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    Some cards protect you from fraud better than others

    Credit cards are safer than debit cards; avoid using your PIN where possible

    It can happen. You lose your wallet or your purse is stolen. Quick, how many and what kind of credit and debit cards have been lost and, more importantly, what is your liability if some unauthorized person uses your cards?

    The answer all depends on what type of card it is. If you're lucky, the thief will try to use your credit card. And it's the card you should be using too.

    “A credit card is the safest type of payment vehicle for people to use for two reasons,” said Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO of Card Hub, a credit card comparison site. “First, card network liability policies are simply more advantageous to the consumer when it comes to credit card transactions than transactions involving debit cards, prepaid cards, or ATM cards. Credit cards also make fraud easier to deal with given the inherent way in which they work.”

    Consumer fraud liability study

    Papadimitriou, whose firm has produced a new consumer fraud liability study, says consumers have up to 25 days to pay their bill once their monthly statement becomes available. It's assumed the consumer will be more likely to notice and report suspicious charges before they have to pay.

    Credit cards, then, offer the best fraud liability protection for consumers, as all four major card networks provide $0 liability guarantees for unauthorized credit card transactions. In cases of fraudulent credit card use, it's usually the merchant that accepted the card as payment who is on the hook.

    That's not always the case with a compromised debit card.

    Debit cards

    “With a debit card, on the other hand, money gets removed from your account at the time a purchase is made,” Papadimitriou said. “That means you’ll not only have to try to recoup your lost funds, but you may also inadvertently bounce a few checks in the meantime if you aren’t keeping a watchful eye on your account activity. Plus, you also have to consider the psychological trauma, if you will, that comes with unexpectedly finding your bank account empty.”

    But there are ways consumers can reduce their risk when using a debit card. When using the card to make a purchase, you have the choice of processing it as a debit or credit transaction. If you choose “credit,” you authorize the purchase with your signature. If you process it as a debit transaction, you use a PIN.

    Consumers get better protection when they sign for a purchase instead of using their PIN. In fact, Consumers are not liable for fraud related to signature debit card transactions, regardless of the card network. Reloadable prepaid cards offer the same fraud liability protections as traditional debit cards.

    If you do use your PIN for a transaction, your liability will vary, depending on whether it's a Visa or MasterCard. Visa offers limited protection, depending on the network that processes the transaction. MasterCard does not offer added liability protection for unauthorized PIN debit card transactions.

    Discover and American Express

    Discover, meanwhile, extends its $0 liability guarantee to all PIN debit transactions and American Express is not in the business of providing debit-based PIN transactions. But Papadimitriou says both cards set themselves apart in the fraud protections they provide.

    “People who have Discover and American Express cards in their wallets benefit from something that that VISA and MasterCard users don’t: blanket liability coverage and the peace of mind that comes with it,” Papadimitriou said.

    “They know that no matter what type of card they use or transaction they make, the hit for any fraud that may crop up won’t be theirs to take. Since the dangers of fraud are largely psychological, in that the incidence of it is quite low and the chances you’ll personally lose any money are even lower, Discover and Amex have a distinct advantage over the competition in this regard.”

    Lessons

    There are several lessons here for consumers. First, make a credit card your primary spending vehicle, rather than a debit card. It's much safer.

    When using your debit card, select the credit/signature option instead of entering your PIN. It will limit your liability.

    When paying in a restaurant, always fill in all the fields, including tip, even if you are paying the tip in cash. Put $0 in the box instead of leaving it blank.

    When you do use you PIN, safeguard it carefully, and don't share it with anyone else.

    Finally, if you haven't already, make a list of your credit and debit cards, their account numbers and expiration dates, along with customer service telephone numbers. Print out the list, do not save it on a computer. Place the list in a secure location, just in case.

    It can happen. You lose your wallet or your purse is stolen. Quick, how many and what kind of credit and debit cards have been lost and, more importantly, ...
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    Taco Bell pulls 'veggie attack ads'

    Consumer groups spoke up for the right to bear vegetable trays

    A correction is appended to the bottom of this story.

    It was supposed to be funny but consumer activists weren't laughing at a Taco Bell ad that urged Super Bowl fans to leave the vegetables at home and "grab the Taco Bell Variety 12 Pack" for their Super Bowl party.

    "Bringing veggies to game day is a blatant violation of the Game Day Code -- it's a cop out," the ad said, suggesting that bringing a vegetable tray to a sports party is "like punting on fourth and one."

    The Food Police were not amused.

    "It's bad enough that there aren't many ads on television for broccoli, kale, or carrots," said Margo G. Wootan, nutrition policy director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "The last thing healthy fruits and vegetables needed was to be the subject of attack ads."

    With surprising speed, Taco Bell responded and pulled the ad.

    “We didn’t want anyone to misinterpret the intent of the ad,” said Rob Poetsch, a Taco Bell spokesman after hearing from Wootan and others who said the restaurant chain was attacking not only vegetables but those who eat them.

    Wootan pronounced herself "delighted" at the decision.

    "Thanks to Taco Bell for responding with record speed to address nutritionists' and consumers' concern over this ad campaign," she said.

    CORRECTION: Taco Bell says the ad in question was not for the Super Bowl but rather for the college Bowl Championship Series.   

    It was supposed to be funny but consumer activists weren't laughing at a Taco Bell ad that urged Super Bowl fans to leave the vegetables at home and "grab ...
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    How to buy and store seafood

    Unlike other meats, consumers should deal with seafood in an entirely different way

    If you ask me, seafood is quite special.

    Compared to chicken, beef and pork, seafood stands alone. It's healthier, lighter on the stomach and simply a more exotic choice when trying to figure out what to eat or cook.

    But’s let’s be honest, not all seafood has been created equal, and in some cases using the term seafood is quite the creative stretch, especially in some fast-food places and take-out restaurants.

    And when trying to decide where to buy fish, shrimp or any other kind of seafood, you just can’t walk into any old place that sells the stuff and feel confident its' fresh, safe to eat and won’t make you sick.

    According to Eatright.org, a website and informational hub put together by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, fish needs to be stored and refrigerated below a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit at all times.

    And different types of seafood needs to be either packaged or displayed separately in the store, to avoid the possibility of cross contamination, so going to a fish market and seeing the shrimp next to the scallops and the scallops next to the salmon in close proximity, should be a big sign to stay away.

    Clean and cold   

    Additionally, all seafood should be packaged separately by either you or the cashier before bringing it home, and while shopping, the seafood should be the last item you pick up before heading to the register, so it’s not kept away from refrigeration longer than it has to, says the Academy. 

    The organization also says the flesh on seafood should be shiny in color and if it appears dull or the flesh is hard to separate from the bone, you should avoid purchasing it.

    And although many believe fish is supposed to smell fishy or ocean-like, it actually shouldn’t -- and if you do smell an odor, it should be a clear sign the seafood comes from a questionable source or hasn't been properly refrigerated.

    According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a government agency that researches the conditions of the ocean, atmosphere and sea life, consumers should use a simple finger test to determine the level of freshness when buying fish fillets or whole fish, that entails pressing down on the flesh of the seafood and seeing if an indentation is left.

    If there is an indentation, the NOAA says you should stay away from the fish. The flesh should give you a little resistance and appear firm when pressing down on it. If it doesn’t do that, the seafood is more than likely to be of very poor quality.

    Also, if the eyes in a whole fish seem to bulge, it’s considered a good thing, say experts and if you notice the eyes are sunken, discolored, cloudy or have a pinkish hue, it’s a good indication the fish isn’t fresh and has been out of the ocean too long. 

    No leaks or drips

    According to the University of Illinois Extension, which studies different aspects of seafood from purchasing it to cooking it correctly, packaged seafood should not be leaking and if you notice dripping liquids or the contents of the package is swimming in raw juices, it shouldn’t be touched, since the seafood could contain bacteriathat can’t be removed by simply microwaving it.

    The Midwestern university also says that when buying frozen fish, you should stay away from packages that are kept above the frost line in the store’s freezer, and when buying shellfish, you should always buy it live and make sure you see movement in the animal’s tail, legs or shell.

    Consumers should also be on the look-out for ice crystals, say experts, as this is an indication the seafood has been refrozen more than once, because once frozen seafood thaws, it should never be frozen and thawed again, say experts.

    Seafood lovers should also remember to freeze seafood immediately after buying it, says The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics -- and when storing it, you should always put seafood in air-tight containers or wrap it up tightly in cellophane.

    However, the opposite applies to shellfish, as it should be stored with proper ventilation says the Academy and it should be placed in containers that aren’t sealed too tightly. Shellfish should also be covered with a paper towel or damp cloth when being stored, say experts.

    Not on the counter

    The Academy also says consumers should never thaw seafood on the counter, and instead allow it to thaw in the refrigerator, in the microwave or in the sink under cold running water.

    And if you want to ensure that your seafood is being harvested sustainably, you can choose between any number of seafood guides that helps with your purchasing options, like the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch guide or the Blue Ocean Institute-Guide to Ocean Friendly Seafood.

    These guides and others like them are released and updated periodically by various organizations to help educate consumers about where their seafood actually comes from and how responsible companies are at bringing it to you.

    Experts also say if there’s one chief rule to buying seafood, it would be the rule of common sense, as you should always make purchases from reputable sources and use your eyes and nose as your first line of defense to determine the seafood’s freshness and level of safety.

    Also, you want to make sure that where you’re buying your seafood is totally clean, and that level of cleanliness should be your barometer in gauging just how fresh and safe the seafood is.

    It doesn’t take a professional seafood inspector to make wise buying decisions; it just takes a little more time and effort on your part when you’re in a fish market or grocery store.

    As I said seafood is quite special, so really, it has to be handled and treated with a lot more care compared to other foods.

    If you ask me, seafood is quite special.And when comparing it to other foods like chicken, beef and pork, it stands  in its own section for being he...
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      Insurers hit safer drivers with higher premiums, study finds

      Rating factors give more weight to education and occupation than driving record

      A survey by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) reaches the surprising conclusion that major insurance companies frequently charge higher premiums to safe drivers than to those who recently caused an accident.

      In two-thirds of the 60 cases studied, large auto insurers quoted higher premiums to safe drivers than to those responsible for an accident. And in more than three-fifths of the cases with these higher premiums, the premium quoted the safe driver exceeded the premium quoted the unsafe driver by at least 25 percent.

      These higher prices for “good drivers” mainly reflect insurer use of rating factors such as education and occupation that, in a 2012 nationwide survey, over two-thirds of Americans said were unfair.

      “State insurance regulators should require auto insurers to explain why they believe factors such as education and income are better predictors of losses than are at-fault accidents,” said J. Robert Hunter, CFA’s Director of Insurance and former Texas Insurance Commissioner.

      “Policymakers should ask why auto insurers are permitted to discriminate on the basis of non-driving-related factors such as occupation or education,” he added.

      Discriminatory practices

      “Unfortunately, the discriminatory practices of auto insurers mainly harm low- and moderate-income drivers,” noted Stephen Brobeck, CFA’s Executive Director. “This damage can be considerable since all states but one require drivers to carry auto insurance, and most Americans need a car to pursue work opportunities,” he added.

      CFA priced policies in twelve cities using the websites of the five largest auto insurers – State Farm, Allstate, GEICO, Farmers and
      Progressive – who together have over half the private auto insurance market.

      It compared premiums quoted to two 30-year old women who each had driven for 10 years, lived on the same street in the same middle-income zip code, and sought minimum liability coverage required by that state.

      But these two women differed in several important respects: One was a single receptionist with a high school education who rents, has been without insurance coverage for 45 days, and has never had an accident or moving violation. The other woman was a married executive with a Masters degree who owns a home, has had continuous insurance coverage, and has had an at-fault accident with $800 of damage within the past three years.

      There were significant differences among the five major insurers. On the one hand, in every case Farmers, GEICO, and Progressive quoted the safe driver a higher premium than the driver causing an accident. (In several cases, companies refused a quote to the good driver but gave one to the accident-causer.)

      On the other hand, in all twelve cities State Farm charged the good driver less. Moreover, in all twelve cities, the rates quoted by State Farm were
      either the lowest (6 cities) or the second lowest (6 cities).

      “With nearly one-quarter of the private passenger auto insurance business, State Farm dominates the market. If they can be a successful company without using highly discriminatory factors, other large companies should be able to do so as well,” Hunter said.

      The full report is available on CFA's website.

      A survey by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) reaches the surprising conclusion that major insurance companies frequently charge higher premiums to ...
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      The value of your home continues to rise

      Average home prices across the United States rebound to their autumn 2003 levels

      The housing market -- as measured by home prices -- is showing strength unseen in several years.

      According to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, home prices rose 4.5 percent for the 10-City Composite and 5.5 percent for the 20-City Composite in the 12 months ending in November 2012. Prices rose in 19 of the 20 cities and fell in New York. In 19 cities prices rose faster in the 12 months to November than in the 12 months to October; Cleveland prices rose at the same pace in both time periods.

      Phoenix led with the fastest price rise -- up 22.8 percent in 12 months as it posted its seventh consecutive month of double-digit annual returns.

      Best showing in years

      As of November 2012, average home prices across the United States are back to their autumn 2003 levels for both the 10-City and 20-City Composites. Measured from their June/July 2006 peaks, the decline for both Composites is approximately 30 percent through November 2012. In November 2012, the recovery for both Composites from their recent lows in early 2012 was approximately 8-9 percent.

      In November 2012, the 10- and 20-City Composites posted respective annual increases of 4.5 percent and 5.5 percent, and monthly declines of 0.2 percent and 0.1 percent.

      “The November monthly figures were stronger than October, with 10 cities seeing rising prices versus seven the month before.” said David M. Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “Phoenix and San Francisco were both up 1.4 percent in November followed by Minneapolis up 1.0 percent. On the down side, Chicago was again amongst the weakest with a drop of 1.3 percent for November.

      Seasonal factors

      Winter is usually a weak period for housing which explains why we now see about half the cities with falling month-to-month prices compared to 20 out of 20 seeing rising prices last summer. The better

      annual price changes also point to seasonal weakness rather than a reversal in the housing market.

      Further evidence that the weakness is seasonal is seen in the seasonally adjusted figures: only New York saw prices fall on a seasonally adjusted basis while Cleveland was flat.

      Regional patterns are shifting as well. The Southwest -- Las Vegas and Phoenix -- are staging a strong comeback with the Southeast -- Miami and Tampa close behind. The sunbelt, which bore the brunt of the housing collapse, is back in a leadership position. California is also doing well while the Northeast and industrial Midwest are lagging somewhat.

      On the comeback trail

      Prices are rising as are both new and existing home sales. Existing home sales in November  were 5.0 million, highest since November 2009. New Home sales at 398,000 were the highest since June 2010. These figures confirm that housing is contributing to economic growth.

      In November 2012, 10 cities and both Composites posted negative monthly returns. Atlanta, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle were the ten MSAs to post positive month-over-month returns.

      In the context of monthly changes, Boston, Chicago and New York have fared the worst -- with more than six months of declining prices in the past 12 months.

      The housing market -- as measured by home prices -- is showing strength unseen in several years. According to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, hom...
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      Online sites offer help to those facing a divorce

      Free information is available to help you deal with the legal, financial and emotional hurdles

      Divorce is both costly and emotionally taxing. Even if both parties agree it's time to part, they will both need support, as research continues to show the long-term effects of divorce and stress.

      For example, some studies have shown that divorced individuals are 20 percent more likely than married people to have chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, or cancer.

      There are a growing number of websites that offer information and support to people going through a break-up. Here are five that might be worth checking out:

      DivorceSource.com

      DivorceSource.com is a site that offers “what you need to know about divorce” and is one of the more comprehensive sites in the space. One thing that may be particularly helpful is its breakdown of information on a state-by-state basis. After all, divorce laws are not uniform nationwide. 

      There's how-to information, “divorce tools,” articles and checklists. There is also an extensive forum, where users can help one another. The forums air a number of complicated financial issues connected with divorce. One poster, Drownersz, of Columbus, Ohio, said her husband is living in the house but refusing to pay the mortgage.

      “What can I do? I do not want to ruin my credit but I am at the point that I want to be free from this marriage and he is not being reasonable,” she wrote. “Neither one of us are financially well off and cannot really afford an expensive divorce but he is not being logical. What do I do?”

      HelpGuide.org

      HelpGuide.org is a self-help website offering support and advice on a number of issues relating to physical and emotional well-being. It's section on coping with divorce offers advice on the emotional aspects of a break-up.

      It offers tips for grieving after a divorce, reaching out to others for support, and self-care tips.

      ChildrenandDivorce.com

      ChildrenandDivorce.com is a site that tackles the tricky issues of children in a divorce. 

      Run by a pair of family practice physicians, ChildrenandDivorce.com is dedicated to bringing children through the separation of their parents with as little trauma as possible. There are resources for parents, children, healthcare professionals, teachers, mental health professionals, clergy and legal professionals.

      The site's authors say children have the right to a lasting relationship with both parents, truthful answers and input in the visitation schedule, among other rights.

      Support in a Split

      Almost everyone has known a couple that has filed for divorce. When they are close friends or family members, it can be stressful on those not directly involved in the break-up.

      Jarratt, of Glen Allen, Va., recently experienced the divorce of a couple with whom he was close friends.

      “It's difficult because I know and like both of them,” he said. “I've made a point of being as balanced as possible, calling both of them regularly and staying in touch.”

      SupportinaSplit.com is a blog designed for people in Jarratt's position. It offers advice to friends and family of people going through divorce, suggesting ways they can help.

      "Having a support group is essential to help manage the stress of a break-up," says Alicia J. Klat, a licensed attorney and contributor to Support in a Split. "This blog provides an ongoing resource for the friends, families and co-workers of those in the midst of a divorce by providing them with valuable tips for physical, emotional and financial health."

      Bloggers include attorneys, divorce counselors and divorce survivors with topics ranging from exercise, dating and updating legal documents.

      MedicinePlus

      Finally, the divorce section of MedicinePlus, a website operated by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), provides an inexpensive source of information about the physical and emotional toll that divorce can take on a family.

      It covers issues ranging from coping with stress to marriage counseling. Much of the information is also available in Spanish.

      Divorce is both costly and emotionally taxing. Even if both parties agree it's time to part, they will both need support, as research continues to show the...
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      Sprouter Northwest recalls alfalfa, brocco sandwich sprouts, clover, spicy sprouts

      The sprouts may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Sprouters Northwest of Kent, WA, is recalling 1953 pounds of alfalfa, clover, brocco sandwich sprouts, and spicy sprouts due to the potential contamination with Listeria monocytogenes.

      The products were distributed from 1/10/13 to 1/18/13 in Washington, Oregon, Alaska and British Columbia, Canada, through retail stores and food service distribution chain.

      The affected products are sold under the Sprouters Northwest brand and are packaged in plastic clamshell containers and plastic 1-pound bags.

      The affected products are:

      ProductSizeBest by DateUPC
      Clover Sprouts5oz container1/26/20130 33383 70235 3
      Clover Sprouts1 lb bag1/26/20130 79566 12351 5
      Clover Sprouts2lb tray1/26/20130 79566 12351 5
      Clover Sprouts4oz container1/26/20138 15098 00201 6
      Brocco Sandwich Sprouts4oz container1/26/20138 15098 00028 9
      Spicy sprouts4oz container1/26/20138 15098 00202 3
      Alfalfa sprouts4oz container1/31/20138 15098 00108 8
      Alfalfa sprouts3oz container1/31/20138 51042 00402 6

      The problem was identified through a surveillance sampling and two samples collected at retail locations were tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes by the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

      Consumers should not consume the recalled sprouts products and are advised to return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Anyone with questions may contact the company at 1-253-872-0577 from 7AM to 2PM PST.

      Sprouters Northwest of Kent, WA, is recalling 1953 pounds of alfalfa, clover, brocco sandwich sprouts, and spicy sprouts due to the potential contamination...
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      Consumer confidence takes a January hit

      'Paycheck shock' is said to be a major factor

      Consumer unease about the economy appears to be growing. In fact, the confidence level is lower than it was a year ago.

      The Conference Board says its Consumer Confidence Index fell to 58.6 in January from 66.7 in December , which had declined in December -- erasing all the gains made through 2012.

      The Expectations Index declined to 59.5 from 68.1, while the Present Situation Index dropped to 57.3 from 64.6 last month.

      Growing discomfort

      “Consumers are more pessimistic about the economic outlook and, in particular, their financial situation, “ said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at The Conference Board. “The increase in the payroll tax has undoubtedly dampened consumers’ spirits and it may take a while for confidence to rebound and consumers to recover from their initial paycheck shock.”

      Consumers’ appraisal of current conditions deteriorated in January. Those claiming business conditions are “good” fell to 16.7 percent from 17.2 percent, while those stating business conditions are “bad” increased to 27.4 percent from 26.3 percent.

      Consumers’ assessment of the labor market has also grown more negative. Those saying jobs are “plentiful” declined to 8.6 percent from 10.8 percent, while those who believe jobs are “hard to get” increased to 37.7 percent from 36.1 percent.

      Short-term worries

      Consumers’ optimism about the short-term outlook continued to deteriorate in January. Those expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months declined to 15.4 percent from 18.1 percent. However, those expecting business conditions to worsen declined slightly to 20.6 percent from 21.1 percent.

      Consumers’ outlook for the labor market was more pessimistic. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead declined to 14.3 percent from 17.9 percent, while those expecting fewer jobs remained virtually unchanged at 27.0 percent.

      The proportion of consumers expecting their incomes to decline rose to 22.9 percent from 19.1 percent, while those anticipating an increase fell to 13.6 percent from 15.6 percent.

      The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen, a provider of information and analytics around what consumers buy and watch. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was January 17.

      Consumer unease about the economy appears to be growing. In fact, the confidence level is lower than it was a year ago. The Conference Board says its Con...
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      Advance Pierre Foods recalls chicken fried chicken breasts

      The product may contain small pieces of metal

      Advance Pierre Foods of Enid, OK, is recalling approximately 1,200 pounds of chicken fried chicken breasts that may contain small pieces of metal.

      The following products are subject to recall:

      • 22.75-oz. pouches of Fast Classics Chicken Fried Chicken Breasts
      • Cases containing 6, 22.75-oz pouches Fast Classics Chicken Fried Chicken Breasts

      The recalled product bears the establishment number "P-2260Y" inside the USDA mark of inspection, and a "best by" date of Jan. 22, 2014, the lot number 1522960202, and a UPC number 75901-33100.

      The products were distributed in Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas.

      The problem was discovered after the company received two consumer complaints.

      The problem was discovered when the company's metal detectors found that a small metal hand tool fell into a grinder, which was discovered by. The product being recalled was packaged and shipped before all corrective actions could be taken.

      Consumers with questions about the recall should contact Advance Pierre Consumer Affairs at (855) 328-8888.

      Advance Pierre Foods of Enid, OK, is recalling approximately 1,200 pounds of chicken fried chicken breasts that may contain small pieces of metal. The fol...
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      Super Power male sexual performance supplement recalled

      The product contains an undeclared, potentially hazardous active ingredient

      D&S Herbals, LLC, d/b/a Freedom Trading is recalling Super Power, a product sold as a dietary supplement to support male sexual performance. The product was sold nationwide between August 2012 and January 2013.

      The finished product was tested and found to contain trace amounts sildenafil, the active pharmaceutical ingredient in an FDA-approved drug that is used to treat erectile dysfunction (ED) making this product an unapproved new drug.

      Sildenafil poses a threat to consumers because it may interact with nitrates found in some prescription drugs (such as nitroglycerin) and lower blood pressure to dangerous levels. Consumers with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or heart disease often take nitrates. ED is a common problem in men with these conditions who may seek products to enhance sexual performance. Additionally sildenafil may cause side effects such as, headaches and flushing.

      The recalled products are in capsule form, packaged in two (2) count blister packs. The lot and expiration date can be found on the back of the package.

      The following lot is being recalled:

      ProductBatch Lot #EXPIRATION DATES
      Super PowerL0810806/2015

      The company has not received any reports of adverse events related to this recall.

      Consumers who have purchased these products should discontinue their use immediately and contact their physician if they have experienced any problems that may be related to the product.

      The products may be turned to their place of purchase or directly to Freedom Trading.

      Customers can call the Company at 866-780-6474 Monday through Friday from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm EST for instructions on the return and refund process.

      D&S Herbals, LLC, d/b/a Freedom Trading is recalling Super Power, a product sold as a dietary supplement to support male sexual performance. The product wa...
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      Identity theft increasingly targeting children

      Even parents are getting in on the act, stealing their children's credit

      With more people shopping and banking online, cybercriminals have greater opportunities to steal identities.

      The Justice Department estimates 11.7 million people, representing five percent of all persons age 16 or older in the United States, were victims of identity theft between 2006 and 2008. These cases resulted in total financial losses of over $17 billion.

      But increasingly, the victims are not adults and are well below the age of 16. A 2012 report by Richard Power, a Distinguished Fellow at Carnegie Mellon CyLab, found children are targeted for identity theft at 35 times the rate of adults.

      For example, Power found that Nathan, a 14-year-old from Kentucky, had a credit history that went back more than 10 years. Several credit cards and a foreclosed mortgage were already in his credit profile, put there by someone living in California. The thief established good credit for the first 10 years and was able to finance a $605,000 home in California through first and second mortgages.

      When a parent is the thief

      But the thief isn't always a stranger. Randy, who works at a car dealership in rural Virginia, says he has seen an increasing number of cases of young people buying their first car, only to find they can't because their credit is ruined.

      “We run a credit check and in turns out their parents have used their identities to open credit card accounts, run up huge bills, and don't pay,” he said. “It's terrible. Usually the young person breaks down and cries.”

      Experts who follow this sort of crime say parental identity theft accounts for only a small percentage of identity theft cases in the U.S. but concede the numbers are rising. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) tracks identity theft but does not keep information about how many children have their identities stolen by a parent.

      It's easy for a parent to steal their child's identity because they have access to the child's Social Security number. They can also easily intercept mail to keep the child or other family members from discovering what they have done.

      Rationalization

      Not all parents who steal their children's identity think they are stealing, or doing anything wrong. They fully intend to pay off the debt in a timely matter and think they will be establishing a good credit history for their child. But in addition to being illegal, their good intentions almost always fail and they doom their children to beginning their adult life with bad credit.

      The system is also helpful to someone who wants to assume a child's identity because companies that issue credit do not have any way to confirm the age of the applicant. If the applicant using the Social Security number of a four-year old says they are 28, the credit provider usually accepts their word.

      The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) says that, while it's understandable how that could slide by in a telephone or online application, few credit issuers request proof of identity in an in-person application process. Even then, many clerks have not been trained on how to recognize counterfeited or altered licenses.

      Something that needs to be fixed

      “This is a fault within our system that needs to be rectified,” the group says.

      The credit reporting agencies also have no way to know that the Social Security number belongs to a minor. ITRC says there is little, if any, sharing of information about the age of a person between the credit bureaus and the Social Security Administration.

      The age of the applicant becomes “official” with the first credit application. For example, if the first application indicates that the applicant is 24, the credit agencies believe that person is 24 until a dispute is filed and proven.

      Identity thieves know this and it's a major reason that children have become favorite targets. At a minimum, parents should contact all three credit reporting agencies and request a credit report for their child. If you are told that there is no credit report, take that as good news. A credit report should not exist until that child’s first credit application as an adult.

      There are also a number of private companies that offer additional steps that they say will keep a child's identity more secure.

      With more people shopping and banking online, cyber criminals have greater opportunities to steal identities.The Justice Department estimates 11.7 millio...
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      Barnes & Noble plans to close a third of its stores, report says

      The last of its kind, the giant chain insists its business model still works

      It's not easy being the last of your kind. Just ask Best Buy or Barnes & Noble. Both chains have outlasted their brick-and-mortar competitors but the question now is whether they'll go the way of the other dinosaurs as Amazon and other online retailers take over the retail ecosystem.

      Perhaps in partial answer to that question, Barnes & Noble will close about a third of its stores over the next decade, according to a Wall Street Journal story that the company disputes. It's not, after all, just that people are buying more books online, but rather that they're not buying as many books anywhere -- "real" books, that is.

      As readers shift at least a portion of their purchases to e-books that they can read on their iPads, Kindles and Nooks, there's no reason to venture into a bookstore, unless you're looking for a warm place to hang out and read while consuming a remarkably expensive cup of coffee.

      Consumers rate Barnes & Noble

      Actually, there are those who think the used bookstore is the wave of the future, and certainly there seem to be more of these mostly mom-and-pop stores popping up here and there.

      In Reston, Va., Bud and Susan Burwell's descriptively-named Reston's Used Book Shop has been thriving since 1978, when it opened in a small space on the shores of Lake Anne in what was then a futuristic shopping plaza.

      Thirty-five years later, it's still there, with a steady stream of customers bringing in used books for store credits or cash and staggering out with bags full of purchases. The store has its own book club, hosts book signings by local authors and is the kind of place where customers engage each other in off-the-cuff critiques of books and authors.

      It has the kind of atmosphere Barnes & Noble and the late Borders were always trying to recreate.

      One and only

      And soon, it will be Reston's only book store. A much larger Barnes & Noble has announced plans to vacate its space in Reston Town Center, a bigger, newer shopping, office and residential district that its boosters say "looks just like Manhattan."

      By itself, this isn't necessarily surprising. Like any national retail chain, Barnes & Noble has routinely closed stores that under-performed while opening new ones that its market researchers think have a better chance of success. In recent years, it has closed about 15 stores in an average year while opening 30 or so new ones.

      But now, according to The Wall Street Journal, CEO Mitchell Klipper says  the chain is likely to have a net loss of about 20 stores per year, eventually whittling itself  down to 450 to 500 stores, down from its peak of 726 in 2008. 

      A Barnes & Noble spokeswoman, however, took issue with the Journal's report. 

      "Barnes & Noble has not adjusted its store closing plan whatsoever.  The Wall Street Journal article implies that our rate of store closures has changed," said Mary Ellen Keating. "We have historically closed approximately 15 stores per year for the past 10 years.  Of that number some of the stores are unprofitable while others are relocations to better properties.  The numbers reported today by the Wall Street Journal are consistent with analysts’ expectations. 

      "It should be noted that in 2012, Barnes & Noble opened two new prototype stores and in 2013 plans to test several other prototypes, as well.    Barnes & Noble has great real estate in prime locations and the company’s management is fully committed to the retail concept for the long term,” Keating said in an email to ConsumerAffairs.

      Perhaps, but it's hard to escape some sobering trends, among them, B&N's less than stellar success with its Nook e-reader. The company is up against some of the biggest ventures on earth as it struggles to compete with Apple, Amazon, Google and other manufacturers of tablets and e-readers.

      Klipper argues that most people who read books regularly read both e-books and the real thing. That may be true but major publishers are saying they expect e-books to make up half their total sales within the next few years, and many of those sales will naturally gravitate to Amazon, Apple, Google and other online giants who are in front of consumers all day, everyday.

      And where will all the bookworms go when they want a real cardboard and paper book? Well, not to rub it in, but many of them will head for the local equivalent of RUBS, as Reston's Used Book Store is known to its regulars.

      It's not easy being the last of your kind. Just ask Best Buy or Barnes & Noble. Both chains have outlasted their brick-and-mortar competitors but the q...
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      Understanding why people stutter and how they can cope

      Singing is proving to be an effective therapy

      Stuttering is a speech disorder that has been around forever but doesn't get much attention. At least, it hasn't until recently.

      When someone who stutters speaks, their sounds, syllables or words are repeated, or held longer than normal. These problems cause a break in the flow of speech.

      For obvious reasons, many stutterers shy away from the spotlight. An exception, however, emerged recently on the Fox series American Idol. Contestant Lazaro Arbos stuttered when he spoke to the judges but sang beautifully. The network featured Arbos in the promo below.

      But Arbos' singing abilities are not unusual for people who stutter. Mel Tillis was a major country music star in the 1970s who had a stutter when he spoke.

      "Many of the behaviors that reduce stuttering in daily speech overlap with behaviors found in singing," said Nan Bernstein Ratner, a University of Maryland professor and co-author of a textbook on stuttering. "Speech disruptions that interfere with the normal flow of communication that lead to stuttering appear to be smoothed during singing because of the way syllables and words are linked together during this process."

      The King's Speech

      In the Academy award winning film The King's Speech, a therapist working with King George VI employed singing as a way to help the British monarch manage his stuttering. Ratner says when humans attempt to produce a musical note, the larynx is used more gently than during spoken speech. Singers are also focused on hitting each note properly, and use a tempo or rhythm.

      Other famous people have learned to cope with stuttering. Actor James Earl Jones, the voice of Star Wars' Darth Vadar and countless commercials, told London's Daily Mail in 2010 that he stuttered as a child and was virtually mute for eight years.

      Stuttering usually begins in childhood. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about five percent of children between the ages of two and five will develop some stuttering during their childhood. It could last a few weeks or a few years.

      Can run in the family

      For about one percent of children, however, the stuttering does not go away and may actually get worse. It can also run in families, since genes have been identified that cause stuttering. NLM says there is also evidence that stuttering may be a result of some brain injuries, such as stroke or traumatic brain injuries.

      Stuttering may rarely be caused by emotional trauma. called psychogenic stuttering. Stuttering is more common in boys than girls and tends to persist into adulthood more often in boys than in girls.

      Adults seeking a “cure” should use caution, says Judith Maginnis Kuster, a professor emeritus from Minnesota State University, Mankato, in the Department of Speech, Hearing and Rehabilitation Services. She operates a website, The Stuttering Homepage, that warns consumers that looking for a "cure" for stuttering in adults is generally not realistic. 

      “Looking for ways to manage stuttering effectively is realistic,” the website says. “Consumers are warned that programs guaranteeing a 'cure' should be thoroughly studied before spending any money on them.”

      There are a number of effective therapy programs to help those who stutter manage their condition. Consumers can find them at the National Stuttering Association and other support groups. 

      Stuttering is a speech disorder that has been around forever but doesn't get much attention. At least, it hasn't until recently.When someone who stutters...
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      Feeling low on energy? A new app claims it can help

      JUICE combines technology with expert advice to improve your energy level

      Why does it seem that many of us struggle with our energy levels, even though we claim to get enough rest, eat the right foods and get enough exercise?

      Some may say today’s individual is busier than ever, and with jobs becoming more complex, forcing people to work longer hours and newly created devices making it easier to bring work home, getting any downtime or just having time to do absolutely nothing seems harder and harder to do these days.

      And what course of action do a lot of consumers take to get their energy back? 

      To answer that question, just take a look at your neighborhood grocery store or pop into your local corner market and you’ll see just how many energy drinks there are on the market.

      From 5-hour Energy, to Red Bull, from Monster Energy to Rockstar Energy Drink, the shelves are full of products claiming to boost our energy level.

      Track your energy level

      Well, a new app created by the company Mindbloom sets out to change that approach, through its new mobile device app called JUICE, that allows people to track their energy level and get tips on how to increase their energy naturally.

      JUICE “takes a fun, simple approach to helping the average person become aware of the daily habits that zap their energy, while serving up relevant suggestions and resources from top-tier experts on ways to improve those behaviors,” says Chris Hewett, founder of the tech health company Mindbloom, in an interview with ConsumerAffairs.

      “JUICE is not an app for the ultra-marathoner, it’s an app for the average person who lacks energy but doesn’t know why and doesn’t have the time to begin to learn how to address the issue. With JUICE, users can quickly and easily record and reflect on their daily behaviors in the areas of nutrition, sleep, exercise, mood, life balance and stress and track them against their daily energy level,” he said.

      What’s also cool about the app, says Hewett, is that it’s fun to use, and instead of the app having a boring and scientific approach to gathering the needed information from you, it actually comes across like a game that will hopefully keep people permanently engaged.

      “The application uses playful interaction to make the experience fun, such as offering a lighthearted visual sliding scale to rate that day’s nutrition behaviors from ‘awful’ (pizza, beer and a cupcake) to ‘great’ (salmon, vegetables and a glass of water)," says Hewett.

      After the seven days, JUICE gives an energy report that sums up all of the information users gave during the seven-day period, then the app gives advice on the things you need to change, so you can maintain a proper energy level.

      Customized tips

      And the app doesn’t provide general input either, says Hewett, it actually gives customized tips that are tailored for your specific circumstance. 

       “JUICE users also receive daily tips from Mindbloom’s partner network of highly respected health experts and authors,” says Hewett. “The tips are personalized and relevant based on the users input, and are designed to encourage users to improve choices and behaviors that are problematic.”

      Hewett also said that user feedback for the app has been encouraging.

      "We launched the app just over two months ago and already have 70,000 downloads. Overall people have been ranking their energy as ‘ok’ across the board, so we’d like to see that go up and believe our expert tips have already started to make an impact, especially with people who are connecting expert tips with their New Year’s resolutions.”

      And with the large number of downloads so far, Hewett says he can't wait to see what the app goes from here.

      “Nutrition and exercise have been the lowest ranked areas so far, although we also saw improvement in January over December. It’s amazing to see the app making an impact on people’s lives so early after launch and we can’t wait to see even more results,” he says.

      Negative behavior

      See, many of us want to feel better during our daily routine, but don’t know how to go about it. Also, when we do decide to do something, we may work on only fixing one area that needs improving, like going to bed a little earlier.

      And of course, correcting any negative behavior is great, but to make a complete change for the better and have an increased energy level, you’ll have to fix all of your problem areas , which is exactly what the app does,” says Hewett.

      “Most people don’t even realize that certain energy-zapping behaviors are taking place as often as they are,” he said.

      “Often you need a mental map to know where you’re going or recognize that you’re lost. Tracking allows you to see how behaviors are impacting other areas of your life. With JUICE, people get an easy navigational tool for checking in with themselves when energy levels are an issue and they get to see a map of their habits in a fun and non-invasive way.”

      “It’s a wonderful opportunity to identify areas where potential small steps could make a huge difference in enabling positive behaviors that lead to more energy. Used effectively, JUICE is the perfect gateway app to better health, well-being and happiness,” says Hewett.

      He also says that simply grabbing an energy drink is nothing but a temporary fix.

      “While an afternoon energy drink or caffeine-loaded beverage might be part of someone’s daily repertoire to boost their energy, it’s a Band-Aid fix that doesn’t address why that person might be in the midst of an energy crisis brought on by potential unhealthy behaviors."

      "With JUICE, people get to the bottom of identifying what is zapping their energy so they can start taking actions to get their natural energy to an optimal level.”

      Hewett says what also sets JUICE apart from other health apps are the tips you get from experts to help keep your energy level up.

      “The integration of top industry experts is important,” he says.

      Juice can be downloaded for free in Apple’s iTunes store.

      Why does it seem that many of us struggle with our energy levels, even though we claim to get enough rest, eat the right foods and get enough exercise?So...
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      Hartz Mountain 'Withdraws' Chicken Chews, Oinkies Pig Skin Twists

      The dog treats contain trace amounts of unapproved antibiotics

      The Hartz Mountain Corporation is withdrawing its Hartz Chicken Chews and Hartz Oinkies Pig Skin Twists wrapped with Chicken for dogs in the United States because they contain trace amounts of unapproved antibiotic residue.

      "We are taking this action after recent Hartz testing found trace amounts of unapproved antibiotic residue in samples of Hartz Chicken Chews and Oinkies Pig Skin Twists wrapped with Chicken products," the company said. "Even though two-thirds of the products we tested did not contain antibiotic residues, we would rather be overly cautious by voluntarily withdrawing these products from the market."

      The company said the antibiotics are approved for use in poultry in China and other countries, including European Union member states, but are not among those approved in the U.S.

      Based on the FDA’s review of the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets (NYSDAM) results, there is no evidence that raises health concerns, and these results are highly unlikely to be related to the reports of illnesses FDA has received related to jerky pet treats, Hartz said.

      The company said that as soon as it learned of the finding, it contacted the FDA to share the test results and begin a nationwide voluntary withdrawal. There have been no known illnesses to date associated with the consumption of these products.

      “Upon learning about the nationwide voluntary withdrawal of several other brands of chicken jerky products through media reports, Hartz acted immediately to begin additional testing to determine if the same unapproved antibiotic residues were present in our products,” said Sean McNear, Sr. Director of Quality and Regulatory at Hartz Mountain.

      There is no indication that the trace amounts of unapproved antibiotic residue are linked to the FDA's ongoing investigation of chicken jerky products produced in China. The trace amounts of antibiotic residue do not pose a health or pet safety risk.

      Hartz said customers can contact the company at 1-800-275-1414.

      The Hartz Mountain Corporation is withdrawing its Hartz Chicken Chews and Hartz Oinkies Pig Skin Twists wrapped with Chicken for dogs in the United States ...
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      Pyramid scheme promised riches but didn't deliver, feds charge

      Federal court shuts down Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing

      A federal court has pulled the blocks out from under Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing, which prosecutors say has defrauded more than 100,000 consumers in the U.S. and Canada.

      “This is the beginning of the end for one of the most prolific pyramid schemes operating in North America,” Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway said at a news conference in Lexington, Ky. “This is a classic pyramid scheme in every sense of the word.  The vast majority of people, more than 90 percent, who bought in to FHTM lost their money.”

      According to the complaint filed by the FTC and the state attorneys general of Illinois, Kentucky and North Carolina, the defendants falsely claimed consumers would earn significant income for selling the products and services of companies such as Dish Network, Frontpoint Home Security, and various cell phone providers, and for selling FHTM’s line of health and beauty products. 

      Despite FHTM’s claims, nearly all consumers who signed up with the scheme lost more money than they ever made.  To the extent that consumers could make any income, however, it was mainly for recruiting other consumers, and FHTM’s compensation plan ensured that most consumers made little or no money, the complaint alleged.

      A rigged game

      “Pyramid schemes are more like icebergs,” said C. Steven Baker, Director of the FTC’s Midwest Region.  “At any point most people must and will be underwater financially.  These defendants were promising people that if they worked hard they could make lots of money.  But it was a rigged game, and the vast majority of people lost money.”

      Prosecutors say the scheme affected more than 100,000 consumers throughout the United States, including Puerto Rico, and Canada.  In some areas, including Chicago, the scheme targeted Spanish-speaking consumers.

      As alleged in the complaint, FHTM promoted itself as a way for average people to achieve financial independence.  Some FHTM representatives claimed they earned more than 10 times as much as their previous earnings in their second and subsequent years with FHTM. 

      One person claimed that another representative earned more than $50,000 in his sixth month and millions of dollars in subsequent years.  Another person promoted a recruitment meeting on her Twitter account, stating, “Bring ur friends & learn how 2 make $120K aYR.” 

      At its 2012 national convention in Dallas, FHTM called its top 30 earners to the stage to present them with a mock-up of a $64 million check, which several of them shared as a photo on social networking websites.

      Compensation plan

      To participate in the scheme, consumers paid annual fees ranging from $100 to $300.  To qualify for sales commissions and recruiting bonuses, they had to pay an extra $130 to $400 per month and agree to a continuity plan that billed them monthly for products unless they canceled the plan. 

      Those who signed up more consumers and maintained certain sales levels could earn promotions and greater compensation, but contrary to FHTM’s claims, the complaint alleged, its compensation plan ensured that, at any given time, most participants would spend more money than they would earn.

      In addition to charging the defendants with operating an illegal pyramid scheme and making false earnings claims, the FTC charged them with furnishing consumers with false and misleading materials for recruiting more participants.  The attorneys general offices of Illinois, Kentucky and North Carolina joined the FTC complaint, as well as alleging violations of their state laws.

      The defendants are Paul C. Orberson, Thomas A. Mills, Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing Inc., FHTM Inc., Alan Clark Holdings LLC, FHTM Canada Inc., and Fortune Network Marketing (UK) Limited.  

      A federal court has At the request of the Federal Trade Commission and the states of Illinois, Kentucky, and North Carolina, a federal court has hal...
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      New drug treatments approved for type 2 diabetes

      Clinical trials involving thousands of patients found the treatments safe and effective

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved three new related products for use with diet and exercise to improve blood sugar control in adults with type 2 diabetes: Nesina (alogliptin) tablets, Kazano (alogliptin and metformin hydrochloride) tablets, and Oseni (alogliptin and pioglitazone) tablets.

      Alogliptin is a new active ingredient, while metformin hydrochloride and pioglitazone are already FDA-approved for the management of type 2 diabetes. As the most common form of the disease, type 2 diabetes affects about 24 million people and accounts for more than 90 percent of diabetes cases diagnosed in the United States.

      People with type 2 diabetes are either resistant to insulin or do not produce enough insulin, resulting in high blood sugar levels. Over time, high blood sugar levels can increase the risk for serious complications, including heart disease, blindness, and nerve and kidney damage.

      "Controlling blood sugar levels is very important in the overall treatment and care of diabetes," said Mary Parks, M.D., director of the Division of Metabolism and Endocrinology Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Alogliptin helps stimulate the release of insulin after a meal, which leads to better blood sugar control.”

      Nesina, Kazano, and Oseni were studied as stand-alone therapies (monotherapies) and in combination with other type 2 diabetes therapies, including sulfonylureas and insulin. They should not be used to treat people with type 1 diabetes or those who have increased ketones in their blood or urine (diabetic ketoacidosis).

      Nesina

      Nesina was demonstrated to be safe and effective in 14 clinical trials involving about 8,500 patients with type 2 diabetes. It resulted in reductions in glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c), a measure of blood sugar control, of 0.4 percent to 0.6 percent compared with placebo after 26 weeks of use.

      The FDA is requiring five postmarketing studies for Nesina: a cardiovascular outcomes trial; an enhanced pharmacovigilance program to monitor for liver abnormalities, serious cases of pancreatitis, and severe hypersensitivity reactions; and three pediatric studies under the Pediatric Research Equity Act (PREA), including a dose finding study and two safety and efficacy studies, one with Nesina as a monotherapy and one with Nesina and metformin.

      Nesina 's most common side effects are stuffy or runny nose, headache, and upper respiratory tract infection.

      Kazano

      The safety and efficacy of Kazano were demonstrated in four clinical trials involving more than 2,500 patients with type 2 diabetes.

      Kazano resulted in additional reductions in HbA1c of 1.1 percent over Nesina and 0.5 percent over metformin after 26 weeks of use.

      The FDA is requiring two postmarketing studies for Kazano: an enhanced pharmacovigilance program to monitor for liver abnormalities, serious cases of pancreatitis, and severe hypersensitivity reactions; and a pediatric safety and efficacy study under PREA.

      Kazano carries a Boxed Warning for lactic acidosis, a build-up of lactic acid in the bloodstream, associated with metformin use.

      The most common side effects of Kazano are upper respiratory tract infection, stuffy or runny nose and sore throat, diarrhea, headache, high blood pressure, back pain, and urinary tract infection.

      Oseni

      Oseni was demonstrated to be safe and effective in four clinical trials involving more than 1,500 patients with type 2 diabetes. It resulted in additional reductions in HbA1c of 0.4 percent to 0.6 percent over pioglitazone monotherapy and 0.4 percent to 0.9 percent over alogliptin monotherapy.

      The FDA is requiring an enhanced pharmacovigilance program for Oseni to monitor for liver abnormalities, serious cases of pancreatitis, and severe hypersensitivity reactions.

      Oseni carries a Boxed Warning for heart failure associated with pioglitazone use.

      The drug's most common side effects are stuffy or runny nose and sore throat, back pain, and upper respiratory infection.

      Nesina, Kazano, and Oseni are distributed by Takeda Pharmaceuticals America, Inc., Deerfield, Ill.

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved three new related products for use with diet and exercise to improve blood sugar control in adults with ...
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      Pending home sales dip in December

      However, the overall uptrend continues

      Pending home sales slipped in December but have were above year-ago levels for the 20 consecutive month, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

      The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, fell 4.3 percent in December -- to 101.7. But it's still 6.9 percent higher than December 2011 when it was 95.1. The data reflect contracts but not closings.

      Supply the key

       "The supply limitation appears to be the main factor holding back contract signings in the past month," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. "Still, contract activity has risen for 20 straight months on a year-over-year basis. Buyer interest remains solid, as evidenced by a separate Realtor survey which shows that buyer foot traffic is easily outpacing seller traffic."

      Yun said shortages of available inventory are limiting sales in some areas. "Supplies of homes costing less than $100,000 are tight in much of the country, especially in the West, so first-time buyers have fewer options," he said. "We expect a seasonal rise of inventory in the spring to help, but a seller's market may be developing. Much of the West is already a seller's market for homes priced under a million dollars, but conditions are much more balanced in the Northeast."

      Even with tighter inventory, a pent-up demand and favorable affordability conditions bode well for the market. Yun expects existing-home sales to increase another 9 percent in 2013, following a 9 percent rise in 2012.

      West leads decline

      The PHSI in the West fell 8.2 percent in December to 101.0 and is 5.3 percent below a year ago. In the Northeast it fell 5.4 percent to 78.8 in December but is 8.4 percent higher than December 2011.

      Pending home sales in the Midwest rose 0.9 percent to 104.8 in December and were 14.4 percent above a year ago. In the South, the PHSI declined 4.5 percent to 111.5 in December, but is 10.1 percent higher December 2011.  

      Pending home sales slipped in December but have were above year-ago levels for the 20 consecutive month, according to the National Association of Realtors ...
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      Don’t double up on acetaminophen

      You could be doing yourself more harm than good

      You have flu symptoms and you've been getting a little relief for the past two days by taking a cough and flu medicine every few hours. Late in the day, though, you get a headache and think about popping a couple of tablets of acetaminophen, the main ingredient in Tylenol, to treat the pain.

      Hold on!

      What you may not realize is that more than 600 medications -- both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) -- contain acetaminophen to help relieve pain and reduce fever. Taken carefully and correctly, they can be safe and effective. But taking too much acetaminophen can lead to severe liver damage.

      Acetaminophen is a common medication for relieving mild to moderate pain from headaches, muscle aches, menstrual periods, colds and sore throats, toothaches, backaches and to reduce fever. It's also used in combination medicines, which have more than one active ingredient to treat more than one symptom.

      Cold and flu season hits

      The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says we catch one billion colds per year and as many as 20 percent of us get the flu. Moreover, 7 in 10 people use OTC medicines to treat cold, cough and flu symptoms.

      Fathia Gibril, M.D., M.HSc., a supervisory medical officer at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), explains that consumers looking for relief from a cold or the flu may not know that acetaminophen comes in combination with many other medications used to treat those symptoms. "So if you're taking more than one medicine at a time," she says, "you may be putting yourself at risk for liver damage."

      Symptoms of acetaminophen overdose may take many days to appear, and even when they become apparent, they may mimic flu or cold symptoms. The current maximum recommended adult dose of acetaminophen is 4,000 milligrams per day, To avoid exceeding that dose:

      • don't take more than one OTC product containing acetaminophen,
      • don't take a prescription and an OTC product containing acetaminophen, and
      • don't exceed the recommended dose on any product containing acetaminophen.

      "When you're at the store deciding which product to buy, check the 'Drug Facts' label of OTC cold, cough and flu products before using two or more products at the same time," Gibril says. If you’re still not sure which to buy, ask the pharmacist for advice.

      Listen to the experts

      Acetaminophen is used in many commonly prescribed medications in combination with pain relievers such as codeine, oxycodone and hydrocodone. As of January 2011, FDA reported that overdoses from prescription medicines containing acetaminophen accounted for nearly half of all cases of acetaminophen-related liver injury in the U.S. When your healthcare professionals prescribe a drug, be sure to ask if it contains this active ingredient, and also to tell them about all other medicines (prescription and OTC) and supplements you take.

      Even if you still have fever or pain, it's important not to take more than directed on the prescription or package label, notes FDA supervisory medical officer Sharon Hertz, M.D. But be careful, the word "acetaminophen" is not always spelled out in full on the container's prescription label. Abbreviations such as APAP, Acetaminoph, Acetaminop, Acetamin, or Acetam may be used instead.

      When buying OTC products, Hertz suggests you make it a habit of telling the pharmacist what other medications and supplements you’re taking and asking if taking acetaminophen in addition is safe.

      When the medicine is intended for children, the "Directions" section of the Drug Facts label tells you if the medicine is right for your child and how much to give. If a dose for your child's weight or age is not listed on the label and you can't tell how much to give, ask your pharmacist or doctor what to do.

      If you're planning to use a medication containing acetaminophen, you should tell your healthcare professional if you have or have ever have had liver disease.

      Acetaminophen and alcohol may not be a good mix, either, Hertz says. If you drink three or more alcoholic drinks a day, be sure to talk to your healthcare professional before you use a medicine containing acetaminophen.

      You have flu symptoms and you've been getting a little relief for the past two days by taking a cough and flu medicine every few hours. Late in the day, th...
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