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    Job creation in June exceeds expectations

    Still, the unemployment rate is stick at 7.6%

    The nation's economy cranked out a surprising 195,000 jobs in June, topping the forecast of 166,000 projected by a survey of economists surveyed by Briefing.com.

    Figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show employment gains in leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, retail trade, health care and financial activities. Employment in most other major industries, including mining and logging, construction, manufacturing, and transportation and warehousing, showed little change.

    The unemployment rate held steady at 7.6%, showing little change since February, with the number of people out of work at 11.8 million.

    Who's working

    The unemployment rate for adult women edged up in June to 6.8% , while the rates for adult men (7.0%), teenagers (24.0%, whites (6.6%, blacks (13.7%), and Hispanics (9.1%) showed little or no change. The Asian jobless rate was 5.0% -- down 1.3% from a year ago.

    Federal government employment was down by 5,000 jobs in June and has declined by 65,000 over the past 12 months.

    The number of jobs created in April was revised upward by 50,000 – to 199,000, and the change for May was revised from the addition of 175,000 jobs 195,000. That puts employment gains in April and May combined 70,000 higher than previously reported.

    The complete June employment report is available at the Labor Department  website.

    The nation's economy cranked out a surprising 195,000 jobs in June, topping the forecast of 166,000 projected by a survey of economists surveyed by Briefi...

    Jardine crib recalls leave consumers fuming

    The company offers some customers only a $65 credit on a new Jardine crib

    When a product is recalled for reasons of safety, consumers  assume that they will be offered a repair or replacement, but that's often not the case, as some purchasers of Jardine cribs have learned.

    Federal safety officials say their primary goal is to get dangerous products out of consumers' homes and, secondarily, to negotiate the best financial deal they can.

    Jardine recalled about 320,000 cribs several years ago because they were unsafe. It later added another 96,000 cribs to the recall list. The company and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) said the wooden crib slates and spindles could break, creating a gap where baby's head or neck could get stuck. There have been several similar recalls in recent years.

    The first recall notice from the company said:  "Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled cribs and contact Jardine to receive a full credit toward the purchase of a new crib." A later version of the recall press release said only that consumers would "receive a credit."

    "Full credit"

    Consumers who read the recall notice thought, understandably, that "full credit" meant they would get a credit that would cover the purchase of a new crib, but it didn't turn out that way for some customers. 

    "We did the best we could for consumers," said Patty Davis, spokeswoman for the CPSC. The agency negotiated a sliding scale that provided a new crib for consumers whose crib was three to five years old.

    The $65 credit was for cribs that were five to ten years old. There is no credit for cribs older than ten years. But Davis said the most important thing to focus on is the urgent need to get recalled cribs out of homes, and to dispose of them so they don't turn up at yard sales or in second-hand stores.

    "We don't recommend you use a crib older than ten years. The bottom line is that consumers need to get these old and recalled cribs out of their homes and get a new crib that meets current safety standards no matter what," Davis said.

    "The No. 1 priority is to keep your kids safe," she told ConsumerAffairs. "Consumers are not necessarily made whole in every single recall." By law, the CPSC must negotiate the terms of each recall with the manufacturer and does not have the power to arbitrarily impose a settlement in most cases.  

    Didn't come close

    Consumers rate Toys R Us

    This doesn't sit well with some consumers posting to ConsumerAffairs, who noted that the cribs, which were sold at Babies R Us, Toys R Us and other retailers, cost between $150 and $450, while the credits offered to customers with older cribs didn't come close to covering the original purchase price.

    "We were not offered a repair kit or told what the refund process would be until we destroyed our crib and sent them the supports and a part we needed to cut out of the end structure. We received a $65 credit to purchase one of their crib that didn't match the baby's room (no options at all)," said Joseph of Oxford, Mass. "When we contacted them again we were told they are going by policy and we would not be offered anything else."

    Perla of Chula Vista, Calif., figures she's out more than $400.

    "When I purchased my crib I bought it for about $500. I just got my voucher today and they gave me a grand total of $65 -- really! $65 for a $500 dollar crib which was still in great condition."

    "I am glad the death trap is out of my house and I'm thankful that nothing happened to my baby's but I hate how they just ripped me off!" Perla said.

    Doesn't do the job

    Many cribs produced before new safety standards went into effect in 2011 have had multiple safety problems but Nancy Cowles, executive director of the Chicago-based advocacy group Kids In Danger, says the Jardine cribs "stand alone" when it comes to lacking in basic safety standards.

    "The slats were so flimsy that even the toddler in the crib was able to break them, which is obviously not going to do the job," she told ConsumerAffairs. "A crib needs to be strong enough so that parents can safely leave the child alone."

    Cowles said that such poorly-handled recalls make an already unsafe situation worse.

    "It's a big concern of ours, because when a recall is ineffective, parents are likely to continue using the cribs," leaving children exposed to the dangerous condition that sparked the recall, Cowles said. 

    "Worst company ever"

    "Our baby crib was recalled and we were supposed to get a voucher for the crib value at the cost spent and we were supposed to be able to use the voucher at Babies R Us." But that didn't happen," said Kristen of Norcross, Ga. 

    "After waiting months and months for the company to be responsive, they made us cut a wooden portion of the crib with a saw and send it in as proof we owned the crib. ... We met all of these outrageous demands --  for what? A $65 voucher. Worst company ever!"

    Say what?

    Who is Jardine, exactly? Well, it's not easy to answer that. Finding their corporate website is an adventure in itself. It's jardco.com, if you're wondering. 

    But having found the site doesn't get you very far because none of the links on the home page work. In fact, they're not even links.  "About Us," for example, isn't a link to another page, it's just part of an image. There are no working links at all on the page.

    Toys 'R' Us no longer carries the brand in its stores and says it has received only a few inquiries about the recalls in recent years. 

    "As you know, recalls of Jardine cribs were announced in 2008 and 2009.  At that time, a system was put in place to allow those impacted by this recall to receive a voucher to purchase a new crib from any brand/manufacturer from one of our stores," said Katie Reczek of Toys 'R' Us. "This system was in place for some time, and in 2011, transitioned to a system by which Jardine would provide a replacement crib directly to consumers."

    Problems continue

    Although it started in 2008, the series of safety crises and lethargic  responses involving Jardine cribs shows no signs of abating.

    Teresa of Brunswick, Ohio, managed to survive one Jardine recall and is now having the exact same safety problems with the replacement crib, but is getting no assistance from the company, she said.

    "I purchased a Jardine crib in 2008 after the first one purchased through them was recalled. My original voucher did not cover the cost of a new crib, but we paid the difference," she said. "A slat on the new crib recently developed a deep crack that pinched my daughter's fingers and we noticed that many of the slats are now cracked as is the top slat of the crib."

    Teresa was puzzled that she had not been notified about subsequent recalls, since she had registered her crib with Jardine.

    "The reason seems to be that ours was made a month after the recall stopped, yet is having the exact same issues! I am furious and horrified that they would continue to risk children's lives without any consequences. They refuse to replace my crib even though the issues are obviously continuing."

    When a product is recalled for reasons of safety, consumers rightly assume that they will be offered a replacement, but that's often not the case, as purch...

    Milo's Kitchen treats poisoned dogs, class action charges

    Chicken from China blamed for dogs' illness, deaths

    A federal judge has refused to dismiss a class action lawsuit that charges Del Monte subsidiary Milo's Kitchen produced chicken jerky treats that poisoned and killed dogs, a claim also leveled in many ConsumerAffairs postings.

    "I just had to put my beautiful Shayna down from kidney failure, and am so irate to find out that it could have been my fault feeding her something that I thought was natural and from a company I thought was trustworthy," Leslie of Davie, Fla., said in a June 2012 posting.

    Del Monte recalled the "home-style" dog treats in January after the New York State Department of Agriculture found trace amounts of antibiotics in several lots of chicken jerky treats.

    The lawsuit, however, concerns a more wide-ranging problem -- one that the Food and Drug Administration warned pet owners about back in 2008 and on several occasions since then. In February, the FDA said it had received reports of 360 dogs dying and 2,200 becoming ill after eating jerky treats.

    Chinese chickens

    Many of the suspect treats are made with chicken from China, which is not approved for human consumption but can be legally fed to pets. 

    Consumers rate Del Monte Pet Foods

    In the lawsuit, Lisa Mazur says that her healthy seven-year-old dog, Riley Rae, suffered kidney failure and had to be euthanized after eating the Milo's Kitchen treats, and she charges that despite the FDA warnings, Del Monte did not recall the treats or put warnings on the packages, Courthouse News Servicereported.

    "Defendants intentionally concealed known facts concerning the safety of their dog treats in order to increase or maintain sales," Mazur said in the complaint.

    Del Monte is one of a dozen manufacturers in a $24 million settlementin 2011 for wet pet food contaminated with melamine and cyanuric acid. The company also faces other law suits from pet owners.

    The company moved to have the case dismissed in September 2012 but U.S. Magistrate Judge Maureen Kelly recommended that the case proceed and U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon adopted Kelly's recommendation.

     Del Monte subsidiary Milo's Kitchen cannot dismiss claims that its Chinese chicken jerky treats poisoned and killed dogs, a federal judge ruled. ...

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      Safety first on July 4th

      Firecrackers, aerials, and homemade explosives cause most deaths and injuries

      While Americans' plans for celebrating the nation's 237th birthday on July 4th are many and varied, blowing off a finger or hand probably is not at the top of the list. And yet it continues to happen as sure as the rising of the sun in the East.

      The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) says an estimated 8,700 consumers were treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments for fireworks-related injuries last year.

      Between June 22, 2012, and July 22, 2012, more than 5,000 consumers were treated in hospital emergency rooms due to fireworks-related injuries. In fact, 60% of all fireworks injuries occur during the 30 days surrounding the July 4 holiday.

      More than half of these reported injuries involved burns to the hands, head and face. About 1,000 reported injuries involved sparklers and bottle rockets, fireworks that are frequently and incorrectly considered safe for young children.

      Accident causes

      Follow-up investigations of incidents showed that most injuries were associated with malfunctioning fireworks or improper use. Malfunctioning fireworks often resulted in unexpected flight paths and dangerous debris. Improper use included igniting fireworks too close to someone, lighting fireworks in one's hand and playing with lit or used fireworks.

      Most victims recovered from their injuries or were expected to recover completely; however, several victims reported that their injuries might be long term.

      What to do

      Consumers who decide to buy legal fireworks should take these safety steps.

      • Make sure the fireworks you want to buy are legal in your area before buying or using them.
      • Never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks, including sparklers. Parents may not realize that young children suffer injuries from sparklers. Sparklers burn at temperatures of about 2,000 degrees -- hot enough to melt some metals.
      • Always have an adult closely supervise fireworks activities if older children are allowed to handle devices.
      • Avoid buying fireworks packaged in brown paper because this is often a sign that the fireworks were made for professional displays and could pose a danger to consumers.
      • Never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse. Back up to a safe distance immediately after lighting fireworks.
      • Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of fire or other mishap.
      • Never try to relight or handle malfunctioning fireworks. Soak them with water and throw them away.
      • Never point or throw fireworks at another person.
      • Light fireworks one at a time, then move back quickly.
      • Never carry fireworks in a pocket or shoot them off in metal or glass containers.
      • After fireworks complete their burning, douse the spent device with plenty of water from a bucket or hose before discarding the device to prevent a trash fire.

      Consumers are urged to report the manufacture or sale of illegal fireworks to their local law enforcement agencies or to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Fireworks, and Explosives hotline at 1-888-ATF-BOMB (1-888-283-2662).

      While Americans' plans for celebrating the nation's 237th birthday on July 4th and many and varied, blowing off a finger or hand probably is not at the top...

      Feds order for-profit colleges to meet tougher standards

      Schools will have to prove their students can get jobs and manage student debt

      Getting a college education is an expensive undertaking, but where you go to school makes a big difference in the bill. A state college is more affordable than a private school, in most cases.

      And for-profit colleges, which are run as businesses and whose classes tend to be conducted mostly online, can be quite expensive. The Department of Education last month issued a new set of regulations that bring new pressure on the for-profit college industry in an effort to prevent students from being left with crushing debt and slim job prospects.

      Karee, of New York, says she entered the University of Phoenix's accounting program with the understanding the tuition would be $24,000. Not bad for a four-year degree. Unfortunately, she misunderstood.

      'Biggest surprise of my life'

      “After two years, I got the biggest surprise of my life,” she wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “That $24,000 was for a two-year degree, an associate degree! I discussed this with the school when I realized I was completely misled, and was advised that that is how it was done. I had to complete a two-year degree before I went on to my BS. So instead of paying for one degree, I ended paying for two useless pieces of paper.”

      A surprisingly large number of students in for-profit colleges pursue two-year associate degrees. Surprising, because almost every area of the country has access to a state-supported community college, where the cost of an associate degree is roughly half what for-profit schools charge.

      Cree, a single mom from Lafayette, La., writes that she wishes she had gone to a community college instead of University of Phoenix.

      “Once you put "University of Phoenix" anywhere on your resume, it is not even looked at,” she writes. “I now find myself back at the brick and mortar school where I started.”

      A few credits short

      Consumers rate University of Phoenix

      Don, of Cypress, Calif., enrolled at Devryand said he almost earned his degree but has used up his financial aid, leaving him a few credits short. It turns out he owes a lot of money.

      “I am a father, husband, and with a new baby on the way,” Don writes. “I have to pay $57,000 back to Sallie Mae with no degree? Is that right? “I'm paying $600 a month with nothing to show for it.”

      Lori, of Colver, Pa., writes that she too ran short of aid money before earning a Devry degree.

      “My entire degree as a part-time, online student was to cost $58,000.” she writes. As of July, Devry had billed me over $73,000. That is with 28 credits still remaining and eight transferred credits.”

      The new regulations governing for-profit colleges are not as tough as some critics of the industry had hoped. They give these companies another three years to meet new standards before facing a stiff penalty – losing access to federal student loan dollars.

      Higher default rates

      Pressure for the tighter restrictions built over the last two years amid growing evidence that students at for-profit colleges default on their federal loans at a much higher rate than students at public and private colleges.

      Federal officials say the purpose of the regulations is to set a standard for judging an institution of higher learning. Under the new rules, they will be required to show that their students are able to leave with the ability and skills to get a job that will allow them to manage their debt.

      Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) has criticized what he calls the harmful recruiting tactics of some for-profit colleges and said that federal aid through the Defense Department’s voluntary military education programs – Tuition Assistance for servicemembers and MyCAA for their spouses – should be focused on educating, rather than marketing.

      At a Senate hearing last month, Durbin called on the Defense Department to strengthen oversight of federal funds and increase the quality of education within the program. He pointed out that while for-profit schools enrolled only 12% of all college students, they receive 25% of the Department of Education’s federal student aid funds and account for 47% of student loan defaults.

      Getting a college education is an expensive undertaking, but where you go to school makes a big difference in the bill. A state college is more affordable ...

      TV flies free on Southwest

      Bring your own iPad or laptop, the programming's free

      Bags fly free on Southwest and now TV does too. In a deal with Dish Network, Southwest is offering free Wi-Fi and TV programming on its flights. It had been charging $5 for live TV.

      Other airlines have installed heavy, heat-generating equipment on their aircraft to provide entertainment on seatback screens. Southwest's solution is to provide the Wi-Fi and the programming and let customers bring their own iPads and laptops.

      Southwest’s TV service includes local stations from New York, Bravo, Fox News and NFL Network as well as 75 on-demand shows on the airline's more than 400 Wi-Fi-enabled aircraft.

      Live TV on-board began 13 years ago, when DirecTV began offering service on JetBlue, where it remains free. In contrast, United has DirecTV free in first class when available, but up to $7.99 in the economy section. 

      "DISH and Southwest are two iconic American brands known for putting the customer first, providing products, services and experiences they truly demand," said DISH President and CEO Joe Clayton. "It's only logical our two companies should team up to give passengers free live TV and on-demand shows on flights around the country."

      "Southwest Airlines continues to innovate and evolve our on-board Customer experience," said Kevin Krone, Chief Marketing Officer at Southwest Airlines. "We started with Wi-Fi and now have expanded to television. This new offer puts free television in the hands of our Customers. Just one more way Southwest offers more value at 37,000 feet."

      Bags fly free on Southwest and now TV does too. In a deal with Dish Network, Southwest is offering free Wi-Fi and TV programming on its flights. It had bee...

      Keeping your pet safe on the 4th of July

      It'll require a little planning on your part to make sure your pet is protected this holiday

      Independence Day is almost here, and soon people all over the United States will be attending barbecues, purchasing fireworks and showing their patriotism.

      And although most people have heard safety tips when it comes to keeping themselves safe during the 4th, some don't think about the safety of their pets.

      Eats and drinks

      The Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association (PVMA) warns pet owners against leaving any alcoholic beverages around their pets at barbecues or parties.

      If your pet even drinks a small amount of alcohol, depending on its size, it can quickly become weak, suffer respiratory failure, become poisoned and even fall into a coma in some cases.

      In addition, the PVMA reminds owners to be mindful of leaving picnic food in places where their pet can get to it. Some foods -- including certain fruits and vegetables -- can be toxic for animals to eat.

      The folks at DogHeirs.com say grapes, raisins, avocados, onions, garlic, chives and tomatoes are just some of the fruits and vegetables that can cause your dog problems if he consumes it.

      And owners should make sure their cat won't be exposed to broccoli, chocolate, avocados, grapes, raisins, nuts, onions, plums, peaches or potatoes, just to name a few foods that cats should stay away from.

      Keep the buffet table away from your pet and put it in a place where it can be accessed only by people. And be sure your guests aren't feeding foods to your pet.

      You may want to make a friendly announcement to your guests and tell them they shouldn't be feeding anything to your pet whatsoever.

      Chemical hazards

      The ASPCA reminds owners to keep things like lighter fluid and matches away from their pets, since some matches are made with a chemical called chlorates, which can lead to kidney disease in some cases, breathing problems and damage to the blood cells.

      And if your pet ingests lighter fluid, it can affect its central nervous system and cause depression. If it's inhaled, it could lead to breathing difficulties or pneumonia. Even if fluid gets on the skin of your pet, it can cause a bad irritation.

      No fireworks for Fido

      Obviously, fireworks are a big part of celebrating the 4th of July for a lot of people, but your pets shouldn't be included in those celebrations.

      Experts say to leave your pet at home during fireworks displays, because the noise is just simply too much. And you should also keep your pet away when lighting your own fireworks at home. This will lower the chance of it getting burned, scared by the noise and exposed to toxic chemicals.

      In addition, owners should keep an even closer eye on their pet on Independence Day.

      Lost doggies

      According to an infographic put together by PetAmberAlert.com, there's a 30 to 60% increase of lost pets between July 4 and July 6 every year, and only 14% of those pets are returned to their owners. Experts say the loud noise from fireworks can make pets run away in fear.

      In addition, 30 to 60% of pets that are lost eventually get euthanized because they can't be identified and returned to their owner.

      The folks at the Southeast Area Animal Control Authority, remind owners to be mindful of where they're placing their 4th of July decorations, since pets can easily mistake decorations for chew toys or things to play with.

      Pets can become easily entangled in things like holiday ribbons, banners or streamers, so it's important to plan ahead.

      Its best to keep those glow sticks that a lot of people use on the 4th away from your pets. And certainly don't put them on your pets.

      A lot of glow sticks are made with toxic chemicals, so it's crucial to keep them completely out of reach.

      And to help keep your pet calm from all the fireworks, crowds, music and other noise, experts say it's all about creating a good distraction.

      Owners should keep their pets in a closed room that's kept cool, and provide them with the normal things they use, like chew toys and the sounds they usually hear around the house.

      The 4th of July is almost here, and soon people all over the United States will be attending barbecues, purchasing fireworks and showing their American pat...

      States nag Google about privacy, ads for illegal products

      States irate over YouTube ads for illegal pharmacies, how-to videos for would-be forgers

      The feds have lately been hectoring Google about paid ads not being clearly distinguished from search results and now states are piling on with complaints of their own.

      Three states that aren't normally thought of as thought-leaders in Internet matters -- Oklahoma, Nebraska and Mississippi -- are calling on Google to crack down on ads for illegal drug sales, while Washington and 22 other states are continuing to pressure Google to improve privacy protection for consumers.

      In the case of the drug ads, the state attorneys general are irate about ads for prescription drugs popping up on Google's YouTube. They're also objecting to how-to videos on creating forged driver's licenses and passports, often accompanied by ads from immigration lawyers.

      "We understand that YouTube is an open platform and that not all content can or should be policed. Nevertheless, the fact that Google actively seeks to profit from the posting of these types of videos on YouTube - a website known to be particularly popular among children and teens - is very troubling," the AGs said.

      It was just two years ago that Google paid $500 million to settle a criminal investigation into allegations that it had made hundreds of millions of dollars for ads promoting illegal online pharmacies.

      Last June, Mississippi AG Jim Hood said he was prepared to subpoena Google as part of a probe into the illegal online sale of prescription products.

      Privacy issues

      On the privacy front, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he and 22 other state AGs have been making progress in trying to persuade Google to improve its privacy protections for consumers and calling on the company to offer greater transparency and more meaningful privacy controls.

      “With every click, consumers leave a trail of personal information that is used by companies for commercial purposes,” Ferguson said. “I will continue to focus on increasing consumer protection online.”

      Last year, 36 state attorneys general wrote to CEO Larry Page expressing serious concerns with the way Google handles consumers’ privacy. This occurred after Google implemented a new unified privacy policy without giving consumers a meaningful opportunity to opt out. The attorneys general asked to meet with the company to address them.

      The feds have lately been hectoring Google about paid ads not being clearly distinguished from search results and now states are piling on with complaints ...

      Job cuts rise slightly in June

      But the total for the year so far is lower than in 2012

      Employers were planning to let more people go in June than they did the month before.

      According to figures released by outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, workforce reduction announcements totaled 39,372 -- up 8.2% from May's 36,398. And, while job cuts were up last month, the pace of downsizing through the six months of the year is down about 9% from a year ago.

      “The economy is picking up speed with housing and manufacturing staging comebacks,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “Threats to job security still exist, however, in the form of federal spending cutbacks stemming from sequestration as well as potential fallout from implementation of health care reform.”

      Led by increased job cuts in the computer and education sectors, June was 4.8% higher than the same month a year ago, when 37,551 planned job cuts were announced. For the three months ending June 30, announced layoffs totaled 113,891, down 21.5% from the first quarter and 18.6% lower than the same period in 2012.

      For the first six months of the year, employers announced 258,932 job cuts -- 8.5% fewer than the 283,091 job cuts announced by the same point last year. The six-month total is the second lowest since 2000, when employers announced 223,421 cuts from January through June. The lowest six-month tally since 2000 was 2011, when job cuts totaled 245,806.

      Where they cut

      Four of the five industries with the heaviest terminations so far this year have seen job cuts increase by an average of 60%. Of the top five job-cutting sectors, financial service has experienced the heaviest downsizing and the largest year-over-year gain. Job cuts in this sector are up 82% to 36,762, including 1,671 in June. The second-ranked retail sector has announced 32,900 cuts this year -- up 38% from 2012. Meanwhile, job cuts in the health care sector are up 62% to 22,951.

      “So far, most of the job cuts related to health care reform have come from health care providers adjusting to lower Medicare reimbursements and state Medicaid cutbacks. As 2014 approaches, we could see more cuts related to health care reform as smaller employers, who are mandated to provide coverage if they have 50 or more full-time workers, cut the number of workers and/or hours to remain under the 50-worker threshold,” said Challenger.

      Job cuts surged in the computer sector surged, with employers announcing 10,133 terminations, bringing the year-to-date total for the sector to a fourth-ranked 19,930. The education sector also saw its heaviest job-cutting of the year in June, with 5,629 planned firings.

      Sequestration effect

      To date, Challenger has tracked 10,253 job cuts related to sequestration and other federal spending cuts. The largest portion of the sequestration cuts have come from the aerospace and defense sector, which announced 4,366 reductions in force between January and June. Government employers have cut another 1,976 jobs related to sequestration. Health care reform has been cited as the cause for 618 job cuts since the beginning of the year, all of which have occurred in the health care sector.

      “Even if we see an increase in job cuts related to sequestration and health care reform, it is unlikely that the overall pace of downsizing will see a significant surge in the second half of the year,” said Challenger. “In fact, health care reform may be just as likely to contribute to hiring as it is to job cuts. One Iowa based call center recently announced plans to expand its staff by 120 workers after winning the contract to provide customer support services for the federal Affordable Care Act.”

      Right now, job cuts are on track to the have the second-lowest annual total since 2000. “We are heading into the third quarter, which is typically the slowest period for downsizing,” Challenger explained. “Last year, we tracked fewer than 103,000 job cuts in the summer quarter, which was, in fact, the lowest quarterly total since 81,568 job cuts were recorded in the second quarter of 2000. Unless, there is a major shock to the economy in the second half of 2013, we could see layoff activity decline continue to decline toward pre-2000 levels.”

      Weekly claims

      Separately, the government is reporting first-time applications for state unemployment benefits totaled 343,000 in the week ended June 29, down 5,000 from the revised total of 3,48,000 the week before. The previous week's claims had been initially reported as 346,000.

      The four-week moving average, which is not as volatile and considered a more accurate gauge of the labor market, was 345,500 -- down 750 from the previous week.

      The full report is available on the Labor Department's website.

      Looking ahead

      In advance of Friday's government release of the June employment report, ADP says private sector employment increased by 188,000 jobs from May to June. May’s job gains were revised downward to 134,000 from 135,000.

      The June increase, said Carlos A. Rodriguez, president and chief executive officer of ADP. “was driven by gains across all sizes of businesses, and with small companies showing the largest overall monthly increase. Most notably, the goods-producing sector added 27,000 jobs in June, a marked improvement over the decline the previous month."

      Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, which collaborates on the report with ADP, says the job market continues to “gracefully navigate through the strongly blowing fiscal headwinds. Health Care Reform does not appear to be significantly hampering job growth, at least not so far. Job gains are broad based across industries and businesses of all sizes."

      As far as Friday's government report is concerned, economists surveyed by Briefing.com project the economy created 166,000 jobs, with the unemployment rate holding at 7.6%.

      Employers were planning to let more people go in June than they did the month before. According to figures released by outplacement consultancy Challenger...

      Blood pressure, cholesterol control could cut heart disease risk

      Close attention to both may provide long-term benefits

      It sounds so simple, yet fewer than one in three people manage to do it.

      According to new research in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, you might be able to cut your risk for heart disease by half or more by simultaneously controlling your high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

      Researchers also found that prescribing medications to better manage blood pressure and cholesterol would greatly benefit people who are older, diabetic, have cardiovascular disease or are Hispanic or black. And they say going to the doctor at least twice a year could help.

      Millions affected

      Undertreated high blood pressure and cholesterol affect millions, posing a major public health threat, said Brent M. Egan, M.D., lead study author and a professor of medicine and pharmacology at Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, S.C.

      "The reality is, we know more than enough to prevent 75% of heart disease and strokes, but we're not doing everything we could be doing or even doing it at a reasonable level," he said. "We've made some gradual improvements over the years, but there is still a lot of progress to be made."

      High blood pressure affects about 33% of the U.S. adult population and doubles the risk for heart disease. About 32 million people have dangerously high total blood cholesterol levels of 240 mg/dL or higher. Previous research indicates that treating high blood pressure reduces the risk of heart disease by 25% and treating high cholesterol in hypertensive patients can lower the risk by more than 35%, researchers said.

      Monitoring cholesterol

      Cholesterol readings need closer attention, Egan said. "If patients' cholesterol tests show a good high-density lipoprotein (HDL) level, which is the healthy, protective cholesterol, then the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) number might get overlooked. Unfortunately, not all HDL is equally protective and some people with a normal HDL are at high risk. In those patients, there might be a false sense of assurance that cholesterol really isn't a problem.

      “But LDL and non-HDL readings are the ones to really watch,” he notes. “Patients seeing their doctors for blood pressure treatment should ask about their LDL and non-HDL levels and make sure both are under control at the same time."

      The findings are based on data of more than 17,000 adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys during in 1988-94, 1999-2004 and 2005-10.

      In addition to reviewing patients' blood pressure and cholesterol levels, researchers considered race, age, insurance status, whether patients smoked, had diabetes, had diagnosed heart disease and/or chronic kidney disease, and if they visited a doctor every year.

      It sounds so simple, yet fewer than one in three people manage to do it. According to new research in the American Heart Association journal Circulation,...

      Yamaha recalls Big Bear ATVs

      The front shock absorber can break apart, causing the driver to lose control

      Yamaha Motor Corporation USA of Cypress, Calif., is recalling about 100 Big Bear ATVs.

      The front shock absorber can break apart and cause the driver to lose control of the vehicle, posing a crash hazard. The company is aware of 14 incidents of the front shocks braking apart. No injuries have been reported.

      The recalled vehicles are four-wheeled 2012 Yamaha Big Bear 400 ATVs. The model numbers YFM40FBBGR, YFM40FBBL and YFM40FGBGR can be found on the left and right side panels of the unit. The ATVs are blue, green or camouflage and have black gear racks on the front and back. The words Yamaha Big Bear can be found on both sides of the ATV and the fuel tank. The VIN number is stamped on the frame just behind the front left wheel. The letter “C” in the 10th position of the VIN indicates the ATV was made in 2012.

      The ATVs. Made in the U.S., were sold at Yamaha ATV dealers nationwide from August 2012, to May 2013, for between $6,500 and $7,000.

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled ATVs and contact their local Yamaha dealer to schedule a free repair. Yamaha is contacting its registered owners directly.

      Consumers may contact Yamaha at (800) 962-7926 anytime.

      Yamaha Motor Corporation USA of Cypress, Calif., is recalling about 100 Big Bear ATVs. The front shock absorber can break apart and cause the driver to lo...

      What to do with your gold coins

      Do you cut your losses or hold on for dear life?

      You resisted the gold bug as long as you could, but in 2011, persuaded by non-stop commercials on cable TV, you gave in and purchased some gold coins, when the price was about $1,900 an ounce.

      The last few weeks have been painful, as the price has plunged to around $1,200. Gold has just turned in its worst quarterly performance on record. Now what? Should you cut your losses and sell or hang on?

      That's for you and your financial advisor to ultimately decide but it might be premature to sell, if you own physical gold.

      Declines in the futures market

      Market analysts point out that gold's crushing losses have occurred in the futures market. Traders bid for gold based on what they think it will be worth in the future. But in the here and now, gold appears to be holding its own.

      Rick Harrison is co-owner of Gold and Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas and star of the History Channel's top-rated reality series, “Pawn Stars.” Buying and selling gold is his business.

      “I'm having a difficult time right now getting physical metal,” Harrison said in an interview with CNBC. “There's just a shortage of the physical metal out there. The private mints, the government mints, they're behind. The physical side is having a hard time catching up.”

      That suggests that people who own physical gold aren't rushing to sell it – a good sign if you are holding gold coins. Just the laws of supply and demand suggest that will keep prices from falling much further.

      The fear factor

      Gold prices rise and fall on the fear factor. In 2011 there was a lot of economic fear, both domestically and internationally. Today, there is less fear and that's one reason for gold's dramatic decline. Another is the steady rise in the U.S. dollar. Still, Harrison believes gold is a good thing to have around.

      “I believe the people who invest in it don't put a lot of money in it and regard it as an insurance policy,” he said.

      That may be the key. How much money do you actually have tied up in gold? If it isn't a sizable amount, maybe you can afford to sit on it.

      Financial planners has said having some gold in your portfolio – from one to five percent – can help provide balance to your overall wealth. When stocks go down, gold tends to rise.

      Time to buy?

      If you haven't bought physical gold but are thinking about doing it, is now the time? Some market analysts argue that it is, pointing out the current price is close to the cost of actually mining the metal. Others caution that it is too early. Market indicators have been mixed.

      If you do decide to purchase physical gold, keep in mind that companies that sell the coins mark them up. Make sure you know what the premium is and that it is not excessive. Buying from a reputable dealer is also very important.

      At the moment, the decision to buy or sell gold should not be made lightly and should be made in consultation with a trusted, objective financial advisor.

      You resisted the gold bug as long as you could, but in 2011, persuaded by non-stop commercials on cable TV, you gave in and purchased some gold coins, when...

      Pomegranate seeds from Turkey blamed for Hepatitis A outbreak

      At least 130 people have been sickened by the seeds

      Pomegranate seeds from Turkey have been pinpointed as the ingredient in a frozen berry mixture that's making people ill.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says at least 131 people have fallen ill and 59 have been hospitalized after eating the pomegranate seeds.

      The FDA says it will detain all shipments of pomegranate seeds from Turkey for an indefinite period.

      The hepatitis outbreak was linked to a frozen berry mix sold at Costco stores in the western U.S. but it wasn't immediately known which of the berries was to blame. Last week, health officials fingered the pomegranate seeds as the villains.

      The berries were distributed by Townsend Farms of Oregon. The pomegranate seeds came from Goknur Foodstuffs Import Export Trading of Turkey.

      The first illness linked to the outbreak began on March 31, 2013, according to the CDC. The most recent identified case began June 24.

      The pomegranate seeds were also sold by Scenic Fruit Company as Woodstock Frozen Organic Pomegranate Kernels. Scenic Fruits issued a recall of the product last week.

      Consumers who have consumed any of the recalled products, including Organic Anti-Oxident Berry Blend, sold at Costco stores in the western United States; Harris Teeter Organic Antioxidant blend, sold at Harris Teeter Stores in the East; or Woodstock Frozen Organic Pomegranate Kernels within the past two weeks should receive the hepatitis A vaccine.

      Those who ate the potentially contaminated products more than 14 days ago will not be able to prevent illness with the vaccine, and should monitor their health for signs of hepatitis A infection, which include nausea, fatigue, loss of appetite, diarrhea and jaundice.

      People who develop symptoms of hepatitis A infection after eating the implicated products should contact their doctor. 

      More information is available on the CDC website.

      Pomegranate seeds from Turkey have been pinpointed as the ingredient in a frozen berry mixture that's making people ill.  The Centers for Disease Cont...

      Home prices post year-to-year surge in May

      June's numbers could be even better

      The news just keeps getting better for people who want to sell their homes.

      According to the CoreLogic Home Price Index (HPI) report for May, home prices nationwide -- including distressed sales -- shot up 12.2% on a year-over-year basis from May 2012. That's the biggest year-over-year increase since February 2006 and the 15th consecutive monthly increase in home prices nationally. On a month-over-month basis, home prices increased by 2.6% from the previous month.

      Distressed sales include short sales and real estate owned (REO) transactions.

      When distressed sales are stripped out, home prices increased on a year-over-year basis by 11.6%. On a month-over-month basis, excluding distressed sales, home prices increased 2.3% in May 2013 compared to April 2013.

      “It’s been more than seven years since the housing market last experienced the increases that we saw in May, with indications that the summer months will continue to see significant gains,” said Dr. Mark Fleming, chief economist for CoreLogic. “As we approach the half-way point of 2013, home prices continue to respond positively to the reductions in home inventory thus far.”

      Looking ahead

      The CoreLogic Pending HPI indicates that June 2013 home prices will rise by 13.2% on a year-over-year basis from June 2012 and rise by 2.9% on a month-over-month basis from May.

      “Home price appreciation, particularly in much of the western half of the U.S., is increasing at a torrid pace,” said Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO of CoreLogic. “Across the country, pent-up demand and continued low interest rates are fueling strong demand for a limited inventory of properties. We expect that trend to continue to drive up prices throughout the balance of the summer months.”

      May highlights

      The report for May also shows:

      • Including distressed sales, the five states with the highest home price appreciation were: Nevada (+26%), California (+20.2%), Arizona (+16.9%), Hawaii (+16.1%) and Oregon (+15.5%).
      • Including distressed sales, this month only two states posted home price depreciation: Delaware (-0.6%) and Alabama (-0.1%).
      • Excluding distressed sales, the five states with the highest home price appreciation were: Nevada (+23%), California (+18.5%), Arizona (+14.7%), Idaho (+13.2%) and Oregon (+13.2%).
      • Excluding distressed sales, no states posted home price depreciation in May.
      • Including distressed transactions, the peak-to-current change in the national HPI (from April 2006 to May 2013) was -20.4%. Excluding distressed transactions, the peak-to-current change in the HPI for the same period was -14.9%.
      • The five states with the largest peak-to-current declines, including distressed transactions, were Nevada (-45.6%), Florida (-39.2%), Arizona (-34.8%), Michigan (-33.3%) and Rhode Island (-31.3%).
      • Of the top 100 Core Based Statistical Areas (CBSAs) measured by population, 97 were showing year-over-year increases in May, compared with 94 the month before.

      The news just keeps getting better for people who want to sell their homes. According to the CoreLogic Home Price Index (HPI) report for May, home prices ...

      USDA implements new 'Smart Snacks in School' standards

      The policy is designed to provide healthy choices in vending machines and snack bars

      America's students will be offered healthier food options during the school day, thanks to the Agriculture Department's (USDA) new " Smart Snacks in School" nutrition standards.

      "Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Parents and schools work hard to give our youngsters the opportunity to grow up healthy and strong, and providing healthy options throughout school cafeterias, vending machines and snack bars will support their great efforts."

      Establishing nutrition standards

      The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires USDA to establish nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools -- beyond the federally-supported meals programs. The the new nutrition standards, reflect USDA's consideration and response to the nearly 250,000 comments received on the proposal earlier this year.

      "Smart Snacks in School" balances science-based nutrition guidelines with practical and flexible solutions to promote healthier eating on campus, drawing on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine and existing voluntary standards already implemented by thousands of schools around the country, as well as healthy food and beverage offerings already available in the marketplace.

      Nutrition highlights

      The "Smart Snacks in School" nutrition standards include:

      • More of the foods that should be encouraged. Like the new school meals, the standards require healthier foods, more whole grains, low fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and leaner protein.
      • Less of the foods that should be avoided. Food items are lower in fat, sugar, and sodium and provide more of the nutrients kids need.
      • Targeted standards. Allowing variation by age group for factors such as portion size and caffeine content.
      • Flexibility for traditions. Preserving the ability for parents to send their kids to school with homemade lunches or treats for activities such as birthday parties, holidays, and other celebrations; and allowing schools to continue traditions like fundraisers and bake sales.
      • Ample time for implementation. Schools and food and beverage companies will have an entire school year to make the necessary changes, and USDA will offer training and technical assistance every step of the way.
      • Reasonable limitations on applying the standards. Ensuring that standards affect only foods that are sold on school campus during the school day. Foods sold at after-school sporting events or other activities will not be subject to these requirements.
      • Flexibility for state and local communities. Allowing significant local and regional autonomy by only establishing minimum requirements for schools. States and schools that have stronger standards than what is being proposed will be able to maintain their own policies.

      America's students will be offered healthier food options during the school day, thanks to the Agriculture Department's (USDA) new " Smart Snacks in School...

      Do sunscreen pills really work?

      They're becoming more and more popular in the U.S., but should you use them?

      Summer time is upon us and so is the summer sun, so a lot of folks are looking for the best sunscreen that's on the market.

      But today, there are some who would rather use sunscreen pills over traditional sunscreen for protection, which isn't really a good idea, says Dr. Shannon Trotter, a skin cancer expert at Ohio State University's James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute.

      Trotter says it's true that researchers are working on a pill that will protect you from the sun, but that time hasn't arrived yet.

      "Currently, the research states that we don't have that just yet," she said. "So we tell patients this is not a substitute for common sense for protecting yourself with sunscreen."

      Brian Horvath, of Horvath Dermatology in Pittsburgh, agrees and says although there are benefits to using sunscreen pills they should be used as a supplement and not as a replacement.

      "I would never rely on the pill alone to protect you from sunburn or skin cancer," said Horvath in an interview with a local news outlet. "At this state, it's more of an adjunct. Something you would use with traditional topical sunscreen and maybe also some photo-protective clothing."


      One of the more popular brands of sunscreen pills is made by a company called Heliocare and some consumers have found the pills to be quite useful.

      "Usually, even with sunscreen, if I am out in the sun a lot and I don't reapply I'll get pink or reddish," said Sandra Brown, in an interview with Ivanhoe Broadcast News.

      Brown tried Heliocare after she found out she had cancer cells on the surface of her skin.

      "I have spent a couple of days in the sun where I haven't had the opportunity to reapply sunscreen, and I haven't noticed as much pink or red," she said.

      Trotter says you should talk to your doctor before using screen pills, because there's still a lot that researchers don't know about them. 

      "Some products have undergone some testing and have shown to be potentially preventive for sunburn, but more research is needed," she said. "We also have to learn more at the basic science level and to perform clinical trials. Those pills are not regulated by the FDA in the traditional sense like your blood pressure medication, for example, and they are not a substitute for protecting yourself with sunscreen."

      Right amount

      Another thing Trotter stresses is using the right amount of sunscreen, even if it has a high sun protection factor (SPF).

      According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or above will protect you from 93% of the sun's UVB rays, sunscreens with an SPF of 30 will protect you from 97% and lotions with an SPF of 50 will guard your skin from about 98% of UVB rays.

      In addition, experts at the Skin Cancer Foundation say to apply about one ounce of sunscreen to your skin, regardless of what the SPF is.

      "To ensure that you get the full SPF of a sunscreen, you need to apply one ounce, about a shot glass full," the Foundation wrote.

      "Studies show that most people apply only half to a quarter of that amount, which means the actual SPF they have on their body is lower than advertised."

      Trotter says just because you have a sunscreen with a high SPF, doesn't mean that you don't need to reapply it or use it in a way that's not recommended.

      "Don't fool yourself when you're buying SPF 50 and above, thinking that you can be out longer and don't need to reapply every two hours," she warned.

      And when it comes to the color of clothes you should wear to protect yourself, many believe lighter colors are better, since they won't draw the rays towards you. But that's wrong, says Trotter.

      "Darker shades, such as red or black can increase your sun protection because they absorb ultraviolet light," she explained. "A white T-shirt on the other hand has an SPF less than 15 and offers less protection."

      Summer time is upon us and so is the summer sun, so a lot of folks are looking for the best sunscreen that's on the market.But today, there are some who...

      What to Look For in a Home Alarm System

      Reliability is first but service, cost and contract terms are important too

      Ask a news photographer which camera is best and he’ll say it’s the one you have with you when you need it. The same is true of home security alarms: the best one is the one that works when you need it.

      Face it. If someone breaks into your home or a fire breaks out in the middle of the night, your alarm system has one chance to get it right. By the same token, a properly-designed alarm system will work only when it’s supposed to; a system that constantly produces false alarms is almost as bad as one that doesn’t work.

      Just a few years ago, most alarm systems were basically the same: detectors on doors and windows wired to a central unit that used the telephone line to summon help. Today, the most reliable units are wireless digital systems that allow you to place detectors on doors and windows as well as cameras, motion detectors, heat and water detectors and other advanced sensing equipment throughout your home.

      The detectors are monitored by a central unit that communicates wirelessly with each detector and -- equally important -- communicates via high speed internet to summon help when needed. It also enables you to have a state-of-the-art system even if you don’t have a landline, as is increasingly the case.

      One knowledgeable consumer who studied all the options before making a decision is Darren Murph, a columnist for the tech site Engadget. After sifting through all the possible options, he settled on LifeShield.

      “So far as I can tell, it's the best of both worlds when it comes to price and utility, offering an exhaustive list of monitored services for one flat rate, as well as one of the better web portals and mobile app selections that I've seen,” Murph said.  It’s a Do-It-Yourself solution that avoids the unpleasant necessity of having installers rummage around in your home (unless you would rather not do the work yourself) and it allows you to build a system that is as simple or as complex as you want.

      LifeShield also makes it easy to set up wireless video cameras around your house, so that you can not only monitor potential criminal activity but also tell when packages have been delivered, when the kids get home from school and whether the pets are OK. LifeShield also makes it easy to pick up and move, unlike more traditional companies that tie you down to your original location.

      See http://www.lifeshield.com/ca/ or call 877-570-4581 to learn more.

      Ask a news photographer which camera is best and he’ll say it’s the one you have with you when you need it. The same is true of home security alarms...

      Hyundai recalls Azeras

      The occupant detection system may not differentiate whether an adult or child is in the seat

      Hyundai Motor Company is recalling 5,200 model year 2012-2013 Azera vehicles manufactured May 22, 2012, through November 23, 2012.

      The occupant detection system may fail to properly differentiate whether the front passenger seat occupant is an adult, a child or a child restraint seat. If the occupant is incorrectly classified, the airbag may deploy during a crash with greater or lesser appropriate force, increasing the risk of injury.

      Hyundai will notify owners, and dealers will recalibrate the airbag system. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule. Hyundai's recall number is "Campaign 111."

      Owners may contact Hyundai at 1-734-337-9499.

      Hyundai Motor Company is recalling 5,200 model year 2012-2013 Azera vehicles manufactured May 22, 2012, through November 23, 2012. The occupant detection...

      Gasoline Prices headed lower for July 4th

      But it's still more expensive to drive than it was last year

      There is some good news if you plan a car trip over the Independence Day holiday. You should find gasoline prices headed lower just about everywhere you drive.

      But those with long memories may recall that gasoline was a lot cheaper this time last year.

      Nationwide, the average price of a gallon of self-serve regular is $3.48, according to AAA's Fuel Gauge Survey. That's down eight cents in just the last week and nearly 12 cents lower than a month ago. But as we approached the Independence Day holiday last year, the average price was more than 15 cents lower.

      Gasoline prices haven't kept up with oil

      Gasoline prices have been falling in recent weeks but not as fast as the price of oil. The decline in commodities prices that began in May has sent crude prices sharply lower, but the impact on prices at the pump took longer to materialize.

      Consumers can thank perceived weakness in the global economy for the drop in fuel prices. With the expectation that demand will be less and less in the months ahead, traders are less willing to bet on higher prices. Market sentiment – not supply and demand – is now the biggest factor influencing fuel prices.

      Actual demand in the U.S. continues to fall, despite slow improvement in economic conditions. Many consumers still find gasoline to be very expensive and are trying to use less. Every time a consumer buys a new car, they are getting a vehicle with improved fuel economy, meaning they use less gasoline. The fact that gasoline prices continue to be very high in states like Illinois and New York has more to do with state taxes and transportation bottlenecks than the actual price of oil.

      Regional breakdown

      Motorists this week will generally find the cheapest gasoline in the southeast, with the exception of Florida. South Carolina has the cheapest fuel, with regular self-serve averaging $3.17 a gallon. The average price in Mississippi is $3.26 a gallon while it is $3.27 in Tennessee.

      The highest prices in the nation are generally found in the west and northwest. California leads the region with an average price of $4 a gallon. The price in the Los Angeles area is around $4.06 a gallon with Modesto reporting a relatively cheap $3.80. If you're driving to Santa Barbara for the holiday, fill up before you get there. The average price is just under $4.10 a gallon.

      In the Midwest, Illinois has the most expensive fuel. The statewide average price is $3.75 a gallon but the city of Chicago is much higher, averaging $4.15. Downstate, prices are cheaper. The average in Springfield is $3.47 a gallon.

      The Northeast is a mixed picture. The average price in New Jersey is $3.36 a gallon. In neighboring New York, it's $3.71. It's highest in the New York metro – $3.82. It's lowest in the Albany metro, at $3.59 a gallon.

      The outlook

      What can consumers expect at the pump in the future? If we've learned anything over the years, it's that gas prices can turn on a dime.

      That said, the long term outlook might be favorable for consumers. Even though fuel prices are higher than they were last year, they are less than they were for the Memorial Day weekend – just a month ago. If we're lucky they could be even lower by Labor Day.  

      There is some good news if you plan a car trip over the Independence Day holiday. You should find gasoline prices headed lower just about everywhere you dr...

      States say it's time to crack down on mobile cramming

      Forty attorneys general call for new laws to prevent unauthorized charges

      When a large number of states get together to confront a consumer issue, chances are good something is going to happen. When 50 states agreed to take on mortgage lending abuses, the result was a multi-billion dollar settlement.

      Last week 40 state attorneys general joined forces to ask the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to crack down on mobile cramming – the placement of unauthorized third-party charges on mobile phone bills. The state officials say they continue to receive complaints from consumers about charges, often around $9.95, that appear on their phone bills without their authorization.

      New slant on old trick

      Cramming is nothing new. When the Telecommunications Act was passed in the 1990s, it encouraged third-party communication services providers to compete for consumers' business. To make it easier, it allowed third-party providers to bill for their services through the consumer's main telephone provider.

      With cramming, this practice is abused by providers who neglect to gain a consumer's consent before charging them for a service. The charge simply shows up on their phone bill and, because they are usually small charges, the consumer may pay it for several months before noticing, and challenging it. Increasingly, the practice is occurring on mobile phones.

      “Attorneys general throughout the country are increasingly concerned about unauthorized mobile charges,” said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. “We need to consider how best to protect consumers against the placement of these unauthorized or fraudulent charges on their telephone bills.”

      Top priority

      In a letter to the FTC, Bondi and 39 of her colleagues said stopping the practice should be a top consumer priority.

      "Consumers are being crammed for goods and services they would have no reason to order, do not want and do not use," the letter said, citing charges for services like "joke of the day," horoscopes and celebrity gossip.

      The letter specifically complains of inadequate disclosure of third-party charges on mobile phone bills. The consumer isn't alerted to the charge and might not notice it unless they carefully review the bill. The attorneys general also say consumers lack effective ways to prevent these charges from being placed and to obtain refunds once they are.

      The letter also calls for new laws governing consumer disputes, making it harder for third-party providers to duck requests for refunds.

      Case in point

      Just last week a federal judge ruled that a multi-million-dollar class action against an alleged mobile crammer can go forward. Wise Media is accused of charging millions of consumers for services they didn't want or order.

      The case was filed in October 2012, with plaintiffs saying they had received unsolicited text messages from Wise offering flirting tips, horoscopes, celebrity gossip and weight loss advice. In April the FTC also took action against Wise, claiming the operation took in millions of dollars by cramming consumer's mobile phone bills.

      “As more and more consumers move to mobile phones, scammers have adapted to this new technology, and the Commission will continue its efforts to protect consumers from their unlawful practices,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez.

      That could suggest the FTC will receive the attorneys general's letter with some sympathy. One possible step to prevent cramming would be to require third-party marketers to obtain consumer's informed consent before they could charge them for any product or service.

      The states signing on to the campaign against mobile cramming are Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virgin Islands, Washington and Wyoming.

      When a large number of states get together to confront a consumer issue, chances are good something is going to happen. When 50 states agreed to take on mo...