Current Events in December 2012

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    Christmas Day offers a brief respite from sales and promotions

    But it all begins anew on Wednesday with launch of after-Christmas sales

    This is that rarest of days -- a day when there are no pre-holiday sales, post-holiday sales or any other kind of sales, for that matter. Except for the corner 7-11 and a gas station or two, U.S. businesses are taking an all-too-rare break.

    Enjoy it while you can, because it won't last long. Most major stores will come roaring back to life Wednesday morning, many opening earlier than usual to lure shoppers seeking after-Christmas bargains.

    Merry Christmas from all of us at ConsumerAffairs and thanks for helping to make 2012 our best year yet. We're looking forward to spending our 15th year with you in 2013.

    This is that rarest of days -- a day when there are no pre-holiday sales, post-holiday sales or any other kind of sales, for that matter. Except for the ...

    Hedge fund manager slams Herbalife as 'pyramid scheme'

    Company fires back, accusing Bill Ackman of 'stock price manipulation'

    Bill Ackman controls billions of dollars and is one of the titans of Wall Street. As founder of Pershing Square Capital Management, a successful hedge fund, his opinion of a company carries weight.

    Lately, Ackman is telling anyone who will listen that he has a poor opinion of Herbalife Ltd., a distributor of health-related products. It's based on multilevel marketing, in which representatives not only sell product but recruit new distributors. Ackman calls it "the best-managed pyramid scheme in the history of the world."

    Herbalife, based in the Cayman Islands, sells products including Formula 1 drink mix, aloe water and herbal tea. As is often the case with multi-level products, the independent distributors sometimes make health claims that have no scientific foundation, as Mema of Auckland, New Zealand, described in a recent ConsumerAffairs posting:

    Our neighbor recommended their minister to my parents for a cure for cancer (as my father has lung cancer). They went with the neighbor to see this minister, who explained to my parents that Herbalife was the best cure for cancer. (I already knew what the product does.) As for my parents, they are islanders and don't really understand but just went to help dad out.

    For a whole month every day, they paid $8 a day to drink three cups of Herbalife, aloe, tea and milkshake. Seriously, all it ever did was make my dad lose weight and put him into intensive care.

    Unusual attack

    Even Wall Street veterans say Ackman's attack is somewhat unusual. He staged a high-end multimedia presentation in New York last week that was streamed live on the Internet, bringing a quick response from Herbalife.

    "Today's presentation was a malicious attack on our business model based largely on outdated, distorted and inaccurate information," Herbalife said in a statement. "We are not an illegal pyramid scheme."

    Harold, of Eugene, Ore., is not a Wall Street tycoon but a consumer who signed up to be an Herbalife representative. However, he shares Ackman's view in some respects.

    "I signed up, went to group training, and all they were doing was bragging about making '$1500 profit the first night' or 'currently making $18,000 and up, near the president's level of $23,000 per month,'" Harold wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post.

    Slow refunds

    Harold also said the company representatives pressed him to purchase hardware, such as blenders. Other consumers writing to ConsumerAffairs say they were made to wait weeks for refunds when they withdrew from the program.

    Herbalife responded to Ackman by accusing him of trying to manipulate the price of the stock. They point out that he had previously taken a short position, meaning he would make money if Herbalife stock goes down.

    Ackman says he will donate any money he earns from shorting Herbalife to charity. He accuses the company of paying its sales people more to sign up new distributors than to sell product. A few at the top earn millions, he says, while most at the bottom earn very little.

    Bill Ackman controls billions of dollars and is one of the titans of Wall Street. As founder of Pershing Square Capital Management, a successful hedge fund...

    Privacyfix may prove to be a thorn in Facebook's side

    Browser app helps you restrict your data from online marketers

    Facebook and other social media are constantly looking for ways to earn revenue and many of those ways involve selling information about you, if you happen to be a user.

    These sites provide tools on their privacy pages to allow you to manage your privacy settings, but the process can be cumbersome and often confusing. Enter Privacyfix, a free browser app for Chrome and Firefox that has streamlined privacy management.

    Once you download the tool it provides a quick analysis of potential privacy issues and gives you some options for dealing with them. For example, your basic information, like name and photo, are always public to help others connect with you. You can make this data harder to find by blocking it from search engines.

    Becoming less visible

    By default Facebook allows your friends to share your profile information with game and app publishers. You can block all sharing or allow only specific kinds of data to be shared.

    By default, Facebook makes your posts public. You can change your default settings to be more private.

    When you Like something through Facebook, it may display your name and image and Like in ads shown to your friends. You can block this use of your data.

    Facebook automatically shares some profile information when you visit certain websites, unless you turn off this feature. Facebook collects data across thousands of websites using Likes and widgets. PrivacyFix can block this data collection.

    Your Facebook value

    In its analysis, Privacyfix will also tell you how much money Facebook is making from your data. It might be a few cents or several dollars. The amount, of course, gives you an idea of how much of your data is being marketed.

    The Privacyfix interface gives you an option to change a particular setting, then takes you directly to the webpage where you can make the change. It even provides directions on how to proceed.

    As for the way it operates, Privacyfix says it saves no IP addresses or history and uses no cookies. You remain completely anonymous, the site says.

    The tool was launched in October by a company called Privacy Choice, a data analysis firm.

    Facebook and other social media are constantly looking for ways to earn revenue and many of those ways involve selling information about you, if you happen...

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      Major retailers will be closed on Christmas Day

      Many are closing early today, Christmas Eve

      Walmart took quite a bit of heat from employees and customers by opening its stores on Thanksgiving Day to get an early start on the annual Black Friday sales.

      But there won't be a repeat of that on Christmas Day. The company says that most of its stores will close at 8 p.m. Christmas Eve and reopen Dec. 26.

      Other major retailers are following suit, including Target, Best Buy and Costco. Macys, Ikea, Toys "R" Us and Michaels will also be closed Christmas Day. 

      Most retailers will be closing early today, Christmas Eve. Check with your local stores before setting out to do any last-minute shopping.

      Walmart took quite a bit of heat from employees and customers by opening its stores on Thanksgiving Day to get an early start on the annual Black Friday sa...

      Smartphones can be a serious security risk

      The Federal Communications Commision releases a security check list for all smartphone users

      According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), smartphones robberies are  rising steadily.

      In New York City, for example, 40 percent of all robberies involve smartphones or cell phones, and in Washington D.C., smartphone robberies were up by 54 percent compared to 2011, says the government agency.

      And it’s not only in the big cities that smartphone crimes are increasing, as 30 to 40 percent of all robberies throughout the country involved the pricey electronic gadgets, and unless consumers really start applying a good old-fashioned dose of vigilance, the number of smartphone thefts will only continue to increase in the years to come.

      To help prevent this from happening, the FCC has released what it calls the “Smartphone Security Checker”--an outline that smartphone users can follow to make sure their personal information is kept secure if their device is ever stolen or hacked into.

      The ten-point check system serves as both a guideline and a reminder for consumers to follow and each suggestion seems to be made up of common-sense reminders and security tips that are pretty obvious but may have eluded some users along the way.

      Watch those apps

      One example--be wary about changing the security settings on your phone once it’s purchased, as altering the default settings may dramatically diminish the phone's ability to block hackers and secure your personal data.

      The FCC also suggests you be extremely leery of the apps you choose to download, and to make sure you’re getting apps from a trusted source.

      Since there seems to be an application for just about everything these days, consumers can easily download something that’s harmful to their phone out of sheer habit or choose to blindly trust a certain app just because it has a lot of uses.

      The security checklist also warns consumers to check the reviews of an app to see if it really works as promised before downloading it, and people should do a bit of research on the store that the app comes from, just to make sure it’s a legitimate source.

      It’s also imperative that consumers know how an app works before giving it permission to carry out different functions on your smartphone and users should also familiarize the privacy settings on each app before using it, says the FCC.

      Post-theft protection

      An app that’s really smart for consumers to download is one that allows you to erase your personal data after your phone has been lost or stolen, which some phones are equipped with upon purchase.

      The FCC says these security apps are extremely important for each smartphone user to have because it also allows them to remove stored data, even if the GPS tracker is turned off.

      The government agency also says to be particularly careful when using Wi-Fi networks that are open to the public, and in actuality, consumers should really limit their use of these places in exchange for using Wi-Fi services that are from a known network.

      Also, many consumers don’t take the same security precautions that they do with their laptops and home computers, although smartphones are used more frequently these days and have a bigger potential to become lost or stolen.

      PINs

      For this very reason, setting passwords and PINs is essential as the phone's home screen is truly the protective shield of the device--and if the right security measures are put in place, a thief will have a much harder time cracking into your personal information and using it for God knows what.

      And we all know those little pop-up reminders that tell us to update our phone’s software can be annoying, but the FCC says these updates can better help your phone block out hackers and those questionable sources that may use malware to steal your info.

      Some smartphones are equipped to automatically remind you of these software updates while others have to be enabled, but either way these updates at least try to keep up with the new ways that people are able to steal your information.

      All things considered, the checkpoint system put together by the FCC is a useful one, and consumers will probably be reminded of some measure they’ve heard in the past, combined with new ideas to keep their data safe, because it will take a consistent level of proactivity to make sure a hacker or smartphone thief isn’t walking away with all of your stored information.

      Because if that happens, a heap of potentially serious problems can develop that can be really hard to remedy, and nobody wants that.

      According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), smartphones robberies are on the steady incline.In New York City, for example, 40 percent of al...

      Study: More deaths among heart attack patients who get blood transfusions

      Patients sometimes get transfusions because of bleeding, anemia

      A new meta-analysis of 10 studies finds a higher mortality rate among heart attack patients who get blood transfusions, but medical authorities cautioned that more research was needed.

      In the meta-analysis published Online First by Archives of Internal Medicine, a JAMA Network publication, Saurav Chatterjee, M.D., of Brown University and Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Rhode Island, and colleagues conducted a review of studies published between January 1966 and March 2012.

      Ten studies, including 203,665 participants, were selected for analysis. Only one study was a randomized trial, while the others were observational studies.

      “Analyses of blood transfusion in myocardial infarction revealed increased all-cause mortality associated with a strategy of blood transfusion vs. no blood transfusion during myocardial infarction (18.2 percent vs. 10.2 percent), with a weighted absolute risk increase of 12 percent,” the authors wrote. 

      Blood transfusion also appeared to be associated with a higher risk for subsequent myocardial infarction, according to the study results.

      Transfusions are sometimes needed because therapeutic measures including anticoagulation and antiplatelet drugs may increase the risk for bleeding, which can lead to patients developing anemia during their hospital stay and requiring blood transfusion, according to the study background.

      “In conclusion, this meta-analysis provides evidence that rates of all-cause mortality and subsequent myocardial infarction are significantly higher in patients with acute myocardial infarction receiving blood transfusion. Additional outcomes data are needed from randomized clinical trials that investigate important outcomes with adequate sample size and with low risk for bias,” the authors concluded.

      Skeptics unconvinced

      But not everyone found the evidence convincing.

      “Do blood transfusions kill more patients with an acute myocardial infarction than anemia? Chatterjee and colleagues would have you believe that they do. We remain unconvinced,” said Jeffrey L. Carson, M.D., of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, New Brunswick, and Paul C. Hébert, M.D., of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Canada, in an accompanying commentary. 

      “What might we take away from this systematic review? The authors remind us that patients with an acute myocardial infarction are often anemic and receive red blood cell transfusion. However, because of its many limitations, as physicians, we should not use the results of this review to justify or limit the use of red blood cells,” they continue.

      “For researchers and decision makers, we can now appreciate how little reliable information is available to inform clinical and policy decisions involving red blood cell transfusions in patients with acute coronary syndrome. Given that real risks and potential benefits exist as to how we choose to use the valuable resource of blood transfusion, we believe that high-quality research is long overdue,” they conclude.

      A new meta-analysis of 10 studies finds a higher mortality rate among heart attack patients who get blood transfusions, but medical authorities cautioned t...

      Firm linked to meningitis outbreak files bankruptcy

      New England Compounding Center promises fund to compensate victims

      As expected, the New England Compounding Center (NECC), the Massachusetts pharmacy at the center of the recent nationwide meningitis outbreak, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

      The company said in a filing that it is is also trying to set up a fund to compensate individuals and families affected by a nationwide meningitis outbreak. In papers filed with the court, the company said its goal is to provide a greater, quicker, fairer payout to its creditors than they could achieve through piecemeal litigation.

      The company also announced the appointment of Keith D. Lowey as Independent Director of NECC and as the company’s Chief Restructuring Officer. Lowey will be responsible for NECC’s effort to establish the Compensation Fund and commence payments to affected parties.

      “This will be a cooperative effort,” said Lowey. "We want to assemble a substantial fund, and then distribute it fairly and efficiently to those who are entitled to relief.”

      Seeks to avoid litigation

      Lowey said that NECC seeks to forge a consensual, comprehensive resolution of claims which will be funded by agreements reached among the claimants, the company, its insurers and other parties with potential liability for the meningitis cases. All such claims will be addressed in U.S. Bankruptcy court.

      By the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest count, there have been 620 cases of meningitis nationwide linked to a tainted steriod drug produced at NECC. Ninteen states reported cases, with Michigan logging the most -- 223.

      On October 3 NECC stopped all production and began a recall of all methylprednisolone acetate, a steroid medication, and other drug products prepared for injections in and around the spinal cord.

      Working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) investigated NECC in October.

      Investigation

      "During the facility inspections, investigators documented serious health and safety deficiencies related to the practice of pharmacy," the DPH report stated.

      Among the alleged violations of Massachusetts health regulations, DPH said NECC distributed large batches of compounded sterile products directly to facilities apparently for general use rather than requiring a prescription for an individual patient. It said records also show that NECC had lists of potential patient names but did not have patient-specific prescriptions from an authorized practitioner when compounding and dispensing medication, as required by state law.

      The report also said manufacturing and distributing sterile products in bulk was not allowed under the terms of its state pharmacy license. If NECC was appropriately licensed as a manufacturer with the FDA the company would have been subject to additional levels of scrutiny. The investigation also found that NECC did not conduct patient-specific medication history and drug utilization reviews as required by regulations.

      Sterility methods

      The Massachusetts report also questioned NECC's methods of assuring sterility in drug production. The bankruptcy filing may mean limits on legal action impacted parties may take. The company, however, says litigation should be unnecessary.

      “Many families across the U.S. have been impacted by this great tragedy, and it is difficult to comprehend the sense of loss so many people have experienced. Everyone associated with New England Compounding Center shares that sense of loss,” Lowey said. “We recognize the need to compensate those affected by the meningitis outbreak fairly and appropriately. We hope that by establishing this Fund under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, those families impacted by this tragedy may be compensated as quickly as is possible.”

      As expected, the New England Compounding Center (NECC), the Massachusetts pharmacy at the center of the recent nationwide meningitis outbreak, has filed fo...

      Spin magazine shuts down its print edition

      After 27 years the magazine that grew with alternative rock and Hip Hop is no more

      If you’re like me, you probably spent a fair share of time frequenting book stores and magazine shops rummaging through rows and rows of magazines of every kind.

      And if you’re a music lover, there was always a countless number of both well-known and obscure publications that kept you up to date about new music, music news and all of the happenings that took place in the industry.

      One of those publications that many of us thumbed through during those days--that sat confidently among bigger magazines like Rolling Stone and Billboard on the shelf--was Spin magazine, which just announced it's making the September/October 2012 issue the very last.

      Founded in 1985 by Bob Guccione Jr., Spin always seemed to be the type of magazine that was eager to recognize and cover newer and smaller artists, while placing more of a focus on up-and-coming acts, often giving them the front cover of the magazine over the bigger artists of the day.

      To put it in supermarket terms, if Rolling Stone was the Whole Foods in the heyday of print music magazines, then Spin was the Trader Joe's for its seeming contentment to be smaller and more sharply focused on a fussier niche of consumers who aren’t as focused on what the mass market.

      If Billboard tended to focus on who was hot in its issues, then Spin would focus on who was about to get hot, and this way of creating content brought the magazine to a level of prominence among those music fans who craved to see their underground artist get a chance to poke their head through the soil and see mainstream daylight.

      Car mags

      It seems that Spin made arrangements with Car and Driver magazine to take over the remaining subscriptions, so each customer will receive a copy of the automobile mag for each copy of Spin they’re owed.

      Although it’s certainly civilized for Spin to provide another magazine to subscribers as a means of compensation for shutting down abruptly, providing customers with a car magazine seems rather strange in music magazine realms.

      Here’s some of what a Car and Driver spokesperson had to say about picking up Spin subscriptions.

      “I know we can’t replace the insight and passion that Spin delivered to new-music lovers,” the magazine said in a letter to subscribers.

      “But we can promise that Car and Driver will provide that same insight and passion for cars. Our approach, our worldview, our love of the subject—all that is shared between these two titles. I know a lot of you got deeper into music because of how Spin brought you into that world. Try it, and I guarantee Car and Driver will do the same thing for the automobile.”  

      Fortunately, Spin said subscribers can also opt for a full refund if they choose, which I'm sure many will unless they're also car lovers.

      Digital conversion

      Similar to many print publications, Spin said it was shutting down to focus on expanding its digital offerings, and it hopes that fans will make a voluntary exodus to its website and its other music-based products.

      Spin has halted publication of our print edition to invest more deeply in our digital properties, including Spin.com, SPIN Play for iPad, and SPIN mobile” the company wrote. “Spin has been a pioneer in music journalism since 1985 and we hope you’ll continue to enjoy our leading editorial photographic and multi-media content online.”

      Those who have been following Spin magazine in recent times are aware that the company was bought by Buzz Media earlier this year. Before that, it was owned by Miller Publishing,  Hartle Media, and also by the McEvoy Group, which purchased Spin in 2006 for $5 million.

      Although Buzz Media seemingly wanted the print edition to continue-- according to the public statements the company made--consumers, the current magazine climate and the domination of digital media made it almost impossible to do.

      Spin is the second major print publication shutting down its printing machines in 2012, as Newsweek will be stopping its print edition at year's end, which is certainly an indication that the hours and hours that you used to spend in magazine shops will be dwindling down to minutes and minutes, until being able to buy a print magazine will be a thing of the past.

      Reports indicate that Spin had a circulation of 350,000 when the company printed its last issue.

      If you’re a like me, then you probably spent your fair share of time frequenting book stores and magazine shops rummaging through rows and rows of ma...

      Dementia and driving: what's the risk?

      New research suggests driving is a bigger threat than previously thought

      When someone is diagnosed with dementia, families and other caregivers may consider taking away the car keys. In some cases it might be prudent but might not seem necessary in others.

      A diagnosis of dementia may not mean that a person can no longer drive safely, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA). In the early stages of dementia, some – though not all – individuals may still possess skills necessary for safe driving. Most dementia, however, is progressive, meaning that symptoms such as memory loss, visual-spatial disorientation, and decreased cognitive function will worsen over time.

      No warning

      And that's part of the problem. A patient may seem perfectly fine behind the wheel, able to run errands like grocery shopping and picking up the dry cleaning. But then one day driving down a street they've driven on hundreds of times, they get lost.

      Florida, with its large senior population, has something called "Silver Alerts." Similar to the Amber Alert for missing children, the Silver Alert uses highway message boards and news broadcasts to alert the public to be on the lookout for a missing driver.

      Researchers at the University of South Florida (USF) examined how people with dementia become lost while driving, how missing drivers are found, and the role of public notification systems like Silver Alert in these discoveries suggests techniques that may help recover drivers with dementia and prevent potentially harmful incidents.

      They concluded that a comprehensive Silver Alert program that includes law enforcement and community education can be a very effective way of quickly finding missing drivers. Their findings led to recommendations for more study on how these programs can be expanded.

      No more driving

      But the researchers emphasize that getting cognitively impaired people to voluntarily give up their car keys may be the single most effective measure for prevent missing incidents that may lead to injury or death.

      “Important aspects of successful driving retirement include a partnership between the healthcare practitioner and caregiver to support the decision for driving retirement, the identification of local and state programs… and assistance in finding alternative forms of transportation in the community,” they conclude.

      In their study the USF researchers found that most missing drivers were men, ages 58 to 94, who were cared for by a spouse. Most got lost on routine trips to usual locations. Only 15 percent were found while driving, with most discovered in or near a parked car. Most of the time they were found by a police officer.

      Another state

      In addition, only 40 percent were found in the county where they were reported missing. Ten percent were found in a different state and another 15 percent were found in dangerous situations such as stopped on railroad tracks. There was a five percent mortality rate in the study population, with those living alone more likely to be found dead than alive.

      “With the baby boomer generation getting older, the number of the people living with Alzheimer’s disease is on the rise,” said Dr. Meredeth A. Rowe, the lead researcher on the study. “Most Americans depend on driving their own car to meet their transportation needs, even for the most basic needs such as food. It will be critical to identify other means of transportation for people with dementia to facilitate driving retirement."

      When someone is diagnosed with dementia, families and other caregivers may consider taking away the car keys. In some cases it might be prudent but might n...

      Stehouwer's recalls Pigs in the Blanket products

      The product contains an allergen that is not declared on the label

      Stehouwer's Frozen Foods, of Grand Rapids, MI, is recalling approximately 6,039 pounds of Pigs in the Blanket products because of misbranding and an undeclared allergen -- milk, which is not declared on the label.

      The products subject to recall include:

      • 13.5-lb. cases of "Stehouwer's Pigs in the Blanket." Each case contains 12 individual 18-oz. packages of "Stehouwer's Pigs in the Blanket." The products were produced on Sept. 27, 2012, Oct. 25, 2012, and Dec. 13, 2012, and they have use by dates of Sept. 27, 2013, Oct. 25, 2013, and Dec. 13, 2013.
      • 5-lb. bulk packages of "Stehouwer's Pigs in the Blanket." These packages are labeled "FOR INSTITUTIONAL USE ONLY." They were produced on Oct. 25, 2012, and have the use by date of 102513.

      Each case and package bears the establishment number "EST. 6814" inside the USDA mark of inspection. They were distributed for institutional use and to retail stores in Michigan.

      The problem was discovered when an inspector saw that nonfat milk was listed as an ingredient in the mix used to make the dough for this product, but it was not listed on the final product label. The ingredient supplier had changed its spice mix components in the time since Stehouwer's Frozen Foods had created labels for the Pigs in the Blanket products. There are no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

      Consumers with questions about the recall should contact Tim May, Stehouwer's Frozen Foods' president, at (616) 453-2471.  

      Stehouwer's Frozen Foods, of Grand Rapids, MI, is recalling approximately 6,039 pounds of Pigs in the Blanket products because of misbranding and an undecl...

      Dangerous supplement now sold as 'WOW'

      It's the same old stuff -- just a new name

      It's baaaaaack! A product distributed and sold under the name 'WOW' is really just another product in disguise -- one that can cause serious harm.

      Earlier in 2012, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) twice warned the public about taking Reumofan Plus -- marketed as a "natural" dietary supplement for the treatment of many conditions, including arthritis and bone cancer -- because, in reality, it contains undeclared active ingredients found in prescription drugs that should only be used under the supervision of a health care professional.

      Brad Pace, regulatory counsel at FDA's Health Fraud and Consumer Outreach Branch, says some distributors have deliberately put a new label and a new name -- WOW -- on bottles of Reumofan Plus to deceptively sell remaining supplies. Pace says WOW has been distributed to online retailers and other distributors, as well as directly to consumers.

      FDA is concerned that other distributors will also put different labels on Reumofan Plus and sell it under other names.

      Consumer advice

      The agency offers this advice to consumers:

      • Immediately consult a health care professional if you are now taking Reumofan Plus or WOW.
      • Do not use any products with "Riger Naturals S.A." printed on the bottom of the bottle. Reumofan Plus is manufactured in Mexico by Riger Naturals.
      • Report any health problems related to these products to FDA's MedWatch Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program.

      Serious health risks

      Since June, FDA has received dozens of reports from consumers who used Reumofan Plus of serious, and sometimes fatal, outcomes. The reports include liver injury, severe bleeding, corticosteroid withdrawal syndrome, adrenal suppression and stroke.

      FDA laboratory analysis confirmed that WOW contains the same undeclared prescription drug ingredients that are in Reumofan Plus:

      • dexamethasone -- a corticosteroid used to treat inflammatory conditions such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, that can increase the risk of infection, and cause increased blood sugar levels, changes in blood pressure, damage to bones, psychiatric problems. When taken for a prolonged period at high doses, it can cause adrenal suppression.
      • diclofenac sodium -- a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that may cause increased risk of cardiovascular events, such as heart attack, as well as serious gastrointestinal problems.
      • Methocarbamol -- a muscle relaxant that can cause sedation, dizziness and low blood pressure, and impair mental or physical abilities to perform tasks such as driving a motor vehicle or operating machinery.

      In addition to causing injury on their own, the hidden drugs found in these products could interact with other medications, resulting in serious health consequences.

      Medical advice needed

      Because one of the hidden ingredients -- dexamethasone -- is a corticosteroid, people taking these supplements must work with their health care professional to safely stop taking the drug. A person who abruptly stops taking corticosteroids after long-term use or after taking high doses runs the risk of suffering from a withdrawal syndrome and life-threatening adrenal suppression.

      The withdrawal syndrome may include nausea, low blood pressure, low blood sugar levels, fever, muscle and joint pain, dizziness and fainting. Adrenal suppression of cortisol production can be life-threatening because, among its many important roles in the body, cortisol is needed to maintain normal blood pressure and supply glucose to vital tissues, such as the brain and red blood cells, in response to stressors such as trauma, surgery, and infection.

      FDA notes that there may be other harmful hidden ingredients in these products. Ingredients may vary from lot to lot, and products found to have hidden drug ingredients are generally not manufactured in a way that would ensure their quality and safety.

      It's baaaaaack! A product distributed and sold under the name 'WOW' is really just another product in disguise -- one that can cause serious harm. Earlier...

      Wayne Farms recalls barbeque chicken wing products

      The product contains an undeclared allergen -- milk

      Wayne Farms of Decatur, AL, is recalling approximately 2,320 pounds of frozen honey barbeque chicken wing products because of misbranding and an allergen -- egg -- that is not declared on the label.

      The products subject to recall include:

      • 4-lb. bags of "GFS® Honey BBQ Flavored Chicken Wings" packed in 16-lb. cases

      The cases bear the establishment number "P-33885" inside the USDA mark of inspection and a case code of 572160. The bags bear a production date of "11/28/12" above "p#33885" inkjetted on the package. The products were produced Nov. 28, 2012 and were shipped to a foodservice distribution center in Kentucky for distribution at the retail level in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee.

      The problem was discovered when a customer was unable to scan the product into inventory. The product being recalled was produced with eggs and packaged in bags for product formulated without eggs. There are no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

      Consumers with questions should contact the company's Director of Marketing and Communication, Alan Sterling, at (678) 450-3092.  

      Wayne Farms of Decatur, AL, is recalling approximately 2,320 pounds of frozen honey barbeque chicken wing products because of misbranding and an allergen –...

      U.S. seeks to approve genetically-engineered fish

      New type of salmon reportedly grows twice as fast as natural breed

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it has concluded that allowing a genetically-engineered salmon to enter the food supply would have no significant impact on the environment.

      The FDA's draft environmental assessment will remain open for public comment for 60 days -- one of the steps toward making the fast-developing salmon, which the agency says is as safe as Atlantic-raised salmon, an approved source.

      The company behind the genetically-engineered fish is AquaBounty Technologies. It said it has spent the last 10 years pushing the proposal through the bureaucratic maze.

      Patented fish

      It has patented a way to grow a fish using an Atlantic salmon egg that includes a genetically-altered gene from a Chinook salmon. Not only can the fish be grown in captivity for harvest, they mature in about half the time as salmon in the wild.

      The FDA's move brought a stinging rebuke from environmental groups, who said it now appears clear that the White House is fully behind the effort to introduce the new fish to the food supply.

      “It is extremely disappointing that the Obama administration continues to push approval of this dangerous and unnecessary product,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety. “The GE salmon has no socially redeeming value; it’s bad for the consumer, bad for the salmon industry and bad for the environment. FDA’s decision is premature and misguided.”

      Possible congressional opposition

      The group said more than 40 members of Congress have repeatedly urged the agency to conduct more rigorous review of environmental and health safety, and stop any approval process until concerns over risks, transparency and oversight have been fully satisfied. It noted that the FDA had received nearly 400,000 negative comments.

      The Center for Food Safety, a private, non-profit environmental group, said it is worried the genetically-engineered fish could spawn disease that could get loose in the wild and devastate native fish populations.

      “We need a robust regulatory system that puts environmental, human health, economic and animal welfare risks first,” said Kimbrell. “Putting a GE animal on the path to consumer use without proper safeguards and with no mandatory labeling requirement proves that the system FDA has in place gives us none of that.”

      The FDA, meanwhile, said it is extremely unlikely that genetically-engineered and native fish would ever come in contact. Even if some of the genetically-engineered fish did manage to escape to the wild they would not be able to survive in a native habitat.

      A final decision is not likely anytime soon. After the comment period the FDA could take weeks to go over them before rending a final ruling.

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it has concluded that allowing a genetically-engineered salmon to enter the food supply would have no sign...

      For J.C. Penney, 2012 has been a year to forget

      Company's sweeping changes have alienated customers and racked up deep losses

      It's been almost precisely a year since retailer J.C. Penney, under the leadership of Apple alum Ron Johnson, began a top to bottom remake of the company's staid image.

      So how has it worked out?

      "It's been a disaster, and it probably will continue to be a disaster," Durban Capital's Steve Kernkraut said on CNBC the other day. "They've made every misstep you could imagine."

      Off on the wrong foot

      It started very early in 2012, when Penney's announced that it was doing away with sales, coupons and promotions in favor of a tiered pricing system that few consumers could understand. It chose to make the announcement in the form of a TV commercial featuring a series of screaming women that brought a huge backlash from consumers.

      "This is the worst ad of all time, stop it immediately," Kathy, of Hillsboro, Ore., wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post in January. "We will boycott J.C. Penney until it offers an apology to all its customers!"

      "I am complaining about the obnoxious television commercial aired announcing your new pricing campaign," wrote Carole, of Lakewood, Calif. "It has to be one of the most irritating, annoying commercials ever created for television. If you think this will make anyone shop at your stores, you are mistaken as far as I'm concerned. I can't imagine anyone thinking this is good advertising. Remove it as soon as possible. IT IS ANNOYING!"

      Out with the old?

      It almost seemed as though Penney's was purposefully driving away its old customer base in hopes of drawing a younger, hipper and trendier group of customers. But the younger customers didn't show up in the numbers the retailer hoped.

      “This week Americans spoke out in overwhelming support of LGBT people and J.C. Penney’s decision not to fire Ellen simply for who she happens to love,” said Herndon Graddick, Senior Director of Programs and Communications at GLAAD, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) media advocacy and anti-defamation organization.

      In retrospect, that might have been the only bright spot of the year. When the company implemented a concept of "stores within the store," customers seemed even more confused. Instead of the brands they were accustomed to buying at Penney's, they found various apparel manufacturers had their own little stations throughout the store.

      Consumers rate J.C. Penney

      “I've shopped Penney's for years! I was amazed to see a bustling well-stocked and appealing local store morph into a dead-end," Sue, of Wilmington, N.C., wrote in May. "Didn't like the changes in merchandise, pricing or displays. I quickly walked through to get to another store. I have not been back!”

      No surprisingly, the consumer disgust has taken a toll on the bottom line. The company suffered a $163 million first-quarter loss and the red ink just got deeper as the year wore on. Penney's has since walked back some of its changes, promising regular sales promotions, but Kernkraut says it might not be enough, noting many of the stores just seem empty.

      "They don't have compelling merchandise," he said.

      It's been almost precisely a year since retailer J.C. Penney, under the leadership of Apple alum Ron Johnson, began a top to bottom remake of the company's...

      Wendy's makes some big changes

      New restaurant design features fireplaces, wi-fi, big-screen TV

      When it comes to selecting a fast-food restaurant for a quick meal, the amount of options to choose from can seem infinite.

      But no matter how many places there are, many people will first think of McDonald's, Burger King and, these days, Wendy’s, which wasn't always the case.

      There was a time when Wendy’s wasn’t a big part of the conversation when it came to discussing the fast-food powerhouses, since it seemed for years that McDonalds and Burger King’s battle for supremacy was so public, that it made a lot of consumers forget that other fast food places existed. And for many years Wendy’s was one of those forgotten places.

      But today things are different, and over the years the Ohio-based chain has not only done a tremendous job of joining the ranks of McDonald's and Burger King in terms of ubiquity and staying in the minds of consumers, but Wendy’s has also separated itself from the burger giants by branding itself as higher quality, with better food, which a lot of customers believe.

      And that belief has turned into sales results for Wendy’s, as the company recently announced that it saw sales increases for five consecutive quarters in its North American stores, with the most recent quarter showing a 3.2 percent growth.

      Fireplaces & wi-fi

      But the burger chain isn’t resting on its recent successes, as its now rolling out a bunch of sleekly designed restaurants that seem to be part lounge café, part living room--complete with fireplaces, computerized menu boards, flat-screen TVs and Wi-Fi access.

      The company has even created a new logo, removing the big red box that the company name usually sits in, and instead going with  basic red lettering and a white background. The Wendy cartoon character also received a facelift.

      Wendy’s President and CEO Emil Brolick said while changing the logo the company had to be careful not to remove the parts of it that consumers seemed to attach themselves to, and when the company made changes in the past that were too drastic, customers really spoke up.

      “When we pushed things too far, they very much reeled us back,” he said in a recent published interview.

      Besides the new logo -- the first since 1983 --  the company said it will create new 99-cent menu options, in an attempt to catch up to Mickey D’s and Burger King in the area of ultra-cheap offerings.

      Aftertaste

      Consumers rate Wendy's

      But will the newly-designed restaurants and the additions to the 99-cent menu options bring more customers into Wendy’s locations throughout the country? The chain generates its share of consumer complaints and it may take more than a quick spruce-up to turn around some of the negativity that follows a bad experience.

      “My husband and I had been running some errands and decided we wanted a hamburger,” wrote Judith of Illinois in a ConsumerAffairs posting.

      “It was 10 am on 12/6/11. The place had just opened. In fact, my husband had to tap on the drive-thru window to get them to open it. The drive-thru ordering device did not work. We ordered three cheeseburger deluxes and a Monterey chicken sandwich.

      “The chicken sandwich was fine, however the hamburgers were cold," she said. "The lettuce was limp and had that translucence that lettuce gets when it has been heated up. We were the first customers of the day. There is no reason we should have had left-over food, such as I believe the hamburgers were.”

      Most of the gripes about Wendy’s were linked to poor customer service rather than bad food, but there were some readers who had horrible meal experiences.

      “My wife picked up food from Wendy’s yesterday for the very first time,” wrote Nicholas from Dearborn, Mich.

      “After we ate the food we all took a nap because we were up late the night before. An hour after waking up from the nap, my 2-year old son and I threw up all night. Thinking it was the flu, we went to the hospital. The doctor told us that my son and I had food poisoning.

      “Now to remind you, I never said anything to the doctor about what we ate that day. Wendy’s was the first and only meal I ate that day and look at the outcome. I ended up going to the hospital for food poisoning. It was unbelievable," he said.

      “I can’t stand McDonald’s, but I will never go back to Wendy’s,” wrote Nicholas.

      Not all bad

      But despite the customer complaints that Wendy’s receives, it’s still a weekly destination for many consumers.

      And by the company being so successful at differentiating itself from competitors by appearing as almost a fast-causal restaurant instead of fast-food place, it’s likely that the restaurant and brand transformation will serve the company quite well.

      In fact, Brolick says the customer response to the change has been extremely positive so far.

      “The transformation is already resonating with consumers and we’re building momentum, especially with our Image Activation restaurants that position our brand as a cut above the competition,” he said.

      “We are unveiling the first Wendy’s brand logo change in nearly 30 years and next March we will introduce it across all of our consumer touch points. This is a very exciting time for Wendy’s.”

      When it comes to selecting a fast-food restaurant for a quick meal, the amount of options to choose from can seem infinite.But no matter how many pl...

      Keeping food safe from the wrath of Old Man Winter

      You can get through it you follow a few simple steps

      Folks befuddled by all the warm weather and wondering where winter is need only look to the Midwest to find out.

      A powerful winter storm system bringing damage and power failures has prompted the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to offer guidance to those who have been or expect to be affected by the storm on how to keep frozen and refrigerated foods at safe temperatures and how to determine if food is unsafe to eat.

      "Keeping food at safe storage temperatures is crucial to avoiding foodborne illness, and this can be difficult without electricity," USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen said. "As the first winter storm of the season hits the U.S., make sure your family has appliance thermometers, coolers, and plenty of ice to keep perishable food below 40° F until power is restored to your refrigerator and freezer. As a last resort for food safety, when in doubt, throw it out."

      The publication Keeping Food Safe During an Emergency can be downloaded and printed for reference during a power outage. FSIS' YouTube video Food Safety During Power Outages also has instructions for keeping frozen and refrigerated food safe.

      Preparing for a weather emergency

      • Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer to help determine if food is safe during power outages. The refrigerator temperature should be 40° F or lower and the freezer should be 0° F or lower.
      • Store food on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water in case of flooding.
      • Group food together in the freezer -- this helps the food stay cold longer.
      • Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately -- this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
      • Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than 4 hours.
      • Purchase or make ice and store in the freezer for use in the refrigerator or in a cooler. Freeze gel packs ahead of time for use in coolers.
      • Plan ahead and know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased.

      When the power goes

      • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.
      • A refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if you keep the door closed.
      • A full freezer will keep its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full).
      • If the power is out for an extended period of time, buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.
      • Take advantage of cold outdoor temperatures to make ice to bring inside, but do not leave food out in the snow to keep it cold. Outside temperatures can vary, and food can be exposed to unsanitary conditions and animals. Fill buckets, empty milk containers, or cans with water and leave them outside to freeze. Use this ice to help keep food cold in the freezer, refrigerator, or coolers.

      After a weather emergency

      • Check the temperature in the refrigerator and freezer. If the thermometer reads 40° F or below, the food is safe.
      • If no thermometer was used in the freezer, check each package. If food still contains ice crystals or is at 40°F or below when checked with a food thermometer, it may be safely refrozen.
      • Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers and deli items) that have been kept in a refrigerator or freezer above 40° F for two hours or more.
      • Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water. Containers that are not waterproof include those with screw-caps, snap lids, pull tops, and crimped caps. Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers.
      • Thoroughly wash all metal pans, ceramic dishes and utensils that came in contact with flood water with hot soapy water and sanitize by boiling them in clean water or by immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water.
      • Undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans and retort pouches (for example, flexible, shelf-stable juice or seafood pouches) can be saved. Follow the Steps to Salvage All-Metal Cans and Retort Pouches in the publication "Keeping Food Safe During an Emergency."
      • Use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters. If bottled water is not available, tap water can be boiled for safety.
      • Never taste food to determine its safety!
      • When in Doubt, Throw it Out!

      Folks befuddled by all the warm weather and wondering where winter is need only look to the Midwest to find out. A powerful winter storm system bringing d...

      Time for a checkup: How is credit card reform working out?

      Has it made a difference for you? The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau wants to know

      In 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 (CARD Act). The goal was to bring fairness and transparency to the credit card market.

      Now, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) wants to know if the CARD Act is doing its job -- how it has affected the daily lives of consumers and the behavior of industry. To do that, the CFPB is seeking public comment from consumers, credit card issuers, industry analysts, consumer advocates and others on the effects of the CARD Act.

      “The CARD Act made major changes in the credit card marketplace in order to better protect consumers,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “With today’s inquiry, the Bureau is seeking to understand how the credit card market is working in practice and how the CARD Act changes have affected consumers and credit card issuers.”

      CARD conference

      In February 2011, the CFPB held a conference to assess the CARD Act’s impact on the marketplace one year after many of the Act’s provisions took effect. It found that the Act had largely curtailed the long-standing practice of hiking interest rates on existing cardholder accounts -- prior to the CARD Act, credit card companies often raised customers’ interest rates with little or no advance warning. The conference also found that the CARD Act had substantially reduced consumer late fees and nearly eliminated overlimit fees.

      Now, the agency is seeking to gather more information on the effects of this law as of today. The CARD Act requires that the CFPB conduct a review of the consumer credit market. As part of that review, the Bureau is seeking public comment from consumers, credit card issuers, industry analysts, consumer advocates, and others on the effects of the CARD Act.

      Areas of inquiry

      Some of the specific areas the agency is requesting information on include:

      • The terms of credit card agreements and practices of credit card issuers: The bureau wants to know how the terms and conditions of credit card agreements may have changed since the CARD Act went into effect and how effective disclosures of rates, fees, and other cost terms of credit card accounts have been. The CFPB is looking to see how card issuers may have changed their pricing, marketing, underwriting, or other practices in the wake of the CARD Act and whether or not those changes have benefited or harmed consumers.
      • The success of protections against unfair or deceptive acts or practices: The CFPB is looking for information on the extent to which unfair or deceptive acts and practices still exist in the credit card market and whether issuers have circumvented -- or tried to circumvent -- any CARD Act protections against unfair or deceptive acts or practices.
      • Changes in the cost and availability of credit: The bureau is evaluating how the cost and availability of credit has changed since the CARD Act, and will consider the extent to which the upfront interest rate, and all-in cost of credit has changed when controlled for risk.
      • The use of risk-based pricing: The CFPB is considering the changes in the incidence of risk-based pricing in the credit card market, including the adoption of alternative practices in the wake of rules that restrict account repricing.

      The review will culminate in a publicly available report to Congress on the state of the consumer credit card market. The data gathered will be used in determining future policy decisions.

      In 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 (CARD Act). The goal was to bring ...

      Holiday travelers finding low gasoline prices

      The average price is below $4 a gallon in Hawaii and $3 in Missouri

      Gasoline prices continued their steady decline for another week, giving motorists driving during the holidays a present at the gas pump.

      The national average price of self-serve regular today is $3.232 per gallon, compared with $3.286 last week, according to AAA's Fuel Gauge Survey. That's about 19 cents lower than a month ago, during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Prices are in line with where they were at this time a year ago.

      The average price of diesel fuel today is $3.920 per gallon, versus $3.953 a week ago.

      This week no state has an average gasoline price above $4 a gallon and one state -- Missouri -- has an average price below $3. Contributing to the favorable climate for motorists is the healthy supply of U.S. gasoline that is more than meeting current demand.

      Prices in every state are less than they were a week ago, thanks to dramatic declines in the Midwest: Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Kentucky, and Illinois have all seen big price drops in the last week or so.

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

      • Hawaii ($3.971)
      • New York ($3.734)
      • Connecticut ($3.664)
      • Alaska ($3.621)
      • Vermont ($3.535)
      • California ($3.525)
      • Rhode Island ($3.514)
      • Maine ($3.501)
      • Massachusetts ($3.450)
      • Pennsylvania ($3.434)

      The states with the lowest gas prices this week are:

      • Missouri ($2.966)
      • Oklahoma ($3.019)
      • South Carolina ($3.026)
      • Tennessee ($3.037)
      • Texas ($3.042)
      • Arkansas ($3.042)
      • Mississippi ($3.054)
      • Louisiana($3.063)
      • Kansas ($3.081)
      • Minnesota ($3.094)

      Gasoline prices continued their steady decline for another week, giving motorists driving during the holidays a present at the gas pump.The national aver...

      Relax, the world isn't ending today

      Even a calendar company is offering a money back guarantee if we don't make it to 2013

      If you have done no Christmas shopping on the belief that the world would end on Dec. 21, you'd better hit the stores. The world isn't ending today.

      The long forecast end of the world is attributed to the Mayan calendar, which ends abruptly on Dec. 21, 2012. Some have taken that to mean that, because the Mayan's ended their calendar on a particular date, that's when the world would end. It was never explained how the Mayans were in a position to know this.

      In truth, outside of China it seems no one is taking any of this very seriously. Perhaps last week's horror in Connecticut and the fiscal cliff wrangling in Washington have provided something more real to worry about.

      There was actually more buzz about the alleged Mayan prophecy three years ago when a movie came out about a planetary collision bringing about the end of the earth on December 21, 2012. NASA was actually forced to address the issue, prompting us to produce this 2009 video:

      Back in May of this year we reported that a group of Boston University researchers had made discoveries that completely debunked the theory that the end of the Mayan calendar somehow meant life was stopping. BU Assistant Professor of Archaeology William Saturno and his team excavated a Maya ruin in Guatemala and uncovered a wall of paintings with calculations relating to the Maya calendar.

      “For the first time we get to see what may be actual records kept by a scribe, whose job was to be official record keeper of a Maya community,” Saturno said. “It’s like an episode of TV’s ‘Big Bang Theory,’ a geek math problem and they’re painting it on the wall. They seem to be using it like a blackboard.”

      Just a misunderstanding?

      After deciphering the calculations, the project scientists say that despite popular belief, there is no sign that the Maya calendar -- or the world -- was to end in the year 2012, just one of its calendar cycles.

      “It’s like the odometer of a car, with the Maya calendar rolling over from the 120,000s to 130,000,” said Anthony Aveni, professor of astronomy and anthropology at Colgate University, a coauthor of the paper being published in the journal Science. “The car gets a step closer to the junkyard as the numbers turn over; the Maya just start over.”

      But the, why let science stand in the way of firmly-held belief? This week Calendars.com weighed in on the issue, allowing readers to predict the way they think the world will end, if and when it does. The top choice was an asteroid impact, followed by a Yellowstone eruption.

      Meanwhile, the company is hoping people will go ahead and purchase a 2013 calendar and has offered a money-back guarantee if the world ends today.

      If you have done no Christmas shopping on the belief that the world would end on Dec. 21, you'd better hit the stores. The world isn't ending today.The l...

      Want to reach a stranger on Facebook? Pay up!

      Facebook is testing the idea of putting a tollgate on your inbox

      Facebook has its well-publicized downsides but at least you're not subjected to spam emails in your Facebook Messages inbox. Not yet anyway but that may be about to change.

      Currently, under most circumstances, you  only get inbox messages from your "friends," not counting the messages asking you to befriend someone. Messages that aren't from friends wind up in your "Other" box.

      But now, Facebook says it's starting a "small experiment" today that will make use of "economic signals" to determine whether or not a message gets through to you.

      In other words, those who are willing to pay will be able to put messages in your inbox, or at least to inboxes included in the test.

      You think that sounds like an ad? Well, it does, sort of, but Facebook insists it has higher and more noble aspirations. Here's how Facebook explains it:

      Today we’re starting a small experiment to test the usefulness of economic signals to determine relevance. This test will give a small number of people the option to pay to have a message routed to the Inbox rather than the Other folder of a recipient that they are not connected with.

      Several commentators and researchers have noted that imposing a financial cost on the sender may be the most effective way to discourage unwanted messages and facilitate delivery of messages that are relevant and useful.

      Facebook cites a couple of examples: "If you want to send a message to someone you heard speak at an event but are not friends with, or if you want to message someone about a job opportunity, you can use this feature to reach their Inbox. For the receiver, this test allows them to hear from people who have an important message to send them."

      Of course, it's not hard to imagine that this little idea could quickly have us hearing unimportant messages from all kinds of people we'd rather never hear from, so maybe they'd have to pay a higher price?

      Curious, I went into Facebook and took a look at the "other" folder, thinking perhaps I'd run across people who had heard me speaking or, you know, had always admired my reporting and wanted to include me in their will, or maybe send me one of those genius grants.

      I found such specimens as these:

      Farleigh Mohtashami

      howdy

      whats up James. you appear interesting. message me at awesomegirl777@xxxxxxx.com to get my best discreet pix

      Adolpho Codyvaldez

      hi! I'm a female!!! I really enjoy your entire user profile!!! there's no doubt that it's fantastic. I have a number of private images. i'm dying to show you. u interested?

      Lewiss Metzler

      hey there James. you look good.
      email me:

      Well, so much for the theory that there is worthwhile mail languishing away in the Other box.

      Follow the money

      Just to be clear: the money -- oh sorry, economic signals -- that the sender pays to get into your inbox goes to Facebook, not to you.  You know, sort of like Instagram's peachy idea of selling your photos to advertisers and keeping the money.

      Facebook insists that the inbox toll is "only for personal messages between individuals in the U.S." and says that in the test, the number of paid messages a person can receive will be limited to one per week.

      That's just for this test, of course, or as Facebook so eloquently puts it: "We’ll continue to iterate and evolve Facebook Messages over the coming months."

      Well, that's fine, Facebook. We'll all be iterating and evolving too, unless something better comes along.

      Facebook has its well-publicized downsides but at least you're not subjected to spam emails in your Facebook Messages inbox. Well, not yet anyway but that ...