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Arctic Cat Recalls single-rider and 2UP ATVs
Components in the front gear case can fail
Arctic Cat of Thief River Falls, Minn., is recalling about 40,000 single-rider and 2 UP style all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).
Components in the front gear case can fail, posing a risk of loss of control and crash hazard.
The company has received 44 reports of components in the front gear case failing, including 10 reports of the vehicle stopping abruptly or the operator losing of control of the ATV. There have been 4 reports of injury, including 1 involving a consumer sustaining broken ribs and injuries to a knee and back.
This recall involves model year 2008 and 2009 Arctic Cat single-rider and 2 UP style ATVs. Single-rider ATVs have one seat and one set of footrests for the operator. 2 UP ATVs have an elongated seat designed to hold one passenger behind the operator, a set of hand-holds mounted to the rear frame for the passenger and two sets of footrests. The recalled ATVs came in a variety of colors and have the name Arctic Cat on each side of the fuel tank and on the front above the grill opening.
All model year 2008 Arctic Cat ATVs with 400 cubic centimeter (cc) and larger engines are being recalled.
Model year 2009 Arctic Cat ATVs with 400 cubic centimeter (cc) and larger engines and with production numbers within the following ranges are being recalled: 200001 through 203861, 808001 through 808137, and X25082 through X30243.
The engine size is printed on the back of the instrument cluster between the handle bars.
The vehicle identification number (VIN) in the format 4UF09******XXXXXX is on the frame tube near the driver’s side rear wheel and contains the model year and production number of the vehicle.
The model year is the fourth and fifth characters of the VIN in the YY format. The production number is the last six characters of the VIN.
The ATVs. Manufactured in the U.S., were sold at Arctic Cat dealers nationwide from May 2007, to October 2014, for between $5,500 and $12,000.
Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled ATVs and contact an Arctic Cat dealer to schedule a free repair.
Consumers may contact Arctic Cat at (800) 279-6851 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CT Monday through Friday.
Arctic Cat of Thief River Falls, Minn., is recalling about 40,000 single-rider and 2 UP style all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). Components in the front gear c...
Bailey Farms of Oxford, N.C., is recalling 6,215 pounds of Fresh Serrano Chile Peppers.
The peppers may be contaminated with Salmonella.
No illnesses have been reported to date.
The recalled product was distributed to Meijer, Inc. and customers may have purchased this product from October 14th to October 19th at Meijer stores in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.
The product was distributed to Publix Super Markets Inc., Merchants Distributors, Inc., Walmart, Food Lion, Flavor 1st Growers and Packers, US Foods, Military Produce Group, LLC.,C&S Wholesalers, John Vena, Inc. and Harris Teeter.
Consumers who purchased Fresh Serrano Chile Peppers from the above listed companies between the dates of October 2, 2014, to October 21, 2014, should check with the above listed companies to verify if the product was subject to recall.
Consumers with questions may contact Bailey Farms Monday – Friday 8:00 am to 5:00 pm EST at 1-888-820-2545.
Bailey Farms of Oxford, N.C., is recalling 6,215 pounds of Fresh Serrano Chile Peppers. The peppers may be contaminated with Salmonella. No illnesses hav...
Students now have tools that can calculate the cost of their education
You wouldn't agree to buy a new car without knowing what it was going to cost to drive it off the lot. Yet when it comes to selecting a college, many students enroll without knowing what a degree will ultimately cost.
It's no surprise that millions of students end their 4 years with delayed sticker shock and thousands of dollars in student loans.
Fortunately, colleges in recent years have become more transparent when it comes to letting prospective students know how much their education will cost. But it took a little prodding from the federal government.
Know before you owe
In 2011 the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) introduced its “Know Before You Owe” campaign for student loans.
In a joint venture with the U.S. Department of Education, the CFPB produced a financial aid shopping sheet for use by colleges to help prospective students better understand the financial aid they might qualify for. Students can also use it to compare aid packages offered by different schools. By April 2014, thousands of schools were using it.
The Department of Education has an online tool to help students select a college or university based on cost. Using the tool a student can generate a report on the highest and lowest cost per academic year, focusing either on tuition or net costs.
Tuition reports include tuition and required fees. Net price is cost of attendance minus grant and scholarship aid. Data are reported by institutions and are for full-time beginning students.
Where costs are accelerating
The tool will also select the schools whose costs are rising at the fastest rate. That can be important if a student is a year or two away from enrolling. It lets them know that costs might be higher when they actually enroll and go up significantly over the 4 years they are in school.
Individual colleges are also now required to provide online tools that increase cost transparency. Wellesley College has a cost estimator called My inTuition.
The tool asks just 6 basic questions before generating a personalized estimate of an student's cost to attend Wellesley. The recently-updated version provides a breakdown of the cost paid by the family, work-study, and loan estimates, in addition to grant assistance provided by the college.
"We got a highly positive response when we released the cost estimator last year, and with the provision of more detailed information, we hope to continue and expand on that," said Wellesley economics professor Phillip B. Levine, who invented My inTuition.
Levine says the new detailed breakdown provided by the tool may help alleviate some of the concerns around student debt.
"Many families worry that their children will need to take out tens of thousands in loans to cover what they aren't paying out of pocket,” he said. “My inTuition helps them understand that is not the case at Wellesley."
The Department of Education calculator is especially helpful for students trying to narrow their school choices to private non-profit, private for-profit or a state-supported college or university.
For example, when searching for the lowest tuition, it shows the average tuition of the lowest state-supported public colleges is $7,407 per academic year. But among the lowest-cost for-profit schools, the average tuition is more than $15,000.
You wouldn't agree to buy a new car without knowing what it was going to cost to drive it off the lot. Yet when it comes to selecting a college, many stude...
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Owners of vehicles with defective airbags: Act now
Feds say more than 6 million vehicles are affected
Owners of certain Toyota, Honda, Mazda, BMW, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Chrysler, Ford and General Motors vehicles are being urged to act immediately on recall notices to replace defective Takata airbags.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says over 6 million vehicles are involved in these recalls, which have occurred as far back as 18 months ago and as recently as Monday.
The message comes with urgency, especially for owners of vehicles affected by regional recalls in the following areas: Florida, Puerto Rico, limited areas near the Gulf of Mexico in Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Louisiana, as well as Guam, Saipan, American Samoa, Virgin Islands and Hawaii.
"Responding to these recalls, whether old or new, is essential to personal safety and it will help aid our ongoing investigation into Takata airbags and what appears to be a problem related to extended exposure to consistently high humidity and temperatures,” said NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman. “However, we’re leaving no stone unturned in our aggressive pursuit to track down the full geographic scope of this issue."
What to do
Consumers uncertain whether their vehicle is impacted by the Takata recalls -- or any other recall -- can contact their manufacturer’s website to search, by their vehicle identification number (VIN) to confirm whether their individual vehicle has an open recall that needs to be addressed.
Owners who have been contacted by their manufacturer should contact their dealer’s service department and make arrangements for the repair. In addition, consumers can sign up for NHTSA recall alerts, which go out before recall letters are mailed by the manufacturers to the affected owners.
BMW: 627,615 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2000 – 2005 3 Series Sedan
2000 – 2006 3 Series Coupe
2000 – 2005 3 Series Sports Wagon
2000 – 2006 3 Series Convertible
2001 – 2006 M3 Coupe
2001 – 2006 M3 Convertible
Chrysler: 371,309 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2003 – 2008 Dodge Ram 1500
2008 Dodge Ram 2500
2008 Dodge Ram 3500
2006 – 2008 Dodge Ram 4500
2008 – Dodge Ram 5500
2005 – 2008 Dodge Durango
2005 – 2008 Dodge Dakota
2005 – 2008 Chrysler 300
2007 – 2008 Chrysler Aspen
Ford: 58,669 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2004 – Ranger
2005 – 2006 GT
2005 – 2007 Mustang
General Motors: undetermined total number of potentially affected vehicles
2003 – 2005 Pontiac Vibe
2005 – Saab 9-2X
Honda: 5,051,364 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2001 – 2007 Honda Accord)
2001 – 2002 Honda Accord
2001 – 2005 Honda Civic
2002 – 2006 Honda CR-V
2003 – 2011 Honda Element
2002 – 2004 Honda Odyssey
2003 – 2007 Honda Pilot
2006 – Honda Ridgeline
2003 – 2006 Acura MDX
2002 – 2003 Acura TL/CL
2005 – Acura RL
Mazda: 64,872 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2003 – 2007 Mazda6
2006 – 2007 MazdaSpeed6
2004 – 2008 Mazda RX-8
2004 – 2005 MPV
2004 – B-Series Truck
Mitsubishi: 11,985 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2004 – 2005 Lancer
2006 – 2007 Raider
Nissan: 694,626 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2001 – 2003 Nissan Maxima
2001 – 2004 Nissan Pathfinder
2002 – 2004 Nissan Sentra
2001 – 2004 Infiniti I30/I35
2002 – 2003 Infiniti QX4
2003 – 2005 Infiniti FX35/FX45
Subaru: 17,516 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2003 – 2005 Baja
2003 – 2005 Legacy
2003 – 2005 Outback
2003 – 2005 Baja
2004 – 2005 Impreza
Toyota: 877,000 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2002 – 2005 Lexus SC
2002 – 2005 Toyota Corolla
2003 – 2005 Toyota Corolla Matrix
2002 – 2005 Toyota Sequoia
2003 – 2005 Toyota Tundra
Owners of certain Toyota, Honda, Mazda, BMW, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Chrysler, Ford and General Motors vehicles are being urged to act immediately on r...
Retail database security breaches: just how commonplace are they, anyway?
And how much does this help ordinary American consumers?
You can't go a week anymore without hearing another news report on the theme “Another bank, business or organization got hacked; millions of customers' confidential financial data at risk.” As a result, chances are good that at some point recently you've also heard (or even said) the exasperated joke: “You know, it would be quicker and easier to just tell me who hasn'tbeen breached lately.”
Yet Bloomberg BusinessNews, after looking at data-breach records maintained by the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, suggests that the joke doesn't really work:
At a time when it may seem like there are few safe places to shop, the threat may not be as out-of-control as it appears. … eight of the ten biggest public U.S. retailers, when ranked by revenue, have not disclosed major consumer breaches this decade. And we're not counting those instances when a few hundred customers were affected or a crook accessed a customer's account using a password stolen from another site.
It's true that, of the 10 largest retailers in America, only two of them – Target and Home Depot – have reported mass breaches.
Yet from the perspective of an ordinary card-using American with typical mainstream shopping habits, it doesn't really matter: the number of actual businesses breached might be a minority, yet the number of Americans whose credit card or other financial data was compromised in a breach is probably a majority.
Not just retailers
Then, too, there's the fact that retailers and restaurants aren't the only way Americans are put at risk; there's also banks, hospitals and medical centers, motor vehicle departments and other state- or federal-level government bureaucracies, and mass data brokers like Experian, all of whom have (inadvertently) managed to put Americans' personal data in the hands of identity thieves at some point in the past couple years.
Bloomberg does realize this, and also pointed out that “there is an important caveat here: Just because a company hasn't announced a breach doesn't mean it hasn't been hacked.”
Indeed, and when companies do announce breaches, they usually only do so after an independent security researcher or blogger has already discovered and announced it; for the most part, a disturbingly long time passes between “moment a company realizes it's been breached” and “moment company lets its customers know they're at risk.”
For example, in May 2014, when we first told you that PayPal and eBay had been hacked, we also told you this: “The break-in was detected about two weeks ago, the company said.”
When we reported the AT&T hacking in June 2014, the article had this subtitle: “Hacked two months ago, discovered one month ago, now announced.”
Or the August 2014 database breach at SuperValu grocery and liquor stores: “Breach discovered four weeks ago, announced yesterday.”
Still at risk
And even companies officially on the “not-breached” list – such as Walmart, which topped Bloomberg's list of the 10 largest American retailers – might still have plenty of individual customers at risk anyway.
Earlier this month, for example, we reported that, ever since September 2013, ConsumerAffairs has received frequent complaints from people all over the country, reporting that their Walmart MoneyCards were hacked and the accounts drained at a Target store in New York City or its suburbs. Granted, the (still-unknown) guilty parties probably didn't “hack into the database” – if they did, you'd expect to hear complaints from millions of cardholders, not merely a dozen or so – but this offers scant comfort to those people whose money was stolen.
You've surely heard the old saying that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. A similar maxim applies to information security today: your information is only as secure as the least-secure cash register or database handling it.
So if you've used your credit card to pay at 100 different places recently, and 99% of them haven't been hacked — it doesn't matter, because that remaining 1% compromised your card as much as if you'd personally posted your information in some Russian hackers' forum.
You can't go a week anymore without hearing another news report on the theme “Another bank, business or organization got hacked; millions of customers' con...
Work-at-home promoters ordered to pay $25 million in refunds
99.8% of 110,000 consumers who took the bait made exactly nothing
"Quicksell" sounded good, at least to the unpracticed ear. It promised consumers that they could make big bucks by working at home in their spare time. But a federal court found that 99.8% of those who paid the $148 fee made nothing.
Today, the court ordered the promoters of Quicksell to pay more than $25 million in refunds to 110,000 consumers who took the bait.
“The court’s order shows there are serious consequences for business opportunity marketers who invent earnings claims and fabricate stories about eager customers,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “As long as scammers keep making false claims, we’ll be working with our law enforcement partners to stop them.”
QuickSell claimed it would help consumers find businesses with excess inventory to sell, would find a buyer for the inventory and pay consumers half the sales price. They also falsely claimed consumers would earn at least $4,000 or more in the first 30 days and, on average, $4,280 per deal.
Once consumers bought the program, they were inundated with ads to buy more business “tools” that cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. Consumers were encouraged to spend an extra $2,300 if they were serious about making money. Those who made the additional investment received only a directory of defunct companies’ telephone numbers.
Today, the court granted the Federal Trade Commission's request for summary judgment, ordering Zaken Corp. and Tiran Zaken to repay the ill-gotten gains, finding that they had violated the FTC Act and the FTC’s Business Opportunity Rule, which requires business opportunity sellers to provide specific information to help consumers evaluate a business opportunity.
"Quicksell" sounded good, at least to the unpracticed ear. It promised consumers that they could make big bucks by working at home in their spare time. But...
Acupuncture may help with chronic conditions that are dogging your pet
Let's get right to the point. Is acupuncture something you might want to consider for your pet?
Acupuncture uses very fine needles inserted into specific parts of the body to stimulate the release of pain-relieving endorphins, intended to help things like chronic pain and skin, musculoskeletal and nervous disorders. The goal of acupuncture is to stimulate the body to heal itself.
Most pets’ health problems are diagnosed once they already have symptoms and usually their condition has advanced.So this could possibly be a way to prevent disease from occurring.
Lexie Hanna is a veterinarian and acupuncturist in Wilmington, Delaware, says pets can get relief from conditions like arthritis, chronic pain from disc disease, seizure disorders, lick granulomas, nerve injuries and dry eye. It also is sometimes effective with some behavioral problems in cats.
"The needles start the release of hormones from the central nervous system and regulate blood flow, promoting healing," Hanna said.
Fewer side effects
What's good about acupuncture is that there are fewer side effects than with prescription and over-the-counter drugs, according to Hanna.
"The downside is that you have to make more frequent visits to the office and they can take up to 30 minutes, It's easier to have a vet give you a pill for your pet, but that is only treating the symptoms. With acupuncture you are promoting the healing of their bodies," she said.
Although an ancient practice, acupuncture is new to the veterinary world in the West. It was only in the 1990's that the American Veterinary Medical Association admitted the acupuncture group as an allied veterinary organization.
If your pet has chronic pain and you are open-minded it might be something to consider. Talk it over with your veterinarian.
Let's get right to the point. Is acupuncture something you might want to consider for your pet?...
By Stacey Cohen
Ebola scams proliferating at pandemic pace
Consumers must protect themselves against bogus fund-raisers, "preparedness kits" and medications
Political pontificating aside, Ebola is not much of a threat to the American populace despite raging out of control in parts of West Africa. Bigger threats include the flu and scams that prey on consumers' fears about Ebola.
State attorneys general around the country are warning of a fast-spreading outbreak of Ebola scams.
Scammers commonly use moments of heightened public fear to perpetuate frauds, and reports have surfaced of fundraising scams claiming to benefit victims of Ebola. There have also been dubious offers by companies selling bogus Ebola preparedness kits and preventative medications while there is not an FDA-approved vaccine for Ebola, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman noted.
“Scammers are shamefully exploiting this moment of heightened concern about public health to defraud good people. These frauds detract from the positive work of the brave medical professionals fighting this disease and the charitable spirit of New Yorkers looking to help out,” Schneiderman said.
What to do
If you receive solicitations about Ebola, consider the following tips:
Do your homework on the disease. With scammers selling bogus emergency preparedness kits and medical treatments, be sure to know the facts. There are no FDA-approved vaccines, medications, or dietary supplements to prevent or treat Ebola, so be wary of offers promising otherwise.
Stay informed about the disease, the latest emergency preparedness measures, and the most medically accurate information by visiting the Ebola update page on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Be wary of supposed remedies. Consumer Reports published an article referencing a bogus e-mail solicitation offering a $29 “surplus protection kit” supposedly designed for emergency response teams and law enforcement agencies. There are no FDA-approved medical treatments for Ebola.
Donate to reputable charities. Fraudulent solicitations have been received claiming to pay funds to families of Ebola patients and promising to fight the disease. Charity Navigator offers a listing of reputable charities responding to the Ebola outbreak.
Do not click on unsolicited links in e-mail or online. Scammers sometimes utilize a technique called phishing, in which victims are baited into clicking on harmful links or entering personal information under false pretenses. Such links are often linked to malware and identity-theft rackets.
Political pontificating aside, Ebola is not much of a threat to the American populace despite raging out of control in parts of West Africa. Bigger threats...
Spam text scammers to pay $10 million in penalties
They bombarded consumers with bogus offers of "free" items
Sending the messages was cheap but now a group of defendants who flooded consumers with phony text messages has been ordered to pay $10 million in penalties.
The settlement marks the completion of a major effort by the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on the senders of unwanted text messages offering consumers “free” gift cards to retailers such as Best Buy, Walmart and Target.
The messages contained links to websites that led consumers through a process that the FTC alleges was designed to get consumers’ personal information for sale to marketers, their mobile phone numbers to cram unwanted charges on their bill, and to drive them to paid subscriptions for which the scammers received affiliate referral fees.
Many of the consumers later received illegal robocalls, phony “free” merchandise offers, and unauthorized charges crammed on their mobile phone bills.
“The operators of this scam bombarded consumers for months with deceptive text messages offering ‘free’ items, but the costs to consumers were very real – including the misuse of their personal information to cram unwanted charges on their phone bills,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “I am pleased that these scammers will be forced to turn over millions of the dollars they took from consumers and banned from repeating these actions in the future.”
A complete list of defendants and penalties is available here.
Sending the messages was cheap but now a group of defendants who flooded consumers with phony text messages has been ordered to pay $10 million in penaltie...
Applications for refinancing were also sharply higher
A drop in interest rates helped send mortgage applications higher in the week ending October 17.
According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey, applications jumped 11.6% -- the third consecutive weekly increase. There was no adjustment for the Columbus Day holiday.
“Continuing concerns about weak economic growth in Europe and a few U.S. economic indicators that came in below expectations caused a flight to quality into US Treasuries last week, leading to sharp drops in interest rates,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s chief economist. “Mortgage rates have fallen close to 30 basis points over the last 4 weeks.”
The Refinance Index shot up 23% from the previous week to the highest level since November 2013. At the same time, the average loan balance for refinance applications increased to $306,400 -- the highest level in the survey’s history. The sure pushed refinance share of mortgage activity to 65 percent of total applications -- the highest level since last December -- from 59% the previous week.
The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity increased 1.4% -- to 9.4% of total applications, the highest level since June 2008.
The FHA share of total applications decreased from 9.5% last week to 8.3% this week. The VA share of total applications rose to 9.6% from 8.8%, and the USDA share of total applications fell from 1.0% last week to 0.8% this week.
Contract interest rates
The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) fell 10 basis points -- from 4.20% to 4.10%, the lowest level since May 2013, with points increasing to 0.21 from 0.17 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) decreased to 4.03%, the lowest level since May 2013, from 4.14%, with points increasing to 0.20 from 0.10 (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 was down 9 basis points to 3.81%, the lowest level since June 2013, with points decreasing to 0.07 from 0.08 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs fell from 3.41% to 3.28%, the lowest level since May 2013, with points down to 0.22 from 0.28 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs slipped to 2.94%, the lowest level since June 2013, from 3.05%, with points decreasing to 0.37 from 0.38 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
The survey covers over 75 percent of all U.S. retail residential mortgage applications.
A drop in interest rates helped send mortgage applications higher in the week ending October 17. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Wee...
A drop in energy costs negated a rise in the price of food
Declining energy costs helped keep consumer prices in Check during September, with the consumer price index (CPI) inching up just 0.1%.
Figures from the Labor Department (DOL) show that over the last 12 months, the CPI is up 1.7%.
Energy and food costs
Energy costs fell for a third consecutive month, declining 0.7% in September. Three of the 4 components were lower, with gasoline off 1.0%, electricity down 0.7% and fuel oil dropping 2.1%. In contrast, natural gas rose 1.6% after falling in each of the 4 previous months. Over the past 12 months, energy costs are down 0.6%.
The price of food was up 0.3% last month on top of a 0.2% increase in August. Meats, poultry, fish, and eggs rose 0.7%, with beef and veal prices up 2.0% for a gain of 16.7% since January. Dairy and related products increased 0.5% for the tenth advance in the last 11 months, while fruits and vegetables posted a gain of 0.1% percent after declining in August. Food at home costs are up 3.2% over the past year, while food away from home has risen 2.7% over the last 12 months.
The core rate of inflation, which strips out the volatile food and energy categories, was up 0.1% In September. Within that, rising costs were seen for shelter (0.3%), medical care (0.2%), alcoholic beverages (0.1%) and personal care (0.1%), while declines were posted for airline fares (0.5%) and used car and truck prices (0.1%).
According to the S&P/Experian Consumer Credit Default Indices the national composite posted 1.04% in September -- up 3 basis points from July 2014’s historical low.
The first mortgage default rate rose to 0.93% -- the second consecutive monthly increase, while the second mortgage default rate rose 1 basis point -- to 0.52%, the first increase since April. The bank card rate decreased for the third consecutive month, declining by 10 basis points -- to 2.63%.
“Default rates for bank cards reversed an increase seen in the first half of 2014 while defaults on first mortgages and auto loans appear to have bottomed out over the summer,” said David M. Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the Index Committee for S&P Dow Jones Indices. “However, none of these movements are very large. Despite their slight increase, default rates are still near the lows seen before the 2007-2009 recession and financial crisis”
Default rates drop in cities
Chicago, Dallas, New York and Miami all reported rate decreases, with Miami posting a default rate of 1.21% -- its lowest rate since June 2006 and New York posting a default rate of 1.05%, its lowest since September 2005.
Los Angeles for the second consecutive month posted a rate increase of 0.77%, up 11 basis points from its historical low in July 2014. All 5 cities -- Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami and New York -- remain below default rates seen a year ago.”
Consumer credit default rates are on the rise. According to the S&P/Experian Consumer Credit Default Indices the national composite posted 1.04% in Septem...
Since the financial crisis of 2008 and the Great Recession, fewer people have become homeowners. For starters, it has been harder to get a mortgage. Down payment requirements are higher and so are credit standards.
But there has been something else at work. The collapse of the housing market and the resulting wave of foreclosures prompted millions of people who, before 2007, might have been homeowners, to remain renters.
For some people this may have been the right move. It is obvious that many people in the past jumped into home ownership before they were adequately prepared. But a recent study suggests those who have embraced home ownership have fared better financially than those who have remained renters.
The study by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation concludes that renters are a “financially fragile” population compared to homeowners. They have more debt, less emergency savings and lack the financially literacy of their home-owning peers.
They are also more likely to experience income shocks.
“Given their financial fragility and low levels of financial literacy, the findings suggest the renter population could have a difficult time responding to income shocks and the financial consequences associated with them,” the study concludes.
The study looked at data from 2012. It found that during that year 36% of the population lived in a rented home, a 2% increase from 2000. As you might expect, the renter population tended to be young and make less money than homeowners.
But over time, as they increase their earnings, renters tended to become homeowners – at least they did in the past. The FINRA study found that part of the increase in the renter population is made up of young families, who in the past purchased homes.
Some of the data comes from the National Financial Capability Study (NFCS), which shows that renters have significantly lower incomes than homeowners, even though in many markets monthly rents are now higher than monthly mortgage payments would be for the same property.
For example, 74% of renters have household incomes below $50,000 a year while only 41% of homeowner households do. And even though homeowners are more likely to be married, renters are more likely to be supporting dependents in their households.
Maybe it should come as no surprise then that renters have a greater problem making ends meet than homeowners. Twenty-four percent of renters indicated that they find it very difficult to cover their bills, and an additional 48% found it somewhat difficult.
For homeowners, on the other hand, only 12% found it very difficult, and 39% found it somewhat difficult.
What it means
This is not to suggest that if you are struggling financially, all you need do is buy a home and your problems will be over. What the study may be exposing is not cause but effect.
If you can qualify for a mortgage, you have manageable debt, a good credit score and stable income. If you purchased in the last few years, when both home prices and interest rates have been low, you're doing even better because your mortgage payment is lower than rent in most cases.
The takeaway from the study, the authors contend, is that renters comprise a consumer group that could benefit from targeted financial literacy education.
While the challenges renters face are steep, the authors contend that increasing the financial literacy and capability of renters “may represent one avenue to improve the overall financial wellbeing of over one-third of households in the United States.”
Since the financial crisis of 2008 and the Great Recession, fewer people have become homeowners. For starters, it has been harder to get a mortgage. Down p...
Woman loses paid-off home due to city tax department's $95 error
City's clerical error from four years ago leads to tax auction last week
A woman in Norcross, Georgia received notice that her paid-off condo was sold at auction, and she and her 4-year-old daughter have until Nov. 25 to move out, because back in 2011 she didn't pay a $95 city tax bill which the city admits she never received.
WSB-TV in Atlanta reported today that Xui Lui paid cash in 2011 for her two-bedroom condo, and according to city records she has paid every tax bill since then – except one bill, for $94.85, from 2011. The certified letters the city sent warning her of the unpaid balance were returned to the city due to a “clerical error” – specifically, an incomplete address.
“No street, no name. How can I receive the letter?” Lui said.
The city had no difficulty putting Lui's proper address on all of her other tax bills that year, plus all other correspondences with her during 2012, 2013 and 2014 — everything except the vital notice about that one unpaid $95 bill.
The city also got her address right last week, when they sent word that her condo had been sold at auction for unpaid taxes, and she and her daughter had to leave two days before Thanksgiving.
Story continues below video
Norcross City Manager Rudolph Smith said that “We are going back and doing our due diligence. [The city contractor who handled the sale] will try to work something out.” However, since the property has already been sold to another buyer, it's possible that nothing can be done (presumably, having the city refund the money and void the auction on the grounds that it should never have happened in the first place is not an option).
The city did not say who bought the condo, how much it sold for, or which specific individuals were responsible for the error in the first place.
Lui said the city admitted to her that mistakes were made, and asked “Where are we going to go? I have nowhere. This is my house. Why do I need to move out? …. Someone can rob your house? Rob your property? This is not American style, right?”
A woman in Norcross, Georgia received notice that her paid-off condo was sold at auction, and she and her 4-year-old daughter have until Nov. 25 to move ou...
By Jennifer Abel
Security breach at Staples stores; customer card data stolen
Take precautions if you paid with your card at Staples stores in the Northeast
Bad news for customers of Staplesoffice supply, especially customers in the Northeast: looks like Staples is the latest major retailer to get hacked.
Security blogger Brian Krebs reported yesterday that, according to his sources at “more than a half-dozen” banks operating on the East Coast, customer data appears to have been stolen from at least seven stores in Pennsylvania, three in New York City and one in New Jersey.
Given these limitations – a dozen stores hit out of the 1,800 stores Staples has nationwide – it appears that the hackers did not actually “hack” into the actual Staples database, but most likely installed some sort of malware on cash registers at the actual stores, malware enabling the thieves to steal all credit- or debit-card data used at the affected registers.
The Dairy Queen/Orange Julius security breach from earlier this month was another example: the actual DQ database remained off-limits to hackers, but close to 400 individual stores had card-stealing malware on their cash registers.
A Staples spokesman offered the standard response to the breach, admitting that the company is investigating a “potential issue involving credit card data and has contacted law enforcement.”
Furthermore, “We take the protection of customer information very seriously, and are working to resolve the situation,” and “If Staples discovers an issue, it is important to note that customers are not responsible for any fraudulent activity on their credit cards that is reported on [in] a timely basis.”
So far, Staples has not announced (or does not know) the time frame involved – when did the malware first start lifting numbers, and for how long?
Until more information is available, if you paid with a card at any Staples in Pennsylvania, New Jersey or New York City at any time in the past year or so, you should probably contact your bank and take the usual security precautions.
Bad news for customers of Staples office supply, especially customers in the Northeast: looks like Staples is the latest major retailer to get hacked....
By Jennifer Abel
Dish Network dumps CNN, other Turner channels
Consumers are again held hostage as corporate giants tussle over license fees
It's a good thing cable TV companies aren't in the car business. If they were, they'd probably come and confiscate your car every time they got into a pricing dispute with a parts supplier.
The latest to use this negotiation-by-consumer-abuse tactic is Dish Network, which has dumped CNN and other Turner Broadcasting channels from its line-up. Or if you prefer, Turner has pulled its programming from Dish. Either way, consumers lose the programming they thought Dish was obligated to provide under its contract with them.
It's a common tactic and one that leaves consumers fuming.
"I am sick of being affected because two rich corps won't kiss and make up," said Lori of New York, N.Y., in a ConsumerAffairs review. "DISH... I pay each month for certain programming. I want it. Fix this."
Judy of Carlsbad, N.M., echoed Lori's comments: "I will have to get rid of Dish if these chanels are not back. I have been with Dish several years and love it, in fact have referred several people, but this will end it."
Not just news
Sure, news junkies are upset but Ed of New Bedford, Mass., notes that there's more at stake than the latest Ebola update.
"I am a news and sports junky, and love old classic movies. Recently Dish took away Comcast Sports New England which I thought was a premium network. I watch pro basketball on it and other regional sports programs. It is gone. Today CNN, HLN, TCM are also gone," he said. "I have six months to go on the contract and I do not plan to renew. Dish has not lived up to the agreement I had with them and I am sure the same applies to millions of other customers."
Of course, to hear Dish tell it, it was Turner that pulled its channels.
"Monday night Turner Networks removed Boomerang, Cartoon Network, CNN, CNN en Español, HLN, truTV and Turner Classic Movies from the DISH programming lineup," the company said in a prepared statement
"In the past year, DISH has successfully renewed agreements with many large content providers," said Warren Schlichting, DISH senior vice president of Programming. "As a result, we are confident that we have offered a deal to Turner that reflects an appropriate value for our customers."
"We regret the service disruption to our customers, and remain committed to reaching an agreement that promptly returns this content to DISH's programming lineup."
Turner blames Dish, which it says broke off negotiations.
"Turner has worked diligently for months to come to a fair agreement including multiple extensions and compromises, and it’s unfortunate that Dish is once again operating in a disruptive manner that takes away networks and programming from their customers," Turner said. "We are hopeful our counterparts will return to the negotiating table, and we’ll get a deal completed."
The dispute comes at a bad time for both companies. Cable and satellite companies like Dish are losing customers are more consumers drop cable in favor of streaming video via the Internet. Program producers like Turner are experiencing weak ratings and ad sales. Turner recently announced it would lay off 10% of its workforce in an attempt to increase earnings.
It's a good thing cable TV companies aren't in the car business. If they were, they'd probably come and confiscate your car every time they got into a pric...
Scamming you is more a matter of psychology than technology
Information is power and, when it comes to the criminal underground, it might as well be gold. Scammers who pick up chuncks of information about you can quickly pick your pocket.
An effective phishing scam almost always involves trickery and deception. A message in your email inbox is not what it first appears.
For example, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) says scammers have been posing as officials of that agency for the last 10 years, contacting consumers at random and asking for highly sensitive personal information.
Two professors at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) have studied a wide range of phishing scams, measuring which ones are most effective and why. Their findings might help you avoid falling into one of these traps.
Finding an effective warning
“We’re trying to have people be more careful with the personal information they divulge online,” said Dr. Sandra Carpenter, a psychology professor at UAH. “The problem is what is it you can say to them that will be an effective warning?”
Carpenter, and her colleague Dr. Feng Zhu, found that scammers running a phishing operation will routinely use one or more social influencing strategies commonly used in marketing, like promising a reward. Consumer advocates often warn “if something is too good to be true, it usually is.” But that warning often gets lost when a consumer focuses on the promised reward.
Scammers also employ fear as a motivating factor. Posing as a feared authority, like the Internal Revenue Service, the scammer may use intimidation as a means to pry loose information. A frightened consumer might not think it through, realizing no government agency would demand sensitive information in an unsecure email.
The challenge, then, is to find a way to identify these bogus pitches/threats and warn consumers before they make a costly error in judgment.
The researchers are using eye trackers to pinpoint where a user’s eyes are on a screen and how long they stay at any point. They're studied the research on which warnings work in industry for toxic chemicals and other dangers.
They're using the Communication Human Information Processing (CHIP) model to discover what kind of warnings will get consumers' attention and alerting them to the danger.
“CHIP indicates the stream of processes a person goes through in order to accept a warning,” Carpenter said.
It can be a complicated process. The researchers say your response to a warning is based on the strength of the authority issuing it. In addition, you have to understand it, remember it, change your attitude and be motivated enough to change your behavior.
Early experiments highlighted the problem. The 2 researchers subjected groups of consumers to inquiries for information. Some were legitimate, some were phishing attacks. Some were warned about phishing attacks, some were not.
“When they are under attack with an effective warning, we find that people disclose at about the rate of those not being attacked,” Carpenter said. “We are currently trying to see which warning words work best and we are testing now to see which source is more credible and effective for the warning.”
In other words, very often a warning doesn't work. For that reason a 2009 industry study found phishing attacks to be highly effective. For example, 45% of bank customers who were redirected to a phishing site gave up their log-in information.
Carpenter and Zhu are still trying to find an effective warning, but what they have figured out is that phishing is not just a problem of technology, though fixes are normally offered only in those terms. Rather, a lot of it involves psychology.
Scammers, it seems, have always known that.
Information is power and, when it comes to the criminal underground, it might as well be gold. Scammers who pick up chuncks of information about you can qu...
Customer says Comcast overcharged him and got him fired; sues in federal court
Comcast admits to bad service and billing errors, but denies role in man's firing
Of all the bad-customer-service stories Comcast customers might have, none is likely to top that of former customer Conal O'Rourke, also a former employee of the accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers (which, incidentally, does a lot of business with Comcast).
Last Thursday, O'Rourke filed suit against Comcast, alleging among other things that the cable giant violated federal privacy law when, presumably in retaliation for O'Rourke's complaints of bad customer service, someone at Comcast contacted O'Rourke's employer and had him fired.
The Consumerist first broke the story of O'Rourke's firing on Oct. 6, after he'd contacted them with his initial complaint: in early 2013, he said, he signed up with Comcast to take advantage of a nine-month promotional offer.
Problems from the start
But he had problems from the start: Comcast charged him for set-up boxes not yet activated, and misspelled his name on mailings so that some of his bills went undelivered. When the promotional period ended Comcast upped his monthly bill by $20, continued charging him for the still-unactivated set-up boxes, and also charged him for modems he never received.
When O'Rourke tried canceling his Comcast service in Oct. 2013, a Comcast rep talked him out of it by assuring him that his billing issues would be resolved shortly, and offered him free DVR service and a free three-month subscription to The Movie Channel as compensation for his troubles.
He accepted. Then things got worse. Comcast sent him a dozen pieces of equipment – DVRs, modems and things he didn't recognize – and billed him $1,800 for it all. O'Rourke disputed these charges, frequently contacting the company and sending them detailed spreadsheets he'd made showing all the errors in his bills.
It didn't help. Last February, Comcast sent O'Rourke's bill to collections even though it was not yet past due. So on Feb. 6, thoroughly fed up with Comcast's regular customer service, he went over their heads and contacted the office of the company Controller. And here's what happened next, according to the Consumerist:
He spoke to someone in that office who promised Conal would receive a call back to address the issues.
He describes that callback as “bizarre,” with the rep not identifying which company she was calling from, just starting out with “How can I help you?” Then she kept insisting that a technician had shown up for an appointment, but wouldn’t specify which appointment. The rep then began asking him for the color of his house.
So he tried the Controller’s office again, to let them know that the rep they’d sent his way had failed miserably at her job.
During this call, he says that he mentioned that Comcast’s billing and accounting issues should probably be investigated by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), a private-sector oversight operation. This ultimately led to two service calls where no one ever showed up and no explanations were given.
As a professional accountant who at the time worked for PriceWaterhouseCoopers, of course O'Rourke knew about the PCAOB, whereas your average non-accountant Comcast customer probably would not.
Some time after that call, somebody at Comcast contacted PriceWaterhouseCoopers to complain about O'Rourke, who was soon fired after an “ethics” investigation even though he'd previously received excellent reviews at his job.
In a prepared statement, PwC said: "Mr. O’Rourke was employed in one of our internal firm services offices. The firm terminated his employment after an internal investigation concluded that Mr. O’Rourke violated PwC’s ethical standards and practices, applicable to all of our people. The firm has explicit policies regarding employee conduct, we train our people in those policies, and we enforce them. Mr. O’Rourke’s violation of these policies was the sole reason for his termination."
Comcast and O'Rourke tell slightly different versions of what happened when O'Rourke called the Controller's office; Comcast says he name-dropped his employer, whereas O'Rourke maintains he never said who he worked for, but figured that after the call, someone at Comcast looked him up online and figured out who he worked for.
Comcast has not yet released the recordings of the disputed phone call.
That was the story as of Oct. 6. Two days later, Comcast executive Charlie Herrin, whose full title is given as “Senior Vice President, Customer Experience, Comcast Cable in Customer Experience” on the Comcast corporate blog, posted “A Public Apology To Conal O'Rourke,” in which he apologized for the poor customer service and billing errors O'Rourke suffered, but denied any role in O'Rourke's loss of employment:
What happened with Mr. O’Rourke's service is completely unacceptable. Despite our attempts to address Mr. O’Rourke’s issues, we simply dropped the ball and did not make things right. Mr. O’Rourke deserves another apology from us and we’re making this one publicly. We also want to clarify that nobody at Comcast asked for him to be fired.
Then, last Thursday, O'Rourke's lawyers filed suit (available here in .pdf form) against Comcast the corporation, Lawrence Salva the individual (who also works as Comcast Controller), and unnamed “Does [as in John and Jane] 1-20,” certain Comcast employees whose names and identities O'Rourke and his attorneys do not yet know.
$30 million a year
Remember when O'Rourke called the Controller's office and suggested that the company deserved to be investigated by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board? The lawsuit says that this is what happened next:
Within an hour after this second call, Mr. Salva personally called Joe Atkinson, a principal at Mr. O'Rourke's employer, PWC. Because Comcast pays more than $30 million a year to PWC for consulting services, Mr. Atkinson took the call. Salva demanded that Mr. O'Rourke be fired from PWC, falsely claiming that Mr. O'Rourke had violated accounting ethics standards by using PWC's name as 'leverage' in his 'negotiations' with Comcast.
The lawsuit also describes what happened the day O'Rourke got fired:
"Less than an hour after Mr. O'Rourke's second call with Comcast's Controller's office, Mr. O'Rourke received a call from Mr. Atkinson. Mr. O'Rourke was shocked to receive the call -- he had never before had occasion to deal with Mr. Atkinson. An angry Atkinson informed Mr. O'Rourke that he had received a call from Comcast's Controller about Mr. O'Rourke. Mr. Atkinson told Mr. O'Rourke that the client was very angry, very valuable, was in fact the Philadelphia office's largest client with billings exceeding $30 million per year, and that Mr. O'Rourke was not to speak with anyone from Comcast."
The suit charges Comcast and the other defendants of defamation, breach of contract, infliction of emotional distress, unfair business practice, and violation of the Cable Communications Policy Act for disclosing information about him to his employer without his permission.
The Communications Act is very strict regarding ISPs and cable companies, who by the nature of their business know a lot about you (including your TV-viewing and web-surfing habits), and so the confidentiality of the information they have is protected by federal law. It would be illegal for Comcast even to reveal the seemingly harmless information that he was a Comcast customer with complaints about his service without O'Rourke's prior consent, let alone call his employer to either reveal specifics or make false claims about anything O'Rourke the Comcast customer might have said during a Comcast customer service call.
O'Rourke has, though his lawyers, repeatedly asked Comcast and PriceWaterhouseCoopers to release their recordings of the disputed phone calls and conversations. So far, neither company has done so.
Of all the bad-customer-service stories Comcast customers might have, none are likely to top that of former customer Conal O'Rourke, also a former employee...
By Jennifer Abel
PetSmart reaching out to homeless dogs and cats
The pet supply chain is helping to house homeless families' pets
The insecurity and the devastation homelessness represents to a family is a crushing blow and the impact on a child can last for a lifetime. The loss of secure surroundings takes a toll on every family member, including pets. After all, you can't get into a homeless shelter with a pet.
The loss of a pet at such a time compounds the tragedy for children. The one thing that may have provided peace and unconditional love in a tenuous situation is taken from them through no fault of their own. With one in 50 American children homeless each year, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, that's a lot of unhappy kids.
Things are starting to change though, thanks in part to PetSmart Promise, a new program that works to keep homeless families and their pets together. It's part of the company's PetSmart Gives Back series of charitable programs.
The program got started after former PetSmart president Joe O'Leary want to an event sponsored by Family Promise, which provides services to homeless families.
Need to help
"He really felt a need to help after he went to this affair and decided to get PetSmart involved," said PetSmart vice president Andy Izquierdo. The program launched not long after in Phoenix, where a local Family Promise converted a two-bedroom apartment into housing for homeless dogs and cats.
PetSmart pays for all the supplies like dog bowls, leashes and food, and also gave the local chapter of Family Promise $35,000. Additional centers have since opened in Bozeman, Mont.; Fayetteville, N.C.; Montgomery, Ala.; Wasila, Alaska; Cincinnati; Akron and later this year Morristown, N.J.
Not all of Family Promise locations are able to house the pets so they have used PetSmart PetsHotel as a back-up. That's now happening in six states with 16 more cities being added in coming months, Izquierdo said.
"PetSmart is proud of the programs that they have stepped up to the plate to help provide solutions for," he said.
The insecurity and the devastation homelessness represents to a family is a crushing blow and the impact on a child can last for a lifetime. The loss of se...
By Stacey Cohen
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