.

      Safety studies conducted

      Almost all of the 135 pediatric patients enrolled in the two safety studies had confirmed flu. Results from these studies showed the safety profile in children younger than 1 year was consistent with the established safety profile of adults and older children.

      The most common side effects reported with Tamiflu use in this age group include vomiting and diarrhea. Although not seen in the new studies, rare cases of severe rash, skin reactions, hallucinations, delirium, and abnormal behavior have been reported.

      Tamiflu is not a substitute for early, annual flu vaccination, as recommended by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. CDC recommends all persons aged 6 months and older receive an annual flu vaccine.

      Tamiflu (oseltamivir) may now be used to treat children as young as 2-weeks-old who have shown symptoms of flu for no longer than two days. Under terms of...

      Consumers sending money internationally to get enhanced protection

      Rule revisions would provide fee transparency, among other things

      A Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) rule regulating international money transfers is about to get more heft.

      Newly proposed revisions, which the agency says are narrow in focus, creates a comprehensive consumer protection regime for remittance transfers sent by consumers in the United States to individuals and businesses in foreign countries.

      “We are dedicated to bringing new protections to consumers who want to send money internationally,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. The proposal, he said, “will ensure consumers have continued access to remittance transfer services while making compliance easier for remittance transfer providers.”

      More disclosure

      Under the final rule, remittance transfer providers will be required to disclose certain fees and taxes, as well as the exchange rate that will apply to the transfer. The rule also provides consumers with error resolution and cancellation rights.

      The proposed changes are designed to address the rule’s provisions on:

      • Disclosure of Foreign Taxes and Institution Fees: The proposal would provide increased flexibility and guidance with respect to the disclosure of taxes imposed by a foreign country’s central government as well as fees imposed by a recipient’s institution for receiving a remittance transfer in an account.
      • Disclosure of Subnational Taxes in Foreign Country: The proposal would require disclosure of foreign taxes imposed by a country’s central government, but would eliminate the requirement to disclose taxes imposed by foreign regional, provincial, state, or other local governments.
      • Errors from Incorrect Account Information: Under the proposal, when the provider can demonstrate that the consumer provided an incorrect account number and certain other conditions are satisfied, the provider would be required to attempt to recover the funds but would not bear the cost of funds that cannot be recovered.

      Preserving competition

      The CFPB’s proposed revisions are designed to preserve market competition and consumers’ access to remittance transfer services and to facilitate implementation of and compliance with the rule’s requirements, while maintaining the rule’s valuable new consumer protections and ensuring that those protections can be effectively delivered to consumers.

      The Bureau expects to keep the rulemaking narrowly focused on these issues and to complete the rulemaking process on an expedited basis. Though the rule is scheduled to take effect on February 7, 2013, the Bureau is proposing a temporary delay of that date to accommodate the changes in the new proposal.

      Consumers transfer tens of billions of dollars from the U.S. to foreign countries each year. Prior to the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act, these international money transfers were generally not covered by existing federal consumer protection regulations. To remedy this, the Dodd-Frank Act expanded the scope of the Electronic Fund Transfer Act to provide protections for remittance transfer senders, and directed that rules implementing certain provisions of the new protections be issued by January 21,

      A Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) rule regulating international money transfers is about to get more heft. Newly proposed revisions, which the...

      States take action against debt-solution firms

      Companies that make unrealistic promises get rigorous review

      It's been a year in which debt-settlement firms have found themselves under increasing scrutiny, and in some cases have faced enforcement actions in some states. Colorado and North Carolina are the states taking the most recent action.

      Colorado Attorney General John Suthers says Orion Financial Group, which he sued earlier this year, has entered into a consent decree that, among other things, makes consumer restitution. In January Suthers' office accused Orion of provided debt-management services to Colorado consumers without meeting the required registration and regulatory requirements under the state’s consumer protection laws.

      Didn't register

      The Colorado Attorney General’s Office registers and regulates debt-management companies, including debt settlement and credit counseling companies.

      Under the consent decree, Orion and its owner Eric Thompson agreed to be permanently enjoined from providing debt-management services to Colorado residents. In addition, judgment was entered against Orion and Thompson in the amount of $70,000 for consumer restitution. If they default in making payments under the consent decree, they must pay an additional $479,442.

      Meanwhile, consumers in five states who paid money to a Florida debt relief firm but got no meaningful help will get $100,000 in refunds under a federal court order.

      Federal-state action

      The case against Payday Loan Debt Solutions, Inc. (PLDS) and its president, Sanjeet Parvani, is the first joint effort between states and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). North Carolina, Hawaii, New Mexico, North Dakota and Wisconsin participated in the case.

      “Companies that take your good money, promise debt relief, and then drive you deeper in the hole are breaking the law,” said North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. “By working with other states and federal consumer protection authorities, we’ve been able to put a stop to this illegal behavior and win money back for consumers.”

      $100,000 in refunds

      At the request of the states, and the CFPB, a federal district court in Miami ordered PLDS to provide $100,000 in refunds to consumers who were charged advance fees but received no debt-settlement services from PLDS by the time their accounts were closed. PLDS was also ordered to pay a $5,000 penalty and to obey the law in the future.

      "Today's order will put money back in the pockets of consumers who were wrongfully charged for debt-relief services," said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. "We are pleased to be working with our state partners on this important effort to protect consumers."

      The investigation found evidence that PLDS routinely charged consumers upfront fees prior to settling the consumers’ debts, in violation of both state and federal laws.

      It's been a year in which debt-settlement firms have found themselves under increasing scrutiny, and in some cases have faced enforcement actions in some s...