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    Baby Jogger recalls car seat adaptors

    The support bars can fail, posing a fall hazard to children

    Baby Jogger of Richmond, Va., is recalling about 30,000 car seat adaptors for strollers on the U.S. and Canada.

    The car seat adaptor support bars can fail, posing a fall hazard to children.  The company has received 47 reports of the car seat adaptor supports bars failing and car seats falling to the floor. Reports include two injured infants with bruises to the head and toes.

    The car seat adaptors come in three models and are used to secure a variety of infant car seats onto Baby Jogger strollers. The “Single” model fits all single strollers, the “Double” works only on double strollers and the “Select/Versa” fits Select and Versa strollers.  The car seat adaptors consist of two U-shaped, black, aluminum support bars and two black plastic adaptors that allow the support bars to attach onto the stroller. Black nylon straps secure the car seat to the adaptor on the stroller. The black support bars are labeled A and B.  The A support bar is the larger of the two U-shaped bars and has a red plastic tip with 10 holes.

    Newer models have only four holes and are not being recalled. The model number is located on the lower right hand corner of the original package and the manufacturing date can be found on a sticker on the bottom of the package.

    Item Description

    Model Numbers

    Manufactured Dates

    Car Seat Adaptor for 
    Single Strollers

    BJ90121

    Manufactured between April 1,  2012 and Sept 20, 2012; 
    dates appear as year, month day, e.g.: “2012.09.20”

    Car Seat Adaptor for 
    Double Stroller

    BJ90221

    Car Seat Adaptor for 
    Select/Versa Strollers

    BJ90321

    The adaptors, manufactured in China, were sold at Buy Buy Baby and other juvenile product stores nationwide and at albeebaby.com, amazon.com, buybuybaby.com, diapers.com and other online retailers from June 2012 through June 2013 for about $60 for the single adaptor and $100 for the double adaptor.

    Consumers should immediately stop using their car seat adaptor and contact Baby Jogger for free replacement support bars.   

    Consumers may contact Baby Jogger toll-free at (877) 506-2213 from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. ET , or email recall@babyjogger.com.

    Baby Jogger of Richmond, Va., is recalling about 30,000 car seat adaptors for strollers on the U.S. and Canada. The car seat adaptor support bars can fail...
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    Maximizing your points, rewards and other perks

    Expert says you should manage them like any other asset

    In the competition for customers, banks and credit cards tend to offer their customers incentives that can add up to cash or discounts on purchases. A savvy consumer should understand how they work and how they can best work for you.

    The travel industry pioneered many of these rewards programs. Airlines offer “miles” for each dollar spent. Those miles can eventually add up to a free ticket.

    Hotels offer points for nights stayed. Stay enough nights at a particular chain and you could earn a free night.

    In the financial services industry credit cards often provide points for purchases. The points can accumulate and eventually be redeemed for products, services and even cash.

    Managing your rewards

    Whether or not you think much about it, you should be managing these programs to maximize your benefit. So says Alex Matjanec, co-founder of MyBankTracker.com, who points to last week's announcement by PerkStreet Financial that it's closing its doors, as a key lesson for consumers when it comes to managing their rewards.

    PerkStreet offered a no-fee debit card – incentive enough for most consumers. But to sweeten the deal further, it also offered rebates on purchases, returning as much as two percent to the purchaser.

    When PerkStreet announced it was no longer able to operate, many cardholders were outraged because they lost their rewards. Some had as much as $500 in cash rewards that is now gone.

    “My response to them is, why are you treating your rewards program as a savings account? That money should have been moved to another account every month,” Matjanec said.

    Beyond that he says consumers should understand what it takes to earn rewards. For example, with credit cards you don't earn your rewards on purchases until you pay the balance.

    How you can lose

    “If you, for some reason, don't pay your credit card bill for a couple of months and they decide to cut your credit limit and you are no long eligible for this card, they can kick you out of the program and you lose your card,” Matjanec said. “Well, you can lose your points instantly as well. “Just spending money isn't enough. You have to pay off your credit card.”

    Matjanec says he expects rewards programs will become more the province of credit card companies rather than banks. Credit card companies have a lot of experience with the concept, more so than banks. Credit card companies offer their perks on purchases, transactions on which they are making money. Banks, on the other hand, have used rewards to attract depositors – and sometimes it has worked too well.

    Take the bank that offers three percent on its checking account if you meet a certain number of requirements. It hoped to gain new depositors from competitors but its current customers liquidated their CDs and poured tens of thousands of dollars into their checking accounts.

    Unsustainable

    “If you compare this rewards system to a high-yield checking account that credit unions and lot of local banks are offering, they have certain requirements to meet in order to get that high interest rate,” Matjanec said. “But as more and more people signed up it became unsustainable at that level.”

    After PerkStreet, Matjanec expects to see fewer rewards programs offered by banks, certainly not from start-up banks. Instead, he says banks may return more to the basics.

    “They're going to need to focus on consumer attraction and consumer experience,” he said. “Banks will try to help you save money by thinking about money differently and changing your behavior. They don't want to reward you for just spending your money. That's what credit cards are for.”

    At the same time, consumers continue to leave banks in droves. The “unbanked” population is growing by leaps and bounds. Matjanec sees two reasons for the exodus.

    “The first is they don't want to deal with the banks,” he said. “They are more comfortable with prepaid cards, which are a pay as you go model. The second is, the banking rules have gotten so confusing and there are so many fees that they never know when they are going to get hit.”

    Prepaid cards offer more control

    A checking account punishes you for not meeting certain requirements. A prepaid card punishes you for using the product too much.

    “In people's minds I think they think it is easier for them to control how they use the card and control their fees.”

    Consumers who are still doing business with a bank but are sometimes frustrated by the fees may not really understand the ins and outs of the product, Matjanec says. His advice? Take the time to actually read the terms and conditions and understand the rules.

    “A bank account is much like an insurance policy or any form of contract,” he said. “You need to read the fine print and understand it.”

    In the competition for customers, banks and credit cards tend to offer their customers incentives that can add up to cash or discounts on purchases. A savv...
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    Homeland Security: Android platform attracts the most malware

    Syrian attacks on New York Times could have exposed readers to malware

    Google's Android platform is getting a bad rap from the feds. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security says in a new report the Android platform accounts for the majority -- 79% -- of mobile malware and warns government agencies to install antivirus software on their Android devices as a precaution.

    Mobile and online security is getting to be serious business, as the Syrian Electronic Army vows to step up its attacks on major American sites if the U.S. takes measures against Syria. The group claimed responsibility for yesterday's attacks on The New York Times site, which experts said could have exposed readers to dangerous malware.  

    The DHS report warns federal, state and local authorities about the dangers of security vulnerabilities. The report notes that 44% of Android users are still running an outdated version of the operating system known as “Gingerbread,” which includes a number of security issues.

    "The growing use of mobile devices by federal, state, and local authorities makes it more important than ever to keep mobile OS patched and up-to-date," DHS said. 

    Syrian attacks

    Yesterday's attack on the Times site was particularly vigorous. The site was unavailable for much of the day, as hackers got control of the Domain Name System and redirected the www.nytimes.com URL to servers allegedly controlled by the Syrian Electronic Army.

    Would-be readers who landed on the SEA-controlled site could have been exposed to malware, experts warned.

    Twitter, the Huffington Post and some other media companies also lost control of their sites during the attacks yesterday.

    The Times attack was particularly upsetting to security experts, who said the Times has put a lot of effort into making its system secure. The hackers made their way into Melbourne IT, an Australian company that hosts the Times' DNS servers.

    The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has released a new report that highlights the fact that Google’s Android platform accounts for the...
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      Facebook releases spy data; ACLU files opening brief

      Facebook says it granted about 20,000 data requests from the U.S. in the first half of 2013

      Former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, now hiding out in Russia, charges that major Internet companies routinely hand over data on millions of their users to the National Security Agency and other governmental spooks.

      Internet companies say the claims are inflated. The latest to respond is Facebook, which yesterday issued its first Global Government Requests Report, detailing the information requests it receives from countries around the world.

      The ACLU, meanwhile, last night filed the opening brief in its lawsuit challenging the NSA’s ongoing collection of the call records of virtually everyone in the United States.

      "We’re asking the court for a preliminary injunction ordering the government to stop collecting our data and to bar any use of the ACLU call records it already has collected," ACLU staff attorney Alex Abdo said in a blog posting.

      20,000 requests

      In its report, Facebook says it responded to about 20,000 requests for information from United States agencies in the first half of 2013, more than half of the total of about 38,000 requests from 74 governments around the world.

      "We want to make sure that the people who use our service understand the nature and extent of the requests we receive and the strict policies and processes we have in place to handle them," Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch in a blog post.

      Stretch stressed that Facebook doesn't automatically cave in to the requests.

      "We scrutinize each request for legal sufficiency under our terms and the strict letter of the law, and require a detailed description of the legal and factual bases for each request," he said. "We fight many of these requests, pushing back when we find legal deficiencies and narrowing the scope of overly broad or vague requests. When we are required to comply with a particular request, we frequently share only basic user information, such as name."

      While the U.S. submitted the most requests, about 12,000, India (3,245), the United Kingdom (1,975) and Germany (1,886) were next.

      Program is illegal

      In its suit, the ACLU says flatly that the NSA's electronic surveillance program is illegal.

      "The NSA’s program is illegal because it is not authorized by Section 215 of the Patriot Act as the government claims, because it invades every American’s Fourth Amendment right to privacy, and because it forces ordinary Americans to pause every time they pick up the phone to consider whether they want the NSA to know whom they’re calling – infringing on the First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association," Abdo said.

      Abdo said the NSA has built an enormous databased filled with information about every American’s associations and affiliations. He quoted from the brief filed last night: 

      Each time a resident of the United States makes a phone call, the NSA records whom she called, when the call was placed, and how long the conversation lasted. The NSA keeps track of when she called the doctor, and which doctor she called; which family members she called, and which she didn’t; which pastor she called, and for how long she spoke to him. It keeps track of whether, how often, and precisely when she called the abortion clinic, the support group for alcoholics, the psychiatrist, the ex-girlfriend, the criminal-defense lawyer, the fortune teller, the suicide hotline, the child-services agency, and the shelter for victims of domestic violence. The NSA keeps track of the same information for each of her contacts, and for each of their contacts. The data collected under the program supplies the NSA with a rich profile of every citizen as well as a comprehensive record of citizens’ associations with one another.

      In its response, the government said the case should be dismissed because “persons making telephone calls, even from their own homes, lack a reasonable expectation of privacy in the numbers they call.” The government also argued that the ACLU does not have standing to challenge the NSA’s program because, although the government may be collecting its phone records, no one can prove anyone has looked at them.

      Former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, now hiding out in Russia, charges that major Internet companies routinely hand over data on millions of thei...
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      State actions against payday lenders prove effective

      Western Sky to stop funding loans Sept. 3

      Both the states and the federal government have jurisdiction when it comes to policing the payday loan industry, to ensure consumers are protected against predatory lending practices.

      So far, it appears the states have been a lot more aggressive on the issue than their federal counterparts. A number of states have taken individual actions against these storefront money stores that make small, short-term loans at an interest rate of about 400% APR. In many cases individual lenders have paid a settlement and moved on, business as usual.

      Some states don't allow payday lenders inside their borders. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia ban the practice entirely, and nine states allow some limited form of payday lending. These nine states impose restrictions, such as limits on loan amounts, interest rates, loan terms, and the number of loans. Colorado caps APR at 45 percent and in Washington state, a consumer is limited to eight payday loans per year.

      Rate caps

      The states where payday lenders don't operate have generally enacted a simple 36% APR cap on loans. Payday lenders say the fee on their short term loans would be so small at that rate that it isn't worth doing business in those states. The cap more or less serves as a ban on payday lending.

      The Internet has allowed payday lenders to skirt these bans in some respects. If a consumer in a state where payday lending is banned goes online to take out a loan, the lender is physically outside the state's jurisdiction.

      Now there are signs that the states are upping the ante, showing a serious determination to cut off payday lending at its source. In early August Benjamin M. Lawsky, New York's Superintendent of Financial Services, sent letters to 35 payday loan companies directing them to cease and desist offering and making usurious payday loans in New York by the Internet or any other means.

      Lawsky said New York's ongoing investigation has shown that these companies have charged New York consumers for payday loans with interest rates many times the legal limit. He further warned debt collectors not to try to collect these loans if consumers refuse to pay them back.

      Hitting them where it hurts

      This hits payday lenders where it hurts. They stand to lose hundreds of thousands in loans illegally made to consumers in New York. And it may not stop there. The state of Maryland's chief financial regulator has served notice he plans to go after the banks that lend money to payday lenders.

      "Without the payday lender's bank, the payday lender can't operate in my state," Mark Kaufman, Maryland Commissioner of Financial Regulation and Labor, told the Baltimore Sun.

      Virginia recently sued Jupiter Funding Group, LLC , an Internet payday lender, alleging it is making illegal payday loans to Virginia consumers without having a valid state payday loan license.

      Lawsky, too, threatened banks with legal action if they did not shut off the money spigot for payday loans. And it appears to be yielding results. This week Western Sky, a major Internet-based payday lender, announced on its website that it would stop funding loans September 3. The announcement follows a lawsuit against the firm, filed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, attacking the company's claim of tribal immunity from state usury laws.

      “This is a tremendous victory for families in every state,” said Uriah King, Center for Responsible Lending's (CRL) vice president of state policy. “Contrary to payday lender spin, illegal lending can be stopped—and states are leading the way.”

      Other states

      In fact, several other states have targeted illegal payday loans in recent months, including Arkansas, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. West Virginia has been going after payday lenders for years. In 2009, then-West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw successfully sued 12 Internet payday lenders and their collection agencies, with the aim of preventing them from doing business in the state.

      In recent years Native American tribes have gotten into partnerships with payday lenders, who then claimed tribal sovereignty exempted them from state usury laws. Threatened with extinction by the new, tougher crackdown, some of these companies have taken court action against New York.

      But CRL, which has campaigned for years against payday loans, says it is clear that the momentum on the issue has shifted, and it is the states, not the federal government, that made it happen. But the group says the feds still have a role to play.

      “State laws are working, but all Americans deserve protection from abusive payday loans,” said Gary Kalman, CRL’s executive vice president for federal policy. “The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should look to states for tested models of effective laws as they develop rules that will protect families nationwide.”

      Both the states and the federal government have jurisdiction when it comes to policing the payday loan industry, to ensure consumers are protected against...
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      First look: Google Glass used in surgery at Ohio State

      Surgeon confers with colleague during surgery, students watch on their laptops

      Google Glass initially appeared to be just another frivolous, time-wasting, geekish gadget but it may turn out to have quite a few practical applications as well. 

      Last week, we reported that police and first responders were taking an interest in the tiny device that includes a camera and the ability to quickly look up data, including maps, on the Internet.

      And now a surgeon at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center has become the first in the United States to consult with a distant colleague using live, point-of-view video from the operating room via Google Glass.

      “To be honest, once we got into the surgery, I often forgot the device was there. It just seemed very intuitive and fit seamlessly,” said Dr. Christopher Kaeding, the physician who performed the surgery and director of sports medicine at Ohio State.

      Story continues below video

      Kaeding wore the device as he performed ACL surgery on Paula Kobalka, 47, from Westerville, Ohio, who hurt her knee playing softball.  As he performed her operation at a facility on the east side of Columbus, Google Glass showed his vantage point via the internet to audiences miles away.

      Across town, one of Kaeding’s Ohio State colleagues, Dr. Robert Magnussen, watched the surgery his office, while on the main campus, several Ohio State medical students watched on their laptops.

      “To have the opportunity to be a medical student and share in this technology is really exciting,” said Ryan Blackwell, a second-year medical student who watched the surgery remotely.   “This could have huge implications, not only from the medical education perspective, but because a doctor can use this technology remotely, it could spread patient care all over the world in places that we don’t have it already.”

      Experts have theorized that during surgery doctors could use voice commands to instantly call up x-ray or MRI images of their patient, pathology reports or reference materials.  They could collaborate live and face-to-face with colleagues via the internet, anywhere in the world.

      Google Glass initially appeared to be just another frivolous, time-wasting, geekish gadget but it may turn out to be quite a few practical applications as ...
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      Honda Odyssey makes safety history

      It's the first minivan to earn the IIHS "TOP SAFETY PICK+" award

      For the first time ever, a minivan has earned the top safety designation given by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

      The 2014 Honda Odyssey scored well in all five IIHS crash evaluations, including the challenging small overlap front test. Vehicles are rated good, acceptable, marginal or poor based on performance in the moderate overlap front, small overlap front, side, rollover and rear crash evaluations.

      Structural changes highlighted

      The 2014 Odyssey is the first minivan to be evaluated in the small overlap front test. Honda asked the institute to test the vehicle to highlight structural changes the automaker made to improve occupant protection in a small overlap front crash. When tests are conducted at a manufacturer's request, the automaker reimburses IIHS for the cost of the vehicle.

      Honda introduced the upgraded Odyssey as a 2014 model. While there are no major styling changes, the new model has advanced high-strength steel in the front door frames, floor pan and front wheel wells for a more rigid occupant compartment.

      The side curtain airbags extend farther forward to offer comprehensive head protection in both a side crash and a small overlap front crash. Even with these modifications, the Odyssey's weight didn't change much because Honda engineers were able to reduce it elsewhere to compensate for the strengthened structure.

      The test

      The small overlap test was added to the IIHS lineup of vehicle safety evaluations last year. It replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle strikes another vehicle or an object like a tree or a utility pole. In the test, 25 percent of a vehicle's front end on the driver side strikes a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier at 40 mph. A 50th percentile male Hybrid III dummy is belted in the driver seat.

      In the Odyssey test, the driver's space was maintained reasonably well. Injury measures on the dummy indicated a low risk of injury in a crash of this severity. Because the structure helped keep the steering column stable, the front airbag stayed in front of the driver dummy during the crash to provide good protection. The side curtain airbag deployed and had sufficient forward coverage to protect the head from contact with the side structure and outside objects.

      High priority

      "Safety is high on the list for parents when it comes to shopping for a family vehicle," says IIHS President Adrian Lund. "Consumers look for models with the highest safety ratings. Honda is ahead of many of its competitors in building state-of-the-art crashworthiness into its vehicles."

      Honda and Acura brands have earned six TOP SAFETY PICK+ awards among 20 current models that the Institute has rated. They are the Honda Accord 2-door and 4-door, Civic 2-door and 4-door, Odyssey and Acura TL. Winners must earn good ratings for occupant protection in 4 of 5 evaluations and no less than acceptable in the fifth test.

      For the first time ever, a minivan has earned the top safety designation given by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The 2014 Honda Odysse...
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      Pending home sales dip in July

      But year-over-year, the gauge of home-buying activity is higher

      The weight of higher mortgage interest rates is being blamed for a decline in pending home sales during July.

      Figures released by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) show the Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) dropped 1.3% to 109.5 in July from 110.9 in June. Still, the forward-looking indicator, which is based on contract signings, is 6.7% above its year-ago level and has been above year-ago levels for the past 27 months. Pending home sales data reflect contracts but not closings.

      The sales patter appears to be uneven around the country. “The modest decline in sales is not yet concerning,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun, “and contract activity remains elevated, with the South and Midwest showing no measurable slowdown.” However, higher mortgage interest rates and rising home prices are affecting monthly contract activity in the high-cost regions of the Northeast and the West. “More homes clearly need to be built in the West to relieve price pressure, or the region could soon face pronounced affordability problems,” he added.

      Regional performance

      The PHSI in the Northeast plunged 6.5% in July -- to 81.5 -- but is 3.3% higher than it was in July 2012. In the Midwest the index slipped 1.0% and stands at 113.2, but is up 14.5% from a year ago. Pending home sales in the South rose rose 2.6%, putting the index at 121.5, which is 7.7% than in July of last year. The index in the West fell dropped 4.9% last month -- to 108.6, and is 0.4% below its year-ago level.

      NAR expects existing-home sales to increase 10 percent for all of 2013, totaling about 5.1 million, and reach approximately 5.2 million next year. With continuing supply imbalances, the national median existing-home price is expected to surge nearly 11% this year, and then slow to a gain of 5 to 6% in 2014, with rising construction taking some of the pressure off prices.

      The weight of higher mortgage interest rates is being blamed for a decline in pending home sales during July. Figures released by the National Association...
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      Mortgage applications drop for third straight week

      The refinancing share of the market is down sharply from its recent peak

      Applications for mortgages are down again -- the third time in as many weeks.

      Mortgage applications decreased 2.5 percent from one week earlier, According to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey, applications fell 2.5% for the week ending August 23, 2013.

      During the same week, the refinance Index was off 5% and has plunged 64.2% from its recent peak the week of May 3, 2013. The refinance share of mortgage activity is now just 60% of total applications -- the lowest share since April 2011. At the same time,the adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share is 7% of total applications and the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) share of refinance applications increased to 35% from 34% the week prior.

      Interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs)with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) increased to 4.80% -- the highest rate since April 2011 -- from 4.68 percent;
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) rose four basis points -- to 4.78% from 4.74%;
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA increased to 4.52%, the highest rate since July 2011, from 4.40%;
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs jumped to 3.84% -- the highest rate since April 2011 -- from 3.71% percent; and
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs increased to 3.50 %, the highest rate since April 2011, from 3.44 percent%.
      Applications for mortgages are down again -- the third time in as many weeks. Mortgage applications decreased 2.5 percent from one week earlier, According...
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      Gas prices below a year ago as Labor Day approaches

      Welcome news for 29 million expected weekend travelers

      Drivers across the country continue to enjoy discounted pump prices versus a year ago, which is good news for those planning to hit the road for the upcoming Labor Day holiday weekend.  

      The national average price for regular unleaded gasoline was $3.54 per gallon Friday.  While this is the lowest price on this calendar date in three years — in 2012 the average was $3.72 and in 2011 it was $3.57 — it trails the all-time high of $3.69 in 2008 by just 15 cents. 

      “The end of the summer is approaching and with it comes lower gas prices – welcome news for the 29 million Americans expected to hit the road for the upcoming Labor Day holiday weekend,” said John B. Townsend, Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. 

       “AAA travel experts don’t believe pump prices are a major factor for consumers in determining whether they will travel for Labor Day. However, fuel prices falling throughout August is certainly good news for all motorists,” Townsend said.

      While gas prices remain seasonally below recent years, crude oil continues to trade at a significant premium in the $103 to $108 per barrel range.  Positive economic data combined with geopolitical tension in the Middle East have boosted oil.  

      Manufacturing activity in the U.S. and China is at multi-month highs, the national U.S. unemployment level fell to a four and a half year low of 7.4 percent last month, while business activity in the Eurozone rose more than expected.  

      Drivers across the country continue to enjoy discounted pump prices versus a year ago, which is good news for those planning to hit the road for the upcomi...
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      Back-to-school shoppers hit stores early

      Retailers say its all because of promotions

      Moms and dads with kids in tow were back at the malls and stores early in search of back-to-school bargains, according to the National Retail Federation's (NRFs) 2013 Back-to-School and Back-to-College Surveys.

      The surveys, conducted by Prosper Insights and Analytics, found the average family with school-age children in grades K-12 has already completed more than half (52.1%) of its shopping, compared with 40.1% the same time last year and the highest percent in the survey’s history. College families have completed nearly half of their shopping as well (49.5%).

      NRF estimates school and college spending will reach $72.5 billion.

      “Given the historic level of early-bird shoppers we’ve seen this year, it is evident that many families still consider price and value when looking for their back-to-school and college needs,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Shopping early and often has become a sign of the times as budget-conscious consumers aim to ease the brunt of large spending events. In the weeks ahead, last minute shoppers can expect promotions to continue through Labor Day as retailers try to make room for fresh fall merchandise.”

      Early shoppers

      This year’s back-to-school items began flying off the shelves as summer heat began to set in. The survey found 16.3% of families with children in grades K-12 had already completed their shopping lists as of mid-August -- a significant jump from the 7.8% last year. Fewer back-to-school shoppers say they haven’t started their shopping yet (20.9% vs. 26.9% in 2012).

      With seven in 10 consumers (76.9%) saying that the economy is still affecting their school and college spending plans, sales and coupons are growing in popularity. Of those who have already started their shopping, the survey found that 42.8% back-to-school shoppers say retailers’ sales, coupons and promotions influenced at least half of their purchases, versus 38.5% last year.

      When asked what payment method back-to-school families used most often to purchase school necessities, 46.2% say they will use their debit cards most often, over cash (31.0%) and credit (19.9%). To wrap up their lists, most will head to their favorite discount (57.6%), department (52.4%) and clothing stores (39.5%) and online (25.1%).

      Back-to-college shopping

      NRF’s Back-to-College Survey indicates that by mid-August, 20.0%) of college shoppers have already completed their shopping, compared with 16.4% who had wrapped up their shopping by this time last year. Although many families were eager to take advantage of the best deals on everything from TVs to fashionable curtains, 28.8% had not yet started their shopping as of mid-August.

      Given the cost of many traditional college necessities, such as dorm furniture and electronics, one-third of back-to-college shoppers say at least half of their purchases were influenced by retailers’ special offers, promotions and coupons. And, when it comes to staying on budget, 44.5% of college shoppers will use debit cards most often for their college purchases, and one-quarter will use cash most often. Nearly 25% say they will use their credit cards.

      “The importance of sticking to a budget is all too familiar for families today, especially when it comes to big spending events such as back-to school and back to college,” said Prosper Consumer Insights Director Pam Goodfellow. “Savvy shoppers are learning that the method of payment is just as significant as spreading out spending when trying to stay within their means.”

      In order to check off the last items on their lists, consumers will continue to look for bargains in stores and online. College shoppers and their families will do the remainder of their shopping at discount (50.0%), department (38.2%) and clothing (31.9%) stores. More than one-third (34.8%) will complete their shopping online.  

      Moms and dads with kids in tow were back at the malls and stores early in search of back-to-school bargains, according to the National Retail Federations (...
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      How people see their own health in 2013

      And what other health issues are people concerned about?

      When it comes to living a healthy lifestyle, many experts say getting enough sleep is a big part and there have been numerous studies, statistics and findings to back that up.

      So perhaps, one would assume that most people are taking heed of these findings and getting enough sleep, but that's not the case. In actuality, 18% of folks said they'd rather exercise instead of sleep. And about 13% said they'd rather slumber.

      The results were found in a new report from Aetna entitled "What's Your Healthy?" which took a look at several aspects of people's health, including how they perceived their own health. 

      For example, the creators of the survey asked U.S. residents, aged 25 to 64, what their definition of being healthy was, and their answers were all over the place. 

      About 41% said their definition of being healthy is not getting sick and 15% said getting enough exercise, eating well and staying happy is what needs to be done to live a healthy lifestyle.

      Moreover, 49% said staying physically active is the way to stay healthy and 43% said you have to eat right.

      In addition, 37% said being the right weight is their definition of being healthy and 23% said it's getting enough sleep. And 20% said managing stress is their definition of being healthy.

      Boomers score highest

      In another part of the survey respondents were asked to give themselves a health score using a scale of 0 to 100.

      Baby Boomers scored themselves the highest at 72.3, Millennials were next at 69.9 and GenXers scored slightly lower at 68.7.

      And when respondents were asked which 10 celebrities they'd like to be, in terms of health, 11% said Dr. Oz, 10% said Jillian Michaels, 9% said Betty White, 8% said Michael Phelps, another 8% said Michelle Obama and 6% said Jennifer Aniston.

      Bobby Flay (2%), Venus Williams (1%), Deepak Chopra (1%), and Oprah Winfrey (1%) were all mentioned as well.

      And when respondents were asked about weight loss, the answers differed between men and women, and they also differed between generations. 

      For example, Millennials had a bigger interest in gaining weight rather than losing it, and women wanted to lose weight more than men did.

      Plus, 47% of respondents said they'd like to look better in a baiting suit, 33% would like to look better in shorts and 27% said they'd like to look better in their underwear.

      In addition, 54% said they believe it's possible to be overweight and healthy, but most of the people who shared this opinion were women.

      Healthcare costs

      And although there were several different opinions on health between the genders and generations, everyone showed concern about rising healthcare costs.

      "A substantial 7 in 10 majority of all Americans age 25-64 -- and Baby Boomers most of all -- worry about rising healthcare costs, while 65% agree that being able to afford a healthy lifestyle is increasingly challenging, a belief held at about the same level by all generations," wrote the researchers.

      "A majority (74%) believe that having health insurance is very or extremely important to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, with a high 42% saying it is extremely important."

      "Baby Boomers are more likely than Millennials or GenXers, and women more likely than men, to feel that health insurance is important to a healthy lifestyle. That said, as many as 21% within the full 25 to 64 range are not currently covered," the researchers wrote.

      And there were several different answers when people were asked about how they managed their stress.

      On a scale of 0 to 100, men gave themselves a 67.9 when it came to managing stress and women gave themselves a 63.9. Overall, the respondents gave themselves a D+ in their stress management skills, scoring a 65.8.

      When respondents were asked what would force them to live healthier lives, 31% said it would take a death or illness of a friend or family member. And 31% said training for a marathon or a fitness event would do the trick.

      Additionally, 30% said a wedding or a reunion would force them to live a healthier lifestyle.

      Perhaps, some might find it surprising the respondents didn't say trying to live a longer life would make them live healthier. I wonder why that is?

      When it comes to living a healthy lifestyle, many experts say getting enough sleep is a big part and there have been numerous studies, statistics and findi...
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      Hardmenstore.com recalls of 72HP, Evil Root and Pro Power Max

      The products are said to contain sildenafil, which is not listed on the labels

      Hardmenstore.com is recalling 1000 lots of 72HP, Evil Root and Pro Power Max.

      According to representatives of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the products have reportedly been found to contain amounts of the PDE-5 Inhibitor, sildenafil, which is the active ingredient in an FDA-approved drug for erectile dysfunction (ED). Sildenafil is not listed on the product labels.

      These products are intended to be used as dietary and sexual supplements. 72HP is packaged in a single blister pack containing 1 dose. Evil Root is packaged in box containing a bottle of 6 pills. Pro Power Max is packaged in a single blister pack containing 1 dose.

      All lots of the products are included in this recall. 72HP can be identified by the yellow packaging with a black horse insignia. Evil Root can be identified by its orange box with blue Chinese characters. Pro Power Max can be identified by the black and red packaging with flames on the bottom of the packaging.

      Hardmenstore.com is now notifying its distributors and customers and is arranging for a return of all recalled products.

      Consumers and retailers with the products should stop using them immediately and contact a doctor if there are any side effects.

      Consumers with questions may contact Howard Andrew by email at info@hardmenstore.com from Monday to Friday, 11am to 5pm, EST.

      Hardmenstore.com is recalling 1000 lots of 72HP, Evil Root and Pro Power Max. According to representatives of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the...
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      What to do when your dog gets arthritis

      As dogs age they, like humans, suffer from aches and pains

      As your dog ages, he or she is subject to many of the same ailments you are. If they live long enough they are likely to suffer from arthritis, a crippling and painful condition when it occurs in people. It is no less painful in dogs.

      Because of better food and health care our canine friends are living to be senior citizens in dog years. When you observe the signs indicating the onset of arthritis, there are steps you can take to help alleviate their pain and perhaps extend their life. At the very least you can improve the quality of their life.

      First, know what to look for. Symptoms of arthritis in your pet include limping, or otherwise favoring a limb. They might have difficulty sitting or standing and spend more time than usual sleeping.

      They won't be as active as they once were and will likely put on weight. You may even observe a change in personality and demeanor.

      One in five suffer from arthritis

      According to the Arthritis Foundation, one in every five adult dogs in the U.S. suffers from arthritis, making it one of the most common sources of chronic pain that veterinarians treat. When you observe arthritis symptoms in your pet that last for two weeks or more, the Foundation suggests taking your dog to veterinarian for an arthritis evaluation. 

      The evaluation will likely involve a physical exam and possibly x-rays. The best thing to do for your dog in managing arthritis is to get a diagnosis and start a treatment plan as soon as possible. Treating canine arthritis is somewhat similar to treating osteoarthritis in humans.

      Therapies may include a healthy diet and exercise to help maintain a proper weight. Just as in people, when a dog is carrying too much weight it places unhealthy stress on joints. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) canine arthritis can also occur as a result of a joint infection, dislocation, trauma or an inherited condition, such as hip dysplasia. 

      Exercise

      Exercise is an excellent treatment for dogs with arthritis. In the video below a veterinarian demonstrates effective exercises.

      Work with your vet to find a drug treatment that helps alleviate the pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) are the most common form of pharmaceutical treatment for arthritis in dogs. Over-the-counter pet treatments, such as pills or food containing either glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate or Omega fatty acids, are sometimes recommended. Both have been shown to help relieve the symptoms of arthritis in dogs.

      Dr. Lorie Houston DVM, who writes and blogs extensively on pet-related issues, says NSAIDS commonly prescribed for dogs incude Rimadyl, Estogesic, Deramaxx and Metacam. Non-NSAID medications, she says, include tramadol, buprenorphine, Fentanyl and gabapentin. 

      Stem cell therapy

      Dr. Marty Becker, DVM, a long-time contributor to ABC's "Good Morning America" and other media outlets, says pet owners should refrain from giving their dogs aspirin or other medication made for humans. He notes that veterinarians advocated aspirin use for dogs in the past, but that it's no longer accepted practice. 

      “Recent peer-reviewed studies have linked the use of aspirin in dogs to gastric ulcers,” he writes.

      Becker notes that one of the biggest contributors to arthritis in dogs is obesity. It's been a subject vets have been reluctant to bring up with pet owners in the past, he says, because it can be sensitive. But increasingly, he says, obesity is being recognized as a prime contributor to the painful condition.

      The Arthritis Foundation suggests dog owners should pay more attention to what their pet eats. Dog owners, the Foundation says, could benefit from the same advice.

      “Read the food labels for each of you to make sure that every bite is giving you both good energy and nutrition,” the Foundation says on its website. “Limit your servings and don’t cheat by eating between meals or slipping Fido extra snacks.”

      As your dog ages he or she is subject to many of the same ailments you are. If they live long enough they are likely to suffer from arthritis, a crippling ...
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      Foreclosure crisis over? The data is mixed

      The trend is encouraging but trouble spots remain

      By most accounts, a building wave of foreclosures served as the catalyst for the housing market meltdown and financial crisis of 2008. Five years later the falling rate of foreclosures suggests the housing market has regained its equilibrium.

      A recent report by CoreLogic found about one million U.S. homes in foreclosure inventory at the end of June. That's down about 400,000 from June 2012, a year-over-year decrease of 28%. It also represents a 2.9% drop from the previous month.

      That one million homes currently in some stage of foreclosure represent 2.5% of all homes in the U.S. with a mortgage. That compares to 3.4% in June 2012.

      Are things back to normal yet? Despite the recent improvement, probably not. With 4.5 million homes lost to foreclosure over the last five years, that works out to 900,000 foreclosures per year, on average. In a typical month before 2007, the number was closer to 250,000.

      Subprime time bomb

      Many of the foreclosures in 2008 and 2009 were directly linked to subprime loans. Consumers who couldn't really afford the homes they purchased were able to get subprime loans that offered very low “teaser” rates for the first year or two before they adjusted sharply higher.

      When the loan rates adjusted, the homeowners, in many cases, couldn't afford the monthly payment. Foreclosures began to build within the market, adversely affecting mortgage-backed securities and setting off the banking crisis.

      But unfortunately the foreclosure wave spread beyond the subprime sector. The collapse of the housing market and the onset of the banking crisis turned the recession into the Great Recession, causing unemployment to surge. All of a sudden people with prime loans lost their jobs and were unable to keep making their house payments. In 2010 the foreclosure wave continued to build.

      The latest numbers suggest stability is returning but there are still some areas of concern. RealtyTrac, in its report on July foreclosures, found that foreclosure activity increased 2.0% over June, while sharply lower from year-over-year levels. Much of the July jump was caused by a spike in foreclosure starts during the month. In the video below, RealtyTrac's Daren Blomquist provides an overview of the findings.

      Other data

      Other data may also be cause for concern. According to an August report by PropertyShark.com, foreclosure activity is picking up in the nation's largest real estate market. The report found that 348 New York City properties were scheduled for auction in the second quarter of 2013, a 138% surge from the first quarter. That's up 39% year-over-year, with only Manhattan and Staten Island showing signs of stability.

      With data on the issue presenting a mixed picture, the consumer group Center for Responsible Lending is expressing concern about policies it says will likely discourage first-time home buyers and perhaps threaten the housing recovery. In particular, it says a proposal for government-mandated down payment standards would weaken the housing market and overall economy.

      “A successful housing market needs new homeowners available to purchase properties,” CRL said in a statement. “If mandated down payment standards went into effect – instead of letting the market determine appropriate down payment standards – then fewer families could become first-time home buyers.”

      Using 2010 figures the group said it would take the typical U.S. family 22 years to save for a 10% down payment for the typical home. Closing costs for fees and escrow often require another 3% in savings.

      “This decreased demand for housing would result in falling housing prices. In this situation, existing homeowners would lose equity in their homes, possibly pushing them underwater on their mortgage and even into default,” CRL said. “As a result, down payment mandates could undermine the nascent housing market recovery and plunge the economy into turmoil.”

      By most accounts, a building wave of foreclosures served as the catalyst for the housing market meltdown and financial crisis of 2008. Five years later the...
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      Facebook settles "sponsored stories" lawsuit for $20 million

      Users will get about $15 each, the rest going to non-profit privacy groups

      A U.S. district court judge has approved a $20 million settlement to be paid by Facebook to users whose names and likenesses were used in "sponsored story" ads.

      Facebook users who complained about their likenesses being used in the so-called sponsored stories will at last be getting a few dollars -- about $15 -- for their trouble.

      The "stories" were really ads that showed users that their "friends" had clicked on "like" buttons for various products. Not only were the "stories" not stories, the users featured in the endorsements had not agreed to having their image and name used.

      They hadn't been paid anything either. After all, why sell out if you don't get any money for it?

      Consumers rate Facebook

      Now, $15 may not sound like much but the judge had at times expressed skepticism that anyone had been harmed very much by the unwitting endorsements, sleazy and unethical though it may have been for Facebook to shanghai users' good names.

      "We are pleased that the settlement has received final approval," Facebook said in a statement.

      Money that's left over will go to a group of non-profits agreed upon by the plaintiffs, including the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

      Facebook says it doesn't do sponsored stories anymore. Actually, it does. It just calls them something else, but that's another, um, story.

      The suit was dragged on since 2011, when it was filed by five plaintiffs. About 7,000 users have opted out of the settlement, leaving them free to file their own lawsuits.

      A U.S. district court judge has approved a $20 million settlement to be paid by Facebook to users whose names and likenesses were used in "sponsored s...
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      Rising mercury levels in fish blamed on coal-burning power plants

      The coal contains mercury which is released by burning and eventually returns to earth

      Mercury levels have been steadily rising in fish and a new study suggests the mercury is coming from coal-burning power plants as far away as China and India.

      The levels are especially high in shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. Shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish have much lower levels.

      And, unfortunately, more mercury is falling into the Pacific Ocean, source of much of the seafood eaten by humans, because of the concentration of coal-fired plants in Asia and India.

      The rising contamination prompts health officials to warn that pregnant women and young children should avoid eating more than an occasional small serving of the affected fish.

      A new study in Nature Geoscience traces the path of the toxins. When coal is burned, tiny amounts of mercury are emitted into the atmosphere, where they can travel thousands of miles before falling back to earth, either on land or sea.

      On land, the mercury is not very hazardous but in the sea, microorganisms like planton convert it into another form of mercury, methyl mercury, which health experts say is very hazardous.

      Small fish then eat the plankton, bigger fish eat the smaller fish and so on. Eventually, the toxic mercury winds up in the seafood that is eaten by humans.

      Methyl mercury is especially harmful when eaten by pregnant women. Scientists say it kills neurons in the developing infant's brain, resulting in babgies that have three to eight points lower IQ than they would otherwise have had. They may also have shorter attention spans and behavioral issues.

      Mercury levels have been steadily rising in fish and a new study suggests the mercury is coming from coal-burning power plants as far away as China and Ind...
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      The climb in home values continues

      Cities in the West are leading the advance

      There doesn't seem to be an end in sight to the rise in home prices across the nation.

      According to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, the National Index grew 7.1% in the second quarter and 10.1% over the last four quarters. The 10-City and 20-City Composites were up 2.2% in June and 11.9% and 12.1% over 12 months.

      All 20 cities posted gains on a monthly and annual basis. However, in only six cities were prices rising faster this month than last, compared with ten in May. Dallas and Denver reached new all-time highs as they did last month, with gains of 1.7% each in June. San Francisco’s rebound is the largest -- up 47.0% from its low in March 2009. Phoenix is second -- 37.1% above its September 2011 low.

      “National home prices rose more than 10% annually in each of the last two quarters,” said David M. Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “However, the monthly city by city data show the pace of price increases is moderating.

      Moderating increases

      Overall, the report shows that housing prices are rising but the pace may be slowing, with increases in 13 out of 20 cities weakening from May to June. “As we are in the middle of a seasonal buying period,” Blitzer said, “we should expect to see the most gains. With interest rates rising to almost 4.6%, home buyers may be discouraged and sharp increases may be dampened.”

      He notes that other housing news is positive, but not as robust as last spring. “Starts and sales of new homes continue to lag the stronger pace set by existing homes,” he pointed out, adding, “despite recent increases in mortgage interest rates, affordability is still good as credit qualifications have eased somewhat.”

      Back on track

      As of June 2013, average home prices across the U.S are back to their spring 2004 levels. Measured from their June/July 2006 peaks, the peak-to-current decline for both Composites is approximately 23%. The recovery from the March 2012 lows is 18.4% and 19.0% for the 10-City and 20-City Composites.

      All 20 cities showed positive monthly returns for at least the third consecutive month. Six cities -- Charlotte, Cleveland, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, New York and Tampa -- showed acceleration. Atlanta took the lead with a return of 3.4% as San Francisco dropped to +2.7% in June from +4.3% in May. New York posted a gain of 2.1%, its highest since July 2002.

      Year-over-year, Las Vegas and San Francisco were the only two Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) to post gains of over 20%; Atlanta, Detroit and Phoenix decreased to +19.0%, +16.4% and +19.8%, respectively. Seven cities -- Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Diego and Tampa -- showed improvement in their annual rates. Out of the 13 remaining MSAs, Detroit showed the most deceleration but still posted an impressive 16.4% increase. Despite gaining 35.6% from its post-recession low in April 2011, Detroit remains the only city below its January 2000 level.

      There doesn't seem to be an end in sight to the rise in home prices across the nation. According to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, the National ...
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      Website makes it easier to check a drug's side effects

      "Symptom Checker" compares your symptoms to a drug's known side effects

      There are plenty of websites that allow you to type in a symptom to see what illness you might. But there aren't many sites that tell you if that symptom really results from an illness, or if it's possibly a side effect from a medicine you're taking. That's where eHealthMe.com comes in. 

      Johnson Chen, founder and CEO of eHealthMe, added a feature to the site called Symptom Checker, where users can determine if their symptom is possibly a drug side effect or something else.

      "The symptom checker uses eHealthMe's healthcare big data analytic algorithms to study FDA data to find out the possible cause of a symptom," said Chen in an interview with ConsumerAffairs."The results are personalized to the gender and age of the patient. It works in two ways: If only one drug is entered into the checker, two statistically likely results are generated -- a symptom from the drug and one from the condition."

      In addition, the Symptom Checker provides a printed report that you can bring to your doctor, so he or she can get to the bottom of your symptom.

      "The results are displayed in a way that when patients present them to doctors, doctors find it simple to determine whether the symptom is from a drug, a drug mix, a condition, or neither. The tool demonstrates how healthcare big data can be used to generate new and useful personal health information," Chen said.

      Online resources

      Even though you should never rely on a website for diagnosis or treatment, it's obvious an increasing number of people are going online to get medical information.

      According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 81% of adults in the U.S. used the Internet to get health information in the last year. And 35% said they went online to determine if they had a certain illness or not.

      However, many folks still prefer to head to a doctor or clinic when they feel a symptom for the first time, as the Pew study shows that 70% of adults go to a health professional when they believe they're sick. And 60% receive support or information from a friend or family member.

      The study also shows that 24% got their information from other people with the same condition.

      Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, who's a pediatrician at Seattle Children's Hospital, told the Los Angeles Times that patients should print out whatever they see online and bring it to their doctor.

      "Many of my patients come in hesitant about vaccines because of something they heard online, but when I ask them who wrote it, they don't really know where they found it," she said. "What I want is families to grab it, print it and then we can look at it together."

      Besides eHealthMe's site, there are a lot of others you may find useful. Like MyHealthChecklist.org, that gives you info on health screenings, vaccinations and tests you'll need.

      HealthCentral.com, a site that's kind of a one-stop-shop for all sorts of medical information. And of course there's WebMD, probably the most popular of the medical information websites.

      Chen says sites like these allow people to be better informed, which can affect the outcome of their treatment.

      "Patients, especially those in the U.S., consume a lot of medication and the trend is ever increasing," he said. eHealthMe's symptom checker will complement existing checkers and offer patients new insights about the medication they are taking. 

      "In many industries, the more informed the consumers are the more satisfied they will feel for the transactions. In health care, assisted by our new symptom checker, the more informed the patients are, they will achieve better treatment outcomes and have a better overall quality of life."

      Unless you haven't noticed, there are a number of websites that allow you to type in a certain symptom to see if you have an illness or not.But there are...
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