Current Events in January 2014

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    Yahoo hit by massive malware attack

    Company says Americans unaffected; few Americans feel reassured

    If you visited Yahoo.com or any of its subsidiary websites at any time between Dec. 31 and approximately five seconds ago, you might need to check to ensure your computer wasn't one of the countless millions infected by a massive malware attack against Yahoo's ad servers: the advertisements on certain Yahoo.com pages took advantage of security weaknesses in Java to install “exploit kits” and multiple forms of malware on people's computers.

    Though maybe this was only a problem for Yahoo users in Europe. Yahoo spokespeople said in a Sunday email that “On Friday, January 3 on our European sites, we served some advertisements that did not meet our editorial guidelines, specifically they spread malware. We promptly removed these advertisements. … Users in North America, Asia Pacific and Latin America were not served these advertisements and were not affected … Additionally, users using Macs and mobile devices were not affected."

    And of course, before listing all these Yahoo users who were not affected, the email first assured everybody that, “At Yahoo, we take the safety and privacy of our users seriously.”

    Credibility gap

    Unfortunately (from the perspective of embattled Yahoo public-relations folks), in the past couple of months, the company has developed a bit of a reputation for saying things customers don't necessarily believe—like last October, when Yahoo completely revamped its email system and then insisted that the changes were wonderful and well-beloved, even though the actual email customers (not to mention the majority of Yahoo's own employees) insisted that they hated the new email and pretty much everything about it.

    And that was before big chunks of the Yahoo email system went kaput, so that some large but unknown number of emails sent between Nov. 25 and Dec. 9 vanished altogether.

    So when Yahoo kicked off 2014 by admitting to the malware attack, the public responded with overwhelming cynicism. For example: on Jan. 5, five days after the initial attack, the Washington Post tech blog posted an updated story assuring its readers, “Worried about Yahoo malware outbreak? If you're in [the] U.S., you're probably safe.”

    One commenter promptly questioned: “Does anyone really believe Americans were unaffected? Likely, they haven't caught it yet or are straight up lying to the public.” On the other hand, it is possible that Yahoo is telling the truth: online advertisements tend to be tailored to specific geographic locations, so that someone living in the US almost certainly isn't going to see (for example) the same local-business ads as would someone in London.

    The news-aggregator Fark, meanwhile, linked to news of the malware attack under a sardonic one-word headline: “Yahoops.”

    As of Monday morning, Jan. 6, Eastern time, Yahoo has released a couple of statements to the press, but (as a CNET security blogger pointed out) still has not mentioned anything about the malware attack on its public Tumblr blog. When we checked the blog, its most recent story was dated Jan. 3 and headlined “Boomshakalaka! The Yahoo sports app just got way more fun with loops,” but we couldn't find anything advising European Yahoos to check their computers for possible massive security failures. Yahoops.

    If you visited Yahoo.com or any of its subsidiary websites at any time between Dec. 31 and approximately five seconds ago, you might need to check to ensur...

    AT&T tries to reinvent the 800 number with "Sponsored Data" plan

    Businesses would pick up the bandwidth tab for mobile apps

    You have to hand it to AT&T -- it never stops trying to go back in time, back to the days when it was able to attach little dollar signs to just about everything anyone could think of doing with a telephone.

    One of its cleverest inventions was the 800 number that enabled businesses to pick up the tab when customers (and anybody else, for that matter) called them. This was regarded as the latest and greatest thing in customer relations back in the day. Pretty soon, every business was shelling out big bucks and AT&T's cash register rang merrily all day long.

    But then the nasty old Internet ended all that. Or did it? AT&T has never given up hoping that it will find a way to once again get its mitts into those deep corporate pockets.

    Of course, we all pay for the Internet -- consumers, businesses, government, charities, scam artists. The original idea was that everyone would have access to everything without paying any kind of extra charge beyond a modest monthly access fee.

    Well, we all know how that worked out. Now, consumers pay $60 or more for their Internet connection at home. Then they pay up to a few hundred more for broadband service on their smartphones, over and above the fee for plain old telephone and text calls. Quite a bit of this flows into AT&T's coffers, along with those of Verizon, Sprint and other titans of the Internet.

    Just a few hundred million more

    But it has always irked AT&T that it can't gouge businesses for a few hundred million more per year.

    So, never one to retreat from a bad idea, AT&T today rolled out its latest version of its One Big Idea at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, billing it as "a new way for eligible 4G customers to enjoy mobile content and apps over AT&T’s wireless network without impacting their monthly wireless data plan."

    Not bashful about admitting its single-minded obsession, AT&T describes the scheme as "similar to 1-800 phone numbers or free shipping for internet commerce," and says its "Sponsored Data" service will be the greatest thing since, well, the 800 number.

    "With the new Sponsored Data service, data charges resulting from eligible uses will be billed directly to the sponsoring company; the customer simply enjoys their content via AT&T’s wireless data network," AT&T burbled.

    “Customers love mobile content. Whether it’s shopping, banking, entertainment or personal wellness, mobile content is increasingly available for customers almost anywhere and anytime," enthused Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO, AT&T Mobility, calling it "an exciting new opportunity for us and, most importantly, our customers.” 

    Think anyone will be crazy enough to sign up? AT&T is betting that once a few players in each sector -- healthcare, entertainment, financial services -- take the plunge, their competitors will have to follow. And, even now that it has become a doddering shadow of its once munificent self, it's probably not wise to bet against AT&T. Its lobbying and marketing muscle can still bedazzle regulators, corporate bean-counters, consumers and everyone in between. 

    And, after all, it would be a good thing, perhaps, for consumers, except that in the end the costs would just get marked up and put right back into the pricing for the goods and services sold by the corporate customers shaken down by AT&T.

    You have to hand it to AT&T -- it never stops trying to go back in time, back to the days when it was able to attach little dollar signs to just about ...

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      Need help preparing your tax return?

      The IRS has it in a variety of forms

      Anytime I am asked if I do my own income taxes, I respond that I would no more do that than I would do my own appendectomy.

      But, for those who insist on doing it themselves, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is offering several instructional YouTube videos to help them get ready for the upcoming filing season, which begins on Jan. 31.

      There are several options available to help taxpayers prepare for the 2014 tax season and get their refunds -- if any -- as easily as possible. Many software companies are expected to begin accepting tax returns in January and hold those returns until the IRS systems open on Jan. 31. This includes the Free File partners that offer their software for free. 

      Since the IRS will not process any tax returns before Jan. 31, there's no advantage to filing on paper before the opening date. Taxpayers will receive their tax refunds much faster by using e-file or Free File with the direct deposit option.

      In addition, the IRS has short and informative YouTube videos on a number of tax-related topics in English, Spanish and American Sign Language (ASL). The channels have received nearly 6.5 million views:

      Specific videos that taxpayers may view to help them get ready over the coming weeks include:

      • Do-It-Yourself Free Tax Preparation ─ Helps taxpayers find free help from certified volunteers to electronically file tax returns. Taxpayers interested in helping their own communities can also watch a video to learn about becoming involved in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance or Tax Counseling for the Elderly programs.
      • Do I Have to File a Tax Return? ─ Learn about the requirements for filing a tax return, including income limits and age, and why taxpayers may want to file even if they don't have to.
      • How to Get 1040 Forms ─  Provides tips on the quickest way to get the various 1040 forms on IRS.gov.
      • Tax Scams ─  Offers some tips on how to protect personal information and avoid becoming a tax scam victim.
      • Record-keeping ─  Learn which financial and tax files to keep and how long to keep them.
      • Changed Your Name After Marriage or Divorce? ─  Find out what you need to do if you have changed your name before you file your tax return.
      • Choosing a Tax Preparer ─ Hear some useful tips for choosing a reputable tax preparer.

      The IRS uses social media tools and platforms to share the latest information on tax changes, initiatives, products and services. Among these are the IRS2Go phone application, YouTube, Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook. To protect taxpayer privacy, the IRS only uses social media tools to share public information, not to answer personal tax or account questions. It advises taxpayers to never post confidential information, like a Social Security number, on social media sites.

      A listing is available on IRS.gov.

      Anytime I am asked if I do my own income taxes, I respond that I would no more do that than I would do my own appendectomy. But, for those who insist on d...

      2014 may not be a great time to sell your home

      Yes, prices are up but so are interest rates

      The U.S. residential real estate market continued to heal in 2013 with strong price appreciation in many areas and steady sales. In some areas it has been something of a seller's market and reduced inventories of homes have led to bidding wars for some homes.

      But buyers may regain the upper hand in 2014 as rising interest rates could put a damper on demand. With fewer potential buyers in the marketplace, those who can get pre-approved for mortgages may have added leverage.

      A December survey of Redfin real estate agents appears to bear that out. When asked if now would be a good time to put a house on the market, only 65% said it would be. Normally, a real estate agent is bullish on that question.

      Mid 2013 was better time to sell

      For example, responding to the same question during the July through September period last year, 72% of the agents said it was a good time to sell. In the second quarter of the year, 86% said it was a good time to put your house on the market.

      The survey also found that buyers are less willing to make concessions, lower expectations and pay more to find the right house than they were earlier in the year.

      Meanwhile, the 468 agents questioned in the survey said many sellers have not priced their homes to correctly reflect current market conditions. In December 63% said sellers have “unrealistic expectations” about their homes' value.

      Home values still rising

      Nationwide, home values are still rising. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported the national median existing-home price for all housing types was $196,300 in November 2013, up 9.4% from November 2012. Distressed homes – foreclosures and short sales – accounted for 14% of November sales, unchanged from October but down from 22% in November 2012. A smaller share of distressed sales is contributing to price growth, the trade group said. Sales were down in November and rising interest rates could be one reason why.

      “Home sales are hurt by higher mortgage interest rates, constrained inventory and continuing tight credit,” said NAR's chief economist Lawrence Yun. “There is a pent-up demand for both rental and owner-occupied housing as household formation will inevitably burst out, but the bottleneck is in limited housing supply, due to the slow recovery in new home construction.”

      As a result, all kinds of housing cost more. Yun says rents are rising at the fastest pace in five years. The Redfin survey also sees rising mortgage rates as a principal reason for fewer potential buyers in the marketplace in 2014, which would have the effect of making it more difficult to sell.

      As the Federal Reserve “tapers” its stimulus efforts interest rates are expected to continue to rise. Thirty-nine percent of agents in the survey said they believe that rates exceeding 5.5% would harm home sales and price growth. Another third said rates hitting 6% would have that effect.

      Cooling down

      All of this means that the real estate market, that appeared to be heating up last year, could cool off a bit in 2014.

      "These days, finding the right home is more difficult than ever," said Redfin Phoenix agent Marcus Fleming. "With such limited home inventory available, buyers who need to move now often have to compromise on upgrades or location to find a home that meets their budget and basic needs."

      Trulia, an online real estate marketing site, predicts rising interest rates and gains in home values will combine to worsen housing affordability, which will dampen demand. That means the rent vs. buy math could tip in favor of renting in a couple of housing markets. But Trulia chief economist Jed Kolko says buying will remain the more economical choice in almost every U.S. metro.

      Investor purchases of single-family homes to rent will decline, but multifamily construction in 2013 will add to the supply of urban rentals in 2014,” Kolko predicts. Urban apartments, not single-family homes, will be the first stop for many young adults when they finally move out of their parents’ homes and become renters.

      The U.S. residential real estate market continued to heal in 2013 with strong price appreciation in many areas and steady sales. In some areas it has been ...

      Chevrolet's 2015 models will get standard 4G-powered apps

      Apps include music, news, weather, voice communications

      Chevrolet buyers will get a standard package of 4G LTE cellular capabilities in 2015 models including the Corvette, Impala, Malibu and Volt, with more models being added in later years.

      General Motors made the announcement at the International CES show in Las Vegas. It said the hardware will be standard but pricing for bandwidth has not yet been released.

      The built-in 4G means that consumers will be able to listen to Internet radio, surf the Web and use email and voice communication apps without burning through the monthly bandwidth quota on their smartphones -- and without having to fiddle with their phones while driving.

      "Chevrolet AppShop" -- as it's called -- will allow owners to view all available apps and download them directly to the vehicle, then organize, update or delete them. Available apps will connect drivers to music, news, weather, travel information, vehicle data and more.

      “We listen to our customers, and they want more choices like they have with their smartphones,” said Alan Batey, senior vice president of Global Chevrolet. “They’re telling us they want more integration, more options, and more control in a safe manner. Chevrolet AppShop is an in-vehicle information resource that allows our drivers to customize and refine their experiences from their Chevrolet.”

      Seamless connection

      A seamless data connection for Chevrolet AppShop will be offered with the brand’s broad deployment of high-speed 4G LTE connectivity through OnStar, General Motors’ telematics service that has provided wireless connections to vehicles for more than 17 years. \

      “At General Motors, we are trying to minimize driver distractions through the use of technology,” said Phil Abram, chief infotainment officer, GM Global Connected Consumer. “In addition to AppShop, Chevrolet offers features like text-to-voice and smartphone voice pass-through integration to create a safer driving environment.”

      Apps being planned include:

      • iHeartRadio (U.S. Only): Offers instant access to more than 1,500 of the nation’s most popular live radio stations from anywhere in the United States.
      • Priceline.com: Allows search, comparison, and booking of a hotel room. 
      • The Weather Channel: Provides visual and audible weather information needed along a driver’s route.
      • NPR: News, culture and humor from NPR and 900-plus public radio stations nationwide, including live broadcasts and more than 80 all-music streams. 
      • Slacker Radio: Handcrafted internet radio service with more than 13 million songs, plus news, sports, comedy and weather.

      Chevrolet buyers will get a standard package of 4G LTE cellular capabilities in 2015 models including the Corvette, Impala, Malibu and Volt, with more mode...

      General Motors recalls Chevrolet Silverado HD and GMC Sierra HD vehicles

      The fuel gauge could indicate an inaccurate reading

      General Motors is recalling 9,733 model year 2012-2013 Chevrolet Silverado HD and GMC Sierra HD vehicles, equipped with 6.6L diesel engines and dual fuel tanks.

      In the affected vehicles, the transfer pump which moves fuel from the rear tank to the front tank could malfunction and cause the fuel gauge to indicate an inaccurate reading. An inaccurate reading could result in the vehicle stalling unexpectedly, increasing the risk of a crash.

      GM will notify owners and dealers will inspect and replace the fuel transfer pump, as necessary, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Chevrolet at 1-800-222-1020 and GMC at 1-800-462-8782. GM's number for this recall is 13420.

      General Motors is recalling 9,733 model year 2012-2013 Chevrolet Silverado HD and GMC Sierra HD vehicles, equipped with 6.6L diesel engines and dual fuel t...

      Pet health insurance can offset the rising cost of veterinary care

      With the diverse plans, careful shopping is required

      Health insurance has been a hot topic of conversation since 2010, when Congress passed the Affordable Care Act requiring everyone to buy health insurance. But while health policies for people have dominated the conversation, healthy policies for pets have quietly become a growing enterprise.

      Maybe you haven't given pet insurance much thought. But consumers routinely spend hundreds – even thousands – of dollars on veterinary bills when their furry friends get hurt or sick. Dozens of companies have moved in to offer insurance plans that can offset these significant medical expenses.

      According to Petfinder, a pet website, the annual veterinary cost for a cat – including routine exams and vaccinations – can be $350. Emergency care can be as much as $2,000. Generally, veterinary care cost for dogs is higher.

      ASPCA Pet Health Insurance

      Consumers rate ASPCA Pet Health Insurance

      Among the coverage available to consumers is a package of policies sold by the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals(ASPCA).

      Just as in human health insurance, its policies differ by state. In Alabama, for example, there are four levels of coverage offered, with increasingly higher incident limits. The Level One limit is $2,500 – Level Four is $7000. This is the maximum amount the policy will pay out per accident or illness.

      Level Four also provides additional coverage for things like hereditary conditions and behaviorial treatments. Levels Three and Four also have a wellness option, limiting your cost for routine preventive treatments to $12 per month, whether you've met your deductible or not.

      James of Lake Forest, Calif., however, is unhappy about the coverage ASPCA provided for his pet.

      "I've had ASPCA for some years. They always pay late, but at least they pay. Recently, they refused payment for a routine modality saying it was 'alternative' therapy," he said in a ConsumerAffairs review. "Neither my vet nor any other vet I consulted considers this treatment alternative. Neither does the AKA. But ASPCA refuses to defend their opinion and simply says it is alternative because that's what they say."

      Veterinary Pet Insurance

      Consumers rate Veterinary Pet Insurance

      Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) also provides insurance coverage for your pet. It has three levels of coverage – Emergency, Economical and Comprehensive. Emergency service covers accidents only and costs $10-$11 a month. Economical covers accidents and illness and costs $19-$27 a month. Comprehensive includes hereditary disease and runs $25-$35 per 

      All three levels allow you to use any veterinarian for treatment and some plans promise your dog won't be dropped from coverage, regardless of the number of claims.

      Be sure you understand what each level provides if you choose VPI. David of Easton, Md., was very unhappy with the coverage he received.

      "I had VPI's Superior Plan for six years at almost $50 per month. I realize that every company is in business to make money and I don't begrudge them that at all. However, the one major claim that I had for more than $1,100.00 they paid $330.00," David said in a ConsumerAffairs review. "When I questioned why they paid so little of the total costs, including surgery, the person on the phone said 'Well, if you upgrade to our next higher plan we pay more.'"

      Healthy Paws

      Healthy Paws Pet Insurance also provides a variety of health plans for both dogs and cats. Rates are determined in large part by the amount of the deductible and reimbursement rate. Policies do not place restrictions on hereditary and congenital conditions as long as your veterinarian has not previously noted clinical symptoms. Policies do not cover pre-existing conditions.

      The plans also do not cover routine veterinary care, such as vaccinations, teeth-cleaning, spay/neuter procedures or a check-up.

      Even some mainline insurance companies offer pet policies. For example, as part of its auto insurance. Progressive offers at no added cost its Pet Injury Coverage. It provides protection up to $1,000 if your pet is injured while in the car with you. The company also offers a pet health insurance policy with more far-reaching coverage for illnesses, prescribed medications, hospitalization, and accidents.

      Banfield

      Consumers rate Banfield Pet Hospital

      Banfield Pet Hospital outlets are located in PetSmart stores although Banfield is owned mostly by candy giant Mars, which makes Pedigree and Whiskas pet food as well as M&Ms, Skittles and other candies.

      It is the subject of hundreds of complaints to ConsumerAffairs and was also named in a class action suit last November.

      The suit charges that Banfield finds ways to upsell unnecessary services, wiping out the discounts it offers under its "Optimum Wellness Plan," which covers more than 1 million pets nationwide.

      Banfield charges a one-time membership fee of $49.95 in addition to monthly payments that, for an adult dog, come to nearly $32 for the cheapest plan. These costs supposedly entitle pet owners to savings with each visit or monthly, but hide what Pero calls "the warped service assumptions and inflated pricing scheme on which the purported savings and discounts are based." 

      The lawsuit echoes many of the charges level by consumers in their postings to ConsumerAffairs.

      "First of all, they are taking some serious money out of my account. Even when I don't even take the dog to the vet they are still taking $100 out of my account every month! A rip off!" Suellen of Everett, Mass., said. "And when I take him to the vet they will still charge me for their 'extras' that should be included in the plan!"

      Is it worth it?

      Is pet insurance worth it? Several years ago the Wall Street Journal insured four pets and monitored the expense of policies against the expense of care. It determined that the premiums actually cost more than the care.

      But costs have risen since then so each pet owner should probably consider his or her own situation. If you've had your pet for a while, review past vet bills and find out what you have actually spent on care.

      It may be that accident-only coverage – which tends to be the cheapest – makes the most economic sense. Chances are you won't need it but if you do, it could not only save your pet's life, it could save thousands of dollars.

      Health insurance has been a hot topic of conversation since 2010, when Congress passed the Affordable Care Act requiring everyone to buy health insurance. ...

      One sale from 1sale.com might be one sale too many

      Multiple complaints of Christmases ruined and items never sent

      Since this is January 2014, it's probably too late for us to warn you, “If you want to buy presents and receive them in time for Christmas 2013, don't buy them from 1sale.com.” But then, the reason we know this is because over the holiday week we got complaints from dozens of customers who learned this the hard way.

      1sale did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

      The complaints all fall into one of three categories: “They never shipped my stuff,” “They shipped my stuff far later than originally promised” or, worst of all, “What they shipped is NOT what I paid for.”

      Tyler from Iowa kicked off the holiday season on Christmas Eve, when he told us, “I ordered and paid for an item for my boys for Christmas on November 24. I have order confirmation and an email that says they received my payment and would be processing and sending my item right away. It is now December 23rd and I have no product and no customer service. On my account it says my product has shipped and the shipping information is FAKE!!!! The tracking number is not valid."

      That same day, Homer in Georgia wrote us to say, “I have to admit I spent hundreds of dollars with them over the years … But no more. Their shipping is always incredibly slow. It took over TWO MONTHS to get some disposable razors (which turned out to be WORTHLESS). But the final straw was when I bought a name brand watch for all of $17.99. It took about 3 weeks to get it. The stem came all the way out the second time I wore it. I asked if I could return but they said too bad, outside of their 21-day return period. Well, how could it not be? I then asked that they please refund to a good customer and there was no response.”

      A former company?

      We also got a rather sardonic Christmas Eve message from Robert in Nevada: “Thanks 1Sale for messing up Christmas. Now I see why you were a former company.” (That crack about being a “former company” was presumably a reference to the company's recent name change: 1sale.com used to be 1saleaday.com.)

      The day after Christmas, Colette from Pennsylvania told us, “I ordered a product from this site for Christmas and the order has not yet arrived (21 days later). My credit card was charged immediately upon order, yet I have not yet received my product. Attempting to contact the company four separate times resulted in no response aside from an 'auto response' stating that my email was received.”

      “J” in New Jersey empathized with Colette the next day: “I too ordered something (a very pricey something that was still a bit expensive after discount) for my mother for Christmas on NOVEMBER 29th, only to have to buy her something smaller because this did NOT ARRIVE BEFORE CHRISTMAS! I have emailed them around five times and have received nothing but an automated message!!”

      But we also got a slightly different complaint that day, from Sirish in Georgia. Unlike most of our readers, Sirish not only received something (a mattress purportedly made by the Simmons company) in exchange for monies rendered, he only had to wait 10 days for shipping. So what's the problem?

      “The cloth of the mattress started splitting at various places after the first day of use, and within three days, the side of the mattress where my wife sleeps (130 lbs) lost the firmness and started creating a dip. There is no Simmons warranty card attached to the mattress - seems to be a counterfeit product. The size is 70x80, not a standard size for any size bed. There was 30-day return policy for the mattress, (no phone support available, phone message says they are closed for holidays). I contacted 1sale support via email at least 4four times after first three days of use, included pictures in the email and mentioned that I wanted to return the mattress, but I got the response once saying a supervisor will look into the matter, but no one contacted me for past 24 days and while I kept emailing constantly during past 24 days there is no response.”

      No present

      Consumers rate 1Sale (formerly 1SaleADay)

      That shoddy mattress is still better than anything Karey from Virginia got. She wrote us on Dec. 27 to say that she ordered her son a Christmas present on Oct. 24 — and her credit card was charged that same day. [This would be an apparent violtaion of the FTC's Mail Order Rule, which requires that credit cards not be charged until an item ships.]

      On Nov. 28, she says, she received an email promising that the item would be shipped within a week. But two days after Christmas, she told us: “After emailing them and escalating them on paypal and contacting them through paypal and their website's customer support, I have gotten nowhere and they still have not sent me what I ordered. They did however send me a tracking number for UPS that says that the label has been made and the order will update once UPS has it..... still nothing. ...

      "1saleaday has ruined a little boy's Christmas! You should be ashamed!”

      Tami from California wrote us on Dec. 28 with a trifecta of complaints: late shipping, inaccurate shipping dates AND substandard product, all wrapped up in a single order. “I ordered three Macbook Pro computers for my daughters for Christmas 2013, understanding they were refurbished from the company.” Good idea; factory-refurbished items can be an excellent way to save money on pricey electronics without having to sacrifice quality. So what's the problem?

      “I was sent a fraudulent shipping notice stating they were shipped on Dec. 10, and would be received no later than Dec. 19. They were not even shipped until Dec. 20. These were [my daughters'] main gifts for Christmas and were not received until Dec. 27.”

      Bad enough. Even worse is what the girls found when they finally opened their presents: “I don't believe these are factory refurbished. There is NO paperwork nor a warranty in the box. These computers and chargers are FILTHY and SCRATCHED. No idea where they found these but there is NO way these are Apple refurbished. They were wrapped in plastic wrap. That's it. They are going back after I call the credit card company to demand a refund.”

      Toy story

      Meanwhile, in South Carolina, another little girl had an equally disappointing Christmas thanks to 1sale. Everett wrote us on Dec. 29 to say “I purchased a toy on November 29 to be a present for my daughter.... it still has not even shipped. My card was charged immediately and all email attempts to them have went unanswered. Things happen, but refusing to even respond to correspondence is unacceptable. I would advise anyone to steer clear of this company. I have opened a dispute with Paypal in hopes that maybe they can at least get a response.”

      That same day, Ron in Ohio told us about his order from 1sale: “I placed an order on Dec.1 in the amount of $94.96 for 2 pairs of sunglasses (Nike and Nicole Miller), a radar detector (Early Warning), and a pair of earrings (Black Spinel studs). When the package arrived, one pair of sunglasses was missing, the radar detector was missing, and the wrong pair of earrings was shipped. In addition, a pair of sunglasses (a different pair of Nicole Millers) that were not ordered shipped, but they were shipped in pieces! The only item that correctly shipped and was not broken was one pair of sunglasses (Nicole Miller). I have sent several emails to customer support and have not received a reply or reconciliation of their mistakes.”

      Brendan in New Jersey had no better luck buying sunglasses. He told us on Dec. 30 that “on November 19 I placed a $100 order for three pairs of sunglasses. It is now the day before New Year's 2014 and not only have the sunglasses not shipped (despite the fact that they were paid for 42 days ago), but no one from support will return any of the HUNDREDS (yes) of emails I've sent requesting either an explanation or a refund."

      No tables

      Dec. 30 is also the day Julie from Michigan complained that she still had not received the four Hisense tables she ordered (and paid for) on Nov. 15.

      On New Year's Eve we got two more complaints from people who said the items they ordered (and paid for!) long before Christmas still had not arrived. Brian from Tennessee told us that when he ordered and paid for some items, three weeks passed without any word from the company. So he tried to do something about it: “I emailed support and got no response from them. I told them I wanted to cancel my order, I hear nothing. Then they send an email stating they are slow because they are revamping their site. Luckily, I paid with Paypal, I opened 3 claims. I guess that got their attention. I got a shipping statement for the gloves, but it says they may not be shipped out until 72 hrs later... I still have not gotten any gloves... A few days later, I get an email from Paypal that my money has been returned to me for the DVD players. I guess they were not going to ship.”

      Kristi in Ohio told a shorter but similar story: ordered and paid for two items, on Nov. 27 and Dec. 2, intended them to be Christmas presents but as of Dec. 31 “I still have not received these items. I have contacted the company by email 4 times only to get an automated email saying someone would contact me in 2-3 business days. Guess what, no contact. I have finally contacted Paypal and filed a dispute.”

      New Year's Day was remarkable — not a single 1sale.com complaint. But two new ones came in the very next day: Sherry from Pennsylvania said, “I ordered a vacuum cleaner on Dec. 16 and I never received it. I will be filing a complaint with my bank.”

      Andrew in Kentucky ordered some children's toys on Dec. 2, intending to give them as Christmas presents. You can guess what happened (or didn't happen) next: “I emailed them on 12/16 to ask about the status of my order. 3 days later, I received a reply that shipping had been delayed and it would be another 1-2 weeks. I emailed them back on 12/19, asking they cancel the order since there was now no way I would receive it in time for Christmas. Four days later, I received the following response: 'We have recently upgraded our systems and expanded our shipping capabilities, enabling us to deliver orders faster. Along the way, we have had some technical issues that have caused delays in processing orders. As a result, we have seen some delays in shipping out orders. We sincerely apologize for this inconvenience and expect to have your order shipped within the next few days.'

      “No mention of it being canceled or receiving a refund, just claiming that it would ship in the next few days. It's now been 10 days since getting that email, and still nothing. No shipment, no refund, nothing. I have sent another email today demanding a refund, and told them if it isn't refunded back to me by Monday, Jan. 6, I will file a claim with my bank.”

      What to do

      It's obviously too late to get those Christmas presents on time. But there are things consumers can do when they are charged for merchandise before it is sent. The most obvious is to contact the seller and cite the FTC's Mail Order Rule. Politely state that you will file a complaint with the FTC if your card is not immediately credited.

      Don't accept any assurances about the order being filled in the near future. Cite the FTC rule and insist that the order be canceled and the charge reversed. Any business that violates the Mail Order Rule is not worth of your patronage. 

      The second thing to do is to contact the credit card company and ask that the charge be reversed. Again, cite the FTC Mail Order Rule.

      Finally, do what the consumers quoted above did -- complain loudly to ConsumerAffairs, other peer review sites and the Federal Trade Commission using its online complaint form.

      Since this is January 2014, it's probably too late for us to warn you, “If you want to buy presents and receive them in time for Christmas 2013, don't buy ...

      New e-cig ad pushes the line: Friends don't let friends smoke but vaping is OK

      2014 is expected to be the Year of the E-cig, as manufacturers race regulators to the wire

      Friends don't let friends drive drunk. And now, a new ad campaign tells us they don't let them smoke either. Ah, but there's a catch, as the NJoy ad has it: Friends do let friends vape. 

      "For everything friends do for each other," a voiceover says. "This new year return the favor. Friends don't let friends smoke. Give them the only electronic cigarette worth switching to: the NJoy King." It concludes with the tagline: "Cigarettes, you've met your match."

      Marketers are expecting 2014 to be the Year of the E-cig, as Big Tobacco moves into the business in a big way. And the NJoy ad takes more than a few leaves from Big Tobacco's playbook. 

      Most obviously, it glorifies vaping, just as the Marlboro Man, before he succumbed to lung cancer, epitomized the rugged outdoorsish qualities of Marlboros.

      It also comes tantalizingly close to making health claims for e-cigs, which could get a not-so-pleasant reaction from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other agencies that regulate advertising, since the clear implication of the NJoy ad is that puffing away on an e-cig is healthier than smoking a traditional tobacco cigarette.

      Story continues below video

      It's illegal to make health claims that are not substantiated by scientifically sound evidence, which so far is somewhat scant in the case of electronic cigarettes. The NJoy ad is playing the same game Big Tobacco played for years, before broadcast tobacco advertising was finally banned altogether -- surrounding its products with happy, healthy, spirited young people.  

      "We do not advertise e-cigs as a smoking cessation device," a company spokesman said in a statement to AdAge, an advertising trade journal. "However, a unique aspect of the NJOY video is that we are appealing to the friends & loved ones of smokers -- asking them to leverage the fundamental connection and emotional bond of love that bring us all together and strengthens our trust/intimacy. Everyone can identify with the desire to help our friends & loved ones become the best versions of themselves, and goal (especially in the new year!) to strive to be better versions of ourselves."

      Whether that statement cuts much ice with regulators remains to be seen. Probably the exclamation mark won't help too much.

      Big bucks

      Just to be clear, the e-cig industry is not in this for its health, or anyone else's. Big bucks are at stake. E-cig sales are expected to hit $1.7 billion this year, assuming the FDA doesn't shut the market down or severely curtail it.

      The agency has said for more than a year that it is considering new e-cig marketing regulations, possibly including new rules on television advertising, although an outright ad ban may not be in the cards without Congressional action.

      Tobacco TV commercials have been banned for 40 years but the tobacco companies worked to build their brand identities before the ban took effect, and most of the major brands have survived to this day on the basis of history, habit and other forms of advertising and promotion.

      Big Tobacco -- Altria, Reynolds American and Lorillard -- have waded into the e-cig market in a big way and are expected to use the same technique to build their electronic brands before the government bestirs itself.

      Tired of waiting for the feds, New Jersey, North Dakota and Utah, among others, have already banned vaping indoors. As one of his final acts, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg signed a similar measure. But the states and cities have no effective way to control national advertising, so the indoor vaping bans are, at the most, petty annoyances to the e-cig industry. 

      Friends don't let friends drive drunk. And now, a new ad campaign tells us they don't let them smoke either. Ah, but there's a catch, as the NJoy ad h...

      More evidence Millennials are becoming more frugal

      It may not be good news for the credit card industry

      That old stereotype of young people frittering away their money on trivialities and plunging deep into debt may be in need of serious updating. The evidence continues to suggest that isn't the case at all.

      The second PNC Financial Independence Survey has uncovered some interesting facts. No only are young people doing a pretty good job of managing their money, but the younger members of the Millennial generation – those 20 to 24 in particular -- are doing the best.

      The entire group, regardless of income, holds debt but younger Millennials hold less than their older peers. The younger set reports just $17,000 in debt compared to $35,600 for those 25-29. Nearly one third of the younger set carried no debt at all, compared to the older set, noticeably lighter at just one in five.

      Big drop in debt

      There was another key finding: Among respondents with some level of college education, average reported debt came in at $31,800, a significant 30 percent drop from $45,400 in 2011. That includes credit cards, car loans, student loans, and mortgages.

      "Financial maturity in this generation has noticeably shifted," said Cary Guffey, financial advisor at PNC Wealth Management. "Younger millennials just entered adulthood when the economy shifted downward and as a result, it's clear they've become more cautious by avoiding debt."

      This study dovetails with another done in 2013 by McGraw Hill Federal Credit Union, which found that only one in 20 of Millennials uses a credit card – which is not good news for the credit card industry. For nearly 60%, cash is a primary payment method, followed by debit cards at 36%. Most notably, nearly 70% expect to cover part of the cost of college, and 60% say they have a plan for college expenses.

      Instead of shopping for the newest designer labels, young people are frequenting thrift stores. Getting a bargain is now cool.

      Learning what not to do

      “Teens today are learning from the mistakes of adults,” said Shawn Gilfedder, President and CEO of McGraw Hill Federal Credit Union. “Five years out from the recession, the job market does not look that hopeful for them, even with a college degree. They're recognizing that responsibility first resides with themselves.”

      The PNC study found that both younger and older Millennials are carrying about the same amount of college loan debt, but there the similarity ends. The older set, according to the survey, has double the level of car loans, triple the amount of credit card debt and quadruple the amount of mortgage debt. The later is likely explained by the fact the younger set hasn't entered the home buying life stage yet.

      It also shouldn't be too surprising that the number of Millennials who report saving money is also trending down. Reported saving is down six percent since PNC's 2011 survey.

      Bigger savers

      But the frugality trend is still apparent among the youngsters. Ninety percent of the younger set are putting money away, compared to 83% for the older set. And both probably are well ahead of what their parents are managing to put away.

      That old stereotype of young people frittering away their money on trivialities and plunging deep into debt may be in need of serious updating. The evidenc...

      Who gets rich off scammy Internet ads?

      The Atlantic profiles master scammer Jesse Willms

      If you've ever wondered who exactly is behind those obviously scammy flashing ads that pollute so many Internet pages, check out this lengthy, well-written, piece in the Atlantic profiling the career of “Jesse Willms, the Dark Lord of the Internet.”

      Here's the super-short capsule summary: turns out it's very easy to get very rich very fast, if you combine cleverness with a complete lack of qualms about deceiving people. That said, as the Atlantic pointed out: though Willms has been successfully sued multiple times and forced to pay multiple massive fines, he's never been charged with any actual crime.

      At first glance Willms appears to be an entrepreneurial genius; He dropped out of high school (with his mother's reluctant permission) because classes distracted him from his part-time online business selling used Microsoft software, which was netting him vastly more money than most successful adult professionals make.

      Willms became a Lamborghini-driving multimillionaire before his former classmates even finished high school — and by the time he turned 18, Microsoft slapped him with a massive lawsuit, charging that the “used” software he sold was actually pirated.

      So Willms lost his first fortune, but quickly made another via tacky Internet ads selling alleged “weight-loss pills” and the like. However, the bulk of his profits came not from the initial sale of various products, but through sleazy billing schemes.

      "Risk-free"

      According to a lawsuit the Federal Trade Commission eventually filed against him, between 2007 and 2011 Willms made over $460 million by offering “risk free” trials of various products — with massive charges hidden in the fine print. Customers who thought they were getting a free sample of something-or-other wound up paying hundreds of dollars in subscription fees, and the process to cancel them was so difficult, many customers had to resort to canceling their credit cards altogether.

      So how in the world has Willms never been charged with any criminal violations? Basically, by revealing his true intentions in the fine print. As the Atlantic noted:

      It’s hard to counter Willms’s attorneys when they point out that his terms were right there for consumers to peruse. Screen captures from the FTC’s files show that Willms often placed the details of his offers next to where customers entered their credit-card information. If people neglected to read up on what they were buying and simply clicked through—just as we all do every day, when Apple or Microsoft presents us with a new novel-length list of terms and conditions—was this Willms’s fault or the customers’? 

      So far, this argument has proven effective at protecting Willms fron criminal charges. Besides, criminal charges are rarely brought in consumer cases, which tend to be treated as civil matters.

      Even if you never buy things advertised through Internet ads, it's worth reading the entire Atlantic piece in order to educate yourself about various tricks Willms used to keep his scams going as long as he did. For example, the secret subscription fees he added to customer's credit cards were usually in small, irregular and ever-changing amounts, the better to escape notice:

      Adding to the challenge was Willms’s practice of charging random dollar amounts for the hidden extras—$7.22, $2.97, $3.34—that would look like legitimate purchases. According to the FTC, these irregularly denominated charges were some of Willms’s biggest moneymakers, because consumers either assumed they were genuine or didn’t know to be wary of them.

      We know, you've heard this a thousand times already, but we're going to repeat it anyway: you have to be scrupulous every month when checking your credit card bill, and make sure every single line item listed is one you recognize as legitimate.

      If you've ever wondered who exactly is behind those obviously scammy flashing ads that pollute most Internet pages.......

      Here's the latest wrinkle in the tech support scam

      This time the callers are claiming they can get your money back if you fell for the earlier scam

      You could hope that those tech support scams would fade into history with the passage of 2013 but it doesn't look like that's going to happen. In fact, the scammers are circling around and trying to grab a second wad of cash from unwary consumers.  

      In the original tech support scams, consumers got a call from someone who claimed to be from Microsoft tech support. In an urgent, breathless tone, the caller warned that your computer had been compromised with a dangerous virus.

      The scammer would ask for remote access and then charge you for “fixing” a problem that wasn’t there.

      Now the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns the scammers are working the phones again, and this time they're claiming that if you paid for tech support services, they can get you a refund. We’ve heard about several variations of this scam:

      • They might ask if you were happy with the service. If you say no (and you probably will), they claim they can get you a refund.
      • Or they might say that the company is going out of business and providing refunds to people who already paid.

      Once they’ve got you hooked, they claim that they need your bank or credit card account number to process the refund.

      They might say that you need to create a Western Union account to receive the money. They may even offer to help you fill out the necessary forms — if you give them remote access to your computer. But instead of transferring money to your account, the scammer withdraws money from your account.

      What to do

      So, what can you do if you paid for bogus tech support services?

      • File a complaint at ftc.gov/complaint.
      • If you paid with a credit card, call your credit card company and ask them to reverse the charges.
      • Hang up on callers who offer a refund in exchange for your bank or credit card account number or a Western Union account.

      You could hope that those tech support scams would fade into history with the passage of 2013 but it doesn't look like that's going to happen. In fact...

      General Mills says Cheerios are not genetically modified

      No GMOs in GM's flagship cereal

      Good news for people who fear genetically modified (GMO) food: General Mills says its that "original Cheerios" don't contain any GMO ingredients.

      Yet the announcement, which came in response to pressure from anti-GMO groups -- inspired almost as much controversy as does GMO food itself: Critics range from GMO opponents who say General Mills should ban GMOs from all of its product offerings, to GMO proponents who bashed the cereal company for caving in to anti-GMO scaremongering.

      On the FAQ page at Cheerios.com, General Mills said

      “We don’t use genetically modified ingredients in original Cheerios.  Our principal ingredient has always been whole grain oats – and there are no GMO oats.  We use a small amount of corn starch in cooking, and just one gram of sugar per serving for taste.  But our corn starch comes from non-GMO corn, and we use only non-GMO pure cane sugar.”

      Not everyone approves, though. When the Chicago Tribune reported the story, the commenters were divided between those who supported General Mills' decision, and those who deplored it. One typical example of the latter wrote, “General Mills backs down to the anti-science scaremongers is more like it,” whereas a GMO opponent later said, “It's time to ban all GMO grown food crops including those used for animal feed.”

      Still, the comment controversy on media outlets like the Tribune paled in comparison to the argument on Cheerios' own FAQ page. When one person wrote “I'm glad your original Cheerios are now GMO-free. I'm dismayed, though, that you state that GMO's are safe. Many independent studies have proven that they are NOT safe and GMO's have been banned in many countries as a result,” another immediately responded: “What you are saying seems to be incorrect. GMO Skepti-Forum has been searching for quality, peer-reviewed studies showing harm from GMOs; however, we've yet to find one that survives scrutiny.”

      That said, among GMO opponents, “safety” is not always their primary concern. As another FAQ-page commenter argued: “It is not just a question if GMO's are 'safe.' It is a question of companies like Monsanto using the excuse of them to try to take over the corn seeds of the world. I really hope you listen and remember that for each person who takes the time to tell you something that another couple thousand at least feel the same way but will not speak about it or write you. We WILL stop eating your products and WE WILL make sure the word is spread through social media. The Food and Drug Administration is LED by former CEO and or Attorney for Monsanto so what they say has no validity. Good for the countries that are not allowing Monsanto into their fields.”

      The science of genetics and genetic modification is still in its infancy, and trying to predict what its future holds is like looking at a newborn baby and trying to predict what she'll be like as an adult. But we feel pretty confident in predicting that the controversies surrounding genetic modification won't go away anytime soon, regardless of any pronouncements made by General Mills.

      Good news for people who fear genetically modified (GMO) food: on Jan. 2, General Mills promised not to put GMO ingredients in Cheerios...

      Dietary supplement as concussion treatments? No way

      But the facts rarely get in the way of a good hustle

      It never fails. An issue pops up that causes public concern and somebody is sure to find a way to make a quick buck on it.

      Take concussions. Some companies are offering untested, unproven and possibly dangerous products that claim to prevent, treat or cure concussions and other traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).

      However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is aware of these shenanigans and is taking enforcement actions where appropriate, issuing warning letters to the firms firms. This is usually the agency's first step for dealing with claims that products labeled as dietary supplements are intended for use in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease.

      FDA is also warning consumers to avoid purported dietary supplements marketed with claims to prevent, treat, or cure concussions and other TBIs because the claims are not backed with scientific evidence that the products are safe or effective for such purposes.

      These products are sold on the Internet and at various retail outlets, and marketed to consumers using social media, including Facebook and Twitter.

      The claims

      One common claim is that using a particular dietary supplement promotes faster healing times after a concussion or other TBI.

      Even if a particular supplement contains no harmful ingredients, that claim alone can be dangerous, says Gary Coody, FDA's National Health Fraud Coordinator.

      "We're very concerned that false assurances of faster recovery will convince athletes of all ages, coaches and even parents that someone suffering from a concussion is ready to resume activities before they are really ready," says Coody. "Also, watch for claims that these products can prevent or lessen the severity of concussions or TBIs."

      Serious stuff

      A concussion is a brain injury caused by a blow to the head, or by a violent shaking of the head and upper body. Concussions and other TBIs are serious medical conditions that require proper diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring by a health care professional. The long-term impact of concussions on professional athletes and children who play contact sports has recently been the subject of highly publicized discussions.

      A growing body of scientific evidence indicates that if concussion victims resume strenuous activities -- such as football, soccer or hockey -- too soon, they risk a greater chance of having a subsequent concussion. Moreover, repeat concussions can have a cumulative effect on the brain, with devastating consequences that can include brain swelling, permanent brain damage, long-term disability and death.

      "As amazing as the marketing claims here are, the science doesn't support the use of any dietary supplements for the prevention of concussions or the reduction of post-concussion symptoms that would enable one to return to playing a sport faster," says Daniel Fabricant, Ph.D., director of FDA's Division of Dietary Supplement Programs.

      Raising alarms

      One of the first alarms raised about dietary supplements being promoted to treat TBI came from the U.S. Department of Defense.

      "We first learned from the military about a product being marketed to treat TBI, obviously a concern with wounded veterans. We were taken aback that anyone would make a claim that a supplement could treat TBI, a hot-button issue," says Jason Humbert, a senior regulatory manager with FDA's Office of Regulatory Affairs. "That sparked our surveillance."

      FDA routinely monitors the marketplace. However, with more than 85,000 dietary supplements on the market and no product registration, products making false claims can slip through, at least for a time.

      Typically, products promising relief from TBIs tout the benefits of ingredients such as turmeric and high levels of omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish oil. Turmeric is an Indian spice in the ginger family. For Omega-3, FDA has recommended a maximum daily level of 3 grams per day from all sources due to possible problems with increased risk of bleeding, increases in cholesterol and problems with controlling blood sugar levels.

      Cracking down

      In its initial surveillance, FDA identified two companies selling multiple products claiming to prevent and treat concussions and other TBIs. One company claimed to have "the world's first supplement formulated specifically to assist concussion recovery," saying "it has the dynamic ability to minimize long-term effects and decrease recovery time." A National Football League player testified to its "proven results in my own recovery" from a concussion, and an unnamed "licensed trainer" said he had incorporated it into his "concussion management protocol."

      Similar claims were made by the other company, which was selling four products claiming to protect against and help heal TBIs. FDA sent letters in 2012 warning both companies that their products were not generally recognized as safe and effective for treating TBIs, that the products were misbranded (a legal term meaning, in this case, that the labeling of the products did not have adequate directions for use), and that unless various violations cited in the letters were promptly corrected, the violations could result in legal action taken without further notice, such as seizure or injunction.

      Both companies changed their websites and labeling.

      In December 2013, FDA issued a warning letter to Star Scientific for marketing its product Anatabloc with claims to treat TBIs. FDA continues to monitor the marketplace for products with similar fraudulent claims, and will take appropriate regulatory action to protect the public health.

      "As we continue to work on this problem, we can't guarantee you won't see a claim about TBIs. But we can promise you this: There is no dietary supplement that has been shown to prevent or treat them," says Coody. "If someone tells you otherwise, walk away."

      It never fails. An issue pops up that causes public's concern and somebody is sure to find a way to make a dishonest buck on it. Take concussions. Some co...

      WK Travel (also known as OneTravel) fined for code-share disclosure violations

      Consumers were not told the name of the airline operating the flight

      WK Travel, also known as OneTravel, is being fined $95,000 for violating the Transportation Department’s (DOT) rules on disclosure of code-share flights.

      Code-sharing is the practice of airlines selling seats on flights using their designator codes when the flights are operated by a separate airline.

      Shawn of Dallas, Texas, doesn't mince any words when describing his experience with the company.

      "Don't get flights with OneTravel; you will get screwed," he writes in a ConsumerAffairs post. "I purchased airfare from OneTravel after several days of search. Finally I saw a flight with Lufthansa to overseas. I jumped on them for $1,465 but my flight had been canceled. They flew me to Madrid with American Air, then Frankfurt and they lost my carry-on. Coming back, they put me on a United flight. It was not Lufthansa and they lost my luggage. I'll never use OneTravel again."

      “Consumers deserve to know which airline will be operating their flight as they’re shopping for a ticket,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We will continue to make sure that all companies selling air transportation are transparent with consumers and will take enforcement action when necessary.”

      Failure to disclose

      In the case of WK Travel, DOT’s Aviation Enforcement Office made telephone calls to the call centers of several of the company's websites last January and February inquired about booking certain flights. During these calls, the reservations agents failed to disclose that the flights were being operated under code-share arrangements -- identifying only the name of the airline marketing the flight, but not the name of airline operating the flight, even when prompted by the caller.

      This violated DOT rules requiring airlines and ticket agents to inform consumers if a flight is operated under a code-share arrangement, as well as disclose the corporate name of the transporting airline and any other name under which the flight is offered to the public.

      In 2013, DOT assessed a record $7.1 million in fines -- predominately for violations of its consumer rights regulations.

      WK Travel, also known as OneTravel, is being fined $95,000 for violating the Transportation Department’s (DOT) rules on disclosure of code-share flights. ...

      New year, old news: fixed mortgage rates head higher

      A strengthening economy is said to be pushing rates upward

      It may be 2014, but the mortgage rate picture sure looks like 2013.

      Both Freddie Mac and Bankrate.com are reporting average fixed mortgage rates (FRMs)continued to edge higher as we entered the new year.

      In its Primary Mortgage Market Survey, Freddie Mac says 30-year FRMs averaged 4.53% with an average 0.8 point for the week ending January 2. Last week when it averaged 4.48% and a year ago at this time, it was 3.34%.

      The 15-year FRM week averaged 3.55% this week with an average 0.7 point, up three basis points from last week's average of 3.52%. At this time last year, the 15-year FRM averaged 2.64%.

      The average for the 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) this week was 3.05% percent with an average 0.4 point, compared with last week's when it average of 3.00% and the year-ago average of 2.71%.

      One-year Treasury-indexed ARMs were unchanged at 2.56% with an average 0.5 point. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.57%.

      "Mortgage rates edged up to begin the year on signs of a stronger economic recovery,” said Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist at Freddie Mac. “The pending home sales index inched up 0.2% in November, after five consecutive months of decline. The Conference Board reported that confidence among consumers rose in December and the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city composite house price index rose 13.6% over the 12-months ending in October 2013."

      Bankrate

      Bankrate.com is also reporting some upward movement in mortgage -- the third increase in as many weeks.

      The benchmark 30-year FRM was up 6 basis points from a week earlier at 4.69%, the 15-year FRM rose to 3.73% from 3.70%, and the larger jumbo 30-year FRM rose to 4.72%.

      The 5/1 ARM stood at 3.52% -- a jump of 9 basis points from last week, and the 7-year ARM is now now 3.88%t.

      Mortgage rates finished 2013 more than a full percentage point higher than where they began. The benchmark 30-year FRM began the year at 3.58%, and finished at 4.69%. While mortgage rates are still below September's high point of the year, they did finish 2013 near the upper end of this year's range.

      On May 1, 2013, the average 30-year FRM was 3.52%. At that time, a $200,000 loan would have carried a monthly payment of $900.32. With the average rate currently at 4.69 percent, the monthly payment for the same size loan would be $1,036.07 -- a difference of almost $136 per month.

      It may be 2014, but the mortgage rate picture sure looks like 2013. Both Freddie Mac and Bankrate.com are reporting average fixed mortgage rates (FRMs)co...

      Combi recalls various child restraints

      The harness webbing fails to meet minimum breaking strength requirements

      Combi USA is recalling 33,139 model 8220 (Coccoro) child restraints manufactured January 6, 2009, through December 5, 2012; model 8836 (Zeus 360) child restraints manufactured February 25, 2009, through May 24, 2012; and model 8815 (Zeus Turn) manufactured from July 15, 2007, through March 25, 2009.

      The harness webbing fails to meet minimum breaking strength requirements. In the event of a crash, a child may not be remain adequately secured, increasing the risk of injury.

      Combi will notify registered owners and provide free harness replacement kits along with repair instructions. The recall is expected to begin by February 6, 2014.

      Owners may contact Combi at 1-800-543-7734 or visit their website at www.combi-intl.com. The seats can continue to be used until the kits are made available.

      Combi USA is recalling 33,139 model 8220 (Coccoro) child restraints manufactured January 6, 2009, through December 5, 2012; model 8836 (Zeus 360) child res...