Current Events in July 2013

Browse Current Events by year

2013

Browse Current Events by month

Get trending consumer news and recalls

    By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

    Thanks for subscribing.

    You have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

    World's biggest debt collector hit with $3.2 million penalty

    Expert Global Solutions agrees to stop harassing consumers

    The world’s largest debt collection agench, Expert Global Solutions, has agreed to stop harassing consumers and will pay a $3.2 million civil penalty, the largest ever obtained by the Federal Trade Commission against a third-party debt collector.

    In its complaint, the FTC charged that the Expert Global and its subsidiaries used illegal tactics such as calling consumers multiple times per day, calling even after being asked to stop, calling early in the morning or late at night, calling consumers’ workplaces despite knowing that the employers prohibited such calls, and leaving phone messages that disclosed the debtor’s name, and the existence of the debt, to third parties. 

    According to the FTC’s complaint, the companies also continued collection efforts without verifying the debt, even after consumers said they did not owe it, a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

    Helen of Bisbee, AZ, recently wrote to ConsumerAffairs about her experience with NCO.

    "I do not owe any money and have no debts. This company uses an automated phone system to call me at least once a day, sometimes twice, to request from me a return call," she said. "I attempted once to do this -- to request they stop calling or an option to contact me in writing only. I only got an automated system. So I did not get anywhere." 

    With more than 32,000 employees and revenues in 2011 of more than $1.2 billion, the Texas-based Expert Global Solutions and its subsidiaries – ALW Sourcing, LLC; NCO Financial Systems, Inc.; and Transworld Systems, Inc., which also does business as North Shore Agency, Inc. – collectively are the largest debt collector in the world.  In addition to their U.S. offices, the companies operate in Canada, Barbados, India, the Philippines, and Panama.

    Must verify the debt

    Under the proposed settlement, whenever a consumer disputes the validity or the amount of the debt, the defendants must either close the account and end collection efforts, or suspend collection until they have conducted a reasonable investigation and verified that their information about the debt is accurate and complete.  

    Juan of China, CA, is one of many consumers who've complained about  NCO refusing to verify the amount of the alleged debt. Jua said he received a bill for $389.76 but had no clue what it was for.

    "They proceeded to [say] you do owe this money with an angry tone and that it was from a hospital bill. I mentioned to them I received one bill only from the hospital and never an additional one. They argumentatively wanted me to accept these charges," Juan said.

    "I never did receive a bill for any other charges. I had received one and has been paid for. I have proof of a zero dollar balance. They push it to the limit where I asked to speak to a supervisor and they didn't have anyone to which to speak to only other sales rep. I had also called the hospital asking if I had ever sent any bill to collection. I received a no from the accounts payable personnel named Julie."

    The proposed FTC order also restricts situations in which the defendants can leave voicemails that disclose the alleged debtor’s name and the fact that he or she may owe a debt. 

    The world’s largest debt collection agench, Expert Global Solutions, has agreed to stop harassing consumers and will pay a $3.2 million civil pe...

    Feds probe loss of steering in Hyundai Santa Fe SUVs

    Right-front axle shaft may fail, consumer complaints indicate

    The Hyundai Santa Fe is not without its peculiarities. Consumers complain of everything from the sunroof flying off to sudden suspension failure.

    This time around, it's failure of the right-front axle shaft that's drawing consumer complaints and regulators' attention. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says it has opened a preliminary investigation into the problem, which was reported by two Santa Fe owners who had less than 5,000 miles on their SUVs at the time of the incidents.

    Besides the complaints from consumers, NHTSA said its review of information submitted by Hyundai found field report data connected to the alleged defect. 

    The investigation could affect an estimated 50,000 Santa Fe SUVs. 

    Last October, NHTSA began investigating a "complete loss of steering" in the Santa Fe, a problem apparently caused by a loose bolt. The agency said it received a complaint from a driver about the problem and Hyundai said it had received a similar complaint.

    At last word, that investigation was still underway. It's not unusual for preliminary investigations, which can eventually lead to a recall, to continue for months. 

    More than 200,000 Santa Fes were recalled in July 2012 to fix an airbag problem. 

    "Hyundai will, of course, take any actions necessary to ensure the safety of our customers if the information gathered during the investigation indicates that action is appropriate," a Hyundai spokesman said, according to Reuters. 

    The flying sunroof was reported by Nicole of Columbia, SC.

    "I have an 07 Hyundai Santa Fe and the sunroof piece completly flew off the car on the highway," she said in a report to ConsumerAffairs last month. "[The] rim around the roof opening had water damage and rust."

    She said Hyundai was refusing to cover the problem since she had over 60,000 miles on the car when the incident happened.

    Problems don't affect sales

    The safety problems don't seem to have much effect on sales of the popular South Korean brand. Hyundai said last week said it had sold 65,007 units, up two percent versus the same period in 2012 and up one percent the first six months of the year.

    “June was another record-breaking sales month for us in what has been a strong first half of the year,” said Dave Zuchowski, executive vice president of national sales. “We clearly felt the impact of the summer selling surge and our improved availability of award-winning vehicles was perfectly timed. Important third-party accolades, such as Genesis taking J.D. Power’s trophy for highest initial quality in the midsize premium car segment and the all-new Santa Fe being named Automobile Magazine’s Family Crossover for 2013, also continue to build strong momentum for our brand.”

    “With all of our plants continuing to operate at maximum capacity, sales of the U.S.-built Elantra soared 26 percent over June 2012,” said John Krafcik, president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America. “Our Hyundai Assurance Connected Care program, now free for three years on most Hyundai models, continues to draw customers to our website and showrooms.”

    2013 Santa FeThe Hyundai Santa Fe is not without its peculiarities. Consumers complain of everything from the sunroof flying off to sudden suspension f...

    Inventory of foreclosed homes down sharply

    The numbers are at a 5-year low in some cases

    If you’re looking to buy a home that’s going through foreclosure, your choices are a little more limited these days.

    CoreLogic,which provides property information and services provider, says there were 52,000 completed foreclosures in the U.S. in May -- down 27% from the same time a year ago. On a month-over-month basis, completed foreclosures increased 3.5 percent, from 50,000 in April -- to 52,000 in May.

    Residential shadow inventory, or pending homes, as of April 2013 was under 2 million units -- a supply of 5.3 months. That’s down 34% from its peak in 2010, when it reached 3 million homes, and down 18% from a year ago, when it was at 2.4 million.

    Foreclosures continue

    As a basis of comparison to the 52,000 completed foreclosures reported for May 2013, prior to the decline in the housing market in 2007, completed foreclosures averaged 21,000 per month nationwide between 2000 and 2006. Completed foreclosures are an indication of the total number of homes actually lost to foreclosure. Since the financial meltdown began in September 2008, there have been approximately 4.4 million completed foreclosures across the country.

    As of this past May, approximately 1.0 million homes in the U.S. were in some stage of foreclosure, known as the foreclosure inventory, versus 1.4 million in May 2012, a year-over-year decrease of 29%.

    Month over month, the foreclosure inventory was down 3.3% from April 2013 to May 2013. The foreclosure inventory as of May 2013 represented 2.6% of all homes with a mortgage compared with 3.5% in May 2012.

    At the end of May 2013, there are fewer than 2.3 million mortgages, or 5.6%, in serious delinquency (SDQ, defined as 90 days or more past due, including those loans in foreclosure or REO). The rate of seriously delinquent mortgages is at its lowest level since December 2008.

    "The stock of seriously delinquent homes, which is the main driver of shadow inventory, is at the lowest level since December 2008," said Dr. Mark Fleming, chief economist for CoreLogic. "Over the last year it has decreased in 42 states by double-digit figures, resulting in rapid declines in shadow inventory for the first quarter of 2013."

    "We continue to see a sharp drop in foreclosures around the country and with it a decrease in the size of the shadow inventory. Affordability, despite the rise in home prices over the past year, and consumer confidence are big contributors to these positive trends," said Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO of CoreLogic. "We are particularly encouraged by the broad-based nature of the housing market recovery so far in 2013."

    Foreclosure highlights

    • The five states with the highest number of completed foreclosures for the 12 months ending in May 2013 were: Florida (103,000), California (76,000), Michigan (64,000), Texas (51,000) and Georgia(47,000). These five states account for almost half of all completed foreclosures nationally.
    • The five states with the lowest number of completed foreclosures for the 12 months ending in May 2013 were: District of Columbia (108), Hawaii (453), North Dakota (467), West Virginia (517) andMaine (644).
    • The five states with the highest foreclosure inventory as a percentage of all mortgaged homes were:Florida (8.8%), New Jersey (6.0%), New York (4.8%), Maine (4.1%) and Connecticut (4.1%).
    • The five states with the lowest foreclosure inventory as a percentage of all mortgaged homes were:Wyoming (0.5%), Alaska (0.6%), North Dakota (0.6%), Nebraska (0.8%) and Virginia (0.8%).

    If you’re looking to buy a home that’s going through foreclosure, your choices are a little more limited these days. CoreLogic,which provides property inf...

    Get trending consumer news and recalls

      By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

      Thanks for subscribing.

      You have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

      Allegedly phony mortgage relief scheme halted

      Legal assistance and "forensic audits" touted for distressed homeowners

      A mortgage relief scheme that allegedly deceived and preyed on distressed homeowners by charging them $2,000 to $4,000 based on bogus foreclosure rescue claims has been brought to a halt.

      According to a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the defendants allegedly falsely claimed they would provide legal help to save consumers’ homes from foreclosure and lower their mortgage payments. Then, says the FTC, they charged them up-front fees in violation of federal law, delivering little or no help, and driving them deeper into debt.

      The temporary restraining order obtained by the commission signed shuts down the defendants’ websites, freezes their assets, and provides for appointment of a receiver pending trial.

      Marketing ploys

      The defendants marketed their scheme in a variety of ways, which included using an official looking mailer that implores consumers to act quickly before they “FORFEIT LEGAL RIGHTS,” or face a “statute of limitations and government program deadlines,” according to the FTC.

      Three individuals -- Ratan Baid, Madhulika Baid, and William D. Goodrich -- and seven companies falsely promised lower monthly payments and interest rates, and conversion of adjustable-rate mortgages to fixed ones, the complaint contends. Many consumers who called the toll-free numbers were falsely guaranteed a loan modification that supposedly would make their payments more affordable, that they would get results within 60 to 90 days, or that Goodrich, an attorney, would use his impressive legal experience on their behalf, according to the complaint.

      The defendants also marketed their scheme online, through telemarketing calls and with television and radio ads, according to the complaint. The defendants’ websites touted a range of financial services, including bankruptcy advice, credit counseling, and “forensic mortgage audits.”

      One of the sites described how these “audits” can help consumers hold onto their homes or lower their mortgage payments. It falsely claimed that the “audits” could uncover any “lending violations” committed by lenders, and that the information could be used “to gain leverage in a successful loan modification,” the complaint stated.

      In reality, however, the defendants generally did not provide the promised loan modification or help consumers avoid foreclosure, either directly or through the “forensic mortgage audits.”

      The complaint charges the defendants with violating the Federal Trade Commission Act and with violating the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule, which bans mortgage foreclosure rescue and loan modification services from collecting fees until homeowners have a written offer from their lender or servicer that they deem acceptable.

      The complaint also names as defendants Apex Solutions, Inc.; William D. Goodrich, Attorney, Inc.; A to Z Marketing, Inc.; Apex Members, LLC; Backend Inc.; Expert Processing Center, Inc.; and Smart Funding Corp.

      A mortgage relief scheme that allegedly deceived and preyed on distressed homeowners by charging them $2,000 to $4,000 based on bogus foreclosure rescue cl...

      Ford recalls vehicles with child safety lock problems

      Deactivation of the safety lock could lead to an unintended opening of the door

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 12,569 model year 2013 Ford Explorer, Taurus and Lincoln MKS vehicles manufactured November 29, 2012, through December 12, 2012.

      In the affected vehicles, with sufficient door openings and closings, the child safety locks may change from an activated position to a deactivated position without notice. If the child lock is deactivated, the door could be unlocked and opened from the inside which could lead to personal injury to an unrestrained child.

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will test the safety locks. If necessary, the locks will be replaced free of charge. The recall is expected to begin August 5, 2013. Ford's recall number is 13S07.

      Owners may contact the Ford customer relationship center at 1-866-436-7332.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 12,569 model year 2013 Ford Explorer, Taurus and Lincoln MKS vehicles manufactured November 29, 2012, through December 12, ...

      The return of the adjustable rate mortgage

      With fixed rates rising, an ARM may look attractive -- but be careful

      Mortgage rates are on the rise once again, but remain near historic lows. Since rates plunged in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, almost anyone who could qualify for a mortgage has opted for a 30-year fixed rate loan.

      And why not lock in a rock-bottom interest rate for the 30-year term of the loan? The alternative, an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM), got a pretty nasty reputation a few years back, associated with predatory, sub-prime loans.

      But now that rates are rising again, the ARM is earning some new respect. Consumers are looking at ARMs now for the same reason they did in the past – they tend to offer lower interest rates than fixed-rate loans.

      The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) recently reported the ARM share of mortgage loan activity increased to seven percent of total applications as consumers bet rates wouldn't go much higher, or stay high for very long.

      What to know

      When considering an ARM, it's important to know exactly what kind of loan you are getting. Steve, of Jackson, Ohio, said he had an ARM with Chase that was based on the LIBOR rate and adjusted every six months.

      “The first adjustment raised my monthly payment by around $300 and it got worse from there,” Steve wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “I want to know if there is actionable wrongdoing by those that conspired to set this rate excessively high.”

      Probably not. The LIBOR – the average of London inter-bank rates – is among the most common of benchmark interest rate indexes used to make adjustments to adjustable rate mortgages. But some ARMs will reset to a higher rate than others. Choosing an ARM means you should be comfortable with the risk.

      Rick, of Folsom, Calif., considered several ARM offers to refinance his VA loan, but ultimately decided he was happy with his fixed-rate of 3.75%.

      Not worth the risk?

      “The savings Mortgage Investors Corp. offered over the short term wasn't worth the risk of a rate increase in the long run,” Rick wrote. “I said that I was willing to pay a bit more per month in order to sleep well.”

      Vernon, of Sunbury, Ohio, said he pursued a loan modification with Wells Fargo because he said his ARM was simply unaffordable.

      “Our mortgage with Wells Fargo is $1,641.47 with an interest rate of 11.750% and $2,009.32 when the rate adjusts to 12.250%, Vernon writes.

      Those rates are extremely high, even for ARMs. The current average for the 5/1 ARM is around 3.5%.

      Structural differences

      To compare ARMs to other loans, you need to know how they are structured. What are the indexes, margins, discounts, and caps on rates and payments attached to the loan?

      Also make sure you are clear on the adjustment period. An ARM can change the interest rate and monthly payment once a month, once a quarter or once a year or longer. A loan with a one-year adjustment period is called a 1-year ARM, with the rate and payment changing annually. A loan with a three-year adjustment is called a 3-year ARM.

      Remember that lenders usually start off charging lower interest rates for ARMs than they do for fixed rate loans. The ARM rate changes after a set period of time and several years ago, that landed many homeowners in trouble. Because they were in a subprime category, their adjusted rate was often much higher than the introductory one, making their new payment unaffordable.

      But in recent years, some ARM customers actually saw their rates go down, since prevailing rates have been falling for the last four years.

      What to do

      According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, here are some questions you should ask before taking out an ARM:

      • Is my income sufficient to cover a higher payment if rates go up?
      • Will I have other debts in the near future, like a car note or student tuition, that will add to my financial burden?
      • How long before I sell this home? The longer you have the ARM, the greater the risk that your rate will rise.
      • Do I plan to pay the loan off early?

      Mortgage rates are on the rise once again, but remain near historic lows. Since rates plunged in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, almost anyone who c...

      Federal sting closes 1,600 illegal pharmacy websites

      Sites claimed to be in Canada, sold counterfeit drugs, feds charge

      A massive federal sting operation has closed down more than 1,600 illegal pharmacy websites that claimed to be based in Canada but were allegedly in the U.S. and were selling counterfeit drugs, according to federal officials.

      Dubbed Operation Pangea VI, the sting was said to be the largest Internet-based action of its kind in the United States. It was conducted by the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Attorneys in Colorado and elsewhere.

      John Walsh, the U.S. Attorney for Colorado, said the action targeted websites selling unapproved and potentially dangerous prescription medicines that could pose significant public health risks. 

      "These medicines should only be used with a valid prescription and under the supervision of a licensed health care provider.  In addition, these online-purchased products bypass existing safety controls required by the FDA, and protections provided when used under a doctor’s care," Walsh said.

      Many were counterfeit

      The FDA said it checked the true makeup of the various drugs after repeatedly purchasing the pharmaceuticals from the websites claiming to be associated with Canadian pharmacies and found that many were counterfeit.

      Much of the illegal distribution was reportedly based around a network called EvaPharmacy, which takes in about $2.7 million per month through 30,000 orders.

      An affidavit filed in connection with the case shows how easy it was for the FDA agents to buy drugs that they presented as coming from reputable manufacturers. In one instance, the agent was never asked for a prescription or doctor's note before placing an order for diabetes drug Actos or Celebrex, an arthritis medication.

      A report in Scientific American said the site rewarded the purchase with four "bonus" pills of Viagra. The agent received the drugs two weeks later, with a postmark from India. But when the drugs were tested, the FDA said they were not Celebrex or Actos or even Viagra. Instead they were drugs that are illegal to sell in the United States in any form.

      Not in Canada

      "Many of these websites operated as a part of an online network of pharmaceutical sites, which falsely purported that its websites were legitimate online pharmacies," Walsh said in a news release. "Many of these sites falsely claimed to be hosted in Canada, while others falsely claimed to be affiliated with major U.S. pharmacy retailers by using the names of those retailers in the website names."

      Website names cited as examples included www.canadianhealthandcaremall.com, www.walgreens-store.com and www.c-v-s-pharmacy.com. Investigators said that most of the shipments originated from either India or Singapore. 

      The FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations Cybercrime Investigations Unit banner is now displayed on all seized 1,677 websites to alert consumers that the sites were identified as engaging in illegal activity. Consumers who bought drugs from those sites should not take any of the drugs and should be alert for unauthorized charges on their credit cards.

      Medications offered and sold by the websites included: Avandaryl (a diabetes and heart drug), Celebrex (a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory product used to treat arthritis and to manage pain), Levitra and Viagra (erectile dysfunction drugs), and Clozapine (a severe schizophrenia medication), Walsh said.

      “The sites seized as a part of this important operation were selling drugs manufactured overseas without FDA supervision to people who didn’t necessarily have prescriptions, and who can’t be sure they are actually receiving the drug they thought they were ordering," Walsh said.  "Over 1,600 websites have been shut down ensuring that the public does not accidentally purchase a counterfeit or misbranded drug.”

      A massive federal sting operation has closed down more than 1,600 illegal pharmacy websites that claimed to be based in Canada but were allegedly in the U....

      When your expensive refrigerator gives you heartburn

      Some consumers wish they had their old fridges back

      Your refrigerator is probably the most expensive appliance in your kitchen. While you can purchase an economy model for less than $500, some moderate to high-end models can easily cost more than $3,000.

      When these expensive new refrigerators break down, consumers get understandably angry – especially if the appliances are relatively new. Scott, of Wantagh, N.Y., reports the compressor failed in his 10-month old Maytag refrigerator.

      “Exactly two months later, the compressor fails again, this time there are no compressors in stock per the manufacturer and the 'extended warranty' folks,” Scott wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “Ten days and counting. No idea when they will be available. Time to walk this one-year-old to the curb and get a responsibly built one. Should have held on to my old one.”

      Buyers' remorse

      Consumers wishing they had their old refrigerators is a common refrain. Perhaps it is because some of the older models were simpler and had fewer things to go wrong. Refrigerators are always on and, if there is a leak in the seal around the door, the compressor may run more than it should. Not only is it more expensive to operate, it could reduce the life of the compressor.

      Stephanie, of Montclair, N.J., reports a problem with her fairly new Samsung refrigerator icing up.

      “I had the refrigerator for about a year when I poured milk for my cereal and I noticed it was spoiled and there was a bad odor in my refrigerator,” she wriote. “Come to find out the coils had frozen over. I called a repairman and he told me to unplug it to let it defrost. It worked for about a month and it continues to freeze every few weeks. After reading the reviews I don't want to lose any more food so I'm just going to invest in another brand.”

      Checking for a loose gasket

      Again, this can be caused by a door gasket that is not air-tight. When the refrigerator runs overtime to keep cool, it can lead to ice build-up in the freezer. To check for a proper seal, wait until night time and place a high-intensity light inside the refrigerator and close the door. Turn off the lights in the kitchen so that it is completely dark and look for traces of light escaping from inside the refrigerator.

      Paula, of Littleton, Mass., reports bad luck with the LG appliances than came with her new home. First, she says, there was a dishwasher fire.

      “My refrigerator -- only 16 months old -- failed and I lost hundreds of dollars of food and after one week it's still not repaired," Paula writes.

      Julia, of Austin, Tex., says she also built a new house recently and went with KitchenAid appliances.

      “The largest expense was our built-in refrigerator, model number KSSC42KVS,” Julia writes. “We paid $8000.00 for this supposed high end refrigerator and two and a half years later it sits completely dead in my kitchen. First, the ice maker assembly had to be replaced at a cost of about $400.00.

      "The cheap plastic arm that closes the ice chute stopped working and allowed warm air to move into the freezer, then the compressor kicked in overtime trying to cool the compartment. Three days after the ice maker was replaced, the refrigerator side stopped holding it's temperature. The compressor would kick on, the freezer would drop to -10 and the fridge temp would go up to 56-60 degrees. The repairman was out again, this time he replaced the damper door assembly which allows the air to move from the freezer side in to the the fridge side. Cost to me, $700.00”

      Maintenance tips

      To minimize compressor problems, make sure the condenser coils behind or beneath the refrigerator are cleaned regularly and kept free of dust and pet hair. You can easily clean the coils with a vacuum.

      Make sure that a diagnosis of failed compressor is actually a problem with the compressor. Some sources suggest actual compressor failures should be rare, but that other problems can interfere with their performance.

      Listen for the sound of fans to make sure they are functioning properly. First, listen for the compressor fan, which is located at the bottom of the fridge, in the back where the compressor is attached.

      If the freezer fan is running, the compressor fan should be running at the same time. If the fans are not running, check to make sure there is no obstruction.

      If the compressor is cycling on and off at random, make sure there is not an issue with the compressor's relay switch. A faulty or dirty relay can overload the compressor, causing it to short out and turn off.

      More about appliances

      Your refrigerator is probably the most expensive appliance in your kitchen. While you can purchase an economy model for less than $500, some moderate to hi...

      Emergency committee will study SARS-like virus that has killed 42

      The virus, largely confined to the Middle East so far, has a high mortality rate

      The World Health Organization (WHO) is convening an emergency committee to determine whether the SARS-like virus that has so far killed more than half of those it infects constitutes a "public health emergency of international concern."

      Keiji Fukuda, Assistant Director-General for Health Security and Environment at the WHO, announced the move at a press conference in Geneva.

      The virus first appeared in the Middle East last year. Although slow to spread, it has a high mortality rate, killing 42 of the 79 people infected by it. 

      Fukuda said the committee would include experts in public health, epidemiology, virology and related fields. It is expected to meet for the first time by telephone tomorrow (Tuesday).

      A declaration by the panel of a global crisis would give the WHO power to issue temporary recommendations on travel restrictions or other ways to control the spread of Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus, as it is known. The only other such panel was convened in 2009 to combat the H1N1 flu pandemic.

      Potential global threat

      WHO General Director Margaret Chan said in May that the virus was "not a problem that any single affected country can keep to itself or manage all by itself." There has been some criticism of Saudi Arabia, which critics say has been slow to share data on the disease.

      "It is a very important step in realizing this poses a potential global threat," said Mike Osterholm, director at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, according to Science Insider, a publication of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science. 

      Osterholm noted that the number of cases held relatively steady this spring, with 19 in April, 21 in May and 22 in June. But with many cases not obviously connected to others, it's unclear how the disease is spreading.

      "There is either an animal reservoir that is widespread and we are not aware of it, or there is substantial unrecognized human-to-human transmission of this virus," Osterholm says. "Either way, this is a problem."

      With many Muslims making their pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in October, there is a potential risk of increased opportunities for the virus to spread, said Matthew Frieman, a coronavirus researcher at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, according to Science Insider.

      The World Health Organization (WHO) is convening an emergency committee to determine whether the SARS-like virus that has killed more than half of those ...

      Consumers cool to idea of their TV spying on them

      Study finds 43% would not allow a camera on their TV to watch them

      Consumers don't much like the idea of their TV set watching them while they're watching it, a new study finds. Many TV sets and gadgets like Microsoft's Xbox Kinect now have cameras and other sensing devices that can observe consumers' reactions to what they see on the screen.

      AOL has been developing something similar for computer users, called the "Be On" platform. 

      But a study by Strategy Analytics finds, perhaps not surprisingly, that consumers aren't very happy about any of this, with 43% of them saying they would never allow a camera or sensing device to be connected to their TV. Only 14% though it was a good idea and said they would go along with it.

      Another 20% were on the fence, feeling some reservations but thinking it might be OK if it resulted in better TV programs.

      "Our research suggests that technology vendors and TV service providers will have to approach this new business opportunity with caution if they are to prevent viewers reaching for the off button," said David Mercer, principal analyst of Boston-baed Strategy Analytics.

      The study found the most negative sentiments came from older, female and lower-income consumers.

      AOL's Be On is powered by Realeyes, a tech firm that says it can use cameras to measure human response to what they see on their computer screens. Market research firms are hoping this enables them to make more effective commercials.

      AOL says that so far the program is only being used on consumers who have volunteered for it.

      Consumers don't much like the idea of their TV set watching them while they're watching it, a new study finds. Many TV sets and gadets like Microsoft's Xbo...

      Chrysler recalling minivans to fix airbag problem

      Side airbags deploy on the wrong side because of a defective part

      Chrysler Group LLC says it will recall approximately 282,000 model-year 2013 minivans worldwide to correct airbag-control software.

      Chrysler said that following a customer complaint, it launched an investigation that determined the affected minivans are equipped with a component inadvertently programmed to deploy side airbags on the opposing side of the vehicle. Side airbags are intended to deploy on the side of the vehicle that corresponds with the impact.

      Front-row airbags that deploy from the steering wheel and passenger-side dashboard are unaffected.

      The component will be reprogrammed at no cost to customers. 

      Chrysler Group is aware of three related accidents and one minor injury.

      Affected models are the Dodge Grand Caravan, Chrysler Town & Country and Ram Cargo Van. The campaign involves 224,000 vehicles in the U.S.; 49,300 in Canada; 2,900 in Mexico and 5,300 outside North America. 

      Chrysler Group will notify affected customers. Questions or concerns can be addressed by calling 1-800-853-1403.

      Chrysler Group LLC says it will recall approximately 282,000 model-year 2013 minivans worldwide to correct airbag-control software.Chrysler said that follo...

      Chrysler recalls vehicles with rear passenger head restraint problems

      Failure of the restraint to deploy could increase the risk of injury

      Chrysler is recalling 442,481 vehicles as follows:

      • model year 2011-2013 Sebring and 200 vehicles manufactured June 28, 2011, through December 13, 2012;
      • model year 2011-2013 Dodge Avenger vehicles manufactured June 25, 2011, through January 14, 2013;
      • model year 2011-2012 Dodge Nitro vehicles manufactured June 17, 2011, through December 15, 2011; and
      • model year 2011-2012 Jeep Liberty vehicles manufactured June 17, 2011, through August 15, 2012.

      Electrical over-stress of a resistor in the occupant restraint control module may lead to the non-deployment of the active head restraints during a rear impact collision. In the event of a crash necessitating the deployment of the active head restraints , their non-deployment could increase the risk of injury.

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will flash the Totally Integrated Power Module (TIPM) or replace the occupant restraint control module, as needed, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in August 2013.

      Owners may contact Chrysler at 1-800-247-9753. Chrysler's recall campaign number is N38.

      Chrysler is recalling 442,481 vehicles as follows: model year 2011-2013 Sebring and 200 vehicles manufactured June 28, 2011, through December 13, 2012; m...

      Les Frères cheese products recalled

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese Company recalling for three specialty cheese products while regulatory agencies continue a multi-state investigation of Listeria monocytogenes. This organism can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems.

      The products recalled are:

      • Les Frères (LF225 2/2.5#) with a make date of 7-1-13 or prior, packaged in white plastic with a green and gold label.
      • Petit Frère (PF88 8/8 oz) with a make date of 7-1-13 or prior, packaged in small round wooden boxes.
      • Petit Frère with Truffles (PF88T 8/8 oz) with a make date of 7-1-13 or prior, packaged in small round wooden boxes.

      These products were distributed nationwide through retail and food service outlets as well as by mail orders.

      The product also was cut and packaged in clear plastic wrap and sold with Whole Foods Market scale labels. Below is a list of how the cheese was labeled, including PLU code, according to the state in which it was sold.

      StateLabeled asPLU
      Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, TexasLes Frères299682
      Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, New Mexico, UtahCrave Brothers Les Frères299682
      FloridaLes Frères Wash Rind Product of USA294473
      Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey (stores in Marlton and Princeton only), Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Washington D.C.Crave Bros Les Frères294473
      Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, WisconsinCrave Brothers Les Frères Cheese by Pound294473
      Oregon, WashingtonLes Frères Crave Brothers294473
      Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, TennesseeLes Frères Crave Brothers PO-RK294473

      Consumers who have purchased any of these products are urged not to consume them. They can return the cheese to the place of purchase for a full refund or discard it.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at 920-478-4887, Monday-Friday from 8 am to 5 pm, or Whole Foods at 512-477-5566 ext. 20060, Monday-Friday from 8 am to 5 pm CDT.

      Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese Company recalling for three specialty cheese products while regulatory agencies continue a multi-state investigation of Lis...

      Dogs and skin allergies: A brief tutorial

      Experts say it'll require dermatological visits and educating yourself to keep your dog comfy

      Summer time has some wonderful things like the opening of amusement parks, going to cookouts and attending outside gatherings. But one bad thing about the summer -- and springtime too for that matter -- is allergies.

      Luckily, we humans can do a plethora of things to help combat our seasonal allergies, but dogs don't have it so easy. Many dogs deal with all types of skin ailments during allergy season, whether it's constant scratching, having irritated skin or an unhealthy coat.

      Dr. Bob Clement, of Royal Canin Canada, says a dog's skin is actually what protects him from allergies, so if his skin becomes irritated and goes untreated, it can only make things worse.

      "The second most common reason for Canadians to visit their veterinarian is to resolve their dog's skin issues," he says. "Skin plays a vital role in protecting dogs from environmental allergies because many of the particles that cause allergies are actually absorbed through a dog's skin, particularly if the skin is dry or unhealthy."

      Airborne allergens

      It's not just Canadian dogs that suffer. Michigan veterinarian Michael Redmer says many dogs become vulnerable to airborne allergens just like humans.

      "The sudden onset of seasonal itchiness in dogs may indicate a sensitivity to airborne allergens, known as atopy," wrote Redmer. "Atopy is an intensely itchy skin condition caused primarily by inhaled allergens such as pollens, molds and dander, but any airborne particle can potentially become an allergen."

      "Dogs with atopy are genetically predisposed to the condition, and certain breeds are more commonly represented. Female dogs are more likely to be affected than males, and animals usually do not start to show symptoms of atopy until 1 to 3 years of age," he said.

      Dr. Mike Wanchick, a veterinarian in Dacula, Ga., says it's important to take your dog for dermatological visits for a couple of reasons.

      One, a visit will allow the vet to get to the root of your dog's skin condition and two, the vet will most likely be able to lower the chances of your dog having the same type of skin irritation in the future.

      Plus, delaying a dermatological visit will only increase the chances of your dog getting a second skin infection.

      Incredibly painful

      "Untreated skin disorders and allergies are incredibly painful for pets," said Dr. Wanchick. "A dermatology check-up is the best way to assess a pet's symptoms and determine the precise cause. Otherwise, pets that continue to itch and scratch at their skin can actually cause secondary skin infections."

      "Allergies can be triggered by a number of different causes," he adds. "This is why veterinary dermatology care is so important. As part of a pet wellness check-up, dermatological care is the best way to diagnose the cause for a pet's allergies so treatment can swiftly begin."

      In a 2006 study conducted by the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition, researchers found a mixture of the following vitamins work best for keeping your dog's skin moisturized: pantothenate (Vitamin B5), inositol (Vitamin B8), nicotinamide (Vitamin B3), choline (B complex vitamin) and histidine, which is a type of amino acid.

      Moisture and healthy skin go hand-in-hand for your dog, experts say.

      "That [skin] barrier is key," says Clement. "If it is compromised, environmental allergens are more readily absorbed and can result in allergic reactions that many pet owners may not recognize. A telltale sign of an allergic reaction in dogs is swollen, red skin, but also look for excessive paw licking, reluctance to ear handling, and scratching as other hidden signs of allergies in dogs."

      Redmer agrees, and says taking your dog to the vet is only half of what you'll need to do. You'll also have to educate yourself. 

      "Remember, dogs and cats itch for hundreds of reasons," he said in a recent article. "Routine examination by your veterinarian can help to diagnose, prevent and treat these itchy skin conditions. Education plus appropriate preventative measures can help to minimize apparent seasonal skin conditions."

      Summer time has some wonderful things like the opening of amusement parks, going to cookouts and attending outside gatherings. But one bad thing about the ...

      In June, consumers favored small economy cars

      Automakers continue to rack up record sales

      Consumers generally decided that small and economical was the way to go last month, giving several carmakers their best June sales month in years. Though not all the sales figures are in, TrueCar.com estimates total auto sales for June 2013 will be 1.38 million units, up 7.8% over June 2012.

      Robust monthly car sales continue to drive the economy forward. According to Kelley Blue Book, the estimated average transaction price for light vehicles in the U.S. was $31,663 in May.

      "Consumer confidence continues to be a strong factor, along with pent-up demand and for now, low interest rates, bringing shoppers into the showroom to purchase a new vehicle," said Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst of automotive insights for Kelley Blue Book. "Ford has been one of the biggest beneficiaries, with transaction prices up nearly 3%.”

      Ford saw June sales rise 13%, recording its best June since 2006, a year before the start of the recession. Ford credits the Escape for the increase, as the model racked up its fifth straight record sales month.

      Strong truck sales

      The all-new Lincoln MKZ posted best-ever June sales and best quarterly sales performance ever. Sales of small cars – including Fiesta, Focus and C-MAX – totaled 35,851, up 39% over last year Sales of Ford trucks rose 20%.

      "In June, we continued to see strong demand across the entire lineup," said Ken Czubay, Ford vice president, U.S. Marketing, Sales and Service. "We're particularly encouraged by strong retail share gains, especially in coastal markets, where the combination of great design and fuel economy is resonating with customers – including many buying a Ford for the first time."

      Chrysler reported its best June since 2007 and its 39th straight month of year-over-year sales gains. Seven Chrysler Group vehicles set sales records in June. Ram Truck brand sales were up 23%, the largest%age sales gain of any Chrysler Group brand in June and best June sales since 2007.

      Toyota leads the way

      Toyota reported June U.S. sales of 195,235 units, up 14% over last June and more than any other carmaker selling in the U.S. Consumers showed particular interest in the Corolla and the Prius hybrid, as well as the Camry.

      "The auto industry led the economic recovery through the first half of 2013, kicking off a strong summer selling season, which we expect will carry into the second half of the year," said Bill Fay, Toyota Division group vice president and general manager. "Sales in June were solid, and demand didn't skip a beat.”

      Honda reported sales of 136,915 units for the month, an increase of 9.7% over June 2012. Odyssey sales topped 14,000, up 26% for the month with the refreshed 2014 model hitting dealerships at the end of the month. The Accord continued to be a best seller, with sales volume rising 20.4% year-over-year.

      "Honda was firing on all cylinders in June with the hot-selling Accord joined by the Fit, CR-V, Odyssey and Pilot all posting their best sales of the year," said John Mendel, executive vice president of sales at American Honda.

      Hyundai sales rose in June but by a much more modest 2%. Hyundai sales were paced by a 26% surge in sales of the economy model Elantra.

      "Our Hyundai Assurance Connected Care program, now free for three years on most Hyundai models, continues to draw customers to our website and showrooms," said John Krafcik, president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America.

      Kia reports strong sales of its new 2014 Cadenza helped it sell more than 50,000 units for the second straight month. But the Optima midsize sedan was the brand's best seller for the 19th consecutive month, and together with the Sorento CUV – both built in West Point, Georgia – accounted for more than 40% of Kia's June sales.

      The Soul urban passenger vehicle also recorded strong monthly sales of 11,287 units.

      Porsche nails it

      While most consumers opted for economy and value in June, plenty were drawn to style and sportiness. Porsche Cars North America reported its best June on record.

      The Cayenne line experienced the most growth, with sales up 77% over June 2012. The diesel and GTS models together accounted for 42% of overall Cayenne sales. The recently-launched Boxster and Cayman models also had strong months with 811 units sold – up 66% compared to last year.

      Consumers generally decided that small and economical was the way to go last month, giving several carmakers their best June sales month in years. Though n...

      The "worst restaurant meal in America?"

      It's not the calories -- it's the trans fat

      Just how bad does a restaurant meal have to be to be named "Worst Restaurant Meal in America?"

      The folks at Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) think they know. They say laboratory tests show that Long John Silver's Big Catch meal, when comprised of fried fish, hushpuppies and onion rings, contains 33 grams of trans fat, which CSPI calls “the most powerful promoter of heart disease in the food supply.”

      And, it gets worse, the consumer group says. On top of that, the meal has another 19 grams of saturated fat, which also promotes heart disease, and nearly 3,700 milligrams of sodium, which is tied to high blood pressure and stroke. While other fast-food meals have more calories than the Big Catch's 1,320, it's the artery-clogging fat that gives the Big Catch the title.

      Fat-laden

      "Long John Silver's Big Catch meal deserves to be buried 20,000 leagues under the sea," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "This company is taking perfectly healthy fish -- and entombing it in a thick crust of batter and partially hydrogenated oil. The result? A heart attack on a hook. Instead of the Big Catch, I'd call it America's Deadliest Catch."

      CSPI researchers say what was most startling was the 33 grams of trans fat in the Big Catch meal, all of which comes from industrially produced partially hydrogenated frying oil. The American Heart Association  recommends that people limit themselves to about two grams of trans fat per day -- or about as much as one might consume from naturally occurring trans fat in milk and meat. That means Long John Silver's Big Catch meal with onion rings has 16 times as much trans fat as the heart association recommends -- more than two weeks' worth.

      Most major chains have stopped using partially hydrogenated oil altogether, in response to bad publicity, lawsuits, and local government restrictions on its use. In 2006, before KFC stopped using partially hydrogenated oil to fry its chicken, the worst meal on the its menu had 15 grams of trans fat -- less than half the trans fat in the Big Catch with Onion Rings.

      "Trans fat from partially hydrogenated oil is a uniquely damaging substance that raises your bad cholesterol, lowers your good cholesterol, and harms the cells that line your blood vessels," said Walter C. Willett, chair of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health. "It might have been defensible to use hydrogenated oil in the 1980s, before trans fat's harmfulness was discovered, but no longer. It is outrageous that Long John Silver's foods are still loaded with artificial trans fat and that the FDA still permits it in foods."

      Lawsuit threatened

      CSPI has formally notified Long John Silver's CEO Mike Kern it will sue the chain if it continues to use partially hydrogenated oil in its deep fryers. Making its fried foods virtually trans-fat free should be easy to do, CSPI claims, since by law, Long John Silver's outlets in California and certain other jurisdictions must limit artificial trans fat to half a gram per serving.

      CSPI researchers telephoned multiple Long John Silver’s restaurants in California, and all of them said they used canola oil in their deep-fryers, and not the partially hydrogenated soybean oil used in much of the rest of the country.

      Efforts by ConsumerAffairs to reach the Long John Silver’s corporate office for comment were unsuccessful.

      Just how bad does a restaurant meal have to be to be named "Worst Restaurant Meal in America?" The folks at Center for Science in the Public Interest (CS...