Follow us:
  1. Home
  2. News
  3. 2015
  4. January

News in January 2015

Browse by year

2015

Browse by month

Get trending consumer news and recalls

    By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

    Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

    Follow up-recall of 2.12 million cars and SUVs ordered

    Feds say previously recalled vehicle remedies are not working as designed

    More than 2.12 million Acura, Dodge, Jeep, Honda, Pontiac, and Toyota vehicles are being recalled for a defect that may cause airbags to deploy inadvertently.

    The recalls will provide vehicle owners with a new remedy after the manufacturers’ original attempts to fix the defects proved ineffective in some vehicles.

    “Keeping the traveling public safe is our number one priority, and we expect the manufacturers to get this remedy right to prevent injury to drivers and their families,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

    The new recalls cover 2.12 million Acura MDX, Dodge Viper, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Liberty, Honda Odyssey, Pontiac Vibe, Toyota Corolla, Toyota Matrix and Toyota Avalon models made in the early 2000s. The vehicles were subject to earlier recalls to address a problem with an electronic component manufactured by TRW that caused some airbags to deploy inadvertently -- that is, in the absence of a crash.

    Previous fixes questioned

    The National Highway Traffic safety Administration (NHTSA) discovered through the monitoring of incoming data from consumers and automakers that some vehicles remedied under the previous recalls may have experienced inadvertent deployments. The agency, which urged the automakers to issue new recalls to implement a more effective remedy, has identified about 40 vehicles in which airbags deployed unexpectedly after receiving the original remedy.

    Action by consumers is especially important because about 1 million Toyota and Honda vehicles involved in these new recalls are also subject to a recall related to defective Takata airbags that may deploy with enough explosive force to cause injury or even death to vehicle occupants.

    Because of the dangers involved in an inadvertent deployment, and because some of the vehicles involved may also have defective Takata airbags, NHTSA urges consumers who were covered by the original recalls to take their vehicles to their local dealer for the original remedy. That remedy significantly reduces the chance of an airbag deployment that presents a safety risk.

    “This is unfortunately a complicated issue for consumers, who may have to return to their dealer more than once,” said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. “But this is an urgent safety issue, and all consumers with vehicles covered by the previous recalls should have that remedy installed. Even though it’s a temporary solution until the new remedy is available, they and their families will be safer if they take the time to learn if their vehicle is covered and follow their manufacturers’ instructions. A hassle is much better than a family tragedy.”

    More actions

    NHTSA will take a series of additional steps to ensure safety, including:

    • Seeking additional information from TRW, which made the electronic part believed to be involved in the inadvertent deployments, about the potential defect, its causes, and whether other makes or models might be affected.
    • Seeking information from the automakers about how quickly they can make the new, more effective remedy available.
    More than 2.12 million Acura, Dodge, Jeep, Honda, Pontiac, and Toyota vehicles are being recalled for a defect that may cause airbags to deploy inadvertent...
    Read lessRead more

    FCC changes broadband regulations to require almost 6X faster speeds

    Minimum downloading speed raised from 4 to 25 Mbps

    The number of Americans with access to “broadband Internet” took a massive plunge on Thursday, after the Federal Communications Commission voted to raise the minimum speed required for a connection to qualify as “broadband.”

    The new standard is a download speed of 25 Mbps (megabytes per second) and an upload speed of 3 Mbps. The old standard had been a minimum downloading speed of 4 Mbps , and 1 Mbps to upload. By way of comparison, Netflix recommends a minimum speed of 5 Mbps to stream a video in HD, or 3 Mbps for SD.

    As of last August, when the FCC first started considering a raise in broadband speed, almost one-fifth of all Americans lived in areas where 5-1 broadband was not available.

    And as of today, the number of Americans who lack broadband access is vastly greater: 53 percent of rural Americans and 8 percent of urban Americans currently lack access to 25-3 Internet speeds, according to an FCC report.

    If you currently have a home “broadband” connection with, for example, a downloading speed of 10 Mbps, the new FCC ruling does not mean that your home Internet connection will now become 2.5 times faster. Most likely, this means that, at least for the immediate future, you'll have the same Internet connection as before, only your ISP won't be able to call it “broadband” anymore.

    Hopefully, though, your ISP will invest in network upgrades so that it can once again call itself “broadband,” since everybody knows that in Internet terms, “non-broadband” is basically synonymous with “slow.”

    The number of Americans with access to “broadband Internet” took a massive plunge on Thursday, after the Federal Communications Commission voted to raise t...
    Read lessRead more

    Work-at-home scam targets college students

    This is a bad one even by scam standards

    College students beware: the Better Business Bureau and the FBI have both issued warnings about a new work-at-home scam targeting students through their school email accounts. This latest scam is a bad one even by scam standards: with most such scams, the victims “only” need worry about losing their money or personal-computer security. But anyone who falls for this latest work-at-home scam risks being arrested and prosecuted for various felonies!

    Most work-at-home scams are actually check scams, and most check scams try to cheat their victims by asking them to deposit bad checks in their bank accounts, then withdraw a small portion of that money and give it to the scammer before the check clears – or, more specifically, before the bank informs you that the check did not clear, because it's a fake.

    Suppose you have $1,000 in your bank account, and receive a scam check for $500; the scammer asks you to send him $50, and you can keep the rest. So you deposit the $500 check in your account, still having no idea it is fraudulent.

    Now, your account's “current balance” is $1,500 — that's the combined amount of the $1,000 you definitely have, plus the $500 you might have, if and when the check clears. But your “available balance,” the money actually available for withdrawal, remains only $1,000, and won't increase unless and until that $500 check clears.

    You withdraw $50 to send to the scammer, bringing your current and available balances down to $1,450 and $950, respectively — but when your bank finds out there's no money to back up that $500 check, your current and available balances both say $950 – and the $50 you gave the scammer is gone.

    That's why you should never trust a deposited check until after the bank confirms that the funds did indeed go through, and your current and available balances match. However, that will not protect college students from falling for this particular variant of the work-at-home scam.

    "Payroll department"

    Here's how it seems to work, according to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) : the would-be victim gets an email offering a job with a fictitious company, usually a job in the “payroll” or “human resources” department. Should you accept the job, here's what happens next:

    The “position” simply requires the student to provide his/her bank account number to receive a deposit and then transfer a portion of the funds to another bank account. Unbeknownst to the student, the other account is involved in the scam that the student has now helped perpetrate. The funds the student receives and is directed elsewhere have been stolen by cyber criminals. Participating in the scam is a crime and could lead to the student’s bank account being closed due to fraudulent activity or federal charges.

    In other words, your scam-boss is not asking you to deposit a fake check so he can extract money from your account; he's sending you real money which he stole from someone else! And your “job description” basically boils down to money laundering.

    The easiest way to protect yourself from this scam (and other forms of check scams) is to remember that in legitimate, non-scammy jobs, money only ever flows in one direction: from the boss to the worker, from employer to employee.

    No honest employer will ask you to reverse that flow of money, not even in the event of overpayment: if someone in your payroll department made a typo and gave you an extra hundred bucks this week, chances are you'll either receive $100 less in your next paycheck, or (depending on the timing), that initial, too-large paycheck will be cancelled and a new one for the proper amount issued immediately.

    College students beware: the Better Business Bureau and the FBI have both issued warnings about a new work-at-home scam targeting students through their sc...
    Read lessRead more

    Get trending consumer news and recalls

      By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

      Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

      Rate of economic growth slows considerably in 4th quarter

      GDP expansion was about half the rate of the previous 3 months

      The economy continued to grow in the final 3 months of last year, but not at the rate we saw in the previous quarter.

      The Commerce Department reports real gross domestic product (GDP) -- the value of the production of goods and services in the U.S. -- increased at an annual rate of 2.6 percent in the 4th quarter. This was the government's "advance" estimate; there will be 2 more in the months ahead when more data become available.

      For all of 2014, real GDP expanded 2.4% compared with 2.2% the year before, and was the best year since 2010 when it grew 2.5%.

      Why it slowed

      The deceleration in real GDP growth in the 4th quarter primarily reflected an upturn in imports, a downturn in federal government spending, and slowdowns in nonresidential fixed investment and in exports that were partly offset by an upturn in private inventory investment and an acceleration in PCE.

      Positive contributions came from from personal consumption expenditures, private inventory investment, exports, nonresidential fixed investment, state and local government spending, and residential fixed investment.

      GDP inflation

      The price index for gross domestic purchases, which measures prices paid by U.S. residents, fell 0.3% in the October-January period, in contrast to an increase of 1.4% in the 3rd quarter.

      Excluding food and energy prices, the “core” price index for gross domestic purchases rose 0.7%, compared with a 3rd quarter increase of 1.6%.

      The complete GDP report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      The economy continued to grow in the final 3 months of last year, but not at the rate we saw in the previous quarter. The Commerce Department reports real...
      Read lessRead more

      Korean Farm recalls chicken stew products

      The products were not presented at the U.S. point of entry for inspection

      Korean Farm of Santa Fe Springs, Calif., is recalling approximately 14,610 pounds of chicken stew products produced in the Republic of Korea.

      The products were not presented at the U.S. point of entry for inspection. Without the benefit of full inspection, a possibility of adverse health consequences exists.

      There are no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

      The recalled products, produced on August 24, 2014, and February 24, 2014, are being recalled:

      • 1.87-lb. pouches of “Ginseng Chicken Stew”
      • 1.32-lb. pouches of “Ginseng Chicken Stew”

      The products bear the establishment number “DGA 14001” inside the Republic of Korea mark of inspection, and were shipped to a retail locations and restaurants in Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho, Maryland, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Washington.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Stephanie Rhee at (562) 789-9988.

      Korean Farm of Santa Fe Springs, Calif., is recalling approximately 14,610 pounds of chicken stew products produced in the Republic of Korea. The products...
      Read lessRead more

      Arcadia Tradings recalls Red Thread Fish

      The fish are uneviscerated

      Arcadia Trading of Brooklyn, N.Y., is recalling all packages of Red Thread Fish.

      The fish are uneviscerated, and sale of uneviscerated processed fish is prohibited under New York State Agriculture and Markets regulations because Clostridium botulinum spores are more likely to be concentrated in the viscera than any other portion of the fish.

      No illness have been reported to date in connection with this problem.

      The recalled product, which comes in a 7-oz. heat sealed plastic bag, was distributed in supermarkets nationwide. Consumers are warned not to use the product even if it does not look or smell spoiled.

      Consumers who have purchased Red Thread Fish are urged to return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at 718-782-6888.

      Arcadia Trading of Brooklyn, N.Y., is recalling all packages of Red Thread Fish. The fish are uneviscerated, and sale of uneviscerated processed fish is p...
      Read lessRead more

      Holmes oil filled heaters recalled

      The oil-filled heaters can spray heated oil

      Sunbeam Products of Boca Raton, Fla., is recalling about 34,000 Holmes oil-filled heaters.

      The oil-filled heaters can spray heated oil, posing a scald hazard.

      The firm has received approximately 40 reports of units that unexpectedly sprayed heated oil, resulting in reports of property damage involving damaged carpet and fabrics. No injuries are reported.

      This recall involves Holmes brand oil-filled heaters that are black or white in color. The recalled heaters are about 23 inches tall, 6 inches deep and 12 inches wide, and have model number HOH3000 or HOH3000B printed on a label on the bottom of the product. The “Holmes” logo is near the power switch and temperature control.

      The recalled products have a code on the heater plug blade within the following range: G192 through G298. No other codes are affected.

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled heater, unplug it and contact Sunbeam for instructions on how to obtain a full refund.

      Consumers may contact Sunbeam Products at (800) 515-4715 anytime.

      Sunbeam Products of Boca Raton, Fla., is recalling about 34,000 Holmes oil-filled heaters. The oil-filled heaters can spray heated oil, posing a scald haz...
      Read lessRead more

      Finding the best value in an online degree

      A growing number of non-profit schools are making a degree more affordable

      For-profit colleges were the first to really jump on the Internet and start offering courses to students all over the country.

      There had been “distance learning” programs in the past but companies like the University of Phoenix built a business model around it.

      University of Phoenix was founded in 1976, long before the Internet came along. But it was always aimed at students who already had jobs and needed to work school in around their careers.

      It's now owned by Apollo Group, a publicly traded company, and has more than 200,000 students, down from a reported 600,000 in 2010. These days, traditional public and private non-profit colleges have gotten into the online education game, giving University of Phoenix and other for-profit colleges some pretty stiff competition.

      We reported last year on five traditional colleges that have made a name for themselves offering quality education at competitive tuition rates. It turns out there are a lot more.

      Nonprofit options

      Nonprofit Colleges Online, a website edited by Brett Gershon and Liz Robertson, singles out colleges and universities it says “put students before profits and education before the bottom line.”

      The site recently recently singled out what it considers the top online graduate degree programs offered by non-profit colleges and universities.

      Earning the top spot for its online MBA program is Amberton University of Garland, Texas. The cost of the 2-year program is $8,712 for out-of-state students.

      Columbia College of Missouri was second and Mississippi State University was third. Both have 2-year tuition costs that come in below $13,000.

      Valuable means to an end

      "MBA programs are considered a valuable means to an end, intended to help employees advance their careers and contribute significantly to their respective workplaces,” Robertson said. “The networking students do in MBA programs is invaluable to their professional lives; friendships made in a competitive graduate school will likely serve as beneficial professional relationships throughout one's career. With so many accelerated programs available to the non-traditional, modern student - including online, distance programs - and the increasingly relevant and growing global economy, there has never been a more convenient, opportune time to apply for admission to an MBA program.”

      And it goes without saying, earning such a degree for under $15,000 in many cases, doesn't saddle the degree recipient with crushing student loan debt.

      Bachelor's degrees, which take at least four years to complete, cost more. The good news is Nonprofit Colleges Online can help here too.

      Non-profit bachelor's degrees

      When it recently rated undergraduate programs it singled out Eastern Oregon University as the best value for a bachelor's degree in business administration. The estimated tuition cost for the degree is $18,700.

      Stephen F. Austin State University was second at $19,816 and Fort Hayes State University was third at $23,126.

      For students planning to complete their degree online, non-profit colleges likely offer significantly lower costs than most for-profit institutions.

      The savings may be even greater if an in-state non-profit school offers online degree programs, since in-state tuition is much less than for out-of-state students.

      The lesson is pretty clear. When shopping for an online education, it pays to look beyond for-profit schools and consider the well-established and reputable non-profit schools offering online degree programs.

      For-profit colleges were the first to really jump on the Internet and start offering courses to students all over the country....
      Read lessRead more

      Revenge porn site banned by feds

      Women were forced to pay hundreds of dollars to have their images taken down

      The operator of an alleged “revenge porn” website has been banned from sharing nude videos or photographs of people without their consent and will have to destroy the intimate images and personal contact information he collected while operating the site.

      The Federal Trade Commission’s complaint against Craig Brittain alleges that he used deception to acquire and post intimate images of women, then referred them to another website he controlled, where the women were told they could have the pictures removed only if they paid hundreds of dollars.

      “This behavior is not only illegal but reprehensible,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “I am pleased that as a result of this settlement, the illegally collected images and information will be deleted, and this individual can never return to the so-called ‘revenge porn’ business.”

      According to the FTC’s complaint, Brittain acquired the images in a number of ways, such as by posing as a woman on the advertising site Craigslist, and offering nude photos purportedly of himself in exchange for photos provided by women. When women provided him with the photos, Brittain posted them on his site without their knowledge or permission.

      In addition to collecting and posting the images himself, Brittain solicited viewers of his site to anonymously submit nude photos of people to his site, according to the complaint. He required submissions to include sensitive personal information about the people in the photos, including their full name, town and state, phone number and Facebook profile.

      Bounty system

      Brittain also allegedly offered a “bounty system” on his site, wherein users could offer a reward of at least $100 in exchange for other users finding pictures and information about a specific person. Overall, Brittain’s site included photos of more than 1,000 individuals, according to the complaint.

      Brittain’s site also advertised content removal services under the name “Takedown Hammer” and “Takedown Lawyer” that could delete consumers’ images and content from the site in exchange for a payment of $200 to $500. Despite presenting these as third-party services, the complaint alleges that the sites for these services were owned and operated by Brittain.

      The operator of an alleged “revenge porn” website has been banned from sharing nude videos or photographs of people without their consent and will have to ...
      Read lessRead more

      Jobless claims drop to lowest level in nearly 15 years

      The decline breaks 3 straight weeks above 300k

      Initial applications for state jobless benefits plunged last week.

      Figures released by the Labor Department (DOL) show first-time claims were down 43,000 in the week ending January 24 to a seasonally adjusted initial claims 265,000. That put claims at the lowest level since April 15, 2000, when they stood at 259,000.

      DOL says there were no special factors affecting the initial claims level.

      The 4-week moving average, which strips out the volatility of the weekly initial claims, and is considered a more accurate gauge of the labor market, was down 8,250 from the previous week to

      298,500.

      The full report is available on the DOL website.

      Initial applications for state jobless benefits plunged last week. Figures released by the Labor Department (DOL) show first-time claims were down 43,000 ...
      Read lessRead more

      A December dip in pending home sales

      Lower interest rates didn't seem to make a difference

      After showing some improvement in November, pending home sales lost ground last month despite interest rates being at their lowest level of the year.

      The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports its Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, fell 3.7% to 100.7. Still, it's 6.1% above December 2013 -- the fourth consecutive month it's remained above year-over-year levels.

      Even with the December decline, the largest since a 5.8% loss in December 2013, the index enjoyed its largest year-over-year gain since June 2013 (11.7%).

      Fewer homes, higher prices

      Fewer homes available for sale and a slight acceleration in prices likely led to December’s decline in contract signings. “Total inventory fell in December for the first time in 16 months, resulting in fewer choices for buyers and a modest uptick in price growth in markets throughout the country,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “With interest rates at lows not seen since early 2013, the strength in existing-sales in upcoming months will largely depend on the willingness of current homeowners to realize their equity gains from the past couple years and trade up.”

      Regional performance

      • The PHSI in the Northeast suffered the largest decline -- dropping 7.5% -- to 82.1, but is still 6.3% above a year ago.
      • In the Midwest the index was down 2.8% to 97.1, but is 1.9% above December 2013.
      • Pending home sales declined 2.6% in the South to an index of 116.6 in December, but are 8.6% above last December.
      • The index in the West fell 4.6% in December to 94.0, but is 6.3% above a year ago.

      The outlook

      The NAR is projecting total existing-homes sales to be around 5.26 million this year, an increase of 6.6% from 2014. The national median existing-home price for all of this year is expected to increase between 4 and 5%.

      Existing-home sales declined 3.1% last year while prices were up 5.8%.

      After showing some improvement in November, pending home sales lost ground last month despite interest rates being at their lowest level of the year. The ...
      Read lessRead more

      General Motors recalls Corvettes

      The vehicle can suffer a reduction in stability and steering control

      General Motors is recalling 43 model year 2015 Chevrolet Corvettes manufactured September 26, 2014, to October 2, 2014.

      The toe link outer ball joint on the rear suspension may not have been properly tightened during the assembly process. The Toe link may loosen with the vehicle use and eventually separate, resulting in a reduction in vehicle stability and steering control, increasing the risk of a vehicle crash.

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and replace any damaged parts, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact GM customer service at 1-800-222-1020 (Chevrolet). GM's number for this recall is 14857.

      General Motors is recalling 43 model year 2015 Chevrolet Corvettes manufactured September 26, 2014, to October 2, 2014. The toe link outer ball joint on ...
      Read lessRead more

      Toyota recalls Avalons

      The subwoofer could overheat, increasing the risk of a fire

      Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., is recalling approximately 52,000 model year 2011-2012 Avalon sedans.

      Cargo could contact one of the audio system subwoofer wires located inside the trunk, and move it out of its normal position. If one of these wires contacts the metal frame of the subwoofer, it may result in an intermittent short circuit, causing the subwoofer to overheat, increasing the risk of a fire.

      Toyota says it is not aware of any crashes, injuries, or fatalities caused by this condition.

      Owners of the involved vehicles will receive a notification by first class mail. Toyota dealers will provide a repair for the audio system. Until the remedy is available, as a precaution, Toyota dealers will disconnect the rear subwoofer.

      Consumers may call Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331.

      Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., is recalling approximately 52,000 model year 2011-2012 Avalon sedans. Cargo could contact one of the audio system subwoofer wir...
      Read lessRead more

      Gasoline prices likely bottomed this week

      Refinery maintenance will raise prices over the next couple of months

      For weeks now, motorists have enjoyed falling gasoline prices at the pump. In various industry surveys the national average price of self-serve regular is hovering just above $2 a gallon, giving consumers a much-needed break.

      But Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for the Midwest and southeast at GasBuddy.com, says prices likely hit bottom early this week and will begin drifting higher. Even so, the increase might not be felt everywhere right away.

      “There are 3 or 4 states in the Great Lakes region where prices started to move higher this week,” DeHaan told ConsumerAffairs.

      Oil and gasoline disparity

      Consumers might be puzzled to see their pump prices rise while oil prices have yet to find a bottom, but there's a good reason for that. The price of crude oil is just one, albeit a big, factor in the price of gasoline.

      The oil has to be refined into gasoline and here's where the costs can rise. In fact, it happens every year at about this time.

      Refineries normally reduce operations while they perform winter maintenance. That reduces capacity and they don't turn out as much gasoline. As a result, supplies tighten and the price goes up.

      “Gasoline prices will probably begin to ramp up in early February,” DeHaan said. “Then in March the upward trend will continue.”

      A 45 cents-a-gallon increase

      As a result, DeHaan says the national average price of gasoline could go up about 45 cents a gallon from its low, even if the price of oil is stable or still falling. And just as in past years, some areas of the country will feel it more than others.

      “Parts of California will feel it,” DeHaan said. “Actually, the whole West Coast will likely see a bigger boost in prices since it's pretty much an isolated market.”

      In its Fuel Gauge Survey, AAA also noted this week that price declines had begun to slow. While 40 states and Washington, D.C. are registering savings over the past 7 days, drivers in 10 states are paying a bit more at the pump over the same period.

      Twenty-two states and Washington, D.C. are still saving a nickel or more a gallon and in 2 states, prices are down by a dime. But those savings are partially offset in the Midwestern states of Indiana, where pump prices have risen by 10 cents and in Michigan, where the price is up a nickel gallon. DeHaan attributes the price bump in the Midwest to “refinery kinks.”

      Lower prices in June

      While motorists will undoubtedly not like to see pump prices start moving in the other direction, they can take solace in the fact that the increase should be slight and short lived. DeHaan says by June, prices at the pump should be headed down again.

      “June is normally the cheapest month for gas,” he said.

      The unknown, of course, is the price of crude oil, which will remain a huge influence on gasoline prices. But with crude oil stockpiles rising, no one has yet called a bottom to oil's price decline. This week Barclay's slashed its forecast for prices and said it expects the supply glut to extend into early 2016.

      For consumers, that means gasoline prices might be higher than they are now from time to time, but nowhere near where they were over the last 6 years.

      For weeks now, motorists have enjoyed falling gasoline prices at the pump. In various industry surveys the national average price of self-serve regular is ...
      Read lessRead more

      FTC fines TracFone $40 million for data throttling on "unlimited" plans

      If you are or were a TracFone customer, you might qualify for a refund

      The Federal Trade Commission fined TracFone $40 million today for selling customers “unlimited” data service, then throttling data speeds when the customers reached a certain limit within a pay period.

      If you had a Straight Talk, Net10, Simple Mobile, or Telcel America unlimited data plan anytime before now, you can file a claim with the FTC's website here, to see if you qualify for a refund.

      The FTC's complaint, available here in .pdf form, says that since 2009, TracFone advertised a prepaid mobile data servce advertising “unlimited talk, text and data” for about $45 per month, but then throttled or even suspended millions of customers' mobile data services after they exceeded whatever limit TracFone was actually imposing on them. The FTC says:

      TracFone failed to disclose or adequately disclose its practice of enforcing fixed limits on the amount of mobile data service its customers could use in a thirty-day service period. In fact, until at least September 2013, TracFone did not state in most of its advertising or terms and conditions that it would suspend or throttle its customers’ mobile data service if they used more than a fixed amount of mobile data in a thirty-day service period. In September 2013, TracFone began to include this information for all of its “unlimited” offerings, but often has tucked it away in small print.

      In other words, those TracFone ads promising “unlimited” data made no mention of data throttling whatsoever until Sept. 2013, and even then, the throttling was hidden in the small print, where it wouldn't contradict the ad's main claim of “unlimited” data.

      Furthermore, the FTC says, TracFone's data throttling activities were not done to relieve network congestion or for any other technical reason, but solely to “reduce the high costs associated” with delivering unlimited data as it pormised.

      TracFone is not the only company which the FTC has sued over throttling “unlimited” data plans; the FTC filed suit against AT&T last October, but that case is still in litigation.

      The Federal Trade Commission fined TracFone $40 million today for selling customers “unlimited” data service, then throttling data speeds when the customer...
      Read lessRead more

      Mortgage applications reverse course

      Contract interest rates were higher

      After rising last week to their highest levels in more 6 months, mortgage applications headed lower last week.

      The weekly mortgage applications survey conducted by the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) shows applications were down 3.2% during the week ending January 23. The results include an adjustment to account for the Martin Luther King holiday.

      During the week, the Refinance Index dropped 5% from the previous week, taking the refinance share of mortgage activity down to 72% of total applications from 74% the week before. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity fell to 5.7% of total applications.

      The seasonally adjusted Government Index increased 9.2 percent from the previous week to the highest level since July 2013, with the FHA share of total applications jumping to 9.1% from 8.0% the week before. The VA share of total applications increased to 10.7% and the USDA share increased to 0.7%.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) rose 3 basis points -- to 3.83% from 3.80%, with points decreasing to 0.26 from 0.29 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) inched up to 3.87% from 3.86%, with points rising to 0.33 from 0.23 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA rose 5 basis points to 3.71%, with points dipping to 0.07 from 0.15 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year fixed-rate mortgages rose from 3.10% to 3.15%, with points decreasing to 0.28 from 0.29 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs was up 9 basis points to 2.96%, with points increasing to 0.42 from 0.41 (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.

      After rising last week to their highest levels in more 6 months, mortgage applications headed lower last week. The weekly mortgage applications survey con...
      Read lessRead more