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Kids and smartphones: the debate continues
More than half of U.S. children now using mobile devices
It's remarkable when you stop and think that the smartphone – outside of the Blackberry – really didn't exist before 2007. Now, in less than a decade, almost everyone has one.
Earlier this year Nielson reported that 61% of Americans with a mobile device had a smartphone. The Blackberry now claims a small share while the vast majority use either an Android device or an iPhone.
What may be even more remarkable, however, is the number of children who have access to a smartphone or some other mobile device. A year ago the NPD Group surveyed families with children between the ages of two and 14. It found fewer than half of those families reported owning a smart device. This year, the number has soared to 79%.
A year ago only a third of children in the families with smart devices used them. This year the survey shows 51% use smartphones or tablets and 40% of the children have devices of their own, or are primary users.
Positives and negatives
This trend tends to be viewed both positively and negatively. Some educators see the plus side, noting the huge increase in the number of educational apps for smartphones and tablets. A recent accounting by Education.com found more than 3,400 education apps at the iTunes store. Many of them are designed for very young children, between the ages of two and five.
Many educators believe the potential benefits outweigh any negatives. Children tend to naturally take to technology and lessons imparted via technology media can be effective, they say.
Their mobility is another advantage. They are available in almost any location and, should a child become antsy, a parent can pull out a mobile device equipped with some educational app in the form of a game, to keep the child occupied.
But there are issues with handing your toddler a smartphone, other experts say. Dr. Carolyn Jaynes, a learning designer for Leapfrog Enterprises, suggests waiting until your child is at least in preschool before introducing them to the world of mobile gadgets.
“Children under two years of age learn best from real-world experiences and interactions, and each minute spent in front of a screen-based device is a minute when your child is not exploring the world and using their senses, which is extremely important in their development process,” she said in an interview with PBS.
However, she concedes that preschoolers can benefit from educational content, presented through an electronic media.
As children get older the pressure to allow them to use a mobile device gets even greater. Smartphones – and even tablets – are fast becoming standard equipment for teens, and even some pre-teens.
That, of course, raises another set of issues. It's easier to monitor a child's use of the Internet when their computer is a desktop set up in the family room. It's a lot harder to monitor their online activities when they can access the Internet wherever they happen to be.
Help for parents
Lookout.com has published a helpful guide for parents of older children who are just now confronting this issue.
Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, which conducts research into media use, says a big factor in deciding to grant your child's request for a mobile device is the reason for the request. Often, she says, parents reject the request out of hand before hearing the reason for it.
Charlie Osborne, journalist and former teacher, is not a big fan of giving children smart devices. As a teacher, she says she constantly had to cope with the interruptions mobile devices caused in class.
Writing at ZDNet, Osborne rejects the notion that today's digital generation is growing up to be history's most advanced.
"As a former teacher, I don't see it,” she writes. “Children are not the most advanced – they're the most distracted. Furthermore, they are liable to become the most idiotic and lacking in social skills as their eyes are turned away from learning about their environment, instead commenting on their friend's latest duck-pout profile picture on Facebook.”
It's remarkable when you stop and think that the smartphone – outside of the Blackberry – really didn't exist before 2007. Now, in less than a ...
Guns and coffee a "unsettling and upsetting" combination
There was a time when saloons in the Wild West required that swashbuckling cowboys check their six-shooters at the door. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has decided that's a pretty good policy.
In full-page newspaper ads today and on the company's website, Schultz is announcing that guns -- like cigarettes -- are no longer permitted in Starbucks stores or outdoor seating areas. But Schultz says baristas won't be asked to enforce the rule since doing so "would potentially require our partners to confront armed customers."
Schultz has been wrestling with the issue for months. Like most businesses, Starbucks has not had a firm policy about whether guns are permitted on the premises. But that's no longer acceptable in today's blac-and-white, either-or culture, where everyone must stake out a do-or-die position on seemingly every possible option.
Gun advocates have taken Starbucks' previous laissez-faire attitude as welcoming while gun control advocates have taken offense at it.
"Both sides of the issue have staged events at Starbucks, so our company has been characterized as pro and anti-gun, but we're neither," Schultz insists.
There were protests around the country recently calling on gun control advocates to observe a "Skip Starbucks Saturday" day and get their daily dose of java elsewhere. Schultz says the impact wasn't measurable and insists his change of heart isn't driven by the bottom line.
Schultz is quoted as saying there have been "episodes" involving guns in some stores recently that upset customers and staff, but he didn't specify just what those incidents were.
The policy change comes just two days after the latest mass shooting -- the Navy Yard incident that left 13 people, but Schultz said the change was in the works before the Washington shootings.
Howard Schultz's letter reads in full:
Dear Fellow Americans,
Few topics in America generate a more polarized and emotional debate than guns. In recent months, Starbucks stores and our partners (employees) who work in our stores have been thrust unwillingly into the middle of this debate. That's why I am writing today with a respectful request that customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas.
From the beginning, our vision at Starbucks has been to create a "third place" between home and work where people can come together to enjoy the peace and pleasure of coffee and community. Our values have always centered on building community rather than dividing people, and our stores exist to give every customer a safe and comfortable respite from the concerns of daily life.
We appreciate that there is a highly sensitive balance of rights and responsibilities surrounding America's gun laws, and we recognize the deep passion for and against the "open carry" laws adopted by many states. (In the United States, "open carry" is the term used for openly carrying a firearm in public.) For years we have listened carefully to input from our customers, partners, community leaders and voices on both sides of this complicated, highly charged issue.
Our company's longstanding approach to "open carry" has been to follow local laws: we permit it in states where allowed and we prohibit it in states where these laws don't exist. We have chosen this approach because we believe our store partners should not be put in the uncomfortable position of requiring customers to disarm or leave our stores. We believe that gun policy should be addressed by government and law enforcement—not by Starbucks and our store partners.
Recently, however, we've seen the "open carry" debate become increasingly uncivil and, in some cases, even threatening. Pro-gun activists have used our stores as a political stage for media events misleadingly called "Starbucks Appreciation Days" that disingenuously portray Starbucks as a champion of "open carry." To be clear: we do not want these events in our stores. Some anti-gun activists have also played a role in ratcheting up the rhetoric and friction, including soliciting and confronting our customers and partners.
For these reasons, today we are respectfully requesting that customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas—even in states where "open carry" is permitted—unless they are authorized law enforcement personnel.
I would like to clarify two points. First, this is a request and not an outright ban. Why? Because we want to give responsible gun owners the chance to respect our request—and also because enforcing a ban would potentially require our partners to confront armed customers, and that is not a role I am comfortable asking Starbucks partners to take on. Second, we know we cannot satisfy everyone. For those who oppose "open carry," we believe the legislative and policy-making process is the proper arena for this debate, not our stores. For those who champion "open carry," please respect that Starbucks stores are places where everyone should feel relaxed and comfortable. The presence of a weapon in our stores is unsettling and upsetting for many of our customers.
I am proud of our country and our heritage of civil discourse and debate. It is in this spirit that we make today's request. Whatever your view, I encourage you to be responsible and respectful of each other as citizens and neighbors.
There was a time when saloons in the Wild West required that swashbuckling cowboys check their six-shooters at the door. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has d...
That's been the cost for a thousand days and counting
Tuesday marked an historic occasion for American drivers: the American Automobile Association marked it as the one-thousandth consecutive day that the average gallon of gasoline cost more than $3.00 (with prices averaging over $3.25 per gallon for 913 of those thousand days, too).
Prices are likely to drop a bit before winter arrives, but even so, AAA’s CEO Bob Darbelnet said, “Paying less than $3.00 per gallon for gasoline may be automotive history for most Americans, like using 8-track tapes or going to a drive-in movie.”
Of course, some of this price increase can surely be blamed on inflation; with the exception of computers and other electronics (which tend to get cheaper and better every year due to technological advances), everything today costs more than it did during the 8-track-tape era. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation calculator provided by the US Department of Labor says that $3.00 in 2013 is equivalent to $2.21 back in 2000 and $1.06 in 1980.
Last year, Energy Trends Insider looked at historical gas prices relative to inflation and concluded that, in 2012 dollars, gas cost $3.35 per gallon in 1919 and $3.44 during the “gas crisis” years of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
So it looks like the $3 threshold is more of a psychological milestone than an actual price record. Even so, this offers scant comfort to American drivers trying to fill their tanks at gas stations that still refuse to accept any bills higher than a twenty.
The inflationary dollar passes another milestone...
By Jennifer Abel
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Servicemembers to get more protection from payday lenders
Examiners will be targeting Military Lending Act violations as they supervise lenders
Federal examiners have been given their marching orders on protecting servicemembers from shady payday lenders.
Guidelines set up by the the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will aid examiners in identifying consumer harm and risks related to Military Lending Act (MLA) violations when supervising payday lenders.
The MLA is designed to provide greater protections for military families, including capping annual percentage rates at 36 percent. The new guidelines are included in an updated exam manual that the CFPB has released for the short-term, small-dollar lending industry.
“Protecting servicemembers is a priority for the CFPB,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “We will use the authority Congress gave us to enforce the Military Lending Act and to safeguard our men and women in uniform from illegal payday loans.”
Policing payday loans
Payday loans are typically designed as a way to bridge a cash shortage between pay or benefits checks. Such loans are generally for small-dollar amounts and borrowers must repay them quickly. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act specifically tasked the CFPB with supervising payday lenders for the first time at the federal level.
In 2006, the Department of Defense issued a report concluding that predatory lending practices by payday lenders and other creditors near military bases were a threat to military personnel and their families. In 2007, Congress passed the MLA to help address this problem and the Department of Defense issued rules to implement the law.
In general, the law shields active-duty military personnel, active National Guard or Reserve personnel, and their dependents from lending practices that Congress determined should not be tolerated in lending to servicemembers. In 2012, Congress amended the law by, among other things, giving the CFPB the authority to enforce it.
Playing by the rules
Through its enforcement and supervisory work, the CFPB will scrutinize lenders to make sure that they are following the MLA requirements when they make short-term, small-dollar loans to servicemembers and their dependents. Specifically, payday lenders must follow the requirements of the law for all closed-end loans of $2,000 or less and with terms of 91 days or less. These requirements include:
Annual percentage rate capped at 36 percent: Because most payday loans are for several hundred dollars and have finance charges of $15 or $20 for each $100 borrowed, a typical two-week term can equate to an annual percentage rate (APR) ranging from 391 percent to 521 percent. Payday lenders must cap the APR -- which incorporates all fees and costs associated with the loan -- at 36 percent when lending to servicemembers.
No rolling over of loans: When consumers cannot pay back the loan at the time it is due, borrowers can often pay only the finance charges and renew the loan. This fee does not reduce the amount owed. If a payday loan is rolled over multiple times, it’s possible to pay several hundred dollars in fees and still owe the original amount borrowed. Payday lenders are banned from rolling over loans for servicemembers, unless the new transaction results in more favorable terms for the servicemember.
No signing away of servicemember rights: The MLA prohibits lenders from making servicemembers waive their rights under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act or other state or federal laws that provide critical consumer protections. The MLA also prohibits lenders from requiring servicemembers to waive their right to seek resolution of any legal claims in court.
No requiring allotments to repay: Under the military allotment system, military personnel can repay their loans by having payments directly deducted from their paycheck before their salary is deposited in their account. When servicemembers pay by allotment, they lose certain consumer protections as well as their flexibility to adjust their budget if a financial emergency comes up. The MLA bans lenders from requiring military members to pay by the allotment system and gives servicemembers control over how their income is spent.
In January 2012, the CFPB published its first short-term, small-dollar lending procedures manual. The field guide describes the types of information that the agency’s examiners gather to: evaluate payday lenders’ policies and procedures; assess whether lenders are in compliance with federal consumer financial laws; and identify risks to consumers throughout the lending process. Risks to consumers resulting from MLA violations are significant and subject to CFPB enforcement.
The revised Short-Term, Small-Dollar Lending Procedures can be found at: http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201309_cfpb_payday_manual_revisions.pdf
Federal examiners have been given their marching orders on protecting servicemembers from shady payday lenders. Guidelines set up by the the Consumer Fina...
The government reports new home construction rose 0.9% in August, with ground being broken for
new homes at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 891,000 following the strong showing in July, when housing starts totaled 883,000. The rate of starts for new homes was up 7.0% to a rate of 628,000 while the rate for buildings with five units or more was 252,000.
Year-over-year, the pace of construction is up 19.0%.
Not all of the news was positive, though.
Permits for new construction fell 3.8% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 918,000. Still, that's 11.0% above the August 2012 estimate of 827,000. A breakdown of the permits shows single-family authorizations in August were up 3.0% to a rate of 627,000, while authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 268,000.
The complete report on residential construction for August can be found on the U.S. Census bureau website.
The Refinance Index jumped 18 % from the previous week, pushing the refinance share of mortgage activity to 61% of total applications from 57% the week before. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity, meanwhile fell to7% percent of total applications, while the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) share of refinance applications increased to 40%, and is the highest since MBA started tracking this measure in early 2012.
The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) decreased to 4.75% from 4.80%,with points decreasing to 0.39 from 0.46 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) decreased to 4.83% from 4.84%,with points decreasing to 0.33 from 0.41 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA decreased to 4.50% from 4.56%,with points increasing to 0.41 from 0.28 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs decreased to 3.81% from 3.83%, with points decreasing to 0.34 from 0.42 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs decreased to 3.54% from 3.59%,with points remaining unchanged at 0.43 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
All in all, some good news on the housing front. The government reports new home construction rose 0.9% in August, with ground being broken for new homes...
Consumers are able to see what's happening in their local mortgage market
Consumers now have easier access to public mortgage information thanks to an online tool launched by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)
The tool enables greater transparency by helping inform people of trends in their local mortgage markets, using public mortgage information collected under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA).
“Just as the real estate motto ‘location, location, location’ was true before the recent financial crisis, it was true for the crisis. Every community was affected differently,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Our tool puts valuable information into the hands of the public in an accessible way, so they can understand what is happening in their local mortgage markets. A more transparent mortgage market will lead to a better marketplace and better outcomes for consumers.”
In 1975, Congress passed the HMDA requiring most mortgage lenders to make loan information available to the public. Last year, there were approximately 18.7 million HMDA records from 7,400 financial institutions. This information includes the majority of the country’s mortgage applications and mortgages made -- known as loan “originations” -- by banks, savings associations, credit unions, and mortgage companies.
The public information is important because it helps show whether lenders are serving the housing needs of their communities; it gives public officials information that helps them make decisions and policies; and it sheds light on lending patterns that could be discriminatory.
The new CFPB tool focuses on the number of mortgage applications and originations, in addition to loan purposes and loan types for 2010 through 2012. It looks specifically at first-lien, owner-occupied, one- to four- family and manufactured homes.
Using the tool, the public can see nationwide summaries or they can choose interactive features that allow them to isolate the information for metropolitan areas. Consumers can easily explore millions of data points with these user-friendly graphs and charts.
How it works
Trends and highlights from the information shown by the tool include:
Heat map shows that mortgage applications and originations were up: One way to measure the strength of a local mortgage market is to look at the number of mortgage applications and originations. The CFPB tool contains a nationwide heat map showing that applications and loan originations increased in most local mortgage markets in 2012. This tool allows users to drill down to see this information by metropolitan area. The data show:
-- Nationwide, loans for home purchases increased by 13% from 2011 to 2012.
-- In most counties across the country, mortgage applications were down from 2010 to 2011, but they rebounded in 2012.
-- Of the nearly 13 million applications in 2012 for home purchase loans, home improvement loans, and refinancing, more than 8 million resulted in loan originations.
-- The number of loan originations increased by about 2.4 million, or 39%, from 2011 to 2012.
Interactive graph shows that mortgage volume increased, driven by refinancing: A significant driver of the increased mortgage numbers in 2012 was a rise in the number of refinancings. An interactive graph in the CFPB tool, which breaks down the number of loans by purpose and by metropolitan area, shows:
-- The number of refinancing applications increased from 6.6 million in 2011 to 9.3 million in 2012.
-- The number of refinance loan originations increased from 3.8 million in 2011 to 5.9 million in 2012, representing a 54% increase.
-- Refinance origination activity continues to vary by location. For example, Cincinnati, Ohio experienced a 47% increase while Las Vegas, Nev. saw an increase of 205%.
Interactive graph on loan type shows the prevalence of FHA and VA lending: Since the housing crash, homebuyers have been heavily reliant on mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) or guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). An interactive graph in the CFPB tool, which breaks down the number of loans by type and by metropolitan area, shows:
-- In 2012, FHA- and VA-backed loans accounted for about 15% and 7%, respectively, of home purchase, refinance, and home improvement loans combined. In 2011, these figures were 18% and 6%, respectively.
-- Areas with large numbers of military families often have a higher share of VA lending, as seen in metropolitan areas such as Gulfport, Miss., where 21% of loans were VA, and Fairbanks, Alaska, where 29% of loans were VA.
Consumers now have easier access to public mortgage information thanks to an online tool launched by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)...
You turn the car in, everything's fine. Weeks later, new charges for imagined damages appear
Pretty much all rental-car companies require customers to pay with a credit card, in part so they’ll have the number on file in case they need to adjust your final bill. But many of our readers lately have complained that Avis has taken advantage of this by putting charges on their cards long after the customers thought the transaction was complete.
Two readers recently presented very similar stories: both claim to be non-smokers who rented cars, passed inspection upon returning them, yet later found additional amounts charged to their credit cards when Avis claimed to have found smoking paraphernalia -- a cigarette in one car, and a match in the other.
Customer “MG” in Altamonte Springs, FL rented a car out of the Tampa airport from July 28-31 and said, “Upon returning the car at the airport, a young woman inspected the car and provided me with my receipt [….] not until I arrived home did I look at the receipt. To my surprise, I was charged an additional $47.96 for the Loss Damage Waiver. My rental agreement clearly showed that I declined this option and had my initials right by this. I immediately called Avis and the following week, the charge was reinstated back on my credit card.”
Sounds like a typical “check your receipt before you accept it” cautionary tale, albeit with a happy ending since her money was refunded. So what’s the problem?
MG continued: “Today ... is nearly three weeks after I returned the rental car. My card has been charged $250 twice and, upon contacting Avis, they have sent pictures of the odometer and of a cigarette they say they found in the car. As a nonsmoker, I know this was not from me. Also, no other person was in the car at any time it was in my possession. The odometer reading they took a picture of was 2 miles past the reading I returned the car at. I have written customer service. Any advice on what else I can do? I left the car in pristine condition but did not take photos of the car. I merely have my receipt and rental agreement.”
One lone match
New Jersey resident Hinda D. had a similar surprise after returning a rental car to Avis in Charlotte, NC. When she returned the car, she said, “an agent person greeted me, took the car keys, checked the car for any missing items, checked the odometer for mileage and ensured the car was clean, they even checked the trunk. They informed me everything was good [….] two weeks later, I received a letter from Avis informing me that they will charge my credit card for cleaning the car. I have been since asking for pictures and explanation of the charge. And all I get is, they found a match in the car. I don’t smoke, I didn’t have anyone in the car and when I returned the car there were no matches [inside] and the agent that inspected the car did not say anything about the car requiring cleaning, or if anything was out of order.”
Hinda also observed that the burden of proof is on her, to prove her innocence regarding the rogue match, and protested, “I don’t know how.”
We posed the question in an email to Avis, but have so far received no response.
Even if Hinda or MG did take a collection of photographs before returning their cars (which is generally a good idea anyway), ordinary photos taken of a car’s clean interior wouldn’t necessarily disprove an agent’s later claim of finding something as small as a match somewhere under a seat or beneath a floor mat.
American Avis customers (or customers accused of smoking) aren’t the only ones protesting what they say are false damage complaints. Emily M. wrote us on Sept. 13 to share her story of renting a car in Stuttgart, Germany. “[T]here was a lot of damage on the body of the car and it was difficult to see exactly which scratch related to which mark on the file; however, we took the car anyway and assumed they had a more detailed record somewhere on file.”
In retrospect, two large collections of detailed photogaphs, one taken at the start of the rental and another taken at the end, might have saved Emily much time and trouble. Or maybe not.
Emily said, “Upon returning the car we were told by the engineer that all was well with the vehicle and we could go. However, a week later I found out by chance that Avis had taken 1,000 euros out of my bank account without informing me. After calling the company we found out that this money was taken due to alleged damage to the car. The only problem we had with the car during the trip was a punctured tyre. (Incidentally, we were told by Avis during a phone car on the 13th of August that if we changed the tyre ourselves we should keep the receipt and would be refunded – instead, they have also taken money from my bank account for a new tyre for the car). There was no additional damage done to the car during the month that we had it and so, as you can imagine, we are extremely put out about having 1000 euros taken from us without explanation or notification.”
Even returning cars unmistakably free of damage or dirt isn’t necessarily enough to prevent future charges. You needn’t even be accused of dirt or damage to get unexpected charges, apparently. Robert R. of Jenison, MI wrote us on Sept. 17 to complain about a computer error on Avis’ part:
“Upon return of my rental car, the final bill was tallied and I was surprised that it was about $35 less than I expected. I asked about it, and the counter rep said they'd rather give us a surprise on the downside instead of the upside and I was getting a better deal. Wow, how often does that happen? I took my printed receipt, they swiped my card, and I signed for the charges. I left really pleased, telling everyone about such a great experience.”
What changed Robert’s mind? “Three weeks later, I get a letter from Avis corporate saying due to a computer error on their part, my discount was improperly applied and they were going to rebill my credit card for additional charges. I was surprised they would do this. Even it their computer did make a mistake, you'd think they'd simply dismiss it, fix things on their end, and leave the customer happy. No, they didn't ask... they TOLD me they'd be charging my credit card. I would have gladly offered to pay them the difference, but their arrogant attitude upset me.
"I called to complain and told them that I have not authorized them to charge my card again, but was quickly told that on the rental agreement, paragraph 17 I believe, I gave them full rights to access my credit card in the future for any additional charges they felt I owed them," Robert added."They may legally be able to do this due to the all the fine print on the rental agreement, but I never suspected I was giving them unlimited access to my credit card in the future. You need to read the fine print, and don't ever think Avis will work with you even when they make the mistake.”
So if a customer has rented a car from Avis in the past, at what point can he or she conclusively say, “This transaction is finished, and I needn’t worry about any more bills from it?” If a receipt showing that a customer passed his post-rental inspection isn’t sufficient protection from future dirt or damage claims, what is?
These are among the questions we posed to Avis. This was the response we received: "Our policy is that with the exception of ordinary wear and tear, customers are responsible for any damage to the vehicle as per the terms and conditions of the rental agreement."
"Vehicles are inspected both at the time of return and again, after they have been cleaned, as often times, scratches, dings, windshield damage and undercarriage damage are not visible until the vehicle has been cleaned," said Avis spokeswoman Alice Pereira. "To avoid a cleaning fee, we encourage customers to refrain from smoking in or near the vehicle at all times and to refrain from transporting excessive dirt and soil into the vehicle."
Pereira pointed out that customers can always pay extra for a Loss Damage Waiver, which she noted " eliminates or reduces the financial liability for loss or damage to the rental vehicle (providing it is used in accordance with the terms and conditions of the rental agreement)."
The standard cleaning fee for cars Avis thinks are too dirty is $250, Pereira said.
What to do
So, as Avis sees it, there's not much you can do but buy the damage waiver and wear little plastic booties whenever you're in the car. If you still incur a cleaning charge that you think is unjust, here are a few things you might consider:
Go to court. If you are wrongly charged for more than a few dollars, consider filing a claim against Avis in Small Claims Court. The cost to file is minimal and you do not need a lawyer. Often, large companies don't bother to appear and the consumer wins by default. You can then place a lien on the nearest Avis facility to enforce your claim.
Complain loudly. Post reviews on ConsumerAffairs and other peer review sites and on Facebook and other social sites.
Call in the law. File complaints with the Federal Trade Commission, your state attorney general and your local government's consumer office.
Plan ahead. Whenever you sign a credit card receipt, write in this line just above your signature: "Paid in full. No further charges will be honored." This gives you a slight leg up when contesting additional charges with your credit card company.
It's possible none of these will work but they at least offer some options.
Customers allege Avis charging for damages after cars pass inspection...
By Jennifer Abel
Critics pile onto latest Facebook attempt to hijack users' images, content for use in ads
Sen. Markey asks FTC to open an investigation into whether the changes were properly done
Facebook is under increasing pressure to withdraw proposed changes that would allow the company to use the names, images, and content of Facebook users for advertising without consent.
Privacy groups and several influential political figures say the latest changes may be a violation of a 2011 settlement agreement between Facebook and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Last month, Facebook proposed changes to its privacy policies saying that consumers would automatically cede to Facebook the right to use their personal information, including names, faces, and other information, unless they expressly revoke permission.
Markey said the changes also raise questions about "the degree to which Facebook users will lose control over their personal information."
FTC opens investigation
The New York Times reported recently that the FTC has opened an investigation into the changes, after hearing from Markey, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and others.
In its letter to the FTC, EPIC said the issue has taken on new urgency because of Facebook's alleged attempts to squelch dissent.
"On November 21, 2012 Facebook revised its governing documents to prevent users from voting on proposed changes. In 2010 FB shut down all of the privacy groups on Facebook, including 'FB users against new TOS,' which had more than 150,000 members. And Facebook subsequently revised its governing documents to prevent the use of the company's name in any Facebook group, including groups that were formed to protest Facebook’s business practices," EPIC said.
"The right of a person to control the use of their image for commercial purposes is the cornerstone of modern privacy law. Consumer privacy groups have worked diligently to preserve this right and to protect the interests of Facebook users," EPIC concluded, calling on the FTC to enforce the 2011 settlement agreement.
Facebook is under increasing pressure to withdraw proposed changes that would allow the company to use the names, images, and content of Facebook users for...
Northwest Airlines boots rabbi, gets a date with the Supreme Court
Can an airline strip passengers of their elite status for complaining about the service?
Can an airline throw you out of its frequent flyer program if it thinks you complain too much? Northwest Airlines thinks it can, but the U.S. Supreme Court will have the last word.
The court has agreed to hear the case of Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg vs. Northwest in December. The Minneapolis-area rabbi challenged Northwest after it stripped him of his elite Platinum status in 2008.
Rabbi Ginsberg is a consultant, author and speaker who flies hundreds of times per year. He came to rely on his Platinum status for upgraded seats and the other goodies the airlines bestow on their best customers.
But one day in 2008, he got a call from Northwest advising him that he was being booted out of the frequent-flier program. Why? Ginsberg says Northwest told him he complained too much.
Ginsberg admits he complained about things like lost and delayed luggage but he doesn't think that's the real reason he was ejected.
"This happened at the time that Northwest and Delta were merging," he told the Minneapolis City Pages. "The suspicion was that they had too many frequent fliers at the higher status in their roll, and they were showing too much of a liability on a balance sheet for the accumulated miles by those passengers. So they had to creatively find ways of getting rid of people."
Others may have gone quietly but not Ginsberg. He filed suit in federal court and, after a series of dismissals and appeals, the case is headed for the Supreme Court, where Ginsberg will be represented by Public Citizen.
The question before the court is whether the Airline Deregulation Act pre-empts Ginsberg’s contract claim based on the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The answer is no, according to Supreme Court precedent, Public Citizen says in its brief.
“The Airline Deregulation Act does not give airlines free rein to breach the obligation to perform their contracts in good faith.” said Adina Rosenbaum, the Public Citizen attorney who will argue the case before the Supreme Court in December. “Moreover, claims that are about membership in a frequent flyer program are not sufficiently related to air travel to be pre-empted.”
Rabbi GinsbergCan an airline throw you out of its frequent flyer program if it thinks you complain too much? Northwest Airlines thinks it can, but...
Suburbia hasn't been the same since the Boomers adopted the boxes on wheels
The Chrysler Group this week marked the 30th anniversary of its launch of the minivan, a vehicle that struck a chord with Baby Boomers in the midst of their child-rearing years.
The vehicle has become closely identified with “soccer moms” who have used it to haul children to all manner of activities. And while Chrysler certainly put its stamp on the vehicle type, beginning in 1983, the minivan actually goes back much farther.
Volkswagen introduced the minivan in 1950, only it called it the “Transporter” and “Minibus.” It not only inspired the later minivans, but also the cargo vans that appeared on U.S. highways in the 1960s.
What it provided was three rows of seating, meaning it could accommodate a large number of passengers. With the seats removed it could be used to haul cargo. Because it was cheap and versatile, the VW Minibus was a counter-culture favorite, perhaps as closely associated with hippies of the late 60s and early 70s as the later minivan is with suburban housewives.
Chrysler and Iacocca
In the 1980s Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca, who took over the carmaker when it was on the brink of bankruptcy, presided over the launch of the minivan – the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager. The vans featured a boxy design and three rows of seats, which could seat up to seven people.
The middle and rear rows were removable, turning the roomy passenger vehicle into a versatile cargo-hauler. A sliding side door and a rear cargo hatch provided easy access to the rear area, whether for people or cargo.
The Chrysler minivans proved both a popular and critical success. Sales surged and Car and Driver named it 1985's Car of the Year.
By then, however, other carmakers had been awakened to the minivan's potential. In fact, Toyota introduced its first minivan in the U.S. at the same time as Chrysler. It just didn't get the same buzz, or the same sales.
Toyota's minivan, the MasterAce, was replaced with the sleeker, more refined Previa in 1990.
In 1986 Ford, which reportedly rejected the minivan concept when Iacocca first pitched it there in the 1970s, introduced a minivan of its own, the Aerostar. It made both a passenger and a cargo version of the vehicle, with the passenger version evolving into the Windstar in the 1995 model year.
General Motors also entered the fray, offering the Chevy Astro/GMC Safari. Nissan and Mitsubishi imported minivans to the U.S. market in the mid to late 1980s to take advantage of America's growing infatuation with this vehicle type.
Honda's entry into the minivan wars, the Odyssey, had what automotive site Edmunds.com com calls “a rather humble debut” in 1995. For example, it didn't have sliding doors as other minivans had, but rather four conventional swing-out doors with roll-down windows. Since then, however, its Odyssey has become a leader in the vehicle type.
Competition from the SUV
By the 1990s the sport utility vehicle (SUV) was beginning to replace the minivan in popularity as a family car. They were seen as sexier and promoted for their ruggedness, though most drivers never left the asphalt with them.
Despite the fact that some models have disappeared from the highway over the years, the minivan has endured over the last three decades. Families still value them, as do fleet operators who have people and cargo-hauling needs.
Along the way there have been a number of improvements, from automatic cargo doors on both sides of the vehicle and middle and rear seats that fold into the floor, making it easier to switch from passengers to cargo.
The Chrysler Group this week marked the 30th anniversary of its launch of the minivan, a vehicle that struck a chord with Baby Boomers in the midst of thei...
Graduated driver licensing may present a false sense of security
Parents and their children give different answers on safety survey
All states have toughened requirements for young people to get behind the wheel. The most popular form of this is the graduated driver licensing (GDL) law, which is an experience-based method of training – and licensing – novice drivers.
Parents might sleep better at night knowing their teen is having to go through a series of steps before becoming a fully licensed driver and therefore, will be safer on the road. But there may be a major disconnect between that assumption and reality.
A new survey conducted for State Farm Insurance found that parents over-estimate two key provisions of GDL laws – nighttime driving and passenger restrictions. Most GDL laws, for example, severely restrict teen drivers from driving when it is dark. They also restrict the number of teen passengers who can be in the car.
In the survey, 69% of parents said they believed their teens almost always followed the nighttime restrictions. But only 48% of the teen drivers questioned said they almost always followed those restrictions.
GDL laws restrict the number of passengers who can ride with a novice driver, in the belief that a car full of noisy and rambunctious teens can prove to be a deadly distraction for someone just learning to drive. In the survey, 70% of parents said they believed their children almost always followed this rule but only 43% of GDL drivers said they complied.
“GDL laws are effective tools in reducing the crash risk of new drivers,” said Chris Mullen, Director of Technology Research at State Farm. “Passenger and nighttime restrictions are essential to any successful GDL law. It is concerning to see a majority of teens admit not adhering to these laws; but perhaps more concerning to learn some parents may be unaware of their teen’s behaviors. We know through past research, parental involvement is key to keeping teens safe on our roadways.”
States have different rules
States began enacting GDL laws in the mid 1990s and all have them at this point. However, provisions vary state to state.
For example, 37 states and the District of Columbia ban all cell phone use by novice GDL drivers, according to the Governors' Highway Safety Association. Forty-eight states and DC ban nighttime driving during the intermediate period. Forty-seven states and DC restrict the number of passengers during the intermediate phase.
New Jersey is the only state that requires a driver under age 21 and going through the GDL period to display a decal on their vehicle, identifying them as a GDL driver.
At the federal level, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been a major proponent of the GDL system. The agency notes that 16 to 17-year-olds are significantly over represented in fatal crashes.
Immaturity and inexperience
“Our research tells us that immaturity and inexperience are primary factors contributing to these deadly crashes by young drivers,” NHTSA says. “Three-stage GDL laws address these factors by reducing high-risk exposure for novice drivers.”
NHTSA says an analysis of traffic accident data shows that adopting GDL laws will lead to a substantial decrease in the number of crashes involving novice drivers – in some cases as much as 50%. But the State Farm survey suggests that observance of these tougher rules is far from universal.
That suggests parents need to closely monitor their children's vehicle use during the GDL period. Parents believe they are doing so. The survey found 87% saying they almost always monitor compliance.
Their children, however, tell a different story. The survey found only 56% believe their parents were monitoring their activities behind the wheel. Despite the disconnect, GDL laws appear to be working. The accident trend over the last two decades has been moving in the right direction.
“More still needs to be done to save lives,” said Kendell Poole, Chairman, Governors Highway Safety Association. “Parents play a key role in enforcing and monitoring GDL laws and helping teens become safe drivers. Parents should not rely solely on GDL to instill good driving habits. They have to step up as well.”
All states have toughened requirements for young people to get behind the wheel. The most popular form of this is the graduated driver licensing (GDL)law, ...
The idea of not being followed around the Internet is something that consumers say they want. And advertisers, privacy advocates and regulators say they would like to provide it.
But that's about as far as it goes. In the latest blow to online privacy, the advertising industry's privacy group -- the Digital Advertising Alliance -- has withdrawn from the worldwide Do Not Track initiative, according to industry reports.
The initiative is the brainchild of World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) Tracking Protection Working Group, a coalition of privacy advocates, ad industry reps, technology companies and lawyers who have been trying to agree on a standard browser-based do-not-track mechanism.
"If you measure it by progress, it's dead," said Lou Mastria, managing director of the Digital Advertising Alliance. "It has achieved nothing for privacy in two years," Advertising Age reported.
"Tracking" still undefined
The group has apparently not only been unable to agree on a technical solution to blocking tracking but has also been unable to agree on whether it should be considering policy as well as technical issues.
Tellingly, the group has not even been able to agree on a definition of tracking, let alone what to do about it.
The acrimony that has reportedly marked the group's meetings spilled into the open earlier this week at a panel discussion preceding the Privacy Identity Innovation conference, taking place this week in Seattle as panel members sniped at each.
In a written statement, privacy activist Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said: "If the DAA power brokers -- Google, Yahoo, and the ad giants, had really wanted to deliver new privacy protection clout to consumers, our work would have successfully finished a year ago."
The idea of not being followed around the Internet is something that consumers say they want. And advertisers, privacy advocates and regulators say they wo...
A long-running dispute between Mercedes-Benz owners and the manufacturer will soon be in the hands of a special master who will try to keep the case rolling forward.
Vincent Luppino and other plaintiffs claim that Mercedes misrepresented the quality and durability of 17- to 19-inch AMG and non-AMG wheels on cars sold from 2006 to the present.
Mercedes allegedly claimed the rims were made of a lightweight alloy designed to meet "exceedingly high requirements for strength and durability." But the plaintiffs say the rims are defective and tend to bend, dent, warp and fracture, even when drivers are careful to avoid potholes and bumps.
The plaintiffs say Mercedes-Benz failed to honor its four-year, 50,000-mile warranty, forcing consumers to incur a total of $5 million in out-of-pocket costs.
The case has not gone smoothly so far, with numerous and frequent complaints from plaintiffs' attorneys who say Mercedes has been slow to produce documents and other evidence.
U.S. District Judge Dennis Cavanaugh held that the appointment of a special master, which Mercedes-Benz had opposed, was appropriate owing to the many disputes and delays, noting that after four years, discovery "remains outstanding and/or continues to be hotly disputed," Courthouse News Servicereported.
The case is being heard in New Jersey, where Mercedes-Benz of North America is based.
A long-running dispute between Mercedes-Benz owners and the manufacturer will soon be in the hands of a special master who will try to keep the case rollin...
Gonorrhea, other infections increasingly resistant to drugs, CDC warns
Over-use of antibiotics blamed for the worsening problem
The widespread use of antibiotics in humans and animals is contributing to a rising tide of bacteria that are resistant to modern medicines, taking at least 23,000 lives annually, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Antibiotic resistance is rising for many different pathogens that are threats to health,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “If we don’t act now, our medicine cabinet will be empty and we won’t have the antibiotics we need to save lives.”
Infections classified as urgent threats include carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), drug-resistant gonorrhea, and Clostridium difficile, a serious diarrheal infection usually associated with antibiotic use. C. difficile causes about 250,000 hospitalizations and at least 14,000 deaths every year in the United States.
The over-use of antibiotics is the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance. Up to 50 percent of all the antibiotics prescribed for people are not needed or are not prescribed appropriately.
Antibiotics are also commonly used in food-producing animals to prevent, control, and treat disease, and to promote growth. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently proposed guidance describing a pathway for using these drugs only when medically necessary and targeting their use to only address diseases and health problems.
“Every time antibiotics are used in any setting, bacteria evolve by developing resistance. This process can happen with alarming speed,” said Steve Solomon, M.D., director of CDC’s Office of Antimicrobial Resistance. “These drugs are a precious, limited resource—the more we use antibiotics today, the less likely we are to have effective antibiotics tomorrow.”
The loss of effective antibiotic treatments will also undermine treatment of infectious complications in patients with other diseases. Many medical advances—joint replacements, organ transplants, cancer therapy, rheumatoid arthritis therapy – are dependent on the ability to fight infections with antibiotics. If the ability to effectively treat those infections is lost, the ability to safely offer people many of the life-saving and life-improving modern medical advances will be lost with it.
The CDC report outlines four ways to fight antibiotic resistance:
Tracking resistance patterns;
Improving the use of today's antibiotics; and
Developing new antibiotics and diagnostic tools.
The widespread use of antibiotics in humans and animals is contributing to a rising tide of bacteria that are resistant to modern medicines, taking at leas...
Feds bust bogus medical discount scam that targeted seniors
Deception and illegal telemarketing are among the charges leveled
A medical discount scheme that scammed seniors across the country by offering phony discounts on prescription drugs and pretending to be affiliated with Medicare, Social Security or medical insurance providers is being shut down.
In a complaint filed against the operators of the scam in the United States and Canada, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleges that seniors in the U.S. were targeted by the deceptive calls. The callers persuaded their victims to turn over their bank account numbers and used that information to debit money from victims’ accounts.
“This scam, which targeted and deceived our nation’s seniors, is as cynical and wanton as they come,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We look forward to bringing this operation to a halt and working to get relief for the victims.”
According to the FTC’s complaint, the telemarketing calls pitched a prescription drug discount card that, victims were told, would provide substantially discounted or even free prescription drugs. Many victims were led to believe they had to purchase the card to continue receiving their Medicare, Social Security or medical insurance benefits.
In fact, the prescription drug discount cards the defendants provided to consumers are available for free by calling a toll-free number or visiting a website. The cards generally do not provide any discounts to consumers who already have insurance either through a government program or a private insurer.
The scam was run from both sides of the border, with the defendants contacting consumers from a telemarketing boiler room in Montreal. The U.S. defendants then used the bank account information consumers provided in the calls to take approximately $300 from consumers’ bank accounts using a “demand draft.” Not all consumers who paid for the purported discount card even received it -- some victims received nothing at all for their money.
The defendants are charged with violating Section 5 of the FTC Act by deceptively presenting themselves as government or insurance representatives, as well as by telling consumers that the discount plans they were selling could provide substantial discounts on prescription drugs.
In addition, the defendants are charged with violating the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule for their deceptive acts and for calling consumers whose numbers were on the National Do Not Call Registry.
A federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois issued a temporary restraining order halting the defendants’ deceptive scheme and freezing their assets.
The U.S.-based defendants in the case include:
AFD Advisors, LLC, of Wisconsin, which also does business as AFD Medical Advisors;
AMG Associates, LLC, of Delaware, which also does business as AMG Medical and AMG Medical Associates;
Aaron F. Dupont, individually and as an officer of AFD Advisors and AMG Associates;
CAL Consulting, LLC, of Georgia, which also does business as Clinacall;
Charles A. Lamborn, III, individually and as an officer of CAL Consulting; and
Park 295 Corp, of New York.
The Canadian-based defendants are:
9262-2182 Quebec Inc;
Stephanie Scebba, individually and as an officer of 9262-2182 Quebec Inc.; 9210-7838 Quebec Inc; and
Fawaz Sebal, also known as Frank Sebag, individually and as an officer of 9210-7838 Quebec Inc.
A medical discount scheme that scammed seniors across the country by offering phony discounts on prescription drugs and pretending to be affiliated with Me...
“While builder confidence is holding at the highest level in nearly eight years, many are reporting some hesitancy on the part of buyers due to the sharp increase in interest rates,” said NAHB Chairman Rick Judson, a home builder from Charlotte, N.C. “Home buyers are adjusting to the fact that, while mortgage rates are still quite favorable on a historic basis, the record lows are probably a thing of the past.”
Derived from a monthly survey that NAHB has been conducting for 25 years, the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations in the next six months as “good,” “fair” or “poor.”
The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average,” or “low to very low.” Scores from each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.
HMI component indexes were mixed in September. While the component gauging current sales conditions held unchanged at 62, the component gauging sales expectations in the next six months declined three points to 65 and the component gauging traffic of prospective buyers increased one point, to 47.
All four regions posted gains in their three-month moving average HMI scores in September, including a two-point gain to 41 in the Northeast, a four-point gain to 64 in the Midwest, a two-point gain to 56 in the South and a four-point gain to 61 in the West, respectively.
“Following a solid run up in builder confidence over the past year, we are seeing a pause in the momentum as consumers wait to see where interest rates settle and as the headwinds of tight credit, shrinking supplies of lots for development and increasing labor costs continue,” noted NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe.
Builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes was unchanged in September after improving for four straight months. The reading of ...
Not much sign of inflation in the newly released figures for August.
According to the government, the Consumer Price (CPI) inched up just0.1%, with increases for shelter and medical care the major contributors. Economists surveyed by Briefing.com were calling for an advance of 0.2%. For the last 12 months, inflation at the consumer level is running at a rate of 1.5%.
Food and energy
Food prices were up 0.1% led by fruits and vegetables, which shot up 1.2%. Meat, poultry, fish, and egg prices rose for the third month in a row with a gain of 0.6%, while costs for dairy and related products advanced 0.4% after declining in each of the three previous months. Cereal and bakery product prices jumped 0.3% in August after declining 0.3% in the month before.
Energy prices declined 0.3%, due mostly to a 2.3% plunge in the cost of natural gas. Gasoline prices fell 0.1% after rising in both June and July, and electricity costs were down 0.1% the second decline in a row. Fuel oil was the only major energy component to increase in August, rising 1.2% on top of a 1.1% rise increase in July.
The “core” rate of inflation -- all items less food and energy -- was up 0.1% in August and has risen 1.8% the last year.
The full CPI report can be found on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website.
Not much sign of inflation in the newly released figures for August. According to the government, the Consumer Price (CPI) inched up just0.1%, with increa...
Consumers were a little more tight-fisted in August, according to the Deloitte Consumer Spending Index.
The index, which is made up of four components -- tax burden, initial unemployment claims, real wages and real home prices -- fell to 4.0 from 4.5 in July.
"While the index fell in August, it continues to indicate that overall conditions are positive for consumer spending," said Daniel Bachman, Deloitte's senior U.S. economist. "Americans may remain in a better position to spend, particularly as home prices increase and unemployment rates drop -- both of which contribute to improved household finances and sentiment."
Highlights of the index, which tracks consumer cash flow as an indicator of future consumer spending, include:
Tax burden: The tax rate is up 6.4% from last year, and is now at 11.8%.
Initial unemployment claims: Claims moved down 7.8% from the same period last year to 342,000 in the most recent month.
Real wages: Hourly real wages are down slightly from the previous month, but up 0.2% from last year.
Real new home prices: Real new home prices climbed 7.9% from this time last year to reach approximately $110,000.
"Consumers are seeing positive signals from the economy which may buoy confidence heading into the holiday season this fall," said Alison Paul, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP and retail & distribution sector leader. "Retailers that merge consumer data from their e-commerce and in-store businesses to gain a more holistic view of their shoppers will be strategically positioned to capitalize on the upcoming holiday season. They will also be better prepared to more appropriately target consumers -- whether in-store or online -- with the right marketing promotions to drive traffic and conversion."
Consumers were a little more tight-fisted in August, according to the Deloitte Consumer Spending Index. The index, which is made up of four components -- ...
Siberoni recalls meat and poultry ravioli products
The products were produced without benefit of inspection
Siberoni of Portland, Ore., is recalling 169,655 pounds of raw and frozen meat and poultry “pelmeni” (Eastern European-style ravioli products) which were produced without the benefit of inspection.
There have been no reports of illnesses associated with consumption of these products.
The following products are subject to recall:
1 lb. packages, in 40 pound cases, of “Siberoni” brand Chicken Pelmeni
1 lb. packages, in 40 pound cases, of “Siberoni” brand Beef Pelmeni
1 lb. packages, in 40 pound cases, of “Siberoni” brand Beef and Pork Pelmeni
All these products bear the establishment number “33788” or “P-33788” inside a USDA mark of inspection or elsewhere on the package. The products were produced prior to September 6, 2013, and were sold directly from the firm’s storefront and via a distributor to retail outlets in Oregon and Washington State.
The problem was discovered when an investigator found, at a distributor, product that the firm had produced while under suspension. Further investigation found that more product had been produced prior to the suspension period, but also without benefit of inspection.
Consumers with questions regarding the recall should contact Siberoni at 503-335-5843.
Siberoni of Portland, Ore., is recalling 169,655 pounds of raw and frozen meat and poultry “pelmeni” (Eastern European-style ravioli products) which were p...