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New refrigerators have more features and doors

Manufacturers continue to tinker with the French door design

Making a refrigerator that just keeps food cold is no longer enough. Manufacturers have upped the ante in recent years, adding bells and whistles and sleek...

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Lawsuit: AOL rips off non-tech-savvy seniors

Subscribers still being charged for services they don't need or use, suit charges

Harvey Dunn, 76, might be a lot like your grandfather, or maybe your elderly aunt. He hasn't really kept up with the evolution of the Internet. Want proof?...

PhotoHarvey Dunn, 76, might be a lot like your grandfather, or maybe your elderly aunt. He hasn't really kept up with the evolution of the Internet. Want proof? Well, he still has an AOL email address, or did until recently.

He was also still paying AOL for outmoded, slow-as-dirt dial-up service, which he was no longer using since he had become a Time Warner client. When Dunn saw the monthly $17.95 charges on his credit card bill, he didn't realize that AOL was charging him for content and email services it gave away free to others. 

Dunn is now the named plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against AOL, accusing it of exploiting seniors. The suit charges that AOL never told millions of elderly "not tech-savvy" customers that it was no longer charging for content and email services, Courthouse News Service reports.

Dunn claims that AOL lists "AOL Service" on its bills, "recklessly perpetuating the illusion that paying subscribers are still receiving and using the same service they signed up for."

"AOL is well aware that the vast majority of its paying customers are not using its nearly obsolete 'dial-up' services, and misunderstand what they are paying for," the complaint states. "AOL's technology allows it to easily tell which of its paying customers are using AOL's dial-up ISP services. AOL knows that plaintiff, and millions of other consumers have absolutely no use for their paid accounts, or AOL dial-up service they do not need and are not using."

Back in the day, AOL was one of the top Internet service providers in the country, flooding Americans' mailboxes with CDs and floppy discs (remember those?) that would install AOL's software, enabling their machines to access the Internet via dial-up.

Hard to get rid of

America Online Oct. 31, 2013, 4:47 p.m.
Consumers rate America Online

Like a bad case of the flu, AOL has always been hard to get rid of and for years has been the subject of bitter complaints, lawsuits and regulatory actions charging that AOL makes it so difficult to cancel that many consumers simply give up and continue paying.

Not that this situation is strictly past tense. Similar complaints continue to this day. In May, "CC" of Smyrna, Ga., said she had canceled her AOL account back in 2008.

"AOL ignored my cancellation and has been taking $37 a month from my Navy Federal Union account," she said in a complaint to ConsumerAffairs. "Because I have not been reading my bank account statements, I did not notice this and especially because I would have never thought AOL would do this to anyone. Nevertheless, how could they charge inactive accounts for so long?! I talked to someone this morning only to find out they can only credit me for 3 months."

The same thing happened to Sheri of Barnum, Minn., whose complaint hit our inbox about the same time as CC's.

"I cancelled my services with AOL back in 2007 and was told I would no longer be charged for the said services. I had automatic withdrawal from my bank account. Since 2007 I have had to contact AOL several times to question why $39.99 is being taken out of my bank account for services I no longer have. I was assured the issue would be taken care of," Sheri said.

"As of today (6 years later), I am still being charged for AOL services and again spoke to yet another customer service rep, who assured me it would be taken care of. However, I will not be able to recoup any of the charges they already had payment for. I am out almost $3,000.00 and am still being charged for these services with no end in sight."

"Walled garden"

PhotoDuring its heydey, AOL was what is called a "walled garden," offering not only Internet access but also tons of its own content, ranging from news to how-to articles, entertainment and games. In 2006, AOL unbundled its content and email, offering them for free in hopes of competing more effective with Google and Yahoo. 

In recent years, AOL has been trying to reinvent itself as a producer of premium content. It has had some success with video. In ComScore's web video rankings for September, AOL topped Google as the property with the most video ads watched last month, with 3.7 billion views compared to the YouTube parent's 3.2 billion.

But it has been weighed down by Patch, a series of local news sites that have burned through $300 million without showing a profit or winning much acclaim.

Dunn's suit charges that it is well-known in the tech industry that AOL continues charging customers for services they no longer need or use, in effect propping up its less successful services by continuing to milk older subscribers.

He is represented by David Azar of Milberg LLP.

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FAA clears electronic devices for take-off

Most devices will be OK to use most of the time on most airplanes

The days of starting blankly into space during airline take-offs and landings are just about over. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator...

PhotoThe days of starting blankly into space during airline take-offs and landings are just about over. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Michael Huerta today announced that the FAA has determined that airlines can safely expand passenger use of portable electronic devices during all phases of flight, and is immediately providing the airlines with guidance on implementing the new rules. 

Because of differences among aircraft and operating policies, rules will vary among airlines but the FAA says it expects that most carriers will be able to allow passengers to safely use their devices in airplane mode, gate-to-gate, by the end of the year.

The FAA based its decision on input from a group of experts that included representatives from the airlines, aviation manufacturers, passengers, pilots, flight attendants, and the mobile technology industry.

“We believe today’s decision honors both our commitment to safety and consumer’s increasing desire to use their electronic devices during all phases of their flights,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “These guidelines reflect input from passengers, pilots, manufacturers, and flight attendants, and I look forward to seeing airlines implement these much anticipated guidelines in the near future.”     

Passengers will eventually be able to read e-books, play games, and watch videos on their devices during all phases of flight, with very limited exceptions. Electronic items, books and magazines, must be held or put in the seat back pocket during the actual takeoff and landing roll.

Cell phones should be in airplane mode or with cellular service disabled – i.e., no signal bars displayed—and cannot be used for voice communications based on FCC regulations that prohibit any airborne calls using cell phones.    If your air carrier provides Wi-Fi service during flight, you may use those services.  You can also continue to use short-range Bluetooth accessories, like wireless keyboards.

Industry reaction

U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow welcomed the announcement.

“We’re pleased the FAA recognizes that an enjoyable passenger experience is not incompatible with safety and security,” Dow said. “The Obama administration deserves credit for common-sense, ‘win-win’ policies like this, as well as the implementation of Automated Passport Control and the expansion of programs such as Visa Waiver and Pre-Check.

“The travel community is grateful, because what’s good for the traveler is good for travel-related businesses and our economy. It’s this kind of forward thinking that will enable us to remain among the leading industries in growth and job creation.”

Tolerate interference

The FAA's committee concluded that most commercial airplanes can tolerate radio interference signals from the devices. Once an airline verifies the tolerance of its fleet, it can allow passengers to use handheld, lightweight electronic devices – such as tablets, e-readers, and smartphones—at all altitudes.

In rare instances of low-visibility, the crew will instruct passengers to turn off their devices during landing. The group also recommended that heavier devices should be safely stowed under seats or in overhead bins during takeoff and landing.

The FAA said it did not consider changing the regulations regarding the use of cell phones for voice communications during flight because the issue is under the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). 

 

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Homeowners should beware of stink bugs this winter

After a summer of destroying crops, these pests may invade your home

Don't look now but the stink bug is back. This pest threatens to invade U.S. homes in record numbers as winter approaches, according to agriculture officia...

PhotoDon't look now but the stink bug is back. This pest threatens to invade U.S. homes in record numbers as winter approaches, according to agriculture officials.

Earlier this year the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) named the brown marmorated stink bug the agency's number one invasive pest. It's been sighted in 39 states and is wreaking havoc in homes and gardens, in addition to being a threat to orchards, vegetables and crops.

The brown marmorated stink bug, formally known as Halyomorpha halys, was likely introduced into the U.S. by accident as recently as 1998. It's widely found in China, Korea and Japan.

You can identify these creatures their distinctive “shield” shape. If you step on one you can identify it by its pungent odor. The adults are approximately two thirds of an inch long and about as wide.

They are various shades of brown on both the top and undersides, with gray, off-white, black, copper, and bluish markings. Markings unique to this species include alternating light bands on the antennae and alternating dark bands on the thin outer edge of the abdomen.

Home invaders

In addition to causing plant damage, these insects can cause discomfort when they invade your home, and as autumn turns to winter that's exactly what they try to do. They can slip into a home through window air-conditioners, small holes in the foundation and along cable television lines. You know you've got a problem if you spot one or two hanging on curtains, lampshades or clothing.

"Once inside walls, stink bugs may be difficult, if not impossible, to totally eliminate," said Stoy Hedges, senior technical professional with Terminix, a pest control company.

Stink bugs were especially problematic in 2010. Experts think they could be as bad, or worse, this year.

Keeping them outside is a homeowner's preferred strategy. Sealing cracks and holes in the home's exterior with silicone or caulk will help. Be sure to check for damaged window or door screens, torn weather-stripping and loose mortar. Equip vents with tight-fitting insect screens.

It's also important to properly ventilate basements, attics, garages and crawl spaces. Keep those areas dry and use a dehumidifier if necessary. It may also be helpful to reduce outdoor light at night.

Traditional pesticides often ineffective

Photo
Stink bug trap (Photo: Plow & Hearth)

While traditional pesticides can be effective against the bugs you can see, there are a number of home-made formulas and strategies you can find on the Internet. One we foundsuggests drowning the bugs in a concoction of soapy water. However, it could be tedious and time-consuming, since you have to find the bugs and knock them into the soapy soup one at a time. 

You'll also find a number of commercial stink bug traps. This one can be adapted for use both inside and out. 

The Agriculture Research Service (ARS) in Beltsville, Md., is actively trying to develop a potent weapon with which to wage war on this insect. There's also a multi-state effort with over 50 entomologists trying to track these bugs while looking for ways to control their spread.

While stink bugs are a relentless threat to corn, cotton and soybeans, agriculture experts concede they may be a bigger nuisance to homeowners -- at least over the winter months.

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Halloween nostalgia: food dyes that color both ends of the digestive process

Brightly colored cereals can lead to brightly colored ... um ... toilet bowls

Warning: don’t read this if you’re trying to eat, or otherwise have an unusually sensitive constitution. We say this because, although we&rsquo...

PhotoWarning: don’t read this if you’re trying to eat, or have an unusually sensitive constitution. We say this because, although we’re trying to keep this as tasteful as possible, we’re here to discuss a food-dye side effect on the commonplace, natural, and perfectly healthy biological process colloquially known as “pooping.”

To celebrate Halloween, Smithsonian Magazine’s food blog has a fascinating albeit semi-icky 1970s nostalgia article about FrankenBerry, which it calls a “beloved Halloween cereal” that “was once medically found to cause pink poop.”

Indeed, in 1972 a respected pediatric medical journal somberly discussed the problem of “Franken Berry Stool,” and discussed the case of an otherwise-healthy 12-year-old boy who went to the emergency room on suspicion of rectal bleeding, after he went to the bathroom and saw, as the doctor noted, “The stool had no abnormal odor but looked like strawberry ice cream.”

Amaranth

Come to find out the boy had eaten a couple bowls of Franken Berry over the past few days. Back then, the cereal contained a red food dye called amaranth, which is harmless to humans but cannot break down in the body; instead, it comes out when you go to the bathroom and colors its – um – surroundings bright pink.

But that was 40 years ago, and Franken Berry now uses more digestible dyes. But, as Smithsonian notes, there’s still plenty of foods on the market today that result in Technicolor bathroom visits, though people are less concerned when they know it isn’t caused by bleeding. Or, as the writer put it, “Apparently, green stool seems less life-threatening than the reddish hue caused by Franken Berry.”

Back in our college days we discovered, entirely by accident, that if you eat in one sitting too much of a certain children’s rainbow-colored dry breakfast cereal, the next-day results are … well, we can’t say “a bright shade of green that does not belong in nature,” but we will say it doesn’t belong in whatever bits of nature you flush down your toilet bowl.      

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ADP: Job creation weakens in October

Initial jobless claims dip by 10K

It'll be a little over a week before the government's October jobs report comes out, but ADP is giving us a preview of what we're likely to see. In its Na...

PhotoIt'll be a little over a week before the government's October jobs report comes out, but ADP is giving us a preview of what we're likely to see.

In its National Employment Report, the firm says private sector employment increased by 130,000 jobs from September to October.

The report, which is compiled in collaboration with Moody’s Analytics, is derived from ADP’s actual payroll data It measures the change in total nonfarm private employment each month on a seasonally-adjusted basis.

ADP put September’s job gain at 166,000, but revised that down to 145,000.

Well below average

The addition of just 130,000 in October is “well below the average of the last twelve months,” said Carlos Rodriguez, president and chief executive officer of ADP. "Small business growth was down from the previous month, while payrolls among large enterprises showed an increase."

The way Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, sees it, a “Any further weakening would signal rising unemployment. The weaker job growth is evident across most industries and company sizes.”

Who's hiring

Service-providing industries added the bulk of the new jobs in October -- 107,000 jobs in October, down from 130,000 in September. Within that category, trade/transportation/utilities added the most jobs with 40,000. Professional/business services employment rose by 20,000, while financial activities shed 5,000 jobs.

Goods-producing employment rose by a mere 24,000 jobs in October, up from 16,000 in September. Construction payrolls added 14,000 jobs, while manufacturing payrolls increased by 5,000.

Businesses with 49 or fewer employees added 37,000 jobs in October, while employment levels among medium-sized companies with 50-499 employees rose by 13,000 and employment at large companies -- those with 500 or more employees -- increased by 81,000.

Initial claims

In what's being called the first clean reading for the labor market since August, the government reports initial claims for unemployment benefits fell by 10,000 in the week ending October 26 to a total of 340,000. That's slightly above the Briefing.com expectation of 335,000.

Glitches from computer systems in California along with layoffs resulting from the government shutdown have biased the claims data. Those problems have now cleared. The bad news is without those biases, the data show the job-cut level has modestly increased over the past couple of months. Analysts say an initial claims reading of 340,000 is enough to keep the unemployment rate steady, but not enough to drive steady payroll gains above 200,000.

The 4-week moving average, which is less volatile than the weekly number, rose by 8,000 to 356,250.

The full initial claims report can be found on the Labor Department website.

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General Motors recalls Chevrolet Camaro coupes

The required air bag warning label on the sun visor may peel off

General Motors is recalling 18,941 model year 2013 and 2014 Chevrolet Camaro coupes manufactured June 9, 2013, through September 6, 2013. In the affected...

PhotoGeneral Motors is recalling 18,941 model year 2013 and 2014 Chevrolet Camaro coupes manufactured June 9, 2013, through September 6, 2013.

In the affected vehicles, the required air bag warning label on the sun visor may peel off. If the air bag warning label detaches from the visor, the driver and front seat passenger may not be warned of the risks of air bag deployment, increasing the risk of injury in the event of a crash.

GM will notify owners, and instruct them how to inspect the visor sticker. As necessary, dealers will replace the sun visor, free of charge. The recall began on October 28, 2013.

Owners may contact GM at 1-800-521-7300. GM's recall campaign number is 13284.

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Gree expands dehumidifier recall

The dehumidifiers can overheat, smoke and catch fire

Gree Electric Appliances is recalling about About 2.2 million dehumidifiers in the U.S. and Canada, adding four models of SoleusAir dehumidifiers, and exp...

PhotoGree Electric Appliances is recalling about About 2.2 million dehumidifiers in the U.S. and Canada, adding four models of SoleusAir dehumidifiers, and expanding several date code ranges to the recall issued in September 2013.

The dehumidifiers can overheat, smoke and catch fire, posing fire and burn hazards to consumers. There have been 325 incidents, including 71 fires and $2.725 million in property damage.

This recall involves 20, 25, 30, 40, 45, 50, 65 and 70-pint dehumidifiers with brand names Danby, De'Longhi, Fedders, Fellini, Frigidaire, Gree, Kenmore, Norpole, Premiere, Seabreeze, SoleusAir and SuperClima. Recalled model numbers and date codes are listed below:

Danby or Premiere

  

Model number

 Capacity 

Date code range   

DDR3011 

30-pint 

All units

DDR30P 

30-pint 

All units

DDR4511 

45-pint 

All units

DDR45P 

45-pint 

All units

DDR6511 

65-pint 

All units

DDR65CHP 

65-pint 

All units

   

De'Longhi or SuperClima

  

Model number 

Capacity 

Date code range

DDSE30 

30-pint 

All units

DDSE40 

40-pint 

All units

DG50 

50-pint 

All units

   

Fedders

  

Model number 

Capacity 

Date code range

FEDH-MAH030-C15 

30-pint 

All units

FEDH-MAH070-C15 

70-pint 

All units

   

Fellini

  

Model number 

Capacity 

Date code range

13-06030 

50-pint 

All units

13-06031 

70-pint 

All units

   

Frigidaire

  

Model number 

Pint capacity 

Date code range

FDB30R1 

30-pint 

01/07 through 09/08

FDB50R1 

50-pint 

01/07 through 09/08

FDB70R1 

70-pint 

01/07 through 09/08

FDD25S1 

25-pint 

01/07 through 09/08

FDF50S1 

50-pint 

01/07 through 09/08

FDF70S1 

70-pint 

01/07 through 09/08

FDL30R1 

30-pint 

01/07 through 09/08

FDL50R1 

50-pint 

01/07 through 09/08

FDL50S1 

50-pint 

01/07 through 09/08

FDL70R1 

70-pint 

01/07 through 09/08

FDL70S1 

70-pint 

01/07 through 09/08

FDM30R1 

30-pint 

01/07 through 09/08

FDR30S1 

30-pint 

01/07 through 09/08

   

Gree

  

Model number 

Capacity 

Date code range   

13-06090 

30-pint 

All units

13-06091 

45-pint 

All units

13-06092 

50-pint 

All units

13-06093 

70-pint 

All units

GDN20AH-K4EAB1A 

20-pint 

All units

GDN20AH-K5EBB3A 

20-pint 

All units

GDN30AE-A3EBA8A 

30-pint 

All units

GDN30AH-A4EBB1A 

30-pint 

All units

GDN40AH-A4EBB1A 

40-pint 

All units

GDN45AH-A3EBB2A 

45-pint 

All units

GDN50AF-A3EBA8A 

50-pint 

All units 

GDN50AF-A3EBA8B 

50-pint 

All units

GDN70AF-A3EBA8A 

70-pint 

All units

GDN70AF-A3EBB3A 

70-pint 

All units

GDN70AI-A3EBB2A 

70-pint 

All units

GDNE30AEBA1A8A 

30-pint 

All units

GDNE40AEBA1A8A 

40-Pint 

All units

GDNE50AFBA1A8A 

50-pint 

All units

GDNE65AFBA1A8A 

65-pint 

All units

   

Kenmore

  

Model number 

Capacity 

Date code range        

407.52301210

30-pint 

2012-04 through 2012-09       

407.52501210

50-pint 

2012-04 through 2012-09

407.52701210

70-pint 

2012-04 through 2012-09       

407.52702210

70-pint 

2012-04 through 2012-08       

   

Norpole

  

Model number 

Capacity 

Date code range

NPDH30PG 

30-pint 

All units

   

Seabreeze

  

Model number 

Capacity 

Date code range

DH450S 

50-pint 

All units

DH470S 

70-pint 

All units

   

SoleusAir

  

Model Number 

Capacity 

Date code range

CFM-25E 

25-pint 

All units

CFM-40E 

40-pint 

All units

DP1-30-03 

30-pint 

All units

DP1-40-03 

40-pint 

All units

DP1-50-03 

50-pint 

All units

DP1-50-03A 

50-pint 

All units           

DP1-70-03 

70-pint 

All units

GL-DEH-30-1 

30-pint 

1211 through 0612      

GL-DEH-45-2 

45-pint 

1211 through 0612

GL-DEH-50-2L2 

50-pint 

1211 through 0612

GL-DEH-50-2Q2 

50-pint 

1211 through 0612

GL-DEH-70-2S2 

70-pint 

1211 through 0612

GL-DEH-70P-2S2 

70-pint 

0112 through 0612

GM-DEH-30M-1L2 

30-pint 

010512 through 061412

GM-DEH-30M-1R2 

30-pint 

010512 through 061412

GM-DEH-45-1 

45-pint 

122511 through 062112          

GM-DEH-70-1S2 

70-pint 

010512 through 062112

SG-DEH-25-4 

25-pint 

032711 through 081712

SG-DEH-30-2 

30-pint 

032711 through 050712

SG-DEH-30B-1 

30-pint 

011210 through 041310

SG-DEH-30M-1 

30-pint 

010210 through 071512

SG-DEH-30M-1A 

30-pint 

121510 through 111011

SG-DEH-30M-1L2 

30-pint 

010510 through 071512

SG-DEH-30M-1R2 

30-pint 

010510 through 071512

SG-DEH-45-1 

45-pint 

010210 through 071512

SG-DEH-45-1A 

45-pint 

121510 through 111011

SG-DEH-45-2 

45-pint 

032711 through 050712

SG-DEH-50-2 

50-pint 

010712 through 010712

SG-DEH-70-1 

70-pint 

010210 through 071512

SG-DEH-70-1A 

70-pint 

121510 through 111011

SG-DEH-70-2 

70-pint 

032711 through 050712

SG-DEH-70-2S2 

70-pint 

032711 through 050712

The brand name and the pint capacity are printed on the front of the dehumidifier. The model number and date code are printed on a sticker on the back, front or side of the unit. The dehumidifiers are white, beige, gray or black plastic and measure between 19 and 24 inches tall, 13 and 15 inches wide, and 9 and 11 inches deep.

The dehumidifiers, manufactured in China, were sold at AAFES, HH Gregg, Home Depot, Kmart, Lowe's, Menards, Mills Fleet Farm, Sam's Club, Sears and other stores nationwide and in Canada, and online at Amazon.com and Ebay.com, from January 2005, through August 2013, for between $110 and $400.

Consumers should immediately turn off and unplug the dehumidifiers and contact Gree to receive a full refund.

Consumers may contact Gree toll-free at (866) 853-2802 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, and on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. ET.  

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Nissan recalls Pathfinders with Almond interiors

The airbag may not deploy properly

Nissan North America is recalling 2,310 model year 2014 Pathfinders manufactured from July 25, 2013, to September 5, 2013, with Almond interiors only. Th...

PhotoNissan North America is recalling 2,310 model year 2014 Pathfinders manufactured from July 25, 2013, to September 5, 2013, with Almond interiors only.

The instrument panel tear seam on the passenger frontal air bag was incorrectly cut on the back side of the instrument panel which could cause the air bag to not deploy properly. In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the passenger's frontal air bag, the improper air bag deployment may increase the risk of personal injury.

Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will replace the affected instrument panel assemblies, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in early November 2013.

Owners may contact Nissan Customer Service at 1-800-647-7261.

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BMW recalls xDrive and sDrive vehicles

The vacuum pump that supplies brake power assistance may fail

BMW of North America is recalling 76,191 model year 2012-2014 320i, 328i, 320i xDrive, and 328i xDrive sedans; model year 2014 328i xDrive Sports Wagons; m...

PhotoBMW of North America is recalling 76,191 model year 2012-2014 320i, 328i, 320i xDrive, and 328i xDrive sedans; model year 2014 328i xDrive Sports Wagons; model year 2012-2013 528i and 528i xDrive sedans, model year 2013-2014 X1 sDrive28i and X1 xDrive28i vehicles and model year 2012-2014 Z4 sDrive28i roadsters.

Due to insufficient lubrication, the vacuum pump that supplies brake power assistance may fail. A failure of the brake vacuum pump results in a reduction in braking power that could increase the risk of a crash.

BMW will notify owners, and dealers will modify the vehicles to prevent insufficient vacuum pump lubrication, free of charge. The safety recall is expected to begin in November 2013.

Owners may contact BMW customer relations at 1-800-525-7417 or email BMW at CustomerRelations@bmwusa.com.

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New York attorney general investigates Macy's, Barneys New York

Stores suspected of harassing customers for "shopping while black"

There’s a game of legal hot potato going on right now between the New York Police Department and luxury retailers Macy’s and Barneys New York,...

PhotoThere’s a game of legal hot potato going on right now between the New York Police Department and luxury retailers Macy’s and Barneys New York, each side blaming the other for recent cases of “shop and frisk,” wherein black shoppers who legally purchased various expensive goods were nonetheless arrested or detained on suspicion of stealing them or using a stolen credit card.

Earlier this week we told you the story of Trayon Christian, a 19-year-old college student arrested on suspicion of stealing the debit card he used to buy an expensive designer belt from Barneys.

Christian claims an unnamed detective from the NYPD said Barneys called to report Christian as a suspected thief; Barneys counter-claimed that the NYPD chose to arrest Christian on its own initiative, with no input from any Barneys staffers. 

Barneys made similar protests of innocence the next day regarding the case of 21-year-old Kayla Phillips, harassed by plainclothes police after buying an expensive luxury handbag from Barneys.

Unfortunately, such stories have become common enough that New York’s attorney general’s office announced on Tuesday that it was launching an investigation into Barneys’ and Macy’s security practices.

An extreme experience

After news of Christian’s false arrest broke, Macy’s collected some unwanted publicity from actor Rob Brown, star of the Treme series on HBO. 

Brown (who said reading about Christian inspired him to come forth with his own story) tried to buy his mother a $1,350 watch at Macy’s last June, and claims he was detained for an hour after a store clerk accused him of buying the watch with a fake card.

Once again, the store and the NYPD blamed each other: a Macy’s spokeswoman said Brown’s detainment was “an operation of the New York City Police Department,” whereas an NYPD spokesman countered that officers only acted after getting a tip from Macy’s staffers. 

Regardless of who is to blame for the harassment of Rob Brown, it’s an indisputable fact that in 2005, Macy’s paid $600,000 to settle similar claims of racial harassment -- specifically, that black and Latino shoppers in its New York stores were racially profiled and suspected of theft.

Nor is there any dispute that Trayon Christian spent time in a police holding cell after being accused of stealing his own rightfully obtained debit card. And it does seem more than coincidental, the way so many innocent New Yorkers detained for not-shoplifting an expensive item also turn out to be not-white.

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An ETF might be a good alternative to mutual fund investing

The two vehicles are similar, with important differences

Most investors – especially those who only purchase stocks for their retirement accounts – usually shy away from buying individual stocks in fa...

PhotoMost investors – especially those who only purchase stocks for their retirement accounts – usually shy away from buying individual stocks in favor of mutual funds. These funds are a basket of individual stocks or other assets that cumulatively return a profit. At least, that's the goal.

Mutual funds are often considered safer and less volatile than buying individual shares, with professional fund managers doing the stock picking. But those stock pickers charge fees, which can cut into your portfolio's earnings. And if they pick wrong, your portfolio suffers.

In recent years Exchange Traded Funds, or ETFs, have emerged as alternatives to mutual funds that might give your portfolio a boost. They work in much the same way as mutual funds but are usually less costly. It's important to understand the differences between the two.

Similarities

While ETFs are similar to mutual funds, in that they are a collection of assets, they are similar to individual stocks in the way they trade. Holding assets such as stocks, bonds or commodities, an ETF's value fluctuates throughout the trading day, just like a stock.

For example, a few years ago when gold prices were rapidly rising, gold ETFs gave investors a way to quickly buy the precious metal without actually taking delivery of it. For example, SPDR Gold Shares, ticker symbol GLD, could be purchased at a share price, just like a stock. Each share was backed by gold bullion, owned by the fund. The ETF transaction price rose and fell with the price of gold, as well as investor demand for the ETF.

In addition to commodities like gold, there are ETFs for stocks and bonds. Stock ETFs are usually broken down in a way that the fund offers exposure to a particular class of asset. For example, if you want exposure only to blue chip companies like IBM or Microsoft you could buy a large cap ETF, which would be made up of stocks of those kinds of companies.

Safer

PhotoOther ETFs can give you exposure to small but growing companies or companies in emerging markets. In the latter case, an ETF might be the safest way to get emerging market exposure since it would be hard for an individual investor to educate themselves about these sometimes volatile markets.

Let's say you only want to invest in companies with solid fundamentals, such as strong cash positions and limited debt. There are ETFs that only include those kinds of companies.

Suppose you want to invest in companies that pay attractive dividends, but aren't sure which companies will continue dividends at their present level. Your answer might be an ETF made up of carefully-chosen dividend stocks.

Fees

While ETFs generally have lower fees than mutual funds, an investor should always be aware of the costs. When considering an ETF, check its expense ratios. That's the percentage of the assets taken out each year to cover fund expenses.

If your ETF has an expense ratio of 0.25%, you'll pay a fee of about $2.50 for every $1,000 invested. You'll also pay a commission when you buy or sell an ETF, just as you would with a stock. But you can buy and sell them using an online brokerage account, where trading fees are minimal.

There are other things to look out for. According to the experts at Morningstar, an investment research firm, you should avoid placing orders for an ETF near the open and close of trading. For example, at the start of trading ETF prices may adjust to the difference (premium or discount) between the previous day's closing price and their net asset value. This can result in ETF prices moving in the opposite direction of their underlying holdings. As the closing bell approaches, market makers often begin to take down positions and hedge their books.

Avoid volatile trading days

On days when the market is volatile, with extreme movement up or down, it's a good idea to avoid trading ETFs. Volatility can sometimes put some distance between a fund's underlying value and its price.

According to Morningstar, there are times when a mutual fund might be a better choice than an ETF because of brokerage fees. These costs are more important if you're frequently investing a small amount of money. In that case, an index mutual fund might be a better option if you can find a similar one.  

As with any investment, do your research and consult with a trusted and objective financial advisor.

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Google asks for short-cut to appeals court in wiretap case

It says a rapid appeal will help define Internet privacy issues for everyone

Normally, the defendant in a lawsuit drags its feet, using whatever delaying tactics it can come up with, thinking of appeals court only as a last resort....

PhotoNormally, the defendant in a lawsuit drags its feet, using whatever delaying tactics it can come up with, thinking of appeals court only as a last resort.

But sometimes the defendant is Google. Deep pockets. Overwhelming strategic motivation to win. Business model at stake.

Seen in that light, it's perhaps not surprising that Google has asked U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh to let Google go directly to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in an attempt to overturn -- or wriggle out from under, depending on your point of view -- Judge Koh's September decision to allow a wiretapping case against Google to go forward.

In that case, lead plaintiffs Brad Scott and Todd Harrington claim that Google scans Gmail messages for words and content, and intentionally intercepts messages between Gmail subscribers and non-subscribers.

Google has said that emails are only read by computers and that, therefore, there is no invasion of users' privacy. But Judge Koh rejected Google's claims that wiretapping laws do not apply to its Gmail business and that consumers who email Gmailers have no reasonable expectation of privacy. 

At Tuesday's hearing, Judge Koh asked how an expedited appeal would help move the case forward.

“We think clarification from the circuit will advance the termination of the litigation, if the circuit finds there are grounds to dismiss the case,” attorney Kathleen Sullivan, representing Google, said, according to Law360.com. An appeals court review would also clarify similar arguments now being lodged against Yahoo and other tech companies, she argued.

The judge and the attorney for the plaintiffs asked Sullivan if Google thinks there is any limit to what it can do. Sullivan replied that Google's privacy policy and terms of service outline what it can and cannot do and that users of Gmail agree to those policies by using the service.

Sullivan noted that under federal law, only one of the two parties in an email exchange must consent to the interception of email for it to be legal, Sullivan said.

“If you communicate with a Gmail user, you assume the risk," she said.

 

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Some see economic storm clouds on the horizon

For some, the economic storm clouds have never lifted

The economy these days can be a lot like the weather – subject to abrupt change. At least, the perceptions of it can be.Despite the fact that the s...

PhotoThe economy these days can be a lot like the weather – subject to abrupt change. At least, the perceptions of it can be.

Despite the fact that the stock market has regained its lofty position, making up for the summer's losses, some economists are warning that the economy – which has never fully recovered from the Great Recession – is giving us something to worry about.

Belief that the Federal Reserve was preparing to “taper” its aggressive campaign to hold down interest rates was behind the summer's stock market swoon. By September, however, the markets were convinced that wasn't going to happen anytime soon because the economy was still too weak.

Wall Street traders took that as good news. Economists, not so much.

'Dangerous combination'

"Interest rates have been held artificially low for years by the Fed, pushing the stock market artificially high,” said Casey Bond, managing editor at GoBankingRates.com. “That's a dangerous combination, especially considering the economy is still sluggishly recovering according to common indicators."

Another factoid gives Bond pause. According to the White House, only 45% of the wealth lost during the recession has thus far been recovered.

“If you really consider the numbers, the most terrifying thing about this Halloween might be the state of our economy – especially for those nearing retirement age," she said.

For soon-to-be retirees, low interest rates on their savings and a worsening job market spells double-trouble. Not only do savings not grow but plans to stay in their careers longer could be derailed if they become unemployed.

Sense of pessimism

The early October government shutdown, followed by some Congressional brinkmanship over raising the government debt limit, may have colored consumers attitudes about the economic future, heading into the critical holiday shopping season.

PhotoA new Harris Interactive poll notes a growing sense of economic pessimism among consumers in the aftermath of the government shutdown. In September, almost half of U.S. adults surveyed said, in the coming year, that they expect the economy to stay the same, while less than one-quarter – 22% -- expected it to improve and one-third expected it to get worse. This month, while 22% still believe the economy will improve in the upcoming year, now four in ten Americans believe the economy will get worse and 37% say it will stay the same.

Among the pessimists on the U.S. economy is Robert Shiller, who was recently awarded the Nobel Prize in economics. Interviewed this week on the Daily Ticker webcast, Shiller said the world economy – not just the U.S. economy – is softening, raising the chances for another recession. 

Recession overdue?

“It's been six years since the last recession started,” Shiller said. “They tend to come along with some regularity.”

And if another recession comes along, Shiller says, there is little confidence that Congress will be able to reach any kind of agreement on how to respond.

But Shiller isn't putting money on a recession occurring next year, since he says we haven't fully gotten out of the last one.

“I don't think we have any clear sense of timing,” Shiller said.

And it is true consumers haven't really gotten back on their feet since the last recession. A recent U.S. Census Bureau report shows median household income last year was actually a few dollars less than it was in 2011.  

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That's entertainment: Virgin America turns safety instructions into song and dance

Passengers to be tutored on safety rules by Hollywood production number

Air travelers know that flying is no picnic. Besides the fees for everything under the sun, there's the hassle of passing through security and getting on t...

PhotoAir travelers know that flying is no picnic. Besides the fees for everything under the sun, there's the hassle of passing through security and getting on the airplane.

But once on board, Virgin America is greeting passengers with a little entertainment. A lot, actually. The air safety instructions, delivered in mind-numbing monotone by most flight attendants who might recite them dozens of times each week, have been replaced on Virgin America by a domestic safety video set entirely to music and performed in dance.

Entitled “#VX Safety Dance,” the video is a music and dance extravaganza that may blow passengers back in their seats – in an upright and locked position, of course.

Going airborne in November

The video goes airborne in the U.S. in November. This isn't the first time the airline has gotten cute with video instructions. In 2007 it produced an animated video to remind passengers of government safety rules.

For the new incarnation Virgin America tapped film director Jon M. Chu and singers, dancers and choreographers from TV's "American Idol" and "So You Think You Can Dance." To get maximum impact, the airline is inviting the flying public to compete for a chance to be cast in a future version of #VX Safety Dance by submitting their own video versions.

"We knew how much our guests loved the fun and irreverence of our current video, but after six years we wanted to give them something unexpected – a fresh take on what a safety video could be and even a chance to be a part of it, literally" said Jesse McMillin, Creative Director at Virgin America. "We thought, what better way to shake things up than to re-imagine the safety video through the language of music and dance?”

To celebrate its new video – and how many airlines celebrate a new version of their safety instructions? – Virgin America is launching a one-day sale on fares for travel between Nov. 4 and Dec. 17.

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Sure jumps on the genderizing bandwagon

Raise your hand if you're Sure — and a woman

Sure antiperspirant is trying to increase sales by alienating males in its customer base—or, as AdWeek put it, “Sure deodorant is now going aft...

PhotoSure antiperspirant is trying to increase sales by alienating males in its customer base — or, as AdWeek put it, “Sure deodorant is now going after the female demographic” and abandoning its former status as a unisex deodorant. 

Beardwood and Company handled the product redesign and put out a graphic showing and explaining some of the newly feminized features. For example: the old Sure had a plain white plastic cap whereas the new Sure’s cap is see-through lilac-colored plastic because, according to a genuine quote lifted straight from the ad literature: “The transparent plastic glows when light hits it, and it becomes a lighthouse on the shelf.”

At least until you actually use it, and white deodorant residue inevitably smears itself visibly along the inside of the transparent cap. Which isn’t really a problem unless you intend your deodorant do double-duty as actual décor, which Beardwood and Company presumably hopes you will, ladies.

In the past, we’ve noticed how companies which offer “feminine” versions of otherwise gender-neutral products tend to charge considerably more for the ladystuff. Perhaps the most notorious recent example is Bic Cristal ballpoints, which cost less than $2 a dozen for gender-neutral “Bic Cristal” pens, compared to over $9 for 16 pastel-colored “Bic Cristal For Her.”

Thus far there’s no mention of whether the new lady-specific Sure will cost more than the old Sure for everybody, but if it does, we advise any woman who wants a lighthouse on her bathroom shelf to stick with a less-expensive brand of deodorant, and use the money you save to buy an actual decorative lighthouse figurine.

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HCG promoter sued for claiming his homeopathic potion can make the pounds melt away

The hormone, derived from the placenta, has been a favorite of potion pushers for years

Chalk up another loss for homeopathic potions. This time it's HCG Platinum, a supplement containing HCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin, a hormone pr...

PhotoChalk up another loss for homeopathic potions. This time it's HCG Platinum, a supplement containing HCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin, a hormone produced by the human placenta that, for decades, has been falsely promoted by various marketers for weight loss.

The Federal Trade Commission has sued an Arizona man, Kevin Wright, who markets HCG Platinum diet products by falsely claiming the products will cause consumers to lose substantial amounts of weight.

In November 2011, Wright and six other HCG marketers received warning letters issued jointly by the FDA and FTC, advising them that their HCG products are mislabeled drugs under the FDA Act, and warning that it is unlawful to make weight-loss claims that are not supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence.

Marketing through retail outlets such as GNC, Rite Aid, and Walgreens, and through their own  websites, Wright and his companies promise consumers that HCG Platinum liquid drops will cause rapid and substantial weight loss, and they claim consumers will likely lose as much weight as the endorsers in their advertisements.

The defendants direct consumers to place the HCG concoctions under their tongues before meals and stick to a very low calorie diet of 500 to 800 calories per day. They typically charge between $60 and $149 for a thirty-day supply of one of their three HCG Platinum formulations.

The defendants market two of their three formulations as “homeopathic,” which means the listed ingredients are diluted to the point they are undetectable. On product packaging and in other advertising, they claim that the products cause consumers to lose a pound a day, are safe to use, and are clinically proven to burn fat, reduce weight, and lower cholesterol.

The defendants have sold more than $13 million of HCG Platinum since 2010. The FTC has asked the court to order the defendants to surrender the ill-gotten gains they received from their deceptive marketing of HCG Platinum products.

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Is that plastic really biodegradable? Not always

The FTC cracks down on six companies, fines one $450,000

The notion that plastic can be biodegradable may be one of those things that sounds too good to be true, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is taking a...

PhotoThe notion that plastic can be biodegradable may be one of those things that sounds too good to be true, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is taking a close look at manufacturers' claims.

The FTC today announced six enforcement actions, including one that imposes a $450,000 civil penalty and five that for the first time address biodegradable plastic claims, as part of the agency’s ongoing crackdown on false and misleading environmental claims.

The plastic cases include a complaint against a company that markets an additive it claims makes plastic products biodegradable and four complaints against companies that marketed various plastics with allegedly false and unsupported claims that their products were biodegradable. 

In the civil penalty case, the FTC filed a complaint and consent order against a company for violating a 1994 FTC order that prohibited it from making unsupported green claims for its paper plates and bags.

All of these cases are part of the FTC’s program to ensure compliance with the agency’s recently revised Green Guides.  The Commission publishes the Guides to help businesses market their products accurately, providing guidance as to what constitutes deceptive and non-deceptive environmental claims.

“It’s no secret that consumers want products that are environmentally friendly, and that companies are trying to meet that need,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.  “But companies that don’t have evidence to support the environmental claims they make about their products erode consumer confidence and undermine those companies that are playing by the rules.”

More information is available here

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Chevrolet Cruze vehicles recalled

The right front half shaft may fracture and separate

General Motors is recalling 3,161 model year 2013 and 2014 Chevrolet Cruze vehicles equipped with manual transmissions (MF3/MR5) and manufactured January 2...

PhotoGeneral Motors is recalling 3,161 model year 2013 and 2014 Chevrolet Cruze vehicles equipped with manual transmissions (MF3/MR5) and manufactured January 24, 2013, through August 1, 2013.

On the affected vehicles, the right front half shaft may fracture and separate. Should that happen while the vehicle is being driven, the vehicle would lose power and coast to a stop. Additionally, if a vehicle with a fractured half shaft is parked without the parking brake applied, it could move unexpectedly. Either condition increases the risk of a crash.

GM has notified owners. Dealers will replace the half shaft assembly, free of charge. The safety recall began on October 15, 2013.

Owners may contact GM at 1-800-521-7300. This is General Motors campaign number 13276.

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Garden Fresh adds to list of recalled ready-to-eat chicken and ham products

The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

Garden Fresh Foods of Milwaukee, Wis., is recalling approximately 103,080 additional pounds of ready-to-eat chicken and ham products due to possible contam...

PhotoGarden Fresh Foods of Milwaukee, Wis., is recalling approximately 103,080 additional pounds of ready-to-eat chicken and ham products due to possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenes.

The products are in addition to the 25,748 pounds of similar products that were recalled on Sept. 25 and Oct. 17, 2013.

The additional products being recalled are listed below:

Pack/SizeProductProduct CodeCode Date

5 lb.

Garden-Fresh Crunchy Poppy Seed Chicken Salad Kit50019/3/2013-10/09/2013

5 lb.

Garden-Fresh Chicken Salad51139/4/2013-9/26/2013

12 oz.

Garden-Fresh Chicken Salad61649/11/2013-10/09/2013

5 lb.

Garden-Fresh All White Meat Chicken Salad with Cranberries51149/3/2013-10/09/2013

5 lb.

Garden-Fresh Greek Brand Pasta with Chicken51169/3/2013-10/09/2013

5 lb.

Garden-Fresh Ham Salad with Sweet Relish51219/3/2013-10/09/2013

12 oz.

Garden-Fresh Ham Salad61639/06/2013-10/04/2013

5 lb.

Garden-Fresh Creamy Ceasar Pasta with Breast of Chicken513309/13/2013-10/09/2013

5 lb.

Garden-Fresh Premium Chicken Salad516709/06/2013-10/03-2013

5 lb.

Garden-Fresh Sandwich Spread519009/12/2013-10/03/2013

5 lb.

Garden-Fresh Reduced Fat Chicken Salad530509/24/2013-10/09/2013

10 lb.

Garden-Fresh Chipotle Chicken Wrap Filling53199/17/2013

5 lb.

Grandpa's Bacon Parmesan Dip59049/13/2013

6 oz.

Archer Farms Rotisserie Chicken Breast Salad00221609/06/2013-09/20/2013

16 oz.

Archer Farms Rotisserie Chicken Breast Salad40210809/05/2013-09/20/2013

11 oz.

Archer Farms Bacon Parmesan Dip6901709/09/2013-09/17/2013

12 oz.

Market Pantry All White Meat Chicken Salad2410309/12/2013-09/23/2013

6 oz.

D'Amico & Sons Farfalle with Chicken, Bacon & Sun Dried Tomato10021909/03/2013-09/25/2013

14 oz.

D'Amico & Sons Farfalle with Chicken, Bacon & Sun Dried Tomato10022609/03/2013-09/25/2013

6 oz.

D'Amico & Sons Ranch Pasta Salad with Chicken, Spinach & Bacon10023309/04/2013-09/18/2013

14 oz.

D'Amico & Sons Ranch Pasta Salad with Chicken, Spinach & Bacon10024009/11/2013-09/18/2013

14 oz.

D'Amico & Sons Chicken & Dried Cherry Pasta Salad10121609/12/2013-09/17/2013

6 oz.

D'Amico & Sons Chicken & Dried Cherry Pasta Salad10122309/12/2013-09/17/2013

14 oz.

D'Amico & Sons Chicken Salad with Rosemary10125409/12/2013-09/17/2013

6 oz.

D'Amico & Sons Chicken Salad with Rosemary10126109/05/2013-09/26/2013

The products being recalled bear the establishment number “EST. 17256” or “Est. P-17256” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were distributed to retail and food service establishments nationwide. Although product included in this recall may be expired, there is concern that some product may be frozen in consumer or retail freezers.

Consumers with questions regarding the recall may contact the company at (800) 645-3367.

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Nissan recalls Titan and Armada vehicles

The brake master cylinder may reduce the pressure supplied to the front brakes

Nissan North America is recalling 3,247 model year 2013 Titan and Armada vehicles manufactured February 22, 2013, through May 3, 2013. The affected vehic...

PhotoNissan North America is recalling 3,247 model year 2013 Titan and Armada vehicles manufactured February 22, 2013, through May 3, 2013.

The affected vehicles have a brake master cylinder which may intermittently reduce the pressure supplied to the front brakes. That could result in less braking power, requiring a longer distance to stop the vehicle, increasing the risk of a crash.

Nissan has notified owners, and dealers will replace the master cylinder, free of charge. The recall began on October 14, 2013.

Owners may contact Nissan at 1-800-647-7261.

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Social Security recipients to get tiny benefit increase in 2014

But, there will be no hike in Medicare premiums for most

For seniors receiving Social Security benefits your check will be a little bigger starting in January. But don't go on a spending spree as it won't be THA...

For seniors receiving Social Security benefits your check will be a little bigger starting in January. But don't go on a spending spree as it won't be THAT much bigger.

According to the Social Security Administration, monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for nearly 63 million recipients will increase 1.5% in 2014. That will add about $19 to the average monthly benefit check, taking it to $1,294.00.

The cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin for Social Security benefit recipients in January 2014. Increased payments to more than 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin on December 31, 2013.

The COLA is based on the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) from the third quarter of the last year a COLA was determined to the third quarter of the current year. If there is no increase, there can be no COLA.

No Medicare increase

PhotoMeanwhile, the government says there will be no increase for most people in Medicare's Part B premium next year. Most people paid the Part B premium of $104.90 each month this year and that will not change in 2014.

However, if your modified adjusted gross income as reported on your IRS tax return from 2 years ago is above a certain amount, you may pay more.

Giveth and taketh

But the news isn't all good.

Based on the COLA increase, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will increase to $117,000 from $113,700. Of the estimated 165 million workers who will pay Social Security taxes in 2014, about 10 million will pay higher taxes as a result of the increase in the taxable maximum.

CPI

PhotoPart and parcel of all of this is the inflation report for September.

The government says higher energy prices contributed to an 0.2% increase in the CPI last month.

The cost of energy rose 0.8%, with gasoline up 0.8%, fuel oil posting an 0.9% increase, natural gas surging 1.8% and electricity rising 0.5%. Even with the September increase, energy prices are down 3.1% over the past 12 months, with gasoline showing a drop of 7.5%.

Food prices were unchanged in September after rising in each of the three previous months, thanks largely to an 0.9% decline in the cost of fruits and vegetables, and 0.2% dip in nonalcoholic beverage prices -- the third straight monthly decline. In contrast, cereals and bakery products were up 0.2% and prices for meats, poultry, fish, and eggs, and for dairy and related products increased 0.1%. percent.

Core rate

The costs of all items excluding the volatile food and energy categories, rose 0.1% -- the same as in August. Contributors to the increase in this “core” rate of inflation included shelter and medical care, new vehicles, and airline fares. Prices for clothing and recreation declined.

The full September CPI report is available on the Labor Department website.

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A rebound in mortgage applications

Contract interest rates fell to their lowest levels since June

Mortgage applications bounced back during the week of October 25 after dipping during the previous week. Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA...

PhotoMortgage applications bounced back during the week of October 25 after dipping during the previous week.

Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey show the Market Composite Index, a measure of mortgage loan application volume, increased 6.4% on a seasonally adjusted basis.

The Refinance Index jumped 9%, pushing the refinance share of mortgage activity up 2 percent -- to 67% of total applications, the highest share since June 2013. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity decreased to 7% of total applications.

Interest rates

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) decreased to 4.33%, the lowest rate since June, from 4.39%, with points decreasing to 0.26 from 0.41 (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 4.36%, the lowest rate since June, from 4.43%, with points increasing to 0.27 from 0.26 (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 4.06%, the lowest rate since June, from 4.15%, with points decreasing to 0.17 from 0.27 (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 3.42%, the lowest rate since June, from 3.51%, with points remaining unchanged at 0.30 (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 3.17%, the lowest rate since June, from 3.25%, with points increasing to 0.38 from 0.26 (including the origination fee) for 80% loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.

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Secondary recall follows expansion of Reser's Fine Foods recall

The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

In response to a recall earlier this month by Reser's Fine Foods of select products due to the potential of Listeria monocytogenes contamination, Taylor Fa...

PhotoIn response to a recall earlier this month by Reser's Fine Foods of select products due to the potential of Listeria monocytogenes contamination, Taylor Farms Florida, Inc. ("TFFL"); Taylor Farms Illinois, Inc. ("TFIL"); Taylor Farms Maryland, Inc. ("TFMD"); Taylor Farms Texas, Inc. ("TFTX"); and Taylor Farms Tennessee, Inc. ("TFTN") are issuing a secondary recall on a limited number of deli products that contain components implicated in Reser's expanded recall.

To date, there have been no reported illnesses associated with these recalled items:

STORE
ITEM DESCRIPTION
BEST IF USED BY DATE
PRODUCTION FACILITY
STATES PRODUCT WAS DISTRIBUTED TO
Florida Food Service Inc.Broccoli Slaw Crunch Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)11/01/13, 11/03/13TFFLFlorida
SyscoBroccoli Slaw Crunch Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/23/13, 10/26/13, 10/27/13, 10/28/13, 11/01/13, 11/02/13, 11/03/13TFFLFlorida
Dominick'sSignature Caf� Italian Pasta Salad Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/23/13, 10/25/13, 10/27/13, 10/30/13, 11/1/13TFILIllinois
Ahold Financial ServicesBroccoli Crunch Salad Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/25/13, 10/26/13, 10/27/13, 10/28/13, 11/01/13, 11/02/013, 11/03/13TFMDMassachusetts
All Island Food Distributors CorpBroccoli Crunch Salad Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/25/13, 11/01/13TFMDNew York
All Island Food Distributors CorpDiced Summer Slaw Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/25/13, 11/01/13TFMDNew York
Associated Wholesalers Inc.Broccoli Crunch Salad Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/24/13, 10/26/13, 10/27/13, 10/31/13, 11/02/13, 11/03/13TFMDPennsylvania
Associated Wholesalers Inc.Diced Summer Slaw Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/24/13, 10/26/13, 10/27/13, 10/31/13, 11/02/13, 11/03/13TFMDPennsylvania
Big Y FoodsDiced Summer Slaw Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/25/13, 10/27/13, 10/28/13, 11/01/13, 11/03/13TFMDMassachusetts
C&S Wholesale Grocers Inc.Broccoli Crunch Salad Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/24/13, 10/25/13 10/26/13, 10/27/13, 10/28/13, 11/02/13, 11/03/13TFMDNew York, Massachusetts, Maryland
C&S Wholesale Grocers Inc.Broccoli Cheddar Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/25/13, 10/27/13, 11/03/13TFMDNew York, Massachusetts, Maryland
C&S Wholesale Grocers Inc.Cole Slaw Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/24/13, 10/26/13, 10/28/13, 10/31/13, 11/02/13TFMDNew York, Massachusetts, Maryland
C&S Wholesale Grocers Inc.Diced Summer Slaw Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/24/13, 10/25/13, 10/26/13, 10/27/13, 10/28/13, 10/31/13, 11/01/13, 11/02/13, 11/03/13TFMDNew York, Massachusetts, Maryland
Crescent Packing Corp.Broccoli Crunch Salad Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/28/2013TFMDNew York
DPI Mid Atlantic Inc.Broccoli Crunch Salad Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/25/13, 11/01/13TFMDMaryland
DPI Mid Atlantic Inc.Diced Summer Slaw Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/25/13, 10/26/13, 10/28/13, 11/01/13, 11/02/13TFMDMaryland
Market BasketBroccoli Crunch Salad Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/26/13, 10/28/13, 11/02/13TFMDMassachusetts
Market BasketDiced Summer Slaw Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/26/13, 10/28/13, 11/02/13TFMDMassachusetts
Mars Super Markets Inc.Broccoli Crunch Salad Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/25/13, 11/01/13TFMDMaryland
Mars Super Markets Inc.Diced Summer Slaw Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/25/01, 11/01/13TFMDMaryland
Price Chopper / Golub CorporationBroccoli Crunch Salad Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/24/13, 10/26/13, 10/31/13, 11/02/13TFMDNew York
Price Chopper / Golub CorporationDiced Summer Slaw Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/24/13, 10/26/13, 10/28/13, 10/31/13, 11/02/13TFMDNew York
Redner's MarketBroccoli Crunch Salad Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/26/13, 11/02/13TFMDPennsylvania
RLB Food DistributorsCole Slaw Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/25/13, 10/27/13, 10/28/13, 11/01/13, 11/03/13TFMDNew Jersey
RLB Food DistributorsDiced Summer Slaw Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/25/13, 11/01/13TFMDNew Jersey
RLB Food DistributorsKings Summer Slaw Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/27/13, 10/28/13, 11/03/13TFMDNew Jersey
Shaw'sBroccoli Crunch Salad Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/25/13, 10/27/13, 10/28/13, 11/01/13, 11/03/13TFMDMassachusetts
Shaw'sCole Slaw Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/25/13, 10/27/13, 10/28/13, 11/01/13, 11/03/13TFMDMassachusetts
Shaw'sDiced Summer Slaw Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/25/13, 10/27/13, 10/28/13, 11/01/13, 11/03/13TFMDMassachusetts
Supervalu Inc.Broccoli Crunch Salad Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/25/13, 10/27/13, 10/28/13, 11/01/13, 11/03/13TFMDVirginia, Pennsylvania
Supervalu Inc.Cole Slaw Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/27/13, 11/01/13, 11/03/13TFMDVirginia, Pennsylvania
Supervalu Inc.Diced Summer Slaw Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/25/13, 10/27/13, 10/28/13, 11/01/13, 11/03/13TFMDVirginia, Pennsylvania
C&S Upper MarlboroG&G Italian Pasta SGCAF (Sold at Deli Counter)10/25/13, 10/26/13, 10/27/13, 10/28/13, 11/01/13, 11/02/13, 11/03/13TFMDMaryland
Trucchi's SupermarketsBroccoli Cheddar Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/25/13, 11/01/13TFMDMassachusetts
Trucchi's SupermarketsBroccoli Crunch Salad Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/25/13, 11/01/13TFMDMassachusetts
Trucchi's SupermarketsDiced Summer Slaw Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/25/13, 11/01/13TFMDMassachusetts
Wakefern Food CorporationBroccoli Crunch Salad Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/25/13, 10/27/13, 10/28/13, 11/01/13, 11/03/13TFMDNew Jersey
Wakefern Food CorporationBroccoli Cheddar Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/25/13, 10/27/13, 10/28/13, 11/01/13, 11/03/13TFMDNew Jersey
Wakefern Food CorporationCole Slaw Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/25/13, 10/27/13, 10/28/13, 11/01/13, 11/03/13TFMDNew Jersey
Wakefern Food CorporationDiced Summer Slaw Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/25/13, 10/27/13, 10/28/13, 11/01/13, 11/03/13TFMDNew Jersey
Weis Markets Inc.Broccoli Cheddar Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/24/13, 10/26/13, 10/27/13, 10/28/13, 10/31/13, 11/02/13TFMDPennsylvania
Randalls / Tom ThumbCabbage Coleslaw Kit with Dressing (Sold at Deli Counter)10/24/13, 10/27/13, 10/29/13, 10/31/13, 11/03/13TFTXTexas
Randalls / Tom ThumbBroccoli Crunch Salad Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/25/13, 10/27/13, 10/29/13TFTXTexas
Randalls / Tom ThumbItalian Pasta Salad Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/25/13, 10/27/13, 1029/13, 11/01/13TFTXTexas
Priceless FoodsBroccoli Crunch Salad Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/24/13, 10/25/13, 10/28/13, 11/07/13TFTNTennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, Indiana
Cooke's Food StoreBroccoli Crunch Salad Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/24/13, 10/25/13, 10/28/13, 11/07/13TFTNTennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, Indiana
Food WorldBroccoli Crunch Salad Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/24/13, 10/25/13, 10/28/13, 11/07/13TFTNTennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, Indiana
BILOSpinach Antipasti Salad Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/29/2013TFTN 
Winn DixieBroccoli Crunch Salad Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/23/13, 10/24/13, 10/27/13, 10/29/13, 11/05/13, 11/06/13TFTNFlorida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi
Winn DixieSpinach Antipasti Salad Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/23/13, 10/24/13, 10/27/13, 10/29/13, 10/30/13, 10/31/13, 11/03/13, 11/05/13, 11/06/13TFTNFlorida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi
Houchen's MarketBroccoli Crunch Salad Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/24/13, 10/25/13, 11/07/13TFTNKentucky
MeijerBroccoli Crunch Salad Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/23/13 ,10/24/13, 10/25/13, 10/28/13, 10/30/13, 11/06/13, 11/07/13TFTNIllinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky
MeijerSpinach Antipasti Salad Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/23/13, 10/24/13, 10/27/13, 10/29/13, 10/30/13, 10/31/13, 11/03/13, 11/05/13, 11/06/13TFTNIllinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky
Performance Food GroupBroccoli Crunch Salad Kit (Foodservice Kit)10/27/13, 10/29/13, 11/05/13TFTNKentucky, Tennessee, Alabama
Performance Food GroupSpinach Antipasti Salad Kit (Foodservice Kit)10/27/13, 10/29/13, 11/05/12TFTNKentucky, Tennessee, Alabama
Performance Food GroupGiardiniera Vegetable Salad Kit (Foodservice Kit)10/27/2013TFTNKentucky, Tennessee, Alabama
Piggly Wiggly Carolina CoBroccoli Crunch Salad Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/23/13, 10/25/13, 10/28/13TFTNSouth Carolina, Georgia
SchnuckSpinach Antipasti Salad Kit (Sold at Deli Counter)10/23/13, 10/27/13, 10/30/13, 10/31/13, 11/03/13, 11/06/13TFTNMissouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Iowa
SyscoBroccoli Crunch Salad Kit (Foodservice Kit)10/28/13, 11/02/13TFTNGeorgia, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky, Virginia, Indiana, West Virginia
SyscoBroccoli Slaw Kit (Foodservice Kit)10/23/13, 10/26/13, 10/27/13, 10/28/13, 11/04/13, 11/05/13TFTNGeorgia, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky, Virginia, Indiana, West Virginia
US FoodserviceBroccoli Slaw Kit (Foodservice Kit)10/26/13, 11/05/13TFTNNorth Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana

The grocers involved have been instructed to remove any remaining product from their deli case and to dispose of any of the remaining product in their inventory. No other products or code dates are affected by this recall.

Customers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume the products and should dispose of the recalled products immediately.

Consumers may call for further information at 1-866-508-7048 between 9 am and 5 pm (PST),Monday through Friday.  

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Shutdown and debt worries send consumer confidence tumbling

Volatility is expected during the near term

The government shutdown earlier this month, along with jitters about the debt ceiling, took a toll on the way consumers viewed the economy. The Conference...

PhotoThe government shutdown earlier this month, along with jitters about the debt ceiling, took a toll on the way consumers viewed the economy.

The Conference Board says its Consumer Confidence Index fell sharply in October on the heels of September's moderate decline. The Index now stands at 71.2 -- down 9 points from where it stood last month. The Present Situation Index decreased to 70.7 from 73.5, while the Expectations Index fell to 71.5 from 84.7 last month.

“Consumer confidence deteriorated considerably as the federal government shutdown and debt-ceiling crisis took a particularly large toll on consumers’ expectations,” said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at The Conference Board. “Similar declines in confidence were experienced during the payroll tax hike earlier this year, the fiscal cliff discussions in late 2012, and the government shutdown in 1995/1996. However, given the temporary nature of the current resolution, confidence is likely to remain volatile for the next several months.”

How they see it

Consumers’ assessment of current conditions declined moderately. Those who think business conditions are “good” decreased to 19.0% from 20.7%, while those claiming business conditions are “bad” edged down to 23.0% from 23.9%.

Consumers’ appraisal of the job market was less favorable than last month. Those saying jobs are “plentiful” was virtually unchanged at 11.3%, while those saying jobs are “hard to get” jumped to 35.8% from 33.6%.

Consumers’ expectations, which had softened in September, plunged in October. Those expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months fell to 16.0% from 20.6%, while those expecting business conditions to worsen increased to 17.5% from 10.3%.

There was also more pessimism about the outlook for the labor market. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead decreased to 15.3% from 16.1%, while those anticipating fewer jobs increased to 22.7% from 19.1%. The proportion of consumers expecting their incomes to increase rose to 15.8% from 15.1%. However, those expecting a decrease rose to 15.4% from 13.9%.

The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen, a provider of information and analytics around what consumers buy and watch. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was October 17.

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When should you start holiday shopping?

There's no one answer but chances are, it isn't Black Friday

Some people – superior beings who are extremely organized – do their holiday shopping throughout the year. As the holidays approach, they are b...

PhotoSome people – superior beings who are extremely organized – do their holiday shopping throughout the year. As the holidays approach, they are blissfully free of the stress that plagues the rest of us.

There is something to be said for that but shopping in April not only lacks the holiday spirit, the deals might not be as attractive. So it raises the question, when exactly should you start your holiday shopping?

“It's a good idea to start saving now rather than start buying now,” said Cameron Huddleston, a contributing editor at Kiplinger's. “The deals aren't that good right now on most of the things people really want for Christmas. The deals get better the closer you get to the holidays.”

That's because retailers start to feel the pressure the closer the holiday's get. Black Friday gets its name from the fact that, for most retailers, they only become profitable for the year – “getting in the black” – during the holiday shopping season.

Some research suggests that shopping on Black Friday, itself, doesn't always yield the best results. The $199 laptop draws people in but the store may only have six of them at that price. Much of the rest of the store's merchandise is likely to be at the regular price. 

A week after Black Friday

Hitting the stores a week after Black Friday might yield better results. Stores will have had the chance to assess what sold and what didn't the week before and price merchandise accordingly. Some stores are even staging holiday sales events before Black Friday.

Remember, you don't always have to show up at the store to get a good deal. Increasingly stores are offering special prices online – and not just on Cyber Monday. These special deals might be offered at any time.

Rather than spending your shopping dollars all at once, take time to review advertising circulars and online specials, tracking prices on the items you want. After having their advertising plans leak online, many retailers are now taking the initiative, releasing their Black Friday ads well ahead of time.

Get a sneak peak at the ads

There's an entire category of websites now that offer sneak-peaks at advertising slicks. They include TheBlackFriday.com, BlackFriday.com, and GottaDeal.com , among others. These sites can alert you to what things will be selling for on Black Friday, allowing you to comparison shop now. It's not unheard of finding an item advertised as a Black Friday special on sale at the same price weeks before the big event. last weekend, Best Buy held a two day pre-holiday sale, marking down TVs, Macbooks, smartphones, tablets, and cameras.

While you can save money by doing your shopping after Black Friday, you don't want to wait too late. A RetailMeNot.com survey found that more than 90% of respondents reported overspending by waiting until the last minute to do their holiday shopping. This group said it plans to spend an average of $167 per person on gifts.

Avoiding deal envy

The survey authors say the high cost spent per person on gifts is worrisome when you consider that more than a quarter of shoppers surveyed this year indicated last year that they set a budget and went over it. According to the report, exceeding a holiday budget sparks symptoms of Deal Envy, including guilt for more than a quarter of gift givers and anxiety for one in five.

Though there are plenty of bargains late in the game, it may be that late shoppers don't take the time to seek them out. As the holidays get closer, the priority for consumers becomes crossing items off their shopping list and not getting the best price. So whether you shop on Black Friday or not, doing most of your shopping early rather than late will probably end up saving you money in the long run.

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Teens busted for "shopping while Black" at Barneys New York

Two New Yorkers say police harassed them after their purchases

The good news for New York college student Trayon Christian is this: he stands a good chance of finishing his education without the massive student-loan de...

PhotoThe good news for New York college student Trayon Christian is this: he stands a good chance of finishing his education without the massive student-loan debt burden that plagues so many of today’s young graduates.

The bad news is: it’s because of the lawsuit Christian has filed against luxury clothier Barneys New York, after Christian bought a designer belt there with his debit card last April, and Barneys allegedly called police on suspicion that Christian’s debit card surely must be stolen. (It wasn’t; Christian paid for the belt with money he’d saved from his part-time work-study job.)

The New York Daily News broke the story of Christian’s resulting lawsuit on Oct. 22. Christian, now 19 years old, studies engineering at the New York City College of Technology and lives with his mother in Queens. He is African-American, and strongly suspects that’s why Barney’s staffers suspected him of stealing the money he spent on the $349 Ferragamo belt.

On the other hand. Barneys has denied any responsibility for Christian’s ordeal, and released a statement saying:

“It is clear that no employee of Barneys New York was involved in the pursuit of any action with the individual other than the sale . . . . We are very sorry that any customer of our store would have this experience."

Christian said that on April 29, he went to Barneys after work and bought the belt, which he’d been wanting for some time. The store clerk asked to see his ID before selling him the belt; Christian showed his ID, signed for the belt and left the store with his purchase.

According to the Daily News, here’s what happened next:

[H]e got no more than a block from the store when two undercover NYPD detectives stopped him … “They said my card wasn’t real, it was fake. They said someone at Barneys called to report it,” said Christian.

The male detectives — whose names he never learned — asked to see ID and look in his bag, he said. They also asked him if he worked, and where.

“I showed them my school ID and my driver’s license,” said Christian … “I kept thinking, ‘Why is this happening to me?’” he said.

“The detectives were asking me, ‘How could you afford a belt like this? Where did you get this money from?’” he said.

 PhotoChristian’s lawsuit alleges he was then handcuffed, taken to the police station and detained in a holding cell for two hours, before police released him with an apology. The NYPD, for its part, admits that Christian was detained but disagrees over how long: a police spokeswoman said Christian was brought in at 7:04 pm and released at 7:45. His attorney said Christian wasn’t charged with anything.

The day after breaking the news of Christian’s lawsuit, the Daily News reported a distressingly similar story: a black, 21-year-old nursing student named Kayla Phillips alleges that in February, she bought a designer handbag from Barneys, then plainclothes police harassed her three blocks from the store.

Barneys CEO Mark Lee responded to the second story with a statement repeating that:

Barneys New York believes that no customer should have the unacceptable experience described in recent media reports, and we offer our sincere regret and deepest apologies … we want to reinforce that Barneys New York has zero tolerance for any form of discrimination. We are a strong proponent of equal rights and equal treatment for all human beings. Our mission is to ensure that all customers receive the highest-quality service—without exception.

To this end, we are conducting a thorough review of our practices and procedures as they relate to these matters to ensure that they reflect our continued commitment to fairness and equality. To lead this review, we have retained a civil rights expert, Michael Yaki, who also serves on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. … In addition, Barneys New York has reached out to community leaders to begin a dialogue on this important issue.

As consumer journalists, we generally advise people to avoid buying $349 belts or $2,500 handbags anyway, on the grounds that there are much better uses for your money. But we never imagined we’d have to add a disclaimer warning our readers (regardless of skin color) to avoid such extravagant purchases for fear of being arrested.

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Feds tighten safety rules for bassinets, cradles

Infants at risk of falls, suffocation in some circumstances

Tightened safety regulations for bassinets and cradles will be going into effect next year. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) adopted the rul...

PhotoTightened safety regulations for bassinets and cradles will be going into effect next year. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) adopted the rules after learning of 426 incidents involving bassinets and cradles, including 132 fatalities, from November 2007 through March 2013.

Two such deaths occurred in 2008. In one case, Kennedy Brotherton slipped between the mattress and the side railing after the mattress came loose from the frame of her Simplicity bassinet, her aunt, Melissa Brotherton, told ConsumerAffairs.com in a phone interview in August 2008.

Kennedy's body slipped through a space between the mattress and the railing until she dangled by her head on the lower bar of the railing and choked, according to Capt. Ron Copeland of the Shawnee Police Department in Kansas.

"She was laughing and smiling when her parents put her to bed," Brotherton said. "They checked on her three times within an hour period. They were in the living room less than 10 feet away. She never cried."

In the fall of 2007, Katelynn Simon suffered a similar fate in the same bassinet. "The rail design allowed her to slip her legs through and as she kept inching out she slipped lower," Simon's grandmother, Lori Crammond, wrote in a complaint to ConsumerAffairs.com. "Finally, her lungs were unable to expand."

Improved testing

The new regulations require improved testing and tighten the stability requirements, among other changes.

Bassinets and cradles are defined as small beds designed specifically for infants five months or younger, and should no longer be used "when the child is able to push up on his/her hands and knees."

Commissioner Nancy A. Nord dissented from portions of the decision although she said in a statement that she supported the goal of the modifications.

"Bassinets have had a number of incidents—fatal and otherwise—over the years. These are heart-wrenching tragedies, and this rule seeks to address them."

She said the suffocation death of a three-month-old infant was particularly tragic and prompted a joint response from the CPSC and the infant furniture industry, developing a test to ensure that segment mattresses in bassinets would not pose a similar suffocation hazard.

Nord's objections centered around the testing procedure and the imposition of mandatory regulations instead of voluntary standards.

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Three critical things to consider before retiring

It starts with figuring out what retirement is

Retirement is everywhere these days. And no wonder, the Baby Boom cohort is either 65 years old or getting close. Financial services companies fill the TV ...

PhotoRetirement is everywhere these days. And no wonder, the Baby Boom cohort is either 65 years old or getting close. Financial services companies fill the TV airwaves with commercials, hoping to entice these graying citizens to buy their products.

But these commercials are not all completely self-serving. Some raise issues that people contemplating retirement should think about. The first, and maybe the most important, is what retirement actually is.

For people who have spent most of their working lives getting up early, making a daily commute and sitting in an office 40 hours a week, retirement first and foremost means not having to do that anymore. But it begs the question, if you aren't doing that, what will you be doing?

Hopefully, it's something productive because, if it is, you might be able to earn some income from it. It's work, but work on your terms.

Warren Buffet long ago reached the age at which he could retire but he probably didn't slow down enough to even think about it. He was too busy buying companies and adding to his billions.

Keep working

The point is that just because you hit 65 and quit your day job, you don't stop working altogether. If you find something you enjoy doing, you keep going. It not only gives you a reason to get up in the morning it supplements your retirement income. And with people routinely living into their 90s, that's important.

Jack Williams is a clinical psychologist in State College, Pennsylvania. He has suggested that you should look at retirement simply as a career change. 

“Retirement is a career change because it has all the practical hallmarks of a career change, such as the need for planning, the need to learn about your own strengths and priorities, the need for networking, the change in income, the need to try out new things, and the choice of a new direction,” he writes in his blog. “To have a thriving retirement, you need to be doing something that you believe in and that feels important to you.”

If you have all the retirement income you think you will ever need – but who, besides Buffet, does? – you can choose a new vocation regardless of whether it brings compensation or not. But for most people entering retirement, income is very important.

Sources of income

That brings us to another critical consideration. How will you support yourself during your golden years? If you have a new retirement job or career you will get some income but probably not as much as you earned pre-retirement. Other sources of income include Social Security, your retirement savings and investments, and any pension your previous jobs provided.

You can draw Social Security beginning at age 62, though most financial planners frown on drawing it before age 66 and many would prefer that you delay it until age 70. Here's why: your monthly Social Security payment is proportionately increased by two-thirds of one percent for every month you delay taking Social Security after reaching full retirement, up until age until age 70.

Actuaries have crunched the numbers and figured out how much money you should receive between your retirement and your death. If you start drawing it at 62, those payments are smaller because they are spread out over more years. If you wait until age 70, they're larger. It's simple math. Social Security provides an online calculator to help you figure it out. 

But while the total amount of money you will receive over your lifetime may be close to the same, regardless of when you start receiving it, you may need those larger payments later in life, when age-related infirmities may reduce your ability to earn additional income, or your retirement savings and investments begin to run low.

If you draw Social Security at 62, make sure you can live on it. The government penalizes you by reducing your benefit for every dollar of income you earn over a certain limit.

Stay healthy

The third critical consideration is health. Health in old age is not just a quality of life issue but also an economic one. According to a recent retiree health care costs estimate calculated by Fidelity Benefits Consulting, a 65-year-old couple retiring in 2013 is estimated to need $220,000 to cover medical expenses throughout retirement. 

You might not be able to prevent some diseases but many health conditions, especially those associated with aging, are preventable. Before reaching retirement age take steps to improve your health by shedding excess pounds, eating a balanced and nutritious diet and getting plenty of exercise. Maintain that lifestyle once you enter retirement.

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Audi, Volvo, GMC break Japanese dominance of Consumer Reports' reliability ratings

Lexus, Toyota, Acura took the top three spots in the annual rankings

European and U.S. automakers have broken Japanese dominance of Consumer Reports' annual auto reliability rankings, with Audi, Volvo and GMC taking three of...

PhotoEuropean and U.S. automakers have broken Japanese dominance of Consumer Reports' annual auto reliability rankings, with Audi, Volvo and GMC taking three of the top 10 spots in this year's rankings.

Three Japanese brands, Lexus, Toyota, and Acura captured the top three spots in the survey, which was conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. The survey is believed to be the largest of its kind; findings are based on CR subscribers’ experiences with 1.1 million vehicles. Non-profit Consumer Reports uses the survey data to compile reliability histories on vehicles and predict how well new cars that are currently on sale will hold up.

For more than a decade, Japanese brands have had a lock on most of the top spots in the survey. It’s been rare for a European, Korean, or U.S. carmaker to achieve anything higher than seventh or eighth place.

Audi, Volvo

But Audi, which has shown steady improvement in vehicle reliability during recent years, moved up four places this year to finish fourth overall—the top European manufacturer in the survey. Three Audis, the A6 sedan, Q7 SUV and Allroad wagon, have “much better than average” reliability.

PhotoVolvo jumped 13 places to seventh. GMC emerged as the top domestic brand, finishing ninth—three places higher than last year. Moreover, every model from Audi, GMC, and Volvo, for which CR has data, earned an average or better reliability score.

The top predicted-reliability score went to the redesigned 2014 Subaru Forester SUV, which hadn’t been on the market for very long when CR conducted the survey. The Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid got the worst score, and the regular C-Max Hybrid wasn’t much better.

General Motors fared better than other domestic brands.  In addition to GMC, Buick climbed nine slots to 12th place over last year.

Japanese brands took seven out of the 10 top spots in the survey. Nissan sank to 22nd among the 28 brands in the rankings. Ten of those highest scorers were Toyotas. Of the eight Lexus models in CR’s survey, six got top marks. 

Two popular models, the redesigned 2013 Honda Accord V6 and the 2013 Nissan Altima, scored too poorly in the survey for Consumer Reports to continue Recommending them. Last year, CR had predicted that both vehicles would have at least average reliability.

Of the 31 Ford models in Consumer Reports’ survey, only one, the F-150 pickup with the 3.7-liter V6, was above average. 

Chrysler is still below par overall, but a bright spot is the very nice Chrysler 300 C which scores above average—last year it was the company’s most troublesome vehicle.

In recent years, Hyundai and Kia were beginning to challenge the Japanese at the top of Consumer Reports’ reliability rankings. In 2011, they scored well ahead of Detroit and most European companies. But they slipped a bit in the 2013 survey, with Kia ranking midpack and Hyundai sliding to 21st place.

BMW and Mercedes-Benz remained around midpack among all brands. Volkswagen, which turned in a middling performance, was especially hampered by the trouble-prone Beetle, GTI, and Touareg. All three Minis in our survey made a very poor showing.

Electronic trouble spots

One of the key problem areas in Consumer Reports’ survey centers on in-car electronics, including the proliferating suite of audio, navigation, communication, and connected systems in newer cars. Of the 17 problem areas CR asks about, the category including in-car electronics generated more complaints from owners of 2013 models than for any other category. 

In many cases, the survey revealed touch-screen infotainment systems have been buggy, with frustrating screen freezes, touch-control lag, or a reluctance to recognize a cell-phone, an MP3 device, or a voice command.

Hybrids, electrics do well

PhotoHybrids and electric cars continue to do well. The Toyota Prius, Lexus ES 300h, Toyota Prius C, and Honda CR-Z hybrids, as well as the Nissan Leaf electric car, were among the top models. Ford’s C-Max and Fusion hybrids were the only exceptions. 

The Tesla Model S electric car performed well enough in the survey to earn a Recommendation from CR for the first time. CR gathered data on more than 600 2012 and 2013 models. Owners of the 2012 model reported very few problems, although 2013 owners reported quite a few more. Problem areas included wind noise, squeaks and rattles, and body hardware (including the sunroof, doors, and locks). 

Complete reliability report and results for all models are available at www.ConsumerReports.orgtoday, and in the December issue of Consumer Reports, on newsstands November 5. 

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Home prices on the rise again

Year-over-year gains are the best in more than 7 years

Home prices continued to claw their way higher in August. The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices showed that the 10-City and 20-City Composites gained 1....

PhotoHome prices continued to claw their way higher in August.

The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices showed that the 10-City and 20-City Composites gained 1.3% in August, with Las Vegas leading the cities with an increase of 2.9% -- its highest since August 2004. Detroit and Los Angeles followed with gains of 2.0% each.

Year-over-year, the indices shot up 12.8%.

“The 10-City and 20-City Composites posted a 12.8% annual growth rate,” says David M. Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “Both Composites showed their highest annual increases since February 2006.”

Positive returns

All 20 cities reported positive year-over-year returns. Thirteen cities posted double-digit annual gains. Las Vegas and California had year-over-year increases of over 20%. Denver and Phoenix posted 20 consecutive annual increases; Miami and Minneapolis 19. Despite showing 26 consecutive annual gains, Detroit remains the only city below its January 2000 index level.

“The monthly percentage changes for the 20-City composite show the peak rate of gain in home prices was last April,” Blitzer noted. “Since then home prices continued to rise, but at a slower pace each month. This month 16 cities reported smaller gains in August compared to July. Recent increases in mortgage rates and fewer mortgage applications are two factors in these shifts.”

More new highs

Denver and Dallas again set new highs. All the other cities remain below their peaks. Boston and Charlotte are the two Metropolitan Statistical Areas closest to their peaks with only 8-9% left to go. Las Vegas is still down 47.1% from its peak level.

All twenty cities posted monthly gains in August, although most cities showed deceleration compared to July. Las Vegas was at the top of the range at +2.9% and Seattle was at the bottom with a return of +0.5%. Month-over-month, San Francisco has been losing momentum as prices increased 4.9% in April 2013 and 0.9% in August 2013.

Fourteen cities showed year-over-year rate acceleration in August versus last month. Las Vegas was the leader with an annual rate of 29.2%, its highest since March 2005. Denver and San Francisco posted their highest growth rates since August 2001 and March 2001, respectively. Although Dallas did not break into double-digit returns, the city posted its highest annual gain since it was first published in January 2000.

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Fritos case may crumble, judge is skeptical

Similar suit against Nestle's Buitoni pasta products dismissed

The latest trend in consumer class actions is suing big food manufacturers over their labeling, particularly claims that products are "natural." But judges...

PhotoThe latest trend in consumer class actions is suing big food manufacturers over their labeling, particularly claims that products are "natural." But judges aren't all buying the argument.

A federal judge last week expressed misgivings about a suit filed against Frito-Lay accusing it of misrepresenting the nutritional content of its snack products.

In another case, a federal judge shot down a suit claiming Buitoni misleading labels its stuffed pasta products "all natural." 

The lead plaintiffs -- Markus Wilson and Doug Campen -- claim Frito-Lay is deceiving customers by making false claims about its potato chips, corn chips and other snacks. The company says the "all natural" description is accurate since the chips contain potatoes and vegetable oil, among other things.

But U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti balked at Wilson and Campen's claim that they should have standing to sue over the labeling of 85 Frito-Lay products as well as the handful of products they actually bought and, presumably, consumed.

“Plaintiffs do not plead to have bought these products. Instead they simply provide long lists of products that they flatly state contain unlawful or misleading statements,” Judge Conti said. “Plaintiffs have taken lists of snack foods ... and asserted in their briefs — not in their pleadings — that they are all basically the same.”

He also dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims that Frito-Lay website content constituted “labeling.”

The plaintiffs alleged that by printing “Visit our website @ fritolay.com” on the back of packaging, any language on the websites constituted misleading labeling.

Buitoni stuffing

In the Buitoni case, a California federal judge shot down the customer’s interpretation of the phrase "all natural."

Plaintiff Maritza Pelayo claimed she had bought the pasta because of the “all natural” assurances on the product label, and that she would not have bought them if she she knew they contained artificial ingredients. But U.S. District Judge John F. Walter dismissed her claims, finding she had failed to offer an objective or plausible definition of the phrase “all natural” as it appears on the label of Nestle’s Buitoni brand of products.

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Wholesale prices dip in September

A decline in food prices offset an uptick in energy costs

A dip in the cost of food more than made up for a slight increase in energy costs, sending the government's Producer Price Index (PPI) down 0.1% in Septemb...

PhotoA dip in the cost of food more than made up for a slight increase in energy costs, sending the government's Producer Price Index (PPI) down 0.1% in September. The decline follows a rise of 0.3% in August and a flat PPI in July.

The decline was due largely to a drop of 1.0% in consumer foods, the largest since April, thanks to a plunge of 17.9% in the cost of fresh and smaller drops in prices for carbonated soft drinks and processed poultry.

Energy prices, on the other hand, were up 0.5% with one-third of that attributable to a 6.0% jump in home heating oil costs. Higher prices for residential natural gas also were a factor.

The “core” PPI, less the volatile food and energy categories, moved up 0.1%.

The full report is available on the Labor Department website.

Retail sales

In a separate report, the government said retail sales were down 0.1% last month, in line with the forecast from economists at Briefing.com.

The entire decline was due to a drop of 2.2% in motor vehicle sales. Excluding that volatile category, sales were up 0.4%.

Sectors showing sales gains in September include grocery stores (1.0%), food services and drinking places (0.9%) and electronic ans appliance stores (0.7%). Sales at gasoline stations were flat.

The complete retail sales report can be found on the Commerce Department website.

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Taylor Farms recalls broccoli salad kits

Salad dressing may be contaminated with monocytogenes

Taylor Farms of Jessup, Md., is recalling approximately 5,084 pounds of broccoli salad kit products. The kits contain salad dressing in packets that may ...

PhotoTaylor Farms of Jessup, Md., is recalling approximately 5,084 pounds of broccoli salad kit products.

The kits contain salad dressing in packets that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. There have been no reports of illnesses associated with consumption of these products.

The salad kits were shipped to distributors and retail locations (delis) for consumer purchase in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Vermont. The following products are subject to recall:

  • 6.06-lb. boxes labeled “TAYLOR FARMS BROCCOLI CRUNCH WITH BACON AND DRESSING ” with the case code 310151, produced on Oct. 21 and Oct. 22, 2013.
  • 12.13-lb. boxes labeled “TAYLOR FARMS BROCCOLI CRUNCH WITH BACON AND DRESSING ” with the case code 310153, produced Oct. 21 through Oct. 23, 2013.

Case labels bear the establishment number “EST. 34522” inside the USDA mark of inspection. Retail consumers and the general public will not typically see the boxes and labels, because the product is typically unboxed by retailers (such as deli counters and restaurants) and the kit used to make salads for retail sale. The boxes and labels would be more likely to be seen by distributors and retailers.

Consumers with questions regarding the recall can contact Taylor Farms Customer Service at 866-508-7048.

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Volkswagen recalls Audi A8 and S8 vehicles

The sunroof glass panel that may shatter

Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 1,120 model year 2013-2014 Audi A8 and S8 vehicles equipped with a standard sunroof, manufactured March 12, 2013, ...

PhotoVolkswagen Group of America is recalling 1,120 model year 2013-2014 Audi A8 and S8 vehicles equipped with a standard sunroof, manufactured March 12, 2013, through July 15, 2013.

These vehicles are equipped with a standard sunroof glass panel that may shatter. Should the sunroof's glass break while the vehicle is in use, the falling glass could injure the driver or passengers. It could also distract the driver, increasing the risk of a crash.

Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will replace the sunroof glass panel, free of charge. The recall began on October 21, 2013.

Owners may contact Audi of America at 1-800-822-2834. Volkwagen's number for this campaign is 60B6/1L.

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Reser's expands recall of refrigerated ready-to-eat products

The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

Reser's Fine Foods of Beaverton, Ore., is expanding the recall it issued earlier this month of refrigerated ready-to-eat products because they may be conta...

PhotoReser's Fine Foods of Beaverton, Ore., is expanding the recall it issued earlier this month of refrigerated ready-to-eat products because they may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

There are no confirmed illnesses associated with these products.

The recalled refrigerated ready-to-eat products were distributed throught the U.S. and Canada.

The product is sold in retail and food service establishments. The packages will be marked with a Use-by-Date or Best By Date and followed by a plant identifier code of 20. Products affected by this recall are listed below:

Affected Products

Item#Item DescriptionUse By Date
YYYYMMDD
Plant Code for
Topeka Salad
20
 
58108.30144SLAW DIXIE HMSTYLE CVF 2/7#  2013100520past expiration date
58108.30155SLAW SHORT SHRED CVF 2/7#    2013100520past expiration date
71117.18232SLAW COLE DILLON'S  12/14z   2013100520past expiration date
71117.67307PASTA ITALIAN SYSCO 2/8#     2013100520past expiration date
74865.79731PASTA CALIFORNIA SALAD BB 2/5#2013100520past expiration date
22486.15881SLAW COLE SHORT SHRED IMA 2/7#2013100720past expiration date
22486.15888PASTA ITALIAN SALAD IMA 2/8# 2013100720past expiration date
71117.67123SLAW HSTYLE DELI DESIGN 6/2.752013100720past expiration date
71117.67690SLAW HOMESTYLE SHRED SYSCO 2/72013100720past expiration date
28919.00240SLAW COLE TARGET CAD 12/425g 2013101020past expiration date
58108.30156PROT SEAFOOD SALAD CVF 2/8#  2013101020past expiration date
58108.30157POTATO RED ROYALE CVF 2/8#   2013101020past expiration date
71117.00210POTATO CLASSIC RESER 2/8#    2013101020past expiration date
71117.00282SALSA MANGO BAJA CAFE 2/5#   2013101020past expiration date
71117.11150POTATO BAKED CHEFS CHOICE 2/8#2013101020past expiration date
71117.14105POTATO RED SPEC CUT W/SKIN 2/82013101020past expiration date
71117.14195RSTD CORN/BLACK BEAN SLD 2/5#2013101020past expiration date
71117.18231POTATO RED DILLON'S 6/16z    2013101020past expiration date
71117.19010PROT SEAFOOD SALAD AM CL 6/12z2013101020past expiration date
71117.61581SLAW COLE HOMESTYLE RSR 6/4.5#2013101020past expiration date
73474.55031POTATO MY PREMIER 2/5#       2013101020past expiration date
81131.91755PROT TUNA SLD WALMART 12/12z 2013101020past expiration date
71117.00265COOKIES & CREAM RESER 2/6#   2013101220past expiration date
71117.11415PROT SEAFOOD SALAD RESER 2/8#2013101220past expiration date
71117.11446KIT RED POTATO W/BC&BCN 2/5.5#2013101220past expiration date
71117.18257POTATO DEVIL EGG DILLON 12/16z2013101220past expiration date
71117.18262DELIGHT PISTACHIO RESER 6/11z2013101220past expiration date
71117.18424POTATO DEVILED EGG DILLON 6/322013101220past expiration date
71117.19038POTATO DEVILED EGG AM CL 6/16z2013101220past expiration date
71117.85500POTATO REDSKN TEXAS RESER 3/8#2013101220past expiration date
73474.01038SLAW COLE YODER 6/30 oz      2013101220past expiration date
58108.30162SPEC CARROT/RAISIN CVF 2/8#  2013101520past expiration date
71117.06125PASTA TRI-ROTINI RSR 6/3.1875#2013101520past expiration date
71117.15345POTATO NEW ENGLAND RESER 2/8#2013101520past expiration date
81131.91687POTATO REDSKIN WALMART 6/32z 2013101520past expiration date
71117.14177BEANS SPICY/BOLD MILLER'S 6/3#2013101620past expiration date
71117.14178BEANS W/BEEF MILLER'S 12/16z 2013101620past expiration date
71117.19005POTATO RED SKIN AM CL 6/16z  2013101620past expiration date
71117.14210SPEC CARROT/RAISIN RESER 2/8#2013101720past expiration date
71117.16987DIP CREAMY SPINACH RESER 2/8#2013101720past expiration date
71117.67273SPEC CARROT/RAISIN SYSCO 2/8#2013101720past expiration date
72299.15160POTATO HOMESTYLE GILES 2/5#  2013101720past expiration date
72299.15260SLAW AMISH SHREDDED GILES 2/5#2013101720past expiration date
06795.28683PASTA CALIFORNIA WC 2/5#     2013101820past expiration date
58108.30148PASTA CALIFORNIA CVF 2/5#    2013101820past expiration date
58108.30164PASTA ROTINI CVF 2/8#        2013101820past expiration date
58108.30168PASTA BOW TIE CVF 2/4.5#     2013101820past expiration date
71117.00556POTATO BAKED SALAD RESER 2/5#2013101820past expiration date
71117.11439KIT SEAFOOD RESER 2/4.9375#  2013101820past expiration date
71117.11464KIT SEAFOOD SALAD 2/6#       2013101820past expiration date
71117.14807PASTA TWIST BASE RESER 2/2.5#2013101820past expiration date
71117.15314PASTA BOW TIE FLORENTINE 2/4.52013101820past expiration date
71117.67307PASTA ITALIAN SYSCO 2/8#     2013101820past expiration date
74865.79731PASTA CALIFORNIA SALAD BB 2/5#2013101820past expiration date
74865.79733PASTA BOW TIE FLORTNE BB 2/4.52013101820past expiration date
81131.91682SLAW WALMART 12/15z          2013101820past expiration date
81131.91688SLAW WALMART 6/30z           2013101820past expiration date
71117.14820KIT BROCCOLI SALAD 2/1.75#   2013101920past expiration date
22486.15888PASTA ITALIAN SALAD IMA 2/8# 2013102020past expiration date
28919.00237POTATO SLD TARGET CAD 12/454g2013102020past expiration date
28919.00239MACARONI TARGET CAD 12/454g  2013102020past expiration date
41303.82021SLAW COLE EE 6/15z           2013102020past expiration date
52548.51755PASTA MEXICAN 7-11 12/7z     2013102020past expiration date
54627.20863MACARONI CREAMY ELBOW YUM 3/8#2013102020past expiration date
58108.30146POTATO DICED w/EGG CVF 2/8#  2013102020past expiration date
58108.30150POTATO STHRN MUSTARD CVF 2/8#2013102020past expiration date
58108.30160MACARONI SC & CHEDDAR CVF 2/8#2013102020past expiration date
58108.37387POTATO FAMILY STYLE CVF 2/8# 2013102020past expiration date
71117.14107POTATO MUSTARD DILLON'S 6/4# 2013102020past expiration date
71117.14256PASTA ZESTY ROT W/BTN MUSH 2/82013102020past expiration date
71117.14270PASTA CALIFORNIA RESER 2/5#  2013102020past expiration date
71117.14729DRSG. ROTISSERIE CHICKEN 6/32z2013102020past expiration date
71117.14759PASTA ITALIAN RESER 2/8#     2013102020past expiration date
71117.15124SLAW REGULAR RESER 2/7#      2013102020past expiration date
71117.18031DIP ART/JALAPENO SMK 6/10z   2013102020past expiration date
71117.18233MACARONI ELBOW DILLON 12/16z 2013102020past expiration date
71117.18234POTATO DILLON'S 12/16z       2013102020past expiration date
71117.18235POTATO MUSTARD DILLON'S 12/16z2013102020past expiration date
71117.18431POTATO MUSTARD DILLON'S 6/32z2013102020past expiration date
71117.61586POTATO SOUTHERN SAM'S 6/4#   2013102020past expiration date
71117.67504POTATO REGULAR SYSCO 3/8#    2013102020past expiration date
71117.67505POTATO CLASSIC W/EGG SYSCO 3/82013102020past expiration date
71117.67517POTATO HOMESTYLE SYSCO 1/30# 2013102020past expiration date
71117.67685SLAW COLE COURSE SYSCO 2/7#  2013102020past expiration date
71117.67687SLAW SHREDDED SYSCO 2/7#     2013102020past expiration date
74865.79728PASTA GOUR W/CHDR CHSE BB 2/5#2013102020past expiration date
81131.91685POTATO MUSTARD WALMART 6/32z 2013102020past expiration date
81131.91689BEANS BAKED WALMART 6/32z    2013102020past expiration date
81131.91745MACARONI AMISH WALMART 6/32z 2013102020past expiration date
81131.91747POTATO AMISH WALMART 6/32z   2013102020past expiration date
71117.00224MACARONI HMSTYLE SEASHELL 2/8#2013102220past expiration date
22486.15885POTATO SALAD w/EGG IMA 3/8#  2013102320expires 10/23/13
22486.15905POTATO S STYLE MUSTARD IMA 3/82013102320expires 10/23/13
41303.82013POTATO SALAD ORIG. EE 6/16z  2013102320expires 10/23/13
41303.82014POTATO SALAD HMSTYLE EE 6/16z2013102320expires 10/23/13
41303.82016POTATO SALAD MUSTARD EE 6/16z2013102320expires 10/23/13
41303.82023MACARONI CLASSIC EE 6/16z    2013102320expires 10/23/13
41303.82029MACARONI & CHEDDAR EE 6/16z  2013102320expires 10/23/13
41303.82034POTATO DEVILED EGG EE 6/16z  2013102320expires 10/23/13
58108.30157POTATO RED ROYALE CVF 2/8#   2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.00158SALSA BLACK BEAN BAJA 2/5#   2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.00210POTATO CLASSIC RESER 2/8#    2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.00213MACARONI GOUR W/CHS RESER 2/8#2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.00214POTATO SOUTHERN MUST. RSR 3/8#2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.00215POTATO REGULAR RESER 3/8#    2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.00221POTATO HOMESTYLE RESER 1/30# 2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.00485POTATO RANCH HVR AM CL 2/8#  2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.00557POTATO DEVILED EGG RESER 2/8#2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.11150POTATO BAKED CHEFS CHOICE 2/8#2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.11588POTATO ORIGINAL DICKEY'S 3/8#2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.14138PROT TUNA SALAD RESER 2/5#   2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.14163PASTA SPIN w/CAVTAPI SFY 2/4.52013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.17000POTATO REGULAR SS 12/3.5z    2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.17010MACARONI ELBOW  12/3.5z      2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.17100POTATO REGULAR SS 12/5.5z    2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.18263DELIGHT AMBROSIA RESER 6/11z 2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.18339BEANS SMOKEHOUSE BBQ RSR 6/16z2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.19010PROT SEAFOOD SALAD AM CL 6/12z2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.19014SLAW CHOPPED AM CL 6/15z     2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.19044MACARONI AMISH AM CL 6/16z   K2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.19045POTATO AMISH SLD AM CL 6/16z K2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.19047POTATO SALAD HVR AM CL 6/16z 2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.19300POTATO ORIGINAL AM CL 6/3#   2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.19303POTATO MUSTARD AM CL 6/3#    2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.19315MACARONI AMISH AM CL 6/3#    K2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.19316POTATO AMISH SLD AM CL 6/3#  K2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.19318POTATO SALAD HVR AM CL 6/3#  2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.61502POTATO LOADED w/BACON SMK 6/3#2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.61581SLAW COLE HOMESTYLE RSR 6/4.5#2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.65135POTATO DICED W/EGG 3/8#      2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.67120POTATO REG. DELI DESIGN 6/3# 2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.80400SPEC CRANBRY/ORANGE SALAD 2/8#2013102320expires 10/23/13
73474.01039POTATO AMISH YODER 6/32 oz   2013102320expires 10/23/13
73474.01045MACARONI AMISH YODER 6/32 oz 2013102320expires 10/23/13
73474.01046POTATO AMERICAN YODER 6/32 oz2013102320expires 10/23/13
73474.01047POTATO MUSTARD YODER 6/32 oz 2013102320expires 10/23/13
73474.01048MACARONI DELI MATE YODER 6/32z2013102320expires 10/23/13
73474.55009POTATO AMERICAN YODER 2/5#   2013102320expires 10/23/13
73474.55010POTATO MUSTARD YODER 2/5#    2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.00225POTATO DEVILED EGG RESER 2/8#2013102520expires 10/25/13
71117.00265COOKIES & CREAM RESER 2/6#   2013102520expires 10/25/13
71117.00446SLAW AMISH RESER 2/7#        2013102520expires 10/25/13
71117.00480POTATO DEVILED EGG AM CL 6/3#2013102520expires 10/25/13
71117.14251PASTA ROMA FETA RESER 2/5#   2013102520expires 10/25/13
71117.15190SLAW OIL AND VINEGAR 2/9#    2013102520expires 10/25/13
21130.06741POTATO R SKN w/DILL SFY 12/16z2013102820expires 10/28/13
71117.15345POTATO NEW ENGLAND RESER 2/8#2013102820expires 10/28/13
81131.91681POTATO REDSKIN WALMART 12/16z2013102820expires 10/28/13
81131.91687POTATO REDSKIN WALMART 6/32z 2013102820expires 10/28/13
71117.19005POTATO RED SKIN AM CL 6/16z  2013102920expires 10/29/13
72299.15870SPEC APPLES SPICED GILES 2/5#2013103020expires 10/30/13
58108.30151POTATO COUNTRY STYLE CVF 2/8#2013110220expires 11/2/13
58108.30158SPEC CUCUMBER SALAD CVF 2/8# 2013110220expires 11/2/13
71117.14106POTATO DILLON'S 6/4#         2013110220expires 11/2/13
71117.14107POTATO MUSTARD DILLON'S 6/4# 2013110220expires 11/2/13
71117.14135SPEC 4-BEAN SALAD RESER 2/5# 2013110220expires 11/2/13
71117.14743BASE ROTISSERIE CHICKEN 6/2# 2013110220expires 11/2/13
71117.18042DIP CREAMY SPINACH SMK 6/11z 2013110220expires 11/2/13
71117.19012PROT TUNA SALAD AM CL 6/12z  2013110220expires 11/2/13
71117.67546POTATO COUNTRY SYSCO 3/8#    2013110220expires 11/2/13
71117.67780POTATO MUSTARD GOURMET SYS 3/82013110220expires 11/2/13
71117.67785POTATO MUSTARD CLASSIC SYS 3/82013110220expires 11/2/13
74865.79728PASTA GOUR W/CHDR CHSE BB 2/5#2013110220expires 11/2/13
79453.46925POTATO SLD SLCD STKHSE OK 2/5#2013110220expires 11/2/13
81131.91678POTATO ORIGINAL WALMART 12/16z2013110220expires 11/2/13
81131.91686MACARONI WALMART 6/32z       2013110220expires 11/2/13
81131.91690POTATO REGULAR WALMART 6/4#  2013110220expires 11/2/13
81131.91691POTATO MUSTARD WALMART 6/4#  2013110220expires 11/2/13
81131.91745MACARONI AMISH WALMART 6/32z 2013110220expires 11/2/13
81131.91747POTATO AMISH WALMART 6/32z   2013110220expires 11/2/13
21130.06716POTATO CLASSIC SFWY SS 12/5.5z2013110420expires 11/4/13
71117.06035DRSG. CHICKEN SLD RESER 5/4# 2013110420expires 11/4/13
22486.15883POTATO HOMESTYLE DLXE IMA 3/8#2013110520expires 11/5/13
41303.82013POTATO SALAD ORIG. EE 6/16z  2013110520expires 11/5/13
41303.82016POTATO SALAD MUSTARD EE 6/16z2013110520expires 11/5/13
41303.82023MACARONI CLASSIC EE 6/16z    2013110520expires 11/5/13
41303.82029MACARONI & CHEDDAR EE 6/16z  2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.00162POTATO REG PARTY-PACK RSR 6/4#2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.00189POTATO COUNTRY RESER 3/8#    2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.00193DELIGHT AMBROSIA RESER 2/8#  2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.00219POTATO HOMESTYLE RESER 3/8#  2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.00223POTATO ORIGINAL RESER  3/4#  2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.00224MACARONI HMSTYLE SEASHELL 2/8#2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.00227POTATO MUSTARD RESER 3/4#    2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.00258POTATO MUSTARD CLASSIC 3/8#  2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.00278POTATO REGULAR RESER 2/10#   2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.00286MACARONI ELBOW RESER 3/4#    2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.06103DRSG. COLE SLAW 18/20z       2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.14283SPEC CUKE & ONION 2/8#       2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.17000POTATO REGULAR SS 12/3.5z    2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.17010MACARONI ELBOW  12/3.5z      2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.17100POTATO REGULAR SS 12/5.5z    2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.19000POTATO ORIGINAL AM CL 12/16z 2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.64600POTATO OLD FASH KNG SOOPR 3/4#2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.64605MACARONI ELBOW K SOOPER 3/4# 2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.64640POTATO MUSTARD KING SOOPR 3/4#2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.67121POTATO MUST. DELI DESIGN 6/3#2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.67122MACARONI ELBW DELI DESIGN 6/3#2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.80400SPEC CRANBRY/ORANGE SALAD 2/8#2013110520expires 11/5/13
73474.01047POTATO MUSTARD YODER 6/32 oz 2013110520expires 11/5/13
41303.82019POTATO SALAD MUSTARD EE 6/3# 2013110620expires 11/6/13
41303.82020POTATO SALAD ORIGINAL EE 6/3#2013110620expires 11/6/13
71117.00215POTATO REGULAR RESER 3/8#    2013110620expires 11/6/13
71117.18405MACARONI ELBOW RESER 6/32z   2013110620expires 11/6/13
06795.28683PASTA CALIFORNIA WC 2/5#     2013110820expires 11/8/13
58108.30148PASTA CALIFORNIA CVF 2/5#    2013110820expires 11/8/13
71117.00556POTATO BAKED SALAD RESER 2/5#2013110820expires 11/8/13
71117.11396PROT SEAFOOD DELUXE RESER 2/5#2013110820expires 11/8/13
71117.11439KIT SEAFOOD RESER 2/4.9375#  2013110820expires 11/8/13
71117.14807PASTA TWIST BASE RESER 2/2.5#2013110820expires 11/8/13
71117.67307PASTA ITALIAN SYSCO 2/8#     2013110820expires 11/8/13
74865.79721PROT TUNA DELUXE SLD BB 2/5# 2013110820expires 11/8/13
74865.79731PASTA CALIFORNIA SALAD BB 2/5#2013110820expires 11/8/13
74865.79736PROT SEAFOOD DLX SALAD BB 2/5#2013110820expires 11/8/13
22486.15888PASTA ITALIAN SALAD IMA 2/8# 2013111020expires 11/10/13
41303.82021SLAW COLE EE 6/15z           2013111020expires 11/10/13
71117.11586POTATO LOADED BAKED RESER 2/5#2013111020expires 11/10/13
71117.14270PASTA CALIFORNIA RESER 2/5#  2013111020expires 11/10/13
71117.15124SLAW REGULAR RESER 2/7#      2013111020expires 11/10/13
71117.67685SLAW COLE COURSE SYSCO 2/7#  2013111020expires 11/10/13
71117.85506PROT TUNA GOURMET RESER 2/5# 2013111020expires 11/10/13
06795.28681SLAW COLE CLASSIC WC 2/4.75# 2013111320expires 11/13/13
58108.30149PROT CHIX SALAD CVF 2/5#     2013111320expires 11/13/13
71117.00485POTATO RANCH HVR AM CL 2/8#  2013111320expires 11/13/13
71117.00486PASTA BCN RANCH HVR AM CL 2/8#2013111320expires 11/13/13
71117.00557POTATO DEVILED EGG RESER 2/8#2013111320expires 11/13/13
71117.11392PROT CHIX CRANBERRY/PECAN 2/5#2013111320expires 11/13/13
71117.11587POTATO O.F. DILL DICKEY'S 2/5#2013111320expires 11/13/13
71117.18274DELIGHT CRANBERY AMBROSIA 6/9z2013111320expires 11/13/13
71117.19008PROT CHIX SALAD AM CL 6/12z  2013111320expires 11/13/13
71117.19010PROT SEAFOOD SALAD AM CL 6/12z2013111320expires 11/13/13
71117.19047POTATO SALAD HVR AM CL 6/16z 2013111320expires 11/13/13
71117.68007PROT CHIX SYSCO 2/5#         2013111320expires 11/13/13
73474.55031POTATO MY PREMIER 2/5#       2013111320expires 11/13/13
73474.55032POTATO MUSTARD MY PREMIER 2/5#2013111320expires 11/13/13
73474.99042SPEC BEAN KIDNEY SALAD DS 2/5#2013111320expires 11/13/13
74865.79725POTATO RD SKN W/SC&DILL BB 2/52013111320expires 11/13/13
79453.21477PASTA ITAL STYL ZITI OK 2/4.5#2013111320expires 11/13/13
81131.91755PROT TUNA SLD WALMART 12/12z 2013111320expires 11/13/13
21130.06688POTATO DEVILED EGG SFWY 12/16z2013111520expires 11/15/13
21130.06731POTATO PICNIC SAFEWAY 12/16z 2013111520expires 11/15/13
22486.15887PROT CHIX SALAD IMA 2/5#     2013111520expires 11/15/13
71117.00225POTATO DEVILED EGG RESER 2/8#2013111520expires 11/15/13
71117.00272STRAWBERRIES & CREAM RSR 2/6#2013111520expires 11/15/13
71117.00400POTATO BAKED SALAD RESER 2/8#2013111520expires 11/15/13
71117.11400PROT CHIX RESER 2/5#         2013111520expires 11/15/13
71117.11446KIT RED POTATO W/BC&BCN 2/5.5#2013111520expires 11/15/13
71117.14251PASTA ROMA FETA RESER 2/5#   2013111520expires 11/15/13
71117.18262DELIGHT PISTACHIO RESER 6/11z2013111520expires 11/15/13
71117.85500POTATO REDSKN TEXAS RESER 3/8#2013111520expires 11/15/13
77509.63308PROT CHICKEN/CRAN/PECAN 6/12z2013111620expires 11/16/13
21130.06741POTATO R SKN w/DILL SFY 12/16z2013111820expires 11/18/13
71117.15345POTATO NEW ENGLAND RESER 2/8#2013111820expires 11/18/13
71117.16902PROT SEAFOOD SALAD RESER 2/5#2013111820expires 11/18/13
81131.91681POTATO REDSKIN WALMART 12/16z2013111820expires 11/18/13
81131.91687POTATO REDSKIN WALMART 6/32z 2013111820expires 11/18/13
71117.00281BEANS CAROLINA BBQ w/MEAT 2/5#2013111920expires 11/19/13
71117.14177BEANS SPICY/BOLD MILLER'S 6/3#2013111920expires 11/19/13
71117.14179BEANS W/BEEF MILLER'S 6/3#   2013111920expires 11/19/13
72299.15260SLAW AMISH SHREDDED GILES 2/5#2013112020expires 11/20/13
06795.28677MACARONI ELBOW WC 2/5#       2013112320expires 11/23/13
58108.30145PROT TUNA SALAD CVF 2/5#     2013112320expires 11/23/13
58108.30146POTATO DICED w/EGG CVF 2/8#  2013112320expires 11/23/13
58108.30151POTATO COUNTRY STYLE CVF 2/8#2013112320expires 11/23/13
58108.30159POTATO MUSTARD DICED CVF 2/8#2013112320expires 11/23/13
58108.30166PROT HAM SALAD CVF 2/5#      2013112320expires 11/23/13
71117.11428KIT HONEY DRSG F & NUTS 6/40z2013112320expires 11/23/13
71117.14135SPEC 4-BEAN SALAD RESER 2/5# 2013112320expires 11/23/13
71117.14139PROT HAM SLD SUPREME RSR 2/5#2013112320expires 11/23/13
71117.18233MACARONI ELBOW DILLON 12/16z 2013112320expires 11/23/13
71117.18234POTATO DILLON'S 12/16z       2013112320expires 11/23/13
71117.18235POTATO MUSTARD DILLON'S 12/16z2013112320expires 11/23/13
71117.19012PROT TUNA SALAD AM CL 6/12z  2013112320expires 11/23/13
71117.67505POTATO CLASSIC W/EGG SYSCO 3/82013112320expires 11/23/13
71117.67513MACARONI HOMESTYLE SYSCO 3/8#2013112320expires 11/23/13
71117.67546POTATO COUNTRY SYSCO 3/8#    2013112320expires 11/23/13
71117.68049PROT TUNA SALAD SYSCO 2/5#   2013112320expires 11/23/13
74865.79728PASTA GOUR W/CHDR CHSE BB 2/5#2013112320expires 11/23/13
81131.91679POTATO MUSTARD WALMART 12/16z2013112320expires 11/23/13
81131.91685POTATO MUSTARD WALMART 6/32z 2013112320expires 11/23/13
81131.91744MACARONI AMISH WALMART 12/16z2013112320expires 11/23/13
21130.06685POTATO CLASSIC SAFEWAY 12/16z2013112520expires 11/25/13
21130.06686MACARONI CLASSIC SFWAY 12/16z2013112520expires 11/25/13
21130.06689POTATO MUSTARD SAFEWAY 12/16z2013112520expires 11/25/13
41303.82023MACARONI CLASSIC EE 6/16z    2013112620expires 11/26/13
41303.82029MACARONI & CHEDDAR EE 6/16z  2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.00189POTATO COUNTRY RESER 3/8#    2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.00193DELIGHT AMBROSIA RESER 2/8#  2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.00212POTATO MUSTARD RESER 3/8#    2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.00224MACARONI HMSTYLE SEASHELL 2/8#2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.00278POTATO REGULAR RESER 2/10#   2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.00286MACARONI ELBOW RESER 3/4#    2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.00288MACARONI HMSTYLE ELBOW RSR 3/82013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.11402PROT HAM RESER 2/5#          2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.14172BEANS SMOKEHOUSE BBQ 2/8#    2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.14282DELIGHT HAWAIIAN RESER 2/6#  2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.18263DELIGHT AMBROSIA RESER 6/11z 2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.18330POTATO ORIGINAL RESER 12/16z 2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.18334POTATO MUSTARD RESER 12/16z  2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.18335MACARONI ELBOW RESER 12/16z  2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.19000POTATO ORIGINAL AM CL 12/16z 2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.19300POTATO ORIGINAL AM CL 6/3#   2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.19303POTATO MUSTARD AM CL 6/3#    2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.19305MACARONI SALAD AM CL 6/3#    2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.19316POTATO AMISH SLD AM CL 6/3#  K2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.61650POTATO REGULAR SAM'S 6/5#    2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.64605MACARONI ELBOW K SOOPER 3/4# 2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.65135POTATO DICED W/EGG 3/8#      2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.80400SPEC CRANBRY/ORANGE SALAD 2/8#2013112620expires 11/26/13
73474.55010POTATO MUSTARD YODER 2/5#    2013112620expires 11/26/13
73474.55015MACARONI YODER 2/5#          2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.00215POTATO REGULAR RESER 3/8#    2013112720expires 11/27/13
71117.06102DRSG. BROCCOLI RESER 18/18z  2013121720expires 12/17/13
71117.00266SPEC 4-BEAN RESER 2/8#       2013122320expires 12/23/13
71117.17050DIP RANCH SS 12/4z           2013122720expires 12/27/13
51933.19720PIMENTO SPRD SAV-A-LOT 12/12z2014010320expires 01/03/14
71117.00003PIMENTO SPREAD MRS WEAVR 12/7z2014010320expires 01/03/14
71117.00134SALSA PICO DE GALLO 2/5#     2014010720expires 01/07/14
71117.02793PIMENTO SPRD MRS WEAVER 6/24z2014011520expires 01/15/14
71117.02793PIMENTO SPRD MRS WEAVER 6/24z2014011620expires 01/16/14
71117.14752DRSG. COLE SLAW RESER 2/4#   2014011720expires 01/17/14
71117.02400PIMENTO SPRD MRS WEAVR 12/12z2014020620expires 02/06/14
71117.02793PIMENTO SPRD MRS WEAVER 6/24z2014020620expires 02/06/14
71117.15235PARFAIT STRAWBERRY RESER 2/8#2014031720expires 03/17/14

 

Canadian Distribution

Item#Item DescriptionBest By Date
YYYYMMDD
Plant Code for 
Topeka Salad
20
 
71117.18244SLAW CRUNCHY CAD 12/425g     2013101020past expiration date
71117.61225SLAW CRUNCHY RSR CAD 6/1.25kg2013101020past expiration date
71117.61251POTATO HOMESTYLE CAD 6/454g  2013101020past expiration date
71117.61254SLAW OIL/VINEGAR CAD 6/425g  2013101020past expiration date
71117.00164POTATO GOURMET CAD 6/1.81kg  2013101220past expiration date
71117.61209POTATO GOURMET RED CAD 12/340g2013101220past expiration date
71117.61252POTATO DEVILED EGG CAD 6/454g2013101220past expiration date
71117.61629POTATO HMS RED CAD  6/2.27kg 2013101520past expiration date
71117.61206DIP CREAMY SPINACH CAD 12/454g2013101720past expiration date
71117.18241MACARONI CHEESY CAD 12/454g  2013102020past expiration date
71117.61227MACARONI CHEESY CAD 6/1.25kg 2013102020past expiration date
71117.18240MACARONI ELBOW CAD 12/454g   2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.18242POTATO SALAD CAD 12/454g     2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.18243POTATO w/EGG CAD 12/454g     2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.61320POTATO SLD CAD 6/1.25kg      2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.61321POTATO w/EGG CAD 6/1.25kg    2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.61322MACARONI REG CAD 6/1.25kg    2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.00164POTATO GOURMET CAD 6/1.81kg  2013102520expires 10/25/13
71117.61629POTATO HMS RED CAD  6/2.27kg 2013102820expires 10/28/13
71117.61206DIP CREAMY SPINACH CAD 12/454g2013103020expires 10/30/13
71117.61227MACARONI CHEESY CAD 6/1.25kg 2013110220expires 11/2/13
71117.61322MACARONI REG CAD 6/1.25kg    2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.00164POTATO GOURMET CAD 6/1.81kg  2013111520expires 11/15/13
71117.61252POTATO DEVILED EGG CAD 6/454g2013111520expires 11/15/13
71117.61629POTATO HMS RED CAD  6/2.27kg 2013111820expires 11/18/13
71117.18240MACARONI ELBOW CAD 12/454g   2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.18243POTATO w/EGG CAD 12/454g     2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.61320POTATO SLD CAD 6/1.25kg      2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.61321POTATO w/EGG CAD 6/1.25kg    2013112620expires 11/26/13

Consumers who purchased the product may take it back to the store for a refund or discard it.

For more information contact Reser's Fine Foods Consumer Hotline 1-888-257-7913 (8am-10pm EST).

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Keeping up with scams a never-ending job

For law enforcement, it's like playing Whack-a-Mole

Scammers always seem to be one step ahead of the authorities, victimizing unsuspecting consumers with impunity for years before justice finally catches up....

PhotoScammers always seem to be one step ahead of the authorities, victimizing unsuspecting consumers with impunity for years before justice finally catches up. But sometimes, justice does, in fact, catch up with scammers.

Four years after consumers first began reporting frightening calls from abusive debt collectors trying to shake down victims over phony payday loans, a federal court has stopped operations in Atlanta and Cleveland it said were running the scam.

Since 2009 thousands of people have received calls, threatening them with arrest because of an unpaid payday loan. This scam was particularly dangerous because the caller had the victim's personal information, raising the possibility of identify theft.

While victims are now breathing a sigh of relief, it isn't clear if other, unrelated operators are also running the same scam. Time will tell.

New scam targets African-Americans

Meantime, authorities are trying to run down another scam that is targeting African-American farmers. Scammers are contacting them, offering assistance in filing claims in the Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation against the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“It has been brought to our attention that there are individuals and organizations who are holding meetings statewide and charging a fee to help black farmers file claims and participate in lawsuits when, in fact, the deadline to do so has long since passed,” said Mississippi Attorney General Hood. “We are looking into these allegations and what we can do about them, but feel the need to warn consumers to be wary.”

The litigation was real. African-American farmers sought compensation from USDA for racial discrimination in farm loans and loan servicing between 1981 and 1996. However, the settlement was reached in 2011 and the deadline to file a claim was May 11, 2012.

“Wherever there is money involved, we find scammers trying to steal it from those who most need it,” Hood said. “What a shame that we have to send out such a warning. You can never be too careful these days.”

Internet is dangerous place

Indeed. While scammers in the past relied mostly on the telephone and the U.S. mail, today's charlatans are more likely to use the Internet. The above-mentioned fake payday loan scam may have delivered its threats by phone but it's likely the schemers targeted their victims by their submission of personal information online.

Stephen Ebbett, President of Protect Your Bubble, an insurance company that writes policies protecting against identity theft, says consumers have to exercise extreme caution online. Rule number one, he says, is to only input personal information at trusted and verified sites.

“Virtually all reputable ecommerce sites provide a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate, which means that a secure link between the site and your browser has been verified – it’s an assurance that the site uses encryption to keep hackers away from credit card data and other personal information,” Ebbett said.

Check the address

You can tell if a website has an SSL certificate by paying attention to the URL at the top of the browser. It should begin with HTTPS instead of HTTP. There should also be an icon in the form of a lock to the left of the address. If you click on the lock you can see the name of the certifying organization that verified data encryption for the site.

Sophisticated scammers are wise to this and are starting to create convincing HTTPS sites, so this is not a foolproof tell.

Increasingly, identity theft is where the money is in the scam game so consumers who take steps to protect their identities in online activities can do a lot to keep scammers at arm's length. The numbers are staggering.

A Javelin Strategy and Research study and Federal Trade Commission statistics show that there were almost a million more cases of identity theft in 2012 than there were in 2011. Nearly 13 million Americans were victims of identity thieves in 2012.

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Honda planning late release of 2014 Civic

Absence from showrooms has industry tongues wagging

If you've visited a car dealer lately you know that in most cases, the 2014 models are on the lot and salesmen are eager to send you home in a 2013 model, ...

If you've visited a car dealer lately you know that in most cases, the 2014 models are on the lot and salesmen are eager to send you home in a 2013 model, to make room. But the 2014 Honda Civic, one of America's best-selling cars, has yet to make an appearance.

Just when the new Civic will show up in showrooms is anyone's guess, because Honda hasn't said. Industry guesses have ranged from late fall to early first quarter 2014. However, the public will get its first glimpse at the 2013 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas Nov. 5.

While Honda has had little to say about the new Civic it recently confirmed that the car will be receiving a "mid-cycle refresh," meaning the Civic will get some new enhancements. If the changes turn out to be major, it would be the third straight year for that.

Winning converts

The Civic has always been a popular entry-level car but won new converts when it moved from the sub-compact to the compact class in 2001. U.S. sales totaled nearly 318,000 in 2012.

Automotive site Edmunds.com notes the 2012 Civic got a major makeover that was not received all that enthusiastically. Honda responded with a significant refresh that earned high marks from Edmunds reviewers, along with others in the industry.

Improvements in the 2013 model, including enhanced fuel economy that bumped the highway rating to 39 mpg, have helped the Civic stand out as a compact segment leader. In the absence of details, dealers are left to speculate and hope. Benson Honda of San Antonio suggests that if the automaker implements a version of its Earth Dreams engine in the new Civic, it's possible that the car will break the 40 mpg highway barrier.

Integrated Internet radio

One improvement might be in the Civic's entertainment system. The automotive site Best New Cars expects the addition of a system that allows drivers to connect to Pandora Internet radio and have text messages read aloud over the audio system. It also predicts push-button start and heated seats. 

“As far as security technologies in 2014 Honda Civic will have ACC and CMBS. ACC allows you to set a constant speed and the distance from the vehicle in front of you. All this is possible thanks to the sensor which is located behind the front grille,” the site says. “CMBS system pre-screen in front of your vehicle and promptly notifies you if you need to take a specific action. If necessary, starts and braking.”

4-Car Reviews, an automotive industry blog, predicts only small changes to the 2014 Civic.

“The Honda Civic will not change beyond perhaps a new color choice or two or maybe some juggled functions,” the site says. “Gas mileage is unlikely to get much better unless Honda goes extreme and presents a new automated gearbox.” 

The civic has gotten bigger over the years, but may not get any larger. After all, Honda must protect its midsize model, the Accord. Still, many industry insiders note that the Civic boasts passenger volume of nearly 100 cubic feet, which might help explain its continued popularity.

It completes with the Ford Focus and Fiesta and Chevrolet Cruz, which are already out with their 2014 models and perhaps, are taking a few sales that might have gone the Civic's way. On the other hand, Honda is building a buzz among industry insiders and, it hopes, with consumers.

More

Researchers find new genes linked to Alzheimer's

More genes identified in three-year study than in all of the previous 20 years

The largest international study ever conducted on Alzheimer's disease has found 11 new regions of the genome involved in the disease, providing new underst...

PhotoThe largest international study ever conducted on Alzheimer's disease has found 11 new regions of the genome involved in the disease, providing new understanding of the underlying molecular processes.

"This study clearly demonstrates that there really is strength in numbers to identify genes that individually have a small effect on risk of Alzheimer's," said Lindsay A. Farrer, PhD, Chief of Biomedical Genetics and professor of medicine, neurology, ophthalmology, genetics & genomics, epidemiology, and biostatistics at Boston University School of Medicine. "But it's not the magnitude of the odds ratio that's really important. Each gene we implicate in the disease process adds new knowledge to our understanding of disease mechanism and provides insight into developing new therapeutic approaches, and ultimately these approaches may be more effective in halting the disease since genes are expressed long before clinical symptoms appear and brain damage occurs," he added.

Since 2009, 10 genes for Alzheimer's disease have been identified. However, much of the individual susceptibility to develop the disease remains unexplained. So in February 2011, the leaders of the four largest international research consortia on the genetics of Alzheimer's joined forces to accelerate the discovery of new genes. Their findings are reported in the current issue of Nature Genetics.

In three years, the researchers identified more genes than had been identified over the previous 20 years. They collected genetic data on 74,076 patients and controls from 15 countries and were able to discover 11 new genes in addition to those already known, and identify 13 other genes, yet to be validated.

These 11 new confirmed genes may open new avenues to understanding the causes of Alzheimer's. For example, one of the most significant findings suggests the involvement of the immune system in the disease. In addition, this same region has also been associated with two other neurodegenerative diseases, one known to have an immune mechanism, multiple sclerosis and another not previously thought to have a major immune component, Parkinson's disease.

The work demonstrates that, given the complexity of such a disease, only a global collaboration of research efforts will quickly find solutions to tackle this major threat, the researchers said.

"Alzheimer's is a complex and devastating disorder, and if we are to reach our goal of finding effective therapies to treat it, then collaboration is key," said Neil Buckholtz, PhD, National Institute on Aging Division of Neuroscience Director. "[The consortium's] sharing of DNA samples, data sets and scientific insights proves that team concept, and NIA is gratified to have provided the infrastructure and support needed to move the team forward."

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Suit: Nordstrom tricked shoppers into revealing his email address, then started spamming him

The disgruntled shopper says he was told his email address would be used to send him a receipt

Nordstrom has a reputation for providing highly personal customer service but Robert Capp says it's the impersonal service in the form of emails that's get...

PhotoNordstrom has a reputation for providing highly personal customer service but Robert Capp says it's the impersonal service in the form of emails that's getting him down.

Capp is the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit that accuses Nordstrom of wheedling him for his email address after he made a purchase at a Nordstrom store in Roseville, Calif., then bombarding him with promotional emails.

Capp says the cashier asked him for his email so the store could send him an electronic receipt. He got the receipt all right, but he says he has also been receiving almost-daily emails from Nordstrom and other retailers, leading him to think Nordstrom shared or sold his email address without his permission, according to Courthouse News Service.

Capp also alleges that Nordstrom "utilized the email address he provided to reverse append and obtain other additional personal identification information about him."

Nordstrom moved for dismissal of the case, saying an email address is not personal identification information under California's Credit Card Act. But U.S. District Judge Morrison England Jr. found last week that there has been no published case deciding whether an email address constitutes personal identification information and allowed the case to proceed.

 

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App developers say uploading consumers' address books harms no one

The developers say consumers suffered no damage and have no legal standing

Does the information in your online address book have any value? A group of online developers say it doesn't and that, therefore, you shouldn't complain if...

PhotoDoes the information in your online address book have any value? A group of online developers say it doesn't and that, therefore, you shouldn't complain if they copy it without bothering to ask. 

Using that argument, the developers want a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit accusing them of violating consumers' privacy by swiping the names and email addresses stored on their computer or smartphone. 

The developers basically say the consumers have no "standing" -- meaning that they have not been harmed or affected in any way and therefore should, basically, sit down and shut up. 

Besides, the developers note, in most cases they didn't charge the consumers anything for the apps they downloaded so there were no economic damages.

You might ask why somebody would bother to steal something that has no value, but that's another question.

It all started ...

The origin of the case dates back to March 2012, when a Texas resident, Marc Opperman, sued Path and other developers who allegedly uploaded address books from his iPhone. A month earlier, the Federal Trade Commission had sued Path for allegedly violating its users' privacy by swiping their address books.

Path, a somewhat obscure social network, apologized and said it had deleted the information. It also settled the FTC complaint.

Since then, Opperman's original case has expanded to include many more developers, including Instagram, Yelp, Hipster and Twitter.

The developers have asked U.S. District Court Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco to dismiss the suit with prejudice, meaning that it could not be refiled, saying that consumers have not demonstrated any damage. 

“Plaintiffs have not identified any use of their address books by any defendant or third party that caused plaintiffs any harm or that devalued plaintiffs’ address book information,” they argue.

More

Another drop in pending home sales

A decline in affordability is hitting the market hard

Higher mortgage interest rates and home prices sent pending home sales tumbling for a fourth consecutive month in September. The National Association of R...

PhotoHigher mortgage interest rates and home prices sent pending home sales tumbling for a fourth consecutive month in September.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) says its Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, but not closings, fell 5.6% last month -- to 101.6. That puts the PHSI 1.2% below its year-ago level (102.8) and at the lowest point since last December 2012 when it was 101.3.

Convergence of events

Concerns over the government shutdown also played a role. “Declining housing affordability conditions are likely responsible for the bulk of reduced contract activity,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “In addition, government and contract workers were on the sidelines with growing insecurity over lawmakers’ inability to agree on a budget. A broader hit on consumer confidence from general uncertainty also curbs major expenditures such as home purchases.”

This is the first time in 29 months that pending home sales weren’t above year-ago levels. “This tells us to expect lower home sales for the fourth quarter, with a flat trend going into 2014,” Yun said. “Even so, ongoing inventory shortages will continue to lift home prices, though at a slower single-digit growth rate next year.”

Regional breakdown

The PHSI in the Northeast dropped 9.6% to 76.7 in September, and is 6.4% below a year ago. In the Midwest the index fell 8.3% to 102.3, but is 5.7% higher than September 2012. Pending home sales in the South slipped 0.4% to a reading of 116.2, but are 2.0% above a year ago. The index in the West plunged 9.0% in September to 97.3, and is 9.8% below its level at the same time last year.

The forecast

Total existing-home sales this year will be 10% higher than 2012, reaching more than 5.1 million, and are likely to hold even in 2014, according to the NAR. The group also expects the national median existing-home price to rise 11 to 11.5% for all of 2013, but moderate to a 5 to 6% gain next year.

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Kraft And Polly-O string cheese products recalled

The products may spoil before their 'Best When Used By' code dates

Kraft Foods Group is voluntarily recalling some varieties of Kraft and Polly-O String Cheese and String Cheese Twists products. These products may spoil ...

PhotoKraft Foods Group is voluntarily recalling some varieties of Kraft and Polly-O String Cheese and String Cheese Twists products.

These products may spoil before their "Best When Used By" code dates, leading to product discoloration. The affected products all have code dates from October 25, 2013, through February 11, 2014.

Approximately 735,000 cases of the affected product, which was produced in Campbell, N.Y., were shipped to customers across the United States. The affected product was not distributed in Canada.

The following varieties are being recalled:

Consumers can find the "Best When Used By" date on the back of multi-count packages toward the bottom. For string cheese products labeled for individual sale, the "Best When Used By" date is on the bottom front of the package.

No other Kraft or Polly-O String Cheese or String Cheese Twists products -- or any other Kraft Foods or Polly-O products -- are being recalled.

Consumers who purchased any product listed above should not eat it. They should return it to the store where purchased for an exchange or full refund.

Consumers also can contact Kraft Foods Consumer Relations at 1-800-816-9432 between 9 am and 6 pm (Eastern).

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For kid smokers, it's all about taste

Flavored little cigars or flavored cigarettes are catching on with the young puffers

How do you fight tobacco use when it doesn't taste like tobacco? That's a problem anti-smoking forces are facing. A report by the Centers for Disease Cont...

PhotoHow do you fight tobacco use when it doesn't taste like tobacco?

That's a problem anti-smoking forces are facing. A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published in the Journal of Adolescent Health says more than two out of every five middle and high school students who smoke report using either flavored little cigars or flavored cigarettes.

The study also shows that among youth cigar smokers, almost 60% of those who smoke flavored little cigars are not thinking about quitting tobacco use, compared with just over 49% among all other cigar smokers.

“Flavored or not, cigars cause cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and many other health problems. Flavored little cigars appeal to youth and the use of these tobacco products may lead to disfigurement, disability, and premature death,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. ”We need to take comprehensive steps to reduce all tobacco use for all of our youth.”

Menthol, candy and fruit

The study found that 35.4% of current youth cigarette smokers use flavored cigarettes, which could include menthol cigarettes or flavored little cigars that they mistook for flavored cigarettes. In 2009, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act was enacted and prohibited the use of flavors, except menthol, in cigarettes. However, flavored little cigars are still manufactured and sold with candy and fruit flavorings.

“Little cigars contain the same toxic and cancer-causing ingredients found in cigarettes and are not a safe alternative to cigarettes,” said Tim McAfee, MD, MPH, director of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health. “Many flavored little cigars appear virtually indistinguishable from cigarettes with similar sizes, shapes, filters, and packaging.”

In addition to offering a wide variety of flavors that appeal to young people, little cigars are taxed at a lower rate than cigarettes at the state level. Little cigars have become more popular in recent years; sales increased 240 percent from 1997 to 2007, with flavored brands making up almost 80 percent of the market share.

Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States. The health consequences of tobacco use include heart disease, multiple types of cancer, pulmonary disease, adverse reproductive effects, and the exacerbation of chronic health conditions. And 99% of all smokers start before they’re 26 years old.

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Audi S6 and S7 vehicles recalled

The vehicles' fuel line may leak

Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 3,594 model year 2013-2014 Audi S6 and S7 vehicles equipped with 4.0L engines. Due to manufacturing tolerance is...

PhotoVolkswagen Group of America is recalling 3,594 model year 2013-2014 Audi S6 and S7 vehicles equipped with 4.0L engines.

Due to manufacturing tolerance issues, a fuel line may leak fuel. In the presence of an ignition source, a leak may result in a fire.

Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will replace the fuel line, free of charge. The safety recall is planned to begin in late October 2013.

Owners may contact Audi of America at 1-800-822-2834. Volkswagen's number for this campaign is 20U6/L8.

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Ford recalls Focus Electric and C-Max vehicles

The 'open door' chime can malfunction

Ford Motor Company is recalling 23,000 model year 2012-2013 Focus Electric vehicles and 2013 C-Max vehicles equipped with the Intelligent Access Push Butto...

PhotoFord Motor Company is recalling 23,000 model year 2012-2013 Focus Electric vehicles and 2013 C-Max vehicles equipped with the Intelligent Access Push Button Start System.

In the affected vehicles, there is no audible chime when the vehicle is operational and the driver's door is opened. Without an audible door chime, a vehicle owner may open the door and exit the vehicle without being reminded that the vehicle is still operational, leaving the vehicle susceptible to theft.

Ford will notify owners, and dealers will update the software for the door chime, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin at the end of October 2013.

Owners may contact the Ford customer relationship center at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's recall number is 13C07.

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'Lucky 13' Tips for a Safe Halloween

It's no trick to treat yourself to an accident-free holiday

Goblins ghouls, vampires and witches will be out in force in a few days as we celebrate Halloween. It would be a shame if all that fun were marred by poor...

PhotoGoblins ghouls, vampires and witches will be out in force in a few days as we celebrate Halloween. It would be a shame if all that fun were marred by poor costume choices -- things like decorative contact lenses, flammable costumes and face paint allergies.

To help you enjoy a safe and happy Halloween here are “lucky 13” guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Wear costumes made of fire-retardant materials; look for “flame resistant” on the label. If you make your costume, use flame-resistant fabrics such as polyester or nylon.
  • Wear bright, reflective costumes or add strips of reflective tape so you’ll be more visible; make sure the costumes aren’t so long that you’re in danger of tripping.
  • Wear makeup and hats rather than masks that can obscure your vision.
  • Test the makeup you plan to use by putting a small amount on the arm of the person who will be wearing it a couple of days in advance. If a rash, redness, swelling, or other signs of irritation develop where the makeup was applied, that's a sign of a possible allergy.
  • Check FDA’s list of color additives to see if makeup additives are FDA approved. If they it's not approved for the intended use, don’t use it.
  • Don’t wear decorative contact lenses unless you have seen an eye care professional and gotten a proper lens fitting and instructions for using the lenses.

Safe treats

PhotoEating sweet treats is also a big part of the fun on Halloween. If you’re trick-or-treating, health and safety experts say you should remember these tips:

  • Don’t eat candy until it has been inspected at home.
  • Trick-or-treaters should eat a snack before heading out, so they won’t be tempted to nibble on treats that haven’t been inspected.
  • Tell children not to accept -- or eat -- anything that isn’t commercially wrapped.
  • Parents of very young children should remove any choking hazards such as gum, peanuts, hard candies, or small toys.
  • Inspect commercially wrapped treats for signs of tampering, such as an unusual appearance or discoloration, tiny pinholes, or tears in wrappers. Throw away anything that looks suspicious.
  • For party-goers and party throwers, FDA recommends the following tips for two seasonal favorites:

           -- Look for the warning label to avoid juice that hasn’t been pasteurized or otherwise processed, especially packaged juice products that may have been made on site. When in doubt, ask. Always ask if you are unsure if a juice product is pasteurized or not. Normally, the juice found in your grocer’s frozen food case, refrigerated section, or on the shelf in boxes, bottles or cans is pasteurized.

           -- Before bobbing for apples -- a favorite Halloween game -- reduce the amount of bacteria that might be on apples by thoroughly rinsing them under cool running water. As an added precaution, use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.

Eye safety

PhotoFDA joins eye care professionals in discouraging consumers from using decorative contact lenses.

Experts warn that buying any kind of contact lenses without an examination and a prescription from an eye care professional can cause serious eye disorders and infections, which may lead to permanent vision loss. Despite the fact that it’s illegal to sell decorative contact lenses without a valid prescription, such lenses are sold on the Internet and in retail shops and salons -- particularly around Halloween.

The decorative lenses make the wearer’s eyes appear to glow in the dark, create the illusion of vertical “cat eyes,” or change the wearer’s eye color.

"Although unauthorized use of decorative contact lenses is a concern year-round, Halloween is the time when people may be inclined to use them, perhaps as costume accessories," says FDA eye expert Bernard Lepri, O.D., M.S., M.Ed.. "What troubles us is when they are bought and used without a valid prescription, without the involvement of a qualified eye care professional, or without appropriate follow-up care. This can lead to significant risks of eye injuries, including blindness."

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How to shop for a bank

Choosing the wrong one will cost you money

Dissatisfaction with banks has been growing in recent years. Part of it may be due to the growing emphasis on fees. It may partly be due to a perceived dec...

Dissatisfaction with banks has been growing in recent years. Part of it may be due to the growing emphasis on fees. It may partly be due to a perceived decline in service.

Dustin, of Portland, Ore., reports an experience at Bank of America that is not all that unusual these days, especially when it comes to large, national banks.

“Normally, I go in the bank to cash my check then go outside to deposit the money in the ATM to avoid their fees and waiting period for the check to clear,” Dustin wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “A few weeks ago, I had to go through a big ordeal because I do it that way. The branch manager told me that I need to start depositing them or they wouldn't continue to cash my checks. Then she told me that I won't have any waiting periods if I deposit them before the close of business. On Friday, October 18th, I did as suggested and they put my check on hold till October 29th.”

Because of recent changes in the banking industry, Dustin and other consumers need to go about shopping for a bank like they would other expensive consumer products – carefully.

A lot of choices

“There are over 7,000 institutions to choose from when you are looking for a place to put your money, aside from sticking it under your mattress,” said Alex Matjanec, co-founder of MyBankTracker.com, a website covering banking issues.

He says consumers should focus on three main points. The first is location. Despite the growth in online banking, having a branch nearby is still a handy thing. The second factor is fees.

“When you're choosing a bank or institution to build a relationship with, you want to avoid fees that the institution applies to specific accounts,” Matjanec said. “The best way to avoid the fees is to look at your financial habits. Do you have direct deposit, for example? If you can direct deposit a regular check, like a paycheck, that's one of the best ways to avoid the maintenance fee on a checking account.”

The third point is the number and placement of ATMs. One advantage of a larger bank is you can withdraw money from any of its branchs' ATMs.

ATM fees

Photo“ATM fees are the most common fees bank customers face,” Matjanec said. “Some of the largest institutions charge anywhere between $2 and $3 anytime you use an ATM that isn't associated with that bank. You can imagine that if you withdraw money twice a week from an ATM not associated with your bank you could be spending over $20 a month and over $200 annually.”

Choosing a small independent bank, however, doesn't mean you have to get stuck with a lot of expensive ATM fees. Small banks are usually members of larger ATM networks, which can be an advantage – if you are careful in your bank shopping.

“If you choose a community bank, you want to make sure the bank is part of a large ATM network,” Matjanec said. “For example, All Point is a large ATM network. If your community bank is part of that network, you'll save on fees.”

Shopping for services

Another part of bank shopping is to find the services you want to use and make sure there are no fees associated with it – or there are ways to reduce or eliminate the fees. For example, some banks offer online bill pay for free, others will charge for it. So when you choose a bank make sure you take all your financial habits into account.

Fortunately, shopping for a bank is easier than it once way, mainly thanks to technology.

“In the past I think choosing a bank was mostly driven by advertising,” Matjanec said. “Now you can go online and access information easily.”

Not only can you compare fees and interest rates, you can read reviews from consumers. While consumers generally hate fees, Matjanec says it's just the industry's response to new laws and regulations, shifting some of the charges that once fell on retailers to consumers.

“Banks have responded with higher fees for checking accounts and fewer perks for rewards programs. that's why consumers should be aware of their financial habits so they can minimize those fees.”

Being more consumer-friendly

PhotoHow can banks be more consumer-friendly? Three ways, Matjanec says.

  • Be more transparent. If you are going to charge a fee, provide adequate notice and explanation of why this change much happen.
  • Give choice and alternatives. Can I customize an account so that I pay for the services I use and not for those that I don’t use?
  • Simplify banking tasks for customers. Online bill pay helps customers automatically pay bills while cutting down on costs for banks. Consumers, meanwhile, need to come to terms with the new banking environment.

“A trend we're seeing is some of the larger banks charging customers who visit their branches, which sounds a little crazy, but they're trying to encourage people to do their banking online,” Matjanec said. “They're hoping to lower their costs and keep things efficient for them. They don't want to take things away from consumers but I think they need to leverage technology to make things smarter and ultimately, lower costs for consumers.”

If consumers can adapt they may find a better relationship with their bank. It's consumers who don't adapt who may end up paying more and being dissatisfied with their banking experience.

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Digital distractions increasingly common in college classrooms

Students can't put down their smartphones, not even in class

Would you spend thousands of dollars -- and maybe go deep into debt -- to attend college, then spend time playing with your smartphone or posting...

PhotoWould you spend thousands of dollars – and maybe go deeply into debt – to attend college, then spend time playing with your smartphone or posting to Facebook while the instructor tries to deliver that expensive education?

Wouldn't be too bright, would it? Yet in college classrooms across the country, that appears to be what's going on. In fact, Barney McCoy, an associate professor of broadcasting at the University of Nebraska, conducted a study that finds the typical college student plays with his or her digital device an average of 11 times a day while in class.

A generation ago, the typical college professor wouldn't have tolerated it, arguing the behavior distracts the user, as well as other students. Today's students will give you no argument. In McCoy's study more than 80 percent admit that their use of smart phones, tablets and laptops can interfere with their learning. More than a fourth say their grades suffer as a result.

Yet they do it anyway. Is it that they just can't help themselves?

Not a problem?

"I don't think students necessarily think it's problematic," McCoy said. "They think it's part of their lives."

McCoy says he got interested in the topic shortly after launching his teaching career seven years ago, at just about the time smartphones were becoming more common. From the front of the classroom he would begin to notice a student here and there bowing over a digital device, reading or typing out a text.

The view from the back of the classroom, he says, was even more revealing. When a colleague came in to guest-teach a class, McCoy stood in the back of the room and was shocked by the lack of attention.

"They've got their laptops open, but they're not always taking notes," McCoy said. "Some might have two screens open -- Facebook and their notes."

Intrigued, McCoy decided to try to set out to measure the distraction scientifically. Just how common is it for students to tune out their professors in favor of staying in touch with friends or playing games?

The study

PhotoDuring fall semester 2012, he interviewed 777 students at six universities in five states about their classroom use of digital devices for non-instructional purposes. Were students distracted by others' use of digital devices in the classroom, he wondered? Should colleges and universities do more to limit their classroom use?

Here's what he found: 35% of students played with their phones or tablets in class one to three times per day. Twenty-seven percent did it four to 10 times while 16% said they did it 11 to 30 times per day. Only eight percent said they never used digital devices in class for non-educational purposes.

What was drawing students' attention to their digital devices? Nearly 86% were texting, 68% were checking email and 66% were reading or posting on social networks. Eight percent admitted by were playing a game.

Why do students say they use their smartphones and other digital devices in class? Seventy percent said they want to “stay connected.” Fifty-five percent say they use them to fight boredom.

Yet 90% admit that when they use their phones in class they aren't paying attention. Eight percent have admitted missing instructions. More than a fourth said they have lost grade points because of their digital habits.

Stockholm smartphone syndrome

But don't expect students to put their gadgets away. Charlie Osborne, a writer at technology site ZDNet and a former teacher, is well-acquainted with the pattern. She calls it Stockholm smartphone syndrome

“You don't fight against physical distractions anymore as a teacher; instead you combat the digital,” she writes. “With the wealth of information and entertainment available, mere mortals stand no chance unless we physically pry the smartphone out of a child's fingers and brace ourselves to endure the torrent of rage and anxiety afterwards.”

Indeed, students recoil at the notion of leaving their smartphones at home. In McCoy's survey, 91% of college students opposed a ban on digital devices in the classroom. McCoy says the issue isn't going away.

A 2012 study showed that two-thirds of students age 18-29 own a smartphone, which gives them mobile access to the Internet as well as texting and email capabilities. A 2013 study by Experian Marketing Services found that 18- to 24-year-olds send and receive an average of 3,853 text messages per month.

Automatic behavior

"It's become automatic behavior on the part of so many people -- they do it without even thinking about it," McCoy said.

McCoy is trying to reach a compromise with his students' digital obsession. He says he has limited the length of his lectures to give students periodic breaks so they can update Facebook or send a tweet. In a sly move he periodically asks students to use their phones for classroom purposes, asking them to look something up, for example. It doesn't work.

"I can guarantee you even when I do those things, it's still not going to keep students from having a text conversation," he said. "They'll multi-task while they're doing it."

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Marketing to men by appealing to "manfluencers"

We did not invent the word "manfluencers." They did.

Hooray for gender equality! We’ve finally discovered something to rival the insultingly asinine results you see whenever some company’s marketi...

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Parents' class action targets kids' homeopathic medicine

The supposed remedies are, at best, ineffective, the suit claims

A class action lawsuit filed on behalf of disgruntled parents claims that a homeopathic medicine manufacturer targets children for its "worthless" products...

PhotoA class action lawsuit filed on behalf of disgruntled parents claims that a homeopathic medicine manufacturer targets children for its "worthless" products sold under the Kids Relief brand. The lawsuit claims that HomeoLab USA has "wrongfully taken millions of dollars" through misleading marketing.

Lead plaintiff Jessica Medina and three other named plaintiffs allege that HomeoLab claims, falsely, that its Kids Relief products provide "safe, effective relief" for colds and flu, Courthouse News Service reported.

"In fact," the lawsuit states, "HomeoLab's products are worthless, and HomeoLab unfairly, deceptively and unjustly enriches itself o[n] the backs of children to turn a corporate profit."

The suit takes issue with the basis of homeopathy, a treatment philosophy that originated more than 300 years ago in Germany, before the era of modern chemistry and medicine. It is generally dismissed as, at best, ineffective by medical authorities.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that there is "little evidence to support homeopathy as an effective treatment for any specific condition" but warns that not all homeopathic drugs are harmless.

In the lawsuit, the parents say that HomeoLab pushes its Kids Relief Flu by claiming that its ingredients -- "autolysate of the heart and liver of the duck" -- relieves flu-like symptoms in children 2 years and over."

"But the heart and liver of a Muscovy duck, at least at the dilutions claimed, can be scientifically and mathematically shown to have no medical value, no biological effect on humans," the complaint states.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was filed on behalf of the parernts by attorneys Thomas O'Connell and Sheila Zolnoor.

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New FDA guidelines for animal feed

Surprisingly, these basic guidelines aren't already the law

The Food and Drug Administration, as part of its Food Safety and Modernization Act, has proposed new safety guidelines for animal food. But for the average...

PhotoThe Food and Drug Administration, as part of its Food Safety and Modernization Act, has proposed new safety guidelines for animal food. But for the average consumer, the most surprising thing about this announcement might be the fact that the proposed new guidelines aren’t already the law.

The FDA itself concedes that it is only now "proposing preventive measures to protect all animal foods from disease-causing bacteria, chemicals and other contaminants."

The propsed new rules affect both pet food and the feed that is given to livestock. 

“Unlike safeguards already in place to protect human foods, there are currently no regulations governing the safe production of most animal foods. There is no type of hazard analysis. This rule would change all that,” says Daniel McChesney, Ph.D., director of the Office of Surveillance and Compliance at FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM).

McChesney notes that human and animal health are intertwined. People can get sick when pet food is contaminated by disease-causing bacteria like Salmonella. When such food is handled by pet owners and placed on kitchen surfaces, the bacteria can spread to foods consumed by their family.

And if an animal has eaten feed contaminated with a chemical like dioxin and then enters the food supply, consumers could likewise absorb the chemical, putting their health at risk.

By helping to prevent the contamination of animal foods, the proposed rule protects pets and people alike, he says.

Jerky treats

Earlier this week, we reported that the FDA is asking for pet owners to help them figure out exactly why, since 2007, hundreds of American dogs and cats have died after eating presumably tainted beef jerky treats. Only last month could we report that the FDA would require pet food labels to list any artificial colorings included among its ingredients.

In one of the most infamous examples of pet food contamination, dogs and cats across the country were sickened and killed in 2007 when melamine, a chemical used to make plastic, was added to pet food ingredients imported from China. 

The requirements proposed in both the animal and import rules are designed to help prevent that from happening again, McChesney says.

Humane Society approves

The Humane Society of the United States is applauding the FDA's action, noting the thousands of pets sickened by jerky treats and contaminated dog food in recent years.

“As the recent shock over the deaths of hundreds of pets who consumed imported jerky treats illustrates, there is an urgent need for stronger regulations protecting the safety of our pet food and treat supply," CEO Wayne Pacelle said. "Pets reside in 68 percent of U.S. households and are cherished members of our families who deserve high-quality, safe, nutritious food and treats.

"We urge the FDA to continue investigating the cause of the pet food deaths, and encourage pet owners who suspect their pets may have consumed contaminated products to report their case to the FDA’s consumer reporting system,” Pacelle said.

Even if you’ve never owned an animal in your life the regulations are still likely to affect you because, as McChesney told NBC, “We have been pushing feed safety for a number of years. It’s not, ‘Oh, we’re just making food for animals.’ They’re the first part of the food chain. We're a part of the overall food industry.” 

The proposed new rules will be open for public comment for 120 days. If put into law, they would apply to all domestic and imported animal feed, as well as the raw ingredients used to make it.

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True.com sale is off; failed buyer trashes Texas attorney general

PlentyofFish will have to go fishing for new members elsewhere

Earlier this month, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott objected to the proposed sale of True.com, saying the sale would violate a privacy pledge the site m...

PhotoEarlier this month, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott objected to the proposed sale of True.com, saying the sale would violate a privacy pledge the site made to its 43 million members when they signed up for the dating service.

Now the would-be buyer -- PlentyofFish -- says the deal is off and its CEO and founder, Markus Frind, says he finds Abbott's objections ridiculous.

“The fact that the Texas AG stopped one dating site from buying another dating site without user consent is like asking all Twitter users to approve its IPO,” Mr. Frind said, the Wall Street Journal reported.

True, based in Plano, Texas, has been in bankruptcy for more than a year and has been trying to sell its assets and go out of business. But what's its biggest asset? That's right -- its database of 43 million members.

Frind had offered to pay $700,000 for the troubled site but, writing on his personal blog, he said the deal wasn't important enough to justify a huge legal bill to fight the Texas complaint. And he said the site's not worth much without the database.

“Who in their right mind is going to buy a dating site with 43 million members if you are not allowed access to those members?” Frind asked on his personal blog.

Plenty of friends

PlentyofFish, by the way, has a pretty good privacy record, from all appearances. It lets users restrict what kind of people can contact them and gives users plenty of space to post photos and write about themselves. 

Perhaps most significantly, PlentyofFish is free. It makes its money from advertising instead of from fees charged to its members. It is mentioned in passing in numerous negative reviews of other services on ConsumerAffairs, like one from Nancy of Garfield, Ohio.

While complaining about the fees charged by eHarmony, Nancy said: "Take what you like from this, but if you ever want to meet an actual person and have an actual DATE, try OKCupid or plentyofFish. Just bring your asbestos shorts, ladies, they all think we are all desperate. REALLY."

While complaining about Match.com, Matt of Falls Church, Va., commended PlentyofFish and OKCupid, another free site, for blocking profile spam: "[They] block ip addresses from scammer havens and have much lower volumes of fake profiles compared to Match.com. But Match, a subscription service, is replete with scam artists."

So, whether it's for the best or not, it's true that True.com members won't be getting plenty of new friends from PlentyofFish. 

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Kentucky law firm sued over illegal real estate kickbacks

Feds say the company funneled kickbacks through a network of shell companies

Kentucky law firm Borders & Borders, PLC and its principals are being targeted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), for allegedly paying ill...

PhotoKentucky law firm Borders & Borders, PLC and its principals are being targeted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), for allegedly paying illegal kickbacks for real estate settlement referrals through a network of shell companies.

“The action,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray, “sends a clear message that companies cannot design business structures to hide illegal kickbacks. The CFPB will continue to pursue companies that seek to profit from convoluted arrangements that limit competition and hurt honest businesses.”

In its lawsuit, the CFPB contends that the firm and its principals, Harry Borders, John Borders, Jr., and J. David Borders, violated the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) by operating a network of affiliated companies to pay kickbacks for referrals of mortgage settlement business.

RESPA prohibits giving and receiving kickbacks for referrals of settlement service business involving federally related mortgages. When companies pay kickbacks in exchange for referrals, it can hurt competition and inflate real estate settlement costs for consumers, while creating an uneven playing field that puts law-abiding businesses at a disadvantage.

Defendants respond

Borders & Borders said in a statement that it “would not and did not violate RESPA. This case concerns a number of title agencies that were affiliated with our firm several years ago. The title agencies were 'affiliated business arrangements' that are expressly allowed by RESPA. There were disclosures to every consumer, as required by the statute, and in every instance in which title insurance was issued through the agencies, the consumer approved.

“We note that the CFPB does not allege that there was any consumer harm, or that any consumer paid a penny more for title insurance issued through the agencies in question.

“We are very disappointed by the CFPB’s conduct, and we will certainly defend the case vigorously.”

Phony profit-sharing alleged

The CFPB complaint charges that Borders & Borders operated nine joint ventures with the owners and managers of local real estate and mortgage broker companies, and allegedly used the joint ownership to disguise illegal kickbacks as legitimate profit sharing.

According to the complaint, when a local real estate or mortgage broker company with a preexisting arrangement referred a homebuyer to Borders & Borders for closing or other settlement services, the law firm would arrange for the title insurance to be issued by the corresponding joint venture. The profits from the joint venture would then be split between the joint venture’s owners: the Borders principals and the referring real estate or mortgage broker.

Sham operations

The complaint maintains the nine joint ventures were not bona fide entities and did not have their own office space, email addresses, or phone numbers, and all nine companies shared a single independent contractor who was also an employee of Borders & Borders. Each company only issued title insurance policies for homebuyers that had been referred to and by Borders & Borders, and did no advertising to attract other business.

The companies performed no substantive title work, all of which was instead performed by the staff at Borders & Borders. The CFPB believes the entire arrangement served no significant business purpose beyond acting as a conduit for kickbacks in exchange for referrals.

Borders & Borders PLC received substantial fees for closing services it provided to consumers referred by the brokerages involved in the illegal referral network. The principals received substantial distributions from the nine companies during that period. The CFPB’s lawsuit seeks disgorgement of all ill-gotten proceeds from the referral arrangement, and an injunction to stop the defendants from further violating RESPA.

The investigation that led to the lawsuit was begun by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). After receiving notice of the HUD investigation, Borders shut down the joint ventures. The case was transferred to the CFPB in July 2011 when it was given authority to enforce RESPA.  

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United fined for lengthy O’Hare tarmac delays

The carrier chalked up 13 violations in a single day

United Airlines is being fined $1.1 million for lengthy tarmac delays that took place at Chicago-O’Hare International Airport on July 13, 2012. This is ...

PhotoUnited Airlines is being fined $1.1 million for lengthy tarmac delays that took place at Chicago-O’Hare International Airport on July 13, 2012.

This is the largest fine assessed by the U. S. Department of Transportation (DOT) for a tarmac-delay violation since the rule limiting long tarmac delays first took effect in April 2010. United will pay $475,000 of that to the U.S. government, with the rest covering mitigation measures for affected passengers and significant corrective actions by United to enhance future compliance with tarmac delay requirements.

“It is unacceptable for passengers to be stranded in planes on the tarmac for hours on end,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We will continue to require airlines to adopt workable plans to protect passengers from lengthy tarmac delays and carry out these plans when necessary.”

Weather a factor

United is being fined for 13 lengthy tarmac delays that took place on a day when severe thunderstorms and lightning caused several ramp closures and disrupted the movement of aircraft at O’Hare. Delays by United and its United Express code-share affiliates exceeded the three-hour limit for tarmac delays by as little as two minutes and as much as 77 minutes.

Although United had a contingency plan for tarmac delays, DOT’s Aviation Enforcement Office found that the airline did not implement the plan during these delays, and that the plan was inadequate to cover foreseeable weather emergencies in which there were more planes on the ground than space at gates.

The Enforcement Office also found that United did not contact airport personnel or other airlines for assistance during the tarmac delays. Additionally, on two United Express flights, the lavatories were inoperable during part of the delays.

Time limits

Under DOT rules, U.S. airlines operating aircraft with 30 or more passenger seats are prohibited from allowing their domestic flights to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours at U.S. airports without giving passengers an opportunity to leave the plane. Exceptions to the time limits are allowed only for safety, security or air traffic control-related reasons.

The rules also require airlines to provide adequate food and water, ensure that lavatories are working and, if necessary, provide medical attention to passengers during long tarmac delays.

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Collection of allegedly fake payday debts halted

The FTC claims consumers were threatened with arrest

A federal court has put the brakes on an operation based in Atlanta and Cleveland that allegedly used deceptive and threatening tactics to collect phantom...

PhotoA federal court has put the brakes on an operation based in Atlanta and Cleveland that allegedly used deceptive and threatening tactics to collect phantom payday loan “debts” that consumers either did not owe, or did not owe to the defendants.

The court order, which came at the request of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) freezes the defendants’ assets to preserve the possibility of providing redress to consumers, and appoints a receiver.

The FTC contends that the defendants operated under a host of fictitious business names that implied an affiliation with a law firm or a law enforcement agency, such as Global Legal Services, Allied Litigation Group, United Judgment & Appeals, Dockets Liens & Seizures, and United Judgment Center.

Using robocalls and voice messages that threatened legal action and arrest unless consumers responded within a few days, the defendants have collected and processed millions of dollars in payment for phantom debts, according to the complaint. Their practices have generated almost 3,000 complaints to the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel.

Scare tactics

Documents filed with the court say a typical message stated: “[T]his is the Civil Investigations Unit. We are contacting you in regards to a complaint being filed against you, pursuant to claim and affidavit number D00D-2932, where you have been named a respondent in a court action and must appear. There is a contact number on file which you must call, 757-301-4745. Please forward this information to your attorney in that the order to show cause contains a restraining order. You or your attorney will have 24 to 48 hours to oppose this matter.”

Working out of offices in Cleveland and Atlanta, the defendants threatened consumers that if they did not pay, their bank accounts would be closed, their wages would be garnished, they would face felony fraud charges, they would have to appear in court thousands of miles from their homes, or they would be arrested at their workplace, documents filed with the court said.

Many consumers ended up paying the defendants for debts they did not owe because they feared the threatened repercussions of failing to pay, believed the defendants were legitimate and collecting real debts, or simply wanted to stop the harassment, according to the complaint.

The FTC’s complaint names Lisa J. Jeter, Nichole C. Anderson, Hope V. Wilson, Angela J. Triplett, DeMarra J. Massey, and their companies Pinnacle Payment Services, LLC, Velocity Payment Solutions, LLC, Heritage Capital Services, LLC, Performance Payment Processing, LLC, Credit Source Plus, LLC (Ohio), Credit Source Plus, LLC (Georgia), Reliable Resolution, LLC, Premium Express Processing, LLC (Ohio), and Premium Express Processing, LLC (Atlanta).

Charges leveled

The complaint charges the defendants with violating the FTC Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by falsely telling consumers that:

  • they were delinquent on a payday loan or other debt that the defendants had the authority to collect;
  • they had the legal obligation to pay the defendants;
  • they would be arrested or imprisoned if they did not pay; and
  • the defendants had taken or would take legal action.

The complaint also charges that the defendants:

  • illegally called consumers at inconvenient times or places, including at their workplaces, despite being asked to stop;
  • disclosed supposed debts to family members, employers, and other third parties;
  • harassed consumers with repeated calls;
  • failed to disclose their identity as debt collectors; and
  • failed to provide a required written notice telling consumers how to dispute the alleged debts.
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Boston Salads and Provisions recalls ready-to-eat products

The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

Boston Salads and Provisions Company of Boston, Mass., is recalling approximately 222,959 pounds of ready-to-eat chicken salad products due to possible co...

PhotoBoston Salads and Provisions Company of Boston, Mass., is recalling approximately 222,959 pounds of ready-to-eat chicken salad products due to possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenes.

There have been no reports of illnesses due to consumption of these products.

The products were produced between Aug. 23, 2013, and Oct. 14, 2013, and shipped to wholesalers for further distribution to retail locations in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The products subject to recall include:

Product BrandProduct DescriptionContainer SizeUnits per Case
Boston SaladsChicken Salad 5 lbs.

1

Boston SaladsChicken Salad 5 lbs.

2

Boston SaladsChicken Salad30 lbs.

1

Boston SaladsCranberry Walnut Chicken Salad 7 oz.

6

Boston SaladsCranberry Walnut Chicken Salad12 oz.

6

Boston SaladsCranberry Walnut Chicken Salad 5 lbs.

1

Boston SaladsCranberry Walnut Chicken Salad 5 lbs.

2

Boston SaladsCranberry Walnut Chicken Salad30 lbs.

2

Boston SaladsWhite Chicken Salad 7 oz.

6

Boston SaladsWhite Chicken Salad12 oz.

6

Boston SaladsWhite Chicken Salad 5 lbs.

1

Boston SaladsWhite Chicken Salad 5 lbs.

2

Boston SaladsWhite Chicken Salad30 lbs.

1

Dietz & WatsonCranberry Walnut Chicken Salad12 oz.

6

Dietz & WatsonCranberry Walnut Chicken Salad 7 oz.

6

Dietz & WatsonCranberry Walnut Chicken Salad 5 lbs.

1

Dietz & WatsonTropical Cranberry Walnut 5 lbs.

1

Dietz & WatsonWhite Chicken Salad 7 oz.

6

Dietz & WatsonWhite Chicken Salad12 oz.

6

Dietz & WatsonWhite Chicken Salad 5 lbs.

1

Market SourceCranberry Walnut Chicken Salad

5 lbs.

2

Northern HaserotCranberry Walnut Chicken Salad

5 lbs.

2

Price ChopperCranberry Walnut Chicken Salad

5 lbs.

1

Rachael's GourmetCaesar Chicken Salad

5 lbs.

2

Rachael's GourmetChicken Caesar Salad

5 lbs.

2

Rachael's GourmetChicken Salad

5 lbs.

2

Rachael's GourmetChicken Salad

10 lbs.

1

Rachael's GourmetCranberry Walnut Chicken Salad

5 lbs.

2

Rachael's GourmetCranberry Walnut Chicken Salad

10 lbs.

1

Rachael's GourmetWhite Chicken Salad

7 oz.

6

Rachael's GourmetWhite Chicken Salad

 5 lbs.

2



Case labels or packaging may bear the sell by dates ranging from “9/13/2013” through “11/4/2013” as well as the establishment number “P-17999” inside the USDA mark of inspection. Although product included in this recall may be expired, some product may be frozen in consumer or retail freezers.

Consumers with questions about the recall should contact the Sales Department of Boston Salads at (617) 307-6340, ext. 21.

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Alternatives to signing up for Obamacare online

You can sign up the old-fashioned way, but could lose out on subsidies

The dysfunctional Healthcare.gov website, where residents of 36 states are attempting to shop for health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act, remai...

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Amazon vs. brick-and-mortar stores: whose prices are the lowest?

Short answer: It depends. There's no one-size-fits-all answer

Just yesterday came news that Amazon is raising the minimum purchase limit required for free shipping, from $25 to $35. And today, the Lifehacker ...

PhotoJust yesterday came news that Amazon is raising the minimum purchase limit required for free shipping, from $25 to $35.

And today, the Lifehacker blog published the results of a weeks-long price comparison it did between Amazon and various brick-and-mortar retail businesses, asking “Is it actually cheaper to order everything from Amazon?” and concluding that the answer is “Not always, even when the shipping costs are free.” 

But results vary based on what sort of item you’re buying, as well as what store you’re buying it from.  If you’re in the market for small appliances or electronics, Lifehacker found, Walmart is generally cheaper than Amazon, but Amazon is cheaper than Best Buy.

Lifehacker also determined that where grocery costs are concerned, Amazon is routinely more expensive than regular grocery stores. However, it’s worth noting that food costs can vary wildly depending on where you live or what time of year it is.

(Speaking for ourselves, we’ve noticed one specific subcategory of groceries where Amazon is consistently cheaper than retail stores: import items, bought in bulk. We personally are addicted to a certain British candy bar which, in America, we’ve only ever seen for sale in the expensive “British tea shops” you’ll see in touristy areas, or occasionally in the “British imports” section of certain upscale grocery stores. Compared to what such stores charge, that candy bar sells for half the price on Amazon—if you buy a dozen at a time.) 

When selling physical books, Amazon either ties or beats prices at Barnes and Noble, but for ebooks, Amazon offers no across-the-board benefits compared to its competitors: some titles sell for more, some for less, others about the same.

Here’s a good rule to follow, whether you’re shopping from Amazon or anybody else: never assume anybody automatically offers the best price on everything. A few minutes spent comparing prices now can save you a lot of money later, when you’re ready to make your purchase.

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600 Spirit Airline passengers stranded in Fort Lauderdale

Police called out as conditions in airport deteriorate

Caveat emptor: let the buyer beware. That’s important for everyone to bear in mind whenever they sign a contract or make a purchase, and it’s d...

PhotoCaveat emptor: let the buyer beware. That’s important for everyone to bear in mind whenever they sign a contract or make a purchase, and it’s double-especially important for airline passengers seeking to fly in American airspace, because once the airline gets your money, you not only lose many of your rights as a consumer, but even certain rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

Consider the ordeal suffered by certain Spirit Airlines passengers in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Oct. 24: over 600 passengers stranded in the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport for several hours after Spirit grounded ten flights out of the airport.

Spirit released a statement saying “Following the engine failure on one of our aircraft last week, and after reviewing routine maintenance procedures, we are completing a proactive and voluntary check on our aircraft engines overnight as a precautionary measure... We apologize for these delays. We are working diligently to get our customers where they need to go as quickly as possible. As always, the safety of our customers is our number one priority.”

On the other hand, CBS News spoke to an unnamed officer from the Broward County Sheriff’s Department who suggested that the lengthy delay was mainly due to Spirit’s lacking enough mechanics on staff. (Why were they speaking to a sheriff? Because conditions among passengers stranded in the airport got bad enough that the cops were called out.)

But even if you grant Spirit the benefit of the doubt, and assume that the legnthy delay was somehow unavoidable, many passengers complained not so much about the delay itself, but how they were treated throughout it: stranded in Fort Lauderdale with nowhere to sleep except the airport waiting area, and they weren’t even allowed access to their luggage, which had already been checked and was locked up somewhere.

Grounded passenger Lauren Digangi told WSVN-TV that she tried leaving Fort Lauderdale on a different flight, but said, “They will not give me my baggage off my plane to go to a different airline. They won't fly my baggage to Newark, or anything like that. They will not refund my money. All they did was give me a $7 voucher and told me to wait until then and that time is tentative and scheduled to change."

Another grounded flier, Heather Hart, told WSVN that passengers who tried complaining to Spirit’s customer service hotline were told they would be charged for the privilege. “You know you call and follow the prompts and it says, 'To speak to a customer service representative, just know that Spirit will charge you for this phone call’," she said.

No protection

Spirit Air Oct. 24, 2013, 6:15 p.m.
Consumers rate Spirit Air

Unfortunately, there really isn’t any law requiring Spirit or any other airline to return luggage to stranded passengers. (Indeed, not until 2011were airlines even required to reimburse people for lost baggage or bumped flights; before then, an airline was perfectly within its rights to charge you a fee for checked baggage, lose said baggage—and keep the baggage fee.)

In 2009, new legislation required airplanes delayed on a tarmac to let passengers off the plane after three hours, and also said that passengers trapped on such planes must have access to working lavatories and clean drinking water. Remember: these rules were considered signficant improvements over what passengers were legally obligated to endure before that.

Offhand, we can’t think of any other American industry whose companies have the legal right to confine their customers in enclosed spaces without access to drinking water or bathroom facilities for any length of time, which is why we said caveat emptor for any airline passengers.

Numerous complaints

But even when Spirit Airlines flights run according to schedule, many of our readers have complained about the airline’s service. In addition to numerous complaints from people claiming they weren’t told about high baggage fees until the last minute, we also heard from Michael S. of Seabrook, New Hampshire, who wrote us on Oct. 18 after he paid extra for one type of seat and Spirit assigned him another: “I booked a flight in Feb. … and paid extra for extra leg room, since I am 6'6" tall. When I booked a seat on the plane they showed me, my plane had two exit doors. When I got on the plane this past weekend, I had the correct seat but Spirit changed the plane. … They will tell you if they change the flight time but NOT the plane. Why would I have paid extra to sit in a small space? …. This is the second time they have changed the plane on me, and I have always paid for the extra leg room….”

On Oct. 13, Steve D. of Long Beach, Calif. told us he missed a Spirit flight because the company didn’t have a ticket agent available: “There was no ground staff when we arrived an hour and ten minutes before our flight. We just needed boarding passes. … They never showed until 30 minutes prior to flight and said we needed to get on the flight the next day for an additional $250. This happened to another 6 passengers while we were there! It's just another way for them to try and get more $ from passengers! Always bring boarding passes to the airport or, better yet, never fly Spirit!”

Organized opposition

Spirit Airlines has even inspired its own anti-fan website, which we learned about on Oct. 13 after Sergey G. of Fort Lee, New Jersey wrote us to say “Spirit is absolutely the worst! Got overcharged and ignored by their customer service. Their continued existence is a mockery of decent business practices and corporate social responsibility. It's time we do something about it!”

Al L. of Pawneys Island, South Carolina, used to fly Spirit Airlines on a regular basis—but not anymore. When he wrote us on Oct. 7, he said, “I have been flying Spirit for years and have a carry-on bag that I have used each time I fly with Spirit. The dimensions are 21 x 14 x 9 which is less than the dimensions on their website. You are allowed to take one carry-on without charge.”

Sounds good so far. So what’s the problem? “Today, the boarding rep threatened to prevent me from taking my flight unless I paid a $100 fee for the carry-on. No one else was charged, [even if they] brought on bags that were a little larger than mine. I have never been charged before but this Spirit employee was rude, arrogant and downright nasty. It seems that on a simple whim a Spirit can choose to charge you or threaten to stop you from boarding if they choose to.”

That’s true. But it’s not just Spirit; for pretty much any airline, if they decide at the last minute that you can not board unless you do X, Y or Z, well—you can’t board unless you do X, Y or Z, and if you try doing so anyway you’ll almost certainly be arrested as a threat to airline security.

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E-cig lobbyists working to head off new regulations

FDA is expected to issue proposed new regulations by Oct. 31

With new regulations looming, lobbyists for the electronic cigarette industry are heading to Capitol Hill, hoping to persuade lawmakers that the combustion...

PhotoWith new regulations looming, lobbyists for the electronic cigarette industry are heading to Capitol Hill, hoping to persuade lawmakers that the combustion-free devices shouldn't be treated like tobacco products.

“While our industry understands reasonable and appropriate regulation is needed, it is vital our young industry not be grouped with combustible cigarettes as federal guidelines are developed for these products," said Cynthia Cabrera, Executive Director of the Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association (SFATA). "Excessive regulation could limit adult access to e-cigs and stifle growth and innovation in the segment.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set an Oct. 31 deadline to issue a proposed rule that would expand its oversight of e-cigs. In response, Cabrera's group has summoned its members to Washington for a "day on the Hill" Nov. 4 and 5.

Trade associations for industries under pressure from the feds traditionally round up their members and bring them to D.C. to meet and greet lawmakers and their staffs, hoping to portray themselves as vital cogs in the economy and loyal supporters of their Congressional members.

Law being "misapplied"

Besides arguing the merits, if any, of e-cigs the group will be arguing that the law under which the FDA is issuing the new regulations -- the 2009 Tobacco Control Act -- doesn't give it the authority to do so.

"This law gave the FDA authority over cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and roll-your-own tobacco, and has been misapplied to allow the agency to expand its oversight to additional products, such as electronic cigarettes," Cabrera's group said in a press release.

PhotoThe FDA has reportedly completed the drafting of its regulation and submitted it to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review by OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).

FDA has been saying for at least the last two years that it intends to include electronic cigarettes under its authority and it has come under increasing criticism from anti-smoking groups and some lawmakers for the plodding pace at which it has proceeded. In April, five senators, all Democrats, wrote to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, urging the agency to make haste.

“Unlike traditional tobacco products, e-cigarettes can be legally sold to children and are not subject to age verification laws,” the senators wrote. “E-cigarettes marketed to appeal to kids in candy and fruit flavors, like bubblegum and strawberry, are readily available to youth in shopping malls and online. These products risk addicting children to nicotine, which could be a pathway to cigarettes and other tobacco products.”

In a news release, SFATA said it is "encouraging the FDA and elected officials to refer to research established by credible health professionals who offer scientific evidence proving that e-cigarettes are a reliable, adult alternative to combustible cigarettes." It didn't cite any such evidence iin its release, however. 

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Some things to know before Black Friday arrives

Over the years misinformation has accumulated around this shopping season kick-off

Every year Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving – seems to become an even bigger event, with people camping out in front of big box stores...

PhotoEvery year Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving – seems to become an even bigger event, with people camping out in front of big box stores, waiting for them to open. And in recent years Black Friday has even spilled over into Thanksgiving night.

But if you hit the stores in search of Black Friday deals, be sure to hold most of your holiday shopping budget in reserve. According to Kiplinger's, you're better off spreading your spending out over a period of several weeks. Not all of the best deals are on Black Friday.

In fact, if you take the time to do a little research, you can find great deals on many items before and after the long Thanksgiving weekend. If you are a serious bargain hunter, sign up to receive email alerts from major retailers when they have a major sale. You can often save the same amount of money without having to get up early and fight the crowds.

Hype and excitement

If you do go shopping on Black Friday, don't get caught up in the hype and excitement. That often results in buying things just because they appear to be a good deal, not because they are on your list.

Remember that advertised door-buster deals are usually in limited quantities. If you show up at a store solely to buy one of these bargain-priced items, you may go home disappointed. But the deal site DealNews points out that increasingly, Black Friday deals are available online as well as in-store. The site points to data from previous years showing up to 70% of in-store Black Friday deals were also available online for the same price — in some cases even less.

If you sleep in on Black Friday, don't worry. You still have opportunities for great deal. In fact, many retail analysts suggest holding off on buying toys, brand-name TV sets and winter clothing on Black Friday. You'll likely see lower prices as the holidays approach.

Black Friday TV curse

PhotoFor what it's worth, ConsumerAffairs has noted a pattern of consumer complaints about TV sets purchased on Black Friday. Many need repair within a year of purchase. Chances are, it's because TVs marked down for Black Friday specials tend to be the cheapest to begin with. It's worth remembering, you get what you pay for. 

Here's something else to remember. Just because some items are marked down on Black Friday, it doesn't mean all are marked down. In fact, most aren't. And for good reason. The stores lure you in with the advertised specials but hope you'll buy a lot of regularly-priced merchandise while you're there.

Even the Black Friday prices might not be the lowest of the year. DealNews notes that items with deep discounts on Black Friday might be cheaper in the days just before Christmas.

Search online for hidden deals

If you do decide to brave the crowds, due your research ahead of time. And you need to do more than just study the store's circular ad. Go the the store's website and look up the items you are considering. Major retailers have been known to slip in a few un-advertised specials, available only to the savvy shoppers who took the time to carefully review the website.

Finally, make sure you understand the store's return policies; they might differ for Black Friday purchases. Some stores tighten their return policies – not just on Black Friday but throughout the holiday shopping period. Some retailers only offer store credit and, if you don't have a receipt, you might only get a partial credit for the purchase.

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Latest Lexus, Infiniti models rank poorly in Consumer Reports tests

The new models aren't much fun to drive and finished behind most of their primary competitors

The two newest luxury sedans from Japan -- the Infiniti Q50 and the Lexus IS 250 -- are taking their lumps in the latest Consumer Reports ratings, where th...

Photo
2014 Lexus IS 250 (Lexus photo)
The two newest luxury sedans from Japan -- the Infiniti Q50 and the Lexus IS 250 -- are taking their lumps in the latest Consumer Reports ratings, where they wound up below 
competitors from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lincoln, and Volvo.

The Q50 was intended to replace the G37 in Infiniti’s lineup, but reviewers from the non-profit magazine are not impressed.

“The Infiniti G has been one of Consumer Reports’ highest-rated sedans for many years, but after its 2014 redesign and transition to the new Q designation, this car seems to have lost its way,” said Jake Fisher, director of automotive testing for Consumer Reports.

The Infiniti Q50 posted a “Very Good” overall road test score but still landed near the bottom of the rankings for sporty and upscale sedans.

The IS 250 scored merely a “Good.” It was the worst road test score posted by any Lexus sedan in recent memory. Other competitors posting higher overall road test scores include the BMW 328i, Mercedes-Benz C250, Lincoln MKZ 2.0 EcoBoost and Volvo S60 T5.

Not as much fun

CR’s engineers and editors found that the Q50 isn’t as much fun to drive as the G37. Handling is mundane, due in part to dull steering. The underwhelming driving experience strips the car of much of its sporty legacy. The Q50 also doesn’t ride well and isn’t particularly quiet. Its new InTouch dual-screen controls are slow to respond, and interior quality is nothing special. On the plus side, the Q50 is very quick, even with the added weight of the optional all-wheel-drive system.

Photo
2014 Infiniti Q50 (Infiniti photo)
Consumer Reports’ testers found the Lexus IS 250 is neither sporty nor luxurious. CR purchased and evaluated the IS 250 with the small 2.5-liter V6 because that is the model most consumers will buy; the test vehicle is also fitted with all-wheel-drive, a popular option. In that trim, the vehicle’s acceleration lacks punch. Fuel economy is disappointing at 21 mpg overall in CR’s own tests.

Complete tests results for the Infiniti Q50 and Lexus IS250, as well as results of the new Fiat 500L and Nissan Versa Note appear on www.ConsumerReports.org and in the December issue of Consumer Reports, on newsstands November 5. 

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Airline on-time performance shows improvement in August

The carriers also reported two lengthy tarmac delays

The nation’s largest airlines improved in August from a month earlier, but dropped a bit from the same time a year earlier. According to the U.S. Departme...

PhotoThe on-time performance of the nation’s largest airlines improved in August from a month earlier, but dropped a bit from the same time a year earlier.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Report, the August on-time rate was 78.8% -- up 5.7% from July, but down 0.3% from August 0f 2012.

During the same month, there were also two tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights. Both involved flights scheduled to arrive in Denver, Colo., on Aug. 3 that were diverted due to storms. There were no reports of delays exceeding four hours for international flights.

The report also includes data on cancellations, chronically delayed flights, and the causes of flight delays, along with information on mishandled baggage reports filed by consumers with the carriers, and consumer service, disability, and discrimination complaints received. Also included are reports of incidents involving the loss, death, or injury of pets traveling by air.

The full report is available on the Department of Transportation website.

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Another drop in weekly jobless claims

The federal government shutdown had an impact

First-time applications for state jobless benefits dropped in the week ending October 19 for the second week running. According to government figures, ini...

PhotoFirst-time applications for state jobless benefits dropped in the week ending October 19 for the second week running.

According to government figures, initial claims totaled 350,000 -- down 12,000 from 362,000 the previous week. Economists surveyed by Briefing.com were calling for a total of 341,000.

Problems related to glitches from a computer upgrade in California continue to plague the initial claims data and artificially boost the so-called “headline” levels.

The Department of Labor (DOL) says there's no way to separate the claims from California that were biasing the data from those in the private sector that lost their jobs as a result of the government shutdown. About 40,000 federal government workers filed for unemployment benefits as a result of the shutdown.

Analysts say they expect that the initial claims level will return toward 300,000 when the problems are rectified.

The 4-week moving average, considered a more accurate gauge because it's not as volatile as the weekly number, was 348,250 -- a jump of 10,750 from the previous week.

The full report is available on the DOL website.

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Infinitoy Recalls Softimals toy sets

The plastic hats on playset figures pose a choking/aspiration hazard

Infinitoy, Inc. of San Mateo, Calif., is recalling about 7,134 building toy playsets. The plastic hats on playset figures pose a choking/aspiration hazard...

PhotoInfinitoy, Inc. of San Mateo, Calif., is recalling about 7,134 building toy playsets.

The plastic hats on playset figures pose a choking/aspiration hazard for children. There is one reported incident in which an 18-month-old child placed a hat in his mouth and started to gag/choke but the toy was removed. No injuries have been reported

Infinitoy Inc. is recalling the Super Safari Set model #30025 and the Deluxe Circus Train Set model #30040. The model number can be found on the back of the box in the lower right corner. The sets come in a white box with “Softimals. Build, Play, Repeat” and “Ages 1 ½ to 5” printed in a colorful font on the front and back of the package.

The sets have numerous plastic pieces that can be connected and fit together to build a vehicle pulling cars with a hippo, giraffe, zebra and other animals. The drivers of the lead vehicles, Safari Sam and Mighty Mike, have removable blue or yellow plastic hats.

The playsets, manufactured in Italy, were sold at specialty toy stores nationwide and online at Amazon.com and Mindware.com from September 2012, to September 2013, for about $25 and $40.

Consumers should immediately remove the plastic hat from Safari Sam and Mighty Mike and contact Infinitoy to exchange the hat for a free replacement figure.

Consumers may contact Infinitoy toll-free at (888) 558-0933 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT Monday through Friday.  

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Reser’s Fine Foods recalls refrigerated ready-to-eat products

The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

Reser’s Fine Foods of Beaverton, Ore., is recalling approximately 109,000 cases of refrigerated ready-to-eat products because they may be contaminated with...

PhotoReser’s Fine Foods of Beaverton, Ore., is recalling approximately 109,000 cases of refrigerated ready-to-eat products because they may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

No illnesses have been reported to date.

The refrigerated ready-to-eat products ere sold in retail and food service establishments throughout the U.S. and Canada. The packages are marked with a Use-by-Date or Best By Date and followed by a plant identifier code of 20. The affected products include:

Item#Item DescriptionUse By Date
YYYYMMDD
Plant Code for
Topeka Salad
20
 
58108.30144SLAW DIXIE HMSTYLE CVF 2/7#  2013100520past expiration date
58108.30155SLAW SHORT SHRED CVF 2/7#    2013100520past expiration date
71117.18232SLAW COLE DILLON'S  12/14z   2013100520past expiration date
71117.67307PASTA ITALIAN SYSCO 2/8#     2013100520past expiration date
74865.79731PASTA CALIFORNIA SALAD BB 2/5#2013100520past expiration date
22486.15881SLAW COLE SHORT SHRED IMA 2/7#2013100720past expiration date
22486.15888PASTA ITALIAN SALAD IMA 2/8# 2013100720past expiration date
71117.67123SLAW HSTYLE DELI DESIGN 6/2.752013100720past expiration date
71117.67690SLAW HOMESTYLE SHRED SYSCO 2/72013100720past expiration date
28919.00240SLAW COLE TARGET CAD 12/425g 2013101020past expiration date
58108.30156PROT SEAFOOD SALAD CVF 2/8#  2013101020past expiration date
58108.30157POTATO RED ROYALE CVF 2/8#   2013101020past expiration date
71117.00210POTATO CLASSIC RESER 2/8#    2013101020past expiration date
71117.00282SALSA MANGO BAJA CAFE 2/5#   2013101020past expiration date
71117.11150POTATO BAKED CHEFS CHOICE 2/8#2013101020past expiration date
71117.14105POTATO RED SPEC CUT W/SKIN 2/82013101020past expiration date
71117.14195RSTD CORN/BLACK BEAN SLD 2/5#2013101020past expiration date
71117.18231POTATO RED DILLON'S 6/16z    2013101020past expiration date
71117.19010PROT SEAFOOD SALAD AM CL 6/12z2013101020past expiration date
71117.61581SLAW COLE HOMESTYLE RSR 6/4.5#2013101020past expiration date
73474.55031POTATO MY PREMIER 2/5#       2013101020past expiration date
81131.91755PROT TUNA SLD WALMART 12/12z 2013101020past expiration date
71117.00265COOKIES & CREAM RESER 2/6#   2013101220past expiration date
71117.11415PROT SEAFOOD SALAD RESER 2/8#2013101220past expiration date
71117.11446KIT RED POTATO W/BC&BCN 2/5.5#2013101220past expiration date
71117.18257POTATO DEVIL EGG DILLON 12/16z2013101220past expiration date
71117.18262DELIGHT PISTACHIO RESER 6/11z2013101220past expiration date
71117.18424POTATO DEVILED EGG DILLON 6/322013101220past expiration date
71117.19038POTATO DEVILED EGG AM CL 6/16z2013101220past expiration date
71117.85500POTATO REDSKN TEXAS RESER 3/8#2013101220past expiration date
73474.01038SLAW COLE YODER 6/30 oz      2013101220past expiration date
58108.30162SPEC CARROT/RAISIN CVF 2/8#  2013101520past expiration date
71117.06125PASTA TRI-ROTINI RSR 6/3.1875#2013101520past expiration date
71117.15345POTATO NEW ENGLAND RESER 2/8#2013101520past expiration date
81131.91687POTATO REDSKIN WALMART 6/32z 2013101520past expiration date
71117.14177BEANS SPICY/BOLD MILLER'S 6/3#2013101620past expiration date
71117.14178BEANS W/BEEF MILLER'S 12/16z 2013101620past expiration date
71117.19005POTATO RED SKIN AM CL 6/16z  2013101620past expiration date
71117.14210SPEC CARROT/RAISIN RESER 2/8#2013101720past expiration date
71117.16987DIP CREAMY SPINACH RESER 2/8#2013101720past expiration date
71117.67273SPEC CARROT/RAISIN SYSCO 2/8#2013101720past expiration date
72299.15160POTATO HOMESTYLE GILES 2/5#  2013101720past expiration date
72299.15260SLAW AMISH SHREDDED GILES 2/5#2013101720past expiration date
06795.28683PASTA CALIFORNIA WC 2/5#     2013101820past expiration date
58108.30148PASTA CALIFORNIA CVF 2/5#    2013101820past expiration date
58108.30164PASTA ROTINI CVF 2/8#        2013101820past expiration date
58108.30168PASTA BOW TIE CVF 2/4.5#     2013101820past expiration date
71117.00556POTATO BAKED SALAD RESER 2/5#2013101820past expiration date
71117.11439KIT SEAFOOD RESER 2/4.9375#  2013101820past expiration date
71117.11464KIT SEAFOOD SALAD 2/6#       2013101820past expiration date
71117.14807PASTA TWIST BASE RESER 2/2.5#2013101820past expiration date
71117.15314PASTA BOW TIE FLORENTINE 2/4.52013101820past expiration date
71117.67307PASTA ITALIAN SYSCO 2/8#     2013101820past expiration date
74865.79731PASTA CALIFORNIA SALAD BB 2/5#2013101820past expiration date
74865.79733PASTA BOW TIE FLORTNE BB 2/4.52013101820past expiration date
81131.91682SLAW WALMART 12/15z          2013101820past expiration date
81131.91688SLAW WALMART 6/30z           2013101820past expiration date
71117.14820KIT BROCCOLI SALAD 2/1.75#   2013101920past expiration date
22486.15888PASTA ITALIAN SALAD IMA 2/8# 2013102020past expiration date
28919.00237POTATO SLD TARGET CAD 12/454g2013102020past expiration date
28919.00239MACARONI TARGET CAD 12/454g  2013102020past expiration date
41303.82021SLAW COLE EE 6/15z           2013102020past expiration date
52548.51755PASTA MEXICAN 7-11 12/7z     2013102020past expiration date
54627.20863MACARONI CREAMY ELBOW YUM 3/8#2013102020past expiration date
58108.30146POTATO DICED w/EGG CVF 2/8#  2013102020past expiration date
58108.30150POTATO STHRN MUSTARD CVF 2/8#2013102020past expiration date
58108.30160MACARONI SC & CHEDDAR CVF 2/8#2013102020past expiration date
58108.37387POTATO FAMILY STYLE CVF 2/8# 2013102020past expiration date
71117.14107POTATO MUSTARD DILLON'S 6/4# 2013102020past expiration date
71117.14256PASTA ZESTY ROT W/BTN MUSH 2/82013102020past expiration date
71117.14270PASTA CALIFORNIA RESER 2/5#  2013102020past expiration date
71117.14729DRSG. ROTISSERIE CHICKEN 6/32z2013102020past expiration date
71117.14759PASTA ITALIAN RESER 2/8#     2013102020past expiration date
71117.15124SLAW REGULAR RESER 2/7#      2013102020past expiration date
71117.18031DIP ART/JALAPENO SMK 6/10z   2013102020past expiration date
71117.18233MACARONI ELBOW DILLON 12/16z 2013102020past expiration date
71117.18234POTATO DILLON'S 12/16z       2013102020past expiration date
71117.18235POTATO MUSTARD DILLON'S 12/16z2013102020past expiration date
71117.18431POTATO MUSTARD DILLON'S 6/32z2013102020past expiration date
71117.61586POTATO SOUTHERN SAM'S 6/4#   2013102020past expiration date
71117.67504POTATO REGULAR SYSCO 3/8#    2013102020past expiration date
71117.67505POTATO CLASSIC W/EGG SYSCO 3/82013102020past expiration date
71117.67517POTATO HOMESTYLE SYSCO 1/30# 2013102020past expiration date
71117.67685SLAW COLE COURSE SYSCO 2/7#  2013102020past expiration date
71117.67687SLAW SHREDDED SYSCO 2/7#     2013102020past expiration date
74865.79728PASTA GOUR W/CHDR CHSE BB 2/5#2013102020past expiration date
81131.91685POTATO MUSTARD WALMART 6/32z 2013102020past expiration date
81131.91689BEANS BAKED WALMART 6/32z    2013102020past expiration date
81131.91745MACARONI AMISH WALMART 6/32z 2013102020past expiration date
81131.91747POTATO AMISH WALMART 6/32z   2013102020past expiration date
71117.00224MACARONI HMSTYLE SEASHELL 2/8#2013102220past expiration date
22486.15885POTATO SALAD w/EGG IMA 3/8#  2013102320expires 10/23/13
22486.15905POTATO S STYLE MUSTARD IMA 3/82013102320expires 10/23/13
41303.82013POTATO SALAD ORIG. EE 6/16z  2013102320expires 10/23/13
41303.82014POTATO SALAD HMSTYLE EE 6/16z2013102320expires 10/23/13
41303.82016POTATO SALAD MUSTARD EE 6/16z2013102320expires 10/23/13
41303.82023MACARONI CLASSIC EE 6/16z    2013102320expires 10/23/13
41303.82029MACARONI & CHEDDAR EE 6/16z  2013102320expires 10/23/13
41303.82034POTATO DEVILED EGG EE 6/16z  2013102320expires 10/23/13
58108.30157POTATO RED ROYALE CVF 2/8#   2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.00158SALSA BLACK BEAN BAJA 2/5#   2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.00210POTATO CLASSIC RESER 2/8#    2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.00213MACARONI GOUR W/CHS RESER 2/8#2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.00214POTATO SOUTHERN MUST. RSR 3/8#2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.00215POTATO REGULAR RESER 3/8#    2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.00221POTATO HOMESTYLE RESER 1/30# 2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.00485POTATO RANCH HVR AM CL 2/8#  2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.00557POTATO DEVILED EGG RESER 2/8#2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.11150POTATO BAKED CHEFS CHOICE 2/8#2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.11588POTATO ORIGINAL DICKEY'S 3/8#2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.14138PROT TUNA SALAD RESER 2/5#   2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.14163PASTA SPIN w/CAVTAPI SFY 2/4.52013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.17000POTATO REGULAR SS 12/3.5z    2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.17010MACARONI ELBOW  12/3.5z      2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.17100POTATO REGULAR SS 12/5.5z    2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.18263DELIGHT AMBROSIA RESER 6/11z 2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.18339BEANS SMOKEHOUSE BBQ RSR 6/16z2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.19010PROT SEAFOOD SALAD AM CL 6/12z2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.19014SLAW CHOPPED AM CL 6/15z     2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.19044MACARONI AMISH AM CL 6/16z   K2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.19045POTATO AMISH SLD AM CL 6/16z K2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.19047POTATO SALAD HVR AM CL 6/16z 2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.19300POTATO ORIGINAL AM CL 6/3#   2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.19303POTATO MUSTARD AM CL 6/3#    2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.19315MACARONI AMISH AM CL 6/3#    K2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.19316POTATO AMISH SLD AM CL 6/3#  K2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.19318POTATO SALAD HVR AM CL 6/3#  2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.61502POTATO LOADED w/BACON SMK 6/3#2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.61581SLAW COLE HOMESTYLE RSR 6/4.5#2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.65135POTATO DICED W/EGG 3/8#      2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.67120POTATO REG. DELI DESIGN 6/3# 2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.80400SPEC CRANBRY/ORANGE SALAD 2/8#2013102320expires 10/23/13
73474.01039POTATO AMISH YODER 6/32 oz   2013102320expires 10/23/13
73474.01045MACARONI AMISH YODER 6/32 oz 2013102320expires 10/23/13
73474.01046POTATO AMERICAN YODER 6/32 oz2013102320expires 10/23/13
73474.01047POTATO MUSTARD YODER 6/32 oz 2013102320expires 10/23/13
73474.01048MACARONI DELI MATE YODER 6/32z2013102320expires 10/23/13
73474.55009POTATO AMERICAN YODER 2/5#   2013102320expires 10/23/13
73474.55010POTATO MUSTARD YODER 2/5#    2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.00225POTATO DEVILED EGG RESER 2/8#2013102520expires 10/25/13
71117.00265COOKIES & CREAM RESER 2/6#   2013102520expires 10/25/13
71117.00446SLAW AMISH RESER 2/7#        2013102520expires 10/25/13
71117.00480POTATO DEVILED EGG AM CL 6/3#2013102520expires 10/25/13
71117.14251PASTA ROMA FETA RESER 2/5#   2013102520expires 10/25/13
71117.15190SLAW OIL AND VINEGAR 2/9#    2013102520expires 10/25/13
21130.06741POTATO R SKN w/DILL SFY 12/16z2013102820expires 10/28/13
71117.15345POTATO NEW ENGLAND RESER 2/8#2013102820expires 10/28/13
81131.91681POTATO REDSKIN WALMART 12/16z2013102820expires 10/28/13
81131.91687POTATO REDSKIN WALMART 6/32z 2013102820expires 10/28/13
71117.19005POTATO RED SKIN AM CL 6/16z  2013102920expires 10/29/13
72299.15870SPEC APPLES SPICED GILES 2/5#2013103020expires 10/30/13
58108.30151POTATO COUNTRY STYLE CVF 2/8#2013110220expires 11/2/13
58108.30158SPEC CUCUMBER SALAD CVF 2/8# 2013110220expires 11/2/13
71117.14106POTATO DILLON'S 6/4#         2013110220expires 11/2/13
71117.14107POTATO MUSTARD DILLON'S 6/4# 2013110220expires 11/2/13
71117.14135SPEC 4-BEAN SALAD RESER 2/5# 2013110220expires 11/2/13
71117.14743BASE ROTISSERIE CHICKEN 6/2# 2013110220expires 11/2/13
71117.18042DIP CREAMY SPINACH SMK 6/11z 2013110220expires 11/2/13
71117.19012PROT TUNA SALAD AM CL 6/12z  2013110220expires 11/2/13
71117.67546POTATO COUNTRY SYSCO 3/8#    2013110220expires 11/2/13
71117.67780POTATO MUSTARD GOURMET SYS 3/82013110220expires 11/2/13
71117.67785POTATO MUSTARD CLASSIC SYS 3/82013110220expires 11/2/13
74865.79728PASTA GOUR W/CHDR CHSE BB 2/5#2013110220expires 11/2/13
79453.46925POTATO SLD SLCD STKHSE OK 2/5#2013110220expires 11/2/13
81131.91678POTATO ORIGINAL WALMART 12/16z2013110220expires 11/2/13
81131.91686MACARONI WALMART 6/32z       2013110220expires 11/2/13
81131.91690POTATO REGULAR WALMART 6/4#  2013110220expires 11/2/13
81131.91691POTATO MUSTARD WALMART 6/4#  2013110220expires 11/2/13
81131.91745MACARONI AMISH WALMART 6/32z 2013110220expires 11/2/13
81131.91747POTATO AMISH WALMART 6/32z   2013110220expires 11/2/13
21130.06716POTATO CLASSIC SFWY SS 12/5.5z2013110420expires 11/4/13
71117.06035DRSG. CHICKEN SLD RESER 5/4# 2013110420expires 11/4/13
22486.15883POTATO HOMESTYLE DLXE IMA 3/8#2013110520expires 11/5/13
41303.82013POTATO SALAD ORIG. EE 6/16z  2013110520expires 11/5/13
41303.82016POTATO SALAD MUSTARD EE 6/16z2013110520expires 11/5/13
41303.82023MACARONI CLASSIC EE 6/16z    2013110520expires 11/5/13
41303.82029MACARONI & CHEDDAR EE 6/16z  2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.00162POTATO REG PARTY-PACK RSR 6/4#2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.00189POTATO COUNTRY RESER 3/8#    2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.00193DELIGHT AMBROSIA RESER 2/8#  2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.00219POTATO HOMESTYLE RESER 3/8#  2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.00223POTATO ORIGINAL RESER  3/4#  2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.00224MACARONI HMSTYLE SEASHELL 2/8#2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.00227POTATO MUSTARD RESER 3/4#    2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.00258POTATO MUSTARD CLASSIC 3/8#  2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.00278POTATO REGULAR RESER 2/10#   2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.00286MACARONI ELBOW RESER 3/4#    2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.06103DRSG. COLE SLAW 18/20z       2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.14283SPEC CUKE & ONION 2/8#       2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.17000POTATO REGULAR SS 12/3.5z    2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.17010MACARONI ELBOW  12/3.5z      2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.17100POTATO REGULAR SS 12/5.5z    2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.19000POTATO ORIGINAL AM CL 12/16z 2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.64600POTATO OLD FASH KNG SOOPR 3/4#2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.64605MACARONI ELBOW K SOOPER 3/4# 2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.64640POTATO MUSTARD KING SOOPR 3/4#2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.67121POTATO MUST. DELI DESIGN 6/3#2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.67122MACARONI ELBW DELI DESIGN 6/3#2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.80400SPEC CRANBRY/ORANGE SALAD 2/8#2013110520expires 11/5/13
73474.01047POTATO MUSTARD YODER 6/32 oz 2013110520expires 11/5/13
41303.82019POTATO SALAD MUSTARD EE 6/3# 2013110620expires 11/6/13
41303.82020POTATO SALAD ORIGINAL EE 6/3#2013110620expires 11/6/13
71117.00215POTATO REGULAR RESER 3/8#    2013110620expires 11/6/13
71117.18405MACARONI ELBOW RESER 6/32z   2013110620expires 11/6/13
06795.28683PASTA CALIFORNIA WC 2/5#     2013110820expires 11/8/13
58108.30148PASTA CALIFORNIA CVF 2/5#    2013110820expires 11/8/13
71117.00556POTATO BAKED SALAD RESER 2/5#2013110820expires 11/8/13
71117.11396PROT SEAFOOD DELUXE RESER 2/5#2013110820expires 11/8/13
71117.11439KIT SEAFOOD RESER 2/4.9375#  2013110820expires 11/8/13
71117.14807PASTA TWIST BASE RESER 2/2.5#2013110820expires 11/8/13
71117.67307PASTA ITALIAN SYSCO 2/8#     2013110820expires 11/8/13
74865.79721PROT TUNA DELUXE SLD BB 2/5# 2013110820expires 11/8/13
74865.79731PASTA CALIFORNIA SALAD BB 2/5#2013110820expires 11/8/13
74865.79736PROT SEAFOOD DLX SALAD BB 2/5#2013110820expires 11/8/13
22486.15888PASTA ITALIAN SALAD IMA 2/8# 2013111020expires 11/10/13
41303.82021SLAW COLE EE 6/15z           2013111020expires 11/10/13
71117.11586POTATO LOADED BAKED RESER 2/5#2013111020expires 11/10/13
71117.14270PASTA CALIFORNIA RESER 2/5#  2013111020expires 11/10/13
71117.15124SLAW REGULAR RESER 2/7#      2013111020expires 11/10/13
71117.67685SLAW COLE COURSE SYSCO 2/7#  2013111020expires 11/10/13
71117.85506PROT TUNA GOURMET RESER 2/5# 2013111020expires 11/10/13
06795.28681SLAW COLE CLASSIC WC 2/4.75# 2013111320expires 11/13/13
58108.30149PROT CHIX SALAD CVF 2/5#     2013111320expires 11/13/13
71117.00485POTATO RANCH HVR AM CL 2/8#  2013111320expires 11/13/13
71117.00486PASTA BCN RANCH HVR AM CL 2/8#2013111320expires 11/13/13
71117.00557POTATO DEVILED EGG RESER 2/8#2013111320expires 11/13/13
71117.11392PROT CHIX CRANBERRY/PECAN 2/5#2013111320expires 11/13/13
71117.11587POTATO O.F. DILL DICKEY'S 2/5#2013111320expires 11/13/13
71117.18274DELIGHT CRANBERY AMBROSIA 6/9z2013111320expires 11/13/13
71117.19008PROT CHIX SALAD AM CL 6/12z  2013111320expires 11/13/13
71117.19010PROT SEAFOOD SALAD AM CL 6/12z2013111320expires 11/13/13
71117.19047POTATO SALAD HVR AM CL 6/16z 2013111320expires 11/13/13
71117.68007PROT CHIX SYSCO 2/5#         2013111320expires 11/13/13
73474.55031POTATO MY PREMIER 2/5#       2013111320expires 11/13/13
73474.55032POTATO MUSTARD MY PREMIER 2/5#2013111320expires 11/13/13
73474.99042SPEC BEAN KIDNEY SALAD DS 2/5#2013111320expires 11/13/13
74865.79725POTATO RD SKN W/SC&DILL BB 2/52013111320expires 11/13/13
79453.21477PASTA ITAL STYL ZITI OK 2/4.5#2013111320expires 11/13/13
81131.91755PROT TUNA SLD WALMART 12/12z 2013111320expires 11/13/13
21130.06688POTATO DEVILED EGG SFWY 12/16z2013111520expires 11/15/13
21130.06731POTATO PICNIC SAFEWAY 12/16z 2013111520expires 11/15/13
22486.15887PROT CHIX SALAD IMA 2/5#     2013111520expires 11/15/13
71117.00225POTATO DEVILED EGG RESER 2/8#2013111520expires 11/15/13
71117.00272STRAWBERRIES & CREAM RSR 2/6#2013111520expires 11/15/13
71117.00400POTATO BAKED SALAD RESER 2/8#2013111520expires 11/15/13
71117.11400PROT CHIX RESER 2/5#         2013111520expires 11/15/13
71117.11446KIT RED POTATO W/BC&BCN 2/5.5#2013111520expires 11/15/13
71117.14251PASTA ROMA FETA RESER 2/5#   2013111520expires 11/15/13
71117.18262DELIGHT PISTACHIO RESER 6/11z2013111520expires 11/15/13
71117.85500POTATO REDSKN TEXAS RESER 3/8#2013111520expires 11/15/13
77509.63308PROT CHICKEN/CRAN/PECAN 6/12z2013111620expires 11/16/13
21130.06741POTATO R SKN w/DILL SFY 12/16z2013111820expires 11/18/13
71117.15345POTATO NEW ENGLAND RESER 2/8#2013111820expires 11/18/13
71117.16902PROT SEAFOOD SALAD RESER 2/5#2013111820expires 11/18/13
81131.91681POTATO REDSKIN WALMART 12/16z2013111820expires 11/18/13
81131.91687POTATO REDSKIN WALMART 6/32z 2013111820expires 11/18/13
71117.00281BEANS CAROLINA BBQ w/MEAT 2/5#2013111920expires 11/19/13
71117.14177BEANS SPICY/BOLD MILLER'S 6/3#2013111920expires 11/19/13
71117.14179BEANS W/BEEF MILLER'S 6/3#   2013111920expires 11/19/13
72299.15260SLAW AMISH SHREDDED GILES 2/5#2013112020expires 11/20/13
06795.28677MACARONI ELBOW WC 2/5#       2013112320expires 11/23/13
58108.30145PROT TUNA SALAD CVF 2/5#     2013112320expires 11/23/13
58108.30146POTATO DICED w/EGG CVF 2/8#  2013112320expires 11/23/13
58108.30151POTATO COUNTRY STYLE CVF 2/8#2013112320expires 11/23/13
58108.30159POTATO MUSTARD DICED CVF 2/8#2013112320expires 11/23/13
58108.30166PROT HAM SALAD CVF 2/5#      2013112320expires 11/23/13
71117.11428KIT HONEY DRSG F & NUTS 6/40z2013112320expires 11/23/13
71117.14135SPEC 4-BEAN SALAD RESER 2/5# 2013112320expires 11/23/13
71117.14139PROT HAM SLD SUPREME RSR 2/5#2013112320expires 11/23/13
71117.18233MACARONI ELBOW DILLON 12/16z 2013112320expires 11/23/13
71117.18234POTATO DILLON'S 12/16z       2013112320expires 11/23/13
71117.18235POTATO MUSTARD DILLON'S 12/16z2013112320expires 11/23/13
71117.19012PROT TUNA SALAD AM CL 6/12z  2013112320expires 11/23/13
71117.67505POTATO CLASSIC W/EGG SYSCO 3/82013112320expires 11/23/13
71117.67513MACARONI HOMESTYLE SYSCO 3/8#2013112320expires 11/23/13
71117.67546POTATO COUNTRY SYSCO 3/8#    2013112320expires 11/23/13
71117.68049PROT TUNA SALAD SYSCO 2/5#   2013112320expires 11/23/13
74865.79728PASTA GOUR W/CHDR CHSE BB 2/5#2013112320expires 11/23/13
81131.91679POTATO MUSTARD WALMART 12/16z2013112320expires 11/23/13
81131.91685POTATO MUSTARD WALMART 6/32z 2013112320expires 11/23/13
81131.91744MACARONI AMISH WALMART 12/16z2013112320expires 11/23/13
21130.06685POTATO CLASSIC SAFEWAY 12/16z2013112520expires 11/25/13
21130.06686MACARONI CLASSIC SFWAY 12/16z2013112520expires 11/25/13
21130.06689POTATO MUSTARD SAFEWAY 12/16z2013112520expires 11/25/13
41303.82023MACARONI CLASSIC EE 6/16z    2013112620expires 11/26/13
41303.82029MACARONI & CHEDDAR EE 6/16z  2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.00189POTATO COUNTRY RESER 3/8#    2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.00193DELIGHT AMBROSIA RESER 2/8#  2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.00212POTATO MUSTARD RESER 3/8#    2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.00224MACARONI HMSTYLE SEASHELL 2/8#2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.00278POTATO REGULAR RESER 2/10#   2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.00286MACARONI ELBOW RESER 3/4#    2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.00288MACARONI HMSTYLE ELBOW RSR 3/82013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.11402PROT HAM RESER 2/5#          2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.14172BEANS SMOKEHOUSE BBQ 2/8#    2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.14282DELIGHT HAWAIIAN RESER 2/6#  2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.18263DELIGHT AMBROSIA RESER 6/11z 2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.18330POTATO ORIGINAL RESER 12/16z 2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.18334POTATO MUSTARD RESER 12/16z  2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.18335MACARONI ELBOW RESER 12/16z  2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.19000POTATO ORIGINAL AM CL 12/16z 2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.19300POTATO ORIGINAL AM CL 6/3#   2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.19303POTATO MUSTARD AM CL 6/3#    2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.19305MACARONI SALAD AM CL 6/3#    2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.19316POTATO AMISH SLD AM CL 6/3#  K2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.61650POTATO REGULAR SAM'S 6/5#    2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.64605MACARONI ELBOW K SOOPER 3/4# 2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.65135POTATO DICED W/EGG 3/8#      2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.80400SPEC CRANBRY/ORANGE SALAD 2/8#2013112620expires 11/26/13
73474.55010POTATO MUSTARD YODER 2/5#    2013112620expires 11/26/13
73474.55015MACARONI YODER 2/5#          2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.00215POTATO REGULAR RESER 3/8#    2013112720expires 11/27/13
71117.06102DRSG. BROCCOLI RESER 18/18z  2013121720expires 12/17/13
71117.00266SPEC 4-BEAN RESER 2/8#       2013122320expires 12/23/13
71117.17050DIP RANCH SS 12/4z           2013122720expires 12/27/13
51933.19720PIMENTO SPRD SAV-A-LOT 12/12z2014010320expires 01/03/14
71117.00003PIMENTO SPREAD MRS WEAVR 12/7z2014010320expires 01/03/14
71117.00134SALSA PICO DE GALLO 2/5#     2014010720expires 01/07/14
71117.02793PIMENTO SPRD MRS WEAVER 6/24z2014011520expires 01/15/14
71117.02793PIMENTO SPRD MRS WEAVER 6/24z2014011620expires 01/16/14
71117.14752DRSG. COLE SLAW RESER 2/4#   2014011720expires 01/17/14
71117.02400PIMENTO SPRD MRS WEAVR 12/12z2014020620expires 02/06/14
71117.02793PIMENTO SPRD MRS WEAVER 6/24z2014020620expires 02/06/14
71117.15235PARFAIT STRAWBERRY RESER 2/8#2014031720expires 03/17/14

 

Canadian Distribution

Item#Item DescriptionBest By Date
YYYYMMDD
Plant Code for 
Topeka Salad
20
 
71117.18244SLAW CRUNCHY CAD 12/425g     2013101020past expiration date
71117.61225SLAW CRUNCHY RSR CAD 6/1.25kg2013101020past expiration date
71117.61251POTATO HOMESTYLE CAD 6/454g  2013101020past expiration date
71117.61254SLAW OIL/VINEGAR CAD 6/425g  2013101020past expiration date
71117.00164POTATO GOURMET CAD 6/1.81kg  2013101220past expiration date
71117.61209POTATO GOURMET RED CAD 12/340g2013101220past expiration date
71117.61252POTATO DEVILED EGG CAD 6/454g2013101220past expiration date
71117.61629POTATO HMS RED CAD  6/2.27kg 2013101520past expiration date
71117.61206DIP CREAMY SPINACH CAD 12/454g2013101720past expiration date
71117.18241MACARONI CHEESY CAD 12/454g  2013102020past expiration date
71117.61227MACARONI CHEESY CAD 6/1.25kg 2013102020past expiration date
71117.18240MACARONI ELBOW CAD 12/454g   2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.18242POTATO SALAD CAD 12/454g     2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.18243POTATO w/EGG CAD 12/454g     2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.61320POTATO SLD CAD 6/1.25kg      2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.61321POTATO w/EGG CAD 6/1.25kg    2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.61322MACARONI REG CAD 6/1.25kg    2013102320expires 10/23/13
71117.00164POTATO GOURMET CAD 6/1.81kg  2013102520expires 10/25/13
71117.61629POTATO HMS RED CAD  6/2.27kg 2013102820expires 10/28/13
71117.61206DIP CREAMY SPINACH CAD 12/454g2013103020expires 10/30/13
71117.61227MACARONI CHEESY CAD 6/1.25kg 2013110220expires 11/2/13
71117.61322MACARONI REG CAD 6/1.25kg    2013110520expires 11/5/13
71117.00164POTATO GOURMET CAD 6/1.81kg  2013111520expires 11/15/13
71117.61252POTATO DEVILED EGG CAD 6/454g2013111520expires 11/15/13
71117.61629POTATO HMS RED CAD  6/2.27kg 2013111820expires 11/18/13
71117.18240MACARONI ELBOW CAD 12/454g   2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.18243POTATO w/EGG CAD 12/454g     2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.61320POTATO SLD CAD 6/1.25kg      2013112620expires 11/26/13
71117.61321POTATO w/EGG CAD 6/1.25kg    2013112620expires 11/26/13

The recalled products were manufactured at the Topeka, Kan., salad manufacturing facility. No other facilities are involved in this recall.

Consumers who purchased the product may take it back to the store for a refund or discard it.

For more information contact Reser’s Fine Foods Consumer Hotline 1-888-257-7913 (8am-8pm EST).

More

Nissan recalls variety of vehicles with braking problems

Antilock brake system software problems could increase stopping distance

Nissan is recalling 151,695 model year 2013-2014 Nissan Pathfinder vehicles manufactured April 18, 2012, through September 20, 2013; model year 2013 Infini...

PhotoNissan is recalling 151,695 model year 2013-2014 Nissan Pathfinder vehicles manufactured April 18, 2012, through September 20, 2013; model year 2013 Infiniti JX35 vehicles manufactured September 15, 2011, through January 16, 2013; and model year 2014 Infiniti QX60 vehicles manufactured January 17, 2013, through September 20, 2013.

During light braking on rough roads, the antilock brake system (ABS) brake pressure output software may lead to an increase in stopping distance, which could raise the risk of a crash.

Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will reprogram the ABS, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

Owners may contact Nissan at 1-800-647-7261.

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Get used to being served by machines

Futurist predicts most businesses soon will be open 24 hours

It started in chain supermarkets. In one section of the check-out aisles there suddenly appeared self-service scanners where consumers were encouraged to c...

PhotoIt started in chain supermarkets. In one section of the check-out aisles there suddenly appeared self-service scanners where consumers were encouraged to check themselves out, paying with cash or plastic.

If you are the type of consumer who enjoys some friendly banter with the clerk in the check-out aisle, enjoy it while you can. It may not last much longer. 

Futurist Thomas Frey predicts that soon nearly every city will have 24-hour convenience stores, 24-hour libraries, 24-hour banks, 24-hour churches, 24-hour schools, 24-hour movie theaters, 24-hour bars and restaurants, and even 24-hour shopping centers.

J.C. Penney's ill-fated attempt to develop stores within a store may eventually come to fruition as retailers will develop entire automated sections.

Disappearing humans

Industry analysts say humans are disappearing from retail establishments, replaced by kiosks. You've already seen it in video rentals. There used to be video stores, now there are vending machines at supermarkets and other public locations.

"Over the coming years we will transition from semi-automated to fully automated bars or restaurants," Frey said. As automation increases, "hours of operation will expand."

This will bring about a change to retailing, he predicts. Perhaps the biggest change since the self-serve store replaced the establishments where the clerk gathered the items you wanted from behind the counter.

"Adding store-within-a-store concepts along with after-hours product walls where people can order anything they see will give new options to shoppers," Frey said.

A downside?

PhotoBut maybe there's a downside to all these machines. After all, we've already seen vending machines replace video stores, a disruptive force that drove staffed stores out of business in less than a decade. Not all consumers have been thrilled with the results, even though, on the positive side, they could rent a movie at any hour of the day or night.

Theresa, of Abingdon, Va., found no one with whom she could dispute a late charge.

“Returned movies on time have e-mail confirmations thanking me for using Redbox and for returning the movies but still charged extra on my card,” she wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “I think they think it is such a small amount $1.26 that you won't bother to dispute it.”

Rachael, of Tulsa, Okla., says she normally loves using Redbox because it's inexpensive and easy. But she writes about a bad experience when the movie that came from the machine was badly scratched and wouldn't play.

Movie night is cancelled

“I call customer care and get a new code,” she writes. “Return movie. Try to get another of the same. Card won’t work. Card has been charged a couple of times in one night for a free movie. I only keep a few bucks on my card. I expected a free movie to be a free movie. Now I can't watch my movie tonight and I won't see my money back on my card for up to 10 business days?”

PhotoIn the case of unplayable disks, Redbox asks that consumers contact them through their website.

Despite such hiccups, Frey remains enthusiastic about the automated future, saying the product selection from machines is already astonishing and will continue to expand. He notes that one recent vending system designed for for Quiksilver dispenses underwear, lingerie, bikinis, boxers, and briefs, items never seen in a vending machine just a short time ago.

"Our automated future will give us 24-hour access to most goods and services, many of which are only available during normal business hours today," he said. "By eliminating the restrictive nature of today's business operations, we will be freeing up attention that can be more prudently spent solving society's bigger problems."

That may indeed turn out to be a benefit for consumers, as long as they still have jobs so that they can buy things from the machines.

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Getting your lawn ready for winter

You'll see the payoff in the spring

Autumn is the perfect time to do repair work on your lawn, which may have been over stressed by the summer heat and may now be infested with unwanted weeds...

PhotoAutumn is the perfect time to do repair work on your lawn, which may have been stressed by the summer heat and may now be infested with unwanted weeds. In addition, depending on where you live there are things you should do to prepare your lawn for the coming winter.

One of the most common end-of-the-season problems is “thatch,” a build-up of dead grass and other materials that can accumulate on the surface of the soil, blocking drainage, promoting fungal-related disease and impeding the growth of healthy grass.

So a first step in getting your lawn ready for winter is to rake it thoroughly, getting up leaves, pine needles and other debris. Once the lawn has been raked, use a pitch fork or lawn aerator to make small holes over the surface of the lawn. This aerating will allow the easy movement of water and air to grass roots and promote overall plant health.

Once you have created the holes, fill them by brushing fine horticultural sand into them. Otherwise, they will just close up on their own. Filling them with sand keeps the air and water flowing.

Autumn is best

Lawn care experts say autumn, not spring, is the best time to work on your lawn. Jim Welshans, regional turfgrass educator at Penn State University, suggests lawns with cool-weather grasses like Kentucky bluegrass, fescues, and perennial ryegrass should be fertilized in two waves, the first in early fall and the second around Thanksgiving, but before the ground is frozen.

He recommends a fertilizer high in phosphorus. However, the best way to make sure you're putting down the right fertilizer is to get a soil test through your county or state extension agent. There are geographic exceptions, of course. Hold off on fertilizing in the desert Southwest and deep south. The grasses prevalent there usually go dormant in the winter and don't need fertilizer.

In its advice on winter lawn prep, Better Homes and Gardens suggests a new layer of mulch will help protect the grass over the harsh winter months. Think of the much as a blanket – not to keep the soil warm so much as to keep the soil temperature even. 

Prime time

PhotoHGTV, which dispenses homeowner advice on cable TV, says the fall is also prime time for sowing grass seed. It's an especially good time for cool weather grasses and give them time to develop a root system before freezing weather arrives.

"While taking care of your outdoor space can require time, effort and braving the elements, the reward is seeing how a well-maintained lawn contributes to greater quality of life and enjoyment of your home," said Jason Henderson, associate professor of turfgrass and soil sciences at the University of Connecticut.

Henderson spends part of his time maintaining athletic fields that must stand up to hundreds of feet clad with cleats. He's come up with five steps for homeowners who would like their lawns to look like a gold course.

Five tips to a great lawn

The first is proper mowing. Grass needs to be cut to the proper height and mowed at the proper frequency. Generally, cool-season lawns should be mowed once a week between three and three and a half inches, alternating the direction each time.

The second step is to feed your lawn a proper diet. Just like a person, a lawn can build up strength to fight off disease. Again, here is where a soil test will prove useful to tell you what you need to feed it.

The third step is the aeration process discussed earlier. Those little holes really will allow your lawn to breath.

Fourth, keep pests and weeds at bay. Your lawn will not only look better but will be a safer, more even surface for children at play, reducing stumbling and triping.

Finally, keep your lawn hydrated. When Mother Nature doesn't provide enough rain, turn on the lawn sprinkler. Here, timing is critical. Watering is most effective early in the morning, to minimize excess moisture from negatively affecting your lawn. Applying water during the late morning or early evening can extend the amount of time the grass stays damp, making your lawn more susceptible to disease.

More

NBA reaches agreement to stream local games

It's the first major league to reach a a deal for local streaming

Live video streaming is coming to the courts -- the basketball courts, that is. The NBA is reportedly close to signing deals with several cable outlets to ...

PhotoLive video streaming is coming to the courts -- the basketball courts, that is. The NBA is reportedly close to signing deals with several cable outlets to let fans watch their local teams live online, a first for a major sports league in the U.S.

Sports Business Journal says the games will be streamed under the TV Everywhere banner and reports that deals have already been inked with Fox and NBC Sports, the country's two biggest owoners of regional sports networks.

National sports contests have been streamed before, but the NBA will become the first major national league to allow live streaming of local games. They're previously been blacked out in local markets to encourage attendance.  

You'll still have to be a cable TV customer but there will be no extra charge for the live streaming, at least initially. The deal reportedly runs through 2016. 

“It is not going to roll out at one time for everyone,” said Bill Koenig, executive vice president of business affairs and general counsel for the NBA, according to Sports Business Daily. “My sense is that Fox, from a technical standpoint, is further along. The good news is that I think it will happen in a significant way this year.”

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FTC: Aaron's stores spied on customers through webcams on rented computers

The furniture chain has settled a federal complaint and agreed to stop eavesdropping on clients

The Aaron’s furniture rental chain has admitted that it played a "direct and vital role" in its franchisees’ use of software on rental com...

PhotoThe Aaron’s furniture rental chain has settled a federal complaint that it played a "direct and vital role" in its franchisees’ use of software on rental computers that secretly monitored consumers, taking webcam pictures of them in their homes.

The disclosures came in the settlement of a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) complaint that said Aaron's franchisees surreptitiously tracked consumers’ locations and captured images through the computers’ webcams – including those of adults engaged in intimate activities.

The software also functioned as a keylogger that captured users’ login credentials for email accounts and financial and social media sites, the FTC said.

The FTC charges echo those leveled in a 2011 class-action lawsuit. A similar suit was filed against Rent-A-Center in September 2013.   

“Consumers have a right to rent computers free of cyberspying and to know when and how they are being tracked by a company,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “By enabling their franchisees to use this invasive software, Aaron’s facilitated a violation of many consumers’ privacy.”

Who knew what

Aaron Rents Oct. 23, 2013, 5:29 p.m.
Consumers rate Aaron Rents

The complaint alleges that Aaron’s knew about the privacy-invasive features of the software, but nonetheless allowed its franchisees to access and use the software, known as PC Rental Agent.

In addition, Aaron’s stored data collected by the software for its franchisees and also transmitted messages from the software to its franchisees. In addition, Aaron’s provided franchisees with instructions on how to install and use the software.

The software was the subject of related FTC actions earlier this year against the software manufacturer and several rent-to-own stores, including Aaron’s franchisees, that used it. It included a feature called Detective Mode, which, in addition to monitoring keystrokes, capturing screenshots, and activating the computer’s webcam, also presented deceptive “software registration” screens designed to get computer users to provide personal information.

Under the terms of the proposed consent agreement with the FTC, Aaron’s will be prohibited from using monitoring technology that captures keystrokes or screenshots, or activates the camera or microphone on a consumer’s computer, except to provide technical support requested by the consumer.

Must give notice

In addition, Aaron’s will be required to give clear notice and obtain express consent from consumers at the time of rental in order to install technology that allows location tracking of a rented product. For computer rentals, the company will have to give notice to consumers not only when it initially rents the product, but also at the time the tracking technology is activated, unless the product has been reported by the consumer as lost or stolen. The settlement also prohibits Aaron’s from deceptively gathering consumer information.

The agreement will also prevent Aaron’s from using any information it obtained through improper means in connection with the collection of any debt, money or property as part of a rent-to-own transaction. The company must delete or destroy any information it has improperly collected and transmit in an encrypted format any location or tracking data it collects properly.

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Amazon raises the free-shipping bar

Free shipping limited to pruchases of $35 or more

If you plan to use Amazon for this year’s holiday shopping, take note: the minimum purchase required for free shipping has gone up, from $25 to $35 (...

PhotoIf you plan to use Amazon for this year’s holiday shopping, take note: the minimum purchase required for free shipping has gone up, from $25 to $35 (unless you belong to Amazon Prime, in which case shipping remains “free”—in exchange for a $79 annual membership fee).

Much as we wish Amazon had held off until after the holiday season to raise its free-shipping bar (or at least waited until we finished our own personal holiday shopping), we can’t really bring ourselves to blame Amazon here, considering the way inflation has increased prices in general, and shipping costs in particular.

CNN Money notes that “The change came after a decade of free shipping to U.S. addresses on a minimum order of $25.” According to the inflation calculator maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, $25 in 2003 had the same buying power as $31.78 in 2013.

So when inflation is added to the calculations, Amazon’s current free-shipping minimum is less than four dollars higher than what it originally set in 2003.

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The Internet is the place to be this Christmas shopping season

Deloitte's annual holiday survey says almost half of us will shop online

Offers like free shipping, free returns and in-store pickup will help make the Internet the top holiday shopping destination for the first time, according ...

PhotoOffers like free shipping, free returns and in-store pickup will help make the Internet the top holiday shopping destination for the first time, according to Deloitte's 28th annual survey of holiday spending intentions and trends.

The survey found that shoppers plan to shell out an average of $421 on gifts this year, compared with $386 last year. They also expect to buy an average of 12.9 gifts, ending a five-year decline in the number of gifts they plan to purchase.

Another positive sign in holiday shopping, says Deloitte: an increase in discretionary and non-gift spending. The amount consumers plan to spend on non-gift items for themselves or their families is up 14% from 2012, while spending on home and holiday furnishings is expected to jump 25% from last year.

Consumer confidence

Additionally, according to the survey, consumers appear more confident in the economy's prospects. More than half (54%) believe the economy is on the rebound, an increase of 22 percentage points in the past two years.

"The survey reveals a brighter consumer spending outlook than we've seen in several years," said Alison Paul, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP, and retail & distribution sector leader. "Consumers are feeling more generous about gift spending, and we are encouraged by their plans to spend more on going out for celebrations, decorating their homes and treating themselves and their families to 'early gifts' while holiday shopping this year.”

Paul says that while the government shutdown and concerns about the debt cieling had the potential to dampen consumer sentiment, “the settlement likely averted any significant impact on the holiday season. The timely resolution of those issues may also give consumers an extra confidence boost just as promotions start hitting the stores and the shopping season gets underway."

Internet yea, discount stores nay

The Internet moved into the top spot among holiday shopping destinations for the first time in its 15 years represented in the survey, bumping discount/value department stores from the No. 1 position. Nearly half (47%) of consumers plan to purchase items online, followed by 44 percent at discount/value stores.

When choosing where to shop, consumers are motivated by more than just a bargain, emphasizing factors like convenience and selection. More than three-quarters (76%) cite convenience as a reason for shopping online, followed by price (63%).

The omnichannel shopper is most likely to make retailers' spirits bright. Those who shop a combination of store, Internet and mobile channels say they plan to spend a total of $1,643 on the holidays, 76% more than those who shop in the store only.

Bargain hunting

Despite higher spending potential, online shoppers will challenge retailers to be on their game when it comes to product selection and availability. Nearly eight in 10 (77%) say that if a product is not available on a store's website, they'll go elsewhere, while only 13% would go to that same retailer's store. In addition, 45% of all respondents indicated they would switch to an entirely different store chain or website if they can't find the desired item in a retailer's store.

"Shoppers put a premium on both their time and the shopping experience," noted Paul. "That shift bodes well for retailers as it suggests shoppers are no longer exclusively price driven. However, immediacy, service and selection will be paramount this year, and retailers need to offer a seamless, easy to navigate experience between their online, mobile and brick-and-mortar channels."

Shoppers want it all

Despite greater confidence in the economy's prospects, improved spending intentions and a focus on convenience, consumers still rank promotions high on their shopping lists. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of consumers say their holiday spending will be influenced by coupons or promotional offers.

More than seven in 10 (71%) say they plan to take advantage of free shipping offers, while nearly half (47%) expect free returns. More than four in 10 (44%) intend to take retailers up on price-matching guarantees, 36% say they will shop extended hours and 35% plan to order online for in-store pickup.

Retailers may also have good reason to roll out the promotions early this year: the number of consumers who say they expect to complete the majority of their shopping by early November (30 percent) rose five percentage points from last year. One-quarter (25%) plan to shop on Black Friday and 24% plan to do so on Cyber Monday, although nearly half (45%) indicate that Black Friday isn't as important as it used to be.

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Safety advocates want ban on novelty magnets

Children can be harmed or killed by swallowing the magnets, pediatricians warn

Doctors and safety advocates are pressing for a ban on high-powered novelty and toy magnets, arguing that strong regulation is the only way to prevent chil...

PhotoDoctors and safety advocates are pressing for a ban on high-powered novelty and toy magnets, arguing that strong regulation is the only way to prevent children from swallowing the magnets, which can bind together in the digestive system and cause serious injury or death.

They testified yesterday at a public hearing called by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which is considering rules that would prohibit the sale of high-powered magnet sets. The rule would apply to magnets that fit within the CPSC’s small parts cylinder and have a flux index (or strength) of more than 50.  

The CPSC took action in response to a growing number of documented pediatric ingestions of magnets from magnet sets.

"CFA strongly supports CPSC's determination that there is an unreasonable risk of injury associated with children ingesting high powered magnets," stated Rachel Weintraub, Legislative Director and Senior Counsel at Consumer Federation of America. "Data from CPSC and from pediatric gastroenterologists across the country documents the serious medical consequences that occur as a result of a child ingesting more than one high powered magnet. The unique properties of these magnets compel a regulatory solution such as the one CPSC has proposed, that would protect children from the severe consequences of ingesting more than one of these magnets."

Buckyballs, Zen Magnets

PhotoHigh-powered magnet sets, marketed under names such as Buckyballs and Zen Magnets, are comprised of tiny high-powered magnet balls or cubes, often with 200 or more magnets to a set. When more than two magnets are swallowed, their attractive force (flux) allows them to find each other across or between different segments of the bowel.

For example, connections can occur between the stomach and the small intestine, between the small intestine and the colon, or across loops of bowel. When this happens, the result can be bowel perforation, fistulization (unnatural connections of the bowel), or tissue death (necrosis).

The danger is heightened by the difficultly of a timely diagnosis.  Ingestion of magnets does not result in immediate symptoms, so there can be a marked delay in diagnosis and treatment, yet injury can occur in as little as eight hours.  When symptoms do occur, they are non-specific (abdominal pain, fever, vomiting) and may resemble other common ailments.

High-powered magnets are not like other small foreign objects that children typically swallow, experts testifying the hearing said.  According to a 2012 study by the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (NASPGHAN), nearly 80 percent of high-powered magnet ingestions cases require endoscopic or surgical intervention. Comparatively, only 10 to 20 percent of other foreign body ingestions require endoscopic removal and less than 1 percent require surgery.

“Actions taken to date by the Commission appropriately reflect the risk of significant and life-threatening injury that these magnet products pose to children," said Athos Bousvaros, M.D., NASPGHAN president. "There is nothing worse as a physician than treating a child with a preventable injury.  High-powered magnet ingestions are 100 percent avoidable if they are not available, which means banning their sale and doing everything possible to remove products already sold from any environment where children live, visit, play or learn."

 

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Kiss them goodby -- CFC inhalers will soon be history

Alternatives are available and have been on the market for years

In an effort to comply with an international treaty to protect the ozone layer, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it will complete its phase...

PhotoIn an effort to comply with an international treaty to protect the ozone layer, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it will complete its phase-out of all inhaler medical products containing chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) by Dec. 31, 2013.

The U.S. and most other countries signed an agreement in 1987 called the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer to phase out the worldwide production and use of CFCs. In this country, CFCs have been removed from such products as hairsprays, deodorants and air conditioning.

While most inhaler products containing CFCs have already been phased out, two products remain on the market: Combivent Inhalation Aerosol and Maxair Autohaler. However, these products will no longer be available after the end of this year.

People with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who use these inhalers should talk to their health care professional about a prescription for an alternative treatment.

Critical products

Inhalers are critical products for those persons suffering from asthma or COPD. In the U.S., more than 25 million people suffer from asthma, a disease that affects the airways in the lungs and can cause coughing, trouble breathing, wheezing and tightness or pain in the chest. An additional 15 million people have been diagnosed with COPD, a serious lung disease that worsens over time. Symptoms can include chest tightness, chronic cough and excessive phlegm.

“CFCs were used as propellants to move the drug out of inhalers so that patients can inhale the medicine,” said Badrul Chowdhury, M.D., director of the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Rheumatology Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “For more than two decades, the FDA and EPA have collaborated to phase-out CFCs in inhalers -- a process that included input from the public, advisory committees, manufacturers, and stakeholders.”

Most inhalers that used CFCs have already been phased out by the FDA. The inhaler that was most widely used -- albuterol CFC inhaler -- was phased out in 2008 and replaced with inhalers that use propellants called hydrofluoroalkanes (HFAs). There are many safe and effective inhalers available to treat asthma and COPD symptoms. All require a prescription, which must come from a licensed health care professional (a physician, physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner).

“The EPA and FDA's partnership has facilitated a safe, gradual transition to CFC-free inhalers in the United States,” said Drusilla Hufford, director of EPA’s Stratospheric Protection Division of the Office of Air and Radiation. “This action is an important contribution to the global effort to repair the Earth’s protective ozone layer and save millions of lives through the prevention of skin cancer.”

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Your federal tax refund may be a little late arriving

But that doesn't mean you don't have to file on time

Blame the government shutdown. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is. The tax agency says because of the 16-day closure this month, there will be a delay ...

PhotoBlame the government shutdown. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is.

The tax agency says because of the 16-day closure this month, there will be a delay of approximately one to two weeks to the start of the 2014 filing season to allow adequate time to program and test tax processing systems.

The original start date of the 2014 filing season was Jan. 21. The one- to two-week delay means the IRS will start accepting and processing 2013 individual tax returns no earlier than Jan. 28 and no later than Feb. 4.

Your responsibility

The late start to the filing season doesn't mean you can let the April 15 deadline slide. That date is set by statute and will remain in place. However, anyone can request an automatic six-month extension to file their tax return. The request is easily done with Form 4868, which can be filed electronically or on paper.

The agency will not process paper tax returns before the start date, which will be announced in December. There is no advantage to filing on paper before the opening date, and taxpayers will receive their tax refunds much faster by using e-file with direct deposit.

Bad timing

IRS processes, applications and databases must be updated annually to reflect tax law updates, business process changes and programming updates in time for the start of the filing season.

The government closure came during the peak period for preparing for the 2014 filing season. Programming, testing and deployment of more than 50 IRS systems is needed to handle processing of nearly 150 million tax returns. Updating these core systems is a complex, year-round process with the majority of the work beginning in the fall of each year.

About 90 percent of IRS operations were closed during the shutdown, with some major workstreams closed entirely, putting the agency nearly three weeks behind its tight timetable for being ready to start the 2014 filing season. There are additional training, programming and testing demands on IRS systems this year in order to provide additional refund fraud and identity theft detection and prevention.

Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel says the IRS is exploring options to shorten the expected delay, but notes that, “Readying our systems to handle the tax season is an intricate, detailed process, and we must take the time to get it right.”  

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Mortgage applications post first decline in three weeks

Housing prices continued their rise during August

After rising for two weeks on a row, mortgage applications slipped 0.6% during the week ending October 18, 2013, according to the Mortgage Bankers Associat...

PhotoAfter rising for two weeks on a row, mortgage applications slipped 0.6% during the week ending October 18, 2013, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey. The results do not include an adjustment for the Columbus Day holiday.

The Refinance Index decreased 1%, pushing the refinance share of mortgage activity down to 65% of total applications from 66% the previous week. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity increased to 7% of total applications.

Interest rates

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) decreased to 4.39%, the lowest rate since June 2013, from 4.46%, with points increasing to 0.41 from 0.31 (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 4.43%, the lowest rate since June 2013, from 4.51%, with points increasing to 0.26 from 0.15 (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 4.15% from 4.16%, with points decreasing to 0.27 from 0.44 (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 3.51%, the lowest rate since June 2013, from 3.53%, with points decreasing to 0.30 from 0.31 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.

The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs was unchanged at 3.25%, with points decreasing to 0.26 from 0.32 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.

The survey covers over 75 percent of all U.S. retail residential mortgage applications, and has been conducted weekly since 1990.

PhotoHouse price index

In a separate report, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) says house price appreciation continued in August with an increase of 0.3% from July. The change in the House Price Index (HPI) marks the nineteenth consecutive monthly price increase in the purchase-only, seasonally adjusted index.

The HPI is calculated using home sales price information from mortgages either sold to or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. From August 2012 to August 2013, house prices were up 8.5%, but still 9.4% below its April 2007 peak and roughly the same as the April 2005 index level.

For the nine census divisions, monthly price changes from July to August ranged from -0.5% in the South Atlantic division to +1.3% in the Mountain division. The 12-month changes ranged from +4.0% in the Mid Atlantic division to +18.2% in the Pacific division.  

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Reser’s recalls chicken, ham and beef products

The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

Reser’s Fine Foods of Topeka, Kan., is recalling approximately 22,800 pounds of chicken, ham and beef products due to possible contamination with Listeria ...

PhotoReser’s Fine Foods of Topeka, Kan., is recalling approximately 22,800 pounds of chicken, ham and beef products due to possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenes. The company says it has received no reports of illnesses due to consumption of these products

The products bear the establishment number “EST. 13520” or “P-13520” inside the USDA mark of inspection and include the following:

UPCPack/SizeProductUse-By Date

22486 15887

5 lbs.

Cobble Street Market Chicken Salad

11/15/13

58108 30149

5 lbs.

Cross Valley Farms Chicken Salad

11/13/13

58108 30166

5 lbs.

Cross Valley Farms Ham Salad

11/23/13

71117 11392

5 lbs.

Reser’s Fine Foods White Meat Chicken Salad with Cranberries & Pecans

11/13/13

   71117 11400

5 lbs.

Reser’s Fine Foods Chicken Salad

11/15/13

71117 11402

5 lbs.

Reser’s Fine Foods Ham Salad

11/26/13

71117 14139

5 lbs.

Reser’s Fine Foods Ham Salad Supreme

11/23/13

71117 14179

3 lbs.

Millers Bar-B-Que Beans with Beef

11/19/13

71117 19008

12 oz.

Reser’s Fine Foods White Meat Chicken Salad

11/13/13

71117 68007

5 lbs.

Classic Chicken Salad

11/13/13

77509 63308

12 oz.

Chef Solutions Cranberry Pecan White Meat Chicken Salad

11/16/13

71117 61502

3 lbs.

Stonemill Kitchens Loaded Potato Salad with Bacon

10/23/13

The products were distributed to retailers and distributors in Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Consumers with questions about the recall should contact the Reser’s Fine Foods Consumer Hotline at 1-888-257-7913 (8 a.m. – 8 p.m. Eastern Time).

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Minnesota Costco recalls ground beef product

The product may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7

Costco in Coon Rapids, Minn., is recalling an undetermined amount of lean fresh ground beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. The p...

PhotoCostco in Coon Rapids, Minn., is recalling an undetermined amount of lean fresh ground beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

The product subject to recall is 383 units of 88% lean fresh ground beef (88/12). It bears the Costco item number 33724 under the Costco label. This product was sold directly to 342 consumers in a Costco located in Coon Rapids, Minn., between Sept. 4 and Sept. 7.

Based on epidemiological and traceback investigations, 1 case-patient has been identified in Minnesota with an estimated illness onset date of Sept. 29, 2013. The product was prepared from bull meat and finely ground beef from the Costco Wholesale plant in Tracy, Calif., and bench trim prepared at the Costco Wholesale in Coon Rapids, Minn. The steaks or roasts that were the source of the bench trim may have originated from as many as 16 federally inspected establishments.

There is concern that some product may be frozen and in consumers' freezers.

FSIS routinely conducts recall effectiveness checks to verify recalling firms notify their customers of the recall and that steps are taken to make certain that the product is no longer available to consumers. Costco has already taken steps to contact every customer who purchased the ground beef product.

Consumers with questions regarding the recall may contact Costco at (800) 774-2678.

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Sunny Pine Farm recalls Chevre cheese

The cheese may not have been pasteurized properly

Sunny Pine Farm of Twisp, Wash., is recalling Organic Chevre, Organic Parsley Chive Chevre and Organic Honey Lavender Chevre due to possible improper paste...

PhotoSunny Pine Farm of Twisp, Wash., is recalling Organic Chevre, Organic Parsley Chive Chevre and Organic Honey Lavender Chevre due to possible improper pasteurization.

Pasteurization heats milk to eliminate all illness-causing bacteria such as Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella. The company says it knows of no illness or complaints associated with the recalled Chevre cheese.

The recalled cheeses were sold in plastic 6-oz tubs in the Twisp-Winthrop area in Washington state through community supported agriculture (CSA) and retail outlets and have an expiration date of 10/16/2013 on a sticker located on the bottom of the container.

Chevre cheese products sold at Methow Valley Farmers Market (aka Twisp Farmers Market) between 7/27/13 and 10/12/13 are also recalled, but are not labeled with an expiration date.

Consumers who have purchased these products should not consume them and are urged to return them to the place of purchase for a full refund or replacement.

Consumers with questions may contact the company at 509-997-4812 between 8AM and 6PM PST.

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Yahoo Mail users in uprising over system changes

Company says changes were made to improve service

The Internet has been buzzing in the last week with angry Yahoo Mail users, who discovered the email service they have been using has changed, adopting a l...

PhotoThe Internet has been buzzing in the last week with angry Yahoo Mail users, who discovered the email service they have been using has changed, adopting a look and feel similar to that of Google's Gmail. Many have taken to the Internet to vent their frustration.

“The first time I saw this I thought I had some kind of virus,” reports Lucille, of Heathsville, Va. It looked completely different. New emails with the same subject line as an old email doesn't show up on a new line, but rather is connected to the old emails. It's easy to miss something.”

That's something Gmail users have always had to deal with. And indeed, the Yahoo Mail program now looks a lot like Gmail, which might not be surprising since CEO Marissa Mayer came over from Google.

Petition

Yahoo Mail user Jan Hyatt, of Severna Park, Md., says she chose Yahoo for her email because she didn't like Gmail. Angered by the change, Hyatt has submitted a petition for Change.org, calling on the company to go back to the old interface.

“Many of us have used Yahoo mail for over a decade,” the petition reads. “It's been reliable, functional and served the needs of a wide variety of people - for personal and business use. Yahoo has changed it, taking away the ability to organize emails, switch from writing to reading emails without losing work, incorporating ads into the inbox (that, if clicked on by mistake, lead to spam websites) and hiding essential functions, like printing.”

Hyatt says, under the new system, years of emails are disappearing, contact lists are being deleted, orders are disappearing before they can be filled and, in at least one case, a flight squadron couldn't get flight plans.

"Yahoo Mail no longer works," Hyatt said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. "I hear from users who have already moved to other providers or front-ends, and from many others who are looking at options to move as well."

'Almost worthless'

PhotoDonald, a ConsumerAffairs reader, insists the change has made Yahoo Mail “almost worthless.”

“Compared to Classic or even the previous version, it it dysfunctional,” he writes. “You might say it is 'void and without form.' It is like stepping back into the stone age.”

Upset Yahoo Mail users quickly found a home on Facebook, setting up a group called Yahoo's New Mail Fail – Open letter to Marissa Mayer.

“They made a grave mistake alienating their customer base - we should be their best marketing tool, but now the word-of-mouth is their worst,” wrote one member, identified as Tina Vozick.

While the vast majority of Yahoo Mail users pay nothing, Vozick said she is a paying customer, getting certain added features on her Yahoo Mail account.

“I will leave when I can figure out how to get my message history,” Vozick writes. “It's business, Marissa - you should understand that.”

Company response

Despite the heated criticism, Yahoo said there are plenty of users who like the new interface. It says the changes were designed to provide users with a more modern and personalized experience.

"As with any significant product change, it is typical to see varied reaction, particularly in the beginning and with products that have a large user base,” a Yahoo spokesperson said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “The level of response we are seeing is in line with previous releases and we've heard from many users that they are enjoying the new experience. For users who need help navigating the new Yahoo Mail, we have a dedicated customer care team in place, as well as help pages that provide details on specific features.”

Even so, the spokesperson added that user feedback is extremely important and “we are actively listening to our users and will continue to iterate on our products to provide the best user experience possible."

Alternatives

PhotoBy Monday the Facebook page was offering members advice on switching to another email provider. A member identified as David Borgioli said he has been using Mail.com and GMX.com for about a week, which is not enough time, he says, to tell which is superior. The major task, he writes, is transferring all those Yahoo emails to the new service.

“To get my mail from the folders, I created duplicate folders in both Mail.com and GMX.com,” he writes. “I also created a folder in each called Inbox Two. I moved all mail from the inbox to Inbox Two in Yahoo, Mail, and GMX. Then I move everything from one folder to Inbox. After a few minutes the mails will start to come into Mail and GMX. I found it helps, in Mail and GMX, to move the incoming mails to the corresponding folder after I get between fifty and two or three hundred. Once I confirm that all e-mails have been imported, I go back to Yahoo and move the e-mails back to the appropriate folder. Yes, this is a bit of a pain in the neck.”

Though there is no way to tell for sure, many of the complaints about the change suggest they come from business users. The petition calling on Yahoo to change back to the old interface reinforces that perception.

“This debacle is a disaster for business,” the petition reads. “We understand Yahoo is targeting the mobile market, and while we love mobile, we DON'T use mobile for business!”

Hyatt predicts Yahoo users will leave the service in droves if the issue isn't addressed. Yahoo doesn't think that's the case. Time will tell.

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FDA can't track down source of pet poisonings, asks for public's help

The agency wants to hear from consumers whose pets became ill

Everyone has a pet theory or two about what is making America's dogs and cats sick after they eat jerky treats but no one has managed to conclusively prove...

PhotoEveryone has a pet theory or two about what is making America's dogs and cats sick after they eat jerky treats but no one has managed to conclusively prove any of those theories.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration admits it is stumped and is asking for help from pet owners. It already has reports of jerky treat-related illnesses involving 3,600 dogs and 10 cats in the U.S. since 2007. At least 580 of them died.

Now the FDA says it would like to hear from any pet owner whose animal became sick or died after eating jerky treats.

"This is one of the most elusive and mysterious outbreaks we've encountered," says CVM Director Bernadette Dunham, DVM, Ph.D. "Our beloved four-legged companions deserve our best effort, and we are giving it." Dunham says the FDA has conducted more than 1,200 tests, visited pet treat manufacturers in China and talked with experts of all kinds without nailing down the source of the problem. 

"Our fervent hope as animal lovers," says Dunham, "is that we will soon find the cause of—and put a stop to—these illnesses."

Made in China

PhotoMost of the jerky treats implicated in the illnesses have been made in China and the FDA notes that by law, manufacturers of pet foods are not required to state the country of origin for each ingredient in their products.

A number of jerky pet treat products were removed from the market in January 2013 after a New York State lab reported finding evidence of up to six drugs in certain jerky pet treats made in China. The FDA says the drug levels were very low and claims it's unlikely that they caused the illnesses, but the agency concedes that it noted a decrease in reports of jerky-suspected illnesses after the products were removed from the market. FDA believes that the number of reports may have declined simply because fewer jerky treats were available.

What to do

The agency is publishing a fact sheet that it will send to veterinarians, asking them to use it to alert consumers to the problem and to provide instructions on reporting pet illnesses

The fact sheet also points out that the treats are not essential to a balanced diet.  Many pet owners bake their own treats. Others use pieces of the pet's regular kibble as a treat. If you do provide jerky treats and your pet becomes sick, stop the treats immediately, consider seeing your veterinarian, and save any remaining treats and the packaging for possible testing.

Be careful handling the treats. Humans are also susceptible to some of the conditions transmitted by pet food.

What next?

Photo
Nina
More than 1,200 jerky pet treat samples have been tested since 2011 for a variety of chemical and microbiological contaminants, from antibiotics to metals, pesticides and Salmonella. DNA testing has also been conducted, along with tests for nutritional composition, the FDA said.

In addition to continuing to test jerky pet treat samples within FDA labs, the agency is working with the Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network (Vet-LIRN), an FDA-coordinated network of government and veterinary diagnostic laboratories across the U.S. and Canada. (A summary of the tests is available on Vet-LIRN's webpage.)

Inspections of the facilities in China that manufacture jerky products associated with some of the highest numbers of pet illness reports did not identify the cause of illness. However, they did identify additional paths of investigation, such as the supply chain of some ingredients in the treats.

Although FDA inspectors have found no evidence identifying the cause of the spate of illnesses, they did find that one firm used falsified receiving documents for glycerin, a jerky ingredient. Chinese authorities informed FDA that they had seized products at the firm and suspended its exports.

To identify the root cause of this problem, FDA is meeting regularly with regulators in China to share findings. The agency also plans to host Chinese scientists at its veterinary research facility to increase scientific cooperation.

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Beware Paula Deen's flaky cookware

Interior and exterior coatings prone to flaking off

Last summer, celebrity chef Paula Deen's career nosedived and crashed after her apparent affinity for racist language became common knowledge. This a...

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Dinner delivery: a recipe for penury?

Wheels on Meals is for the elderly and infirm, not busy young professionals

We read with interest Jennifer Abel's story about "dinner kits" a few days ago. A dinner kit, it turns out, is sort of like a paint-by-numbers set for thos...

PhotoWe read with interest Jennifer Abel's story about "dinner kits" a few days ago. A dinner kit, it turns out, is sort of like a paint-by-numbers set for those whose mothers never taught them to open a can.

It's a prefabricated dinner that is delivered to your home in a box. Sort of like Meals on Wheels except that you still have to cook it. 

The sales pitch for this latest supposed innovation is that it makes it possible for busy professionals to eat dinner without going out to a restaurant. Quite an accomplishment, you must admit.

But after marveling at this latest triumph of marketing, the smoke cleared and we were unable to resist shouting a rude epithet at the computer screen. 

"There's something wrong with the world when people think they're so busy they can't open a box of rice and carve up a chicken breast," we exclaimed. It takes about 15 minutes for even the klutziest of us to prepare an edible dinner, not counting cooking time and it certainly doesn't take much in the way of brainpower. Talk to any short-order cook if you don't believe it.

But let's assume for a minute that these urban professionals truly are so busy that by the time they rush home to their loft-style Hoboken digs they are so stressed out from a day of dreaming up advertising slogans and analyzing all the marketing, business and development plans that occupy what would otherwise be idle hands, they could not possibly be troubled to throw a pot of water on the stove and empty a box of pasta into it. 

Retroactive analysis

Photo
Our new slow cooker at work

Turning to anthropology for an answer to this dilemma, we conducted a retroactive analysis of cooking patterns in pre-Millennial times and found that previous generations of Americans had used slow-cookers, a/k/a Crockpots, to prepare hearty and healthy meals that simmered away during the workday and were ready to be devoured by famished urban professionals upon their return to their domiciles.

We assumed that these had passed into extinction but mounted an expedition to Walmart just to be sure, assuming that if the species survived anywhere on Earth, it would be at Walmart

Sure enough, there on Aisle 3,241 we found a Hamilton-Beach slow-cooker for $14. We made a quick detour through the canned goods section on the way out, grabbing a couple of cans of Bush's Vegetarian Baked Beans and two cans of creamed corn, as called for in a soup recipe we had found earlier at About.com. 

The beans cost about $6 and the corn about $2. We already had everything else the recipe called for. As habitual cooks will tell you, this is one big advantage of cooking on a regular basis: you build up a selection of dill, garlic, pepper and other commodities, so you don't need to have someone send you a single day's supply every time you feel like eating.

Upon returning home, we unpacked the cooker, opened a few cans, diced up some celery and threw everything into the cooker. Then we turned it on. All of this activity was concluded by about 10:30 this morning and took about an hour from start to finish, most of that time taken up by the trip to Walmart.

A few hours later, expending no further energy, we had a large vat full of very tasty corn chowder. We wolfed down a bowl with some rice crackers and judged it a reasonably satisfying lunch. Still in the cooker was enough soup for five or six more lunches or dinners. Later today, we'll freeze a bunch of individual portions and that will be, as they say, that.

Incredible savings vs. incredible recipes

Photo
Don't know how to cook? Put your laptop in the kitchen. It will guide you.

For comparison's sake, we checked Blue Apron, one of the boxed-meal purveyors featured in Jennifer's piece. While Blue Apron modestly describes its recipes as "incredible," we'd have to say that description also applies to their prices: $9.99 per person per meal, according to their website.

This sounds pretty reasonable but consider your typical dual-wage-earning duo of busy professionals. Assuming each of them eats, Blue Apron is into them for $20 a day or $140 per week -- just for dinner. The USDA reports that most consumers spend less than that for a full week's worth of food -- breakfast, lunch and dinner -- for their families. OK, maybe they don't have frisee and farro salads (whatever they may be) but they may have a few bucks left over at the end of the week.

Let's look a little more closely at this: the beans and creamed corn cost us $8. If we assign a value to the pepper, celery and other stuff we had lying around, maybe it was worth 50 cents. Assuming we get eight bowls of soup, that's a little over $1 each. Add some rice crackers or -- hey, let's go wild for a minute -- a few slices of bread and the total cost per meal might be $1.20.

That's a lot less than $9.99 and if you want to be health-conscious, cooking at home lets you control sodium, fat and all that kind of stuff. You can go vegan, be lactose-free and banish gluten forever with very little extra trouble and expense.  

Who cares?

Photo
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Survey of Income and Program Participation 2004 and 2008 Panels

Why does all this matter? Who cares about a few hundred bucks? Well, not to preach but the Census Bureau reports that median household net worth in the U.S. decreased 35% from 2005 to 2010, when it hit $66,740 (and the 35-to-44-year age group has seen the biggest decline, down 58%). That's the median, mind you, not the average. The average is hovering somewhere in the single digits.

Families and individuals with no net worth to speak of are the ones who suffer most when they lose their job or, attention federal workers, are furloughed for a few weeks. They're also the ones who arrive at old age with nothing to live on except meager government "entitlements," possibly explaining the alarming rise in the suicide rate among aging Baby Boomers the last few years. 

Gee, all this fuss over a boxed dinner. Just saying -- part of being a wise consumer is controlling spending and building net worth. In the long run, it's a lot more important than having the latest smartphone, tablet computer, safari tickets or dinner box collection. 

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L.A. Fitness settles suit alleging it overcharged members

Members who canceled were assessed a fee even when they followed the procedure

A federal judge has given final approval to the settlement of a class action suit against L.A. Fitness, charging that it overcharges members who cancel the...

PhotoA federal judge has given final approval to the settlement of a class action suit against L.A. Fitness, charging that it overcharges members who cancel their contracts.

The case was filed by Sophia Martina who -- unlike many consumer who don't follow the contract provisions when trying to cancel their membership --  actually did everything right and was still charged a $40 fee.

Martina had paid about $288 to joint an L.A. Fitness club in New Jersey in February 2008. She paid about $288, covering her first and last month's membership dues. When she notified the club she wanted to end her membership a few months later, it charged her for an extra month, her lawsuit contends, Courthouse News Service reported.

Martina said she mailed her notice 30 days in advance, as required by the contract, but the club claimed it didn't get the letter for a month or so and charged her a $40 wait-time fee.

Under the settlement agreement, L.A. Fitness has agreed to pay up to 46,000 class members an aggregate amount of $3.8 million, plus attorneys' fees and more than $11,000 to resolve Martina's credit card charges.

Senior U.S. District Judge William Walls approved the settlement but did so reluctantly, noting that L.A. Fitness' actual exposure is "nowhere near" $3.8 million, since few class members have come forward to claim their share.

Free pass 

LA fitness Oct. 22, 2013, 2:54 p.m.
Consumers rate LA fitness

Under the settlement, consumers who qualify will get a 45-day access coupon and possible reimbursement for one-third of a month's dues. Those who had personal trainers may get two free training sessions or a $100 credit towards a new membership.

Judge Walls noted that the out-of-pocket cost to L.A. Fitness is minimal and he noted that the class members are "not enthusiastic" about the settlement. 

"Though the parties' claimed value for the settlement of $3.8 million is inflated and misleading - based, as it is, on a faulty assumption that 100 percent of class members will claim their relief - the settlement is fair enough, especially given the risks of litigation," Walls wrote.

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In an emergency, could you find personal and financial information?

Keeping documents in one, secure place can save time and money

When hurricane Sandy slammed into the northeast last year, it caused widespread property damage. Less reported in the wake of the disaster was the loss of ...

PhotoWhen Hurricane Sandy slammed into the Northeast last year, it caused widespread property damage. Less reported in the wake of the disaster was the loss of vital documents from people's homes.

As they went about trying to put a roof back over their head thousands of consumers also had the task of trying to locate, and replicate, their vital documents. On its website Ocean County, New Jersey still offers help to residents trying to put their paper lives back together. 

There is help for replacing birth, marriage and death certificates; drivers licenses and tax returns; insurance policies, mortgage papers, wills and property deeds. The list goes on and on.

Get organized

Financial advisor Michell Perry Higgins, a principal with California Financial Advisors, in San Ramon, Calif., has seen this happen all too often. And not just in the case of a disaster or fire that destroys important documents. All too often people can't put their hands on important documents when they need them.

“It started years ago when my clients would come through the door and we would create these beautiful financial plans and I would ask them, 'where is the rest of your documentation,' and I would get the deer-in-the-headlights look,” Higgins said. “I would say, 'where do you store all your secure passwords, where do you store your estate information and your personal affairs' and I would find clients had information everywhere.”

Then a client would die. For a son or daughter the emotional task of wrapping up a parent's estate was usually more complicated than it needed to be.

“It has taken the heirs countless hours to dig through Mom and Dad's office to try and find paperwork that matters,” Higgins said.

A place to put everything

Higgins has responded by creating what she calls The Everything Binder. As the name implies, it is an actual binder with 17 tabs, all related to important documentary topics for an individual or family. For example, there are places to store insurance papers, passwords, brokerage statements, retirement investments, information about pets, and estate planning documents, among others.

“That's the beauty of The Everything Binder, it puts all of your personal affairs, all your estate and financial information in one location,” Higgins said.

Naturally, the binder itself needs to be in a secure location. Higgins said she urges her clients to keep it in either a safe or a safe deposit box at a bank. It not only will save time for them, in case of a disaster, it can also be a real gift to their heirs.

“For that individual who passes away and doesn't have their personal and financial life documented properly, they're adding countless hours and even dollars to the loved one,” she said. “I estimate it would, in many cases, take 20 to 40 hours to recompile this information.”

Electronic back-up

It's also a good idea to make electronic copies of your important documents and store them in the cloud, or provide copies to loved ones. A number of inexpensive scanners have been designed for this purpose, allowing users to capture documents and store them in a searchable database.

What documents are important to keep? USA.gov, the U.S. government's official web portal, lists a number of documents you should have in your safe file. A good system, the agency says, will help prevent chaos after a major life event. 

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Apple to release new operating system, updated iPads

Promises extended battery life for MacBook Pro

Tech and consumer journalists could save a lot of time if they’d program their work computers so that pressing a single key made the sentence “...

PhotoTech and consumer journalists could save a lot of time if they’d program their work computers so that pressing a single key made the sentence “Apple’s releasing some new products” instantly appear on their screen.

Anyway, Apple’s releasing some new products. Specifically, updated iPads and a new operating system called OS X Mavericks, which will add an extra hour and a half to the battery life of a MacBook Pro, according to Apple’s software engineering chief Craig Federighi.

The Washington Post tech blog reported the upcoming Apple unveilings as part of a larger piece discussing the current market for tablets.

“While Apple continues its reign on top of the tablet world, analysts say the company is beginning to see some of the same competitive pressures it faced in the smartphone market. It once dominated that market, but has recently been unseated by smartphones running the Android operating system.”

Of course, the Post also quoted Apple executives insisting they’re not remotely worried about competitors in the tablet market; as Apple chief executive Tim Cook said, “Our competition is confused … We have a very clear direction and a very ambitious goal. We still believe deeply in this category, and we’re not slowing down in our innovation.”

Which is why we said tech journalists could save a lot of time, if they’d program their work computers so that pressing a single key made the sentence “Apple’s releasing some new products” instantly appear on their screen.

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Does vitamin D prevent diabetes?

A federally-funded research project hopes to find out

The first definitive, large-scale clinical trial to investigate if a vitamin D supplement helps prevent or delay type 2 diabetes in adults who have prediab...

PhotoThe first definitive, large-scale clinical trial to investigate if a vitamin D supplement helps prevent or delay type 2 diabetes in adults who have prediabetes is underway.

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is taking place at about 20 study sites across the United States, involving adults who are at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

The multiyear Vitamin D and Type 2 Diabetes (D2d) study will include about 2,500 people. The goal is to learn if vitamin D -- specifically D3 (cholecalciferol) -- will prevent or delay type 2 diabetes in adults aged 30 or older with prediabetes. People with prediabetes have blood glucose levels that are higher than normal but not high enough to be called diabetes.

“This study aims to definitively answer the question: Can vitamin D reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes?” said Myrlene Staten, M.D., D2d project officer at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of NIH. “Vitamin D use has risen sharply in the U.S. in the last 15 years, since it has been suggested as a remedy for a variety of conditions, including prevention of type 2 diabetes. But we need rigorous testing to determine if vitamin D will help prevent diabetes. That’s what D2d will do.”

“Past observational studies have suggested that higher levels of vitamin D may be beneficial in preventing type 2 diabetes,” said Anastassios G. Pittas, M.D., the study’s principal investigator at Tufts Medical Center, Boston, “but until this large, randomized and controlled clinical trial is complete, we won’t know if taking vitamin D supplements lowers the risk of diabetes.”

First of its kind

D2d is the first study to directly examine if a daily dose of 4,000 International Units (IUs) of vitamin D -- greater than a typical adult intake of 600-800 IUs a day, but within limits deemed appropriate for clinical research by the Institute of Medicine -- helps keep people with prediabetes from getting type 2 diabetes. Based on observations from earlier studies, researchers speculate that vitamin D could reduce the diabetes risk by 25%. The study will also examine if sex, age or race affect the potential of vitamin D to reduce diabetes risk.

“An estimated 79 million Americans have prediabetes, and nearly 26 million more have diabetes,” said NIDDK Director Griffin P. Rodgers, M.D. “With D2d, we seek evidence for an affordable and accessible way to help prevent or delay type 2 diabetes.”

Researchers are recruiting volunteers to take part in D2d. Half of the participants will receive vitamin D. The other half will receive a placebo -- a pill that has no drug effect. Participants will have check-ups for the study twice a year, and will receive regular health care through their own health care providers.

In the dark

The study will be double-blinded, so neither participants nor the study’s clinical staff will know who is receiving vitamin D and who is receiving placebo. The study will continue until enough people have developed type 2 diabetes to be able to make a scientifically valid comparison between diabetes development in the two groups, likely about four years.

There have been other NIH-funded studies of methods to delay or prevent type 2 diabetes, including the Diabetes Prevention Program, which showed that -- separately -- lifestyle changes to lose a modest amount of weight and the drug metformin are both effective in slowing development of type 2 diabetes in people with prediabetes. However, additional safe and effective preventative strategies are needed to stem the increasing numbers of people developing type 2 diabetes.

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Better late than never -- government releases September employment numbers

The economy added jobs last month, but not as many as projected

New jobs found their way into the economy in September, but the total fell short of forecasts and the number of positions created the month before. Releas...

PhotoNew jobs found their way into the economy in September, but the total fell short of forecasts and the number of positions created the month before.

Releasing a report that was delayed by the shutdown, the government said nonfarm payroll employment rose by 148,000 in September, led by increases in construction, wholesale trade, and transportation and warehousing. Analysts surveyed by Briefing.com had called for 183,000 new jobs and ADP's expectation was for 166,000 jobs. In August, the economy created 193,000 jobs

The unemployment rate, meanwhile, edged down -- 0.1% to 7.2%, but has dropped by 0.4% since June. This time, though, the decline was due to more workers finding jobs as opposed to the statistical aberrations that occurred in the past when the unemployment rate declined from a drop in the labor force. The number of people still without work was little changed at 11.3 million, although joblessness has decreased by 522,000 since June.

Who's not working

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (7.1%), adult women (6.2%), teenagers (21.4%), whites (6.3%), blacks (12.9%), Hispanics (9.0%) and Asians (5.3%) were little changed from.

In September, the number of long-term unemployed -- those out of work for 27 weeks or more -- was little changed at 4.1 million. They account for 36.9% of the unemployed. The number of long-term unemployed has declined by 725,000 over the past year.

Areas of employment growth

Employment in construction rose by 20,000 in September, after showing little change over the prior 6 months. There were 16,000 new jobs in wholesale trade in September and 23,000 in transportation and warehousing..

Expansion in professional and business services continued with the addition of 32,000 positions while employment in temporary help services rose by 20,000. Within retail trade, there were 5,000 jobs gained in building material and garden supply stores and 4,000 in automobile dealerships.

In the financial activities industry, employment in credit intermediation and related activities dropped by 8,000, while employment in food services and drinking places was down by 7,000.

Health care added 7,000 jobs in September and has added an average of 19,000 jobs per month so far this year well short of 2012's average monthly increase of 27,000.

The full September employment report is available on the Labor Department website.

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Questions and answers about Obamacare

New entitlement remains mired in political controversy

After a shaky rollout, uninsured Americans are attempting to sign up for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. As has bee...

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Online breast milk high in bacteria, study finds

Internet sites making a market in human milk with no safety oversight

Mother's milk is about as safe as food can be. Unless it's not from your mother. And surprisingly, a growing number of mothers are getting breast milk onli...

PhotoMother's milk is about as safe as food can be. Unless it's not from your mother. And surprisingly, a growing number of mothers are getting breast milk online from complete strangers and feeding it to their babies, a practice that a new study warns may be hazardous to the baby's health.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that breast milk from two popular sites was often contaminated with high levels of bacteria, including salmonella.

Researchers said 72% of the samples purchased online were infected with bacteria and 21% had potentially harmful viruses.

Some of the websites that make a market in mother's milk are reminiscent of inner-city blood banks, luring women who "over-produce" with promises of easy money. Onlythebreast.com charges $5 for a 15-day "premium" listing, telling women they can "get noticed and sell more breast milk with featured ads."   

After the study was released, the site said it would stop facilitating person-to-person sales and instead help link donors to breast milk banks that have stricter safety standards. 

FDA warnings

The study echoes warnings from the Food and Drug Administration, which has warned for years that casual milk sharing can be dangerous. 

"FDA recommends against feeding your baby breast milk acquired directly from individuals or through the Internet," the agency said in a 2010 advisory. "When human milk is obtained directly from individuals or through the Internet, the donor is unlikely to have been adequately screened for infectious disease or contamination risk.  In addition, it is not likely that the human milk has been collected, processed, tested or stored in a way that reduces possible safety risks to the baby."

For years, doctors have recommended that mothers breast-feed their infants whenever possible, based on research that finds breast milk protects babies against infections and other maladies but most doctors likely didn't imagine their patients would get their breast milk from the Internet, not exactly the world's safest neighborhood.

Some women are driven to seek additional milk because they can't produce enough milk on their own. Some are not able to nurse because of illness or a busy work and travel schedule. This has sparked a growth industry in websites that collect and sell or donate breast milk.  

What to do

Parents who are considering using donated milk should first consult their pediatrician, the FDA advises. 

The next step is to find a human milk bank that screens donors and takes steps to process and store the milk safely. A few states regulate these banks but there are no federal standards. The Human Milk Bank Association sets voluntary standards and has a nationwide directory of milk banks on its website.

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Magicjack: Good idea but many complain of bad service

Some consumers are surprised by porting charges, although they are disclosed in advance

Nobody’s perfect, and neither is any company; even the best-run business is bound to goof up on occasion. So if we only get one or two reader complai...

PhotoNobody’s perfect, and neither is any company; even the best-run business is bound to goof up on occasion. So if we only get one or two reader complaints about a given company, this could merely indicate a good company having a bad day. But when a company inspires a near-constant deluge of similar-sounding reader complaints, we’re more likely to suspect a trend. 

Magicjack appears to be one of those companies inspiring a steady stream of complaints every month—indeed, every week. And when we limit ourselves to only the past fortnight’s worth of Magicjack letters, we see two consistent trends: complaints about the quality of the service itself, and either difficulties or “hidden” charges involved in porting phone numbers to or from Magicjack. 

In fairness, though, we must point out that the charge to transfer numbers to Magicjack is not “hidden.” Magicjack’s website does say “Additional fees apply to transfer a number.” Granted, it says this in extremely tiny print at the very bottom of the webpage—but consider this the n-millionth piece of evidence in support of the theory, “You need to read all the fine print before you sign a contract.”

Service expiring

Magicjack Oct. 21, 2013, 8:15 p.m.
Consumers rate Magicjack

Rich M. of Marlton, New Jersey told us he ported his home phone number to Magicjack for a one-year subscription. Everything went fine until about five weeks before that subscription was set to expire, and then: “Every time I pick up the phone to make a call, [I] get a warning that the number is about to expire and the call I dialed does not go through. The support folks are no help at all, telling you to renew or just suffer the messages until you do. After I had the Magicjack for awhile they removed the ability to forward the number without notice also. They just do not seem to be very customer-friendly.”

Rich is the only reader to post a recent complaint about those bizarre subscription-renewal messages – but the calls not going through at all is a constant refrain. Ira I. from Speedwell, Tenn., summarizes his Magicjack experience as “Missed calls, unrepaired problems, and nickel/dime you to death .... Been told by bank, school, health department, and doctor's offices that they have tried calling but couldn't get through. Basically any place with a multi-line switchboard cannot call through.”

Luis C. of Miami said that when he bought Magicjack, “the unit only worked three days and went off. The help could not solve the problems and I asked to cancel my services and de-port my number to my previous carrier. After 3 weeks trying to get attention to my request I have not being able to get it back, always a delay and an excuse. Awful service.”

Jaeho L. of Rockville, Maryland also had problems right out of the gate. “I used this service and soon I realized: it's not working properly. When I pressed the button, it did not recognize it at all. I wasted my time so much to resolve this issue by chatting with their serviceman (they do not have a service phone number, even).” Jaeho returned his Magicjack soon enough to get his purchase costs refunded, but was told “they cannot refund for my phone number transfer fee ($19.99) and ask money ($32.34) for port out service if I want to keep the previous phone number, which is free in most companies.”

George S. of Calgary, Alberta said he couldn’t get his Magicjack to work at all, though in his case it’s possible the problems stemmed from his international status: “I bought a new MJ plus in Canada and came to Mexico. I registered it and before I could finish registration it stopped. I tried for days to get it going with their help desks but it won’t even show on my computer …. I reported it to the Better Business Bureau of Florida but they just keep replying to me: it’s working, you just have that to plug it in and register it.”

Repairs don't last

PhotoAnother common refrain is repairs lasting only a short while before old problems returned. Ronald H, of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, “found that the sound quality was so bad that I couldn't talk on the phone. I contacted customer service numerous times and each time they would have me plug the magic jack into the computer for an update. It would work a little better for a short time, and then the sound quality would be just as bad.”

John D. of Long Pond, Pennsylvania told us, “Magicjacks are basically a scam, any way you put it. So many problems to mention …. it also seems that every time Magicjack comes out with a newer version, older ones malfunction, forcing us to buy the latest Magicjack.”

Joseph F. of Monroeville, Alabama, had similar complaints and concluded “It is ... a waste of money and time. I lost my [phone] number and important calls.”

If you have a complaint about your Magicjack service, many web postings suggest you can try emailing dan@magicjack, though John D. from Long Pond told us that it “didn't help to e-mail dan@magicjack.com. Someone will reply, quote, “Dan asked me to help you, what can I do for you?”

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Dinner delivery subscriptions: the new frontier in home cooking

They supposedly save time and may be cheaper than eating out

A new trend in e-food shopping caters to hungry people with more money than time: “dinner kits,” uncooked meals ordered by subscription and del...

PhotoA new trend in e-food shopping caters to hungry people with more money than time: “dinner kits,” uncooked meals ordered by subscription and delivered straight to your door. The dinner kits feature fresh or raw food, rather than the precooked, frozen heat-n-serve meals available in grocery stores.

The Dallas Morning Newsshares the story of Sarah Michaelson, a prototypical customer of meal-delivery company Blue Apron:

Michaelson and her husband, Phil, pay $59.94 a week to have six uncooked meals sent to their home every week. Blue Apron’s kits are filled with everything needed to whip up a meal, from the raw meat and fish to spices and vegetables. Recipes, with step-by-step instructions and pictures, are included.

“It saves us a lot of money,” says Michaelson, a marketing manager at Betterment.com, an online investment management company …. The kits make cooking at home easier. Since all the ingredients are included and measured, you don’t have to buy six onions when all you need is one or a bottle of a spice you’ll only use a sprinkle of.

PhotoWe’ve never heard of a store that only sells onions in six-packs, and we’re pretty sure that a bottle of spice can be used to flavor more than one meal, but the point presumably still stands. And home-dinner delivery kits do indeed save money compared to the cost of eating the same meal in a restaurant, though it’s far more expensive that making the same meal out of ingredients bought at a supermarket. But making these meals from scratch requires both cooking skills and the time to use them, and busy professionals don’t always have these.

Thus far, the burgeoning dinner-delivery market is dominated by three startup companies: Blue Apron, HelloFresh and Plated. Blue Apron is the largest, offering subscriptions in 38 states and the District of Columbia; Plated is only available in 18 states plus the District.

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Free shipping: It's almost everywhere

Retailers who want your business aren't wasting any time

What's almost as good as a great bargain on merchandise? A lot of people would say “free shipping,” and it shouldn't be hard to find this Christmas shoppin...

PhotoWhat's almost as good as a great bargain on merchandise? A lot of people would say “free shipping,” and it shouldn't be hard to find this Christmas shopping season.

Shop.org’s eHoliday survey, conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, finds 16.3% of retailers will offer their first holiday free shipping offer by the week of October 28. More than one-third (34.9%) say they already offer year-round free shipping, versus to 23.1% last year. Additionally, more than half (51.2%) of online retailers surveyed plan to start their online holiday marketing promotions by Halloween.

And this isn't a spur-of-the-moment thing. When Shop.org asked online retailers when they have or will start planning for the 2013 holiday season, more than three-quarters (74.4%) said they had started planning by July.

“Retailers have been preparing for holiday for months, smartly investing in what’s important to online shoppers: value, free shipping, a user-friendly site, and flexible returns, among other features,” said Shop.org Executive Director Vicki Cantrell. “Retailers understand that holiday shoppers also look for merchandise selection and quality, and have boosted inventory to offer ample selection and exclusive products to help customers find just the right gift for everyone on their list.”

Ready for digital shopping

Knowing that consumers increasingly use their smartphones and tablets to research and purchase products, retailers have prepared accordingly. More than half (57.4%) have invested in optimizing their mobile websites, nearly four in 10 (38.3%) have invested heavily in the smartphone user experience, and one-quarter (25.5%) say they invested in mobile commerce apps for smartphones.

Retailers will also tap specific mobile marketing tools to attract holiday shoppers this year. At the top of the list of mobile tactics for over half (55.3%) of retailers: mobile email optimization. Additionally, 44.7% will use smartphone paid search campaigns, two in five (21.3%) will use SMS campaigns, and 17.0% will use QR codes or other barcode scanning promotions.

Online retailers also were asked about their budgets for holiday marketing and promotions. According to the survey, 68.8% of online retailers say that at least 20% of their total 2013 online marketing budget goes towards holiday marketing, and two-thirds (66.6%) say that at least 20% of their total online promotions budget goes towards holiday promotions.

Economy a factor

The economy has had an impact on how retailers have changed their plans for the 2013 holiday season. Specifically, more than one-quarter (27.3%) say they will offer free shipping earlier because of the economy. Discounts will also come earlier: according to the survey, 31.8% plan to offer discounts earlier than they did last year, and another 31.8% will increase their use of daily deals for their customers.

Looking for heightened return on their investment, many companies will focus more on social media this year. More than half (54.8%) will increase their use of Facebook in November and December, and 59.5% will increase their use of Pinterest. Additionally, 55.0% of companies surveyed will increase their use of Instagram.

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Apple remains the top platform for mobile media

Samsung is trying to catch up with new types of mobile devices

You can tell a lot about the state of mobile technology by measuring viewership on various mobile platforms. A new report suggests Apple remains the mobile...

PhotoYou can tell a lot about the state of mobile technology by measuring viewership on various mobile platforms. A new report suggests Apple remains the mobile device of choice, mainly because of the iPad tablet.

Opera Mediaworks, a mobile ad platform, tracks the type of device that plays its ads. In its report on the third quarter of 2013 the company notes that of the 60 billion ad impressions per month during the period, 44% were displayed on iOS devices.

But tablets make up a big chunk of online viewing. When the iPad is removed from the mix, the iPhone had a 31% share, barely edging out Android's 30.3%, a virtual tie when it comes to ad impressions.

Tablets' impact

Smartphones have proliferated since 2009 but tablets are quickly catching up. When it comes to ad impressions, tablet usage has doubled in the last year, with tablet impressions jumping from 5.0% in 2012 to 10% this year.

"This quarter saw many new trends as growth jumped and monetization on mobile categories broadened, among other things," said Mahi de Silva, CEO, Opera Mediaworks. "As we head into the busiest time of the year for advertisers in Q4, we will see exciting new formats that incorporate video and voice technologies slated to run in the last quarter of the year."

And we are likely to see them on an evolving set of mobile devices. While Apple holds the lead in tablets, Samsung continues to broaden its base of smartphones and has beaten Apple to the punch on release of a smartwatch, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Gear Smartwatch.

It's a smartphone you wear on your wrist, like a watch, costing $300 at Verizon Wireless with a two-year contract. According to Samsung it's packed with features and tools and comes with a full HD touchscreen, S Pen and long-lasting batteries.

History of wrist devices

Initial promotion plays on the role a smartwatch has played in popular culture over the last half-century.

Initial reviews

Initial reviews have not been kind. IGN says it “falls short when trying to deliver basic functions that one would want in a wearable companion device,” concluding it's “not worth your time.” 

PhotoCNN Money says the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Gear “doesn't cut it.” The Gear offers a glimpse into the future of smartwatches, the review declares, “but unfortunately, it's not ready yet.” 

The Dallas Morning News points out that the smartwatch requires the user to also have the Samsung Note 3. Otherwise, it doesn't work.

“Without the Note 3, the watch can’t even tell time, much less do any of its fancier tricks.” the review declares.

However, it sees some potential, saying the device does “a few nice tricks and holds the promise for more.” 

Samsung is not the first company to produce a smartwatch. Other manufacturers, such as Sony and Nokia, got products into the marketplace first.

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Coca-Cola labels are misleading, lawsuit claims

Plaintiff says the company is misleading consumers, even though it lists the disputed ingredient

Does anyone really think Coca-Cola is free of artificial flavors and chemical preservatives? Paul Merritt apparently thinks so. At least he claims in a Cal...

PhotoDoes anyone really think Coca-Cola is free of artificial flavors and chemical preservatives? Paul Merritt apparently thinks so. At least he claims in a California lawsuit that Coca-Cola labels fail to list phosphoric acid as an artficial flavor and preservative.

"Indeed, many of the cartons and containers of defendants' Coca-Cola brand sodas affirmatively and falsely state that they contain no artificial flavoring or chemical preservatives," the complaint states, Courthouse News Service reported.

We didn't have a Coca-Cola product available for inspection but numerous online photos of Coke labels show that phosphoric acid is clearly listed among the ingredients. Merritt's contention, however, rests around whether phosphoric acid is "natural." 

In his lawsuit, Merritt claims that Coca-Cola states on its website that it adds phosphoric acid to sodas to improve their flavor and "tartness" and protect them from spoiling. He alleges that Coke claims on its website that, "Phosphoric acid contains phosphorous, one of the basic elements of nature and an essential nutrient. Phosphorous is a major component of bones."

But Merritt claims that phosphorous and phosphoric acid "are two different things" and that phosphoric acid is not derived from natural ingredients, such as spices, fruits, barks or herbs.

"Defendants knowingly and intentionally falsely stated that Coca-Cola soda has 'no artificial flavors. No preservatives added,' despite the fact that Coca-Cola soda contains artificial flavoring and chemical preservatives," the complaint states.

Merritt seeks restitution and a variety of other remedies.

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E.K. Ekcessories to drop 'Made-in-the-USA' claims

Many of the products the firm marketed were actually imported

A company that marketed products ranging from iPhone accessories, bottle holders and lens cleaners to dog collars and leashes will stop claiming its produc...

PhotoA company that marketed products ranging from iPhone accessories, bottle holders and lens cleaners to dog collars and leashes will stop claiming its products are "Made in the U.S.A.”

E.K. Ekcessories, Inc. of Logan, Utah, which sells merchandise directly to consumers on its website, and through online sellers such as Amazon and REI, agreed to stop making the claims as part of a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The proposed settlement prohibits the company from deceiving consumers about the degree to which its products are made in the United States.

Fast and loose with the truth

The company's website claimed that, “For 28 years E.K. Ekcessories has been producing superior quality made accessories in our 60,000 sq. ft facility in Logan, Utah” and “Our source of pride and satisfaction abounds from a true ‘Made in USA’ product.” That's not quite the case.

The company imports many of its products and components, according to the complaint. The FTC also claims the company distributed deceptive promotional materials for its products to third-party retailers such as Amazon and REI.

Thus, the FTC alleges, E.K. Ekcessories violated the Federal Trade Commission Act by making false and unsupported statements that its products were all or virtually all made in the United States.

According to the FTC’s 1997 U.S. Origin Claims Enforcement Policy Statement, for a product to be advertised or labeled as “Made in the U.S.A,” the product must be “all or virtually all” made in the United States -- that is, all significant parts and processing must be of U.S. origin, and the product should contain no (or negligible) foreign content.

Settlement terms

Under the proposed order, the company is prohibited from claiming that any product is made in the United States unless that product is all or virtually all made in the United States. It's also banned from making any misleading claims about a product’s country of origin and from providing deceptive promotional material to third-party retailers, or otherwise providing the “means or instrumentalities” for others to make deceptive U.S.-origin claims.

The company also is required to contact all distributors who bought or received products between January 1, 2010 and May 1, 2013, and provide them with a notice and a copy of the order.

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Careers for college grads: what’s hot

Here’s a list of fields where the growth is

Your all graduated and ready to go -- but go where? Moving from the classroom to the world of work is not the easiest transition, but it doesn’t have to be...

PhotoYou're all graduated and ready to go -- but go where? Moving from the classroom to the world of work is not the easiest transition, but it doesn’t have to be a killer.

To help recent college grads make their life-shaping decisions, University of California San Diego Extension has put together its fifth annual edition of "Hot Careers for College Graduates." A complete copy of the report is available at extension.ucsd.edu/specialreports.

The hot careers list was initiated to help new college graduates identify the most promising careers to bridge to desirable positions which can be easily attained with minimal extra preparation. This report notes up-to-date employment trends and projections.

What’s hot

According to the federal government's Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Summary of April 2013,, within the past year jobs categorized under "professional and business services" have grown the most -- averaging an increase of nearly 49,000 jobs per month. This is reflected in the hot careers list by such jobs as computer systems analysts and software applications developers moving up to the top of the charts.

The forces that have most affected job demand and employment trends in the past five years have been the Great Recession that began in 2008, a global expansion in access to and use of the Internet, and the beginning of a retirement wave by the baby boom generation. These changes have influenced the types of jobs that are available, as well as the skills needed.

Overall, the study suggests an increasing national demand for college graduates with skills in computer sciences and analysis or problem solving. Here are the top 18 jobs:

  1. Software Developers, Applications
  2. Software Developers, Systems Software
  3. Market Research Analysts
  4. Accountants and Auditors
  5. Network and Computer Systems Admin
  6. Elementary School Teachers
  7. Computer Systems Analysts
  8. Management Analysts
  9. Public Relations Specialists
  10. Insurance Sales Agents
  11. Financial Analysts
  12. Computer Programmers
  13. Sales Representatives, Wholesale and Manufacturing, Technical and Scientific
  14. Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents
  15. Paralegals and Legal Assistants
  16. Middle School Teachers
  17. Training and Development Specialists
  18. Human Resources Specialists

Why they’re hot

What makes a hot career so hot? This list was scored in four criteria categories: current employment in the field, projected growth in the occupation between 2010 and 2020, median annual salary in the occupation, and workplace environment characteristics.

The desirability of the work environment includes such factors such as duration of work week, level of competition, time pressure, consequences of errors, and time spent standing. Each category was assigned equal weight, with a maximal potential category score of twenty-five, making one hundred the highest potential cumulative score for each career. The cumulative score was then used to determine the rankings of the occupations in the Hot Careers list.

A fifth dimension, "bridgeability," was applied as a simple criterion to include or exclude a given career from this particular list, but did not affect the weighted total score of the career. Its sole purpose was to eliminate careers that recent college graduates could not easily "bridge to" with minimal or no training beyond an undergraduate degree. The most noticeable difference between the 2012 and the 2013 list is the absence of healthcare positions this year and the increase in analytical and technical occupations.

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Sales of existing homes drop in September

Prices, on the other hand, are still heading higher

A turnaround last month in existing-home sales. After hitting their highest level in almost four years during August, sales of previously owned homes fell...

PhotoA turnaround last month in existing-home sales.

After hitting their highest level in almost four years during August, sales of previously owned homes fell 1.9% in September to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.29 million. Still, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) notes sales are 10.7%t above the 4.78 million-unit pace in September 2012. In fact, sales have been above year-ago levels for the past 27 months.

The September decline did not come as a surprise.

“Affordability has fallen to a five-year low as home price increases easily outpaced income growth,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “Expected rising mortgage interest rates will further lower affordability in upcoming months. Next month we may see some delays associated with the government shutdown.”

Home prices

Limited inventory conditions continued to pressure home prices in much of the country. The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $199,200 in September, up 11.7% from September 2012 and the 10th consecutive month of double-digit year-over-year increases.

Foreclosures and short sales accounted for 14% of September sales, up 2% from August, which was the lowest share since monthly tracking began in October 2008; they were 24% in September 2012. Lower levels in the share of these distressed sales account for some of the growth in median price.

Data from NAR show some of the strongest increases in listing price from a year ago are in the Detroit area, up 44.6%; Las Vegas, up 30.7%; and Sacramento, up 28.9%.

Where they're selling

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast declined 2.8% to an annual rate of 690,000 in September, but are 15.0% above September 2012. The median price in the Northeast was $240,900 -- up 2.3% from a year ago.

In the Midwest, sales were down 5.3% to a pace of 1.25 million, but are 12.6% higher than a year ago. The median price was $158,400 -- 9.0% above September 2012.

Sales in the South dipped 1.4% to an annual level of 2.10 million last month, but are 9.9% above the same period last year. The median price in the South was rose 13.9% from a year ago -- to $171,600.

The West was the only region to show an increase -- 1.6% to a pace of 1.25 million in September, and 7.8% higher than the year before. With inventory restrictions continuing, the median price in the West rose to $286,300, which is 16.8% above September 2012.

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Holiday hiring is underway now; don't wait til November to start looking

A temporary slot could lead to a permanent position

Looking for a full-time, permanent job? A temporary Christmas season position may be the way to get there. According to CareerBuilder's annual survey, ret...

PhotoLooking for a full-time, permanent job? A temporary Christmas season position may be the way to get there.

According to CareerBuilder's annual survey, retailers will be taking on additional staff this holiday season, with 39% of retail hiring managers reporting that they plan to hire seasonal workers this year -- 3% more than last year and up 10% from 2011.

In addition, employers in information technology (18%), leisure and hospitality (16%) and financial services (16%) also plan to hire seasonal staff. Half (51%) of employers hiring seasonal staff will pay $10 or more per hour.

Seasonal to permanent

"Seasonal employment is expected to be somewhat better than last year, and can lead to more than just extra income for workers," said Brent Rasmussen, president of CareerBuilder North America. "Nearly half (49%) of U.S. employers who are hiring seasonal workers plan to transition some into full-time, permanent staff. This is up ten percentage points over last year and indicative of a growing trend where employers are test-driving candidates before committing to a long-term hire.

"Seasonal work is a good way for job seekers to network, showcase their abilities and secure a permanent position in a variety of industries," Rasmussen said.

Hot hiring areas

While people most often associate seasonal work with retail stores, there is also a wide range of opportunities in corporate settings as companies wrap up the year. Popular positions companies will be recruiting for this holiday season include:

  • Customer service – 33%
  • Shipping/delivery – 18%
  • Inventory management – 17%
  • Administrative/clerical – 15%
  • Sales (non-retail) – 12%
  • Marketing – 9%
  • Accounting/finance – 6%

Track record counts

Companies tend to hire people they know. The vast majority of employers (67%) who hire seasonal staff said they typically re-hire some of the same people for holiday positions every year.

The survey also shows that companies target certain workforce segments more often to fill seasonal roles. Nearly half of employers said they tend to recruit a higher proportion of college students for holiday jobs while 17 percent hire more retirees.

  • College students – 45%
  • Experienced workers who are not retired – 34%
  • High school students – 23%
  • Retirees – 17%

What to do

Here's a list of DOs and DON'Ts for landing a holiday gig and turning it into a permanent one:

  • DO apply early. While some employers will hire seasonal employees in November (27%) and December (10%), the majority of employers stop accepting applications by the end of October.
  • DO provide good customer service. Fifty-nine percent of employers said offering help instead of waiting to be asked for it is a great way to differentiate yourself.
  • DO go above and beyond. If you want the employer to consider you for a permanent job, two in five hiring managers recommended asking for more projects (46%) and offering up ideas (44%).
  • DO let the employer know your intentions. More than half (53%) of employers said that you should let the hiring manager know up front that you are interested in a permanent role with the company. It will set you apart from other candidates.
  • DON'T come in unprepared. One-third (33%) of employers tend to dismiss candidates who know nothing about their company or products. Make sure to check out the company's Web site and recent news announcements.
  • DON'T focus on the discount. Thirty-nine percent of employers are turned off by candidates who seem more interested in the discount than the job opportunity. Wait for the employer to bring up the discount if one is available.
  • DON'T show up in a competing brand. One of the biggest pet peeves for 18% of hiring managers is a candidate who comes to the interview wearing clothes or other merchandise from a competitor's store.

The national survey was conducted online by Harris Interactive from August 13 to September 6, 2013, and included a representative sample of 2,099 hiring managers and human resource professionals across industries and company sizes.

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Feast vs. famine: blame evolution for the obesity epidemic

Caveman bodies counterproductive in modern society

If you wonder why so many Americans (and other industrialized-world citizens) are getting fat these days, the answer is probably quite simple: human evolut...

PhotoIf you wonder why so many Americans (and other industrialized-world citizens) are getting fat these days, the answer is probably quite simple: human evolution is lagging behind human technology. We live in an industrially and technologically advanced world where food is abundant, yet still have the bodies of Cro-Magnon hunter gatherers living under constant threat of famine.

For example: last April the journal Obesity published a study about late-night snack cravings: namely, why are they so common? If you’re trying to lose weight—or just avoid gaining any—then eating before bedtime is the worst thing you can do, because your sleeping body takes those calories and converts them almost immediately into fat.

Obesity discovered evidence suggesting that our body’s circadian rhythms are naturally inclined to make us feel hungry at night.

Dr. Steven Shea, from the Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology at Oregon Health & Science University, wrote: “We found with this study that the internal circadian system also likely plays a role in today's obesity epidemic because it intensifies hunger at night …. it seems likely that the internal circadian system helps with efficient food storage. While this may have been valuable throughout evolution, nowadays it is likely to contribute to the national epidemic of obesity.”

Age of abundance 

PhotoPacking on some extra body fat tonight is a very good idea when you know you might not eat at all tomorrow—and until only a few generations ago, that was the human status quo. Only in an age of abundance, when people’s main calorie-related problem is “We eat too many of them,” does the urge to eat just before bed become fantastically counterproductive.

Of course, this was far from the only study suggesting our own evolutionary history is conspiring to expand our waistlines.

Last month, researchers at Yale suggested that eating low-calorie artificial sweeteners might paradoxically make you fatter than full-calorie sugar—because when your brain tells you “We’re seriously craving some sugar right now,” sugar is the only thing that will satisfy that craving. And, unfortunately, even if you personally are a genius, your brain still isn’t smart enough to figure out “Instead of generating fresh sugar cravings, maybe I should do something with the extra poundage bulging around my owner’s waistline.” 

So when you get annoyed by those late-night snack cravings, just remember: it’s because your brain and body are trying to save you from starving to death. (Which does not make it any easier for us to fit into our old blue jeans, but—well, it’s the thought that counts, right?)  

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Feng shui home consultants: helpful or hooey?

Quasi-mystic icing on an interior-decoration cake

Let’s hash out the burning debate of our time: If you’re trying to sell your house but enjoying no success, would it help if you reorganized yo...

PhotoLet’s hash out the burning debate of our time: If you’re trying to sell your house but enjoying no success, would it help if you reorganized your home according to the principles of feng shui?

Well, that depends on exactly what you mean by feng shui (which is pronounced “fung shway,” to rhyme with “rung way”). In today’s America, feng shui is sometimes used colloquially to mean “organize and decorate your space to make it more pleasant.” If, for example, you check out this Bankrate article “6 Feng Shui Secrets To Selling Your Home,” you’ll find many of the “secrets” are actually pretty self-evident, like “Create a good traffic flow” – of course an area through which people can walk unhindered makes a better impression than a cramped, cluttered space where folks keep bumping into things.

But “feng shui” also carries quasi-mystical or even semi-religious baggage, when it discusses concepts like “energy flow,” “spirits,” “chi,” “life forces” and other things whose existence must be taken on faith rather than objectively measured. Bankrate’s article also uses this faith-based feng shui meaning, when it advises:

Real estate agents will tell you to close toilet lids because no buyer wants to look into your commode.

Feng shui philosophy advocates the same thing for a different reason.

"Water represents money and the toilet is the one place where water/money escapes," [feng shui consultant Jayme] Barrett says.

Instead, "You can place a small tabletop water fountain either at the entrance or in the back left corner of the home, which is the wealth corner," she says. "Moving water circulates prosperity energy throughout the home."

Prosperity energy

Of course, there’s never been a controlled scientific test demonstrating that decorative fountains result in prosperity increases, regardless of the fountains’ location relative to you. For that matter, nobody has ever shown that “prosperity energy” exists, let alone figured out how to detect or measure it. Yet there is a [tiny] kernel of truth at the center of the more mystical feng shui claims.

PhotoFeng shui originated in ancient China, which is also where the magnetic compass was either invented or discovered (depending on your point of view). The two facts are connected. After all, the Earth really is criss-crossed with invisible lines of force undetectable by human senses: namely, the planet’s magnetic field. That’s why a compass in the northern hemisphere will always point toward magnetic north (unless there’s a closer magnetic field interfering with it)—humans can’t sense the magnetism ourselves, but it’s real and it’s strong enough to move the needle.  

Back in ancient China, some genius whose name is lost to history discovered, probably by accident, that if you dropped small objects made out of “magnetite” or “lodestone” (a naturally magnetic mineral), they would always land aligned along a certain straight-line axis—just as compass needles align themselves today. 

So it’s understandable why the ancient Chinese would’ve observed this and then thought “There’s obviously invisible forces affecting this weird piece of rock; maybe there’s invisible forces affecting everything else, too!”  

Objective measurement

But the difference between magnetism versus feng shui “prosperity energy” or “chi” or other mystic forces is simple: you can conclusively detect magnetic forces with a compass. Send three different people into the same windowless room, ask them to identify magnetic north, and (provided their compasses aren’t broken) they’ll all point in the same direction.

There is no identical experiment you can perform with feng shui consultants, to identify “prosperity energy” or “life force” or—well, anything except where the compass is pointing.

The comedy magic team of Penn and Teller tried such an experiment several years ago, in an episode of their old cable-TV series “Bullsh*t!” (which we always thought was a pretty good show; we just wished it had a name we could politely mention in the presence of kids).

Three different feng shui consultants hired to work on the same room reached three completely different (and oft-contradictory) conclusions regarding how to make the room conform to whatever mystic principles the feng shui consultants proclaimed.

Of course, you’d get similarly contradictory results if you asked three different interior decorators how to make your home more attractive. But interior decorators generally don’t claim their work is based on channeling “prosperity energy” or “life force” or any other pseudoscientific power source.

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Technology gives Internet radio a big boost

An old medium may be getting a new lease on life

When you think about it, radio is old technology. Inventor Guglielmo Marconi figured out how to transmit voices through the airwaves in the early 20th cent...

Photo
Guglielmo Marconi (Wikipedia photo)

When you think about it, radio is old technology. Inventor Guglielmo Marconi figured out how to transmit voices through the airwaves in the early 20th century. The first commercial radio station in the U.S., KDKA in Pittsburgh, began broadcasting in 1920.

Radio was the electronic media until it began to be supplanted by television in the 1950s. Radio found a new lease on life by broadcasting music formats in the 1960s. It also gave small towns, too small to support a TV station, a local media outlet.

But that began to change in the 1990s as deregulation of the industry led to conglomerates buying up dozens – even hundreds -- of stations and becoming highly profitable corporations, some of them publicly traded on Wall Street.

Regional approach

To maximize profits individual stations did not bother to focus on their local community – known as “city of license” – and instead broadcast to a region. Instead of covering the local city council and high school sports, the stations tried not to be identified with one particular locality.

There was another change in the industry. Instead of local announces, stations used syndicated programs, delivered by satellite. An announcer sitting in a studio in Los Angeles might be heard on hundreds of stations, coast to coast.

Radio rebirth?

PhotoBut it's possible local radio could make a comeback, riding on the back of the Internet. For years over-the-air radio stations have streamed their signals over the Internet, making their programming accessible – not just within range of their broadcast tower but worldwide. But there's no requirement for your signal to be broadcast over the air to stream online.

The Internet offers content producers an inexpensive way to distribute that content to the public. Multimedia server space is relatively cheap. There is no expensive transmitter to buy or tower to erect. And there is no requirement to get permission from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to start webcasting.

If someone wanted to start a radio station to serve their local community, there is now nothing to stop them. Starting a station is as simple as producing programming and streaming it.

That, however, may take a while to become commercially viable. In the meantime, companies have found a way to bundle existing radio streams and present them at one location. TuneIn is one such company, providing access to over 70,000 radio stations around the world, with over two million on-demand programs and podcasts.

Internet radio-friendly cars

Giving the concept a boost, automakers have begun equipping cars with Bluetooth, a wireless connection standard, in their entertainment systems. It was designed to make it safer to talk on your cellphone while driving. An unintended consequence is that it allows you to play your phone through your car's speakers.

With new cars making it simple to link mobile devices to in-dash entertainment systems, listening to these streaming stations in your car is as easy as listening to traditional over-the-air radio, with many times the choices.

"TuneIn wants to change the way people listen to radio on the road, said John Donham, TuneIn's CEO.

“By offering access to over 70,000 stations worldwide, TuneIn is giving drivers access to a multitude of stations normally not available to them.”

Choices

PhotoIndeed, should the mood strike you, you might listen to a radio station in Brazil. Or if you are driving through the Allegheny Mountains in the east you can relax with your favorite jazz station in Los Angeles. While the stations are easily accessible on a smartphone or tablet, now thanks to technology, they are also easily accessible in your car.

"Most radio listening today occurs in the car, and TuneIn already has two million monthly active in-vehicle listeners through dashboard integrations and car-mode listening," Donham said.

Services like TuneIn, and more recent competitor I Heart Radio, are blurring the shape of what constitutes a radio station. Does it have to be broadcast through the air? Apparently not. It just has to be compelling enough that people want to listen. And an old medium may be getting a new lease on life.

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The cold sore cream that makes you think you're a corpse

Swedish researchers discover a truly bizarre drug side-effect

Swedish pharmacologists have discovered a nasty modern paradox: cold sores might make you wish you were dead—but cold sore treatments might make you ...

PhotoSwedish pharmacologists have discovered a nasty modern paradox: cold sores might make you wish you were dead—but cold sore treatments might make you think you are dead.

It’s rare, but it happens. There exists a rare psychological disorder called Cotard’s syndrome, also known as walking-dead syndrome because its sufferers erroneously believe they are dead, decomposing, or missing key internal organs or body parts.

And in extremely rare cases, patients with no history of mental problems who use the drug acyclovir (sold under the trade name Zovirax) to treat cold sores, herpes, shingles or chicken pox, started demonstrating symptoms of Cotard’s.

Possible link 

According to a study published in the Journal of the Neurological Sciences, Swedish researchers uncovered a possible link between renal failure, acyclovir use and Cotard’s (which is not synonymous with saying “Cotard’s only inflicts renal-failure victims who take acyclovir”).  

Researcher Anders Helldén from Stockholm’s Karolinska University Hospital mentioned the case of a Swedish woman who started showing Cotard’s symptoms after taking acyclovir to treat shingles: she went to the emergency room in a state of high anxiety because she strongly feared she was dead. After a few hours her symptoms alleviated enough that she decided she was alive after all—except for her left arm, which she insisted didn’t really belong to her. Yet within 24 hours of her hospital visit, all such delusions had completely vanished.

So what happened? Turns out that people suffering from Cotard’s tend also to have high levels of a chemical called CMMG in their bloodstreams. And CMMG is also one of the chemicals left over after acyclovir breaks down in the body. Helldén speculated that CMMG might constrict blood flow in the brain, which in turn might interfere with ordinary brain functions to the point of delusion.

For acyclovir users who develop Cotard’s symptoms, the cure is as simple as weaning off the drug. As for those unfortunate people who suffer from Cotard’s syndrome without acyclovir—well, thus far medical science has not yet found a cure, but the discovery of the CMMG/Cotard’s connection might prove the first step on the road leading to one.

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Checks going out to consumers hoodwinked by "Free Gas for Life" scam

Guess what? It was too good to be true

There's still no free lunch. And, believe it or not, there's no free gas either despite the claims of the Green Millionaire scam. This was a little ...

PhotoThere's still no free lunch. And, believe it or not, there's no free gas either despite the claims of the Green Millionaire scam. 

This was a little sleight-of-hand negative-option number that was making the rounds a few years back. Its website promoted a book that supposedly held the secret to getting "free gas for life,"  "how to put solar panels on your roof for free," and "how to make your electricity meter go backwards paying you." 

The Green Millionaire asked consumers to provide their credit card or bank account number, which supposedly would be used to pay a "small shipping and handling fee," without clearly disclosing that they would be charged $29.95 for a two-month subscription to an e-magazine, or $89.95 for a one-year subscription.

The Federal Trade Commission made the Green Millionaire's bank account gauge run backward and is now mailing 58,234 refund checks to consumers who lost money to the scam.

More than $1.9 million is being returned to consumers, about 54 percent of consumers’ total estimated loss.  Each person will receive an average amount of about $33.88.

What to do

Those who receive the checks from the FTC’s refund administrator should cash them within 60 days of the mailing date.  Also, please note that the FTC never requires consumers to pay money or to provide information before refund checks can be cashed, so if someone calls and offers to "help" you get your money back, hang up.

Those with questions should call the refund administrator, Epiq Systems, Inc., at 1-877-866-6385, or visit www.FTC.gov/refunds for more general information.

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Low-cost carrier Norwegian hopes to shake up trans-Atlantic routes

Using new Boeing Dreamliners, it plans one-way London-NYC fares of $220

Planning a European trip? If you can wait til next summer, you may be able to save a lot of money. A new budget air carrier -- Norwegian -- starts service ...

PhotoPlanning a European trip? If you can wait til next summer, you may be able to save a lot of money. A new budget air carrier -- Norwegian -- starts service between London's Gatwick and New York, Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale in July 2014.

A one-way ticket between London and NYC will start at £149, currently US$220, with similar fares to Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale. The basic face includes seatback entertainment but if you want meals, reserved seating and checked bags, it will cost you another £30 (US$48).

The Scandanavian carrier will be flying Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner, which is much more fuel-efficient than similar-sized airplanes, a difference Norwegian thinks will enable it to operate profitably even at cut-rate fares.

“There’s great demand for high quality flights at a low fare between the UK and the U.S., particularly to and from London Gatwick, where no other airline currently offers these routes. We are looking forward to welcoming many new customers on board our brand new aircraft. Launching long-haul routes between London Gatwick and the United States is also an important part of our strategy to expand internationally and get a stronger foothold in markets outside Scandinavia,” said Norwegian’s CEO Bjørn Kjos. 

Norwegian, the third-largest discount carrier in Europe, currently offers 320 weekly flights and 25 routes from London Gatwick.

Will it work?

PhotoHistory, of course, is littered with the bones of budget airlines that thought they could make money offering cheap trans-Atlantic fares, Laker Airways being perhaps the most notorious.

Europe's leading low-fare carrier, Ryanair, has so far resisted the temptation to apply its short-haul model to longer routes. Whether Norwegian's move pressures it to do so remains to be seen.

For awhile there, Gatwick was shaping up as a major trans-Atlantic portal but both British and Virgin Atlantic dropped their Gatwick-NYC routes, saying they couldn't turn a profit on them.

Gatwick changed hands a few years ago and has been aggressively courting new business. The airport's CEO, Stewart Wingate, says Norwegian's plans will be a "significant industry game-changer."

"Norwegian's decision to re-establish London Gatwick's links to strategic destinations in North America gives passengers, once again, real choice about how to get there and, importantly, provide options for affordable travel to popular business and leisure destinations."

Ticket info

Tickets to the new destinations will be available for sale today (October 17) at www.norwegian.com.

Flight schedule

London – Los Angeles twice a week from July 2, 2014
Norwegian will operate two weekly flights between London (LGW) and Los Angeles (LAX) – on Wednesdays and Sundays. The introductory fare is £199 one way.

London – New York three times a week from July 3, 2014 
Norwegian will operate three weekly flights between London (LGW) and New York (JFK) – on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The introductory fare is £149 one way.

London – Fort Lauderdale twice a week from July 4, 2014 
Norwegian will operate two weekly flights between London (LGW) and Fort Lauderdale (FLL) – on Mondays and Fridays. The introductory fare is £179 one way.

London – Santorini once a week from April 5, 2014 
Norwegian will operate one weekly flight between London (LGW) and Santorini (JTR) – on Saturdays. The introductory fare is £29.90 one way.

London – Corfu once a week from July 19, 2014 
Norwegian will operate one weekly flight between London (LGW) and Corfu (CFU) – on Saturdays. The introductory fare is £29.90 one way.

London – Sicily once a week from April 5, 2014
Norwegian will operate one weekly flight between London (LGW) and Catania, Sicily (CTA) – on Saturdays. The introductory fare is £29.90 one way.

London – Cyprus once a week from April 5, 2014
Norwegian will operate one weekly flight between London (LGW) and Cyprus (LCA) – on Saturdays. The introductory fare is £39.90 one way.

London – Budapest three times a week from March 30, 2014
Norwegian will operate three weekly flights between London (LGW) and Budapest (BUD) – on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. The introductory fare is £29.90 one way.

 

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Certain blood pressure meds tied to lower Alzheimer's dementia risk

Other hypertension drugs, though, showed no such link

An analysis of data previously gathered on more than 3,000 older people suggests that the use of certain blood pressure medications may reduce the risk of...

PhotoAn analysis of data previously gathered on more than 3,000 older people suggests that the use of certain blood pressure medications may reduce the risk of dementia due to Alzheimer's disease (AD).

The team of Johns Hopkins-led researchers found that people over the age of 75 with normal cognition who used diuretics, angiotensin-1 receptor blockers (ARBs) and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors showed a reduced risk of AD dementia by at least 50%. In addition, diuretics were associated with 50% reduced risk in those in the group with mild cognitive impairment.

However beta blockers and calcium channel blockers did not show a link to reduced risk, the scientists reported.

The report was published in a recent edition of the journal Neurology.

"Identifying new pharmacological treatments to prevent or delay the onset of AD dementia is critical given the dearth of effective interventions to date," says report author, Sevil Yasar, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine in the Department of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "Our study was able to replicate previous findings, however, we were also able to show that the beneficial effect of these blood pressure medications are maybe in addition to blood pressure control, and could help clinicians in selecting an antihypertensive medication based not only on blood pressure control, but also on additional benefits."

Alzheimer's disease is a rapidly increasing clinical and public health issue in the United States' aging population, and the most common cause of intellectual and social decline.

'Post-hoc' analysis

Yasar and her colleagues conducted a "post-hoc" analysis of information gathered originally in the so-called Ginkgo Evaluation of Memory Study (GEMS) study, a six-year effort to determine if use of the herb ginkgo biloba reduced AD risk.

That study , a double-blind, randomized, controlled clinical trial of 3,069 adults without dementia, aged between 75 and 96 years, began in 2000 and recruited participants from four U.S. cities: Hagerstown, Md.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Winston-Salem/Greensboro, N.C.; and Sacramento, Calif.

Yasar said that while the GEMS trial showed no benefit of ginkgo biloba in reducing incidence of dementia, information was also available among the study participants related to their use of several classes of antihypertensive drugs.

Extensive studies suggest that high blood pressure is a major risk factor for dementias including AD, and there had been suggestions that drugs used to control blood pressure conferred a protective effect on the brain in addition to controlling blood pressure.

The question, she said, was which ones were associated with reduced AD dementia risk, and which were not.

Yasar and colleagues looked at 2,248 of the GEMS participants. Of them 351 reported use of a diuretic, 140 use of ARBs, 324 use of ACE inhibitors, 333 use of calcium channel blockers and 457 use of beta blockers. The average age of this group was 78.7 years, and 47% were women.

"We were able to confirm previous suggestions of a protective effect of some of these medicines not only in participants with normal cognition, but also in those with mild cognitive impairment," says Yasar. "Additionally, we were also able to assess the possible role of elevated systolic blood pressure in AD dementia by placing those within each medication group in categories above and below systolic blood pressures of 140 mmHg, the standard cut-off reading for a diagnosis of hypertension," she said.

Limitations

Yasar cautioned that the analysis had its limitations, owing mostly to the fact that the data collected by the GEMS trial were not gathered to directly measure the effect of the drugs, and by the fact that it was impossible to tell with certainty how well each group of participants complied with their drug treatments. Nor did the research team have information on subjects' use of drugs prior to the study period.

But, she said, "the consistent pattern we saw of reduced risk of AD dementia associated with these medications warrants further studies, including the use of brain imaging, to better understand the biologic basis of these associations." Such studies, she added, "could lead to identification of new pharmacologic targets for preventive interventions to slow cognitive decline and possibly delay progression of AD dementia."

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Rotisserie chicken products recalled

The chicken products may be contaminated with Salmonella

Costco’s El Camino Real store in San Francisco, Calif., is recalling an additional 14,093 units of rotisserie chicken products that may be contaminated wit...

PhotoCostco’s El Camino Real store in San Francisco, Calif., is recalling an additional 14,093 units of rotisserie chicken products that may be contaminated with a strain of Salmonella, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today. This is in addition to the 9,043 units that were recalled on Oct. 12.

No illnesses have been reported in association with the products being recalled

The products subject to recall are:

  • 13,455 “Kirkland Signature Foster Farms” rotisserie chickens
  • 638 total units of “Kirkland Farm” rotisserie chicken soup, rotisserie chicken leg quarters, and rotisserie chicken salad.

The products were sold directly to consumers in a Costco located at 1600 El Camino Real, South San Francisco, Calif., between Sept. 24 and Oct. 15, 2013.

Consumers and media with questions regarding the recall should contact Costco at (800) 774-2678.

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Toyota recalls Camrys, other vehicles

A problem with the air conditioning condenser unit housing could affect airbag performance

Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., is recalling approximately 803,000 model year 2012-2013 Camry, Camry Hybrid, Avalon, Avalon Hybrid and Venza vehicles due to a ...

PhotoToyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., is recalling approximately 803,000 model year 2012-2013 Camry, Camry Hybrid, Avalon, Avalon Hybrid and Venza vehicles due to a problem with the air conditioning condenser unit housing.

Water from the air conditioning condenser unit housing could leak onto the airbag control module and cause a short circuit, resulting in illumination of the airbag warning light. In some instances, the air bag(s) could become disabled or could inadvertently deploy.

In some cases, the power steering assist function could also become inoperable if a communication line in the airbag control module is damaged. Loss of power steering assist results in increased steering effort.

Owners of the involved vehicles will be notified by first class mail to return their vehicles to a Toyota dealer for the repair. Dealers will apply sealant and install a cover to the air conditioning condenser unit housing seam located above the airbag control module.

Detailed information is available to customers by calling the Toyota Customer Experience Center at 1-800-331-4331.

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Black Friday may last longer, offer better deals this year

Retailers hint at more aggressive promotions

Now that Congress has reached a debt compromise and gasoline prices have dipped from their summer highs, the nation's retailers are feeling more optimistic...

PhotoNow that Congress has avoided default and gasoline prices have dipped from their summer highs, the nation's retailers are feeling more optimistic about the upcoming holiday shopping season.

Walmart said it is planning a blockbuster Black Friday event this year, its largest ever. At an investor conference, executives promised aggressive price rollbacks designed to spur sales after after a lackluster third quarter.

Mike Duke, president of Walmart Stores, said the company will rely on a mix of e-commerce and in-store sales to bolster sales this season. Industry analysts say of the two channels, e-commerce may prove to be the most potent.

In-store sales flatlining

Eric Jones, a principal at Jones Dengler Marketing and operator of BestBlackFriday.com, says he expects in-store sales will remain static or dip slightly while online sales lift profits. In other words, more people may shop this year, but they'll do it online.

“We can expect the online total sales for Black Friday to once again top $1 billion,” Jones said. “The reason I think the actual offline sales totals on Black Friday are going to drop again is because shoppers are becoming smarter and smarter about how and when they purchase.”

In previous years Jones said he saw almost instant consumer reaction when his company emailed lists of deals to consumers on its list. Now, he says, consumers are taking a more deliberate approach, searching for just the right deal.

Week-long event?

Photo“Retailers previously offered some of the biggest deals on days such as Thanksgiving and the weekend following Thanksgiving,” he said. “However, these weren't advertised as much as Black Friday. Now, the savvy shopper will wait around searching for these deals and sometimes forego Black Friday altogether.”

So instead of a super shopping day on Black Friday, consumers can expect the kick-off to the holiday shopping season to last more than one day – it's already crept into Thanksgiving night – and maybe last an entire week, including Cyber Monday.

“We have several emails from retailers asking, not how we can promote their deals on Black Friday, but how can we promote their offers the entire week of Black Friday and through the weekend into Cyber Monday. In fact, the entire day of Black Friday will be stretched even further this year as more and more retailers are going to open on Thanksgiving night or earlier.”

What's this mean for shoppers, both those who brave the crowds and those who prefer to shop online? Jones thinks it will translate into more and better deals than in the past.

Better deals

“We expect retailers to spread them out over a few days in order to lure shoppers into their stores several times during the Black Friday Week, Jones said. “Each day should have a couple of really aggressive deals that will lure shoppers in with hopes that they will also take advantage of other moderate offers.”

Amazon a leader

Where will consumers find the best deals? Despite Walmarts boast that it will blow consumers' socks off, Amazon.com – at this point, at least – appears to be the most aggressive, with deals that have been running for months on big ticket items like flatscreen TVs and tablets.

“We expect this trend to continue into the holiday season as they will likely start their deals an entire week before the big day,” Jones predicts.

PhotoStores that start promoting holiday sales early may end up offering the best deals. Jones notes that Kmart started airing holiday commercials Sept.11, so consumers can expect to see some attractive deals there before the end of the shopping season.

“Also, Walmart has announced plans to market heavily during NFL games on Thanksgiving which is something they never do,” Jones said. “So they have to be planning something big for Black Friday, right? We just hope it's not a ploy to ward off some of the bad press garnered by the looming Black Friday strikes.”

New strategy from Macy's

Jones also expects big things from Macy's, after the retailer last year forced Jones' website to remove its Black Friday ad after it was leaked online. This year, Macy's has already revealed some of the highlights of its Black Friday specials on Pinterest.

Manufacturers are also getting aggressive for the holiday shopping season. One of the most aggressive so far, Jones says, has been Hewlett-Packard (HP).

“We've had several email and phone conversations with their representatives and I expect them to really surprise everyone this year,” he said. “They currently have some 20% off coupons on printers as well as discounted monitors and laptops. I'd expect these offers to ramp up as we head into November for HP online and trickle down into other retailers' deals that offer HP products.”

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Facebook opens teens to the world

Nothing hypocritical about Facebook -- it admits it's doing it to be more competitive

Social media sites just love kids. They can't get enough of them and are willing to pay just about any price to get more of them, as long as that price is...

PhotoSocial media sites just love kids. They can't get enough of them and are willing to pay just about any price to get more of them, as long as that price is extracted from the kids' privacy protections and not from the webmeister's billions.

Facebook is the latest to look for a way around the minimal privacy protections that had been in place for teens, today announcing a new policy that allows minors to share more information with the general public.

Critics are not happy, charging that Facebook is sacrificing children's safety in the pursuit of profit. Surprisingly, Facebook doesn't even bother to deny that. In a news release, the company said it's making the changes to stay competitive.

"Teens are among the savviest people using social media, and whether it comes to civic engagement, activism, or their thoughts on a new movie, they want to be heard," Facebook's announcement states. "While only a small fraction of teens using Facebook might choose to post publicly, this update now gives them the choice to share more broadly, just like on other social media services."

Teens may be "savvy" but they are also prone to act impulsively and have even been known to take actions that endanger themselves and their friends but that apparently has slipped through whatever decency filters may still be in place at Facebook.

Posts become public

Just to clarify, the latest change means that Facebook users 13 to 17 can now set the audience for their posts to "Public," which opens them up to the world. Prevously, they were restricted to sharing their posts with "Friends of Friends" or even just "Friends."

We all know, of course, that "Friends" aren't always friends, or even very friendly, but no matter.

Parents who pay attention are likely to be incensed at the notion that their kids are suddenly open prey to stalkers and predators of all descriptions.

Beyond that, there are also concerns about what might be called the "under-the-hood" data that teens share about themselves, data that winds up being used for advertising and marketing purposes. Privacy groups have been demanding that Federal Trade Commission take a careful look at the data Facebook collects from its younger users.  

Less than a month ago, a coalition of more than 20 public health, media, youth, and consumer advocacy groups wrote to the FTC, raising concerns about the potential negative impact of Facebook's earlier changes to its privacy policy. saying the changes would expose teens to the same problematic data collection and sophisticated ad-targeted practices that adults currently face.

“The FTC, which has acknowledged that teens require special privacy safeguards, must act now to limit the ways in which Facebook collects data and engages in targeted marketing directed at adolescents,” the organizations said in a letter to FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez.

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Read the contract before you sign! And keep a copy.

Gold's Gym customers learn this the hard way

Here’s a piece of advice which you hopefully know already, though it still needs to be said: never, ever sign a contract without reading it first. Ev...

PhotoHere’s a piece of advice which you hopefully know already, though it still needs to be said: never, ever sign a contract without reading it first. Even if the salesman verbally assures you “This contract says A, B and C,” you still must read before you sign to ensure it doesn’t actually say X, Y and Z. 

Granted, when we say “Don’t sign a contract unless you read it,” you might counter: “Have you actually seen those contracts? Too long! Too much fine print! Too much legalese—you can’t even understand it without a law degree.” Okay—but if that’s the case, why in the world would you make the default assumption, “Although I don’t know what this says, I’m sure it’s in my best interest”?

This rule applies to any company you can name, but for today we’ll make an example of Gold’s Gym because, over the past couple of weeks, we’ve heard from several disgruntled customers whose complaints boiled down to “The salesman promised one thing but the contract said something else.”

Consider Mark S. of Richmond, Va., who wrote us on Sept. 30 to say “When I first spoke with the gym person that was filling out the agreement, he assured me that I could cancel it at any time.” This cancellation clause was important to Mark because he bought the membership as a gift for his wife, but he wasn’t certain she would actually use it.

Sure enough: “She never once set foot on the gym so later on, when I tried to cancel, they threw the contract at me, saying that [the salesman’s promise] was non-binding and [they] would not even discuss” it.

Another Virginian, Jenny Z. of Arlington, told us a similar story on Oct. 16. She warns everybody: “DO NOT SIGN UP ANY CONTRACT WITH THEM if there is any little chance you will relocate to another place …. When I signed the contract, they told me that the airline ticket could be a proof for international relocation. But now, after struggling for several months, they still charge me money even after they know [I am] not here anymore, [in] direct contrast with their promise.”

Unfortunately for Jenny, that was only a verbal promise, which directly contradicts the actual written contract she signed -- and, of course, can't be proven.

Gold's Gym Oct. 17, 2013, 5:46 p.m.
Consumers rate Gold's Gym
And when Matt C. of Tustin, Calif. wrote us on Oct. 11, he said, “As many others have noted here, Gold's Gym’s customer service and other employees are clearly not afraid to flat-out lie regarding the details of the paperwork you sign when you sign up with Gold's Gym. My wife signed up for Gold's Gym … We found a great rate and they promised us it was a monthly rate with no commitment.”

But, of course, that turned out not to be the case: “After several headaches with various assistant managers …. we finally decided to cancel our membership, only to discover that we were actually bound by a two-year contract. *NEVER* did anyone mention we were signing up for a two-year contract, not a single time. We've tried to resolve this over the phone, but every employee dodges the issue and says we must handle this in person; there are no cancellations over the phone. Okay, fine. We go in-person to attempt to cancel and every single time, the General Manager is not in today, so they're unable to address our issue ….”

Maybe the salesmen deliberately lied, or maybe they all made the same honest mistakes. From the customers’ point of view it doesn’t matter; what matters is what’s actually written in the contract they signed.

What to do

And finally, this word of advice from one of the attorneys who is always hovering around us: Whenever you sign a contract, be sure to keep a copy of it. You would be amazed how many people don't do this.

Why do you need a copy? Well, the most basic reason is so you know what you agreed to. But on a more practical level, the contract will tell you how to cancel it. 

Yes, that's right. Every contract contains the seeds of its own cancellation. A contract provides the legal names of the parties, the address at which they can be contacted and the means by which the agreement can be canceled or modified. If you follow these steps exactly, you will nearly always be successful.

Companies are entirely within the law when they ignore cancellations or modifications that do not abide by the steps outlined in the contact. If the contract says cancellations must be in writing and mailed to a specific address, then -- guess what? -- that's the only way to do it.

Simple as that. 

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Student loans -- the hassles of payment processing

From the feds, help in dealing with your loan servicers on payments

Completing your education should be a dream come true as you head out into the real world to find employment and begin your real life. But for students wit...

PhotoCompleting your education should be a dream come true as you head out into the real world to find employment and begin your real life. But for students with private education loans, it can be a nightmare.

We at ConsumerAffairs hear regularly from folks caught up in what seems like a never-ending maze of dealing with the process.

Alexander of Forest Hills, N.Y., says that without any notification, his loan was sold to another company. “I had no say which bank/company pays my loan and what are the conditions of it. Now, we are dealing with enormous problems, such as, bad customer service and legal expenses. As soon as I have time, I intend to terminate all my business with this bank.”

“I have been continuously paying my Citibank student loans on time each month,” writes Mark of Chester, Md., in a ConsumerAffairs post. “When I checked my credit reports last month, it said that a loan with Citibank student loans had been charged off for nonpayment which I have all canceled and checked. I called them to see what was going on and finally got them to admit to their error and to fix the account, which I sent them a 6 months advance payment. I am worried that they would continue to do this to me.”

CFPB takes a look

Citibank Student Loans Oct. 17, 2013, 3:37 p.m.
Consumers rate Citibank Student Loans

Now, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Student Loan Ombudsman has released a report analyzing complaints the bureau has received from private student loan borrowers. It shows these loan borrowers face payment processing pitfalls that can lead to increased costs, prolonged repayments, and harm to their credit profiles.

The CFPB is also issuing a consumer advisory to help certain borrowers communicate their payment preferences to servicers, so they can take better control of their student loans.

“Repaying a student loan should be simple,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “When servicers process payments to maximize fees and penalties, they undermine the trust of their customers. Student loan borrowers deserve better; they deserve transparency and accountability.”

“With limited options to refinance, many borrowers want to pay off loans where they are stuck in high rates,” said CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman Rohit Chopra. “But too many borrowers have to run through an obstacle course to get their payments processed properly.”

Payback struggles

Wells Fargo Student Loans Oct. 17, 2013, 3:38 p.m.
Consumers rate Wells Fargo Student Loans

In recent years, many consumers have borrowed significantly to pay for postsecondary education. Before the financial meltdown, the private student loan market boomed. Today, while the private student loan market has declined after the bust, many borrowers are still struggling to pay back their loans.

According to a recent CFPB analysis, for borrowers graduating at the time of the financial meltdown with more than $40,000 in student debt, 81% used private loans. Unlike federal student loans, these private student loans generally have higher and variable interest rates and may not allow borrowers to easily manage their payments in times of hardship.

The most common complaints submitted to the CFPB were about payment processing pitfalls when consumers try to take control of their loans, including when borrowers attempt to pay off their loans early or pay them off in a certain sequence. Major areas include:

  • Prepayment Stumbling Blocks: Since options to refinance high-rate private student loans are limited, many consumers attempt to pay off their loans in order to reduce the amount of interest owed over the life of the loan. But many of them express confusion about how to pay off their loans early. For example, borrowers complained that payments in excess of the amount due are applied across all their loans, not the highest-interest rate loan that they would prefer to pay off first.
  • Partial Payment Snags: When borrowers have multiple loans with one servicer and are unable to pay their bill in full, many servicers instruct borrowers to make whatever payment they can afford. Many complaints described how servicers often divide up the partial payment and apply it evenly across all of the loans in their account. This maximizes the late fees charged to the consumer and it can exacerbate the negative credit impact of a single late payment.
  • Servicing Transfer Surprises: When borrowers’ loans are transferred between servicers, borrowers say they experience lost paperwork, processing errors that result in late fees, and interruptions of routine communication, such as billing statements. Consumers complained that payment-processing policies can vary depending on the servicer. And, consumers said when they make decisions on the previous servicer’s practices, they can get penalized.

What to do

The CFPB has put out a consumer advisory to help borrowers instruct servicers on how to process their payments.

If a borrower has several loans with the same loan servicer and does not provide instructions on how to process the money sent in each month, the servicer generally decides how to allocate the payments. Leaving this decision up to the servicer is not always in the consumer’s best interest.

The new advisory includes sample instructions to a servicer telling it to always direct any extra payments toward the highest-rate loan, saving consumers the most money.

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Finding Alzheimer's before the symptoms

Biomarkers in spinal fluid appear to be they key

Researchers at Johns Hopkins say they may have a head start on dealing with Alzheimer's disease. According to the scientists, by measuring levels of certa...

PhotoResearchers at Johns Hopkins say they may have a head start on dealing with Alzheimer's disease.

According to the scientists, by measuring levels of certain proteins in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), they can predict when people will develop the cognitive impairment associated with Alzheimer's years before the first symptoms of memory loss appear.

Identifying such biomarkers, they say, could provide a long-sought tool to guide earlier use of potential drug treatments to prevent or halt the progression of the ailment while people are still cognitively normal.

Treatment comes too late

Medications designed to stop the brain damage have failed in clinical trials, possibly, many researchers say, because they are given to those who already have symptoms and too much damage to overcome.

"When we see patients with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, we don't say we will wait to treat you until you get congestive heart failure,” says Marilyn Albert, Ph.D., a professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “Early treatments keep heart disease patients from getting worse, and it's possible the same may be true for those with pre-symptomatic Alzheimer's."

Albert, the primary investigator of the study whose results are published in the Oct. 16 issue of the journal Neurology, adds that “it has been hard to see Alzheimer's disease coming, even though we believe it begins developing in the brain a decade or more before the onset of symptoms."

Testing for proteins

For the new study, the Hopkins team used CSF collected for the Biomarkers for Older Controls at Risk for Dementia (BIOCARD) project between 1995 and 2005, from 265 middle-aged healthy volunteers. Annually during those years and again beginning in 2009, researchers gave the subjects a battery of neuropsychological tests and a physical exam.

They found that particular baseline ratios of two proteins -- phosphorylated tau and beta amyloid found in CSF -- were a harbinger of mild cognitive impairment (often a precursor to Alzheimer's) more than five years before symptom onset. They also found that the rate of change over time in the ratio was also predictive.

The more tau and the less beta amyloid found in the spinal fluid, the more likely the development of symptoms. And, Albert says, the more rapidly the ratio of tau to beta amyloid goes up, the more likely the eventual development of symptoms.

Predictive possibilities

Researchers have known that these proteins were in the spinal fluid of patients with advanced disease. "But we wondered if we could measure something in the cerebral spinal fluid when people are cognitively normal to give us some idea of when they will develop difficulty," Albert says. "The answer is yes."

Alzheimer's disease disrupts critical metabolic processes that keep neurons healthy. These disruptions cause neurons to stop working, lose connections with other nerve cells, and finally die. The brains of people with Alzheimer's have an abundance of two abnormal structures -- amyloid plaques and "tangles" made of tau.

The plaques are sticky accumulations of beta-amyloid that build up outside of the neurons, while the tangles form inside the neurons. When there are too many tangles inside the cells, the cells start to die. In a normal brain, tau helps the skeleton of the nerve cell maintain itself. When too many phosphate groups attach themselves to tau, too much of the protein develops and tangles form.

Albert says researchers believe that the relative amount of beta-amyloid in the spinal fluid decreases as Alzheimer's progresses because it is getting trapped in the plaques and therefore isn't entering the fluid.

Early treatment possible

Though the BIOCARD study has been going on for nearly two decades, this is some of the first predictive data to come out of it, Albert says, owing to the length of time it takes for even high-risk middle-aged people to progress to dementia. Only 53 of the original patients have progressed to mild cognitive impairment or dementia, giving a sample size just large enough to draw some preliminary conclusions. These first symptoms include memory disruptions such as repeating oneself, forgetting appointments, and forgetting what others have said.

Albert cautions that the biomarker ratio at this point is not accurate enough to precisely predict whether a particular individual is progressing to dementia, and further analysis of information about the group over time is needed.

However, she says, if the findings prove valid, they not only could guide the use of early treatments with drugs that become available, but also may also help test new drugs by seeing if they alter the rate at which the proteins change over time.

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First-time jobless claims fall

Computer glitches are continuing to have an impact

The number of workers filing first-time applications for unemployment benefits fell in the week ending October 12, but not by as much as some forecasters h...

PhotoThe number of workers filing first-time applications for unemployment benefits fell in the week ending October 12, but not by as much as some forecasters had expected.

Government figures show initial claims were down by 15,000 from the previous week to 358,000. Economists surveyed by Briefing.com were looking for a total of 330,000.

The initial claims level elevated for a second week in a row thanks to computer problems in California.

Glitches following a conversion to a new computer system there caused an enormous backlog unemployment benefit applications in the beginning of September. The state is continuing to process those applications, which is inflating the initial claims level. The higher-than-normal claims levels are expected to fall soon and the level returning toward 300,000.

Claims filed by nonfederal workers disrupted by the government shutdown were unchanged from last week, while close to 70,000 federal workers applied for unemployment insurance as a result of the government furloughs. Those workers were not included in the initial claims data.

The 4-week moving average, which is less volatile than the weekly number and thus considered more accurate gauge of the labor market, rose 11,750 -- to 336,500.

The complete report is available on the Department of Labor website.

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More retailers plan early Black Friday start

Macy's is the latest to announce a Thanksgiving evening opening

The concept of holiday shopping on Thanksgiving – instead of waiting for Black Friday – is apparently here to stay. Despite some grumbling last...

PhotoThe concept of holiday shopping on Thanksgiving – instead of waiting for Black Friday – is apparently here to stay. Despite some grumbling last year from traditionalists who thought Thanksgiving was for family time, it appears the shoppers are winning out.

Macy's is the latest major retailer to announce it will open at least some of its stores Thanksgiving evening. The press release announcing the early opening is careful to point out the shopping will begin at 8:00 p.m., after holiday celebrations across America.

In announcing its Black Friday hours, Macy's also announced it will have Black Friday special prices on fragrances, clothing and kitchen gadgets. Macy's said it will donate $2 from every One Direction Out Moment fragrance purchase to Make-a-Wish, up to $100,000.

Fun and excitement

“Black Friday is the biggest shopping event of the year and brings with it a level of fun and excitement to our customers around the nation,” said Peter Sachse, Macy’s chief stores officer. “For Macy’s, it's important to make this day enjoyable and convenient for everyone, as our customers search for great deals on favorite wish-list items. Shopping at Macy’s on Black Friday means having the opportunity to purchase the most sought-after products at unbelievable savings.”

Where did Black Friday come from and how did it become Black Thursday? Black Friday gets its name from the fact that most retailers don't break into the black each year until the holiday shopping season, which officially starts the Friday after Thanksgiving.

How did it morph into Black Thursday? Like many recent developments, it has everything to do with money. Those of a certain age can remember when the World Series was played on weekday afternoons, while millions of fans were at work and school. The Super Bowl, until about 30 years ago, was played on a Sunday afternoon, like any other football game.

Follow the money

But at some point the marketers pointed out that a lot of money was being left on the table. Now these classic sporting events are played – and broadcast – in prime time when the audience is at its maximum and advertisers can be charged the highest rates.

A few years ago Walmart and several other retailers began opening at 5:00 a.m. on Black Friday. Then someone said, “why not open at midnight?” So they did.

Last year many retailers thought, “hey, there's nothing to do after Thanksgiving dinner. Let's open on Thanksgiving night.” Walmart set the pace but Target and other competitors quickly joined in.

Despite predictions that consumers would recoil at the intrusion on a sacred American holiday, consumers seemed to like the idea. Stores that opened early reported a brisk business during their pre-Black Friday hours.

National holiday

PhotoTo many consumers Black Friday has, itself, become a national holiday and cramming into stores, scrambling for the few available advertised specials, is sort of a communal experience – maybe better than sitting around the table while Aunt Gladys recounts, for the umpteenth time, the details of her gall bladder operation.

Last Christmas a neighborhood pub in Richmond, Va., announced it would be open Christmas night with the slogan, “come be with your real family.” The communal experience just may be the big attraction.

It isn't the prices. Sure, there are incredible prices on popular items but it always turns out there are only a few available at that price. Most go home disappointed.

In 2012 a study by ShopAdvisor tracked the prices of 252 toys from the first day of autumn and found that in the 54 days from Nov. 1 through Dec. 24, the day with the lowest percentage -- 46 percent -- of products on sale below their initial holiday season price was Black Friday, Nov. 25. The best deals turned out to be on Nov. 13.

The Internet has also done a lot to make Black Friday obsolete. A lot of Black Friday deals will be available at retailers' websites – with more deals on the following Cyber Monday.

Even so, that won't deter millions from getting up from the dinner table on Thanksgiving and heading for the mall. Then again, maybe they aren't really going for the deals, but to spend time with their real families.

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Consumers to put Santa on a diet

A new survey finds economic worries may prompt shoppers to cut back this year

The holiday season may not be as jolly this year. The National Retail Federation's (NRF) holiday consumer spending survey, conducted by Prosper Insights ...

PhotoThe holiday season may not be as jolly this year.

The National Retail Federation's (NRF) holiday consumer spending survey, conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, finds that consumers facing continued economic uncertainty and used to doing more with less will take a conservative approach to spending this holiday season.

As a result, the survey projects the average holiday shopper will spend $737.95 on gifts, decor, greeting cards and more -- 2% less than the $752.24 they actually spent last year. Overall, NRF is forecasting holiday sales will rise 3.9% -- to $602.1 billion.

“Though the foundation for solid holiday season growth exists, Americans are questioning the stability of our economy, our government and their own finances,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “We expect consumers to set a modest budget for gifts and other holiday related purchases as they wait and see what will become of the U.S. economy in the coming months.

The Washington effect

For the first time, NRF asked holiday shoppers if the political gridlock in Washington around U.S. fiscal concerns would affect their holiday spending plans. On average, 29% said the situation would somewhat or very likely affect their spending plans. Nearly one-third (32.7%) of those between the ages of 55 and 64 said political gridlock in Washington was somewhat or very likely to affect their spending -- the highest percent among all age groups surveyed.

When asked specifically about the overall state of the economy and how it would affect their spending plans, more than half (51.0%) of consumers said the economy would in some way have an impact on how they spend this holiday season. Specifically, 79.5% say they'll spend less overall, cutting corners and tightening budgets where they can.

Family and friends first

PhotoIn order to make room in their budgets this year, consumers will cut back on so-called “self-gifting,” or treating themselves to something because the deals are too good to pass up. When asked if they plan to take advantage of sales or price discounts during the holiday season to make additional non-gift purchases, 57.0% said “yes,” down 2% from last year. Self-gifters will spend an average of $129.62 this year, compared with a survey high of $140.43 last year and $137.17 in 2011.

According to the survey, the biggest portion of shoppers’ budget will go towards gifts for family members, with the average person planning to spend $415.50 on mom, dad and other loved ones; last year they spent $423.36. Additionally, people will spend $72.14 on friends, $23.59 on co-workers and $25.63 on others, such as pets and community members.

Consumers will also spend on food and candy ($100.35), greeting cards ($28.03) and flowers ($21.12). When it comes to decorations, the average person will spend $51.60. Total spending on holiday decor will reach $6.8 billion.

“Consumers have had years of practice when it comes to managing tight budgets while still spending on items they need to, whether it be gifts or groceries for the family,” said Prosper Insights Consumer Insights Director Pam Goodfellow. “Retailers can expect to see practical and refined attitudes from their customers this holiday season as families make thoughtful decisions about what they need to buy and what they can pass on.”

Early shopping

Consistent with results seen the past 11 years, four in 10 (41.2%) consumers say they will begin holiday shopping before Halloween. Specifically, 12.4$ say they started before September, 8.2% began in September, and 20.6% say they'll get started in October. More than one-third (38.8%) will begin in November and 16.0% plan to start shopping in the first two weeks of December. Almost four percent (3.9%) will wait until last minute and shop in the last two weeks of the month.

For the first time, shoppers were asked why they shop early. Of those who shop prior to or in September and October, six in 10 (60.3%) do so to spread out their gift shopping budget. Another four in 10 (41.9%) said the prices and promotions are too good to pass up. Additionally, 46.5% shop early to avoid the crowds associated with November and December shopping, and 44.2% do so to avoid the stress of last-minute shopping.

Where they shop

With plenty of options to shop around for the best value, consumers will look to discounters (64.7%), department stores (56.3%), and grocery stores (51.1%) for their gifts and goods this holiday season. More than half (51.5%) will shop online and 35.1% will shop at clothing or accessories stores. Additionally, 29.5% will shop at electronics stores and 20.9% will shop at drug stores.

Whether to comparison shop or look for deals on their mobile device while out and about, the Internet will play a crucial role for retailers and shoppers this year. The average person will complete about 39.5% of her shopping on retail and other company websites, compared with 38.8% last year and the highest amount in the survey’s history. Shop.org, NRF’s digital division, is forecasting online holiday sales will grow between 13 and 15% to as much as $82 billion.

PhotoUsing smartphones and tablets

As retailers improve their mobile websites and company apps, more people are drawn to the convenience of shopping using their mobile and tablet devices. According to the survey, more than half (56.3%) of holiday shoppers say they own a smartphone, and more than one-third (34.0%) own a tablet -- both significantly higher than this time last year. Of those who own a smartphone, 53.8% will use their device to look up store hours, compare prices and purchase products; six in 10 (63.2%) tablet owners will use their device to shop, compare prices and look up product information.

Gift card popularity

When it comes to holiday wish lists, gift cards take the prize once again as the most requested gift item for the seventh year in a row. According to the survey, six in 10 (59.4%) people say they’d most like to receive gift cards. After a few years on the back burner, clothing and clothing accessories will fill wish lists with more than half (51.2%) requesting these items -- the highest amount seen since 2006.

PhotoMore than one-third (36.1%) want electronics, one-quarter (23.3%) want jewelry and 20.8 percent want home decor or home-related furnishings.

Sales and discounts

Holiday shoppers fine tune their skills each year in order to maneuver the stores, discover the best free-shipping deals and perfect their hassle-free shopping experience. When it comes to decisions like where to shop, price and promotions are top-of-mind.

According to the survey, 35.6% said the most important factor in deciding where to shop is offers for sales and discounts, along with 16.4% who say the most important factor is selection of merchandise and 13.6% who say it’s quality of merchandise. Three percent (3.4%) rate free shipping or shipping promotions as the most important factor, versus 2.9% last year.

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Cost of babies has parents turning to Mom and Dad

Young couples finding raising baby is more expensive than they thought

There are two economic facts of life that are creating some discomfort in modern families. The cost of having children is going up while the salaries of yo...

PhotoThere are two economic facts of life that are creating some discomfort in modern families. The cost of having children is going up while the salaries of young Americans of child-rearing years has leveled off or is going down.

In a survey of young mothers, BabyCenter.com has found that parents spend an average of $13,000 a year on their children. Couples worry that they don't have enough money to start a family.

“Children are expensive, but couples aren’t letting that hold them back from starting a family,” said Carmen Wong Ulrich, a BabyCenter.com financial expert. “They are exploring ways of saving that they may not have previously considered, like moving back in with their parents or accepting money from in-laws. This can be a good short-term solution for couples to get them started, but they need to make sure they are taking the necessary steps to eventually become financially independent.”

Would like to save $4,500

In the survey expectant mothers said they would like to save an average $4,500 before the birth of their child. And if they can't, or if $4,500 turns out not to be enough, young parents-to-be most often look to their parents for help. That, in turn, puts a financial strain on a generation that is relatively well off but is trying to prepare for retirement.

Preparing for the birth of a child is expensive enough. Nearly 50 percent of young women in the survey are spending money on products or services to encourage pregnancy, and it’s not cheap. From ovulation kits to vitamin supplements, women trying to get pregnant spend close to $500 to help them conceive.

The request for financial help doesn’t stop once the baby is born. About 30 percent of the mothers in the survey said they received financial help from their parents or in-laws during the baby’s first year.

“Budgeting for baby is one the biggest challenges new parents face,” said Wong Ulrich. “A new baby can drastically alter a family’s financial status, and parents need to be prepared.”

Multi-generational households

And so, apparently, do the grandparents. Multi-generational households are on the rise as more young families move in with parents and in-laws to save money. Some financially support their children and their children directly.

A 2011 study found nearly 60% of parents gave financial support to their adult children, some of whom were married and had families. The survey, by the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE), also showed that 65% of adult children—those ages 18-39 who are not in school—believe the financial pressures faced by their generation are tougher than those experienced by previous generations.

Parents tend to agree – at least 32% do – which may be why they are willing to open their checkbooks. In the survey 43 percent of parents who were providing financial support said they were doing so because they were"legitimately concerned" with their child’s financial well-being.

"Parents are continuing their involvement longer than we expected," Ted Beck, president and CEO of NEFE, said at the time the survey was released. "The general sentiment is that financial pressures are higher for this generation. But if parents are going to financially support their adult children, they should first have a serious talk about their kids’ expectations so that everyone protects their financial futures."

Beck also noted what he considers a disturbing trend -- parents making sacrifices to help their adult children. Helping a young family get a foothold is one thing but continuing to support children and their families simply isn't a sustainable course of action.

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Grocery manufacturers in the soup in Washington State

There's the little matter of that $7 million they spent trying to defeat a genetic-food labeling initiative

It's bad enough to spend a lot of money trying to throw an election your way. It's even worse to get in trouble with the law after you spend all the money ...

PhotoIt's bad enough to spend a lot of money trying to throw an election your way. It's even worse to get in trouble with the law after you spend all the money and lose the election anyway.

That's the sorry state of affairs that the Grocery Manufacturers Association may be facing. Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson today sued the GMA, claiming it violated the state's campaign disclosure laws.

The way Ferguson sees it, the GMA illegally collected and spent more than $7 million while shielding the identity of its contributors, hoping to defeat Initiative 522, a measure requiring labeling of genetically engineered foods, seeds and seed products in Washington.

“When Washington state voters overwhelming approved Initiative 276 in 1972, they voiced their desire for transparency and openness in elections,” Ferguson said. “Truly fair elections demand all sides follow the rules by disclosing who their donors are and how much they are spending to advocate their views.”

The Grocery Manufacturers Association is a trade association, based in -- where else? -- Washington D.C., representing more than 300 food, beverage and consumer product companies. It was the biggest donor to the "No on I-522" campaign.

Actually, the GMA hasn't lost the election yet, since it's not until next month. But all the polls show the measure is likely to pass, with an overwhelming two-thirds of Washington State voters saying they plan to support it. 

Shook down its members

Photo
The GMA website
Ferguson alleges the GMA established the “Defense of Brands Strategic Account” within its organization and asked members to pay assessments that would be used to oppose I-522. GMA then funded opposition efforts while shielding contributors’ names from public disclosure.

Ferguson alleges the GMA should have formed a separate political committee, registered with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), and filed reports indicating who contributed, how much they contributed and how the money was spent to oppose I-522. 

What next?

If the measure passes as expected, Washington will be the first state in the nation to require labeling of genetically-modified food. There are two ways to look at what's likely to happen next:

1. Food producers will shrug and say, oh well, we might as well start labeling the stuff everywhere rather than have to worry about producing separate labels for different states.

2. Or, the GMA and its allies may dig in their heels and say, in effect, to hell with the states, then jump in a cab and head for Capitol Hill, which now provides easy one-stop shopping for lobbyists who don't want to get all tired and dusty traipsing around the hinterlands trying to sway local lawmakers.

Major industries have had great luck in recent years getting their pals in Congress to pass legislation that protects industry's interests and pre-empts those pesky state laws.

After all, not everybody hates D.C. Lobbyists love the place.  

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"Smart" shelves to spy on grocery store customers

Sensors determine the age and sex of customers for real-time targeted ads

If you’ve ever wanted to say “The shelves at the grocery store are spying on me” without being accused of harboring paranoid delusions, j...

PhotoIf you’ve ever wanted to say, “The shelves at the grocery store are spying on me” without being accused of harboring paranoid delusions, just wait until 2015.

That’s the year supermarket supercompany Mondelez International (owner of such brands as Nabisco, Kraft, Cadbury and others), in conjunction with Microsoft Kinect, will introduce so-called “smart” store shelves that can “identify the age and sex of the would-be snacker” in the supermarket aisle, the better to decide what sort of junk-food advertising to aim at them/us.  

Tech journalists were nearly unanimous in their effusive praise for this brave new world of in-store targeted advertising. Brian Fung at the Washington Post said, “It’s not quite Minority Report levels of creepiness, but it’s getting there,”  while Fastcompany.com’s Neal Ungerleider noted “the ultimate in creepy yet inevitable marketing tech.”

The idea is that, in addition to identifying the age and gender of consumers, the “smart” shelves will be equipped with weight sensors that notice when an item has been moved. Presumably, then, when the sensors detect that a box of cookies has been lifted up by a female aged 18-34, various in-store coupon dispensers or display screens will belch forth whatever suggestions their adbot algorithms think will persuade young women to buy cookies.

Then again ...

PhotoOr maybe not. As we’ve noted before, when marketers try targeting campaigns specifically at women, the results tend to be clueless at best and insulting at worst  (no, pink packaging does not justify a fourfold price increase). Maybe they do better at marketing to men, though we’re inclined to doubt it.

So, from a consumer angle, we’re not sure what concerns we should focus toward this forthcoming smartshelf grocery technology: “Oh, no, it might persuade me to buy more junk food than I can afford,” or “Aw, crap, shopping’s irritating enough without computerized sensors tossing asinine ads my way.”

If this smartshelf technology does indeed take off year after next, we hope that, in response, we can write a “Trends” story with the headline “Grocery shopping in drag: everybody’s doing it.” We personally intend to urge our friends who buy food to foil the sensors by subverting as many age- and gender-related marketing stereotypes as they can.

So if you’re a young woman, try grocery shopping while wearing a gray Gandalf beard and uttering stereotypical old-man phrases like “I look forward to watching this weekend’s televised sporting events, all of which were better in my day.”

By contrast, if you’re an older man, you should wear something pink and then, speaking directly into the sensor, say “Sports are boring. Let’s talk about our relationship.”

We bet you’ll see some hilariously funny ads, either way.

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Should doctors have to pee in a cup too?

Consumer group presses for mandatory drug testing of doctors

It seems that just about everybody is asked to take a drug test these days -- everyone from school bus drivers to parolees.Not doctors, though. And that ...

PhotoIt seems that just about everybody is asked to take a drug test these days -- everyone from school bus drivers to parolees.

Not doctors, though. And that seems wrong to Consumer Watchdog, a California non-profit that is promoting an initiative measure that would appear on the November 2014 ballot in California.

The Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act would require mandatory physician drug and alcohol testing. The measure would also require doctors to report colleagues who are under the influence while on duty, check patient histories before prescribing narcotics to help identify drug abusers, and would update the state’s 38-year-old cap on malpractice victims’ recovery mandatory.

It goes without saying that the measure is not popular with doctors.

To drive their point home, backers have been producing a series of videos, dubbed the “Pee In A Cup The Musical” series. The latest episode greeted doctors arriving at the Disneyland Anaheim Marriott last Saturday for the evening Awards Gala at the California Medical Association’s annual meeting.

A mobile video truck circled just outside the security perimeter in front of the hotel, playing the musical video that makes the case for mandatory drug testing of doctors.

Doctor shopper

The initiative is named for the children of Bob Pack, who were walking with their parents on a sidewalk in Danville, Calif., when a car swerved off the road, killing the two children and injuring Pack's wife, Carmen, who was then pregnant with twins. The unborn twins were also lost in the accident.

The driver of the car, Jimena Barreto, turned out to be a doctor-shopping drug addict who was convicted of second-degree murder and imprisoned for 30 years to life. The Kaiser doctors who prescribed her thousands of pills, however, were never held accountable for their negligence.

Barreto had no physical symptoms, but managed to stockpile narcotics without any oversight.

Learn more about the initiative here.

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Are Oreos really as addictive as cocaine?

News flash: rats prefer Oreos to rice cakes, cocaine to saline water

Are Oreo cookies as addictive as cocaine? According to neuroscientists at Connecticut College, the answer is “yes” – at least, if you ass...

Are Oreo cookies as addictive as cocaine? According to neuroscientists at Connecticut College, the answer is “yes” – at least, if you assume “any stimulation of the brain’s pleasure centers” equates to “addiction.”

Today.com reports that neuroscience professor Joseph Schroeder and his students reached their conclusions after testing lab rats in mazes. In one test, rats who successfully navigated a maze could choose between eating Oreos or rice cakes. In another test, rats were given a choice between getting injected with saline solution, or injected with cocaine or morphine.

Rats in the first group consistently chose to eat Oreos over rice cakes, while rats in the second group consistently chose to be injected with cocaine rather than salt water. Turns out that Oreos and cocaine stimulate the brain’s pleasure centers, whereas rice cakes and salt water do not.

“These findings suggest that high fat/sugar foods and drugs of abuse trigger brain addictive processes to the same degree and lend support to the hypothesis that maladaptive eating behaviors contributing to obesity can be compared to drug addiction,” Schroder’s team wrote in their introduction to the study, which is to be presented to the Society of Neuroscience next month.

We are not neuroscientists, and we did not read the actual study, only Today.com’s brief summary. So we’re going to assume—or hope—that the actual study is far more nuanced than Today’s synopsis, because the suggestion “any stimulation of the brain’s pleasure center equals addiction” strikes us as a terrifying case of false equivalence.  

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Texas objects to sale of True.com's 43-million-member database

When they signed up, customers were told their information was safe with True

Although you would never know it to look at its site, dating site True.com has been in bankruptcy proceedings for more than a year and is in the process of...

PhotoAlthough you would never know it to look at its site, dating site True.com has been in bankruptcy proceedings for more than a year and is in the process of selling off its assets.

One of those assets is its database of 43 million consumers. The site's parent company, True Beginnings, based in Plano, Texas, has been seeking permission from the bankruptcy court to sell its database to a Canadian dating service.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott thinks that's a bad idea.

"The proper course is for True.com and its bankruptcy trustee to seek the customers’ permission before selling their private information to a third party – and that’s exactly what our legal action asks the bankruptcy court to require before the case proceeds,” Abbott said in a statement after he filed an objection with the court.

Unfortunately, Abbott's action would only affect the 2 million or so Texans registered with the service. The other 41 million are on their own.

In the court filing objecting to the membership database sale, Abbott argues that the bankruptcy trustee must first give True.com’s members an opportunity to object to the sale of their personal information. True Beginnings has stated that it merely intends to notify members via email that their personal information has been sold.

However, the proposed email notice does not ask customers to first approve the transfer of their sensitive data. Under the current transfer process, to which Abbott objects, the information would be transferred unless the customer takes direct steps to opt-out.

Abbott seeks approval for customers to be allowed to opt-in by having them express approval for the transfer of their personal information.

"Ambiguous and deceptive"

During the sign-up process, True.com customers were told their personal information could not be transferred without their consent. However, Abbott says that "ambiguous and deceptive language embedded within True.com’s privacy policy quietly noted that members’ personal information held in the company’s database would be treated as a transferable asset in the event the company was acquired by a third-party buyer."

The Attorney General’s legal filing urges the bankruptcy court to require the trustee to abide by the terms presented to customers when they signed up for the dating web site.

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New mortgage servicing rules clarified

The new rules take effect in January

Communications with family members after a borrower dies, contact with delinquent borrowers, and treatment of consumers who have filed for bankruptcy are a...

PhotoCommunications with family members after a borrower dies, contact with delinquent borrowers, and treatment of consumers who have filed for bankruptcy are at the heart of an interim final rule issued by the the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

“As servicing implementation enters its final phases, we heard from many sources that it was important to address these remaining issues to ensure a smooth transition and provide certainty to the market,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “When mortgage servicers better understand the rules they have to follow, that is better for consumers.”

Mortgage servicers are responsible for collecting payments from mortgage borrowers on behalf of loan owners. They also typically handle customer service, escrow accounts, collections, loan modifications and foreclosures. Generally, borrowers have no say in choosing their mortgage servicers.

Even before the financial meltdown, the mortgage servicing industry experienced problems with bad practices and sloppy record-keeping. Even now, many borrowers experience serious problems seeking loan modifications or other alternatives to avoid foreclosure.

In January 2013, the CFPB issued rules to establish new, strong protections for struggling homeowners, including those facing foreclosure. The rules protect mortgage borrowers from costly surprises and runarounds by their servicers.

Three issues addressed

These clarifications are a response to requests for further explanation on three servicing issues:

  • Home retention efforts after a borrower dies: In cases in which a borrower dies, the rules the CFPB issued in January require servicers to have policies and procedures in place to ensure that they promptly identify and communicate with family members, heirs, or other parties who have a legal interest in the home. The new bulletin provides examples of such servicer policies and procedures, including allowing for continued payment on the mortgage as well as evaluating the heir (or whomever the legal interest in the home passes to) for assumption of the mortgage and, if appropriate, for loss mitigation measures.
  • Early intervention requirement to contact delinquent borrowers: The CFPB’s new rules require servicers to attempt contact with borrowers each time they miss a payment to provide important information that can help get them on track. Thew newly issued rule bulletin clarifies that this requirement may be met through other contact that servicers have with such borrowers, for example, when evaluating them for loss mitigation or during collection calls. Also, the method of attempted contact may vary depending on how long a borrower is delinquent or on whether the borrower has responded to earlier servicer attempts to communicate.
  • Interplay between the servicing rules, bankruptcy code, and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA): Both the FDCPA and bankruptcy law provide significant protections for consumers who decide to invoke them and restrict certain types of communications regarding their debts. The CFPB has received a large number of questions about how these other protections intersect with the servicing rules and how to communicate effectively with borrowers who have invoked their other rights. In that light, the CFPB is:

      --- Clarifying that even if delinquent borrowers have instructed servicers to stop communicating with them pursuant to the FDCPA, certain notices and communications mandated by the CFPB servicing rules and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act are still required. Specifically, servicers must communicate with the borrower with regard to requests for loss mitigation, information requests, error resolution, force-placed insurance, initial interest rate adjustment of adjustable-rate mortgages and periodic statements. However, servicers will not be required to provide certain early intervention contacts or ongoing notices of interest rate adjustments to delinquent borrowers who have instructed the servicer to stop communicating with them.

      --- Exempting servicers from being required to provide periodic account statements and certain early intervention contacts with borrowers who are in bankruptcy. The bureau says it believes further assessment is warranted regarding how bankruptcy protections intersect with these servicing requirements and how to ensure that the servicing communications do not confuse consumers regarding the status of their loans.

Among other things, the interim final rule also clarifies regulations issued by the CFPB in January to implement a provision of the Dodd-Frank Act that requires consumers to receive housing counseling before taking out a high-cost mortgage. The rule specifies which federally required disclosure must be used as the basis for counseling for a small subset of closed-end loans that are not subject to the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act.

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Builder confidence dips in October

Washington wrangling and higher mortgage rates are blamed

The government shutdown, the debt limit battle and rising mortgage rates have home builders on edge. According to the latest National Association of Home ...

PhotoThe government shutdown, the debt limit battle and rising mortgage rates have home builders on edge.

According to the latest National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) /Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI), builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes fell two points in October from a downwardly revised reading for September -- to a level of 55.

“Builder optimism remains above 50 and we are still seeing signs of pent-up demand in many markets across the country,” said NAHB Chairman Rick Judson. “This slight dip in builder sentiment is the result of continuing challenges in the marketplace with regard to the cost and availability of labor and lots and uncertainty in Washington”

NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe adds that a spike in mortgage interest rates along with the paralysis in Washington that led to the government shutdown and uncertainty regarding the nation’s debt limit have caused builders and consumers to take pause. “However,” he adds, “interest rates remain near historic lows and we don’t expect the level of rates to have a major impact on sales and starts going forward. Once this government impasse is resolved, we expect builder and consumer optimism will bounce back.”

The NAHB/Wells Fargo HMI gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for 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.

Across the board decline

All of the HMI’s three components each fell two points in October. The component gauging current sales conditions registered 58, while the component gauging sales expectations in the next six months posted a reading of 62 and the component gauging traffic of prospective buyers was 44.

Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the South held steady at 56, the West declined a single point to 60 and the Northeast fell three points to 38. The Midwest posted a one-point gain to 64.

An insider's look

With the partial shutdown of the federal government preventing the U.S. Census Bureau from releasing a housing starts estimate for September, NAHB has prepared its own.

It estimates that the seasonally adjusted annual rate of construction for single-family homes was between 620,000 and 630,000 units in September.

NAHB also estimates that the pace of construction of multifamily units was an additional 255,000 to 270,000, bringing the anticipated pace of total housing starts in September to between 875,000 and 900,000 units.

“The NAHB estimate of 875,000 to 900,000 total housing starts is based on continuing improvement in single-family starts and ongoing volatility in multifamily construction,” said Crowe.

“Single-family starts dipped in July but rebounded in August, and we expect continued strength in September,” Crowe added. “The Fed meeting in mid-September provided additional relief to builders and buyers that interest rates would remain near historic lows for the immediate future, encouraging consumers back into the housing market.

“Meanwhile, multifamily starts have been unusually volatile since the beginning of the year, swinging between 250,000 and 400,000 units from month-to-month,” he continued. “We expect some bounce back from the August pace of 263,000 as multifamily starts continue to trend around 300,000 units.”

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Mortgage applications up again

It's the second straight week applications have been higher

Mortgage applications increased 0.3% from one week earlier, as the market digested the ramifications of the continuing government shut down and a possible ...

PhotoMortgage applications increased 0.3% from one week earlier, as the market digested the ramifications of the continuing government shut down and a possible government default.

In its report, the Mortgage Bankers Association also said the refinance index increased 3% from the previous week, pushing the refinance share of mortgage activity 66% of total applications -- up 2% from the previous week. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity decreased to 6% of total applications.

“The government shutdown had a notable impact on the mortgage market last week. Purchase applications for government programs dropped by more than 7 percent over the week to their lowest level since December 2007, and the government share of purchase applications dropped to its lowest level in almost three years,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s vice president of research and economics. “Conventional purchase applications dropped as well, but not to the same extent, falling almost 4 percent for the week.”

The refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 66 percent of total applications from 64 percent the previous week. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity was 6 percent of total applications.

Interest rates

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) increased to 4.46% from 4.42%, with points decreasing to 0.31 from 0.44 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) increased to 4.51% from 4.45%, with points decreasing to 0.15 from 0.21 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA increased to 4.16% from 4.15%, with points increasing to 0.44 from 0.37 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs increased to 3.53% from 3.52%, with points decreasing to 0.31 from 0.34 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs remained unchanged at 3.25%, with points increasing to 0.32 from 0.29 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

The survey covers over 75% of all U.S. retail residential mortgage applications.

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How to avoid putting on pounds over the holidays

If you can survive Halloween, you've got a chance

The holidays can be a dangerous time for people trying to control their weight. There are parties with food and drink, celebratory dinners with family and ...

PhotoThe holidays can be a dangerous time for people trying to control their weight. There are parties with food and drink, celebratory dinners with family and friends and plenty of cookies, candy and pastries.

You can easily consume more sugar between October and January than you do the other nine months combined, unless you exercise a little self-control.

The temptation starts with Halloween. In case you haven't noticed stores putting out their Halloween displays around Labor Day. At the grocery store in early October you may be tempted to pick up several bags of Halloween candy.

Willpower needed

Unless you have exceptional willpower, that's a bad idea. Once a bag gets opened it's easy to start snacking, running through your candy stash well before October 31st. Halloween candy, it turns out, is a slippery slope that can propel you into the holidays on the wrong nutritional foot.

It can be even worse at work, with co-workers bringing in orange-colored candy, cake, donuts and cupcakes. Health experts Dian Griesel, Ph.D., and Tom Griesel, who've written books on nutrition and weight control, suggest bringing up your concerns at work, letting co-workers know you're trying to avoid temptation and extra weight gain. Gently suggest that they keep candy and other goodies out of your sight and reach.

But that doesn't mean you can't get into the spirit of things. The Griesels suggest brewing a pot of pumpkin-flavored coffee or tea to share or bringing in fruit or low-cal desserts.

On to Thanksgiving

PhotoOnce you get past Halloween there's Thanksgiving to contend with, and food seems to play a bigger and bigger role in celebrations the closer you get to New Year's Day. Nutritionists at the Cleveland Clinic offer a number of tips that can allow you to enjoy yourself without packing on the pounds. Being aware of the high-calorie content of the food you are offered is a first step.

“Even though it’s hard to resist temptations all around you, there are simple steps you can take that can keep the extra holiday pounds off,” said Julia Renee Zumpano, a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic. 

Among the tips – never go to a holiday party hungry. You'll find it much harder to control yourself. In fact, during the holidays make it a point to eat balanced, nutritious meals each day. You'll be less hungry and less likely to give in to temptation.

Just a bite

A particular treat may look delicious and just because it's fattening, it doesn't mean you can't try it. But just take a bite and discard the rest. Most of us would think of that as wasteful but in this case, you're simply preserving your waistline.

When you sit down at a holiday dinner, eat more vegetables, fruit and salad and less turkey, ham, beef and stuffing. And by all means, skip the gravy and sauces.

Go easy on the alcohol. A glass of wine or beer contains about 100 calories. An ounce of distilled spirits, about the same. By substituting club soda for two holiday drinks you save about 200 calories.

Finally, don't forget to exercise, burning off some of those extra calories you will inevitably consume. Many people wait until January to resolve to get into shape. Don't wait, start now when it can do you some real good and before the damage is done.

According to the Mayo Clinic the typical holiday weight gain is probably less than five pounds, which doesn't sound like much. The problem is, that weight is almost never lost -- so it adds up to 50 pounds every ten years or so. Being mindful of your eating all year round – but especially during the holidays – is the best way to keep your weight at a healthy level.

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Frederick’s of Hollywood shipping policies: less uplifting than their merchandise

Shipping charges appear on credit cards six months after purchases

Did the Fredericks of Hollywood billing computer catch a nasty virus this month? We ask because, after going almost the whole summer and well into f...

PhotoDid the Frederick’s of Hollywood billing computer catch a nasty virus this month? We ask because, after going almost the whole summer and well into fall without receiving a single complaint about the company, everything changed in October.

In just the first 15 days of this month, ten* different people from all over the country wrote us with almost the exact same complaint: several months ago, they say, they ordered something from Frederick’s of Hollywood and were promised free shipping. Now, they’re finding unauthorized Frederick’s shipping charges on their credit cards.

Our attempts to ask Frederick’s about this were unsuccessful; rather than give us an email address or phone number we could use to contact the company, the best offer we got was the chance to give them our phone number, in exchange for which we received a vague promise that somebody would call us back at some indeterminate future point. We’ll let you know if anything comes of that.

Meanwhile, check out this sampling of our readers told us this month, and see if you don’t notice a pattern. Ally H. of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, kicked off the month when she wrote us this:

“On July 17, 2013 I received a promotional email from Frederick's of Hollywood with the subject line: ‘Three words: Fierce. Wild. Vixen. Plus, free shipping on everything.’ The email stated ‘We pay for shipping. No minimum purchase.’ At the time of purchase, I was not charged for shipping.”

So then what happened? “Today, October 1, 2013 I received an email from Frederick's stating that a billing error occurred on 7/17/2013 when I placed my order and that, as a result I was not charged the $5.95 shipping cost. Thus, they will be billing the card they have on file for the $5.95 shipping cost for my 7/17/13 order. Pursuant to the promotional email I received on 7/17/13, there was no shipping cost. How Frederick's can retroactively charge me for a shipping cost that doesn't exist is beyond me. I called and spoke to a customer service representative who was unable to assist me and could not transfer me to a supervisor.”

Not so cute 

A week later, Bethany A. in Marshfield, Missouri, wrote us to say: “Ladies, no matter how cute you think items are from Fredericks of Hollywood, do not do business with them!”

Why not? “If you spend so much and get offered free shipping, it is not free and they could possibly charge you 6 months later.”

Bethany bought some outfits in April. Everything seemed fine until: “It is now October 2013. Yesterday I received an email saying, since we didn't charge you shipping on your order back in April we will be taking $9.95 out of your account for that within the next 10 business days, sorry for the inconvenience. Seriously?”

Her attempts to resolve the issue with customer service led nowhere, either:  “I talked to a lady who had no answers for me and was rude about it. She said she didn't know why it took them this long to charge me [for shipping], and refused to take the charge off. BAD BUSINESS! She claimed there was no supervisors or management to talk to and the fee was going to happen and it is non-refundable. She said this was happening to several customers from months before, and the company has decided to now go back and charge for shipping.”

Hmm. Could that be why we’ve been getting so many recent complaints?

The next day, Berinda T. of Macon, Georgia told us this story: “I am a regular customer with Fredericks of Hollywood and made 2 purchases (1 in June and 1 in August) in which I received an email advising me of free shipping. I just received an email on 10/7/2013 which states that the company realizes that they did not charge me the shipping and handling fees of 7.95 on the June charge and 5.95 on the August charge and that it would now be applied to my credit card.”

And, once again: “I contacted customer service and … their response was that the charges was non refundable and could not be refunded.”

However, they did offer her a ten-dollar-off coupon for the next time she purchased $50 worth of products. She has no intention of using this coupon, though: “I requested a corporate office number and they explained there was not a corporate office to contact. I would not advise ANYONE to shop with them and this ends my shopping with them as well.”

"Billing error" 

Next day we heard from Maya F. in Roseville, California. “I placed other 3 months ago on fredericks.com . The company was offering free shipping on all orders …  I received a confirmation number for my order with free shipping.”

Guess what happened next? “After 3 months, I received an email from the company that there was a billing error, 3 months ago and they will charge shipping costs on the card … However, at the time I placed the order, their website clearly stated: Free shipping on any order, no minimum required! I contacted the customer service at Fredericks of Hollywood and they said there is nothing else they can do….”

Then we heard from Amanda K. of Hanford, Calif., on Oct. 12. Her complaint is unique: instead of being charged after-the-fact for allegedly free shipping, she says she’s being double-billed for shipping costs she already paid.

Amanda told us she paid a shipping fee when she order some bras back in April. Then, six months later, “I get an email saying they were going to charge my credit card $9.95, for shipping that was not charged at the time of the order. Fortunately, I keep all of my online shopping receipts. I looked back, and I did pay for the shipping at the time of purchase. So, I am being charged twice for shipping … I warn everyone that also got this email to double check their order. This feels like a scam to me.”

Two days later we heard from Timothy H, in Silverdale, Wash., who said: “I have received the same email as many people below. My wife made a purchase of 134.74 before tax and shipping. Of course, Frederick’s offers free shipping [for orders] of $50 or more. Now they are wanting to charge me $17.95.”

And finally, on Oct. 15, we heard from three different Frederick’s customers, all complaining of brand-new charges for items shipped long ago. Edith G. of Carson, Calif. said: “I placed an order on 5/5/2013, and apparently was not charged $7.95 for shipping. I received an email today, which is 10/15/2013, 5 months and 10 days after the purchase. FOH is stating that I should have paid for the shipping and is now going to charge my credit card the $7.95 fee. … Then to top it off they sent me a $10 off coupon for my next order of $50 or more. Why don't you keep the $10 and just waive that charge?”

Diane C. of Roseville, Calif., called her experience a “shipping cost scam.” Many months ago she received a Frederick’s gift card as a present, and ordered some items online. You know what happened next: “They were having a special for free shipping on your order back in April, so I took advantage of the deal and placed an order. I used my gift-card for payment and even had a remainder balance left over! 6 months later I receive an e-mail from them stating, "Thank you for being a valued customer. It has come to our attention that at the time you placed your order a billing error occurred. The total shipping and handling fee that was indicated on the order confirmation you received after checkout was not charged at the time of shipment. As a result, the remaining shipping and handling fee will now be charged to the credit card you provided at the time of the purchase." They're charging me $9.95 for shipping when I had used a ‘free shipping’ promotion code back when I placed the order…”

And that’s not all. “They also state in the e-mail that, ‘We will be charging your credit card within the next 10 business days for the shipping and handling fee shown above, as well as any applicable sales tax.’ Why are they charging me for tax again?!?”

And Curtis H. of Charlotte, North Carolina, told a shorter version of the same basic story: “I too experienced the same shipping scam and I do not care that it was only $15.95. This is deceptive and fraudulent to charge customers shipping 6 months after an order when it was supposed to be free shipping over a certain purchase amount. Please, people, pursue these crooks as far as you can so that they do not keep repeating this scam on other consumers.”

If you’ve made any Frederick’s of Hollywood mail-order purchases this year, the best advice we can give you is to have your credit card company put a hold on any future Frederick’s charges, as Diane C intends to do: “I'll be contacting their customer service to try and get this straightened out but, reading these other reviews, I can't imagine I'll get too far. I can always contact my bank and try to put a hold on any future Fredrick's charges. Guess I'll be taking my business elsewhere.”

---

(*Did you notice where we mentioned “ten” people with complaints? When we first started writing this article, it said “eight.” We had to revise the article, twice, because two new complaints came in while we wrote this.)

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New-car sales off sharply as government shutdown drags on

Hyundai, Toyota offer relief to furloughed workers but U.S. manufacturers do nothing

The prolonged government shutdown is taking a big bite out of car sales, auto executives say. Add that to the sharp decrease in home sales and you have a r...

PhotoThe prolonged government shutdown is taking a big bite out of car sales, auto executives say. Add that to the sharp decrease in home sales and you have a recipe for a major blow to the economy.

October new-car sales may be off as much as ten percent, according to John Krafcik, CEO of Hyundai's U.S. sales unit, who said potential buyers are being kept away by "anxiety."

Auto sales had been one of the few bright spots in the economy until September, when sales began to tumble as the shutdown neared.

Many dealers have taken steps to get furloughed workers into their showrooms but there's not much they can do without credit approval, which is proving very hard to get, even for top-ranking furloughed workers.

Hyundai is going a step further. It announced earlier this month that it would work with federal workers to defer their loan and lease payments. The company says it has had over 1,000 requests so far.

Current Hyundai owners will be provided relief from payments for as long as they are out of work. Furloughed employees who wish to buy a car in October will be offered a 90-day payment deferral, Hyundai said in an Oct. 1 press release.

"That's a much stronger uptake than we thought. It makes us happy. It means we're making a difference, but it does give an indication of just how deep and serious the issues are," said Krafcik said in an interview with Bloomberg News.

Toyota steps up

 Toyota also says it will provide up to three months of relief for federal employees.

“The government shutdown has placed an unanticipated financial strain on many individuals and families,” said Al Smith, Toyota Financial Services Group Vice President of Service Operations. “Toyota Financial Services and Lexus Financial Services remain committed to making the lives of our customers easier, so we are pleased to be able to provide some flexibility to our customers affected by this situation.”

Customers who have been affected by the shutdown and would like to discuss their account options are encouraged to contact TFS or LFS:
 
Toyota Financial Services customers may call (800) 874-8822 or contact TFS via email using the Mail Center function after logging into ToyotaFinancial.com.

Lexus Financial Services customers may call (800) 874-7050 or contact LFS via email using the Mail Center function after logging into LexusFinancial.com.

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Women sue Suave, saying keratin kit made their hair melt

Women say Suave offered them as little as $50 to go get a haircut

Facebook photoThis keratin stuff, whatever it is, seems to be the greatest thing since gluten-free bread, as long as it doesn't make your hair fall out...

Photo
Facebook photo

This keratin stuff, whatever it is, seems to be the greatest thing since gluten-free bread, as long as it doesn't make your hair fall out or burn your scalp.

Unfortunately, that's what allegedly happened to hundreds of women who tried Suave Professionals Keratin Infusion 30-Day Smoothing Kit, hoping it would make their hair nice and silky and straight. Instead, they say, it made it melt.

The "devastating" effects of the treatment were documented by hundreds of women on a public Facebook page, "Suave-Keratin-Infusion-Kit-Destroyed-my-Hair," screen shots from which are included in the complaint.

The suit names Unilever, Suave's manufacturer, LEK Inc. and Conopco. It claims Unilever used deceptive advertising and failed to warn consumers, even though it knew about the risk of hair loss and scalp burns even before it introduced the product in late 2011.

Unilever recalled the product in May 2012 and discontinued it but argued nevertheless that it was safe to use.

One of the lead plaintiffs, Josephine Wells, says her "once long, beautiful, natural curly healthy hair is now dull, fragile and short." She says her hair "is extremely thin and the bald spots caused by the treatment are still visible." 

The suit also charges that women who complained were asked to sign an "unconscionable" release form that protected the company and retailers. In exchange, women got as little as $50 in compensation. The women are being represented by Azra Mehdi in San Francisco.

Oh, and as for keratin -- it's basically the protein that makes up human skin, hair and nails. As for what it's good for, well, the fungi that cause athlete's foot and ringworm like it, according to Wikipedia.

WebMD says it's good for straightening frizzy and curly hair but warns that the flat-ironing that is part of the application process can make hair break.

 

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You don't have to die to have an estate sale

It might be a good way to downsize

Most of the time estate sales are used to liquidate property after someone dies. The heirs take what they want and the rest is sold at auction.But an est...

PhotoMost of the time estate sales are used to liquidate property after someone dies. The heirs take what they want and the rest is sold at auction.

But an estate sale can be an easy and profitable way to downsize, getting rid of possessions you no longer need or want and allowing you to move into a smaller home for your retirement years. Having a yard sale, on the other hand, takes a lot of work and you are usually left with a lot of stuff when it's over.

There are other reasons to hold an estate sale. For one thing, an estate sale, advertised locally, will likely bring out people who don't normally go to yard sales. An estate sale suggests a better class of merchandise, if you will.

You can also bring in a professional to do all of the work. Small, independent businesses specialize in running estate sales. They have experience and know how to maximize the results.

Best of all, they will look through all the items you want to sell, analyze them and put a price on them. If the company is also an auctioneer, it will know where to start the bidding and how much each item is likely to bring. The company takes a cut of the sale's proceeds – you keep the rest.

Growing trend

More people are doing this. Last weekend former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling and his wife held an estate sale for that very reason. The children have moved on and they're ready to downsize.

The Schilling sale was huge, considering they have a seven-bedroom, 8,000-square-foot home. You don't have to live in a mansion in order to hold an estate sale. You do, however, have to have at least some compelling items to bring people out – things like antiques, art, tools or furniture. Your CD collection by itself probably isn't going to be enough.

The best way to find a company to run your estate sale is to ask around and get a referral or two. These days, the Internet can also come in handy.

A site like EstateSales.Net allows you to search by state, finding companies in your area that provide this service. 

When choosing a company to run your sale, compare the commission they charge with the services they offer. At a minimum they should do all the pricing and prepare your items for sale.

Online selling

Some companies also offer an online component, allowing shoppers to purchase your items online. Local buyers can pick up the item the day of the sale to avoid shipping charges. The company will not only book the sale and collect the payment but arrange for the shipping, at the buyers' expense.

When comparing estate sale companies, make sure they are licensed and have the legal authorization to provide the services they offer. If they are also bonded, that's even better. A bond is a form of insurance that guarantees the company will hold up its end of the bargain.

A reputable company will also provide reference and testimonials from former clients.

You should also ask how the company plans to publicize your sale. If possible, try to attend one of their sales in your area before you sign a contract.

Do it yourself?

Should you try to hold an estate sale yourself? A lot of people do it but it can be hard work, especially if you have never done it before.

Plenty of websites offer instruction in running a sale but few give you much guidance about whether you should or not. Martin Codina, author of the book “Liquidating An Estate,” says you should consider running your own sale if you have possessions valued at less than $5,000 and are confident that you know what your things are worth.

You should hire a professional, he says, if there are high-value items needing expert research and marketing or you have items that need extensive organization in order to properly stage a successful sale.

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Hertz customers need to file soon to collect PlatePass payments

Consumers who paid a toll using PlatePass may be eligible for a partial refund

Hertz has settled a class-action lawsuit that accused it of overcharging customers who used the company's "PlatePass" electronic toll payment service.Pos...

PhotoHertz has settled a class-action lawsuit that accused it of overcharging customers who used the company's "PlatePass" electronic toll payment service to pay EZ Pass and similar tolls.

Postcards have been sent to thousands of consumers who have been identified as potential plaintiffs -- those who rented from Hertz between July 1, 2006 and March 31, 2010 and paid PlatePass charges.

The suit basically charged that Hertz and its affiliated companies did not adequately disclose the charges that were involved in using PlatePass. The company has established a fund of $11 million to pay claims. Eligible class members may get a refund of 67% of the first PlatePass charge they incurred. 

Sylvia of Jersey City, N.J., should be sure to fill out a claim form, judging from the complaint she sent us back in July.

"When I picked up the car no one mentioned the transponder, nor the possibility that transponder charges that would later be billed to my credit card. I went through two tolls in 5 days worth $1.50 and I was charged $25.75."

Hertz Oct. 15, 2013, 7:23 p.m.
Consumers rate Hertz

Adding insult to injury, Sylvia had taken her own transponder with her but the charges wound up on the Hertz transponder instead.

Jerome of Chicago was trying to enjoy a pleasant tour of the California wine country but suffered something of a hangover from his Hertz bill.

"Visiting wine country? Beware of the fine print on your rental agreement with Hertz. They have an arrangement with PlatePass LLC to charge nearly DOUBLE what all other car rental companies are charging for tolls in California including the Golden Gate bridge," he said. "I went over Golden Gate once and was charged over $30 (toll + administrative charges of $4.95/day to a max of $24.95 per rental period). All other car rental companies are only charging $3.95/day to a max of $14.75. 

What to do

Consumers who qualify for a refund must file a claim before Nov. 21, 2013. You can do so online or by mail. Instructions and claim forms are available at http://hertzplatepasssettlement.com/. Do not provide personal information to anyone else; this is the only official settlement website.

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Middle-wage jobs: What they are and where they are

You may have to relocate, but they're out there

What happened to all those so-called “middle-wage jobs?” According to the Federal Reserve, the share of middle-skill or middle-wage jobs in the U.S. workf...

PhotoWhat happened to all those so-called “middle-wage jobs?”

According to the Federal Reserve, the share of middle-skill or middle-wage jobs in the U.S. workforce dropped from 25% in 1985 to just above 15% today. But, while such positions have been on the decline, a new study from CareerBuilder and Economic Modeling Specialists Intl. (EMSI) shows that there are various fields and states where these positions are actually thriving.

“Middle-wage positions sustained heavier hits during the recession than other wage groups,” said CareerBuilder CEO Matt Ferguson. “This is further indication of a hollowing effect economists have warned about, where middle-wage jobs are thinning out -- creating a greater concentration of either high-wage or low-wage positions. While this trend has become more pronounced in the last decade -- and has broader implications for the U.S. economy -- there are still areas of manufacturing, healthcare, energy and other fields where employment for middle-wage workers is stable and growing at a healthy pace.”

CareerBuilder and EMSI define middle-wage jobs as those that pay between $13.84 and $21.13 per hour. Data on top occupations and locations for middle-wage jobs was pulled from EMSI’s extensive labor market database of over 90 national and state employment resources.

On the rise

One quarter (25%) of all new jobs added in the U.S. since 2010 fall in the middle-wage range, trailing the share of both high-wage jobs (29%) and low-wage jobs (46%). While automation, off-shoring and other factors are driving the declining share of middle-wage jobs, a variety of occupations in this segment have performed well post-recession. Most of these occupations typically require on-the-job training, work experience, or short-term certificates and degrees that community colleges specialize in.

  • Customer service representatives -- added 132,690 jobs since 2010, up 6%; median hourly earnings:$14.91
  • Heavy/tractor-trailer truck drivers -- added 118,541 jobs since 2010, up 7%; median hourly earnings:$18.41
  • Bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks -- added 77,162 jobs since 2010, up 4%; median hourly earnings: $17.02
  • Construction laborers -- added 69,148 jobs since 2010, up 6%; median hourly earnings: $14.60
  • Machinists -- added 49,906 jobs since 2010, up 14%; median hourly earnings: $19.01
  • Welders, cutters, solderers and brazers -- added 38,153 jobs since 2010, up 11%; median hourly earnings: $17.58
  • Automotive service technicians and mechanics -- added 36,229 jobs since 2010, up 5%; median hourly earnings: $16.47
  • Inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers and weighers -- added 34,424 jobs since 2010, up 8%; median hourly earnings: $16.81
  • Medical assistants -- added 29,949 jobs since 2010, up 5%; median hourly earnings: $14.35
  • Computer-controlled machine tool operators -- added 21,307 jobs since 2010, up 17%; median hourly earnings: $17.14
  • Oil, gas and mining service unit operators -- added 16,690 jobs since 2010, up 38%; median hourly earnings: $20.16

Where they are

Wyoming leads the nation in the percentage of middle-wage jobs added in a state post-recession. Forty-five percent of new jobs that were created in Wyoming since 2010 have been middle-wage, well ahead of other high-performing states: Iowa (37%), North Dakota (36%), and Michigan (35%).

Texas (25%) and California (23%) have created the largest total number of new middle-wage jobs in the nation, but they’re in the middle of the pack in terms of the share of all new jobs.

At the bottom, Rhode Island is the only state that’s lost middle-wage jobs over the last few years. Meanwhile, Mississippi (10%) and New York (13%) have the lowest share of new middle-wage jobs among states that have seen job increases.

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Organix sounds organic but guess what ...

Company settles lawsuit that claims its names misled consumers

Consumers who purchased Organix hair- or skin-care products could receive money as part of a class-action-lawsuit settlement.The lawsuit was filed agai...

PhotoIf you bought Organix hair- or skin-care products, you could be eligible for refunds of up to $28, thanks to a class-action lawsuit that alleged the brand's name gives the impression that Organix products are made from organic ingredients.

Consumers who purchased Organix products on or after Oct. 25, 2008, can submit a claim form to receive $4 per product that was purchased, but no more than $28 total.

Claim forms are available at Haircaresettlement.com and must be submitted by March 17, 2014.

The company -- Todd Christopher International, Inc., which does business as Vogue International -- denies all the allegations but agreed to settle the suit to avoid the cost of litigaiton.

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Measles vaccination: earlier is better

A new study finds there are fewer side effects

It doesn't make any difference when have your children immunized against measles -- as long as you have it done, right? Not necessarily. A new Kaiser Perm...

PhotoIt doesn't make any difference when you have your children immunized against measles -- as long as you have it done, right? Not necessarily.

A new Kaiser Permanente study published in JAMA Pediatrics says kids receiving measles-containing vaccines at 12-15 months of age have a lower increased risk of fever and seizures than those who receive them at 16-23 months of age.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a two-dose series of measles-containing vaccines, with the first dose administered at 12-15 months and the second dose at 4-6 years of age. Most children receive their first dose of a measles-containing vaccine between the ages of 12 and 23 months; approximately 85% receive it by 19 months of age. The study found that receiving the first dose by 15 months provides a benefit to children.

"We found that the magnitude of increased risk of fever and seizures following immunization with measles-containing vaccines during the second year of life depends on age," said Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, MD, MPH, PhD, lead author of the study. "While measles-containing vaccines administered at 12-15 months of age are associated with a small risk of fever and seizures following immunization, delayed administration at 16-23 months of age results in a greater risk of those adverse events."

In line with CDC

Previous studies have shown that these vaccines administered to children 12-23 months of age are associated with an increased risk of febrile seizures one to two weeks following immunization. This is the period of time during which the vaccine virus replication is at its peak, potentially causing fever. The resulting fever may cause some children to experience a seizure.

"Kaiser Permanente's guidelines for measles-containing vaccines are in line with the CDC's recommendations," said Matthew F. Daley, MD, a pediatrician and senior investigator at Kaiser Permanente Colorado's Institute for Health Research. "This study's findings reinforce for parents that these vaccines are safer when children receive them at 12 to 15 months of age."

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IBISWorld sees Halloween spending slowing

Concerns about the economy appear to be spooking consumers

An uncertain economic and political environment, the government shutdown and worries about the nation's debt limit are combining to produce a tightening of...

PhotoAn uncertain economic and political environment, the government shutdown and worries about the nation's debt limit are combining to produce a tightening of holiday budgets this year.

According to IBISWorld, an industry and market research concern, total Halloween spending is anticipated to grow only 3.0% -- to $7.63 billion this year, compared with a 17.8% surge in 2012. Consumers are seen cutting back on discretionary purchases, including costumes and candy, as they gear up for a more frugal Christmas shopping season.

In its annual Halloween spending survey released in September, the National Retail Federation also projected a slowdown a slowdown in Halloween spending.

Costumes

Consumers to spend $2.76 billion on costumes, up just 1.5% from last year when spending on costumes soared 29.5%, thanks to strong consumer sentiment. A little more than half (50.4%) of this category’s revenue will come from adult costumes, while 47.7% will be generated through the sale of children’s costumes and another 1.9% from pet costumes.

IBISWorld expects most of the growth in this category will be driven by sales of children’s costumes with consumers likely to cut back significantly on spending on their pets this Halloween.

Fewer adults are expected to celebrate Halloween , the result of worries about the government shutdown. Moreover, those choosing to party hardy are likely to spend less on an outfit than they did last year, in an effort to curb discretionary costs. Thus, only a meager uptick in spending is expected this year.

Candy

Candy is the second-largest expenditure category on Halloween. This year, it's expected to total $2.25 billion, an increase of 2.7% over 2012 when candy sales shot up 12.3%. Candy is a small purchase for most households, so spending on it is not expected to be as constrained as costumes. However, concerns may also contribute to weaker demand this year as shoppers turn to more health-conscious treats like apples and sugar-free snacks.

Decorations

Although spending on decorations is also slowing, IBISWorld anticipates this category will enjoy the strongest revenue growth this year jumping 6.7% to $2.23 billion. Demand for decorations remains strong compared with the others because they can be a small and inexpensive way to get into the holiday spirit. Moreover, with the prevalence of social networking sites like Pinterest that highlight and encourage do-it-yourself (DIY) projects, consumers will be keener on sprucing up their spaces this year.

Greeting Cards

Greeting cards are a highly discretionary purchase, especially on occasions that are not traditionally focused on the family, like Halloween. Shoppers are likely to opt for more decorative and festive expenditures in lieu of greeting cards, causing the category to decline about 5.0% to $385.1 million. Despite the rise in popularity of artisan paper goods, consumers that choose to send cards will likely engage in DIY projects or e-mail and social media greetings instead.

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Broadcasters want Supreme Court to shut down Aereo

The Internet TV service is "transforming the industry," the broadcasters whine

Once you throw message in a bottle into the water, you have no control over what happens to it. It may sink. It may wash up on an uninhabited island. Or it...

PhotoOnce you throw message in a bottle into the water, you have no control over what happens to it. It may sink. It may wash up on an uninhabited island. Or it may be scooped out by someone who finds a way to sell it to millions of people at a profit.

Should you have any control over the bottle once it leaves your hand? That's the question the over-the-air TV industry wants the Supreme Court to consider.

Major broadcasters including ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox are appealing a ruling earlier this year by the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which denied their request to shut down Aereo, a streaming video service that is built on a technicality.

The technicality is this: You can't legally record a TV show and redistribute it to others for profit, because the show is intellectual property covered by copyright laws. Ah, but can you build an equipment rack just crammed with little tiny antennas that pull in the over-the-air signal -- the broadcasters' message in a bottle -- and sell the streaming video of that signal for profit? 

That's what a start-up called Aereo has been doing with great success. And is driving broadcasters and cable companies insane. Worse than that, it's eating into their profits.

Threatening the fundamentals

Photo
Aereo antennas on a circuit board

In their petition to the Supreme Court, the broadcasters say Aereo and the appeals court's decision are "already transforming the industry and threatening the very fundamentals of broadcast television."

But how can Aereo be threatening the TV industry when all it is doing is making it easier for consumers to get a decent signal without paying $100 or more per month for a cable TV feed from the likes of Comcast?

After all, in much of the country, it's difficult at best to get a decent over-the-air signal. Many people live too far away from the local station's transmitter. Others live in apartments or condos that don't allow big, bulky TV antennas.

Community antenna

Enter Aereo. The company is doing exactly what cable TV did in its early days, back when it was known as Community Antenna TV, or CATV. Back in the day, small towns were desperate for someone to come in and build a CATV system that would haul in signals from the ABC, CBS and NBC stations so taxpayers could watch "I Love Lucy," baseball and other staples of American life.

Although it does not say so in so many words, Aereo basically is doing the same thing -- simply acting as an antenna for folks who don't have their own.

Comcast Cable Service Oct. 14, 2013, 12:18 a.m.
Consumers rate Comcast Cable Service

For a mere $8 per month -- chump change by almost any definition -- Aereo delivers local TV signals in New York, Boston, Atlanta and other major markets. It plans to reach 22 cities by year's end and will unveil an Android mobile app this month.

You would think that broadcasters would be grateful. Aereo, after all, is helping them get viewers they might not otherwise have. Ah, but not so fast, say the broadcasters. They argue that Aereo is skimming off the handsome royalties that TV stations get from cable systems that carry their signal.

After all, if a majority of viewers cancel their cable contract and switch to Aereo, the cable systems won't want to pay those fat royalties to the TV stations anymore.  

"Free TV"

This, of course, has not always been the case. Within living memory, over-the-air broadcasters called themselves "Free TV." Of course, that was when they were fighting the -- you guessed it -- cable industry.

Broadcasters back then said it would ruin them financially if those rotten cable systems took their precious signals and bundled them in a cable feed to consumers. They said this with a straight face long enough and loud enough to strong-arm Congress and the courts into letting broadcasters put their hands into cable's pocket and extract some of the money placed there by consumers.

Now the cable systems that broadcasters said just a few decades ago were killing them are their partners in crime and it's Aereo that's killing them -- killing them! -- by not giving them even more money to produce the crap that we all watch every night.

Ring of truth?

PhotoIt doesn't really sound like a very convincing argument, does it? No, and so far the nation's judges don't think so either. Just last week, a federal judge in Boston refused to grant an injunction to stop Aereo from distributing WCVB-TV's signal, turning aside the station's argument that Aereo puts its "entire business model at risk."

That, of course, is not a matter for the courts. Business models rise and fall with consumer demand. If consumers stop buying your product, your business model is toast. 

Despite all their bleating about business models, freedom of information and so on, about all that broadcasters have to stand on legally is their claim that Aereo is violating copyright law, a fairly feeble argument when all Aereo is doing is the same thing as a piece of dipole cable hung out your window could do if your window faces the right way.

As it stands now, broadcasters -- and the cable industry, for that matter -- just may be on the wrong side of history. Consumer sentiment appears to be tiling towards getting TV the same way consumers get just about everything else now -- over the Internet, at a fraction of the former cost.

Filing a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court sounds good but it doesn't mean the court will hear the case, or that it will rule in the broadcasters' favor. No one else has, why should they?

So, while we have no opinion on the matter and would never think of giving investment advice, we would just say that we are examining our threadbare stock portfolio and will be dumping anything that remotely resembles TV broadcasting.

The guys with the puffy hair had a fun decade or so laughing at the newspaper industry's troubles. Let's say how they like it when it's their turn. 

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What happens if there is no debt deal?

The government will be running on fumes after Friday. It won't be pretty.

How much cash do you have on hand? Enough to get you through Friday? If so, you're in about the same shape as the U.S. government. It has about $30 billion...

PhotoHow much cash do you have on hand? Enough to get you through Friday? If so, you're in about the same shape as the U.S. government. It has about $30 billion cash on hand and could panhandle a few billion more if it had to.

But the standby borrowing power runs out by the end of the week or so, leaving only that $30 billion and whatever comes into the till thereafter. It's a pretty big till, but it still brings in only about 70 cents of each dollar the feds spend each day.

So, if there's no deal on raising the debt ceiling, President Obama will have to make some tough decisions by the end of the week. The problem is that such a huge portion of the federal budget consists of what are generally called entitlement and safety net payments -- Social Security, Medicare. Medicaid and programs that help the unemployed, elderly and disabled.

All those shouting heads on TV who say we have a debt crisis? Just wait and see what it's like to have a no-debt crisis. Like it or not, government spending is a major driver of the economy. 

The problem is huge. Even if Obama chose to shut down the FBI, FAA, NASA, CIA and assorted other agencies, it wouldn't make much of a dent in the daily deficit. While there are obviously all kinds of scenarios, some analysts say that as soon as Friday, Social Security checks, tax refunds, unemployment benefits and payments to Medicare and Medicaid providers might have to be delayed a few days, the Washington Post reports.

By November, things get worse. A lot worse. With nearly $60 billion due in the first few days of the month for soldiers' pay, Social Security and veterans benefits, it would take a few weeks for the till to accumulate that much cash -- which in turn would require shutting down or severely curtailing other federal programs that aren't already shut down.

Default or no default

Would all of this produce the "default" we keep hearing about it. Yes and no. A default on debt payments is one possible consequence of not raising the debt ceiling. The government would face some very stark choices: avoid default at all costs or continue to support the old, poor and sick.

It would not be able to do both.

All of this is bad, but what really scares economists is the effect that failing to make entitlement payments would have. The U.S. economy is, after all, a consumer-driven economy -- meaning that most of the money that is spent on goods and services comes from American consumers. Leaving tens of millions of them without income would devastate the economy, not to mention enraging a few hundred million voters.

The economy would dive into a steep recession that would quickly become a depression if no relief was forthcoming, many experts think. "Free fall" is the phrase most often heard.

What to do

What can consumers do to prepare for an economic cataclysm? The answer depends on your circumstances. Talking to your neighborhood survivalist might be the best bet. Failing that, hording cash and laying in a supply of inexpensive, nutritious food -- think rice and beans -- is the most obvious step along with avoiding any unnecessary expenses.

Not only those who rely on government checks will be affected. It's estimated that each $1 paid in entitlement benefits generates $1.70 in economic activity. The number is much higher for money paid to federal employees and contractors. This may mean the business that you rely on for your income may quickly be affected. 

If you have very little in the way of savings, this might be a good time to cancel things like expensive cable TV, smartphone and newspaper subscriptions. You might also want to see if you can cancel or suspend gym memberships, home security systems, housecleaning and other expenses that seem like necessities but will soon become luxuries if your income dries up. 

You might also want to start stretching out your bill payments to preserve as a much cash as possible. Sometimes our credit rating isn't as important as having a few bucks on hand.

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Consumers going deeper into debt

It marks a shift from post-recession borrowing

Happy days are here again, or so it would appear.Since 2008 consumers have been paying down their debt and not taking out so much new debt, in part becau...

PhotoHappy days are here again, or so it would appear.

Since 2008 consumers have been paying down their debt and not taking out so much new debt, in part because banks weren't lending. But there appears to have been an abrupt shift. Consumer debt is on the rise again, and so in fact is corporate borrowing.

Of course, not all debt is bad. If it's manageable it allows the consumer to increase purchasing power. Those purchases can stimulate the economy.

In its latest report on consumer credit, the Federal Reserve notes consumer debt increased at an annual rate of 5.5% in August. Revolving credit – things like credit cards – decreased at an annual rate of 1.25% while non-revolving credit – things like car loans -- increased at an annual rate of 8.0%. 

Student loan debt up 61%

The Fed's numbers show consumer credit surpassed the $3 trillion level in the second quarter of the year and has yet to show signs of slowing down. It has risen 22% since 2010. But in addition to buying new cars, Americans continue to go into debt to attend college. In the last three years student loan debt is up 61%.

Credit card debt is among the most expensive there is, with the average rate north of 14%. But since the financial crisis of 2008 revolving debt, which includes credit cards, has been steadily going down.

For example, in 2008 revolving credit debt totaled just over $1 trillion. By the end of 2012 it had fallen to $845 billion.

Non-revolving debt has been increasing in the last five years. It stood at $1.6 trillion in 2008 and by August was running at an annual rate of $2.1 trillion.

Expanded purchasing power

Both businesses and consumers use credit to purchase things that they otherwise would not be able to buy. A house is a good example. Very few consumers can come up with $200,000 to purchase a house so they take out a mortgage for $160,000 to $180,000.

PhotoOn one hand the availability of credit has an inflationary impact. If no one could borrow money to buy a house then houses would have to cost $10,000 to $20,000 or no one could afford them. But if houses were that cheap then builders could only pay their laborers pennies per hour and could only pay pennies for materials. So the lack of credit can have a deflationary impact.

That's what economic policymakers feared after the 2008 financial crisis when there was little credit available at any price. The fact that both consumers and businesses are able to borrow again – and are doing so – is going to be greeted as good news, as long as the credit is manageable.

Worries about college loan debt

Currently, the biggest worry about unmanageable credit is in college loans. That total has now surpassed the $1 trillion mark, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has voiced concern about how students will be able to repay their debt.

The agency is not alone. The Institute for College Access and Success estimates the average student will graduate with a loan balance of $26,000. Ten percent are expected to run up more than $40,000 in loans. 

Some economists worry student loan debt is a giant iceberg, waiting to sink not just students but the U.S. economy. True, the debt makes it hard for young people starting a career to buy cars, homes and other things that can help stimulate the economy.

But there is also a bigger worry. Since much of the student loan balance is guaranteed by the U.S. government, it's the U.S. taxpayer that takes the hit if these consumers default.

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Verily: the magazine promising freedom from Photoshop failure

Beauty standards and biological realities should not contradict each other

Verily, ladies, we say unto you: no matter how much money you spend and how many cosmetics you buy, you’ll never look as good as the model in the mak...

Photo
One of the too-tall gang?
Verily, ladies, we say unto you: no matter how much money you spend and how many cosmetics you buy, you’ll never look as good as the model in the makeup ad. Even the model in the makeup ad doesn’t actually look as good as the model in the makeup ad because, pre-publication, her picture was Photoshopped, airbrushed and otherwise altered to the point where her own mother would be hard-pressed to recognize her.

The problem with “beauty” advertising aimed at women (well, one problem with “beauty” advertising aimed at women), is that, thanks to the use of such alterations, the beauty industry often promotes standards that aren’t merely implausible, but biologically impossible. This has become so pervasive, there’s an entire subcategory of Internet meme known as the “Photoshop Fail,” with countless blogs dedicated to it.

In 2006, Dove tried turning this trope on its head with a well-regarded TV commercial/“short film” called “The Evolution of Beauty,” showing how an ordinary, attractive young model was transformed into an impossible billboard goddess: not just through the use of artful makeup and hairstyling techniques, but also by manipulating her final photo to lengthen her neck, move her cheekbones, make her eyes twice as large as reality, and other tricks that would be impossible even for a plastic surgeon to accomplish.

Eye of the needle

PhotoBut the rest of the beauty and fashion industry paid no attention. One of the more notorious examples of Photoshop failure came in 2009, when Ralph Lauren released an infamous catalog photo of a fashion model altered to look so skinny, the model ended up with a waistline narrower than her head.  

Now, though, a new women’s magazine is hoping to reverse this unrealistic trend by promising to use only genuine, un-manipulated photos. Last week, on Oct. 10, the Huffington Post’s Style section first took notice of Verily, a new women's magazine which promises its readers: "Whereas other magazines artificially alter images in Photoshop to achieve the so-called ideal body type or leave a maximum of three wrinkles, Verily never alters the body or face structure of the Verily models."

Should you doubt that such a policy (or magazine) is really necessary, it’s worth noting that on Oct. 11, barely 24 hours after HuffPo first made notice of Verily’s existence, the Photoshop Disasters blog displayed an actual fashion-catalog photo showing a model whose legs had been stretched to at least twice their actual length.

Perhaps the advertiser actually intended to portray the message “Hey, ladies, buy our dress if you want to look like a woman who’s had her ankles surgically replaced with subcutaneous circus stilts,” but we have yet to meet the fashionista willing to adopt this trend herself.

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Does pollution make you fat?

Reputable research studies suggest it does

Americans—along with everybody else in the industrialized world—have been growing fatter over the last couple of generations. But why? Dozens o...

PhotoAmericans—along with everybody else in the industrialized world—have been growing fatter over the last couple of generations. But why? Dozens of different causes have been suggested: It’s because food is less expensive and more readily available than ever before in history, so we generally eat more than our ancestors did. Or it’s because of sedentary lifestyles—our televisions, computers, desk jobs, lengthy car commutes and all the other reasons people sit still for hours at a time, rather than move around and burn calories.

These factors surely contribute to our expanding waistlines. But might environmental pollution also be a culprit? Because it’s not just people getting fatter in the modern world—animals are, too. Our pets, our laboratory animals, even the unwanted feral rats infesting our cities are all bigger than they were in our grandparents’ day, and maybe some of this comes from chemical pollutants that imitate various “fat” hormones naturally produced by our bodies.

Unlikely though this might sound, over the past decade and more there’s been a wide variety of research studies which seem to support the theory. Over at ProPublica, reporter David Epstein collected and summarized a sample range of these reports in a thought-provoking investigative article titled “Do These Chemicals Make Me Look Fat?”

Pet obesity

PhotoTo share just a couple of statistics: the National Pet Obesity Survey claims that over 50 percent of American cats and dogs are obese. Also, there exists a “National Pet Obesity Survey.”

Despite having pretty much the same diet and lifestyle as they ever did, American laboratory rats have grown steadily fatter over the last 30 years (which is several generations, for rats). This might, possibly, be blamed on other factors present in a laboratory environment (including exposure to antibiotics), except that feral rats studied in Baltimore have also grown fatter—without exposure to antibiotics or other factors present in a lab-rat lifestyle.

But today’s environments—whether natural, urban or laboratory—are all contaminated by trace amounts of various pollutants, including growth hormones fed to livestock, and toxic ingredients in widely used insecticides, fungicides and other anti-pest poisons. These pollutants, in turn, can affect people’s (or animal’s) bodily systems in a variety of ways, either mimicking or suppressing the functions of various hormones.

As obesity researcher Emily Dhurandhar said to ProPublica, “Obesity really is more complex than couch potatoes and gluttons.”

 

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Kids a pain? Send them to bed

A new study finds irregular bedtimes are linked to behavioral problems

Is there anything more annoying at the end of a busy day, or in the grocery store -- or anywhere for that matter -- than a cranky kid? Maybe he needs more ...

PhotoIs there anything more annoying at the end of a busy day, or in the grocery store -- or anywhere for that matter -- than a cranky kid? Maybe he needs more sleep.

Researchers from University College London (UCL) have found that children with irregular bedtimes are more likely to have behavioral difficulties.

According to the study, published in the journal Pediatrics, irregular bedtimes could disrupt natural body rhythms and cause sleep deprivation, undermining brain maturation and the ability to regulate certain behaviors.

"Not having fixed bedtimes, accompanied by a constant sense of flux, induces a state of body and mind akin to jet lag and this matters for healthy development and daily functioning," said UCL Epidemiology & Public Health Professor Yvonne Kelly. "We know that early child development has profound influences on health and well-being across the life course. It follows that disruptions to sleep, especially if they occur at key times in development, could have important lifelong impacts on health."

Bed-check

Analyzing data from more than 10,000 children in the UK Millennium Cohort Study, the team collected bedtime data at three, five and seven years, as well as incorporating reports from the children's mothers and teachers on behavioral problems.

The study found a clear clinical and statistically significant link between bedtimes and behavior as irregular bedtimes affected children's behavior by disrupting circadian rhythms, leading to sleep deprivation that affects the developing brain.

As children progressed through early childhood without a regular bedtime, their behavioral scores -- which included hyperactivity, conduct problems, problems with peers and emotional difficulties -- worsened. However, children who switched to a more regular bedtime had clear improvements in their behavior.

Cumulative, but reversible

"What we've shown is that these effects build up incrementally over childhood, so that children who always had irregular bedtimes were worse off than those children who did have a regular bedtime at one or two of the ages when they were surveyed,” said Kelly. "But our findings suggest the effects are reversible. For example, children who change from not having to having regular bedtimes show improvements in their behavior."

Irregular bedtimes were most common at the age of three, when around one in five children went to bed at varying times. However, by the age of seven, more than half the children went to bed regularly between 7:30 and 8:30 pm. Children whose bedtimes were irregular or who went to bed after 9:00 pm came from more socially disadvantaged backgrounds, and this was factored into the study findings.

"As it appears the effects of inconsistent bedtimes are reversible, one way to try and prevent this would be for health care providers to check for sleep disruptions as part of routine health care visits,” Kelly concluded. “Given the importance of early childhood development on subsequent health, there may be knock-on effects across the life course. Therefore, there are clear opportunities for interventions aimed at supporting family routines that could have important lifelong impacts."

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JC Penney sued on behalf of investors

But while investors may be unhappy, consumer complaints have died down

JC Penney sued on behalf of investorsA San Diego, Calif., law firm has filed a class action suit against J.C. Penney, accusing the beleaguered retailer o...

PhotoA San Diego law firm has filed a class action suit against J.C. Penney, accusing the beleaguered retailer of federal securities fraud.

The action, submitted by Robbins Arroyo LLP, alleges that the company and certain of its officers violated the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934. Specifically, the suit focuses on events of September 27, when Penney's stock suffered a huge one-day loss.

Previously, the company had announced it was issuing additional stock, using the proceeds to fund operations through the end of the year.

Misrepresentation?

The suit claims that was a misrepresentation. In fact, it says the company would have insufficient liquidity to get through year-end and would require additional investments to make it through the holiday season. The suit further claims Penneys was concealing its need for liquidity so as not to add to its vendors' concerns.

The suit says a September 26th analyst's report found the company would need to take on additional debt to ensure that it had enough cash to keep its business operations going. The following day Penney's common stock fell 13% on the New York Stock Exchange.

While the suit seeks to sign up unhappy Penney's stockholders, the heavy stream of complaints from unhappy consumers – so prevalent beginning with Penney's radical make-over in early 2012 – seems to have died down. A recent Penney's review at ConsumerAffairs, from a young bride-to-be shopping for a ring, was positively glowing.

Glowing review

“Other jewelry retailers and department stores just didn't have what I wanted, and they definitely didn't offer much when it came to prices,” wrote Jamie, of Broken Arrow, Okla. “I found my ring after taking my mom's advice to check JC Penney's site, and there it was! The ring was unique but somehow still classic in style, it was of excellent quality, and it was totally affordable. I showed my fiancé and, needless to say, a few months later I was wearing the ring and planning our wedding! At the proposal, it was the first time I had ever seen my ring in "real life" and it was even better and sparklier (sic) than I had imagined. He was even able to get it on sale and afford the lifetime care package! I have never been happier and I love my ring so much.”

A year ago the retailer was getting very few positive reviews as consumers objected to the change in course the store had taken under new CEO Ron Johnson, a former Apple executive installed at the urging of major board member Bill Ackman.

"Ackman officially exits stage left, having brought an American retailing icon to its knees," Brian Sozzi, CEO and chief equities strategist at Belus Capital Advisors, wrote in a note to clients in August.

Radical changes

 

J.C. Penney Oct. 14, 2013, 6:02 p.m.
Consumers rate J.C. Penney

In January 2012 J.C. Penney, which had steadily been losing money and had the reputation as a rather conservative and stodgy retailer, attempted to remake itself as younger and hipper, hoping to pull customers from Target and other more contemporary retailers. In the process, they managed to alienate – some analysts think by design – the core J.C. Penney customer base.

 

The old customers didn't like the new pricing structure, which did away with sales and coupons. It didn't like the make-up of the stores, which jettisoned traditional brands and turned over floor space to vendors for kiosks. The old customers left and the new customers never showed up.

Now the old J.C. Penney is back, doing things the way they did before. Will it be enough to save the brand? Perhaps it's too early to tell.

But the fact that the store gets an online review from a happy consumer – and a young one at that – has got to give the retailer some hope.

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Postal Service defaults, but the mail still goes through

USPS is profitable but bankrupt -- how is that possible?

The United States Postal Service is sort of like Congress -- everybody complains about it. On the other hand, it's sort of not like Congress -- it is still...

PhotoThe United States Postal Service is sort of like Congress -- everybody complains about it. On the other hand, it's sort of not like Congress -- it is, after all, still delivering the mail while Congress fails in its duty to keep the government functioning.

Both USPS and Congress figure prominently in occasional surveys of which federal agencies consumers trust and admire. USPS is generally near or at the top while Congress is near or at the bottom.

Beyond that, both the Postal Service and Congress have been dealing with the issue of default lately: the Postal Service defaulted on a $5.6 billion payment last month, and Congress appears to be unable to find a way to avoid letting the United States default on its obligations.

USPS -- an independent government corporation (admittedly an oxymoron but legally accurate) -- is a favorite target of angry consumers whose mail gets lost, drenched, shredded or otherwise mishandled, although for the most part, United States mail service remains generally affordable and reliable. It's also a favorite target of conservatives in Congress and elsewhere, who would like to take a meat axe to its budget and its operations and would like to weaken the power of its unionized workforce.

The real problem

Consumers rate USPS - Lost Mail

What is really going on here? Like so many things involving Washington, the answer is somewhat murky. The most benign explanation is that back in 2006, USPS was very profitable and a roomful of great Congressional minds decided it would be a good idea to burn off some of that extra cash by funding retiree health benefits far into the future. How far? Well, would you believe 75 years?

In fact, so quickly were the profits piling up that it was decided to require the Postal Service to make those 75 years of payments in 10 years.

As has been true of so many debacles, it seemed like a good idea at the time. What no one foresaw was the 2008 financial collapse that has come to be known as the Great Recession. Mail volume plummeted and so did the excess profits that were earmarked to pay down future health benefits.

The result is that the Postal Service is still profitable -- by the thinnest of margins -- on a day-to-day basis, i.e., the money it takes in from postal customers pays its operating costs but can't cover the yearly health benefit paydown.

This year, for example, USPS was supposed to pay $4.2 billion in prefunding. Its red ink for the year is $3.9 billion. In other words, the Postal Service is profitable to the tune of about $330 million, if you don't count the health benefit costs of retirees who haven't retired and, in some cases, haven't even been born yet.

Friends in Congress

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Rep. Connolly

While the Postal Service has plenty of enemies in Congress, it also has some friends. One of them is Democratic Rep. Gerald Connolly, from Fairfax, Va., a Washington surburb that is home to thousands of federal workers of all kinds.

Connolly and Rep. Don Young, an Alaska Republican, last year urged Congress to relieve the prefunding obligation, saying that would be the best way to "protect the infrastructure of a $1 trillion mailing industry while maintaining universal service for all Americans — rural, suburban, and urban.”

Connolly and Young suggested there are alternatives, such as restructuring the Retirement Health Benefit prefunding requirement, refunding USPS overpayments into federal retirement programs, and permitting USPS to adopt new business practices that would allow USPS to forgo these drastic cuts in service. 

Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, were pushing legislation that would require USPS to eliminate Saturday mail delivery, close rural post offices and end next-day mail service.

Nothing much happened

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Patrick Donahoe

As is not unusual on Capitol Hill, nothing much happened. The issue is up for discussion again this year and again there is talk of relieving USPS of the prefunding obligation. Doing so would reduce the  amount USPS spends on health care from 20 cents of every revenue dollar to 8 cents — or about $8 billion annually through 2016, Postmaster General Pat Donahoe told a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing in September.

"Today, the Postal Service and its employees are paying for benefits we do not use," Donahoe said. "We are, effectively, buying insurance we do not need and we're overpaying for it."

"There is no single easy solution to this problem," said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the committee chairman and the co-author, along with the committee's ranking member Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) of the Senate's draft reform bill. "It's been a problem years in the making and will take years to fully address. But with urgent action from Congress, the collapse of the Postal Service is avoidable." 

In the Republican-controlled House, there is more emphasis on cost-cutting and delivery cutbacks. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in July passed a measure drafted by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the committee chairman. It would require elimination of door-to-door delivery, replacing it with neighborhood "cluster-box" service.

Of course, there are hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of urgent matters awaiting Congress' attention but the likelihood of anything getting done in the midst of the ongoing Capitol Hill train wreck is slim, creating an ongoing cliff-hanger that appears unlikely to end well. 

Business is brisk

PhotoNews reports and politicians' bombast often paint the Postal Service as being old, tired, irrelvant and unnecessary in the Internet Age. But some USPS union insiders paint a different picture: they say the Internet has actually been good for the Postal Service.

That may sound odd, and it is true that the volume of first-class mailings is down as consumers increasingly switch to email and online banking to handle routine tasks. But package delivery -- driven largely by online shopping -- is up 9% this year and is rising five times faster than first-class mail.

Donahoe doesn't buy this argument. He recently described the Internet's disruption as "unrelenting."

"If we hadn’t lost the volume of bill payment to online, we wouldn’t have defaulted on our prefunding obligations. We wouldn’t have had to close the plants, and we’d be profitable with no debt," he told Businessweek in August, calculating the loss in first-class mailings at $14 billion annually.

What the Postal Service has that no one can match is its network. Of course, no private company in its right mind would want to match that network, much of which is unprofitable, so that the USPS network is at once a great asset and a great liability.

Since by law it can't retreat from serving remote and sparsely-populated areas, the Postal Service is limited to cutting back the frequency of service, raising rates, looking for new cost savings and trying to bolster other lines of service, like package delivery.    

But with Amazon and other online giants working to develop their own same-day delivery arms in urban areas, USPS faces the prospect that, a few years down the road, its package delivery service will be losing large swaths of its most profitable service areas while having to continue serving unprofitable rural areas.

It's tempting to throw up your hands and say, "Just privatize it and be done with it." And that's just what the Brits are doing -- the Royal Mail is going private. But with all of Britain amounting to less land area than Oregon, it's hardly a comparable situation.

That isn't stopping some postal worker union leaders from accusing Donahoe of angling to privatize the USPS -- a charge that Donahoe says makes no sense.

"Even in a no-tax world, we would still have razor-thin margins and universal service at a universal price. Any private company would be afraid to sign up for a deal like this," he said in the August Businessweek interview.

What's left? The only apparent solution is to keep trimming costs, raising prices and getting out from under the burdensome healthcare payments. And all that takes is immediate action from, who else, Congress. It's not a situation that inspires confidence.

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Emotionally investing in the world's most-loved companies

As if intra-human personal relationships weren't complicated enough

Any reputable psychologist will tell you that "emotional connections" are the key to happy, healthy interpersonal relationships. Indeed, a comp...

PhotoAny reputable psychologist will tell you that “emotional connections” are the key to happy, healthy interpersonal relationships. Indeed, a complete inability to make emotional connections with other people is a severe flaw and the defining characteristic of a sociopath.

But what about an inability to forge emotional connections with wealthy multinational corporate brands who are trying to make money off of you? I apparently suffer from this condition, and was brutally reminded of my emotionally stunted state when I read this update from the world of marketing news:

Washington, D.C. (Oct. 10, 2013) - APCO Insight, the global opinion research consultancy at APCO Worldwide, revealed today its list of the 100 Most Loved Companies. The Walt Disney Company tops the list followed by Yahoo!, Google and Sony respectively.

APCO's proprietary Emotional LinkingSM model served as the basis for evaluating the companies by measuring consumers' emotional attachment to brands along eight dimensions, providing companies with a roadmap to understanding consumer expectations in an actionable way.

Um … okay. Maybe their definition of “love” differs from my own? Because love does not focus on value, quality and convenience, but consumers dealing with companies should.

I’d never dump my One True Love in exchange for a newer model just because the latter offers to reduce my monthly transportation costs by five percent, but if a new car could do that I’d discard my old one without so much as a Dear John letter. I’ll put up with a boring weekend if my OTL is sick abed, even spend extra time, money and effort to buy my OTL some medicine and fruit juice if necessary, but one boring, costly, inconvenient weekend at a vacation resort is enough for me to tell the resort company “We’re through.”

"The best brands are those that build a strong, enduring emotional attachment with consumers," said Bryan Dumont, president, APCO Insight. "In addition to acting as a highly predictive tool for consumers' purchase choices, the Emotional Linking model has proven to be an excellent way to help companies retool their campaigns to build stronger emotional attachments between their key audiences and their brands."

PhotoAny reputable psychologist will tell you that facial expressions are an important means by which human beings forge emotional links with others—Baby smiles for the first time, Mama’s heart melts in response and blah blah blah strengthening the emotional link ‘twixt mother and child, for example.

So it’s probably ironic that, on the same day Disney made APCO-generated headlines for being the most loved and emotionally linked company in the world, Disney also got a headline in the Christian Science Monitor when writer Mark Sappenfield published a fascinating article titled “New Disney princess outrage: Is ‘Frozen’ only for ‘pretty’ girls?”

The story immediately generated online controversy, but the bulk of the uproar wasn’t over the unsurprising revelation that Disney princesses tend to be pretty; instead, attention focused on a Disney animator’s admission that the company will downplay characters’ facial expressions to emphasize its standards of beauty.

Slate’s Double X blog summarized it as, “Women are hard to animate because they have emotions, says Disney,” while Opposing Views gave it the headline “Disney animator admits to sacrificing emotional range in princesses to ‘keep them pretty’.”

So maybe that’s why I haven’t made a deep emotional connection with the Disney corporation. Or maybe it’s because my emotional wellspring is already flowing toward actual people I know—friends, family, neighbors, OTL—and the idea that consumers are supposed to have deep emotional attachments with the companies who make their stuff is just a cynical marketing ploy.

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Study: Ethanol not a major factor in reducing gas prices

An MIT economist says it doesn't affect what you pay at the pump

Remember all those years ago when were were told that adding an ethanol blend would cut dependence on imported oil and bring down the price of gasoline? Di...

PhotoRemember all those years ago when we were told that adding an ethanol blend would cut dependence on imported oil and bring down the price of gasoline? Didn't happen, at least on the price end of it, according to a paper co-written by an MIT economist.

In the study, Christopher Knittel seeks to rebut the claim -- broadly aired over the past couple of years -- that widespread use of ethanol has reduced the wholesale cost of gasoline by $0.89 to $1.09 per gallon. He says whatever the benefits or drawbacks of ethanol, price issues are not among them right now.

“The point of our paper is not to say that ethanol doesn’t have a place in the marketplace, but it’s more that the facts should drive this discussion,” says Knittel, the William Barton Rogers Professor of Energy and a professor of applied economics at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

The 10% solution?

Most of the ethanol sold in the U.S. is made from corn and constitutes 10% of U.S. gasoline, up 7% from 2003.

Whether that increase in ethanol content produces serious savings at the pump, as some claim, is another story. Knittel and his co-author, economist Aaron Smith of the University of California at Davis, contest such an assertion in their paper, which is to be published in The Energy Journal.

Crack ratio

The claim that ethanol lowers prices derives from a previous study on the issue, which Knittel and Smith believe is problematic. That prior work involves what energy economists call the “crack ratio,” which is effectively the price of gasoline divided by the price of oil.

The crack ratio is something energy analysts can use to understand the relative value of gasoline compared to oil: The higher the crack ratio, the more expensive gasoline is in relative terms. If ethanol were a notably cheap component of gasoline production, its increasing presence in the fuel mix might reveal itself in the form of a decreasing crack ratio.

So while gasoline is made primarily from oil, there are other elements that figure into the cost of refining gasoline. Thus if oil prices double, Knittel points out, gasoline prices do not necessarily double. But in general, when oil prices -- as the denominator of this fraction -- go up, the crack ratio itself falls.

The previous work evaluated time periods when oil prices rose, and the percentage of ethanol in gasoline also rose.

But Knittel and Smith assert that the increased proportion of ethanol in gasoline merely correlated with the declining crack ratio, and did not contribute to it in any causal sense. Instead, they think that changing oil prices drove the change in the crack ratio, and that when those prices are accounted for, the apparent effect of ethanol “simply goes away,” as Knittel says.

“In the very short run, if ethanol vanished tomorrow, we would be scrambling to find fuel to cover that for a week, or less than a month,” Knittel says. “But certainly within a month, increases in imports would relax or reduce that price impact.”

Knittel acknowledges that policy decisions about gasoline production are driven by a complex series of political factors, and says his study is not intended to directly convey any policy preferences on his part. Still, he suggests that even ethanol backers in policy debates have reason to keep examining its value.

“Making claims about the benefits of ethanol that are overblown is only going to set up policymakers for disappointment,” Knittel says.

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T-Mobile eliminates international roaming charges for data in 100+ countries

It's the latest T-Mobile kick in the shins for the Big Two and a Half

Shakira, T-Mobile's new "collaborator"Ever since its merger with AT&T went south, T-Mobile has been on a roll. It's eliminated long-term contracts,...

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Shakira, T-Mobile's new "collaborator"

Ever since its merger with AT&T went south, T-Mobile has been on a roll. It's eliminated long-term contracts, subsidized phones and in the process says it has signed 685,000 new customers in the second quarter of 2013 -- more than AT&T, Verizon and Sprint combined.

While these mildly revolutionary changes have been popular with consumers, they've infuriated T-Mobile's big competitors, who had things set up just the way they liked them.

Now, T-Mobile -- which has taken to calling itself "the Un-carrier" -- has delivered another kick to the shins of the Big Two and a Half by eliminating international data roaming charges in more than 100 countries. Just to make sure it has everyone's attention, it has also signed Shakira as its newest "collaborator." 

Or as T-Mobile puts it, it's "delivering unlimited global data at no extra charge in 100+ countries -- making the company's home data coverage area larger than AT&T's and Verizon's combined."

"The cost of staying connected across borders is completely crazy," said John Legere, president and CEO of T-Mobile US, Inc., at an outdoor concert in New York a few nights ago. "Today's phones are designed to work around the world, but we're forced to pay insanely inflated international connectivity fees to actually use them. You can't leave the country without coming home to bill shock. So we're making the world your network -- at no extra cost."

Americans take about 55 million trips to destinations outside the U.S. every year, Legere noted. When U.S. customers use their phones abroad the way they normally do at home, their costs often total $1,000 a day or more. So more than 40 percent of customers turn off data roaming completely. Another 20 percent more say they would if they knew how.

"It doesn't have to be this way," Legere said. "The truth is that the industry's been charging huge fees for data roaming. But what's most surprising is that no one's called them out -- until now."

Details, details

Consumers rate T-Mobile Billing Disputes

As T-Mobile explains it, it's expanding the home data coverage for most Simple Choice customers to include more than 100 countries, at no extra charge. Starting Oct. 31, these Simple Choice individual and business customers automatically get unlimited data and texting in more than 100 Simple Global countries worldwide; they will pay a global flat rate of 20 cents per minute for voice calls when roaming in the same countries.

Eligible customers on T-Mobile's popular Simple Choice plan won't have to activate anything or pay an extra monthly fee.

T-Mobile also announced a new plan for calling between the U.S. and other countries -- the Stateside International Talk & Text feature. It said customers never pay more than 20 cents a minute to any number in any Simple Global country, including mobile to mobile.

Calls to landlines in more than 70 of these countries are unlimited and included at no extra cost. Unlimited texting is also included to all countries. Stateside International Talk & Text is available to most Simple Choice customers for $10 a month.

In network news, T-Mobile announced that its latest-generation 4G LTE network is now nationwide, reaching more than 200 million people in 233 metros across the United States.

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Want to see your name in digits? Just praise a product on Google Plus

Google announces its version of Facebook's "Sponsored Stories"

Want to make big bucks by endorsing products in Google ads? It's easy to do as long as you omit the big bucks part. Following in the footsteps of Facebook,...

PhotoWant to make big bucks by endorsing products in Google ads? It's easy, as long as you omit the big bucks part. Following in the footsteps of Facebook, Google plans to start selling its users' endorsements to advertisers.

This means that if you give five stars to a movie or coffee concoction on Google Plus or YouTube, your name, photo and comments may wind up in ads shown to your friends and just about everybody else on Google's network of about two million affiliated sites.

Facebook pioneered this practice, which many users find creepy or downright predatory, and found itself in hot water, not to mention a class action lawsuit. Google is proceeding with a little more caution, however. It is serving notice in advance of the Nov. 11 start date, thorugh changes to its terms of service and says it will post notices on its home page and elsewhere. Users will be able to opt out, Google promises. 

Google also says that only adults -- those over 18 -- will be featured in the endorsements. No kids allowed.

High praise

Advertisers love these endorsements. They're considered the highest form of praise -- basically your friends (or people who would be your friends if you ever met them) passing on inside tips on what's hot and what's not.

They're like the reviews on Yelp, ConsumerAffairs and other peer review sites, except -- hey -- they're all positive.

 

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Is it time to reinvent the PC?

Sales figures show the machine is losing favor with consumers

Personal computers, and the companies that make them, are not feeling the love lately. Consumers have swooned over tablets and now use their smartphones fo...

PhotoPersonal computers, and the companies that make them, are not feeling the love lately. Consumers have swooned over tablets and now use their smartphones for most of the things for which they once used a desktop computer.

The evidence is in black and white in Gartner, Inc.'s report on third quarter PC shipments. Worldwide 80.3 million units shipped, down 8.6% from the same period in 2012. The third quarter is especially important to computer makers, much like the fourth quarter is to retailers.

"The third quarter is often referred to as the 'back-to-school' quarter for PC sales, and sales this quarter dropped to their lowest volume since 2008," said Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner. "Consumers' shift from PCs to tablets for daily content consumption continued to decrease the installed base of PCs both in mature as well as in emerging markets. A greater availability of inexpensive Android tablets attracted first-time consumers in emerging markets, and as supplementary devices in mature markets."

Lenovo and HP lead

Consumers who did purchase PCs favored both Lenovo and HP, which both had more than 15% of the third quarter market. Dell, the one-time leading PC manufacturer, was in third place with 11.6% of the market and Acer Group and Asus rounded out the top five.

Has the PC gone the way of the VCR and the printed telephone book? It may be on that track unless some innovator comes up with a way to make it new and exciting. How can they do that? For starters, how about making it smaller?

There are already a number of small PCs a fraction of the size of the traditional tower CPUs you normally think of. The Lenovo IdeaCentre Q190 Desktop PC – model number 57313339 – measures about six by seven and a half inches and is less than an inch thick. It's not an especially powerful workhorse, as the $395 price tag would suggest, but it sports an Intel Celeron 887 1.50GHz processor, 4GB DDR3, 500GB HDD, DVD-rewritable drive, Windows 8 64-bit, and comes with a keyboard.

While the CPU is small, there isn't much you can do to shrink a functional keyboard, unfortunately. Then there's the matter of a monitor. While flat screens have replaced the clunky tube-based monitors of yesteryear, size is usually seen as an advantage with a monitor.

Small screen

PhotoBut if you are trying to take up less space on your desk Double Sight makes a nine-inch display, weighing only a pound and a half and selling for $130.

Earlier this year Xi3 Corporation introduced a tiny desktop, the Z3RO Pro – a desktop computer small and light enough to fit in your pocket. Initial reviews were mostly positive though reviewers mostly saw its utility in entertainment systems or to power digital signage – applications where its compact size would make it attractive.

Because as small as the Z3RO Pro is, to make it useful for a consumer it still requires a screen and keyboard – two items that likely will never be small enough to fit in your pocket.

That, of course, is why there are notebook computers – portable PCs that have consistently gotten smaller and lighter over the years. A few years ago the “netbook” was introduced as an alternative to the notebook – smaller and lighter. The new Chromebooks are an update and refinement of that.

Workhorses

They, and PCs in general, are and probably always will be needed by people who want a machine to help them work, not play games, watch movies and post to Facebook. Mobile devices are fine for that, but if you have to knock out a term paper or cover a story for the Daily Eagle, chances are you'll find a tablet not up to the job. Unless you're really good at one-finger typing, you'll need a PC.

There may be a developer somewhere trying to reinvent the PC, to breathe new life into the machine that started the technology revolution. Those of us who depend on these machines for our livelihood can only hope it will still have a keyboard.

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Real estate market sending mixed signals

Sales and prices are falling but so is inventory

After months of a strong and stable recovery, U.S. home sales have slowed going into Autumn and prices have dipped. Even so, inventory remains tight in man...

PhotoAfter months of a strong and stable recovery, U.S. home sales have slowed going into Autumn and prices have dipped. Even so, inventory remains tight in many markets, according to a number of industry sources.

Though prices and conditions will vary by market, Zip Realty's Housing Trends Report shows home prices are moderating nationwide.

"The fall's cooler temps are being matched by a cooling off in the housing market's red-hot trends," said Lanny Baker, CEO and President of ZipRealty. "For the month ended Sept. 15, median homes sale prices in the 24 metropolitan areas surveyed were up 14% year-over-year, compared to a nearly 16% gain one month earlier. Median sale prices were higher than a year ago in all cities studied, but the year to year median price increases shrank in 19 out of 24 markets. The median sale price of about $272,000 in mid-September was also about twp percent lower than in mid-August 2013."

Further moderation

The report said sold-to-list price ratios, new listings volume, pending sales volume, and days on market data for mid-September also all suggested further moderation.

Redfin, another online real estate brokerage, says its data suggests sellers are losing control of the market, with buyers once again gaining the upper hand. However, its survey of agents found many believe that limited inventory and bidding wars remain the biggest challenges for buyers.

Redfin says a slowing of sales and price rises heading into fall is not surprising. In September, it said home sales, prices, and inventory all dropped from August.

However, in September prices had their third consecutive month-over-month drop, falling 2.2%. Home sales dropped 18.8% from August, and inventory fell 3.4%. Year over year, the housing market is still showing strength, the company said, with prices up 15.9% and home sales up 8.1%.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) also noted a cooling in the market with a report that pending home sales – contracts signed but not yet closed – dipped 1.6% in August. NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said much of the buying occurred earlier in the summer.

Lower sales expected

“Sharply rising mortgage interest rates in the spring motived buyers to make purchase decisions, culminating in a six-and-a-half-year peak for sales that were finalized in August,” he said. “Moving forward, we expect lower levels of existing-home sales, but tight inventory in many markets will continue to push up home prices in the months ahead.”

And there is little to suggest the tight inventory conditions will change anytime soon. CoreLogic, a property data firm, reports the inventory of foreclosed homes is down 33% from a year ago, meaning there are fewer distressed properties competing with homeowners trying to sell.

According to the report there were 48,000 completed foreclosures in the U.S. in August of 2013, down from 72,000 in August 2012. That's a year-over-year decrease of 34%. On a month-over-month basis, completed foreclosures increased 1.3 percent, from 47,000 in July 2013.

Putting it in context

However, the numbers should be viewed in context. CoreLogic notes that the 48,000 completed foreclosures are sharply lower that at the height of the housing crisis, but they are still sharply higher than before the crisis began. Between 2000 and 2006 completed foreclosures averaged 21,000 per month. Still, for the health of the housing market, the numbers are running in the right direction.

“The foreclosure inventory continues to improve, as exhibited by these recent numbers,” said Dr. Mark Fleming, chief economist for CoreLogic. “A surge in completed foreclosures and a rise in the foreclosure inventory is unlikely given continued house price improvements and shortages of supply in many markets.”

What it means is the housing market may maintain some balance heading into the end of the year, which should turn out to be good for everyone.

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What's really in that nutritional supplement you're taking?

Only 2 of 44 products studied actually contained what they claimed to

Study: Herbal products omit ingredients, contain fillersConsumers of natural health products beware. The majority of herbal products on the market contai...

PhotoMany people have a lot of faith in so-called "natural" health products and nutrition supplements, despite a lack of regulation and evidence that the substances are actually beneficial.

And now a study finds that of 44 herbal products tested, only two actually contained what they claimed to contain with no substitutes, contaminants or fillers.

The study, conoducted by researchers at the University of Guelph, was published today in the open access journal BMC Medicine. It used DNA barcoding technology to test 44 herbal products sold by 12 companies.

Overall, nearly 60 per cent of the herbal products contained plant species not listed on the label. Researchers detected product substitution in 32 per cent of the samples. More than 20 per cent of the products included fillers such as rice, soybeans and wheat not listed on the label.

"Contamination and substitution in herbal products present considerable health risks for consumers," said lead author Steven Newmaster, an integrative biology professor and botanical director of the Guelph-based Biodiversity Institute of Ontario (BIO), home of the Canadian Centre for DNA Barcoding.

"We found contamination in several products with plants that have known toxicity, side effects and/or negatively interact with other herbs, supplements and medications."

Allergy risks

Photo
Steven Newmaster (Photo: University of Guelph)

One product labelled as St. John's wort contained Senna alexandrina, a plant with laxative properties. It's not intended for prolonged use, as it can cause chronic diarrhea and liver damage and negatively interacts with immune cells in the colon.

Several herbal products contained Parthenium hysterophorus (feverfew), which can cause swelling and numbness in the mouth, oral ulcers, and nausea. It also reacts with medications metabolized by the liver.

One ginkgo product was contaminated with Juglans nigra (black walnut), which could endanger people with nut allergies.

Unlabelled fillers such as wheat, soybeans and rice are also a concern for people with allergies or who are seeking gluten-free products, Newmaster said.

"It's common practice in natural products to use fillers such as these, which are mixed with the active ingredients. But a consumer has a right to see all of the plant species used in producing a natural product on the list of ingredients."

DNA evidence

Until now, verifying what's inside capsules or tablets has posed challenges, Newmaster said. His research team developed standard methods and tests using DNA barcoding to identify and authenticate ingredients in herbal products.

"There is a need to protect consumers from the economic and health risks associated with herbal product fraud. Currently there are no standards for authentication of herbal products."

Medicinal herbs now constitute the fastest-growing segment of the North American alternative medicine market, with more than 29,000 herbal substances sold, he said.

More than 1,000 companies worldwide make medicinal plant products worth more than $60 billion a year.

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Heidi Klum stroller flunks Consumer Reports safety test

Safety harness failed to stay securely latched during tests

It's a little hard to figure out why Heidi Klum's name would be attached to a baby stroller. To lend an aura of German precision maybe? Sadly, that turns o...

PhotoIt's a little hard to figure out why Heidi Klum's name would be attached to a baby stroller. To lend an aura of German precision maybe? Sadly, that turns out not to be the case with the "Heidi Klum Truly Scrumptious Travel System" stroller, which was judged a “Don’t Buy” Safety Risk by Consumer Reports.

The magazine's testers said the stroller's safety harness failed to stay securely latched during tests. Of the more than 100 strollers in Consumer Reports’ Ratings, the Truly Scrumptious Travel System -- made by the Dorel Juvenile Group -- was the only one with this problem.

Falls are the biggest stroller risk by far: Roughly 75 percent of the estimated 46,200 stroller-related emergency-room visits between January 2008 and December 2011 happened because children tumbled out of their stroller, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. A stroller’s harness is supposed to prevent falls by staying securely latched when in use, according to the voluntary industry safety standard.

But on the Truly Scrumptious Travel System TR252BQR by Heidi Klum, $220, one side of the buckle released intermittently on three samples in Consumer Reports’ latest stroller tests.

Sold at Babies "R" Us

Babies R Us Oct. 11, 2013, 4:24 p.m.
Consumers rate Babies R Us
The Truly Scrumptious is part of a line of strollers and other baby products marketed by the supermodel and TV star and sold exclusively at Babies “R” Us. Like other travel systems designed to accommodate children from birth up to four years, this one includes the stroller and a detachable infant car seat with its own restraint system and base.

Consumer Reports tested the product as part of its regular travel system tests. The car seat and its restraint system performed well in its separate car-seat tests. But when Consumer Reports testers applied force where the harness attaches to the buckle itself, the buckle’s right side released 10 out of 15 times on three separate samples—three times during five tests with one sample, in two of five tests with a second sample, and in all five tests with a third sample.

The buckle also released in Consumer Reports’ impact test. Patterned after the voluntary standard, this test simulates a stroller hitting a curb and is designed to evaluate the stroller’s frame and its folding, locking, and latching mechanisms—not its restraint system. This time, the buckle’s right side released one out of five times on each of two samples, and five out of five times on a third sample.

Consumer Reports doesn’t know of any injuries associated with the Truly Scrumptious Travel System. But the organization believes it poses a safety concern and has designated the Truly Scrumptious Travel System TR252BQR by Heidi Klum a Don’t Buy: Safety Risk as a result of its tests.

Consumer Reports contacted the Dorel Juvenile Group, which makes the stroller. Dorel said it disagrees with Consumer Reports’ conclusions, based on its own internal and outside testing, and has had no reports or complaints about buckle releases.

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Status symbol for seniors: a hybrid

A new study suggests it's good for the image and the environment

Feeling old and uncool? A Baylor University study says "going green" in a hybrid car may raise your self-esteem and image, in addition to giving a healthy ...

PhotoFeeling old and uncool? A Baylor University study says "going green" in a hybrid car may raise your self-esteem and image, in addition to giving a healthy boost to the environment.

That's significant, researchers say, because some segments of the older-consumer population control a considerable share of the discretionary income in the U.S., and the population size of the so-called “mature market" is growing rapidly.

"If I want to pay $5 for a 'green' detergent or sponge, I'll know that I'm helping the environment,” said Jay Yoo, Ph.D., an assistant professor of family and consumer sciences in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences. “But those things aren't highly visible. Other people aren't going to notice."

Wooing the senior consumer

In the study, published in the journal Human Factors and Ergonomics in Manufacturing and Service Industries, researchers analyzed a national cross-sectional survey of 314 consumers age 60 and older who had bought hybrid cars.

It showed that their satisfaction was influenced by social values -- including pride and prestige -- as well as quality and price, not only in vehicle purchase but in future savings on gasoline expenses.

Those three variables -- social value, price and quality --are significant in enhancing senior citizens' customer loyalty as shown by repurchase intention and positive word-of-mouth, Yoo said. Emotional values -- such as excitement -- did not significantly influence their purchase intention or satisfaction, according to the study.

Image burnishing

"The findings suggest that elderly consumers are concerned about how they appear to others when driving a hybrid car," the researchers wrote. "They believe that driving a hybrid car builds a positive self-image of the people who drive them."

"This knowledge can help as a marketing tool," Yoo said. "Hybrid cars have increased in visibility because of their environmental consciousness. So people may be willing to pay an extra $5,000 or so in order to think, 'I'm great, and this is good for the environment.'"

Previous research has shown that older consumers are more inclined to behave in a pro-environment way than younger generations are, Yoo said.

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California sues Corinthian Colleges

The suit claims the for-profit college engages in predatory schemes

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris is suing Corinthian Colleges, Inc. (CCI) and its subsidiaries, charging false and predatory advertising, intentional misr...

PhotoCalifornia Attorney General Kamala D. Harris is suing Corinthian Colleges, Inc. (CCI) and its subsidiaries, charging false and predatory advertising, intentional misrepresentations to students, securities fraud and unlawful use of military seals in advertisements.

The complaint alleges that CCI and the subsidiaries that operate Everest, Heald and WyoTech colleges intentionally targeted low-income, vulnerable Californians through deceptive and false advertisements and aggressive marketing campaigns that misrepresented job placement rates and school programs.

CCI deployed these advertisements through persistent Internet, telemarketing and television ad campaigns, according to the suit. The complaint further alleges that Corinthian executives knowingly misrepresented job placement rates to investors and accrediting agencies, which harmed students, investors and taxpayers.

“The predatory scheme devised by executives at Corinthian Colleges, Inc. is unconscionable. Designed to rake in profits and mislead investors, they targeted some of our state’s most particularly vulnerable people -- including low income, single mothers and veterans returning from combat,” Harris said.

Targeting the vulnerable

According to the complaint, CCI’s predatory marketing efforts specifically target vulnerable, low-income job seekers and single parents who have annual incomes near the federal poverty line. In internal company documents obtained by the Department of Justice, CCI describes its target demographic as “isolated,” “impatient,” individuals with “low self-esteem,” who have “few people in their lives who care about them” and who are “stuck” and “unable to see and plan well for future.”

The complaint maintains that CCI advertised job placement rates as high as 100% for specific programs when, in some cases, there is no evidence that a single student obtained a job during the specified time frame. The complaint further alleges that CCI runs millions of online and mobile ads offering ultrasound, x-ray, radiology, and dialysis technician programs at their California campuses -- when, in fact, CCI does not offer those programs. CCI’s call center agents are disciplined if they tell callers that CCI does not offer these programs, the complaint maintains.

Additionally, according to the complaint, CCI includes official Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard seals in mailings and on web sites without authorization and in violation of California law.

Exaggerated job placement claims

The complaint contends that CCI committed securities fraud by reporting a nationwide job placement rate of 68.1% in presentations to investors, when senior executives knew this percentage was false. The complaint describes internal audits emailed to CCI executives that show job placement data error rates between 53% and 70%.

The complaint references an email from a CCI executive which explains that in 2011, two Everest College campuses (Hayward and San Francisco) paid a temporary employment agency “to place students to meet the accreditation deadline and minimum placement %.” The complaint also states that CCI double-counted job placements and failed to maintain required records of reported job placements.

Myneisha of Southfield, Mich., who enrolled in an Everest Institute Pharmacy Technician program, has a score to settle on that matter. "They say they help you with job placement," she writes in a ConsumerAffairs post, "when in actuality all they do is give you a list of places that are hiring and tell you to apply. It has now been 5 years, and I am back in school enrolled in a pharmacy technician program. Now, I am stuck with a nice bundle of student loans, and I work for a financial institute."

According to a recent CCI securities filing, the average tuition for an associate’s degree is $40,000 and the average tuition for an online CCI associate’s degree is $34,000. The average tuition for CCI’s non-degree healthcare programs is $17,000.

CCI is based in Santa Ana and currently operates 24 Everest, Heald and WyoTech campuses in California, 111 total campuses in North America and three online programs. Out of the 81,000 students who attend CCI colleges, approximately 27,000 (33%) are in California.

An effort by ConsumerAffairs to reach CCI for comment was unsuccessful.

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Foster Farms California plants remain open

New processes and technology are being added to the operations

Foster Farms' three California facilities in Livingston and Fresno will remain open amid continuing daily USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) in...

PhotoFoster Farms' three California facilities in Livingston and Fresno will remain open amid continuing daily USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspections of the firm's chicken, according to the company.

The decision to allow the plants to remain in operation follows Foster Farms' implementation of several new food safety controls over the last two months and its commitment to install added processes during an enhanced inspection period over the next 90 days.

"We started this process more than two months ago and this officially validates our progress, but we are not stopping here," said Ron Foster, president and CEO of Foster Farms. "We are putting every resource and all of our energy toward food safety with the confidence that Foster Farms plants will be the most stringent in the industry."

No recall

The California Department of Public Health has determined there is no need for a product recall in California. Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the CDPH and state health officer, says a recall has not been requested, “because, with proper handling and preparation, this product is safe for consumption. Chicken is a raw animal protein that is expected to have some level of naturally occurring bacteria present,” he added, “Cooking chicken fully to 165 degrees Fahrenheit will kill the bacteria present. Provided that consumers do not cross-contaminate fully cooked chicken with raw chicken juices, it is safe to consume."

Earlier this week, FSIS issued a health alert regarding Foster Farms products, and in May there was a recall of more than 6,000 pounds of ready-to-eat grilled chicken strips.  

Consumers with questions may call Foster Farms at at 800-338-8051.