Current Events in September 2014

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2014

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    Feds warn credit card companies against deceptive marketing

    Consumers often hit with surprise charges after signing up for low-interest-rate promotions

    If your mailbox is typical, it's full of attractive-sounding offers from credit card companies offering low- or no-interest deals on purchases and balance transfers. But the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) says some of those offers may not be quite as good as they sound.

    It's warning card issuers to be careful they're not using deceptive tactics to lure consumers into signing up, and put them on notice that they must clearly disclose the costs and risks of these promotional offers so consumers understand what they are signing up for.

    “Credit card offers that lure in consumers and then hit them with surprise charges are against the law,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Before they sign up, consumers need to understand the true cost of these promotions. Today, we are putting credit card companies on notice that we expect them to clearly disclose how these promotional offers apply to consumers so that they can make informed choices about their credit card use.”

    The CFPB bulletin highlights concerns around the marketing of credit card interest-rate offers such as balance transfers, deferred-interest offers, and convenience checks.

    Under these promotions, consumers are often charged a fee to transfer a balance or make a purchase with their credit card in order to receive a promotional interest rate on that amount for a set period of time. While consumers pay no interest or a low interest rate for balances subject to the promotion, any additional purchases consumers make with the credit card may incur interest charges right away.

    Grace period

    The Bureau believes some companies’ marketing materials do not clearly disclose that consumers must pay off the promotional balance by their due date to avoid racking up unexpected interest charges on routine purchases for which they were not charged interest previously. For some consumers, these surprise charges can make the cost of transferring a balance more expensive than revolving the same balance on their existing card.

    These marketing tactics specifically impact consumers who enjoy an interest-free “grace period” on their credit card purchases. Consumers who pay off their total credit card balance each month receive a grace period during which they do not have to pay interest on purchases.

    When consumers carry their promotional credit card balance past their payment due date, they lose their grace period and are charged interest on all new purchases. The only way for these consumers to avoid interest charges on new purchases made with the credit card is to pay off their whole statement balance, including the promotional balance and the new purchases, by their monthly billing due date.

    Consumer tips

    The CFPB is also publishing consumer tips today about credit card interest-rate promotions and how grace periods work. Tips for consumers who decide to accept a promotional offer include:

    · Avoid the interest: Consumers that do not carry a balance can take advantage of promotional rates and avoid unexpected interest if they don’t make new purchases with the card until they pay off the entire balance. To avoid interest charges on new purchases, these consumers should consider paying with cash, debit, or another credit card that doesn’t have a balance.

    · Make payments on time to avoid surprise charges: Consumers should be sure to make payments on time. For promotional and deferred-interest balances, consumers should pay off the entire balance before the end of the promotional period.

    · Compare the interest rates among credit cards. Consumers that carry a balance on all their credit cards should compare the interest rates among their cards to decide which is the best deal for new purchases. These consumers should also consider paying for new purchases with cash or debit.

    If your mailbox is typical, it's full of attractive-sounding offers from credit card companies offering low- or no-interest deals on purchases and balance...

    Apple says iCloud was not breached

    Accounts were hacked but the Cloud wasn't breached; cold comfort for the hacking victims

    You say “to-MAY-to,” they say “to-MAH-to” … however you pronounce it, a tomato can ruin the nicest fabric with an irrevocable red stain.

    And if you told somebody, “I'm very annoyed because your to-may-to juice stained everything,” and that somebody responded, “Don't be ridiculous, darling, it was to-mah-to juice” … you might think that somebody is completely missing the point.

    Anyway, last weekend somebody hacked into the iCloud accounts of 100 different (mostly female) celebrities in order to steal their intimate photos.

    The celebrities involved were understandably outraged at this massive violation of their privacy; Kirsten Dunst was the first victim to publicly respond, with her tweeted remark “Thank you iCloud” followed by the emoji images of a slice of pizza and a pile of excrement – in other words (or, more specifically, with no words at all), saying that Apple's iCloud security is a piece of … poop.

    Another actor, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, was particularly surprised because she had long-since deleted those photos – at least from her iPhone, though apparently copies remained in the Cloud for hackers to steal.

    “Knowing those photos were deleted long ago, I can only imagine the creepy effort that went into this. Feeling for everyone who got hacked,” Winstead tweeted on Aug. 31.

    But the celebrities whose privacy was invaded will be relieved to know that Apple denies there was any security “breach” where the Cloud was concerned.

    Bloomberg News reported on the evening of Sept. 2 that Apple insisted that the iCloud itself has not been breached; the company released a statement saying the accounts were “compromised by a very targeted attack on user names, passwords and security questions, a practice that is all too common on the Internet.”

    For what it's worth, Apple is correct: there's no evidence suggesting the iCloud itself – the various servers where Apple customers can store data without using memory space on their own computer, phone or other device – was breached. Instead, it appears that hackers broke into the compromised accounts by using a brute-force attack to crack the passwords: using software to methodically try every possible character combination until the right one is found.

    But why were brute-force attacks successful against one of the largest technology companies in the world? Defending a password-protected account against brute force attacks is actually quite easy: simply implement a security protocol mandating a cutoff after a certain number of failed tries – say, if you type the incorrect password into an account five times in a row, that account is temporarily frozen, so that you must wait a certain period of time before you try typing the password again.

    Not until this week, after a hundred celebrities' personal accounts were hacked, did Apple apply that simple precaution to its customers' password-protected accounts.

    Meanwhile, both Apple and the FBI are investigating the hacking-which wasn't-a-breach, and Bloomberg reports that Apple is, of course, taking the matter very seriously although, in a statement, Apple denied responsibility for the security failure.

    The iCloud service is a key part of Apple’s strategy to unite its iPhones, tablets and desktop computers, letting users store contacts, e-mails, photos and other personal information on external systems they can access.

    Apple said in its statement today that a flaw with iCloud wasn’t responsible, nor was its “Find my iPhone” feature.

    “When we learned of the theft, we were outraged and immediately mobilized Apple’s engineers to discover the source,” Apple said. “Our customers’ privacy and security are of utmost importance to us.”

    Apple is encouraging people with iCloud accounts to make “stronger passwords,” consisting of at least eight characters including numerals, one upper-case and one lower-case letter. However, such a password still wouldn't be enough to prevent a brute-force hack into accounts that allow unlimited tries to get the right password.

    You say “to-MAY-to,” they say “to-MAH-to” … however you pronounce it, a tomato can ruin the nicest fabric with an irrevocable red stain....

    Triclosan implicated in slower growth of male fetuses

    It and other phenols are widely used in cosmetics, toothpaste and soap products

    Triclosan and other compounds widely used in cosmetics, toothpaste, soap and other consumer products may disrupt boys' growth during their fetal period and first years of life, according to a new study conducted by a consortium of U.S. and European agencies.

    Colgate toothpaste was widely criticized last month for continuing to use triclosan and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned in August that compounds used in antibacterial soap are dangerous to pregnant women and their unborn children.

    The compounds implicated in the latest study are all phenols and, besides triclosan, include parabens, used in cosmetics; benzopherone-3, used as a UV filter in sun protection products; and dichlorophenols, used in indoor deodorizers. 

    Another widely-used phenol, bisphenol A, did not appear to affect fetal growth.

    The study was based on 520 boys from the EDEN mother-child cohort. Pregnant women participating in this cohort were recruited in Europe between 2003 and 2006. Growth of each child was assessed by ultrasound during pregnancy, and by measuring weight and length/height from birth to the age of 3 years.

    95% exposed

    A urine sample taken during pregnancy allowed measurement of biomarkers for exposure to phenols in the CDC Environmental Health Laboratory for U.S. biosurveillance programs.

    Results show that over 95% of the pregnant women were exposed to these substances, and that maternal exposure to some phenols may disrupt the growth of boys. More specifically, the researchers showed a negative correlation between triclosan levels and growth parameters measured at the ultrasound examination in the third trimester of pregnancy, and that parabens were associated with increased weight at birth and at three years.

    It is known that accelerated growth in the first years of life may increase the risk of obesity in later childhood. The study did not identify any clear link between urinary concentrations of other phenols and ante- and postnatal growth of boys.

    "This is the first study concerning these environmental contaminants based on growth data collected during pregnancy, at birth, and up to the age of three years," the researchers said. Previous studies were focused on just one of these periods, and were usually restricted to the study of bisphenol A, without including other phenols.

    Concern on bisphenol-A has abated following an EPA-funded 2013 study by Justin Teeguarden, a senior research scientist at the Department of Energy laboratory in Richland, Wash.

    Teeguarden said the levels he found were "thousands of times lower" than levels that cause health effects, lending support to industry arguments that human exposure to BPA is so slight that it is inconsequential and that the public health benefit of BPA usage in canned foods is so significant it outweighs any slight risk from minimal exposure to the substance. 

    Triclosan and other compounds widely used in cosmetics, toothpaste, soap and other consumer products may disrupt boys' growth during their fetal period and...

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      Phone fraud ensnares 17 million consumers

      Scammers still like to reach out and touch their victims

      While consumer advocates and law enforcement officials focus on the Internet as a major source of scams against consumers, the old-fashioned telephone continues to be a powerful weapon in the scammer's arsenal.

      Last month two state attorneys general – Chris Koster of Missouri and Pam Bondi of Florida -- warned consumers in their states about specific scams that involved the telephone.

      Koster said his office has received multiple reports of consumers receiving suspicious calls from the 202 area code – which is Washington, D.C. The caller usually strikes a threatening tone and claims to be from a federal agency.

      They often threaten legal action unless the consumer complies with their demands.

      "These types of telephone scams prey upon Missouri consumers, often the elderly, using high-pressure tactics to obtain personal financial information," said Koster.

      Spoofing

      Koster said the calls are not coming from the 202 area code, but most likely from overseas. They use spoofing software to make the 202 area code show up in caller-ID.

      Bondi warns that scammers are calling Floridians, claiming to be from the utility comppany. The caller says the bill is overdue and it must be paid immediately or service will be shut off.

      As in the Missouri case, Bondi says the scammers are using devices to trick caller-ID into showing a local area code. She says it isn't just consumers who are being targeted, but small business as well.

      Bondi says if there is any doubt about the status of a utility bill, contact the utility company directly to verify the status of the account.

      These cases aren't at all unusual, says Alan Mamedi, CEO of Truecaller.com, a verified mobile phone community. His firm hired Harris Poll to ask consumers about fraud employing either landlines or mobile phones.

      $8.6 billion in losses

      According to one survey, about 17.6 million Americans reported being victims of a phone scam in the past 12 months, losing an average of $488.80. That comes out to about $8.6 billion a year, making scams delivered by phone still a big business.

      The survey also shows phone scams are increasingly moving to mobile phones. That suggests scammers aren't just focusing their attention on senior citizens, who are more likely to have a landline than a cell phone.

      When it comes to being victimized by a phone scam, it's more likely to be a male than a female. Among those reporting they lost money to a telephone scam in the last year, 71% were men and 29% were women.

      “$8.6 billion lost per year through U.S. phone fraud is simply a staggering number and shows the need for greater vigilance among Americans when it comes to protecting themselves from scam artists operating over the phone,” Mamedi said. “We think the actual dollar number lost may be even higher due to factors like unreported fraud and unchecked phone bills even in instances when owners received a spam call.”

      The findings also suggest consumers aren't doing enough to protect themselves from phone-delivered fraud. However, nearly two thirds of mobile phone users are. Sixty-four percent of those questioned said they never answer a call from an unknown number.

      While consumer advocates and law enforcement officials focus on the Internet as a major source of scams against consumers, the old fashioned telephone cont...

      Facebook app users beware: autoplay can exceed your data limits

      Disable the video-autoplay default on your tablet or phone, now

      If you use the Facebook app on your tablet, phone or mobile device (especially 3G or 4G Internet connections), watch out – MoneySavingExpert.com has confirmed that Facebook's default habit of auto-playing videos has been causing some phone or tablet users to exceed their monthly data limits without even realizing it — until they're hit with overage bills.

      Luckily, the problem is fairly easy to fix. If you have an iPhone, go into “Settings” and choose “Facebook.” Then click “Settings,” then “Auto-play,” and choose either “Wi-Fi only” or “Off.”

      With an Android, go into the account settings of your Facebook app. Click “App settings” and then choose between “Auto-play only on Wi-Fi” or “Off.” (Personal preference: go with “off” in either case, so you can choose which videos you play even over wi-fi.)

      Simple as this problem is to fix, critics could point out this problem wouldn't be a problem in the first place if Facebook didn't default to automatically playing any and all videos appearing on a user's Facebook feed; the mere fact that your Facebook friend posted a video does not mean you want to watch it at all, let alone watch it on your limited-data-plan mobile device.

      If you use the Facebook app on your tablet, phone or mobile device (especially 3G or 4G Internet connections), watch out – MoneySavingExpert.com has confir...

      CVS stops cigarette sales earlier than planned

      Says it will lose $2 billion in tobacco sales per year

      CVS announced last February that it intended to stop selling cigarettes and tobacco products before the end of the year.

      This week CVS made good on that promise, three weeks earlier than initially planned, as part of its strategy to rebrand itself as CVS Health.

      Consumers rate CVS Pharmacy
      The drugstore chain (the country's second-largest, behind Walgreen) also operates MinuteClinic walk-in medical centers.

      The company says that banning the sale of cigarettes in its stores (though it will sell smoking-cessation supplies) is estimated to cost it $2 billion in lost sales each year.

      On the other hand, if CVS did continue selling cigarettes while operating medical clinics and otherwise portraying itself as a seller of life-saving or health-improving products, the company would expose itself to charges of seriously hypocritical behavior. Most CVS stores are found in fairly well-populated retail areas close to various other businesses, so customers wishing to buy cigarettes in addition to whatever they need from CVS shouldn't have to look too far.

      CVS announced last February that it intended to stop selling cigarettes and tobacco products before the end of the year....

      Are you ready for some football? How about other sports?

      Sports-related employment is on the rise

      With the NFL season set to begin this week, there's a lot of excitement across the country.

      But what if you could do more than just watch sports? It's possible because sports is having an impact on the job market.

      According to a survey CareerBuilder and Economic Modeling Specialists Intl (EMSI) of post-recession job growth in the six largest sports-related industries in the U.S., jobs in sports-related industries have increased by 12.6% between 2010 and 2014, while the overall national job market grew by 5.5%. In addition, the average earnings in these combined sports-related industries ($78,455) are significantly higher than the national average ($57,947).

      Jobs created by jobs

      Moreover, sports jobs have a high multiplier effect. In other words, they create more jobs in other occupations and industries.

      For instance: 100 new jobs in Sports Teams and Clubs in Pittsburgh can lead to $46.2 million new earnings across the city and 422 additional jobs outside of the industry in areas such as construction, health care, sales, food preparation and maintenance.

      Industry growth

      On the national level, much of the growth in sports-related jobs has been on the business end, with the Promoters of Performing Arts, Sports, and Similar Events growing by 30 percent between 2010 and 2014, followed by Agents and Managers for Artists, Athletes, Entertainers, and Other Public Figures, which grew by 17%.

      Industry

      2010 Jobs

      2014 Jobs

      Growth

      % Growth

      Sports Teams and Clubs

      76,411

      82,968

      6,557

      8.6%

      Promoters of Performing Arts, Sports, and Similar Events with Facilities

      76,269

      99,445

      23,176

      30.4%

      Other Spectator Sports2

      54,545

      53,538

      (1,007)

      (1.8%)

      Racetracks

      44,672

      40,712

      (3,960)

      (8.9%)

      Promoters of Performing Arts, Sports, and Similar Events without Facilities

      31,481

      41,091

      9,610

      30.5%

      Agents and Managers for Artists, Athletes, Entertainers, and Other Public Figures

      30,748

      35,899

      5,151

      16.8%

      Total

      314,125

      353,654

      39,529

      12.6%

      Occupational breakdown

      Athletes and coaches aren’t the only occupations supported by the sports industry. From event planners and ushers to broadcast announcers and marketing professionals, several occupations have experienced double-digit employment growth post-recession in the above sports-related industries.

      Occupation

      Employed in Sports-Related Industries (2010)

      Employed in Sports-Related Industries (2014)

      Change (2010 - 2014)

      % Change (2010 - 2014)

      Meeting, Convention, and Event Planners

      3,685

      5,136

      1,451

      39%

      Concierges

      1,071

      1,462

      391

      37%

      Audio and Video Equipment Technicians

      6,491

      8,268

      1,777

      27%

      Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists

      1,818

      2,308

      490

      27%

      Laborers and Freight, Stock, and Material Movers, Hand

      6,491

      8,212

      1,721

      27%

      Public Address System and Other Announcers

      2,040

      2,530

      490

      24%

      Secretaries and Administrative Assistants, Except Legal, Medical, and Executive

      5,193

      6,417

      1,224

      24%

      Agents and Business Managers of Artists, Performers, and Athletes

      9,493

      11,641

      2,148

      23%

      Radio and Television Announcers

      1,174

      1,428

      254

      22%

      Producers and Directors

      2,881

      3,490

      609

      21%

      Bartenders

      2,879

      3,476

      597

      21%

      Ushers, Lobby Attendants, and Ticket Takers

      25,441

      30,388

      4,947

      19%

      Accountants and Auditors

      1,952

      2,314

      362

      19%

      Janitors and Cleaners, Except Maids and Housekeeping Cleaners

      7,299

      8,574

      1,275

      17%

      Public Relations Specialists

      3,301

      3,875

      574

      17%

      Maintenance and Repair Workers, General

      3,565

      4,160

      595

      17%

      Security Guards

      13,975

      16,253

      2,278

      16%

      Office Clerks, General

      6,068

      7,054

      986

      16%

      General and Operations Managers

      5,611

      6,476

      865

      15%

      Amusement and Recreation Attendants

      5,336

      6,110

      774

      15%

      Coaches and Scouts

      7,769

      8,349

      580

      7%

      Athletes and Sports Competitors

      9,535

      9,775

      240

      3%

      “Sports is a major part of our culture and a key economic driver in cities nationwide,” said Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder and co-author of The Talent Equation. “The growth in sports-related jobs since 2010 is notably higher than that of the national average for all jobs, indicating a greater investment in one of America’s favorite pastimes.”

      Local sports-related job growth

      With football season fast-approaching, CareerBuilder and EMSI focused on markets with NFL teams to exemplify how sports-related jobs have impacted local economies. The following is a breakdown of cities with national football teams that experienced the highest growth in all sports-related jobs from 2010 to 2014. In addition, the analysis uses an input-output economic model to determine how the addition of jobs in Sports Teams and Clubs could potentially influence job creation in other industries.

      Pittsburgh, Pa.

      • 2014 sports jobs– 5,660
      • Sports job growth since 2010 – 56 percent
      • Job growth in all industries since 2010 – 2 percent
      • Jobs that would be added in non-sports-related industries as a result of 100 new jobs being created in Sports Teams and Clubs – 422

      Jacksonville, Fla.

      • 2014 Sports Jobs – 2,872
      • Sport Job Growth – 38 percent
      • Change in Overall Jobs – 8 percent
      • Jobs that would be added in non-sports-related industries as a result of 100 new jobs being created in Sports Teams and Clubs – 444

      Atlanta, Ga.

      • 2014 Sports Jobs – 7,363
      • Sport Job Growth – 29 percent
      • Change in Overall Jobs – 8 percent
      • Jobs that would be added in non-sports-related industries as a result of 100 new jobs being created in Sports Teams and Clubs – 187

      Buffalo, N.Y.

      • 2014 Sports Jobs – 2,079
      • Sport Job Growth – 26 percent
      • Change in Overall Jobs – 2 percent
      • Jobs that would be added in non-sports-related industries as a result of 100 new jobs being created in Sports Teams and Clubs – 552

      Boston, Mass.

      • 2014 Sports Jobs – 7,163
      • Sport Job Growth – 22 percent
      • Change in Overall Jobs – 6 percent
      • Jobs that would be added in non-sports-related industries as a result of 100 new jobs being created in Sports Teams and Clubs – 504

      Cincinnati, Ohio

      • 2014 Sports Jobs – 3,196
      • Sport Job Growth – 22 percent
      • Change in Overall Jobs – 4 percent
      • Jobs that would be added in non-sports-related industries as a result of 100 new jobs being created in Sports Teams and Clubs – 539

      Denver, Colo.

      • 2014 Sports Jobs – 4,033
      • Sport Job Growth – 22 percent
      • Change in Overall Jobs – 10 percent
      • Jobs that would be added in non-sports-related industries as a result of 100 new jobs being created in Sports Teams and Clubs – 561

      Miami, Fla.

      • 2014 Sports Jobs – 13,863
      • Sport Job Growth – 21 percent
      • Change in Overall Jobs – 9 percent
      • Jobs that would be added in non-sports-related industries as a result of 100 new jobs being created in Sports Teams and Clubs – 552

      Dallas, Texas

      • 2014 Sports Jobs – 10,956
      • Sport Job Growth – 19 percent
      • Change in Overall Jobs – 10 percent
      • Jobs that would be added in non-sports-related industries as a result of 100 new jobs being created in Sports Teams and Clubs – 434

      Philadelphia, Pa.

      • 2014 Sports Jobs – 7,622
      • Change in Sports Jobs – 18 percent
      • Change in Overall Jobs – 2 percent
      • Jobs that would be added in non-sports-related industries as a result of 100 new jobs being created in Sports Teams and Clubs – 343

      With the NFL season set to begin this week, there's a lot of excitement across the country. But what if you could do more than just watch sports? It's pos...

      Turf wars heat up in the fall

      The work you do now will determine what kind of lawn you have in the spring

      It's almost fall and besides football and everything pumpkin what comes to mind? Perhaps your lawn?

      This is the best time of year to make sure that you have that thick lush grass that is of barefoot quality. The soil is still warm enough to germinate the seeds. The cool air will help grow a strong root system. Over-seeding in the fall with the help of fertilizer can make your lawn up to 49% thicker next spring.

      The hard part is determining what kind of grass to plant. It can be overwhelming if you have never encountered any type of turf war. Some of the major types include:

      • Native Grass - Grass that originates in the USA . This type of grass is becoming more popular for home lawns and farm pastures, especially Buffalo grass.
      • Lawn Grass - Grass seed planted for commercial and home lawns. Most are not to be used for pasture or food plot forage.
      • Turf Grass - Grass used for sports fields, golf courses.
      • Pasture Grass - Grass that is used to graze horses and livestock.
      • Grass for Food Plots - Grass used in wildlife food plots such as ryegrass.

      You may find state-by-state information about lawn grass seed for your area at www.lawngrass.com. Another good source of information is the USDA Extension Service, which has offices in every state.  where grass seed species are cataloged by state. USDA advisors can help you find the seed that grows best in your area, uses the least water and is most resistant to weeds and pests.

      It's almost fall and besides football and everything pumpkin what comes to mind? Perhaps your lawn?...

      Home prices post another year-over-year increase

      They've been doing that for nearly 2.5 years

      Home prices across the U.S. were up in July, marking 29 months of consecutive year-over-year increases.

      CoreLogic -- a provider of property information, analytics and data-enabled services -- says its Home Price Index (HPI) report shows home prices, including distressed sales, rose 7.4% in July from the same period a year ago.

      On a month-over-month basis, home prices nationwide -- including distressed sales -- increased 1.2% from June. Distressed sales include short sales and real estate owned (REO) transactions.

      At the state level, only Arkansas posted a decline (0.9%) in July. A total of 11 states, plus the District of Columbia, reached new highs in the HPI dating back to January 1976 when the index started. These states are Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Vermont.

      In the months ahead

      The CoreLogic HPI Forecast indicates that home prices -- including distressed sales -- are projected to increase 0.6% month over month from July to August and, on a year-over-year basis, by 5.7% from July 2014 to July 2015.

      “While home prices have clearly moderated nationwide since the spring, the geographic drivers of price increases are shifting,” said Sam Khater, deputy chief economist for CoreLogic. “Entering this year, price increases were led by western and southern states, but over the last few months northeastern and midwestern states are migrating to the forefront of home price rankings.”

      Report highlights

      • Including distressed sales, the 5 states with the highest home price appreciation were: Michigan (+11.4%), Maine (+10.6%), Nevada (+10.6%), Hawaii (+10.5%) and California (+10.5%).
      • Excluding distressed sales, the 5 states with the highest home price appreciation were: Massachusetts (+11.2%), New York (+9.7%), Maine (+9.5%), Hawaii (+9.2%) and Florida (+8.8%).
      • Including distressed transactions, the peak-to-current change in the national HPI (from April 2006 to June 2014) was -11.9%. Excluding distressed transactions, the peak-to-current change in the HPI for the same period was -8.3%.
      • The 5 states with the largest peak-to-current declines, including distressed transactions, were: Nevada (-36.4%), Florida (-33.0%), Arizona (-28.9%), Rhode Island (-26.9%) and New Jersey (-20.6%).
      • Including distressed sales, the U.S. has experienced 29 consecutive months of year-over-year increases; however, the national average is no longer posting double-digit increases.
      • Ninety-eight of the top 100 Core Based Statistical Areas (CBSAs) measured by population showed year-over-year increases in June 2014. The two CBSAs that did not show an increase were Worcester, Mass.-Conn. and Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, Ark.

      Home prices across the U.S. were up in July, marking 29 months of consecutive year-over-year increases. CoreLogic Home a provider of property information...

      A garden on the rooftop

      When this old world starts gettin' you down ...

      Sometimes people who live in the city just want to have a taste of suburbia, maybe even a little bit of the country but not have to travel past their own rooftop.

      Urban roof gardens can give you that freedom as well as create roof art -- spaces that are edgy and creative but also improve air quality, manage storm-water and generate energy savings. What also is so great about roof gardens is they increase your property value.

      Rooftop gardening has exploded in the past 10 years and with it has come advances in both materials and methods.

      According to Chicago's Specialty Garden website, green roofs and rooftop gardens are different things. These two terms are often used interchangeably, but there are significant differences between green roofs and rooftop gardens. Both are installed atop buildings which are structurally suited for such installations. Both utilize plants. Both benefit the environment.

      Similar, but different

      But the difference between a green roof and a rooftop garden is kind of like the difference between a turf lawn and a patio garden bed with trees and shrubs. A green roof, like your lawn, is generally flat, thin (4-6” of soil) and planted with a family of short plants called sedum. Sedum is drought tolerant and can take extremes of heat and wind while protecting the roof membrane from the sun’s UV rays and providing environmental benefits like stormwater management, ambient temperature stabilization, soundproofing, etc.

      A rooftop garden, on the other hand, is like your backyard patio space – but on top of a roof. Almost anything you can put into a ground level patio can be installed on a rooftop. Large and small plants. Barbecue grills. Furniture. Lighting. Stone, wood, water features, spas, sound systems, even putting greens. Just about anything is possible.

      Having a rooftop garden is also a step in helping the environment. Pollinating insects like bees and butterflies will be naturally attracted to your garden which will help local ecosystems. Plants absorb carbon dioxide and help reduce dust levels in the air. In areas that are very congested planting helps reduce the temperature which rises with pollution levels.

      Pierre Wilter is the design director of Urban Roof Gardens, a leading UK consultancy. He says that while roof gardens may be costly, they can add up to 20% to the value of a property, while the insulation provided can help to reduce heating and cooling bills.

      James Taylor the singer said it best: "You got the stars above and the city lights below, let's go up on the roof!"

      Sometimes people who live in the city just want to have a taste of suburbia, maybe even a little bit of the country but not have to travel past their own r...

      Applications for mortgages rise for third straight week

      Refinancing applications are at a 5-month high

      It wasn't much, but mortgage applications are up for a third consecutive week.

      Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey show applications inched up 0.2% the week ending August 29.

      In the same week, the Refinance Index rose 1% from the previous week, taking the refinance share of mortgage activity up 1% to 57% of total applications -- the highest level since March.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity fell to 7.8% of total applications.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) decreased to 4.25%, the lowest level since June 2013, from 4.28%, with points decreasing to 0.24 from 0.25 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate was down from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) was unchanged at 4.22%, with points decreasing to 0.19 from 0.28 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA rose 1 basis point -- from 3.98% to 3.99% -- with points falling to 0.03 from 0.13 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs edged up 1 basis point to 3.48%, with points slipping to 0.30 from 0.34 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate was unchanged from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs jumped to 3.19% from 3.10%, with points decreasing to 0.45 from 0.52 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

      The survey covers over 75% of all U.S. retail residential mortgage applications.

      It wasn't much, but mortgage applications are up for a third consecutive week. Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applicat...

      BMW recalls BMW i3s and MINI Cooper Hardtops

      The air bag inflators may not have been assembled correctly

      BMW of North America is recalling 27 model year BMW i3 vehicles manufactured March 31, 2014, and 2014 MINI Cooper Hardtop vehicles manufactured February 2, 2014 to May 30, 2014.

      The affected vehicles may have been manufactured with an air bag inflator that was not assembled correctly. This could cause failure of the the air bag to deploy properly in the event of an accident.

      Improper deployment in the event of a crash could increase the risk of injury to the seat occupant.

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front passenger side air bag, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in September 2014.

      Owners may contact BMW customer service at 1-800-525-7417.

      BMW of North America is recalling 27 model year BMW i3 vehicles manufactured March 31, 2014, and certain 2014 MINI Cooper Hardtop vehicles manufactured Feb...

      Tray Vous recalls snack and activity trays for strollers

      The opening between the recalled tray and stroller seat bottom poses a strangulation hazard

      Tray Vous LLC of San Diego, Calif., is recalling about 860 Tray Vous snack and activity trays with connectors in the U.S. and Canada.

      The opening between the recalled tray and stroller seat bottom allows an unharnessed child’s body to pass through, but could trap a child’s head, posing a strangulation hazard.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Tray Vous snack and activity trays, which have connectors that fit into strollers. The three-piece units include a black plastic tray with a cup holder, a left connector and a right connector.

      The tray measures about 15 inches wide by 6 inches deep by .75 inches thick. The left and right plastic connectors measure about 4 inches long by 1.75 inches wide by .75 inches thick and are used to connect the tray to the stroller’s base.

      “Tray Vous” and “Patent Approved US7942437B2” are printed on a sticker underneath the tray.

      The trays, manufactured in China and Taiwan, were sold at Dainty Baby in Brooklyn, N.Y., and other juvenile product stores nationwide and online at daintybaby.com, mystroller.com, pacifier.com and trayvous.com from May 2011, through June 2012, for about $50.

      Consumers should immediately remove the recalled trays and connectors from strollers and contact Tray Vous to receive a free replacement tray and connectors.

      Consumers may contact Tray Vous at (800) 281-6483 Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT.

      Tray Vous LLC of San Diego, Calif., is recalling about 860 Tray Vous snack and activity trays with connectors in the U.S. and Canada. The opening between ...

      Kraft recalls American Singles Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product

      An ingredient in the product was improperly stored

      Kraft Foods Group is recalling 7,691 cases of select varieties of regular Kraft American Singles Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product.

      A supplier failed to store an ingredient used in this product in accordance with the company's temperature standards, which could create conditions that lead to premature spoilage and/or food borne illness.

      The company has received no consumer illness complaints for this product associated with this recall.

      The affected product is limited to four varieties with “Best When Used By” dates of February 20, 2015, and February 21, 2015, and was shipped to customers across the United States.

      The following varieties are being recalled:

      ProductSize
      Name of Product
      Units/Case
      Best When Used ByCode Dates
      Package Code
      Case Code
      12 oz.12 oz Kraft American Singles (16 slices)4820 FEB 2015 and 21 FEB 20150 21000 60464 700 21000 60464 00
      16 oz.16 oz Kraft American Singles (24 slices) (36 count case)3620 FEB 20150 21000 61526 100 21000 61450 00
      16 oz.16 oz Kraft American Singles (24 slices) (12 count case)1220 FEB 20150 21000 61526 100 21000 61526 00
      64 oz.64 oz (4 lb) Kraft American Singles (4x24 slice)820 FEB 20150 21000 63360 900 21000 62559 00
      The “Best When Used By” dates can be found on the bottom of the product package. No other Kraft Singles products are affected.

      Consumers who purchased any of these products should not eat them, but return them to the store where purchased for an exchange or full refund.

      Consumers may contact Kraft Foods consumer relations at 1-800-396-5512.  

      Kraft Foods Group is recalling 7,691 cases of select varieties of regular Kraft American Singles Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product. A supplier failed to...

      Early school start times creating a generation of zombies

      There's little question kids aren't getting enough sleep

      Anyone with a teenager knows getting them up and going for school can seem like you have spent 6 hours on a rowing machine in the gym.  It's a grind and it's not the way you want to start your day. 

      You now have back-up. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a new recommendation -- it suggests starting middle and high schools no earlier than 8:30 a.m. 

      They caution that teens need their sleep and if we don't give it to them we are creating another generation of sleep-deprived people. The science supporting a return to later school start times is clear, and has been since the 1990s, the researchers say.

      Not just pimples

      Pimples are not the only right of passage in puberty, after all.  In puberty we see a shift in circadian rhythms, or "body clocks,"  that pushes optimal sleep time forward. Most teenagers simply can't fall asleep before 11 p.m. even if they're lying in bed for hours. When the sun comes up  they haven't gotten close to the 8½ to 9½ hours of sleep their brains and bodies need.

      What we start to see are all the signs of sleep deprivation, like mood swings, weight gain, immune disorders and depression. Following all of those things is the fall-out in school -- not being able to concentrate, which results in poor grades. Not to mention new drivers and lack of sleep -- it's an accident waiting to happen.

      According to sleep expert  James B. Maas of Cornell University, "Almost all teenagers, as they reach puberty, become walking zombies because they are getting far too little sleep."

      Why no action?

      So maybe school starting times should reflect this?

      After all, there is some pretty strong evidence that really rings a bell with the experts. Besides the ones already mentioned, studies from the University of Minnesota, Brown University, and the Children's National Medical Center provide evidence that running schools at developmentally appropriate hours not only improves health and academic performance but actually results in teenagers getting significantly more sleep. Community life adjusts to school schedules, not vice versa.

      So why does high school still start at such ungodly hours as 7 a.m. around the country?

      Well, one argument holds that sports would suffer. And then there's traffic. Putting all those school buses on the road later would clog up streets. And besides, we've done it this way forever.

      The Academy of Pediatrics calls this "one of the most common -- and easily fixable -- public health issues in the U.S. today." So perhaps we ought to wake up and do what is best for our kids.

      Anyone with a teenager knows getting them up and going for school can seem like you have spent 6 hours on a rowing machine in the gym. It's a grind and it...

      Home Depot customer database hacked?

      Early reports indicate all U.S. stores might be affected, ever since last April or May

      Home Depot may be the latest addition to the list of companies that suffered a security breach after hackers broke into their customer-information database.

      Security blogger Brian Krebs reported the news on Tuesday morning. A Home Depot spokesperson, reading from a prepared statement, told him:

      “I can confirm we are looking into some unusual activity and we are working with our banking partners and law enforcement to investigate. Protecting our customers’ information is something we take extremely, seriously and we are aggressively gathering facts at this point while working to protect customers. If we confirm that a breach has a occurred, we will make sure customers are notified immediately. Right now, for security reasons it would be inappropriate for us to speculate further but we will provide further information as soon as possible.”

      Krebs' sources say that on Sept. 2, multiple banks noticed a new pile of stolen debit and credit card accounts offered for sale in the cybercrime underground that morning, account information apparently stolen from Home Depot's database.

      Though no detailed information is currently available to explain just how this was discovered, presumably it's because the various banks noticed that all of the stolen credit- or debit-card numbers from the most recent batch had one thing in common: they'd all been used to buy something from Home Depot.

      Connected to others

      Consumers rate Home Depot

      Based on the currently available evidence, the Home Depot hackers appear to be Russian or Ukrainian, and connected with other recent hackings at P.F. Chang's, Sally Beauty Supply, and Target:

      In what can only be interpreted as intended retribution for U.S. and European sanctions against Russia for its aggressive actions in Ukraine, this crime shop has named its newest batch of cards “American Sanctions.” Stolen cards issued by European banks that were used in compromised US store locations are being sold under a new batch of cards labled “European Sanctions.”

      (Actually, even if these hackers do indeed prove to be from or sympathetic to Russia, there is one other possible interpretation for their actions: They're greedy thieves who intended this for their own gain anyway, but decided to claim patriotic, love-of-country motivations because – hey, why not?)

      According to Krebs, there's no information yet confirming how limited or widespread the breach is, but early reports indicate all 2,200 Home Depot locations in the United States were affected. At 1:50 on Monday afternoon (Eastern time), Krebs updated his initial report to say:

      Several banks contacted by this reporter said they believe this breach may extend back to late April or early May 2014. If that is accurate — and if even a majority of Home Depot stores were compromised — this breach could be many times larger than Target, which had 40 million credit and debit cards stolen over a three-week period.

      If you have made a credit- or debit-card Home Depot purchase at any time since last April, contact your bank or card issuer at once, and take all necessary identity-theft precautions.

      Russian or Ukrainian hackers connected to earlier thefts believed responsible...

      Hackers break into Apple iCloud; steal nude photos and blackmail celebrities

      Apple has patched the security hole, but change your iPhone password just in case

      Even if you take no interest in celebrity gossip, you probably know about last weekend's hacking of the Apple iCloud database to steal nude photographs from the accounts of (mostly female) celebrities.

      And of course, there's already at least one phishing scam related to it; if you have an iPhone, ignore any text messages or emails allegedly from the Apple support team, warning of allegedly unauthorized activities on your account and requesting your ID and password to “fix” the problem.

      On Sunday afternoon, anonymous posters on 4Chan started discussing a huge cache of nude photos which had recently been stolen from the Apple Cloud; by Sunday evening, news of the photos had spread all over the Internet, especially via Twitter.

      Tuaw, the “Unofficial Apple Weblog,” noted on Monday that the hackers were apparently “seeking Bitcoin contributions in exchange for the images.” In other words, trying to blackmail money out of the people whose images were stolen.

      Based on the currently available evidence, it appears that the thieves managed to break into the iCloud accounts by using a “brute-force” search to crack the accounts' passwords.

      In hacking terms, a brute-force attack entails using software to methodically try every possible character combination until the right one is found. Suppose, for example, a password (such as Apple's) requires eight characters, a combination of numerals and letters, case-sensitive.

      Brute force

      There are ten different numerals (0-9), plus 52 different alphabetic characters (26 letters in the alphabet, each with an upper- and lower-case symbol). So that's 62 different character possibilities, times eight spaces in the password, which means the number of different password possibilities is much higher than our cheap four-function calculator can process.

      However, some quick online searching suggests the answer is 62^8, which is 2.1834011e+14 => 218,340,105,584,896 … even if that number's wrong, the correct answer is obviously a number far too high for any mere human to try all the different possibilities and crack the password by brute force.

      But having a computer try all the different password possibilities is quite easy if you know how. Some password systems are set up to make brute force attempts impossible. Have you ever temporarily forgotten your password for a given account (or only remembered “Okay, I know it's the release date and first-line lyrics to one of my five all-time favorite songs; I just can't remember which specific song I used?”), and then, after a few failed tries, got a message saying you now had to wait a period of some minutes before you'd be allowed to try entering a password again? That was a security measure intended to prevent brute-force attacks.

      Apparently Apple had no such limits in place to prevent brute-force hacking of its iCloud passwords -- though as of press time it appears the company has plugged that particular security leak.

      What's especially scary is that in at least some instances, the actors didn't know their photos were still in the cloud. One of the victims, Mary E. Winstead, tweeted that “Knowing those photos were deleted long ago, I can only imagine the creepy effort that went into this. Feeling for everyone who got hacked.”

      Deleting not enough

      Deleting the photos from her own phone, or even iCloud account, apparently wasn't enough.

      For that matter, it's possible that photos could end up in the Cloud without their owners even realizing it. CBS spoke to Chester Wisniewski, a senior security adviser at Sophos, who said “Whether it’s an Android or an iPhone, [mobile devices] have a tendency to enable this automatic synchronization to go ‘oh, you’ve taken a photo, we’ll make this available very conveniently in the cloud.’”

      (Storing your presumably private photos in the Cloud isn't the only thing your phone might be doing without your knowledge; last June, we warned you about the then-recent discovery that malicious hackers were exploiting a weakness in any mobile device set to connect with certain public wi-fi spots—again, often without their owners' awareness.)

      Apple released a statement saying that “We take user privacy very seriously and are actively investigating this report.”

      The Wall Street Journal reported that “A posting on online code-sharing site GitHub said a user had discovered a bug in Apple's Find My iPhone service, which tracks the location of a missing phone and allows a user to disable the phone remotely if it is stolen. The bug allowed a hacker to keep trying passwords until identifying the right one. …. The GitHub post was updated on Monday to read: "The end of fun, Apple have just patched."

      If you have an iPhone, even if you have no reason to think your own password was stolen in this most recent attack, you probably should change your password just in case. And, of course, remember never to use the same password for more than one account.

      Even if you take no interest in celebrity gossip, you probably know about last weekend's hacking of the Apple iCloud database to steal nude photographs fro...