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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 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.

    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...
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    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 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.

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

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

      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...
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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 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.

      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...
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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 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.

      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...
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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 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

      Eating 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

      FDA 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."

      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...
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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 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

      “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

      How 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.

      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...
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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 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

      During 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."

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

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

      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...
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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 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. 

      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...
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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 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.  

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

      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 ...
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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 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.
      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...
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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 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.

      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...
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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 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.

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