Browse by year
Why it's so hard to lose weight
There are many reasons but it often comes down to controlling hunger04/30/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Anyone who has ever gone on a diet knows how hard it is to stick to it so that you get results....
Anyone who has ever gone on a diet knows how hard it is to stick to it so that you get results.
Part of the problem is breaking old habits, but for most of us, the hardest part is overcoming the hunger pangs caused by eating less of the food we like.
Hunger is an ancient product of human wiring. It ensures survival by telling the brain that the body needs more fuel to keep going. Hunger gets the brain's attention.
“One reason that dieting is so difficult is because of the unpleasant sensation arising from a persistent hunger drive,” said Bradford Lowell, a leader of a U.S. research team that is studying the brain's role in causing us to overeat.
The team has discovered that a brain circuit serves as the neural link that inhibits and controls eating, kind of like a switch. It found that this brain circuit not only promotes fullness in hungry mice but also alleviates the sensation of grating hunger.
“Our results show that the artificial activation of this particular brain circuit is pleasurable and can reduce feeding in mice, essentially resulting in the same outcome as dieting but without the chronic feeling of hunger,” Lowell said.
Now that this circuit has been identified, the researchers say they can develop a more effective diet drug.
Stacey Cahn, an associate professor of psychology at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, has also been studying why we get so hungry that we can't control our appetite. She's come up with a different answer.
Cahn says eating processed food makes it much harder to control your food cravings and that it's no accident. She points out food manufacturers have invested billions of dollars in making their products almost impossible to resist. It's just “good business” on their part, she says.
“Research shows that we’re much more likely to overeat processed foods than 'whole foods,'” Cahn said. “Snack foods that have an airy, crispy texture like cheese puffs leave us particularly prone to overeating because of vanishing caloric density. As the snack somewhat dissolves on our tongues, our bodies don’t register those fat calories, so we still feel hungry, and we keep eating.”
The smorgasbord effect
The reason a buffet is so hard on the waistline, she says, is because eating a single food item makes us feel full faster. But a buffet, with its wide variety of dishes, keeps us from habituating to any single one.
“That’s why processed foods like nacho chips are engineered to contain a complex spectrum of flavors,” she said. “So we keep eating. And while junk foods may lead to overeating, their unnatural ingredients may independently lead to weight gain.”
Cahn further claims that avoiding calories with artificially-sweetened beverages often has an opposite, unintended effect. Experiencing sweetness without the expected corresponding calories can cause hunger cues to be felt more intensely. The calories we avoid drinking a diet soda are more than made up when we give into temptation later on.
Bipartisan bill would guarantee customers' right to criticize companies
Consumer Review Freedom Act of 2015 would outlaw non-disparagement clauses04/30/2015ConsumerAffairs
Last September, after California became the first state to make it illegal for businesses to put “non-disparagement...
Last September, after California became the first state to make it illegal for businesses to put “non-disparagement clauses” in their contracts with customers, California congressmen Eric Swalwell and Brad Sherman, both Democrats, proposed a national version of the same law, the Consumer Review Freedom Act of 2014.
But last year's CRFA didn't pass, so yesterday Reps. Swalwell and Sherman, joined by Republican representatives Darrell Issa and Blake Farenthold, jointly proposed the Consumer Review Freedom Act of 2015.
The bill – available in .pdf form here – would “prohibit the use of certain clauses in form contracts that restrict the ability of a consumer to communicate regarding the goods or services that were the subject of the contract.” In other words, businesses can't penalize customers who criticize or express negative opinions about those businesses.
Though plenty of businesses have tried. Last August, for example, a New York State bed-and-breakfast called the Union Street Guest House gained unwanted media attention after the discovery of a non-disparagement clause hidden in the fine print of its customer contracts:
If you have booked the inn for a wedding or other type of event . . . and given us a deposit of any kind . . . there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review . . . placed on any internet site by anyone in your party.
In an even more notorious example from the previous year, the tech-toy company KlearGear ruined a Utah couple's credit rating by charging them a $3,500 “fine” over a negative online review they'd posted three years earlier. (KlearGear is still in business, though its non-disparagement clause is gone.)
Last September, after introducing the Consumer Review Freedom Act of 2014, Congressman Swalwell mentioned KlearGear's behavior as an example of why the law was necessary, and also said “It's un-American that any consumer would be penalized for writing an honest review. I'm introducing this legislation to put a stop to this egregious behavior so people can share honest reviews without fear of litigation.”
Scott Michaelman, an attorney for the consumers'-rights group Public Citizen, said in a press statement that Public Citizen supports the bill because non-disparagement clauses “deny consumers of the right to express negative opinions about the company”:
Too often, a consumer shares a negative customer service experience with others, then learns that according to the fine print in the boilerplate contract, he may not criticize the business publicly, including writing an online review. Companies use these unjust terms to bully dissatisfied customers into silence.
The Consumer Review Freedom Act would protect consumers’ right to speak out. The bill would protect individual consumers from hidden contract terms that forbid criticism. It also would help prospective customers avoid unscrupulous businesses by enabling them to learn from the experiences of their fellow consumers.
Both versions of the Consumer Review Freedom Act – last year's and this year's – would allow customers to criticize and express negative opinions about companies they do business with, but do not apply to customers who commit actual acts of “defamation, libel, or slander, or any similar cause of action.”
FDA warns that human meds can be fatal to cats
Topical pain medication creams are dangerous to small animals04/30/2015ConsumerAffairs
A new warning has been issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and this one is for cat owners. It's about topical analgesics that are for humans th...
A new warning has been issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and this one is for cat owners. It's about topical analgesics that are for humans that can be fatal if your cat comes in contact with them.
Your cat is at risk if exposed to topical pain medications containing the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) flurbiprofen. People using these medications, should use care when applying them in a household with pets, as even very small amounts could be dangerous to these animals.
Two households have reported that their cats became sick or died after their owners used topical meds that contained flurbiprofen on themselves, not their cats.They had applied the lotion or the cream to their own neck or feet, hoping for relief from muscle pain and stiffness. They did not apply it directly on their pets. Nobody knows how the pets became exposed.
The products contained the NSAID flurbiprofen and the muscle relaxer cyclobenzaprine, as well as other active ingredients, including baclofen, gabapentin, lidocaine, or prilocaine.
One household had some scary moments with two of their cats, they developed kidney failure. They were nursed back to health after having to go to their vet. Another family was not so fortunate. Their two cats lost their appetite and became very lethargic. They started vomiting and developed melena (black, tarry, bloody stools), anemia, and had diluted urine.
Even though these cats went to their vet and were treated, they died. A third cat in the second household also died after the owner had stopped using the medication. Autopsies found they had poisoning that was consistent with NSAID toxicity.
The FDA recommends that you take these precautions:
- Wash your hands and your clothing keeping all residue away from your pets.
- Keep your meds up and out of the way of your pets.
- Ask your vet and your doctor before you apply any ointment to see if it can harm your pet just from having contact with it.
- If you are using topical medications containing flurbiprofen and your pet becomes exposed, bathe or clean your pet as thoroughly as possible and consult a veterinarian.
Be aware even though there has not been any warning of toxicity to dogs, they could be vulnerable as well.
This warning is also extended to veterinarians to take note of patients that show signs that they have come in contact with household medicines that contain flurbiprofen.
Pharmacists that fill prescriptions need to make sure they advise patients of what the adverse reactions can be to pets.
Pet owners and veterinarians can also report any adverse effects to the FDA.
How to judge whether a wine is any good
For starters, don't look at the price tag04/30/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Judging whether a wine is good, mediocre or just plain bad is not always easy. After all, it's a subjective process and personal tastes come into play....
Judging whether a wine is good, mediocre or just plain bad is not always easy. After all, it's a subjective process and personal tastes come into play.
There have been plenty of taste tests where consumers have rated a cheap wine highly because they mistakenly believed it was expensive. Some researchers wanted to find out whether it was simply a case of price prejudice or whether something in the brains of the taste testers made them think it was good.
"Studies have shown that people enjoy identical products such as wine or chocolate more if they have a higher price tag," write authors Hilke Plassmann and Bernd Weber. "However, almost no research has examined the neural and psychological processes required for such marketing placebo effects to occur."
So Plassmann and Weber have examined it and have concluded that preconceived beliefs may in fact create a placebo effect so strong that it makes actual changes to the brain's chemistry.
In a series of experiments, subjects were told they would taste 5 wines, costing from $5 to $90 a bottle. In reality, they were tasting only 3 different wines at 2 different prices. During the experiment their brains were scanned using an MRI.
Plassmann and Weber found the subjects showed significant effects of price and taste prejudices, both in how they rated the taste as well as in their brain activity. The MRI readings, however, showed different people reacted in different ways, based in large part on their personalities.
For example, people who were strong reward-seekers or who were low in physical self-awareness were also more likely to be swayed by their price prejudices.
"Understanding the underlying mechanisms of this placebo effect provides marketers with powerful tools,” the authors conclude. “Marketing actions can change the very biological processes underlying a purchasing decision, making the effect very powerful indeed."
How not to get played
How can we as consumers protect ourselves from buying a bad wine at a high price? Wine experts suggest increasing your education about wine and learning what you like and don't like, is a first step.
Wine Enthusiast magazine, for example, recommends tasting wine in the proper environment. There's a lot more than price prejudice, it says, that can influence your judgment.
“A noisy or crowded room makes concentration difficult,” the magazine says. “Cooking smells, perfume and even pet odor can destroy your ability to get a clear sense of a wine’s aromas. A glass that is too small, the wrong shape, or smells of detergent or dust, can also affect the wine’s flavor.”
If you're still not sure you can tell a good wine from a not-so-good one, food and travel writer Tara O'Leary walks you through four things to look for in this video.
Court shutters sham mortgage relief operation
Some victims lost their homes when their loan payments were diverted04/30/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
A federal court has halted an alleged sham operation that took money from financially distressed homeowners and simply kept the money rather than forwardin...
A federal court has halted an alleged sham operation that took money from financially distressed homeowners and simply kept the money rather than forwarding it to the mortgage lender.
“These defendants stole mortgage payments from struggling homeowners, and they pretended to be a nonprofit working with the government,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We’ll continue to shut down shameful mortgage frauds like this one.”
The FTC is seeking a permanent injunction and has also filed a contempt citation against one of the scheme’s principals, Brian Pacios, who is under a previous court order that prohibited him from mortgage relief activities.
According to the FTC’s complaint, the defendants, sometimes doing business as HOPE Services, and more recently as HAMP Services, targeted consumers facing foreclosure, especially those who had failed to get any relief from their lenders.
Pretending to be “nonprofit” with government ties, they sent mail bearing what looked like an official government seal, and indicated that the recipients might be eligible for a “New 2014 Home Affordable Modification Program” (HAMP 2), the FTC said.
The defendants called the program “an aggressive update to Obama’s original modification program,” and stated that “[y]our bank is now incentivized by the government to lower your interest rate . . .”
"High success rate"
The defendants falsely claimed they had a high success rate, special contacts who would help get loan terms modified, and an ability to succeed even when consumers had failed.
After obtaining consumers’ financial information, they told them they were “preliminarily approved” and falsely claimed they would submit consumers’ loan modification applications to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, and the “Making Home Affordable” (MHA) program.
The MHA application form they sent consumers excluded the page that warns, “BEWARE OF FORECLOSURE RESCUE SCAMS,” and “never make your mortgage payments to anyone other than your mortgage company without their approval.”
Later, the defendants falsely told consumers they were approved for a low interest rate and monthly payments significantly lower than their current payment, and that after making three monthly trial payments, and often a fee to reinstate a defaulted loan, they would get a loan modification and be safe from foreclosure. They also told consumers not to speak with their lender or an attorney.
In reality, homeowners who made the payments did not have their mortgages modified, and their lenders never received their trial payments, the FTC alleged.
Five-time offender Black & Decker fined for delays in reporting lawnmower safety hazards
Electric lawnmowers continued to operate after users turned them off04/30/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
For the fifth time, Black & Decker has been penalized for being slow to report safety hazards in its products. In the latest case, the company will pay $1....
For the fifth time, Black & Decker has been penalized for being slow to report safety hazards in its products. In the latest case, the company will pay $1.575 million for delaying reports of safety defects in its cordless electric lawnmowers.
Prosecutors said the lawnmowers started spontaneously and continued operating even after consumers released the handles and removed the safety keys.
In one case, the lawnmower continued running for hours while its owner was being treated in an emergency room and after firemen had removed the blade.
“Not for the first time, Black & Decker held back critical information from the public about the safety of one of its products,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to protect the public against companies that put profits over safety.”
The Department of Justice and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) said Black & Decker will also set up a compliance program to ensure that it acts more responsibly in the future.
Black & Decker has previously paid four civil penalties relating to untimely reporting of defects and risks presented by other Black & Decker products.
“Black & Decker’s persistent inability to follow these vital product safety reporting laws calls into question their commitment to the safety of their customers,” said Chairman Elliot F. Kaye of the CPSC. “They have a lot of work to do to earn back the public’s trust. Companies are required to report potential product hazards and risks to CPSC on a timely basis. That means within 24 hours, not months or years as in Black & Decker’s case.”
The complaint relates to cordless lawnmowers manufactured and sold by Black & Decker from 1995 to 2006. According to the complaint, in as early as November 1998, Black & Decker started receiving reports about the problem, known as a continuous-run defect. A second defect involved lawnmowers that unexpectedly started even though the handle was released and the safety key removed, referred to as a spontaneous ignition defect.
The United States alleged that between 1998 and 2009, Black & Decker received more than 100 complaints regarding the continuous-run or spontaneous ignition defects. The United States further alleged that, after consulting an outside expert, the company knew in 2004 that the lawnmowers could continue to run even if a user released the handle and removed the safety key.
Despite knowledge of all of this information, Black & Decker failed to report to the CPSC until early 2009, even though federal law requires “immediate reporting.”
The complaint further notes that at least two consumers informed Black & Decker that the lawnmower’s blades started unexpectedly while the consumer cleaned them, resulting in injury. The complaint states that in one case, the lawnmower continued to run, with the handle released and without the safety key, for several hours while the consumer sought treatment in a hospital emergency room for injury to the consumer’s hand, and after fire department personnel arrived and removed the blade.
Personal income, spending inch higher in March
Initial jobless claims posted a huge weekly decline04/30/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Consumers didn't find themselves with a lot of extra money in their pockets last month. The Commerce Department reports personal income increased by just ...
Consumers didn't find themselves with a lot of extra money in their pockets last month.
The Commerce Department reports personal income increased by just $6.2 billion, or less than 0.1% in March, the smallest increase since December 2013. Disposable personal income (DPI), which is personal income less personal current taxes, was up less than 0.1% or $1.6 billion.
Personal consumption expenditures (PCE), meanwhile, increased $53.4 billion, or 0.4%.
The incomes increase, as meager as it was, came as wages and salaries rose $16.3 billion, made up of a $15.2 billion gain in private wages and salaries, and a rise of $1.0 billion in government wages and salaries.
Personal spending and saving
Personal outlays – which includes PCE, personal interest payments and personal current transfer payments -- increased $57.6 billion in March.
Personal saving -- DPI less personal outlays -- fell to $702.6 billion in March from $758.6 billion in the month before. That took the personal saving rate -- personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income – to 5.3% from 5.7% in February.
The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.
Initial jobless claims
First-time applications for state jobless benefits fell last week to their lowest level in 15 years.
According to the Labor Department (DOL), initial claims plunged 34,000 in the week ending April 25 to a seasonally adjusted 262,000 -- the lowest level since April 15, 2000 when it was 259,000.
The DOL says there were no special factors affecting this week's total.
The 4-week moving average, which is less volatile and considered a more accurate picture of the labor market, was down 1,250 to 283,750.
The full report is available on the DOL website.
Moms and retailers expected to do well this Mother's Day
Spending is projected to be at a 12-year high04/30/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Mother's Day is less than 2 weeks off and you know what that means: a spending splurge on things like jewelry, flowers, gift cards, brunch and apparel. ...
Mother's Day is less than 2 weeks off and you know what that means: a spending splurge on things like jewelry, flowers, gift cards, brunch and apparel.
According to National Retail Federation's (NRF) Mother’s Day Spending Survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, consumers will shell out an average of $172.63 on mom this year. That's nearly $10 more than last year and the highest amount in the survey’s 12-year history. Total spending is expected to reach $21.2 billion.
“We’re encouraged by the positive shift we’ve seen in spending on discretionary and gift items from consumers so far this year, certainly boding well for retailers across all spectrums who are planning to promote Mother’s Day specials, including home improvement, jewelry, apparel and other specialty retailers as well as restaurants,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay.
Running the gamut
When it comes to gifts, most will pick up a greeting card for mom (80%), spending more than $786 million, and more than two-thirds (67.2%) will buy flowers, to the tune of $2.4 billion. Shoppers also plan on giving mom apparel and clothing items (35.8%), spending more than $1.9 billion, versus $1.7 billion last year.
Families will also surprise the matriarch with a special brunch or activity ($3.8 billion), electronic items like a new smartphone or e-reader ($1.8 billion), personal services such as a spa day ($1.5 billion), housewares or gardening tools ($890 million) and books and CDs ($480 million).
Looking for a “wow” reaction mom, 34.2% of Mother’s Day shoppers are planning to splurge on jewelry, spending a survey high of $4.3 billion for the special day.
How we shop
Online shoppers plan to spend an average $252 -- higher than the typical Mother's Day shopper -- and more than 4 in 10 plan to use their smartphones to research products and compare prices.
The survey shows that 18- to 24-year-olds who own smartphones and tablets are most likely to use them to research products and compare prices for gifts (46%), and are most likely to use their tablets to purchase a gift (30.2%). But this age group won’t necessarily be the biggest spenders; 25- to 34-year-olds plan to spend the most on mom -- an average of $244.32; 18- to 24-year-olds will spend an average of $214.81.
Many people know that a gift card could go a long way: Two in five (44.2%) will give mom a gift card, spending more than $2.2 billion.
Most shoppers will head to department stores (33.4%), while others will shop at specialty stores (28.2%) or discount stores (24.8%). With shoppers ready to get out of the house after a long winter, fewer shoppers will be shopping online this year (25% vs. 29% last year.)
The majority of shoppers plan to buy for their mother or stepmother (62.5%), while 23.2% will shop for their wife, 9.8% will shop for their daughter, 8.9% will shop for their sister and 7.4% plan to splurge on their grandmother.
FDA approves drug for double chin treatment
Kybella destroys fat cells when injected below the chin04/30/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
You might not think of a double chin as something that cries out for medical treatment but if it's something that bothers you, you'll be glad to know the U...
You might not think of a double chin as something that cries out for medical treatment but if it's something that bothers you, you'll be glad to know the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a new drug for the condition.
It's called Kybella and when injected below the chin, it destroys the fat cells that cause double chins. It's a version of deoxycholic acid, whicih occurs naturally in the body and helps destroy fat.
Up to 50 injections can be used in a single treatment, the FDA said but warned against inadvertently injecting it elsewhere, as it can destroy skin.
The drug fillsl a void, since drugs like Botox and dermal fillers aren't approved for fixing fat and loose skin under the chin.
“It is important to remember that Kybella is only approved for the treatment of fat occurring below the chin, and it is not known if Kybella is safe or effective for treatment outside of this area,” Amy Egan, deputy director of the Office of Drug Evaluation III at the FDA, said in the statement.
Egan warned that the drug should only be administered by a licensed medical professional.
Kybella can cause serious side effects, including nerve injury in the jaw that can cause an uneven smile or facial muscle weakness, and trouble swallowing, the FDA said. The most common side effects of Kybella include swelling, bruising, pain, numbness, redness and areas of hardness in the treatment area.
The drug is manufactured by Kythera Biopharmaceuticals Inc.
Navajo Pride bleached flour recalled
The product may be contaminated with Salmonella04/30/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Navajo Pride of Farmington, N.M., is recalling its Bleached All Purpose Flour. The product may be contaminated with Salmonella. No illnesses have been re...
Navajo Pride of Farmington, N.M., is recalling its Bleached All Purpose Flour.
The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.
No illnesses have been reported to date.
The recalled product, which comes in 5-lb, 25-lb, and 50-lb bags is marked Navajo Pride with lot#075B110064 and an expiration date of 03162016. It was delivered to regional retailers
Customers who have the recalled product should not eat it and destroy it or return it to the place of purchase.
Consumers with questions may contact Navajo Pride at (505)566-2670 between 9:00AM and 5:00PM MST, Monday-Friday.
Golden Krust Patties recalls beef and chicken products
The products contain egg, an allergen not listed on the label04/30/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Golden Krust Patties of Bronx, N.Y., is recalling approximately 9,073,384 pounds of beef and chicken products. The products contain egg, an allergen not ...
Golden Krust Patties of Bronx, N.Y., is recalling approximately 9,073,384 pounds of beef and chicken products.
The products contain egg, an allergen not listed on the label.
There are no reports of adverse allergic reactions due to consumption of these products.
The following beef and chicken products, produced from January 24, 2014, through February 26, 2015, are being recalled:
- 8-lb. cases containing 2-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Spicy Beef Patties.”
- 8-lb. cases containing 2-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Mild Beef Patties.”
- 8-lb. cases containing 2-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Chicken Patties.”
- 12-lb. cases containing 3-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Spicy Beef Patties.”
- 12-lb. cases containing 3-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Mild Beef Patties.”
- 12-lb. cases containing 3-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Chicken Patties.”
- 15-lb. cases containing “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Spicy Beef Patties.”
- 15-lb. cases containing “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Mild Beef Patties.”
- 15-lb. cases containing “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Chicken.”
- 15-lb. cases containing 9-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Hot Beef Patties.”
- 15-lb. cases containing 9-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Chicken Patties.”
- 15-lb. cases containing 9-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Mild Beef Patties.”
- 8.5-lb cases containing 24-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Spicy Beef Patties.”
- 8.5-lb cases containing 24- count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Chicken.”
- 40-lb cases containing 10-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Spicy Beef Patties.”
- 15-lb cases containing “Golden Krust Cheezee Beef Patty.”
- 15-lb cases containing “Golden Krust Jerk Chicken Patty.”
The recalled products bear the establishment number “EST. 18781 and P-18781” inside the USDA mark of inspection and have an expiration date between January 24, 2015 through February 26, 2016. They were shipped to distributors, retailers and consumers nationwide.
Consumers with questions may contact Herma Hawthorne at (855) 565-0561.
Pedego recalls electric bicycle batteries
The batteries can overheat, posing a fire hazard04/30/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Pedego Inc., of Irvine, Calif., is recalling about 5,000 lithium ion rechargeable batteries. The batteries can overheat, posing a fire hazard. The compan...
Pedego Inc., of Irvine, Calif., is recalling about 5,000 lithium ion rechargeable batteries.
The batteries can overheat, posing a fire hazard.
The company has received 6 reports of batteries overheating and catching fire, including 1 report of property damage. No injuries have been reported.
This recall involves 36-volt and 48-volt lithium ion rechargeable batteries sold separately and as original equipment with Pedego electric bikes. Recalled batteries of each voltage came in two styles.
One style has a silver or black metal case that measures about 13 ½ inches long, 6 ½ inches wide and 2 ½ inches high, with black plastic end caps and a handle. The other style has a black or white plastic case that measures about 14 inches long, 6 ½ inches wide and 2 ½ inches high with a red indicator lamp on one end.
The batteries have serial numbers that start with “DLG.” A label with the serial number is on one side of the metal batteries and on the underside of the plastic batteries.
The batteries, manufactured in China, were sold at bicycle stores and electric bike retailers and online at www.pedegoelectricbikes.com from January 2010, through September 2013. The batteries were sold separately for about $600 to $900 and on electric bicycles that sold for between $2,000 and $3,000.
Consumers should immediately remove the battery from the bike and contact Pedego for a free replacement battery.
Consumers may contact Pedego toll-free at (888) 870-9754 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hy-Vee recalls Summer Fresh Pasta Salad
The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes04/30/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Hy-Vee is recalling Hy-Vee Summer Fresh Pasta Salad that is sold in its stores' kitchen department cold cases and salad bars. The product may be contamin...
Hy-Vee is recalling Hy-Vee Summer Fresh Pasta Salad that is sold in its stores' kitchen department cold cases and salad bars.
The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
The company says it has not received any complaints associated with this problem to date.
The recalled product is packaged upon customer request from the kitchen cold case in 16-oz. or 32-oz. clear plastic containers with a light tan scale-produced label with the product name, weight and price affixed to the container.
The pasta salad was available in stores in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and South Dakota between April 9, 2015, and April 27, 2015.
Customers who purchased the recalled product should dispose of it or return it to the store for a refund.
Consumers with questions may call Hy-Vee customer care at 1-800-772-4098.
Pediatricians find it's too easy for teens to buy supplements
Test finds health food stores all too happy to sell dietary supplements to 15 year olds04/29/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Teenage drug use – be they illegal substances or prescription drugs – is an ongoing concern. Now pediatricians are adding dietary supplements to their list...
Teenage drug use – be they illegal substances or prescription drugs – is an ongoing concern. Now pediatricians are adding dietary supplements to their list of worries.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has reviewed a series of studies that posed this question: could a fifteen-year-old call a health food store and purchase a dietary supplement, even though the label read “for adult use only.”
Not only were the teens enlisted for the experiment able to buy the supplements, AAP says the staff in many stores helpfully recommended certain products.
To be clear, the sales clerks were doing nothing illegal. Only one state prohibits minors from purchasing dietary supplements.
Supplements might appear harmless but AAP recommends that both males and females under 18 avoid these body-shaping products, unregulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).
244 health food stores in 49 states
During the experiment, testers identifying themselves as 15-year-old boys and girls called 244 health food stores in 49 states to inquire about supplements and found they could easily purchase them.
“Teenagers dealing with negative body images are increasingly turning to over-the-counter supplements, despite recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics to avoid such products, said Dr. Ruth Milanaik, of Cohen Children's Medical Center, who helped oversee the project.
She warned that health food store supplements are not always healthy, and health food store attendants are not always experts when selling well-known "fat burning" thermogenic products, such as Hydroxycut, and Shredzm, testosterone boosters, or products containing creatine.
Many testosterone boosters carry label instructions advising the products should only be used by adults. Even so, the testing team found 41% of sales attendants told callers identifying themselves as 15-year-olds they could purchase a testosterone booster without an adult's approval.
And despite the fact that testosterone boosters are specifically not recommended for children under age 18 unless for documented medical reasons, the study found 9.8% of sales attendants actually recommended a testosterone booster.
Milanaik is concerned that the supplement industry may view young people as an emerging market.
"Adolescents are being enticed by flashy advertisements and promises of quick, body-shaping results," she said. "In this body-conscious world, flashy advertising of `safe, quick and easy body shaping results' are very tempting to younger individuals trying to achieve 'the perfect body.' It is important for pediatricians, parents, coaches and mentors to stress that healthy eating habits, sleep and daily exercise should be the recipe for a healthy body."
Milanaik also has an issue with health food stores advertising that their employees are “trained experts.” If they were, she says they would not be recommending dietary supplements for minors.
"Health food stores need to focus not only on knowing what products to recommend, but often more importantly, what products not to recommend for customers of certain ages and conditions," said Laura Fletcher, one of the principal investigators.
At the very least, she says sales personnel should pay attention when warnings are clearly printed on product labels.
Google introduces anti-phishing tool for Chrome browser
Password Alert can warn you when a bogus site tries to get your password04/29/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
Google has introduced a new security tool for the Chrome browser that's intended to help keep consumers safe from phishing attacks. Those are the scams tha...
Google has introduced a new security tool for the Chrome browser that's intended to help keep consumers safe from phishing attacks. Those are the scams that use what look legitimate pages (like the one above) to trick consumers into revealing their passwords.
Phishing attacks are not only very common, they're also very effective. Google says they succeed nearly 45 percent of the time and reports that nearly 2% of emails submitted to Gmail are designed to smoke out consumers' passwords.
Called Password Alert, the free, open-source Chrome extension will show you a warning if you type your Google password into a site that isn’t a Google sign-in page.
"Once you’ve installed and initialized Password Alert, Chrome will remember a 'scrambled' version of your Google Account password. It only remembers this information for security purposes and doesn’t share it with anyone," Google's Drew Hintz and Justin Kosslyn said in a blog posting.
They said that if you type your password into a site that isn't a Google sign-in page, Password Alert will show you a notice like the one below, alerting you that you’re at risk of being phished so you can update your password and protect yourself.
The app is available in the Google Play store.
Reports: Apple Watch won't work for people with tattoos
Apparently the darker inks absorb enough light to interfere with the Watch's sensors04/29/2015ConsumerAffairs
Bad news for tattooed iFans who want an Apple Watch: A growing body of complaints seems to indicate that tattoo ink, especially in dark colors, interferes ...
Bad news for tattooed iFans who want an Apple Watch: A growing body of complaints seems to indicate that tattoo ink, especially in dark colors, interferes with the Watch's sensors, thereby disabling some of the device's functions.
The Daily Dot first called attention to a complaint posted on reddit's /r/apple forum yesterday — a tattooed redditor going by the handle “guinne55fan” started a thread to report problems with his new Watch:
So I thought my shiny new 42mm SS watch had a bad wrist detector sensor. The watch would lock up every time the screen went dark and prompted me for my password. I wouldn't receive notifications. I couldn't figure out why especially since the watch was definitely not losing contact with my skin. ... I was about to give up and call Apple tomorrow when I decided to try holding it against my hand (my left arm is sleeved and where I wear my watch is tattooed as well) and it worked. My hand isn't tattooed and the Watch stayed unlocked. Once I put it back on the area that is tattooed with black ink the watch would automatically lock again. Just wanted to give anyone a heads up about this issue because I don't see it mentioned anywhere in Apple's support documents.
In addition, guinne55fan also included photos of his tattooed left wrist. Sure enough, the part that would be in contact with the underside of an Apple Watch is almost completely colored with black tattoo ink.
Similar complaints can also be found on Twitter; just yesterday, @stroughtonsmith Tweeted that “Turns out people with wrist tattoos will be unable to use Apple Watch for Apple Pay because it can't sense you're alive. Fun!”
No Apple comment
So there's at least two people with tattooed wrists reporting identical complaints with the Apple Watch's functionality, both on the same day. Is this mere coincidence — or is there an actual connection?
Although Apple has not, as of press time, publicly commented on whether or how tattoos interfere its watches, Apple's own support page suggests that tattoo interference genuinely could be a problem, in its explanation of “How Apple Watch measures your heart rate”:
The heart rate sensor in Apple Watch uses what is known as photoplethysmography. This technology, while difficult to pronounce, is based on a very simple fact: Blood is red because it reflects red light and absorbs green light. Apple Watch uses green LED lights paired with light sensitive photodiodes to detect the amount of blood flowing through your wrist at any given moment. When your heart beats, the blood flow in your wrist — and the green light absorption — is greater. Between beats, it’s less. By flashing its LED lights hundreds of times per second, Apple Watch can calculate the number of times the heart beats each minute — your heart rate.
The heart rate sensor can also use infrared light. This mode is what Apple Watch uses when it measures your heart rate every 10 minutes. However, if the infrared system isn't providing an adequate reading, Apple Watch switches to the green LEDs. In addition, the heart rate sensor is designed to compensate for low signal levels by increasing both LED brightness and sampling rate.
What does this have to do with tattoos? Simple: tattoo ink, especially the darker colors, can serve as a “barrier” between those LED or infrared lights and your bloodstream, absorbing some of the light before it hits your bloodstream, and some more of it as it bounces back.
For the record: the problems reported with Apple Watch only affect people whose wrists have dark tattoos; it does not affect people with naturally dark skin due to high melanin levels. Dark tattoo inks are made of a variety of ingredients, including ground-up minerals, which can obviously interfere with light reflection or absorption in ways which melanin does not.
The iMore blog tested various Twitterers' and redditors' complaints and concluded that, yes: tattoo inks do interfere with the Apple sensor readings, especially the darker inks – and in some cases, thick (yet non-tattooed) scar tissue can interfere with the sensors as well:
We tested the Watch's sensors against tattooed and non-tattooed sections on both the wrist and elsewhere on the body. On non-tattooed non-wrist sections, the sensors gave identical readings as when also tested on the wrist; on tattooed sections, sensor readings varied wildly depending on colors and shading.
Dark, solid colors seem to give the sensor the most trouble — our tests on solid black and red initially produced heart rate misreadings of up to 196 BPM before failing to read skin contact entirely. Tests on lighter tattoo colors including purple, yellow, and orange produced slightly elevated heart misreads of 80 BPM (compared to 69 BPM on the wearer's non-tattooed wrist), but otherwise did not appear to interfere with skin contact registration. … It's also worth noting that prominent scars and other potential skin aberrations can trip the Watch's sensors.
Granted, the Watch's sensors can be turned off, but doing so will disable certain of the Watch's functions, including Apple Pay (plus heart-monitoring and similar personal-fitness apps, of course). If nothing else, Apple has a two-week return policy; Watch owners with tattooed wrists might need to take advantage of that.
It might not be possible for Apple to fix this particular problem, short of abandoning light-based sensors altogether; there's nothing Apple or anyone else can do, to change such facts as “Crushed minerals packed together densely enough to look black in full daylight will block or absorb far more light than regular human skin and blood can.”
Researchers say manufacturing costs unlikely the reason04/29/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Although recent research has been very promising, there is no cure for multiple schlerosis (MS), a disabling disease of the central nervous system. Medi...
Air fares on the rise
Travelers in Madison, Wisconsin, were hit the hardest04/29/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
The friendly skies were a little more expensive in the final 3 months of last year. Figures released by the Transportation Department’s Bureau of Transpor...
The friendly skies were a little more expensive in the final 3 months of last year.
Figures released by the Transportation Department’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) show average the domestic air fare rose 2.0% in the fourth quarter of 2014 -- to an inflation-adjusted $393, from $385 a year earlier.
Of the 100 busiest airports, during that period, passengers originating in Madison, Wisconsin, paid the highest average fare -- $505, while passengers originating in Sanford, Florida, paid the lowest -- $99.
The BTS report bases average fares on domestic itinerary fares, which consist of round-trip fares, unless the customer does not purchase a return trip. In that case, the one-way fare is included. One-way trips accounted for 31% of fares calculated for the fourth quarter of 2014.
Fares are based on the total ticket value, which consists of the price charged by the airlines plus any additional taxes and fees levied by an outside entity at the time of purchase. Fares include only the price paid at the time of the ticket purchase and do not include things like baggage fees, paid at either the airport or onboard the aircraft. Averages also do not include frequent-flyer or “zero fares,” or abnormally high reported fares.
Fares during the fourth-quarter fares rose 10.2% from the recession-affected low of $348 in 2009 to the fourth quarter of 2011. Since 2011, fourth-quarter fares have shown little change, increasing 2.4% from 2011 to 2014.
The fourth-quarter 2014 fare was down 14.4% from the average fare of $459 in 2000 -- the highest inflation-adjusted fourth quarter average fare in the 19 years since BTS began collecting air fare records in 1995. That decline took place while overall consumer prices rose 37%. Since 1995, inflation-adjusted fares have actually fallen 10.8% compared with a 55.4% increase in overall consumer prices.
U.S. passenger airlines collected 71.2% of their total revenue from passenger fares during the third quarter of 2014, the latest period for which revenue data are available, down from 1990 when 87.6% of airline revenue was received from fares.
The average fare of $391 for the full year 2014 was up 0.6%, inflation-adjusted, from the 2013 average fare of $389 but down 16.2% from the inflation-adjusted annual high of $467 in 2000.
Not adjusted for inflation, the $391 average fare in 2014 is the highest annual fare since BTS began collecting air fare records in 1995 -- 2.5% higher than the previous high of $382 in 2013.
The complete report is available on the BTS website.
Economic growth slows to a crawl in first quarter
A slowdown in consumer spending is among the factors04/29/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
The government has taken its first of 3 readings on the economy for the first quarter -- and the results are not encouraging. According to the "advance" es...
The government has taken its first of 3 readings on the economy for the first quarter -- and the results are not encouraging.
According to the "advance" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, real gross domestic product (GDP) -- the value of the production of goods and services in the U.S., adjusted for price changes -- increased at an anemic annual rate just of 0.2 percent in the first quarter. As a means of comparison, real GDP increased 2.2% in the previous 3 months.
What increase there was primarily reflected positive contributions from personal consumption expenditures (PCE) and private inventory investment. But those were partly offset by declines in exports, nonresidential fixed investment, and state and local government spending. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased.
Consumers stay home
The slowdown comes as a result in a slackening in PCE (+1.9%, compared with +4.4% the fourth quarter), downturns in exports, in nonresidential fixed investment, and in state and local government spending, and a deceleration in residential fixed investment that were partly offset by a deceleration in imports and upturns in private inventory investment and in federal government spending.
The first-quarter advance estimate is based on incomplete source data and are subject to further revision. The "second" estimate for the first quarter, based on more complete data, will be released next month.
The price index for gross domestic purchases, which measures prices paid by U.S. residents, plunged 1.5% in the first quarter following a dip of 0.1% percent in the fourth. The core rate, which excludes the volatile food and energy sectors, rose 0.3%, compared with an increase of 0.7% in the previous 3 months.
The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.
A dip in mortgage applications
Contract interest rates were mixed04/29/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Applications for mortgages were a little lower last week. According to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Application Surv...
Applications for mortgages were a little lower last week.
According to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey, the Market Composite Index -- a measure of mortgage loan application volume – was down 2.3% on a seasonally adjusted basis in the week ending April 24.
The average loan size for purchase applications rose to a survey high of $297,000.
The Refinance Index fell 4% from the previous week, with the refinance share of mortgage activity down to 55% of total applications -- its lowest level since September 2014.
The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity rose to 5.7% of total applications, the FHA share was 13.7%, the VA share was 11.3%, and the USDA share of total applications was unchanged at 0.8%.
Contract interest rates
- The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) rose 2 basis points -- to 3.85% from 3.83%, with points increasing to 0.35 from 0.32 (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 down to 3.82% from 3.83%, with points rising to 0.31 from 0.22 (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 edged up 1 basis point to 3.66%, with points increasing to 0.16 from 0.12 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
- The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs rose from 3.11% to 3.14%, with points increasing to 0.31 from 0.24 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
- The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs dipped to 2.88% from 2.89%, with points dropping to 0.27 from 0.29 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
The survey covers over 75% of all U.S. retail residential mortgage applications.
Emergency rooms are packed on weekends with victims of home handyman mishaps04/29/2015ConsumerAffairs
Deciding to tackle the yard work now that the weather is breaking can be dangerous. The emergency room is filled on weekends with people getting poked in t...
Whirlpool mislabeled refrigerators as Energy Star compliant, lawsuit charges
A federal judge has certified the case for California consumers04/29/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
Whirlpool faces a class action lawsuit filed by consumers who say they bought Whirlpool refrigerators that were falsely labeled as Energy Star compliant, C...
Whirlpool faces a class action lawsuit filed by consumers who say they bought Whirlpool refrigerators that were falsely labeled as Energy Star compliant, Courthouse News Service reported.
Lead plaintiffs Kyle Dei Rossi and Mark Linthicum say the refrigerators they bought had the Energy Star logos on them but their model numbers showed they were not in compliance with Energy Star requirements.
Whirlpool asked that the suit be dismissed on the grounds that the plaintiffs had not actually suffered any damage.
But U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley granted certification for consumers who bought their refrigerators in California. He denied certification for consumers in other states because of differences in the states' laws.
Technology may reduce distracted driving among teens
Study finds intervention devices successfully modified dangerous behavior04/29/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Christopher Maynard
It is a sad fact that the number one cause of accidental death in teens is motor vehicle accidents. In this current age of always needing to be plugged in,...
It is a sad fact that the number one cause of accidental death in teens is motor vehicle accidents. In this current age of always needing to be plugged in, it is extremely difficult for many young drivers to put down their phones. Fortunately, a recent study shows that other types of technology may provide the answer to keeping young drivers safe.
The study, which was led by Dr. Beth Ebel of the University of Washington, attempted to find out if other types of technology could make driving safer for young people. She and her colleagues believe that there is not enough being done to minimize distracted driving. “Facts and figures have not done enough to change driver behavior,” she said.
The research team chose 29 teens for the study and observed them for six months. Each driver was placed into one of three groups. Two of the groups had intervention measures to stop distracted driving. The third group was the control group, and had no intervention measures in place.
The first intervention group had an in-vehicle camera system installed that was triggered by certain driving conditions, such as hard braking, fast cornering, or impacts. The video footage was made available to teens and parents so that it could be reviewed to improve driving behavior.
The second intervention group had a device installed that blocked incoming and outgoing calls and messages when the vehicle was being operated. In addition to these measures, all three groups had a program installed on their phones so that researchers could track how much they were used while driving.
The results of the study showed that the intervention groups had lower cell phone use and fewer high-risk driving behaviors than the control group. Out of the three groups, those with the cell blocking technology had the safest driving record.
One of the most interesting things uncovered by the study was that the young drivers were receptive to the intervention measures. None of the participants disabled the programs that were inhibiting their phone use. This gives hope that these technologies may be practical in the real world. Both intervention methods are currently available for commercial use.
Study finds gastric bands, group weight management programs equally effective
Both improved blood sugar levels over a year's time04/29/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Christopher Maynard
Weight loss is never easy, but it's important for overweight people with type 2 diabetes seeking to control their blood sugar levels and optimize their hea...
Weight loss is never easy, but it's important for overweight people with type 2 diabetes seeking to control their blood sugar levels and optimize their health.
A small clinical trial among such patients led by Joslin Diabetes Center and Brigham and Women's Hospital researchers now has shown that two approaches -- adjustable gastric band surgery and an intensive group-based medical diabetes and weight management program -- achieved similar improvements in controlling blood sugar levels after one year.
"We can anticipate long-term health benefits from both of these approaches, but they do require some investment of time and energy by the patient," says trial leader Allison Goldfine, M.D., head of Joslin's Section of Clinical Research and an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Reported in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, the SLIMM-T2D (Surgery or Lifestyle with Intensive Medical Management in Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes) trial enlisted 45 volunteers who had long-duration type 2 diabetes, struggled to manage their diabetes and had a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher.
The study randomly divided the participants into two groups.
One group received an adjustable gastric band procedure, which inserts a band around the upper stomach whose tightness can be adjusted.
"With the band, you put a device around the top portion of the stomach, people get full more quickly, and that fullness signals them to stop eating," Dr. Goldfine notes. She adds that some studies suggest that over time, people with the band learn to change their behaviors to eat less even when the band is no longer fully restricted.
The other group of participants underwent Joslin's Why WAIT (Weight Achievement and Intensive Treatment), a clinically available program built on behavioral interventions that have been proven to be effective.
After one year, the two groups achieved similar lowering of blood sugar levels -- average levels of hemoglobin A1C (a standard measurement of blood sugar levels over several months) dropped by 1.2 for patients with the gastric band and by 1.0 for patients in the IMWM program. The groups also saw similar-magnitude improvements in their levels of blood sugar when fasting, another standard metric for type 2 diabetes management.
Weight loss was similar between the two arms at three months. At one year, however, the participants given the band achieved greater average loss (30 pounds compared to 19 pounds) and were continuing to lose weight. The Why WAIT group saw greater reductions in blood pressure than the band group, but other measures of cardiovascular health were generally comparable between the two groups.
Participants in both arms of the trial reported that their health had been improved on a number of measures and that they were enjoying better quality of life.
Gastric bands are inserted laparoscopically, via small incisions in the belly, and clamped around the top of the stomach. Gastric bypass procedures, more invasive forms of surgery that route digestion around parts of the stomach, affect digestion metabolism more drastically than bands and typically result in greater weight loss.
A previous SLIMM-T2D study led by Joslin and reported last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association compared the use of the most common gastric bypass surgery, called Roux-en-Y, to Why WAIT treatment. In that earlier trial, participants who underwent Roux-en-Y gastric bypass lost significantly more weight and achieved better diabetes control than those in the medical treatment arm of the trial.
In addition to these two Joslin-led trials, several other research institutions have run small studies studying various gastric procedures and medical programs. A consortium called ARMMS-T2D (Alliance of Randomized Trials of Medicine versus Metabolic Surgery in the Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes) aims to follow up on the roughly 300 patients in all these trials.
"It's really important to have a variety of different approaches available to treat a complex medical problem like diabetes, and we need to understand the relative merits of each approach," Dr. Goldfine sums up. "There are people for whom remembering to take their medications is highly problematic, and there are people for whom the idea of surgical risk is unbearable. One size does not fit all."
Waymouth Farms recalls raw pine nuts
The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.04/29/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Waymouth Farms of New Hope, Minn., is recalling raw pine nuts in various sizes. The product may be contaminated with Salmonella No illnesses have been re...
Waymouth Farms of New Hope, Minn., is recalling raw pine nuts in various sizes.
The product may be contaminated with Salmonella
No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with the problem.
The following products, sold nationwide through retail stores and mail order under the Good Sense brand, are being recalled:
The product was also sold in a 5-lb. bulk box, UPC 30243 02860, from June 6, 2014, to March 26, 2015 using the following Julian Codes:
1 155 141 183 141 210 14
1 223 141 239 141 260 14
1 281 141 282 141 317 14
1 351 141 020 151 050 15
1 085 15
Customers who purchased the recalled products should return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.
Consumers with questions may contact customer service at 800-527-0094 Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM, CST.
Corn Maiden Foods expands recall of beef and pork products
The products contain hydrolyzed soy protein, an allergen not listed on the label04/29/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Corn Maiden Foods of Harbor City, Calif., has added an additional item to the list of 15,600 pounds of pork products recalled earlier this month. The pro...
Corn Maiden Foods of Harbor City, Calif., has added an additional item to the list of 15,600 pounds of pork products recalled earlier this month.
The products contain hydrolyzed soy protein, an allergen not listed on the label.
There are no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.
The following products, produced between April 9, 2014 and April 8, 2015, have been added to the original list of recalled items:
- 20.625 lb. cases containing 60 5.5 oz. pieces of “Tamales with Pork Carnitas, Green Chile & Oregano Wrapped in Corn Husks.”
- 9.375 lb. cases containing 60 2.5 oz. pieces of “Tamales with Pork Carnitas, Green Chile & Oregano Wrapped in Corn Husks.”
The recalled products bear the establishment number “EST. 20949” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped to hotels, restaurants and institutional locations in California.
Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Pascal Dropsy at (310) 784-0400, ext. 221.
Skyline Provisions recalls beef products
The product is contaminated with E. coli O157:H704/29/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Skyline Provisions of Harvey, Ill., is recalling 1,029 pounds of beef products. The product is contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. There are no reports of...
Skyline Provisions of Harvey, Ill., is recalling 1,029 pounds of beef products.
The product is contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.
There are no reports of illnesses associated with consumption of this product.
The following product, produced between April 15-25, 2015, is being recalled:
- 17 ½ boxes of Aurora Packers Intact Beef Round Flats
The product was sold to Jack & Pat's Old Fashioned Market in Chicago Ridge, Ill., where it was ground and sold in various amounts of ground chuck patties, ground chuck, ground round, sirloin patties and porter house patties.
Consumers with questions regarding the recall can may Skyline Provisions at (708) 331-1982.
Mayo Clinic doctors getting close to a blood test for cancer
Doctors may soon be able to easily find cancer anywhere in the body04/28/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
When doctors suspect a patient has a cancerous tumor, they order a biopsy to examine tissue. But if the cancer is lurking in another part of the body, the ...
When doctors suspect a patient has a cancerous tumor, they order a biopsy to examine tissue. But if the cancer is lurking in another part of the body, the deadly disease can go unnoticed.
This may soon change because the way doctors look for tumors may soon change. Researchers at Mayo Clinic report success in identifying the source of cancer in patients' gastrointestinal tracts by looking at DNA markers from tumors.
That means one day, physicians might soon be able to find cancer anywhere in the body, just by conducting a blood test or examining a stool sample. Not only would it be more convenient for patients, it could save lives by providing earlier diagnosis of a whole series of life-threatening cancers.
Screening the whole body
“What’s exciting about our discovery is that it allows us to stop thinking about screening organs and start thinking about screening people,” said Mayo Clinic's Dr. John Kisiel. “As far as we are aware, this is the first series of experiments that has ever shown this concept.”
However, a somewhat similar screening tool won Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval last year. In 2014 the agency gave a green light to Cologuard, the first stool-based colorectal screening test that detects the presence of red blood cells and DNA mutations that may indicate the presence of certain kinds of abnormal growths.
These polyps can be cancerous, or pre-cancerous, and previously could only be detected visually through an invasive procedure known as a colonoscopy.
Using a stool sample, Cologuard detects hemoglobin, as well as certain mutations associated with colorectal cancer in the DNA of cells. If the test is positive patients are then advised to undergo a diagnostic colonoscopy.
Not only is the new test less expensive, it could mean millions more people will get screened, preventing thousands of colon cancer deaths.
The Mayo study expands this concept to the entire body. They say in collecting and cataloging methylated DNA in a blood test they pinpointed the presence and origin of cancer cells in the body with 80% accuracy.
“We think, based on the data we have, that a blood test could work in the future,” Kisiel said.
One objective of the research is to eliminate the need for the present organ-by-organ search for cancer. Doctor's are reluctant to screen for less common cancers because of the high number of false positive results. In other cases, doctors don't spend time and money looking for cancers that might not be there at all.
But if they are present and go undetected, it's bad news for the patient.
“A cancer like pancreatic cancer, although it’s almost uniformly lethal, is not screened for at all in the general population, mainly because it’s rare,” Kisiel said.
More work ahead
Don't expect this cancer-screening blood test to be available anytime soon. Kisiel's tests were conducted on the gastrointestinal tract. The next step is to apply it to the whole body.
“We hope that in the future patients might be able to submit a blood specimen and then we can analyze that blood specimen for the presence and absence of cancer markers,” he said. “And if they are present we hope to be able to determine the anatomic location of the tumor, or the organ from which it originates.”
Video study documents teen distracted driving
In-car cameras capture moments just before and after a crash04/28/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
A picture is worth a thousand words. Highway safety advocates are hoping in-vehicle video of actual car accidents caused by driver distraction can focus mo...
A picture is worth a thousand words. Highway safety advocates are hoping in-vehicle video of actual car accidents caused by driver distraction can focus more attention on the problem.
Back in March the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reported that distracted driving by teenagers is happening more than anyone previously thought. The foundation reached that conclusion after going to the video tape.
A company called Lytx installs video in-vehicle event recorders in cars. They are part of a driver training system that also collects audio and accelerometer data when a driver triggers an in-vehicle device by hard braking, fast cornering or an impact that exceeds a certain g-force.
Just before and just after crash
The videos are 12-seconds long and provide information from before and after the event. The videos are part of a program for coaching drivers to improve behavior and reduce collisions.
For its study, the foundation was granted permission to analyze the videos – in particular those featuring teenage drivers. This unique video analysis found that distraction was a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 moderate to severe incidents featuring teen driver – 4 times as many as the official estimates based on police reports.
Below is an excerpt from the collection of videos the foundation analyzed.
Phones not the only distraction
Phones caused the largest percentage of distractions, but the cameras showed there were plenty of other things distracting young drivers. Cell phone use caused 12% of crashes but looking at something in the vehicle caused 10%. Looking at things outside the vehicle, singing or moving to music, grooming or reaching for something were also sources of distraction.
“It is troubling that passengers and cell phones were the most common forms of distraction given that these factors can increase crash risks for teen drivers,” said AAA CEO Bob Darbelnet. “The situation is made worse by the fact that young drivers have spent less time behind the wheel and cannot draw upon their previous experience to manage unsafe conditions.”
The analysis of the video footage found that driving looking at their phones had their eyes off the road for an average of 4.1 out of the final 6 seconds leading up to an accident. The researchers also measured reaction time in rear-end crashes, finding that many teens distracted by a cellphone never reacted, meaning they slammed into the vehicle in front without ever hitting the brakes or swerving.
The takeaway from the video footage, Darbeinet concludes, is states need to tighten their graduated driving laws (GDL), prohibiting cell phone use by teen drivers and restricting passengers to one non-family member for the first 6 months of driving.
Radio Shack agrees to remediation in bankruptcy sale of customer data
Another reminder that you don't own your personal information04/28/2015ConsumerAffairs
Radio Shack today agreed to enter mediation with the attorneys general of Texas, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Tennessee regarding the its plan to auction off c...
Radio Shack today agreed to enter mediation with the attorneys general of Texas, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Tennessee regarding the its plan to auction off customer data as part of its bankruptcy restructuring.
The Associated Press reports that on May 11, Radio Shack will auction its intellectual property assets. These assets include Radio Shack's registered trademarks, 73 active or pending patent applications and more than 8.5 million customer email addresses along with 65 million customer names and physical addresses.
But Tuesday, a lawyer for Radio Shack told a Delaware bankruptcy judge that the mediation, including a consumer privacy ombudsman, will start on May 14, three days after the auction.
Actually, an auction already took place this past March, with Standard General LP reportedly the high bidder — but a bankruptcy court had to approve that deal. Texas' attorney general argued at the time that selling the data would be illegal under Texas law, which forbids companies selling personal data in violation of their own stated policies – and signs in Radio Shack stores had proclaimed “we pride ourselves on not selling our private mailing list.” The attorneys general from Pennsylvania, Oregon and Tennessee made similar complaints.
Later, after the attorneys general of four states protested, a privacy ombudsman ruled that customer information was not included as part of the Radio Shack bankruptcy sale. Today's remediation agreement with the four state attorneys general will presumably help Radio Shack and the courts determine just how much of that information can be sold.
Feds fine Regions Bank for gouging customers with illegal overdraft fees
The bank charged overdraft fees to customers who had not opted-in for coverage, the CFPB charged04/28/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
For the first time, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has taken action against a bank for violating regulations governing bank overdraft fees. Th...
For the first time, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has taken action against a bank for violating regulations governing bank overdraft fees.
The bureau announced Tuesday that Regions Bank has been fined $7.5 million for charging overdraft fees to thousands of consumers who had not opted-in for overdraft coverage. The fine comes on top of a consent order with the bureau, also announced Monday, requiring the Birmingham, Ala.-based bank to pay back all consumers who had been affected by the unwarranted overdafts.
“Today the CFPB is taking its first enforcement action under the rules that protect consumers against illegal overdraft fees by their banks,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Regions Bank failed to ask consumers if they wanted overdraft service before charging them fees. In the end, hundreds of thousands of consumers paid at least $49 million in illegal charges. We take the issue of overdraft fees very seriously and will be vigilant about making sure that consumers receive the protections they deserve.”
Regions Bank operates approximately 1,700 retail branches and 2,000 ATMs across 16 states. With more than $119 billion in assets, it is one of the country's largest banks.
First such action
The action taken by the bureau is the first time it has punished a bank for violating overdraft regulations since new federal rules took effect in 2010, part of the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, that prohibited banks and credit unions from charging overdraft fees on ATM and one-time debit card transactions unless consumers affirmatively opted in. If consumers don’t opt-in, banks may decline the transaction, but won’t charge a fee.
The bureau found that Regions bank allowed consumers to link their checking accounts to savings accounts or lines of credit. Once that link was established, funds from the linked account would automatically be transferred to cover a shortage in a consumer’s checking account. But Regions never provided customers with linked accounts an opportunity to opt in for overdraft. Because those consumers had not opted in, Regions could have simply declined ATM or one-time debit card transactions that exceeded the available balance in both the checking and linked accounts. Instead, the bank paid those transactions, tacking on and overdraft fee of $36, in violation of the opt-in rule.
However, Regions Bank had been aware of the issue for some time. According to the bureau, an internal bank review revealed the violation 13 months after the new overdraft rules went into effect. The bureau said that senior executives at the bank were not made aware of the issue for another year after that, at which point they notified the CPFB. In June 2012, the bank reprogrammed its systems to stop charging the unauthorized fees. Then, this past January, the bank discovered more bank accounts that had been charged unauthorized fees.
The bureau also said that Regions charged overdraft and non-sufficient funds fees with its deposit advance product, called Regions Ready Advance, despite claiming it would not. Specifically, if the bank collected payment from the consumer’s checking account that would cause the consumer’s balance to drop below zero the bank would either cover the transaction and charge an overdraft fee or reject its own transaction and charge a non-sufficient funds fee. At various times from November 2011 until August 2013, the bank charged non-sufficient funds fees and overdraft charges of about $1.9 million to more than 36,000 customers.
Regions Bank voluntarily reimbursed approximately 200,000 consumers a total of nearly $35 million in December 2012 for the illegal overdraft fees discovered then. After the bureau alerted the bank to more affected consumers, Regions returned an additional $12.8 million in December 2013. In January 2015, the bank identified even more affected consumers and is now required to provide them with a full refund. Regions has been ordered to hire an independent consultant to identify all remaining consumers who were charged the illegal fees. Regions will return these fees to consumers, if not already refunded. If the consumers have a current account with the bank, they will receive a credit to their account. For closed or inactive accounts, Regions will send a check to the affected consumers.
The $7.5 million fine the bank has been ordered to pay could have been larger, according to the bureau, which noted the delay in notifiying senior bank officials of the violations. But the bureau credited Regions for making reimbursements to consumers and promptly self-reporting these issues to the Bureau once they were brought to the attention of senior management.
Don't let con artists fleece you with your own charitable impulses04/28/2015ConsumerAffairs
On Saturday a massive earthquake devastated the Himalayan nation of Nepal, and the dust had barely settled before scammers and con artists started using th...
Home prices post widespread gains in February
Prices have posted year-over-year advances for 34 straight months04/28/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Home prices continued their rise across the country over the last 12 months, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices. Both the 10-City and 20...
Home prices continued their rise across the country over the last 12 months, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices.
Both the 10-City and 20-City Composites saw larger year-over-year increases in February than were registered the month before. The 10-City Composite jumped 4.8% year-over-year, versus January's 4.3% advance, while the 20-City Composite gained was up 5.0% following a 4.5% increase in January.
The S&P/CaseShiller U.S. National Home Price Index, which covers all 9 U.S. census divisions, recorded a 4.2% annual advance in February 2015. Denver and San Francisco reported the highest year-over-year gains, as prices increased by 10.0% and 9.8%, respectively, over the last 12 months -- the first double digit increase for Denver since August 2013.
Seventeen cities reported higher year-over-year price increases in the year ended February 2015 than in the year ended January 2015, with San Francisco showing the largest acceleration. Three cities -- San Diego, Las Vegas and Portland, Ore., -- reported that the pace of annual price increases slowed.
“Home prices continue to rise and outpace both inflation and wage gains,” said David M. Blitzer, Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “The S&P/Case-Shiller National Index has seen 34 consecutive months with positive year-over-year gains; all 20 cities have shown year-over-year gains every month since the end of 2012.'
The National Index rebounded in February, reporting a 0.1% change for the month. Both the 10- and 20-City Composites reported significant month-over-month increases of 0.5%, their largest increase since July 2014. Of the 16 cities that reported increases, San Francisco and Denver led all cities in February with gains of 2.0% and 1.4%. Cleveland reported the largest drop as prices fell 1.0%. Las Vegas and Boston reported declines of -0.3% and -0.2% respectively.
“A better sense of where home prices are can be seen by starting in January 2000 -- before the housing boom accelerated -- and looking at real or inflation adjusted numbers,” said Blitzer. “Based on the S&P/Case-Shiller National Home Price Index, prices rose 66.8% before adjusting for inflation from January 2000 to February 2015; adjusted for inflation, this is 27.9% or a 1.7% annual rate.”
Tyson Foods will cull antibiotics from its chicken flocks
Antibiotic-resistant infections "a global health concern"04/28/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
Tyson Foods is the latest to say it will phase out the use of human antibiotics. The company says its U.S. broiler chicken flocks will be free of antibioti...
Tyson Foods is the latest to say it will phase out the use of human antibiotics. The company says its U.S. broiler chicken flocks will be free of antibiotics by the end of September 2017.
Tyson says it has already stopped using all antibiotics in its 35 broiler hatcheries, requires a veterinary prescription for antibiotics used on broiler farms and has reduced human antibiotics used to treat broiler chickens by more than 80 percent since 2011.
“Antibiotic-resistant infections are a global health concern,” said Donnie Smith, president and CEO of Tyson Foods. “We’re confident our meat and poultry products are safe, but want to do our part to responsibly reduce human antibiotics on the farm so these medicines can continue working when they’re needed to treat illness.”
Tyson said it is also forming working groups with independent farmers and others in the company’s beef, pork and turkey supply chains to discuss ways to reduce the use of human antibiotics on cattle, hog and turkey farms.
In December 2013, the Food and Drug Adminitration (FDA) formulated a plan under which food manufacturers are being asked to voluntarily withdraw the routine use of human antibiotics in animals raised as food.
“We need to be selective about the drugs we use in animals and when we use them,” said William Flynn, DVM, MS, deputy director for science policy at FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM). “Antimicrobial resistance may not be completely preventable, but we need to do what we can to slow it down.”
Tyson said it will work with food industry, government, veterinary, public health and academic communities, and provide funding, to accelerate research into disease prevention and antibiotic alternatives on the farm.
“One of our core values is to serve as responsible stewards of animals – we will not let sick animals suffer,” Smith said. “We believe it’s our responsibility to help drive action towards sustainable solutions to this challenge by working with our chicken, turkey, beef and pork supply chains.”
A smartphone and GPS for your dog
It's the latest in wearable computers04/28/2015ConsumerAffairs
If you or your dog is high-tech and gadgets are your thing, there is something you might want to check out. It's ne...
If you or your dog is high-tech and gadgets are your thing, there is something you might want to check out. It's new and it's coming out this summer. It was developed by Motorola and video streaming/VoIP app developer Hubble. It's called SCOUT 5000.
Many new tech products are wearable and this falls right into that category. In essence it's a smartphone for your dog. The only thing it doesn't have is a keypad so your dog can call you if it starts getting lonely. Don't worry -- it has everything else.
The collar is a little bulky because it carries the smartphone that can track your dog’s weight, and physical activity and it also has a GPS on it so you know if your pup is hanging with the wrong crowd.
There is no hiding who he hangs with because the collar has a webcam on it so you see who your dog is having a face to face with or a well, rear end to rear end with to put it politely. You will know where that nose has been.
The camera is capable of sending 720p video directly to the owner's smartphone. You can speak back to your pup via the collar, issuing commands or offering a soothing voice for agitated pets. All of this of course delivered via an app directly to your smartphone.
You have to wonder how Lassie made it in this world without all of these things.
If you have a dog that's on the smaller side and you are concerned this sounds like an awful lot to be wearing around your neck for a little guy, Motorola has you covered.
A smaller version has been made, called the SCOUT 2500. It is minus the webcam feature but can still give you location and location is everything.
Both of the devices are actually made by Binatone Global, which produces a number of other Scout- and Bark-branded pet products under the Motorola brand.
Nobody likes to be fenced in especially your dog but what’s unique about this device is it has a geo-fencing feature that can create boundaries for dogs and emit a high-pitch sound to keep the dog from crossing the area.
‘The SCOUT 5000 will be available this June and will retail for $200 in the U.S., with other regional releases yet to be determined. The smaller version SCOUT 2500 will sell for $99.
Greystone Foods recalls vegetable products
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes04/28/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Greystone Foods of Birmingham, Ala., is recalling Today’s Harvest frozen Field Peas with Snaps, Broccoli Florets, and Silver Queen Corn. The products may ...
Greystone Foods of Birmingham, Ala., is recalling Today’s Harvest frozen Field Peas with Snaps, Broccoli Florets, and Silver Queen Corn.
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem.
The recalled products come in 32-oz clear plastic bags and are sold in the freezer section of Publix Supermarkets. The sell by date of 04/21/16 is printed along the bottom seal of the bag in black ink.
Customers who purchased these products should return them to the store where they were purchased for a refund.
Consumers with questions may call 1-205-945-9099.
Alpine Sausage Kitchen recalls beef and pork products
The products contain soy, an allergen not listed on the label04/28/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Alpine Sausage Kitchen of Albuquerque, N.M., is recalling approximately 3,350 pounds of beef and pork products. The products contain soy, an allergen not ...
Alpine Sausage Kitchen of Albuquerque, N.M., is recalling approximately 3,350 pounds of beef and pork products.
The products contain soy, an allergen not listed on the label.
There are no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.
The following sausage products, produced from February 4, 2014 through March 26, 2015, are being recalled:
- 10-lb. boxes containing “Alpine Sausage Kitchen VIENNA SAUSAGE Calcium Reduced Dried Skim Milk Added.”
- 10-lb. boxes containing “Alpine Sausage Kitchen COOKED BRATWURST (GERMAN BRAND).”
- The products subject to recall bear the establishment number “EST. 7060” inside the USDA mark of inspection.
The recalled items were shipped to a retail location in Texas.
Consumers with questions about the recall may contact William Schmaeh at (505) 266-2853.
Hong Ha recalls beef and pork products
The products contain wheat flour, eggs and milk, allergens not listed on the label04/28/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Hong Ha of Hyattsville, Md., is recalling approximately 10,164 pounds of beef and pork products. The products contain wheat flour, eggs and milk, allergen...
Hong Ha of Hyattsville, Md., is recalling approximately 10,164 pounds of beef and pork products.
The products contain wheat flour, eggs and milk, allergens not listed on the product label.
There are no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.
The following beef and pork items, produced between December 1, 2014, and April 23, 2015, are being recalled:
- 6-oz. packages containing “HONG HA GIO HUE (Vietnamese Brand Seasoned Pork Patty Mix)”
- 7-oz. packages containing “HONG HA NEM (Vietnamese Brand Fresh Seasoned Pork Pattie Mix for Barbecue)”
- 8-oz. packages containing “HONG HA CHA CHIEN (Vietnamese Brand Seasoned Pork, Patty Mix)”
- 12-oz. vacuum sealed packages containing “HONG HA BO VIEN GAN (Vietnamese Brand Beef & Pork Meat Balls. Beef Tendons Added)”
- 12-oz. vacuum sealed packages containing “HONG HA BO VIEN (Vietnamese Brand Beef & Pork Meat Balls)”
- 14-oz. packages containing “HONG HA NEM NUONG (Vietnamese Brand Seasoned Pork Meat Balls, Anchovy Flavored Fish Sauce Added)”
- 14-oz. packages containing “HONG HA GIO SONG (Vietnamese Brand Fresh Seasoned Pork, Pattie Mix)”
- 32-oz. banana leaf and plastic packages containing of “HONG HA GIO DAC BIET (Vietnamese Brand Seasoned Pork Patty Mix)”
The recalled products bear the establishment number “EST. 4261” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped to restaurants and retail locations in Maryland and Virginia.
Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Magdi Abadir at (301) 341-1175.
Nylabone Products recalls Puppy Starter Kit
The product may be contaminated with Salmonella04/28/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Nylabone Products of Neptune, N.J., is recalling one lot of its 1.69-oz. package of the Puppy Starter Kit dog chews. The product may be contaminated with ...
Nylabone Products of Neptune, N.J., is recalling one lot of its 1.69-oz. package of the Puppy Starter Kit dog chews.
The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.
No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem.
The recalled Puppy Starter Kit consists of one lot of dog chews that were sold nationwide, in Canada, and through one domestic online mail order facility.
It comes in a 1.69-oz. package marked with Lot #21935, UPC 0-18214-81291-3, and an expiration date of 3/22/18 on the back of the package.
Customers who purchased the recalled product should discontinue use of it and may return the unused portion to the place of purchase for a full refund.
Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-877-273-7527, Monday through Friday from 8:00 am – 5:00 pm CT.
Ford recalls Ford Fiestas, Fusions, and Lincoln MKZs
The vehicles may have a broken door latch pawl spring tab04/28/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Ford Motor Company is recalling approximately 390,000 model year 2012-2014 Ford Fiestas and 2013-2014 model years Ford Fusions and Lincoln MKZs. The door...
Ford Motor Company is recalling approximately 390,000 model year 2012-2014 Ford Fiestas, and 2013-2014 model year Ford Fusions and Lincoln MKZs.
The door latch in the recalled vehicles may experience a broken pawl spring tab, which typically results in a condition where the door will not latch. If a customer is then able to latch the door, there is potential the door may unlatch while the vehicle is being driven, increasing the risk of injury.
Ford is aware of two reports of soreness resulting from an unlatched door bouncing back when the customer attempted to close it, and one accident report when an unlatched door swung open and struck an adjacent vehicle as the driver was pulling into a parking space.
Approximately 390,000 vehicles are located in North America, including 336,873 in the U.S. and federalized territories, 30,198 in Canada and 22,514 in Mexico.
Dealers will replace all four door latches at no cost to the customer.
Wireless service begins to go the way of DSL as new entrants pit network against network
Google's Project Fi and smaller players like FreedomPop are acting as spectrum wholesalers04/27/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
Think back a decade ago. If you wanted broadband, DSL was all that was available in many areas. And it was available only as an add-on to your landline tel...
Think back a decade ago. If you wanted broadband, DSL was all that was available in many areas. And it was available only as an add-on to your landline telephone service. Then cable systems began offering broadband service and the telephone companies reluctantly began offering DSL on a standalone basis.
That, says Stephen Stokols, CEO of a small company called FreedomPop, is what's about to happen to wireless service, with a big psychological boost from Google, which last week announced its Project Fi, a wireless phone and data service that automatically switches between traditonal cellular and wi-fi networks, offering low-cost, no-contract service to customers.
It's something FreedomPop has been doing for quite awhile but Stokols told ConsumerAffairs Google's announcement is "sort of an endorsement from the most geeky company in the world on what telco may look like in the future."
FreedomPop and other small companies, like Republic Wireless, aren't threatened by Google's move, Stokols says, describing it instead as a shot across the bow of the embedded wireless carriers like AT&T and Verizon.
A new paradigm
The model the new entrants are pursuing basically pits network against network in realtime on every single call -- switching the call from Sprint to T-Mobile to wi-fi on the basis of who has the stongest signal at that moment. Google does this with software built into the phone; FreedomPop does it with an app.
At $20 a month, Google's plan is actually more expensive than FreedomPop's -- which, like Republic's, starts at $5 a month -- and is comparable to some prepaid wireless plans. And since it initially works only on Google Nexus 6 phones -- making up less than 1% of the wireless universe -- it's not an immediate threat to anyone at the retail level.
What it is, says Stokols, is the first step in a strategy aimed at disaggregating, blowing up, in other words, the stranglehold that the big carriers currently enjoy. Initially, it's aimed at demonstrating to other equipment manufacturers -- Samsung, Apple, HTC, etc. -- that consumers will vote with their checkbooks.
If that happens, the manufacturers will be more likely to build network-switching intelligence into their phones, setting the stage for the new carriers to begin scaling up quickly.
"If Samsung and all the OEMs (phone manufacturers) adopted the same technology that lets devices switch between networks, that switches power from the carriers to the consumer," Stokols said. "Then a wholesaler like us, we can push more traffic to better carriers, play the carriers off each other and get the best deal for consumers."
No more roaming
The new services also promise to send the roaming concept straight into the history books, somewhere in the chapter that explains what "long distance" charges were.
Those old enough to remember long distance will tell you that it was what you paid to place a phone call from, say, New York to Chicago. Sure, if you lived in New York City, you could call Westchester County for free (depending on a zillion inexplicable ifs, ands and buts). But if you wanted to call Chicago, it would cost you 20 or 30 cents a minute, depending on yet another set of completely mysterious rules called tariffs.
In truth, there was no actual physical cost to the telephone companies to complete so-called "trunk" calls, except for the half-cent or so that they charged each other -- charges based on calculations of their "embedded costs," outlined in accounting reports similar to the hieroglyphics found in ancient cave dwellings.
Likewise, when the Googles and FreedomPops of the world have negotiated deals with wireless carriers and lined up open wi-fi networks worldwide, there will be no easy rationalization for international roaming charges.
Although Sokols would not confirm it, industry sources say that FreedomPop will be announcing free international roaming to one or more countries later this week.
Leaving Sprint and T-Mobile by the wayside may also become more commonplace. Sokols said his company currently has 8.5 million wi-fi hotspots at the moment and is adding new locations daily.
In 18 to 24 months, he said, he hopes to enough wi-fi hotspots to offer a wi-fi-only plan that would be extremely inexpensive, possibly even free, for the first half gigabyte or so.
That, he estimates, would appeal to the 80 million or so consumers who are sporadic prepaid users or do not have wireless service at all.
Back in the day, the U.S. government subsidized phone companies by allowing them to tack on a "Universal Service" fee, something that survives to this day. Its stated intention was to bring telephone service to every wide spot in the road. It took decades to get into the 90% neighborhood.
If Sokols' plan works, universal wireless service may become a reality without fees in just a few years. Stay tuned.
Corinthian Colleges ceases operations, closes all remaining schools
Corinthian-run Everest, WyoTech and Heald campuses closed; other Everest locations remain open04/27/2015ConsumerAffairs
Corinthian Colleges, the long-embattled chain of for-profit schools, announced on its website that it would close all remaining campuses immediately...
Corinthian Colleges, the long-embattled chain of for-profit (and not necessarily accredited) schools, announced on its website that it would close all of its remaining campuses effective today. Those campuses include “Everest and WyoTech campuses in California, Everest College Phoenix and Everest Online Tempe in Arizona, the Everest Institute in New York, and 150-year-old Heald College -- including its 10 locations in California, one in Hawaii and one in Oregon.”
Take note: although Corinthian does – or did – operate schools under the Everest name, not all Everest schools were run by Corinthian, so not all of them will be closing. For example: when ConsumerAffairs called the Everest College campus in Woodbridge, Virginia, this morning, we were told that it was not shutting down since Corinthian did not own it.
The CCI website says, “The company is working with other schools to provide continuing educational opportunities for its approximately 16,000 students. Corinthian said those efforts depend to a great degree on cooperation with partnering institutions and regulatory authorities.”
Translation: Those efforts depend to a great degree on whether any reputable, regionally accredited educational institutions will accept transfer credits from Corinthian courses -- and Everest schools, Corinthian-owned or otherwise, have a poor track record in that regard.
California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris said Corinthian "continued to deceive its students to the end."
"Closure of these campuses should help students get out from under the mountains of debt Corinthian imposed upon them through its lies," Harris said. "Federal and state regulators rightly acted to prevent taxpayer dollars from flowing to Corinthian, which preyed on the educational dreams of vulnerable people such as low-income individuals, single mothers and veterans by misleading students and investors about job placement rates and course offerings."
In February 2013, for example, an Everest graduate sued the school, alleging that none of the credits he took at Everest were transferable to a state community college. Many consumers posting on ConsumerAffairs have complained of problems transferring their credits.
“I attended Everest here in Miami in 2010,” former student Lucy said in a ConsumerAffairs posting last summer. “At the time I had no high school diploma. I completed a test that qualified me for the pharmacy technician program. ... I passed with flying colors.”
But that hasn't done Lucy much good. “To make a long story short, I am $13,000 in debt and still no employment in my field of study,” she said. “We cannot transfer our education credits because it's not considered real.”
Last June, the Department of Education temporarily halted all federal student aid to Corinthian-owned schools. In September, the feds sued Corinthian on charges of predatory lending practices toward its students. (Remember, too, that student loan debt is far worse than other kinds, because student loans can't even be discharged in bankruptcy.)
Hefty fine levied
Less than two weeks ago, the Department of Education levied a $30 million fine against Corinthian, and ordered its Heald College schools to stop enrolling new students, after an investigation “confirmed cases” that the company misrepresented the schools' job placement rates to current and prospective students of Corinthian-owned Heald Colleges.
For example: the DoE's investigation found that Heald paid companies to hire graduates for temporary positions lasting as little as two days, performing such basic tasks as moving computers and organizing cables, then counted those graduates as “placed in field.” (In many instances, those temp jobs were actually on Heald campuses.) Heald also counted obvious out-of-field jobs as in-field placements, including one graduate of an accounting program whose food-service gig at Taco Bell was counted as “in-field” work.
Despite all of this, the closing announcement on the Corinthian Colleges website says that, “The Company said that its historic graduation rate and job placement rates compared favorably with community colleges,” and quoted Corinthian's CEO, Jack Massimino, as saying “We believe that we have attempted to do everything within our power to provide a quality education and an opportunity for a better future for our students.”
Report: Russian hackers could read President Obama's email correspondence
Last summer's White House hacking was even worse than previously admitted04/27/2015ConsumerAffairs
Last summer, hackers with suspected Russian-government backing were able to breach computer network security at the State Department, then use that as a ju...
Last summer, hackers with suspected Russian-government backing were able to breach computer network security at the State Department, then use that as a jumping-off point to later hack into the network of the White House itself — though not until earlier this month did the public learn about the White House hacking.
At the time, it was reported that the hackers had gained illicit real-time access to information including non-public details of the president's own daily schedule. However, although they were able to get such sensitive data, White House spokespeople said the hackers were unable to get any classified data, including national security-related information. (In government-security terms, the words “sensitive” and “classified” have distinctly different meanings.)
But this Saturday, the New York Times reported that last summer's White House hacking went deeper than previously admitted, with the hackers even getting access to some of President Obama's email correspondence, according to unnamed “senior American officials.”
That said, White House officials still maintain that the hackers never accessed any classified information. (Most senior officials have two different work-computers connected to two different networks: one connected to a highly secure classified network, and another computer connected to the outside world's Internet for unclassified communication.)
The problem is that despite those dual networks, classified and unclassified communications still aren't segregated as strictly as they should be; certain sensitive (though not officially “classified”) communications still end up going through the unclassified Internet connections, including schedules and email exchanges with diplomats and ambassadors.
An anonymous official told the Times that the hacking “has been one of the most sophisticated actors we’ve seen,” while another official admitted, “It’s the Russian angle to this that’s particularly worrisome.”
Last week, in a possibly unrelated incident, researchers at the FireEye cybersecurity firm announced their discovery of certain zero-day software flaws which had been exploited by hackers from a Russian espionage campaign to spy on American defense contractors, NATO officials and diplomats, and others in whom Russia's government might take a particular interest.
Not just Russia
But Russia's is not the only foreign government suspected of supporting such illicit cyberwarriors. Last November, for example, the United States Postal Service admitted that hackers (with suspected connections to the Chinese government) breached the USPS database and stole the names, addresses, Social Security numbers, emergency contacts and similar information for all post office employees.
At the time, security experts said they suspected that the USPS hackers were the same people behind last July's hacking of the federal Office of Personnel Management; those hackers managed to steal data on up to 5 million government employees and contractors who hold security clearances.
The Chinese are also suspected of involvement in the Anthem insurance company hacking announced in February – possibly because a lot of defense contractors, including employees of Northrop Grumman and Boeing, get their insurance coverage through Anthem.
However, the Chinese government has denied all such allegations, and points out that hacking is illegal under Chinese law. The Russian government has not admitted to involvement with any American hackings, either.
Not as effective as proper diet, many researchers now conclude04/27/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
When people want to lose a few pounds, their first thought may be to head off to the gym for some exercise. But it turns out it takes a lot of exercise to...
The world of drug pricing is shadowy. It pays to shop around04/27/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Dr. Ron Gasbarro
Carol came into the pharmacy with a prescription for her beloved dog Mandy, a border collie. “The vet said she has Lyme disea...
Plastic containers continue to pile up on land and sea
Plastic is forever, and that's the problem04/27/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Unless you are a frequent visitor to landfills or sail the world's oceans, you aren't likely to encounter the mountains of pl...
Unless you are a frequent visitor to landfills or sail the world's oceans, you aren't likely to encounter the mountains of plastic on land or islands of it floating in the sea.
But if you are observant in everyday life, when you visit the supermarket, fast food restaurants and discount stores filled with packaged consumer items, you may begin to appreciate the world's ever-increasing use of disposable plastic.
The problem with plastic is how to dispose of it. Since it is not biodegradable, it basically lasts forever, clogging the world's waste disposal system.
It's not just plastic bottles and food containers that are the problem. 5 Gyres, a non-profit environmental group focused on plastic pollution, is trying to bring attention to the problems posed by tiny plastic grains, known as microbeads and used in a large number of cosmetics and personal care products.
The group says these microbeads eventually make their way to our waterways and wildlife, and eventually are ingested by humans through the food chain, toothpastes or other body products that contain microbeads.
"Poorly designed products escape consumer hands and waste management systems," said Anna Cummins, co-founder of 5 Gyres. "Plastic fragments become hazardous waste in the environment.”
5 Gyres is partnering with Whole Foods Market in the North Atlantic region to conduct an innovative #Ban the Bead campaign. Rainbow Light, a nutritional supplement manufacturer, is sponsoring a 5 Gyres sea expedition, starting in June, to conduct research on marine plastic pollution.
“We engage with companies like Rainbow Light that are championing design solutions to the problem of plastic pollution,” Cummins said. “Their EcoGuard bottles are an excellent example of the impact conscious companies can make to keep harmful plastics out of the waste stream.”
Concerns about plastic pollution have gained momentum since February, when a marine study calculated that between 4.8 million and 12.7 million metric tons of plastic waste enters the oceans from land each year. That was 3 times the amount anyone thought.
The problem has mobilized efforts from a variety of sources, some of them surprising. Bloomberg News reports a Dutch teenager last year secured $2 million in funding to build an ocean clean-up machine to pick up with floating plastic debris and funnel it to specific collection points. But it's literally a drop in the ocean.
The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says it is working with international leaders and organizations such as the UN Environment Program to help establish international guidelines for curbing plastic pollution.
What you can do
In the meantime, the group says consumers can help by cutting disposable plastics out of daily routines. It suggests bringing your own bag to the store, choosing reusable items wherever possible, and purchasing plastic with recycled content.
Recycling is another method of cutting back on the mushrooming growth in plastic.
“Each piece of plastic recycled is one less piece of waste that could end up in our oceans,” the group says.
Finally, it says being aware of how you are contributing to the problem and taking steps to reduce your use of plastic can also help.
Toddlers downing coffee in Boston (and maybe elsewhere)
The results of a recent study came as a surprise to researchers04/27/2015ConsumerAffairs
McDonald's used to be the worry when it came to our kids and what they were putting in their bodies, now Starbucks may be the next big target, at least in ...
McDonald's used to be the worry when it came to our kids and what they were putting in their bodies, now Starbucks may be the next big target, at least in Boston. About one in seven two-year-olds in Boston drinks coffee, according to a recent study led by Boston Medical Center (BMC) that was published online recently in the Journal of Human Lactation.
"Our results show that many infants and toddlers in Boston -- and perhaps in the U.S. -- are being given coffee and that this could be associated with cultural practices," principal investigator Anne Merewood, director of the Breastfeeding Center at Boston Medical Center, said in a medical center news release.
Does anyone really want to spend the day with a toddler hyped up on caffeine? Some cultures apparently embrace it. Research showed that children in Australia, Cambodia and Ethiopia, between the ages of birth to 5 are given coffee. Research noted that kids coming from Hispanic households also drank coffee at an early age.
Not much research
There hasn't been much research on coffee consumption of infants but what has been documented is children who were two and who drank coffee in between meals or at bedtime were three times more likely to be obese in kindergarten. The US has not provided guidelines on coffee consumption for children.
Using data from a study on infant weight gain and diet, the researchers looked at 315 mother-infant pairs to determine what and how much infants and toddlers were consuming. They examined everything a toddler would drink such as breast milk, formula, water and juice – and were shocked to find out there was something they missed and that was coffee.
At one year, the rate of coffee consumption reported was 2.5 percent of children. At two years, that number increased to just above 15 percent, and the average daily consumption for these children was 1.09 ounces.
Other studies have shown what you would most likely suspect when children consumed caffeine. It made them depressed and a good number came down with diabetes. Naturally they had sleep problems, and there was a high incidence of substance abuse and obesity.
What wasn’t mentioned in the study but is a problem is that when children drink coffee it affects their teeth. Coffee is acidic. Acidic drinks can cause damage in the mouth by weakening teeth; this leads to a decline in tooth enamel and an increase in cavities. Children are more prone to cavities than adults, as it takes years for new enamel to harden after baby teeth have been lost and adult teeth have come in.
Flowers bloom in spring and so does dry eye
Study finds springtime is prime time for eye dryness, irritation04/27/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
Ah, 'twill soon be May, the lusty month of May, when the sap rises, hope springs eternal and eyes begin to itch. Far from bringing a gleam to the eye, airb...
Ah, 'twill soon be May, the lusty month of May, when the sap rises, hope springs eternal and eyes begin to itch. Far from bringing a gleam to the eye, airborne allergens bring on millions of caes of dry eye each year, a new study finds. (In truth, dry eye peaks in April but a little poetic license is perhaps permissible).
The University of Miami study found that dry eye -- the little understood culprit behind red, watery, gritty feeling eyes -- strikes most often in spring, just as airborne allergens are surging.
The study, published in Ophthalmology, marks the first time that researchers have discovered a direct correlation between seasonal allergens and dry eye.
Dry eye can significantly impact a person's quality of life by inducing burning, irritation and blurred vision. It affects about 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men, and costs the U.S. health care system nearly $4 billion a year.
Allergies and dry eye have historically been viewed as separate conditions but the discovery that the two conditions are linked suggests dry eye sufferers may benefit from allergy prevention in addition to dry eye treatments like artificial tears.
For instance, wearing goggles outside for yard work and using air filters indoors may stave off springtime dry eye, the researchers say.
They discovered the correlation between allergies and dry eye by reviewing 3.4 million visits to Veterans Affairs eye clinics nationwide over a five-year period between 2006 and 2011. During that time, doctors diagnosed nearly 607,000 patients with dry eye. Researchers also charted the monthly prevalence of dry eye compared to an allergy index over time and found seasonal correlations:
A seasonal spike occurred each spring, when 18.5 percent of patients were diagnosed with dry eye. Another spike came in winter.
Prevalence of dry eye was lowest in summer at 15.3 percent.
April had the highest monthly prevalence of dry eye cases: 20.9 percent of patients seen were diagnosed with dry eye that month. This coincided with the yearly peak in allergens (including pollen), as measured by the allergy index recorded on pollen.com.
The research team hypothesizes that the winter rise in cases of dry eye may be due to low indoor humidity caused by people using heaters indoors without a humidifier to offset the dryness.
"For the first time, we've found what appears to be a connection between spring allergens like pollen and dry eye, but also saw that cases rose in winter," said lead researcher Anat Galor, M.D., MSPH, associate professor of clinical ophthalmology at the University of Miami. "Finding this correlation between dry eye and different seasons is one step toward helping physicians and patients treat the symptoms of dry eye even more effectively based on the time of year."
For more information on dry eye, visit the American Academy of Ophthalmology's public information website.
Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams recalls all products
The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes04/27/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams is recalling all ice creams, frozen yogurts, sorbets, and ice cream sandwiches for all flavors and containers. The product may ...
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams is recalling all ice creams, frozen yogurts, sorbets, and ice cream sandwiches for all flavors and containers.
The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
In addition, the company is ceasing all sales and closing all scoop shops until all products are ensured to be 100% safe.
The company says it is not aware of any illness reports to date related to the recalled products.
The recalled products were distributed to retail outlets, including food service accounts and grocery markets throughout the U.S., as well as online at jenis.com.
Customers who purchased any of these products should dispose of them or return them to the store where they were purchased for an exchange or full refund.
Consumers may contact Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at 614-360-3905 from 9 am to 5 pm (E.D.T.) Monday through Friday or by email at email@example.com.
General Motors recalls Buick Regals and Chevrolet Impalas and Monte Carlos
The valve cover gasket may leak04/27/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
General Motors is recalling 1,207 model year 2004 Buick Regals manufactured April 9, 2003, to June 26, 2003, 2004 Chevrolet Impalas manufactured April 8, 2...
General Motors is recalling 1,207 model year 2004 Buick Regals manufactured April 9, 2003, to June 26, 2003, 2004 Chevrolet Impalas manufactured April 8, 2003, to June 25, 2003, and 2004 Chevrolet Monte Carlos manufactured April 7, 2003, to June 25, 2003.
The valve cover gasket may leak dripping leaking engine oil onto the hot surface of the exhaust manifold, increasing the risk of a fire.
GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the spark plug wire retainer to redirect the dripping oil. Vehicles that have a 3.8L V6 supercharged engine will also have the left valve cover gasket replaced. These repairs will be done free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.
Owners may contact Buick customer service at 1-800-521-7300 or Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 14574.
Inventure Foods recalls Fresh Frozen Vegetables and Select Jamba "At Home" smoothie kits
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes04/27/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Inventure Foods is recalling certain varieties of its Fresh Frozen line of frozen vegetables, as well as select varieties of its Jamba “At Home” line of sm...
Inventure Foods is recalling certain varieties of its Fresh Frozen line of frozen vegetables, as well as select varieties of its Jamba “At Home” line of smoothie kits.
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
There are no known illnesses linked to consumption of these products to date.
The recalled Fresh Frozen products were distributed to retail outlets, including food service accounts, mass merchandise stores and supermarkets in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
The recalled Jamba “At Home” smoothies’ products were distributed to retail outlets, including mass merchandise stores and supermarkets east of the Mississippi River.
The following products are being recalled:
Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume it and return it to the store where it was purchased for a full refund.
Consumers with questions may call at 866-890-1004 24/7 or email the firm at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volkswagen recalls Golf, GTI, and Audi A3 vehicles
The fuel pump could fail04/27/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 6,204 model year 2015 Volkswagen Golf, GTI, and Audi A3 vehicles. Improper nickel plating of components within t...
Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 6,204 model year 2015 Volkswagen Golf, GTI, and Audi A3 vehicles.
Improper nickel plating of components within the fuel pump may result in the fuel pump failing. If the fuel pump fails, the vehicle will not start, or if the engine is running, it will stop and the vehicle will stall, increasing the risk of a crash.
Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the vehicles and replace any affected fuel pumps, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.
Owners may contact Volkswagen at 1-800-893-5298 or Audi at 1-800-253-2834.
West Liberty Foods recalls grilled chicken breast products
The products may be contaminated with pieces of plastic04/27/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
West Liberty Foods of Tremonton, Utah, is recalling approximately 34,075 pounds of grilled chicken breast products. The products may be contaminated with ...
West Liberty Foods of Tremonton, Utah, is recalling approximately 34,075 pounds of grilled chicken breast products.
The products may be contaminated with pieces of plastic
There are no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.
The following grilled chicken patties, produced on February 4, 2015, are being recalled:
- 25-lb. cardboard boxes containing 5-5lb plastic bags of “SUBWAY FULLY COOKED GRILLED CHICKEN BREAST PATTY WITH RIB MEAT”
The recalled products bear the establishment number “EST. 34349 or P-34349” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped to distributors in Illinois, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Utah, and Texas.
Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Renee Miller at (319) 627-6114.
Comcast pulls plug on Time-Warner deal
Too big to sail, the massive merger sinks below sight04/24/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
They said it couldn't be done. They were right. After months of unremitting pressure from consumer activists and growing scrutiny from regulators, Comcast ...
They said it couldn't be done. They were right. After months of unremitting pressure from consumer activists and growing scrutiny from regulators, Comcast has abandoned its merger with Time Warner.
The $45 billion deal would have created a massive monolith touching nearly every American in one way or another. More than fears of reduced price and service competition, it was the fear that program producers would be strangled by having to deal with such a powerful distributor that energized opponents.
Opponents warned the merger would set off a new round of consolidation, as cable channels and networks combined forces to strengthen their bargaining positions.
Of course, all this comes as the cable TV business itself begins to unravel. The rapid movement of video programming to the Internet threatens to leave the Comcasts of the world as mere pipes -- conduits through which Netflix, HBO and other producers and packagers reach consumers.
Some economists will tell you that it's when an industry has passed its peak that consolidation sets in. Witness newspapers, which have always been remarkably skilled in staying two paces behind everyone else.
It is only in the last few years that, having consolidated themselves into an amorphous mass, big newspaper companies have conceded the existence of television. They are now rushing to spin off their newspaper properties in a mad rush to buy up TV stations around the country, having not yet noticed that over-the-air TV is about to go the way of the stagecoach.
Comcast finally threw in the towel after the Federal Communications Commission joined the Federal Trade Commission in saying it wanted to take a much closer look at the effect the merger would have. Until this week, both companies had continued to insist the deal would fly, thinking perhaps that the millions of dollars they had spent on lawyers, lobbyists and log-rollers could not possibly have been in vain.
“Today, we move on. Of course, we would have liked to bring our great products to new cities, but we structured this deal so that if the government didn’t agree, we could walk away,” Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said in a news release Friday.
Analysts were already speculating that it was Roberts who would be moving on once shareholders realized how much money and competitive advantage had been wasted on the failed attempt.
Time Warner Cable CEO Robert D. Marcus also took comfort from his P.R. staff's ability to spin just about anything in a favorable light.
“Throughout this process, we’ve been laser-focused on executing our operating plan and investing in our plant, products and people,” Marcus said.
Left at the dock is Charter Communications, which had been scheduled to play tugboat and shove off with 4 million subscribers that would have been declared excess ballast by Comcast and Time Warner.
Health care providers get creative to expand and improve care
Are physicians assistants and nurse practitioners becoming the new face of health care?04/24/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Patients increasingly don't go to see a family doctor when they are in need of health care services. They are more likely to head off to one of the growing...
Patients increasingly don't go to see a family doctor when they are in need of health care services. They are more likely to head off to one of the growing number of walk-in clinics and urgent care facilities, or even hospital emergency rooms.
When they do, they are increasingly likely to be seen by a physician's assistant (PA) rather than a doctor. These health care providers are medically trained and licensed and work under the supervision of a physician.
Unlike doctors, they are likely to spend more time with the patient and have more intimate knowledge of their medical issues. According to the American Association of Physicians Assistants (AAPA), a PA conducts physical exams, diagnoses and treats illnesses, orders and interprets tests, develops treatment plans, writes prescriptions, assists with surgery, makes hospital rounds and advises on preventive care.
In short, they do lots of things a doctor does. Because one physician might supervise more than one PA, these providers add a level of efficiency to the health care system.
They are one sign of sweeping changes in U.S. health care, but only one. Nurse practitioners (NP) are another.
NPs are clinicians blending clinical expertise in diagnosing and treating health conditions with an added emphasis on disease prevention and health management. Like PAs, NPs are often the only provider a patient might see for routine medical needs.
The American Association of Nurse Practitioners estimates NPs conduct 916 million U.S. patient visits each year.
Besides expanding the roles of non-physician clinicians, the health care system has also launched innovative programs at hospitals and clinics, usually designed to reduce hospitalization time or make it totally unnecessary.
In one such program at The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, N.J., teams comprised of a paramedic, critical care nurse and EMT have begun making house calls on heart patients soon after their discharge.
Yes, house calls, that long-abandoned practice of a doctor coming to your house to administer treatment. In this case, the program's aim is heading off a return trip to the emergency room or admission to the hospital.
"Patients with cardiopulmonary disease, particularly those with heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, are particularly vulnerable to re-hospitalization, especially during the transitional period after they first arrive home," said Lafe Bush, a paramedic and director of Emergency Services at Valley.
Reducing readmission rate
He notes that the 30-day readmission rate nationwide for patients with heart failure is nearly 25%. The majority of readmissions occur within 15 days of discharge.
The program, launched last August, targets patients with cardiopulmonary disease at high risk for hospital readmission who either decline or do not qualify for home care services. The team visits the patient and provides a full assessment, including a physical exam, a safety survey of the patient's home, medication education, reinforcement of discharge instructions and confirmation that the patient has made an appointment for a follow-up visit with his or her physician.
These trends have been gathering momentum over the last 2 decades, picking up speed in recent years. They are largely in response to what government policymakers described in 2008 as an “inefficient, unstable and convoluted” health care system, prompting them to put in place incentives rewarding better care instead of more care.
Privacy advocates, AirBnb fight proposed California state law
State Senate Bill 593 passes committee this week04/24/2015ConsumerAffairs
Privacy advocates have joined AirBnb in opposing a proposed California state law which would require home sharing platforms to give local and county govern...
Privacy advocates have joined AirBnb in opposing a proposed California state law which would require home sharing platforms to give local and county governments a wide variety of information about their users, including hosts' rental addresses, the number of guests, length of their stay and how much they pay.
California Senate Bill 593, titled “Residential units for tourist or transient use: hosting platforms,” also allows municipalities in the state to ban the practice if they wish, and impose penalties on residents who flout such bans.
But most opposition to the bill focuses on the privacy angle in cities where home-sharing would be allowed. David Owen, AirBnb's public policy head, said in a blog post that the bill would require the company to “hand over broad swaths of confidential, personal information to bureaucrats who will sift through it in search of potential violations of local planning and zoning laws,” which would “fundamentally alter the online privacy protections most Californians have come to expect. Internet commerce is a universal part of so many Californians’ lives, and sharing economy platforms like Airbnb have a duty to protect the private data of our community – and lawmakers have a responsibility to protect their constituents’ important privacy interests.”
But state senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg), SB 593's sponsor, says that the bill only “enforces the local laws that are on the books,: and that “Multibillion-dollar corporations need to do their part, follow local laws, and share in the prosperity of local communities.”
Legal battles galore
Airbnb has faced legal battles wherever it's tried to operate. Last October, San Francisco passed a law specifically allowing residents to rent out their own homes for “short term rentals,” provided they follow certain guidelines. But at the same time, on the opposite side of the country, New York's state attorney started cracking down on Airbnb hosts in the state, in an effort to “investigate and shut down illegal hotels.”
This week, SB 593 took a step closer to passing into law, after it passed the California senate's transportation and housing committee by an 8-0 vote.
Pepsi to remove aspartame from its diet soda offerings
Aspartame-free diet drinks will hit store shelves in August04/24/2015ConsumerAffairs
The Pepsi company announced today that, in response to consumer demand, it will stop using aspartame to sweeten its American-market diet sodas. Starting...
The Pepsi company announced today that, in response to consumer demand, it will stop using aspartame to sweeten its American-market diet sodas.
Starting in August, the drinks Diet Pepsi, Caffeine Free Diet Pepsi and Wild Cherry Diet Pepsi will be sweetened with sucralose and acesulfame potassium (also known as Ace-K) rather than aspartame. The recipe switch will make the various forms of Diet Pepsi the only American diet soda not sweetened with aspartame, according to the trade industry publication Beverage Digest.
Aspartame is a combination of methanol and two amino acids: aspartic acid and phenylalanine. It was invented in 1965, and in 1974 the Food and Drug Administration approved its use as a food additive. It's about 180 times sweeter than sugar, letting it impart the same amount of sweetness with a far lower caloric punch, which is why it's so popular in diet sodas.
On the other hand, many reputable studies have shown that for people trying to lose weight or avoid gaining any, sugar might paradoxically be a better option than low-calorie artificial sweetener, due to chemical reactions in the brain: when you get a “sugar craving” (more specifically, when your brain generates a sugar craving), the only thing that'll satisfy the craving and make it go away is the release of dopamine, a chemical necessary for “reward signaling” in the brain.
And, as it turns out, the digestion and breakdown of sugar produces dopamine to satisfy those cravings – but the breakdown of artificial sweeteners does not. So if you have a sugar craving and eat something sugar-free, that sensation of sweetness on your tongue will not give your brain any dopamine, thus your craving does not go away, and after eating the sugar-free item you're just as likely to eat something else, to satisfy the craving.
That said, most opposition to aspartame is based not on this possible paradox, but on allegations that aspartame is harmful for human consumption. Which it is – in sufficiently high doses. But aspartame's supporters (including the FDA) say the amount of aspartame used to sweeten food isn't remotely close to that danger level. Indeed, in low doses, aspartame's two amino acids are actually necessary for the body to function properly. (If you eat a proper diet and are in generally good health, your body should actually produce a certain number of these amino acids on its own.)
As for methanol – yes, it's deadly poisonous in high quantities, but tiny amounts of it can already be found in alcoholic beverages including beer, wine and whiskey.
Paracelsus, the medieval physician now called the “father of toxicology,” famously coined the phrase “the dose makes the poison.”
In other words, any substance is poisonous in high enough doses — even those substances required for life. Even clean, healthy water will kill you if you drink too much too fast. Vitamins that are essential to good health and proper body functioning in small quantities will poison you if you eat a whole bottle of multivitamins at once. The mere fact that something is poisonous in high quantities does not necessarily mean that it's dangerous in small quantities.
Still, there remain many American consumers who say they want diet soda without aspartame, and Pepsi's plan makes it the first American soda company to offer this. But Pepsi's longtime rival the Coca-Cola company responded to the news by saying that it has no plans to change the sweeteners used in Diet Coke. “All of the beverages we offer and ingredients we use are safe,” Coke said in a prepared statement.
Texas votes to unsnarl hairbraiding regulations
Braiders and barbers are not the same, and don't need the same regulations04/24/2015ConsumerAffairs
Good news for various Texas entrepreneurs: yesterday the state House of Representatives voted unanimously in favor of HB 2717, to deregulate businesses whi...
Good news for various Texas entrepreneurs: yesterday the state House of Representatives voted unanimously in favor of HB 2717, to deregulate businesses which teach or perform the art of traditional African hairbraiding.
Texas law sets strict regulations on barbers and cosmetologists, primarily on safety grounds: those trades require (among other things) the use of sharp tools and potentially dangerous chemicals. Braiding hair does not, yet in 2007, when the state started regulating hairbraiders and teachers of the art, it mandated that they meet the same licensing requirements as barbers or cosmetologists.
Dallas resident and African hairbraiding expert Isis Brantley has been braiding hair professionally for over 30 years — and the law has hassled her over it for almost that long.
She started braiding hair at home in her kitchen, but was arrested when she tried opening a salon. “As soon as I opened up the shop, wow, the red tape was wrapped around my hands,” she told the Texas Tribune. “Seven cops came in, in front of my clients, and arrested me and took me to jail like a common criminal. The crime was braiding without a cosmetology license.”
Brantley spent years challenging the legal hairbraiding restrictions in court, and in 2007, the state modified the requirements somewhat: henceforth, hairbraiders seeking a license would only have to show 35 hours of formal training rather than 1,500 hours, and Brantley specifically was “grandfathered in” and granted a braiding license.
So she won the right to legally braid hair, but when she tried opening a school to give others the 35 hours of instruction they'd need to become legally licensed hairbraiders, the state told her that a braiding school would have to meet the same standards as a barber school.
Brantley sued the state in 2013, saying that the barber regulations on her braiding school were unconstitutional and unreasonable. The non-profit Institute For Justice, which joined Brantley in filing her suit, outlined the requirements Texas set before Brantley could legally teach the art of traditional African hairbraiding:
… Isis must spend 2,250 hours in barber school, pass four exams, and spend thousands of dollars on tuition and a fully-equipped barber college she doesn’t need, all to teach a 35-hour hairbraiding curriculum. Tellingly, Texas will waive all these regulations if Isis goes to work for an existing barber school and teaches hairbraiding for them.
That “fully equipped” barber college would have to include barber chairs and hair-washing stations, neither of which are required to braid hair.
In January, a federal judge ruled that Texas' regulations on hairbraiding schools were unconstitutional and did nothing to advance public health or safety, nor meet any other legitimate government interest.
During that trial Arif Panju, the Institute For Justice attorney who represented Brantley in her court battle, noted that the state couldn't identify a single hairbraiding school capable of meeting those strict barber-school requirements.
After the trial, he said that the judge's ruling “makes it crystal clear to the Legislature that what’s happening here is nothing to do with public health and safety and everything to do with economic protectionism.”
New York sues tanning salons for minimizing skin cancer risks
"Nothing safe about indoor tanning," NY attorney general declares04/24/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
Saying there is "nothing safe about indoor tanning," New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today filed lawsuits against two tanning salon franchis...
Saying there is "nothing safe about indoor tanning," New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today filed lawsuits against two tanning salon franchises -- Portofino Spas, LLC and Total Tan, Inc., and served notice he also intends to sue Beach Bum Tanning Salons and Planet Fitness.
The suits accuse the salons of false advertising by
- denying or minimizing scientific evidence linking tanning to an increased cancer risk;
- promoting indoor tanning as a safe way to reap the benefits of vitamin D and other purported health benefits; and
- asserting the safety of indoor tanning compared to tanning outdoors.
Altogether the four franchises operate 155 tanning salons around the state.
“Make no mistake about it: There is nothing safe about indoor tanning. The use of ultra-violet devices increases exposure to cancer-causing radiation and puts millions of Americans in serious danger – young adults, in particular,” said Schneiderman. “Irresponsible businesses that seek to rake in profits by misleading the public about the safety of their services will be held accountable by my office. Advertising and marketing cannot be used as a tool to confuse and endanger New York consumers.”
Over the past decade, scientific evidence has clearly documented the dangers of indoor tanning, Schneiderman said. By 2009, the World Health Organization added indoor tanning to its list of most dangerous forms of cancer-causing radiation and placed it in the highest cancer risk category: “carcinogenic to humans,” the same category as tobacco.
In July 2014, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a “Call to Action To Prevent Skin Cancer,” a report documenting the rise in skin cancers and outlining action steps to prevent these cancers going forward, including reduction of intentional, and unnecessary, ultraviolet (UV) light exposure for the purpose of tanning.
Indoor tanning increases the risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer – which is responsible for 9,000 deaths in the United States each year. Indoor tanning also increases the risk of nonmalignant skin cancers (basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma). While not deadly, these nonmalignant cancers can cause noticeable disfigurement. In addition to increasing the risk of skin cancer, UV exposure can also harm the immune system and cause premature skin aging.
New York law currently prohibits tanning for children under 17 and requires parental consent for children between the ages of 17 and 18.
Additionally, New York law requires that warning signs be posted outside of tanning beds, that tanning hazards information sheets and acknowledgement forms be distributed to tanning patrons, and that free protective eyewear be made available to tanning patrons.
The Attorney General’s lawsuit alleges that Portofino did not post the required state warning sign near every tanning devices as required by the law and that total tan required patrons pay for protective eyewear when the eyewear is required to be provided without cost to consumers.
In the face of the scientific evidence linking indoor tanning and early onset of skin cancer, some indoor tanning salon businesses have sought to counter the scientific evidence by purposefully advertising the opposite message – that indoor tanning actually improves health.
Parents too often send sick children to day care, study finds
Some simply have no alternative, others don't realize the potential consequences04/24/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Christopher Maynard
A parent’s intuition can be a very valuable thing when it comes to their young ones. Knowing when something is wrong can give them plenty of time to act. B...
A parent’s intuition can be a very valuable thing when it comes to their young ones. Knowing when something is wrong can give them plenty of time to act. But are some parents not being as vigilant about child illnesses as they could be? A recent study from the University of Bristol says that this may be so.
The study, published in The Journal of Public Health, shows that most parents often think that coughs and colds are less serious than other types of illnesses. Unfortunately, most parents are not doctors or medical professionals. Many young children are sent to nurseries with more serious illnesses, which in turn spread to other kids and the wider community.
The study interviewed 31 parents about the decisions they make when their children are feeling sick. Many variables were considered, including the parent’s attitude towards illness, their current plan for dealing with a sick child, and other extenuating circumstances that could alter their decision to send their child to nursery.
After reviewing all answers, the research team found that other factors often overrode a parent’s decision to keep a sick child home. Dr. Fran Carroll, who is the lead author of the study, explains how some parents were simply uninformed and did not know what to do.
“They [the parents] often felt the guidance [from nurseries] was less clear on respiratory symptoms than for sickness and diarrhea, or chicken pox, for example.”
Other reasons for not keeping a child home were more practical. Many parents simply couldn’t miss time from work because of financial consequences, or did not have an alternative care plan in place.
Parents from the study had many suggestions on how to avoid these problems in the future. Some of the biggest hurdles they pointed out were nursery fees for lack of attendance. Reducing these fees, they said, would go a long way. Being able to swap sessions and having clearer guidance on nursery sickness polices would also be beneficial.
The researchers believe that their study has a lot of potential.
"Our findings may not be news to many parents, but this is the first time their decision-making processes in these situations has been documented…by having this work published in a peer-reviewed journal, it gives an academic, methodologically sound basis for future work and interventions to try and reduce the spread of illnesses in these settings," Carroll said.
Agriculture Department joins effort to cut food waste
Develops app to help consumers keep track of expiration dates04/24/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
The U.S. Agriculture Department's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) says American consumers waste billions of pounds of still-edible food be...
The U.S. Agriculture Department's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) says American consumers waste billions of pounds of still-edible food because they aren't sure if the food has spoiled.
They look at the sell-by date and see that it is long past, so they throw it out. FSIS says they shouldn't. As we have previously reported, sell-by dates are different from use-by dates on packaging.
USDA estimates that 21% of the available food in the U.S. goes uneaten at the consumer level. It says on average, 36 pounds of food per person is wasted each month at the retail and consumer levels.
To help consumers better understand how different storing methods affect a product’s shelf life, FSIS has introduced a free app called FoodKeeper. It's designed to help consumers maximize the storage life of foods and beverages and remind them to use items before they are likely to spoil.
You can download the app here.
“Many products might have a sell-by date of April 1 but they could be good in your pantry for another 12 or 18 months,” said Chris Bernstein, spokesman for FSIS. “By throwing those out, what you're doing is contributing to food waste in the United States. Say you buy a box of fresh pasta, which is good for a limited amount of time, you can have your calendar tell you a couple of days before that fresh pasta is going to go bad that you should think about eating it.”
U.S. Food Waste Challenge
The app is part of an effort by USDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) called the U.S. Food Waste Challenge. Launched in 2 years ago, it urges players across the food chain – farms, agricultural processors, food manufacturers, grocery stores, restaurants, universities, schools, and local governments – to help reduce food waste by improving product development, storage, shopping/ordering, marketing, labeling, and cooking methods.
It also connects potential food donors to hunger relief organizations and, what isn't fit for human consumption, is redirected to feed animals or to create compost, bioenergy, and natural fertilizers.
Just Eat It
This all appears to be part of a growing trend to make sure more of the food we produce gets consumed. A recent documentary, “Just Eat It,” focuses on food waste at the producer and retail level. Much of the food we produce never makes it to the supermarket because of its appearance, for example.
The film follows one couple as they swear off grocery shopping and try to subsist on food that would otherwise go in the dumpster. The trailer is below.
For consumers, there are very good economic reasons to get on the anti-food waste band wagon.
When food product goes to waste, less of it gets to market. The laws of supply and demand would suggest that eating more of the food that currently goes in a landfill might not lower prices but might keep them from rising as fast.
RB recalls Mucinex Fast-Max products
The products' back label may not list all active ingredients04/24/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
RB -- formerly Reckitt Benckiser -- is recalling certain lots of liquid bottles of Mucinex Fast-Max Night Time Cold & Flu; Mucinex Fast-Max Cold & Sinus; M...
RB -- formerly Reckitt Benckiser -- is recalling certain lots of liquid bottles of Mucinex Fast-Max Night Time Cold & Flu; Mucinex Fast-Max Cold & Sinus; Mucinex Fast-Max Severe Congestion & Cough and Mucinex Fast-Max Cold, Flu & Sore Throat.
The over-the-counter medications, which correctly label the product on the front of the bottle and lists all active ingredients, may not have the correct corresponding drug facts label on the back.
This mislabeling could cause the consumer to be unaware of side effects and/or risks associated with the ingestion of certain product ingredients which include Acetaminophen, Dextromethorphan, Guaifenesin, Phenylephrine and/or Diphenhydramine.
Consumers would not be adequately warned of side effects which could potentially lead to health complications requiring urgent medical intervention, particularly in the case of acetaminophen use in people with liver impairment, taking three or more alcoholic drinks or when taking other medicines containing this active ingredient without consulting a doctor.
RB is asking consumers to dispose of any unused product in the following manner:
- Mix liquid medicines with an unpalatable substance such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds; place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag; and throw the container in your household trash.
Consumers who purchased the recalled products may contact the RB Mucinex Fast-Max recall toll free number at 1-888-943-4215 between 8:00 a.m.- 8:00 p.m EST.
List of potentially affected batches
General Motors recalls Cadillac CTS-V vehicles
The braking system could become corroded and leak04/24/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
General Motors is recalling 4,907 model year 2004-2007 Cadillac CTS-V vehicles manufactured between September 6, 2003, and June 11, 2007. The recalled veh...
General Motors is recalling 4,907 model year 2004-2007 Cadillac CTS-V vehicles manufactured between September 6, 2003, and June 11, 2007.
The recalled vehicles are currently registered, or were originally sold, in Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.
Snow or water containing road salt or other contaminants may corrode the front brake hose fitting at the caliper. Corrosion may cause the brake system to leak which could lengthen the distance needed to stop the vehicle and increase the risk of a crash.
GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace both front brake hose assemblies, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.
Owners may contact Cadillac customer service at 1-800-458-8006. GM's number for this recall is 15149.
Rising cost of drugs gets new scrutiny
Government investigators prodded into probe04/23/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
All of a sudden, health care policymakers, inside government and out, are taking a hard look at the high price of medication.At a time when health care...
All of a sudden, health care policymakers, inside government and out, are taking a hard look at the high price of medication.
At a time when health care is more accessible, many consumers are finding the drugs that are being prescribed are prohibitively expensive. Even generic drugs, which are cheaper than their name brand equivalents, often aren't that much cheaper.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has prodded the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Inspector General to find out why generic drug costs have recently gone up.
“It is unacceptable that Americans pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs,” Sanders said. “Generic drugs were meant to help make medications affordable for millions of Americans who rely on prescriptions to manage their health needs. We’ve got to get to the bottom of these enormous price increases.”
Sanders says an analysis of data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid show 10% of generic drugs more than doubled in price in a recent year. He says drug companies were not cooperative when he asked them to turn over records on prices. Since federal law requires companies to give that data to HHS, he said he has appealed to that agency to shed some light on the issue.
Expensive arthritis drugs
A new study of Medicare coverage of a class of medication known as biologic disease modifying drugs (DMARDS) underscores the rising costs of many commonly-prescribed medications. The study found that one DMARD, used to treat rheumatoid arthritis (RA), costs the typical Medicare recipient $2,700 out of pocket before catastrophic coverage kicks in.
For most DMARDs, the study found that consumers absorb nearly 30% of the cost during the initial phase of their treatment.
The study, published in the medical journal Arthritis & Rheumatology, says DMARDs have been a game-changer in the treatment of RA, a chronic autoimmune disease affecting 1.3 million Americans. Without this class of drugs, the authors say 1 in 3 RA patients are permanently disabled within 5 years of disease onset.
Treatment based on drug cost
"While specialty DMARDs have improved the lives of those with chronic diseases like RA, many patients face a growing and unacceptable financial burden for access to treatment," said Dr. Jinoos Yazdany with the Division of Rheumatology at the University of California, San Francisco and lead author of the present study. "Rather than determining which drug is best for the patient, we find ourselves making treatment decisions based on whether patients can afford drugs."
Even consumers sharply divided over the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, appear to be somewhat united on the issue of drug prices. When the Kaiser Family Foundation released a survey on Obamacare this week, it showed consumers pretty evenly divided on whether they approved of the new law, breaking down along partisan and ideological lines.
But when the survey touched on drug prices, there was surprising consensus.
When asked to choose their biggest health care priority, 76% said “making sure that high-cost drugs for chronic conditions, such as HIV, hepatitis, mental illness and cancer, are affordable to those who need them.” The 76% included strong majorities of Democrats, Republicans and Independents.
Promising results in macular degeneration treatment
Researchers say stem cell treatment yields positive results04/23/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
There is little hope when diagnosed with macular degeneration. You progressively begin to lose your eyesight. There is no treatment that slows it down and ...
This story has been removed because of questions about the accuracy of the news release on which it was based.
Activists pressing for a ban on the main ingredient in Roundup weed killer
Activist group providing test kits for the general public04/23/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Christopher Maynard
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking another look at glyphosate -- the weed killer more commonly known as Roundup, manufactured by Monsanto....
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking another look at glyphosate -- the weed killer more commonly known as Roundup, manufactured by Monsanto. The agency declared it a carcinogen in 1985 but later reversed that decision. The chemical is up for review this year.
Use of glyphosate has increased dramatically in recent years and it is now used on a variety of crops that are grown for consumers. These include wheat, corn, soybeans, and many other foods we eat every day.
Besides the renewed interest from the EPA, the World Health Organization recently reported that the chemical is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
In 2011, Reuters reported that 271 samples of soybeans out of 300 had glyphosate residue on them. Although the levels found were below EPA tolerance levels, this still raises some concerns among health advocates.
Monsanto officials say the WHO report is “dramatic departure from the conclusion reached by all regulatory agencies around the globe” and say it's not based on any new scientific evidence.
Health and safety advocates are putting heat on the EPA. The Organic Consumers Association (OCA), in conjunction with the Feed the World Project, today said it was launching the world’s first glyphosate testing for the general public. The project, with specific focus on women and children in the U.S., is offering the first-ever validated public glyphosate testing for urine, water and soon breast milk.
“For decades now, the public has been exposed, unknowingly and against their will, to glyphosate, despite mounting evidence that this key active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide is harmful to human health and the environment,” said Ronnie Cummins, OCA’s international director. “Monsanto has been given a free pass to expose the public to this dangerous chemical, because individuals, until now, been unable to go to their doctor’s office or local water testing company to find out if the chemical has accumulated in their bodies, or is present in their drinking water.
Cummins said the widespread availability of testing will build support for banning or restricting the use of glyphosate on food crops.
“We expect that once the public learns how widespread the exposure has been, and how it has personally invaded their bodies and homes — in the context of the recent report from the World Health Organization that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen — public pressure will eventually force governments worldwide to finally ban Roundup.”
Panasonic needs to sharpen its focus on customer service, critics complain
Camera buffs are upset over slow, expensive or non-existent warranty and repair service04/23/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
Just making a good product isn't enough to keep consumers happy. You have to provide outstanding...
Just making a good product isn't enough to keep consumers happy. You have to provide outstanding service as well. This seems to be something that has escaped Panasonic's attention.
We've heard from many Panasonic camera owners who have had frustrating warranty and service experiences, leading them to vow they'll never darken Panasonic's door again. Michael of Glendale, Calif., who provided the photo shown above, is one of several who've complained of dark spots appearing in their photos.
"Panasonic customer service is the WORST I think I've ever dealt with. It's unbelievable," he said in a ConsumerAffairs review last August. He'll get no argument from Will, who filed this video review:
What's a consumer to do when a company fails to follow through on its warranty claims? Sadly, there's not much an individual can do in cases like these. There's not enough money involved to justify a lawsuit and in many instances, the consumer isn't in a country where Panasonic has offices.
But the power still lies with the consumer. Posting reviews on sites like this can, over time, compel companies to clean up their act, even if it doesn't provide immediate relief for people like Will.
California HOA fines couple $50 per day for drought-busting artificial turf
Proposed bills before state legislature would prohibit such HOA behavior04/23/2015ConsumerAffairs
A California homeowners' association, or HOA, is fining a couple $50 per day for replacing their lawn with artificial turf to help reduce their water use. ...
A California homeowners' association, or HOA, is fining a couple $50 per day for replacing their lawn with artificial turf to help reduce their water use.
California is currently deep into the fourth year of a record-shattering and still-worsening drought. Governor Jerry Brown declared an official state of emergency in January 2014, and since then the state government has passed a series of water-conservation measures including various mandatory water-use restrictions – which have not prevented various HOAs and even municipalities throughout the state from nonetheless mandating lush green lawns despite ever-drier conditions.
In July, the state legislature voted for and the governor signed a law prohibiting HOAs from penalizing homeowners whose lawns turn brown during drought conditions. However, there's currently no such law protecting homeowners who replace thirsty genuine lawns with waterless fake ones, though there are a couple of proposals before the state legislature.
KABC reports that the Morrison Ranch Estates Homeowners' Association, in the L.A. suburb of Agoura Hills, has been fining residents Rhonda and Greg Greenstein $50 per day, ever since the Greensteins installed artificial turf — without first getting permission from their HOA board. (Hence a common complaint about HOAs: at their worst, they combine all the responsibilities of homeownership with all the restrictions of renters who dare not make any change to their domiciles without the landlord's [or HOA board's] approval.)
HOA president Jan Gerstel said that “We have to enforce the rules here. Unfortunately, sometimes people don't like what the rules are.” He also said that the HOA board had previously considered changing the rules to allow artificial turf but ultimately voted against it because, as he told KABC, “About eight months that we researched (artificial turf), we did not find significant water savings with artificial turf.”
Greg Greenstein, by contrast, says that he and his wife haven't had to water their fake lawn at all, and “We project that we'll save 2/3 of our water bill throughout the end of the year.”
The HOA is suing the Greensteins over the fake lawn; Greenstein told CBS-Los Angeles that their court date is scheduled for June 8, by which time their total HOA fine will be more than $5,000.
But it's possible that the argument will be legally moot by then, since a proposed bill before the state legislature would, if passed into law, require HOAs to allow artificial turf on residents' lawns. Greenstein said “I refuse to pay [the HOA fine]. I just have to wait for Gov. Brown to sign off on artificial turf.”
There's no guarantee the governor will do so, despite the statewide drought conditions. The state legislature passed similar proposed bills in 2010 and 2011, but then-governor Schwarzenegger vetoed the 2010 bill and current-governor Brown vetoed the next one.
Still, the drought's had four years to grow in severity since that last veto. Last December, the San Diego County Water Authority proposed a bill that would require HOAs to allow fake lawns.
More recently, state assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) responded to new of the Greensteins' plight by mentioning that she is sponsoring a bill which would prevent HOAs form doing such things. Gonzalez says the bill should go before the Assembly this May, and that even though the governor has previously vetoed similar bills, she hopes this time will be different because “I expect the Governor, given his commitment to changing behavior in this drought, probably will take a second look at it.”
New home sales plunge in March
Housing prices were mixed04/23/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Sales of new single-family houses dropped sharply last month. Data released jointly by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Deve...
Sales of new single-family houses dropped sharply last month.
Data released jointly by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development show sales were down 11.4% in March -- to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 481,000. At the same time, the February rate was revised up from the initially reported 539,000 to 543,000.
Even with the large March decline, the sales rate is 19.4% above the year-ago level of 403,000.
The median sales price of new houses sold in March was $277,400 -- down $4,900 from a year earlier. The average sales price was posted a year-over-year gain of $11,800 -- to $343,300.
The seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of last month was 213,000, representing a supply of 5.3 months at the current sales rate.
From the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), word that its monthly House Price Index (HPI) was up 0.7% in February after rising 0.3% a month earlier.
For the nine census divisions, seasonally adjusted monthly price changes ranged from -1.3% in the East South Central division to +1.8% in the South Atlantic division.
The 12-month changes were all positive, ranging from +2.6% in the Middle Atlantic division to +6.9% in the Pacific division.
The FHFA HPI is calculated using home sales price information from mortgages sold to or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Separately, the Labor Department reports first-time applications for unemployment benefits inched up by 1,000 in the week ending April 18 to a seasonally adjusted 295,000.
The government says there were no special factors affecting this week's initial claims.
The 4-week moving average was 284,500 -- up 1,750 from the previous week. The 4-week tally is less volatile than the initial claims data and considered a more accurate barometer of the labor market.
The full report is available on the DOL website.
Surprise! Online forums may be good for you
Study finds forums have benefits for individuals and society04/23/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
At various times, it's been thought that the following things, among others, were bad for you: Facebook, video games, online forums, rock 'n roll and readi...
At various times, it's been thought that the following things, among others, were bad for you: Facebook, video games, online forums, rock 'n roll and reading by firelight.
Could be, but a new study exonerates online forums, finding that they have positive links to well-being and are associated with increased community engagement offline.
Research just published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior found that online forums have benefits for both individuals and wider society and are of greater importance than previously realized.
Although seemingly eclipsed in the past decade by social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, forums are still regularly used by around 10% of online users in the UK and 20% in the US.
The study's authors say the apparent benefits derive partly from the fact that forums are one of the few remaining online spaces that offer anonymous interaction.
"Often we browse forums just hoping to find answers to our questions," said lead author Dr. Louise Pendry of the University of Exeter. "In fact, as well as finding answers, our study showed users often discover that forums are a source of great support, especially those seeking information about more stigmatising conditions."
Pendry said the study found that online forum users were also more likely to get involved in related activities offline, such as volunteering, donating or campaigning."
"In a nutshell, the more users put into the forum, the more they get back, and the pay-off for both users themselves and society at large can be significant," said Dr. Jessica Salvatore of Sweet Briar College in Virginia.
In the study, users were approached on a range of online discussion forums catering to a variety of interests, hobbies and lifestyles. Those recruited to the study were classified in two groups: those whose forum subject could be considered stigmatized (such as those dealing with mental health issues, postnatal depression or a particular parenting choice for example) or non-stigma-related forums (such as those for golfers, bodybuilders and environmental issues).
They were asked a set of questions relating to their motivations for joining the discussion forum, the fulfilment of their expectations, their identification with other forum users, their satisfaction with life and their offline engagement with issues raised on the forum.
The study is published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.
Kayem Foods recalls sausage products
The products may be contaminated with pieces of plastic04/23/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Kayem Foods of Chelsea, Mass., is recalling approximately 59,203 pounds of fully cooked chicken sausage products. The products may be contaminated with pi...
Kayem Foods of Chelsea, Mass., is recalling approximately 59,203 pounds of fully cooked chicken sausage products.
The products may be contaminated with pieces of plastic.
There are no reports of any injuries associated with consumption of these products.
The following chicken sausage products, produced on various dates in March 2015, are being recalled:
- 12-oz. packages of Trader Joe’s brand “Sweet Apple Chicken Sausage” with the case code 9605 and use by/freeze by dates of “4 22 15,” “4 25 15,” and “4 29 15.”
- 8-oz. packages of al fresco brand “Apple Maple Fully Cooked Breakfast Chicken Sausage” with the case code 9709 and use by/freeze by dates of “JUN 13 2015” and “JUN 20 2015.”
The recalled products bear the establishment number “P7839” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped to retail locations nationwide.
The problem was discovered after the firm received complaints from two consumers who found small pieces of plastic in the product.
Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Joellen West at (800) 426-6100 ext. 247.
La Clarita Queseria Queso Fresco Fresh Cheese recalled
The product may be contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus04/23/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Queseria La Poblanita of New York, N.Y., is recalling La Clarita Queseria Queso Fresco Fresh Cheese. The product may be contaminated with Staphylococcus a...
Queseria La Poblanita of New York, N.Y., is recalling La Clarita Queseria Queso Fresco Fresh Cheese.
The product may be contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus
No illnesses have been reported to date.
The recalled Spanish-style cheese is sold in 12-oz. plastic tub packages with a label declaring a plant # 36/8585, and a product lot code of MAY 13, 2015. It was distributed to stores and delis in the metropolitan New York area.
Consumers who purchased the recalled product should return it to the place of purchase or discard it.
Audi Q3 vehicles recalled
The sunroof may continue to close instead of stopping when the vehicle is turned off04/23/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 3,646 model year 2015 Audi Q3 vehicles manufactured April 4, 2014, to November 5, 2014. If the vehicle is turned...
Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 3,646 model year 2015 Audi Q3 vehicles manufactured April 4, 2014, to November 5, 2014.
If the vehicle is turned off while the sunroof is closing, the sunroof may continue to close instead of stopping. If a vehicle occupant is in the sunroof's path, there is an increased risk of injury.
Audi will notify owners, and dealers will update the sunroof control module software, free of charge. The recall began on April 13, 2015.
Owners may contact Audi customer service at 1-800-253-2834. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 60C1.
Trek recalls bicycles equipped with front disc brakes
The front wheel could come to a sudden stop or separate from the bicycle04/23/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Trek Bicycle Corporation of Waterloo, Wis., is recalling about 998,000 Trek bicycles equipped with front disc brakes in the U.S. and Canada. An open quick...
Trek Bicycle Corporation of Waterloo, Wis., is recalling about 998,000 Trek bicycles equipped with front disc brakes in the U.S. and Canada.
An open quick release lever on the bicycle’s front wheel hub can come into contact with the front disc brake assembly, causing the front wheel to come to a sudden stop or separate from the bicycle, posing a risk of injury to the rider.
The company reports 3 incidents, all including injuries. One incident resulted in quadriplegia. One incident resulted in facial injuries. One incident resulted in a fractured wrist.
This recall involves all models of Trek bicycles from model years 2000 through 2015 equipped with front disc brakes and a black or silver quick release lever on the front wheel hub that opens far enough to contact the disc brake.
Bicycles with front quick release levers that do not open a full 180 degrees from the closed position, are not included in this recall.
The bicycles. Manufactured in China and Taiwan, were sold at bicycle stores nationwide from about September 1999, through April 2015, for between $480 and $1,650.
Consumers should stop using the bicycles immediately and contact an authorized Trek retailer for free installation of a new quick release on the front wheel. Trek will provide each owner who participates in the recall with a $20 coupon redeemable by December 31, 2015 toward any Bontrager merchandise. (The coupon has no cash value.)
Consumers may contact Trek at (800) 373-4594 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. CT Monday through Friday.
Lenovo expands recall of ThinkPad Notebook battery packs
The battery packs can overheat04/23/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Lenovo of Morrisville, N.C., is recalling about 166,50 ThinkPad notebook computer battery packs in the U.S and Canada. About 37,400 were recalled in the U....
Lenovo of Morrisville, N.C., is recalling about 166,50 ThinkPad notebook computer battery packs in the U.S and Canada. About 37,400 were recalled in the U.S. and Canada in March 2014.
The battery packs can overheat, posing a fire hazard.
The company has received 4 reports of incidents of battery packs overheating and damaging the computers, battery packs and surrounding property. One incident included a consumer's skin being reddened and burn marks on the consumer's clothing.
This recall involves Lenovo battery packs sold with the following ThinkPad notebook computers: the Edge 11, 13, 14, 15, 120, 125, 320, 325, 420, 425, 430, 520, 525 and 530 series; the L412, L420/421, L512 and L520 series; the T410, T420, T510 and T520 series; the W510 and W520 series; and the X100e, X120e, X121e, X130e, X200, X200s, X201, X201s, X220 and X220t series.
The battery packs were also sold separately. The black battery packs measure between 8 to 11 inches long, 1 to 3 inches wide and about 1 inch high. Recalled battery packs have one of the following part numbers starting with the fourth digit in a long series of numbers and letters printed on a white sticker below the bar code on the battery pack: 42T4695, 42T4711, 42T4740, 42T4798, 42T4804, 42T4812, 42T4816, 42T4822, 42T4826, 42T4828, 42T4834, 42T4840, 42T4862, 42T4868, 42T4874, 42T4880, 42T4890, 42T4944, 42T4948, 42T4954, 42T4958, 45N1022 and 45N1050.
The battery packs, manufactured in China, were sold at computer and electronics stores, and authorized dealers nationwide and online at www.lenovo.com from February 2010, through June 2012, for between $350 and $3,000 when sold as part of ThinkPad notebook computers. The battery packs were also sold separately for between $80 and $150.
Consumers should immediately turn off their ThinkPad notebook computer, remove the battery pack and contact Lenovo for a free replacement battery pack. Consumers may continue to use their ThinkPad notebook without the battery pack by plugging in the AC adapter and power cord.
Consumers may contact Lenovo at (800) 426-7378 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.
What harm could there be in “liking” a Facebook post? Potentially a lot.04/22/2015ConsumerAffairs
If you're a regular Facebook user, you're pretty much guaranteed to run across lots of “like-farming” scammers – maybe without ever even realizing it....
Twitter changes policies and features in crackdown on threats and abuse
New policies, new algorithms and new tools to stop trolls04/22/2015ConsumerAffairs
Yesterday, Twitter took another step in its campaign to crack down on threatening or abusive content on its platform, by updating its policy regarding viol...
Yesterday, Twitter took another step in its campaign to crack down on threatening or abusive content on its platform, by updating its policy regarding violent threats.
The original policy banned “direct, specific threats of violence against others.” The new policy removes the first two words, and now prohibits “threats of violence against others.” This added vagueness is intended to give Twitter's moderators more leeway to decide what constitutes a “threat.” Under the old “direct, specific” policy, trolls and abusers could, for example, wish for threats against people, which technically was not prohibited.
Last February, Twitter's CEO Dick Costolo admitted in an internal email (later leaked to outside media) that “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we've sucked at it for years. ... We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day.”
In March, the company announced that it would finally crack down on “revenge porn,” the practice of publishing nude or sexually explicit photos of people (usually women) without their permission. At the time, Twitter updated its “Content boundaries” to say “You may not post intimate photos or videos that were taken or distributed without the subject's consent.”
But this time, Twitter has done more than change its posted policies; it's also changing its responses toward the writers of harassing tweets. Now, when an account is reported for suspected abuse, Twitter reserves the right to “freeze” that account, to require abusers to delete problematic tweets and also to require a valid phone number in order to reinstate their account.
(As a Washington Post blogger put it, “Essentially, Twitter is putting users in time-out and making it easier to identify them down the line.”)
In a company blog post discussing the new policies, Twitter's Director of Product Management, Shreyas Doshi, said that in addition to the policy changes,
[W]e have begun to test a product feature to help us identify suspected abusive Tweets and limit their reach. This feature takes into account a wide range of signals and context that frequently correlates with abuse including the age of the account itself, and the similarity of a Tweet to other content that our safety team has in the past independently determined to be abusive. It will not affect your ability to see content that you’ve explicitly sought out, such as Tweets from accounts you follow, but instead is designed to help us limit the potential harm of abusive content.
In other words, Twitter has a new algorithm which will hopefully prevent abusive tweets from being seen in the first place; if a troll knows his intended victim won't see his threatening tweets he'll hopefully lose interest in sending them. This algorithm won't prevent you from seeing the tweets of people you've chosen to follow, but it will prevent (or at least reduce the frequency of) any random troll's threatening comment from appearing on your own feed.
Like all technologies, Twitter's new policies and features are a work-in-progress; Doshi's blog post ended with the observation that “as the ultimate goal is to ensure that Twitter is a safe place for the widest possible range of perspectives, we will continue to evaluate and update our approach in this critical arena.”
Jeep fire case may be reopened as highway safety agency gets into high gear
New NHTSA director wants automakers to be more "proactive" in addressing safety issues04/22/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
Burning Jeep (Photo: Sedona, Ariz., Fire Dept.) Federal safety regulators are frequently heard to complain that most of us drive too fast. Automakers,...
Federal safety regulators are frequently heard to complain that most of us drive too fast. Automakers, on the other hand, are moving way too slowly in carrying out safety recalls, top safety agency officials say.
Case in point: the older Jeep Cherokees with gas tanks behind the rear axle. They're prone to catch fire when struck from the rear but a recall of 1.56 million Jeeps has been creeping along with most vehicles still unfixed. Likewise, the recall of millions of cars equipped with Takata airbags, which can spray passengers with shards of metal. Millions of cars have yet to have their airbags replaced.
Other recalls great and small plod along with all manner of delays. In all too many cases, consumers' cars sit idle at dealerships waiting for parts while consumers make do with no car or a loaner.
Take Nikki of Mobile, Ala. "I have a problem with Chrysler not ordering the part for the safety,recall,of the rear quarter vent window switch. They dismantled my switch almost 7 months ago and I have been waiting for the part since then," she told ConsumerAffairs. They have only shipped 4 parts to the dealership in Mobile and they won't respond to complaints."
Nikki said she is number 19 on her dealer's list of customers waiting for the part.
What's the point?
BMW owner Patricia reported a similar situation:,"I own a 2003 325ci that is affected by the (airbag) recall,and I called the nearest dealership to schedule the repair., I was told, by them, that that the part is on backorder and they will call me when it becomes available."
"Not wanting to wait, I checked to see if the repair would be available elsewhere., I went to the website BMWusa.com and entered the required information from my VIN number and the response from the site says that 'remedy is not available,'" Patricia said.
"What is the point of issuing a,recall,when there is no remedy available?" she,asked. "Owners of the affected vehicles are told that that the problem with the airbag can cause 'serious injury to passengers and other occupants' yet they don’t have the ability to remedy the situation?"
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration didn't seem particularly perturbed about this when David Strickland was at its helm. He "retired" last year along with his boss, ex-Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, after working out a highly unusual Jeep recall deal with Chrysler.,
The agency's new head, Mark Rosekind, Ph.D., is an actual safety expert -- something rare in NHTSA's history. He was previously a member of the National Transportation Safety Board and has performed extensive research into human fatigue and other safety factors at NASA.
Now that he has settled into his new job, Rosekind has made it clear he expects automakers to be more "proactive" in handling safety issues -- an expectation that covers everything from building safer cars with fewer defects, being faster to identify problems and faster yet to conduct recalls when needed.
"The most important thing was to be able to generate a range of options for us to kind of decide where we want to address these issues in a strategic but timely way,” Rosekind said yesterday, Automotive News reports. “For both [the Takata and Jeep recalls], I think we’re one or two weeks away from actually having some concrete things to start taking action on.”
Bloomberg News reported earlier that the agency may be thinking about reopening the investigation into the Jeeps. Safety advocates have been highly critical of the unusual way in which the recall and a related safety campaign were arrived at -- in a secret airport meeting instead of in the laboratory where a tried-and-tested approach might have been found.
Instead, the agency gave its OK to retrofitting trailer hitches on the Jeeps, on the largely untested,theory that the hitch would protect the gas tank in a collision.
Jeep owners have complained that the hitch itself is a safety hazard, since dealers are installing only the hitch and not the other towing package components that are needed to tow a trailer safely. Future owners of the Jeeps may not know the hitches are unsafe, they say.,
Google unveils Project Fi -- pay-as-you-go wireless service
Consumers pay only for the data they actually use04/22/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
If you lease or buy a car, you pay for it even if it just sits in the driveway gathering dust. If you use Uber or public transit, you only...
If you lease or buy a car, you pay for it even if it just sits in the driveway gathering dust. If you use Uber or public transit, you only pay for trips you actually take.
That's how Google thinks wireless service ought to work. Today it unveiled Project Fi, a new service this week that lets you pay as you go -- paying only for data you actually use.
Currently, most carriers make you buy a few gigabytes per month. Use more than that and you'll pay extra. Use less and, well, too bad. The unused GBs are gone forever.
It's not quite that extreme, of course. AT&T and some other carriers are letting customers carry over unused data. And a few small carriers, Republic and Scratch Wireless, are already offering "metered" usage, where you pay only for what you use.
Fi comes with one plan at one price -- $20 a month gets you the basics: talk, text, Wi-Fi tethering and international coverage. It's $10 per gigabyte of data after that for cellular data while in the U.S. and abroad. The plan refunds any data you don't use.
Subscribers can also talk and text from their phone number on any phone, tablet or laptop.
"Project Fi aims to put you on the best network wherever you go," Nick Fox, Google's vice president of communications products, wrote in a blog post.
Porject Fi makes Google by far the biggest new kid on the block and its entry is likely to shake things up quite thoroughly.
Google will be reselling capacity on Sprint and T-Mobile's networks as well as linking up with open wi-fi hotspots, switching seamlessly -- or trying to, anyway -- from one network to another, depending on which one is offering the best signal at any given moment.
Initially, the service will work only on Google's latest Nexus 6 phones but is expected to spread to other phones if it's successful.
Once in your garage, getting into your house is easy04/22/2015ConsumerAffairs
Police in Hanford, California, say they're seeing a disturbing trend. They have had a higher than usual amount of breaking into cars -- not to steal the ca...
Existing-home sales hit 18-month high
Year-over-year levels were higher as well04/22/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Improvement across the U.S. pushed sales of previously owned homes to their highest level since September 2013. Figures released by the National Associati...
Improvement across the U.S. pushed sales of previously owned homes to their highest level since September 2013.
Figures released by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) show total sales -- completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops -- shot up 6.1% in March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.19 million.
Additionally, sales have now increased year-over-year for 6 consecutive months and are 10.4% above a year ago -- the highest annual increase since August 2013's 10.7%. The March surge in sales was the largest monthly gain since the 6.2% gain in December 2010.
Picking up steam
"After a quiet start to the year, sales activity picked up greatly throughout the country in March," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. "The combination of low interest rates and the ongoing stability in the job market is improving buyer confidence and finally releasing some of the sizable pent-up demand that accumulated in recent years."
Total housing inventory at the end of March climbed 5.3% to 2.00 million existing homes available for sale, and is now 2.0% above a year ago. Unsold inventory is at a 4.6-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 4.7 months in February.
The median existing-home price for all housing types in March was $212,100 -- 7.8% above March 2014, marking the 37th consecutive month of year-over-year price gains and the largest since February 2014.
"The modest rise in housing supply at the end of the month despite the strong growth in sales is a welcoming sign," Yun noted. "For sales to build upon their current pace, homeowners will increasingly need to be confident in their ability to sell their home while having enough time and choices to upgrade or downsize. More listings and new home construction are still needed to tame price growth and provide more opportunity for first-time buyers to enter the market."
- Existing-home sales in the Northeast increased 6.9% in March to an annual rate of 620,000, and are 1.6% above a year ago. The median price was $240,500 -- 1.6% below a year ago.
- In the Midwest, existing-home sales jumped 10.1% to an annual rate of 1.20 million, and are now 12.1% above March 2014. The median price surged 9.7% from the same time last year -- to $163,600.
- Sales in the South climbed 3.8% to an annual rate of 2.19 million in March, and are now 11.7 percent above March 2014. The median price was $187,900 -- up 9.3% from a year ago.
- The West posted an existing-home sales increase of 6.3% to an annual rate of 1.18 million in March; sales are now 11.3% and the median price is up 8.3% year-over-year to $305,000.
The No iOS Zone lets attackers remotely crash any iPhone or iPad in wi-fi range
Another danger of automatically connecting to public wi-fi04/22/2015ConsumerAffairs
Another day brings another way hackers can wreak havoc on your life, this time for owners of Apple devices: security researchers from Skycure have discover...
Another day brings another way hackers can wreak havoc on your life, this time for owners of Apple devices: security researchers from Skycure have discovered a vulnerability they call the “No iOS Zone,” which effectively lets attackers crash any mobile iOS device connected to a wi-fi hotspot.
Actually, it's even worse that: You don't have to actively connect your device to a hotspot in order to be at risk. No iOS Zone lets attackers crash your device if you are so much as in range of a hotspot, unless you've completely turned off the device (or at least its wi-fi).
Yet in a way this is not entirely surprising — and Apple devices aren't the only ones at risk from public wi-fi.
Last summer, for example, Ars Technica tried a little experiment and discovered that millions of customers of both Comcast and AT&T; were at risk of letting hackers surreptitiously get into their devices' Internet traffic and steal all sorts of personal data, because those two companies' hotspots proved particularly easy for hackers to “spoof” (which is hackerspeak for “impersonate”).
Here's a very oversimplified explanation of why: Unless you specifically turn off that feature, or your device itself, your smartphone, tablet or other connectable device is always looking to connect with a familiar network.
Let's say you visited Starbucks to take advantage of their free w-fi. Now, every time you go there your phone automatically sends out a signal, basically saying “Hey, Starbucks w-fi, where are you?” and waiting for the electronic response “Here I am! Starbucks wi-fi, now connecting with you.”
But it's very easy for anyone to set up a wireless hotspot to respond under a false name: “Here I am, Starbucks wi-fi! Actually I'm a hacker up to no good, but I said my name is 'Starbucks w-fi' so I can connect with you.”
To guard against that particular danger, you must shut off the wi-fi connections on your mobile devices when you're not using them, and set each device so that it must ask before joining a mobile network.
The “No iOS Zone” vulnerability is similar, except instead of letting hackers use wi-fi hotspots to spy on various iDevices, it “only” gives hackers the ability to make those devices crash and go into an endless reboot loop. And once that happens, you can't turn off your wi-fi connection and regain control since, of course, your device has to be booted up before you can change its wi-fi settings or do anything else with it.
The researchers named this vulnerability the “No iOS Zone” because once attackers set up a malicious wi-fi network, any iOS mobile device within range of it would connect, get stuck in an endless reboot loop and thus be rendered useless, resulting in a literal no-iOS zone.
Skycure's presentation also offered a list of “potential areas that may be attractive for attackers,” which includes “political events, economical & business events, Wall Street [and] governmental and military facilities.”
Apple is currently working with Skycure to develop a fix for this problem. Meanwhile, iOwners should keep their wi-fi turned off unless and until they actually plan to use it, and be extra-wary of any public wi-fi hotspot – which, come to think of it, is good advice regarding any mobile device, regardless of who manufactured it.
Mortgage applications rebound
It's the fourth increase in 5 weeks04/22/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
After posting a slight decline the previous week, applications for mortgages moved higher the week ending April 17. According to the Mortgage Bankers Asso...
After posting a slight decline the previous week, applications for mortgages moved higher the week ending April 17.
According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey
applications were up 2.3% last week.
percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending April 17, 2015.
“Purchase applications increased for the fourth time in 5 weeks as we proceed further into the spring home buying season,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Chief Economist. “Despite mortgage rates below 4%, refinance activity increased less than 1% percent from the previous week.”
That slight increase in the Refinance Index pushed the refinance share of mortgage activity down 2% -- to 56% of total applications, its lowest level since October 2014. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity rose to 5.5% percent of total applications.
The FHA share of total applications inched up to 13.6% from 13.5% the week prior. The VA share of total applications slipped decreased from 11.1% to 11.0%, and the USDA share of total applications was unchanged at 0.8%.
Contract interest rates
- The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) dropped 4 basis point -- from 3.87% to 3.83%, its lowest level since January 2015. Points fell to 0.32 from 0.38 (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 inched down to 3.83% from 3.84%, with points decreasing to 0.22 from 0.35 (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 dipped 2 basis points to 3.65%, its lowest level since May 2013, with points decreasing to 0.12 from 0.23 (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 to 3.11%, its lowest level since January, from 3.16%, with points decreasing to 0.24 from 0.29 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
- The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs rose 7 basis points to 2.89%, with points decreasing to 0.29 from 0.40 (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.
Realtors say mortgage standards still too tight
Industry group asks Congress to review new lending rules04/22/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
In the wake of the financial crisis and the collapse of the housing market, mortgage lenders raised standards for qualifying for loans and Congress approve...
In the wake of the financial crisis and the collapse of the housing market, mortgage lenders raised standards for qualifying for loans and Congress approved tighter regulation of the mortgage market.
It was not an unreasonable response after nearly a decade of very loose lending standards that resulted in many consumers buying homes without being required to prove they could actually afford them.
But Realtors complained from the beginning that the reaction went too far, choking off the housing market's recovery. They pointed out that each month, nearly a third of home buyers paid with cash without having to borrow the money.
Now, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) is pressing its case to Congress, telling the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee that some of the new regulatory requirements are unnecessary and are blocking otherwise qualified, credit worthy consumers from buying a home.
Pendulum has swung too far
NAR President Chris Polychron told the committee that the industry supports strong underwriting standards, put in place after the housing crisis to protect consumers from risky lending practices. But Polychron insists the pendulum has swung too far.
“In some cases, well-intentioned, but over-corrective policies are severely hampering the ability of millions of qualified buyers to purchase a home,” he said. “I believe, and our members believe, that we have yet to strike the right balance between regulation and opportunity.”
To bolster their case the Realtors say the near record low mortgage rates that have prevailed since 2009 should have resulted in surging home sales. But that hasn't been the case.
Sales of existing homes in February were up a healthy 4.7% over the previous year, but at the rather anemic annual rate of 4.88 million. Anemic when compared to 2005's existing home sales, which totaled more than 7 million.
Homeownership rate is falling
Today, even with mortgage rates well under 4%, NAR says the number of first-time buyers entering the market is at the lowest point since 1987. The homeownership rate is back to 1990 levels.
So what exactly is it that the Realtors would like to see? For one, the industry trade group wants to change some new regulations it says limit opportunities for buyers to own condos. NAR says condos often represent the most affordable buying options for first-time homebuyers and minorities.
Concern about new rules
Realtors are also concerned about rules that haven't yet taken effect. Polychron says the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) should be ready for problems that might crop up during the implementation of the Real Estate Settlement and Procedures Act and Truth in Lending Act changes.
Those rule changes just happen to take effect on August 1, the busiest transaction time of the year. To make loans close more smoothly, Polychron suggested the CFPB take a “restrained” approach to enforcement as the rule goes into effect.
Polychron also took aim at a provision in the Ability-to-Repay rules that limits mortgage fees and points to 3% in order for home loans to be considered Qualified Mortgages. The rule is designed to protect consumers but Polychron said the unintended consequence is that consumers, including lower-end buyers, are finding reduced choices and added obstacles in their efforts to buy a house.
“No one wants to see a return to the unscrupulous, predatory lending practices that caused the Great Recession, but some modifications to existing regulations would help restore the homeownership rate to pre-bubble levels,” said Polychron.
Superior Nut & Candy recalls pine nuts
The product may be contaminated with Salmonella04/22/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Superior Nut & Candy Co., is recalling 4-oz. packages of Pine Nuts. The product may be contaminated with Salmonella. No illnesses have been reported to d...
Superior Nut & Candy Co., is recalling 4-oz. packages of Pine Nuts.
The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.
No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with the problem.
The recalled Pine Nuts were distributed nationwide in retail stores.
The recalled product comes in a 4-oz. package with a clear front and tan-colored label on the back and were sold in retail store produce departments nationwide.
The back label lists pine nuts as the only ingredient and has the UPC Number of 72549320016 with a Best By date between 10/22/2015 and 12/27/2015.
Customers who purchased the recalled product should return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.
Consumers with questions may contact customer relations at (773) 254-7900 Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, CST.
Michigan Brand recalls turkey and beef products
The products contain sodium nitrite, which is not listed label04/22/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Michigan Brand of Bay City, Mich. is recalling approximately 737 pounds of turkey and beef products. The products contain sodium nitrite, which is missing...
Michigan Brand of Bay City, Mich. is recalling approximately 737 pounds of turkey and beef products.
The products contain sodium nitrite, which is missing the word “nitrite” on the product label.
There are no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.
The following smoked turkey and beef items, produced on various dates between February 9 and April 16, 2015, are being recalled:
- 8 and 16 oz. packages of “Michigan Brand Honey Glazed Smoked Turkey.”
- 8 oz. packages of “The Jerky Outlet Jalapeno Flavored Smoke Beef.”
The recalled products bear the establishment number “EST. 10306” or “P-10306” inside the USDA mark of inspection and were shipped to retail and distribution locations in Michigan.
Consumers with questions may contact the company’s main line at (989) 893-9589.
Hines Nut Company recalls walnut halves and pieces
The product may be contaminated with Salmonella04/22/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Hines Nut Company of Dallas, Texas is recalling Lot Number 6989 of walnut halves and pieces. The product may be contaminated with Salmonella. The compan...
Hines Nut Company of Dallas, Texas is recalling Lot Number 6989 of walnut halves and pieces.
The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.
The company says it has not received any complaints concerning illness to date.
The following product is being recalled:
- Hines Nut Brand, 128 cases, 25 trays per carton, in black foam trays with a green and gold label; Tray weight of 16-oz., packaged March 3, 2015; lot number 6989 printed on the label; Best Buy Date of 12.28.15; UPC 07826406516-5
The product was sold by Randalls Food Stores in Texas.
Customers who purchased the the recalled product should not eat it and contact the company for information regarding a full refund or disposal information.
Consumers may contact Hines Nut Company at 1 800-561-6374 Monday – Friday, 7 am – 4 pm CST.
Conway Organic Sesame Ginger and Citrus Organic Vinaigrette dressings recalled
The products may be contaminated with Salmonella04/22/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Conway Import Co., is recalling Conway Organic Sesame Ginger Dressing and Conway Citrus Organic Vinaigrette Dressing. The products may be contaminated wit...
Conway Import Co., is recalling Conway Organic Sesame Ginger Dressing and Conway Citrus Organic Vinaigrette Dressing.
The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.
No illnesses have been reported to date.
The following products, distributed in Illinois, Maryland, Georgia, Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Texas, and packed in plastic gallon jars with the manufacturing code printed on the top of the cap and the cardboard shipping container, are being recalled:
- Conway Organic Sesame Ginger Dressing Recipe Code N-22; MFG.CODE DATE: 28814....363014....030015....051015
- Conway Citrus Organic Vinaigrette Dressing Recipe Code L-18; MFG.CODE DATE: 276014....337014
Consumers with questions may contact Conway Import at 847-455-5600.
Study finds TV sets quickly becoming old technology
Consumers would rather "watch TV" on their phones and computers04/21/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Recently my cousin and his family came for a visit and we encamped his two pre-teen daughters in the living room, with inflatable beds and sleeping bags.
I prepared to give the girls a primer on the TV remote control and a tour of our cable channels but I noticed a decided lack of interest on their part.
“Do you guys want to watch TV?” I asked.
“No,” they replied in unison, not once looking up from their smartphones. Indeed, the TV remained off all weekend.
What I witnessed in my living room is fairly typical, according to new research from Accenture. In its study of consumer trends, the company found the television set was the only digital product category to see uniform, double-digit usage declines among viewers in most age groups.
Increasingly, consumers are turning off TV and replacing their sets with a combination of laptops, desktops, tablets and smartphones when they want to view video content, what we so quaintly referred to in the past as “watch television.”
Young viewers seem to be abandoning television the fastest. The study found 14- to 17-year-olds are dropping TV at the rate of 33% for movies and television shows and 26% for sporting events.
The decline continues for older demographics until it flattens out for those 55 and older. But even among Baby Boomers, the trend is moving away from TV.
”We are seeing a definitive pendulum shift away from traditional TV viewing,” said Gavin Mann, Accenture’s global broadcast industry lead. “TV shows and movies are now a viewing staple on mobile devices of all shapes and sizes, thanks to improved streaming and longer battery life. The second screen viewing experience is where the content creators, broadcasters and programmers will succeed or fail.”
Streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and the TV broadcast networks’ own streaming platforms, allow viewers to watch what they want, when they want. Increasingly, they are doing so. In industry jargon it's called “over the top content,” and more is emerging all the time.
Now you don’t have to subscribe to cable TV to get HBO. The company has just launched HBO Now, promising “instant access to all of HBO” on your streaming device on a subscription basis. It's marketing slogan says “all you need is the Internet.”
Previously consumers had to subscribe to cable – and with a significant package at that -- for the ability to add premium channels like HBO.
Room for improvement
While anytime, anywhere viewing is becoming mainstream, consumers are not completely satisfied with the viewing experience so far. For the most part, complaints are about the Internet service delivering the programming.
More than half the people in the survey who said they watch streaming content complained about buffering and other technical issues, as well as advertising placement.
Accenture’s take? Content producers – notably the broadcast networks – are still in a favorable position but will have to improve delivery as well as keep content to the standards consumers expect.
“Understanding consumers and ensuring decision-making is centered on consumer insights will be increasingly key to success,” said Mann. “The future leaders in media and entertainment will be those who listen to the audience and can tailor their content and services to this new reality.”
There's no apparent explanation for the higher incidence of childhood cancers in the area04/21/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Christopher Maynard
Photo © Frantab - Fotolia Florida has long been a favorite vacation spot and also boasts a fast-growing fulltime population. Although people may enjoy...
Bird flu outbreak could impact poultry supplies
Hormel warns it will have less turkey product this year04/21/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
An outbreak of H5N2 avian, or bird flu, spread quickly this week through poultry operations in the upper Midwest, resulting in the deaths of millions of bi...
An outbreak of H5N2 avian, or bird flu, spread quickly this week through poultry operations in the upper Midwest, resulting in the deaths of millions of bird, potentially affecting supplies and prices for consumers.
The disease was discovered in poultry operations in Osceola County, Iowa, a major egg-producing region. Hen losses have been estimated at 5.3 million.
The impact on egg prices is unclear. Bloomberg News reports the U.S. Department of Agriculture had earlier projected an increase in 2015 egg production and a decline in prices from last year. So it is possible consumers will notice no increase in prices.
Earlier, in neighboring Minnesota, bird flu swept through at least 28 turkey-producing farms. Turkey losses are estimated at 1.7 million.
The impact was severe enough that Hormel Foods, a publicly traded company, warned it would likely be felt when the company reported its quarterly earnings.
“We are experiencing significant challenges in our turkey supply chain due to the recent HPAI outbreaks in Minnesota and Wisconsin,” said Jeffrey Ettinger, chairman and CEO of Hormel Foods.
Ettinger said he expects the outbreaks will subside as the weather improves but in the short term Hormel will face “turkey supply challenges.”
Hormel said its Jennie-O Turkey Store is managing the outbreak in cooperation with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and state agency officials. The company said all flocks are tested for influenza prior to processing and no birds diagnosed with HPAI are allowed to enter the food chain.
Little risk for humans
According to health officials, the outbreak is an economic issue at this point, not a public health problem.
“The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Iowa Department of Public Health considers the risk to people from these HPAI H5 infections in wild birds, backyard flocks and commercial poultry, to be low,” the Iowa Department of Agriculture said in a statement. “No human infections with the virus have ever been detected.”
Still, consumers should err on the side of caution. The department notes these virus strains can travel in wild birds without those birds appearing sick. People should avoid contact with sick or dead poultry or wildlife. If contact occurs, you should wash your hands with soap and water and change clothing before having any contact with healthy domestic poultry and birds.
Bird owners – whether commercial producers or backyard flock owners – are being advised to prevent contact between their birds and wild birds. When birds appear sick or die suddenly, it should be reported to state or federal agriculture officials.
There are several strains of bird flu. Earlier this month the avian A strain H7N9 was confirmed in areas near China's border with Myanmar. Like other strains of bird flu, it can be passed from bird to humans but not from human to human.
The World Health Organization has called H7N9 an unusually dangerous virus for humans, with about 30% of people who get it dying.
The mortgage servicing company allegedly abused consumers, misrepresented amounts owed04/21/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
Green Tree mortgage servicing company will pay $63 million to settle federal charges that it harmed homeowners with illegal loan servicing and debt collect...
Not everything in your garden needs sun
Some plants thrive, or at least survive, in the shade04/21/2015ConsumerAffairs
When you are planting your garden, light is a big factor. What time you get your sun and how much of your garden is covered. There is a flipside to this an...
When you are planting your garden, light is a big factor. What time you get your sun and how much of your garden is covered. There is a flipside to this and it's shade.
Gardening in the shade doesn't have to be frustrating. Some plants will tolerate relatively low light, and a few actually thrive in it. Like anything there are always options. Most likely you will want to take a look at flowering annuals, perennials, bulbs, and woodland plants for color. There are plenty of ground covers you can investigate and they do well in shaded areas.
If your shaded area isn't pitch black but just lightly shaded, you could try a few herbs or leafy vegetables. Take note that flowering annuals do not bloom well in heavy shade; they all blossom more profusely as light is increased. Some annuals, however, do better in light shade than in full sun, which may fade colors or cause wilting the moment there is any moisture stress.
You have to figure out how much light your plants will actually be getting. The biggest challenge will be areas under big shade trees or the overhang of a building. If you can get a glimpse of sun for a brief period of time all the better. There are numerous plant choices you can make in these locations, though by no means as many as are possible with five or more hours of direct, full sunlight.
Something else to consider with shade is that your moisture level can pose a problem. If you are under a tree or an overhang it will be a covering and actually keep your plants from getting adequate moisture.
Trees and shrubs will be fighting to get that water to survive. The watering will become your responsibility, even when it seems you are getting a ton of rain, it will never reach the plants down to the roots effectively so you will have to compensate.
What will help you is a balanced fertilizer and then follow that up with one or two extra applications as you get into the summer. It will help so your plants don’t have to compete with tree and shrub roots. You can always plant above ground if you are worried about the trees and shrubs posing a problem.
For the most part plants that work well in the shade will do best in well drained, relatively fertile soil. Your local County Extension Office can supply you with additional materials on specific shade -tolerant plants.
Travel sites don't always tell the whole story about your next hotel
It's a problem that predates online travel sites but whether it has gotten any better is debatable04/21/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
Hotels always look great on their websites. The rooms are sparkling, the beds are clean, the floors are dry and there are no nasty little vermin crawling around biting people.
But that's not always the reality, as Danielle tells us she found when she spent a few nights at the Clinton Hotel in Miami's South Beach neighborhood.
It sounds like Expedia did what it could to help Danielle and her friend but the overall experience still left a lot to be desired. Unfortunately, that's the case with many online reservations.
While we don't hear about too many leaking toilets, Expedia gets more than its share of complaints about duplicate reservations, lost reservations and prices that seem to change without notice.
In many cases, consumers think they're shopping around only to learn they've made a reservation. That's what happened to Julie of Flushing, Mich.
"Thought I was checking for availability and the reservation was made. I called within one minute of realizing my mistake and was given the runaround. Asked agent to cancel the reservation, which he told me he did, but the refund on my debit card would take two weeks," Julie said.
Aleksandra had the changing-price experience. "I tried booking 2 separate all inclusive packages. Expedia's web showed a price per booking which we were interested and booked 1 room, however when finishing 2nd booking, the price changed increased 3 times (by over $300.00) in the matter of seconds," she said.
But perhaps the most unusual price-changing complaint comes from Sam of Pelawatte, Sri Lanka.
"I went to the Expedia url page. I was quoted a price in Rps (rupees) which was very reasonable," Sam said. "I booked the hotel room only to discover that the Rps price was not in Sri Lankan Rps (as I was in Sri Lanka) but in twice as expensive Rps of India. It was a non-refundable price but when I called customer service they could not understand the confusion. They were totally unhelpful. Most sites distinguish Indian Rps as INRPS but not Expedia."
Blue Bell Creameries expands recall to include all products
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes04/21/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Blue Bell Ice Cream of Brenham, Texas, is recalling all of its products currently on the market made at all of its facilities -- including ice cream, froze...
Blue Bell Ice Cream of Brenham, Texas, is recalling all of its products currently on the market made at all of its facilities -- including ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet and frozen snacks.
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
Five patients were treated in Kansas and 3 in Texas after testing positive for Listeria.
The recalled products sold at retail outlets -- including food service accounts, convenience stores and supermarkets -- in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wyoming and international locations.
The decision to expand the recall resulted from findings from an enhanced sampling program which revealed that Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream half gallons produced on March 17, 2015, and March 27, 2015, contained the bacteria.
Nissan recalls Sentras in high humidity areas
The passenger side frontal air bag inflator may rupture04/21/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Nissan North America is recalling 45,000 model year 2006 Sentras manufactured January 2, 2006, to August 26, 2006, originally sold, or currently registered...
Nissan North America is recalling 45,000 model year 2006 Sentras manufactured January 2, 2006, to August 26, 2006, originally sold, or currently registered, in geographic locations associated with high absolute humidity.
Specifically, vehicles sold, or currently registered, in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Saipan, American Samoa, Florida and adjacent counties in southern Georgia, as well as the coastal areas of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas are being recalled.
Upon deployment of the passenger side frontal air bag, excessive internal pressure may cause the inflator to rupture during deployment, with metal fragments striking and potentially seriously injuring the vehicle occupants.
Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will replace the passenger air bag inflator, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.
Chef’s Express California Pasta Salad recalled
The product may be contaminated with Salmonella04/21/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Schnuck Markets of St. Louis, Mo., is recalling its Chef’s Express California Pasta Salad. The product may be contaminated with Salmonella. No illnesses ...
Schnuck Markets of St. Louis, Mo., is recalling its Chef’s Express California Pasta Salad.
The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.
No illnesses related to the consumption of this product have been reported to date.
The product was sold in 99 Schnuck stores Deli/Chef’s Express departments April 2 – April 14, 2015 in Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa.
The product was labeled “Chef’s Express California Pasta Salad” and sold by weight through the company’s Deli/Chef’s Express departments.
Customers may return any unused portion to their nearest store for a full refund.
Consumers with questions may contact the Schnuck consumer affairs department Monday – Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. at 314-994-4400 or 1-800-264-4400.
Whole Foods Market recalls packaged raw macadamia nuts
The product may be contaminated with Salmonella04/21/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Whole Foods Market is recalling packaged raw macadamia nuts. The product may be contaminated with Salmonella. No illnesses have been reported to-date. ...
Whole Foods Market is recalling packaged raw macadamia nuts.
The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.
No illnesses have been reported to-date.
The recalled product, labeled as “Whole Foods Market Raw Macadamia Nuts,” was packaged in 11-oz. plastic tubs with a best-by date of Feb. 4, 2016, and a UPC code of 7695862059-1.
The nuts were sold in Whole Foods Market Stores in Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah.
Customers who purchased this product should discard it and bring in their receipt for a full refund.
Consumers with questions may contact Whole Foods Market customer service at 512-477-5566, ext. 20060 Monday – Friday, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm CDT.
Telemarketers: readers sound off
Our comments section is overflowing with ideas for dealing with unwanted calls04/20/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Our story last week about ways to reduce the growing number of unwanted telemarketer calls to cell phone numbers triggered a lot of response from readers. ...
Our story last week about ways to reduce the growing number of unwanted telemarketer calls to cell phone numbers triggered a lot of response from readers. No surprise there since hatred of telemarketers seems to be a universal bond.
Several used our story as a jumping-off point to talk in the comments section about telemarketers in general and trade ideas for dealing with them. We thought some of the discussion was worthy of passing along.
Going on the offensive
A reader named Greg says his answer to telemarketers is to go on the offensive. He says you have to let your creativity flow.
“Start by asking if they were raised by a good family who taught them right from wrong, and if so why are they knowingly working for a criminal organization” he writes.
Other times he says he tells them he works for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). If it sounds like Greg spends a lot more time talking to telemarketers than most people want to do, he does. But he says there’s a point to that.
“Sometimes I just taunt them endlessly, telling them that it's my sole purpose to simply waste as much of their time as I possibly can,” Greg writes. “They usually get all arrogant and snotty until they realize they ARE in fact getting played the longer they stay on the phone.”
Engaging telemarketers is a common tactic. A retired Baptist minister listens patiently to any telephone pitch, then asks if he can talk with the caller about his or her personal relationship with Jesus. The elderly gentleman says he is rarely called twice by the same telemarketer.
Do Not Call list
The assumption of many readers posting comments is the FTC’s Do Not Call list “doesn’t work.” Otherwise, why would they be getting so many calls? A reader named Larry set them straight.
“Any organization that is out to scam you will simply ignore the Do Not Call List and there is nothing the FTC can do about it,” Larry writes.
Exactly. Scammers out to steal your money usually operate outside U.S. borders and have nothing to fear from the FTC. But legitimate U.S.-based businesses have to respect the Telemarketing Sales Rule or face potential sanctions. Registering your number won’t stop all the calls but will reduce them.
David pointed out that if you listen to the end of a telemarketer’s call, it will ask you to press a number if you want to be taken off that particular caller’s list. But Joel responded that would be a mistake.
“This alerts the caller it’s a real number and somebody will answer it and resells your number to hundreds of other scam artists,” Joel warns.
A reader named Earl suggests making telemarketing a capital crime, suggesting any candidate making that a plank in his or her platform would win in a landslide.
Things to keep in mind
Here are a few points our readers need to keep in mind. Even if your number is on the Do Not Call list, charities, political organizations and pollsters are allowed to call. Also, if you have initiated contact with a business, it is allowed to follow up with telemarketing calls for 18 months after your last purchase, payment of delivery.
Engaging with a telemarketer who is an obvious scammer might sound fun but might not be a good idea. There’s no need to antagonize a criminal. As for pranking a legitimate telemarketer, let’s face it, not everyone is Jerry Seinfeld.
When calls come in from people you don’t want to talk to, simply hang up. If you have Caller ID and the number is blocked or is unfamiliar, just let it go to voicemail. Sooner or later, they’ll take the hint.
Airlines gain a little altitude as customer satisfaction index rises slighty
They're still in the bottom four categories though04/20/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
The good news for airlines is that consumers don't hate them quite as much as they once did. But it's nothing to get excited about -- only Internet service...
The good news for airlines is that consumers don't hate them quite as much as they once did. But it's nothing to get excited about -- only Internet service providers, subscription TV and health insurance rate worse with consumers, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).
Airlines reach an ACSI benchmark of 71 on a scale of 0 to 100 for 2015—approaching the category’s peak score of 72 in 1994.
“Airlines are doing a better job of getting travelers to their destinations on time, with less frustration over baggage,” says ACSI Director David VanAmburg. “ACSI findings show that timeliness and baggage handling have improved, which is in-line with Department of Transportation data on reductions in both flight delays and baggage mishandling over the past year.”
The on-board experience still lags, however, with seat comfort remaining the worst part of flying (ACSI benchmark of 65). Passengers are happier with in-flight services such as entertainment options, up 7 percent to 72, but there is still room for improvement.
The ACSI Travel Report 2015 covers customer satisfaction with airlines, hotels and Internet travel agencies.
JetBlue soars, Spirit sinks
Low-cost carrier JetBlue, up 3 percent to top the field at 81, increases its lead over rival Southwest. JetBlue has been number one for passenger satisfaction since 2012, but the airline’s plans to start charging for bags and reduce legroom may make it difficult for JetBlue to keep its title.
Southwest is flat at 78, but still maintains an edge over the remainder of the field. ACSI newcomer Alaska Airlines debuts at 75, ahead of three other ACSI entrants: Allegiant Air (65), Frontier Airlines (58) and Spirit Airlines (54). The major legacy carriers also are unchanged from last year, with Delta (71) holding an advantage over American (66) and United (60).
“Southwest appears to have successfully managed its AirTran acquisition, but its expansion into international travel may cause some turbulence ahead,” says Claes Fornell, ACSI Chairman and founder. “On the other end of the spectrum, Spirit may offer low fares, but its score reflects its minimalist approach to customer service.”
Hotel satisfaction steady
Guest satisfaction with hotels is steady at an ACSI score of 75. Upscale and luxury brands top the category, while budget chains lag far behind.
Travelers paying more at a range of higher-priced properties from Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt are the most pleased (ACSI scores of 80), while economy operator Motel 6 enters the Index at an all-time industry low of 63.
Wyndham stays out of the industry basement despite a 6 percent decline to 68, with Choice and Best Western coming in just shy of average at 73 and 74, respectively. Midscale operator La Quinta debuts at 76, tying InterContinental and Starwood.
According to guests, hotels do an excellent job when it comes to reservations and check-in (ACSI benchmarks of 86 and 85, respectively). Staff courtesy is lower than a year ago, but still quite good, as is website satisfaction (both 83). Strong user satisfaction with hotel websites is advantageous as the industry seeks to reduce its reliance on Internet travel sites for booking.
Online travel improves
Customer satisfaction with online travel agencies edges up 1.3 percent for a second year to an ACSI score of 78. While this matches the category’s previous high points, customers continue to prefer booking directly with hotels or airlines.
Travel websites occupy a crowded field that includes numerous start-ups and search engines, as well as hotel and airline websites. Mergers are a major industry trend, but for the most part these are transparent to consumers as sites maintain their brand identities.
Among the major agencies, Expedia holds a small lead with a 1 percent uptick to 77. Travelocity, recently added to Expedia’s website portfolio, and Orbitz are deadlocked at 75. User satisfaction drops 3 percent for Orbitz just as Expedia pursues a merger.
Outside the potential Expedia family, Priceline is flat at 75 as well. Beating out all four is the combined score of smaller travel websites, stable at 78, which includes both Internet start-ups and direct booking on the websites of hotels or airlines.
Genetically modified food becoming the next battleground in food wars
Congressional measure would quash state labeling laws04/20/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
The subject of food is packed with emotion these days. A growing number of consumers have strong feelings about what they eat, where it comes from and how...
The subject of food is packed with emotion these days. A growing number of consumers have strong feelings about what they eat, where it comes from and how it is raised.
Considering that, it might not be surprising that genetically modified food, or food containing genetically modified organisms (GMO), has evoked a lot of heated debate.
The U.S. government is stepping in to stake out its official position in this dispute that increasingly is taking on political overtones – of small natural and organic growers against large agricultural and processing enterprises. The federal information website, USA.gov, has issued a fact sheet on the government’s official position.
Here are some of the key points it contains:
First, what happens when food is genetically engineered? It’s a scientific method in which the DNA genes of one organism are transferred to another organism.
That’s done to make crops grow better, but also to enhance flavor or extend shelf life. It might also make plants heartier, able to withstand longer periods of drought. It may also make food more resistant to insects, reducing the need for pesticides.
Growers and food manufacturers tend to like GMOs, introduced to the market in the 1990s, for economic reasons. Fewer crops are lost to insects, extreme weather and spoilage.
Food activists, in general, highly disapprove of GMOs. For example, a group called the Non GMO Project claims none of the GMO traits currently on the market offer increased yield, drought tolerance, enhanced nutrition, or any other consumer benefit touted by proponents.
The group also cites what it calls “a growing body of evidence” linking GMOs with health problems. But the government fact sheet says the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates and evaluates genetically modified food and hasn’t found any health issues in the genetically modified food currently available.
The agency assesses whether the genetically modified food is toxic or contains allergens, has generally the same nutritional value as traditionally-grown food, or might have long-term health effects. It analyzed its findings to determine if the food complies with safety laws.
The argument has now shifted to disclosure. Does a consumer have the right to know if the food item he or she purchases contains GMOs?
Food activists say yes and have pushed for legislation at the state level to require that information on food labels. The Center for Food Safety, an environmental advocacy organization, reports lawmakers in 30 states have introduced legislation requiring food labels to inform consumers if a product contains GMOs, or outlaw them altogether.
The food industry has pushed back. In Congress, bipartisan sponsors have introduced GMO labeling legislation that would preempt state attempts to regulate GMOs.
In late March Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) introduced a measure to created a voluntary federal labeling standard.
Satellite, cable providers often strike out when it comes to sports
Channels come and go, often leaving sports fans alone in the bleachers04/20/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
Satellite and cable TV providers could give Congress a run for its money in the public disdain department. Just about everything they do annoys consumers,...
Satellite and cable TV providers could give Congress a run for its money in the public disdain department. Just about everything they do annoys consumers, putting the TV subscription and Internet service business a slot or two below airlines in the public estimation.
DISH Network is certainly no exception. Consumers complain about everything from reliability to fees to contract terms to program selection. The signal fails when it rains (and even when it's sunny), they say. Fees are higher than expected and contracts seem to run forever.
And as for the channel line-ups, there've been several near-uprisings over the last year or so, when DISH booted channels from Fox, CNN and others in contract disputes. Some of the channels returned, some didn't.
But while we can all live without news and old movies, baseball is another matter. Fans who signed up for DISH and other providers often think they'll get to see all of their favorite team's schedule but it doesn't always work out that way.
Take Jay of Cartersville, Ga., a Braves fan. He filed this video review:
It's not just the Braves. Joel of Bangor, Pa., thought he'd get all the Pirates games but it didn't turn out that way.
"I switched from DirecTv to DISH Network as part of a package deal from my phone company. I asked and was told that there would be no problem getting Pittsburgh Pirate baseball," Joel said. "I was not able to get the games and was told they were blacked out. However, a neighbor down the road was able to get those games on DirecTv so they were not blacked out."
Joel switched back to DirecTV and now faces a $440 contract termination charge from DISH.
DISH is not alone, of course. All the TV subscription services generate similar complaints. Take Comcast, for example.
"I have 'basic cable.' I used to get the Red Sox baseball games and the local news on basic cable," said Richard of Groveland, Mass. "Xfinity changed that so all I get with 'basic cable' is a bunch of Spanish channels, two Boston channels, and a bunch of PBS stations. I can no longer get Red Sox baseball or the New England Patriots football."
The only way to avoid situations like this is to read the contract very carefully before signing it, while ignoring whatever the salesperson is telling you. In most cases, cable and satellite companies have the option to add and drop channels as they see fit. And sometimes, upstream changes in licensing leave them no choice.
Military payment processor skinned servicemembers, feds charge
Undisclosed fees piled up in servicemembers' accounts; company agrees to refunds04/20/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
American servicemembers have been unwittingly paying millions of dollars in fees to Fort Knox National Company and its subsidiary, Military Assistance Comp...
American servicemembers have been unwittingly paying millions of dollars in fees to Fort Knox National Company and its subsidiary, Military Assistance Company, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) charges.
The bureau charges that the military allotment processor did not clearly disclose recurring fees that could total $100 or more. Under a consent order entered into with the Bureau, Fort Knox National Company and Military Assistance Company will pay about $3.1 million in relief to harmed servicemembers.
“Fort Knox National Company and Military Assistance Company enrolled servicemembers without adequately disclosing their fees, and then charged servicemembers without telling them. As a result, servicemembers paid millions of dollars in fees, probably without even knowing it,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Today we are taking action and others should take note.”
The company is one of the nation’s largest third-party processors of military allotments. The military allotment system allows servicemembers to deduct payments directly from their earnings. The system was created to help deployed servicemembers send money home to their families and pay their creditors at a time when automatic bank payments and electronic transfers were not yet common bank services.
Creditors, such as auto lenders, installment lenders, and retail merchants, have in recent years been known to direct servicemembers to use the system to make loan payments.
Using the Military Assistance Company, known as MAC, servicemembers would set up an allotment that transferred a portion of their pay into a pooled bank account controlled by MAC. Servicemembers would then pay MAC a monthly service charge – typically between $3 and $5 – to have MAC make monthly payments to a creditor out of the account.
On many occasions, however, excess funds accumulated in the payment account, often without servicemembers’ knowledge. An excess, or “residual,” balance might occur, for example, where a debt that a servicemember owed was fully paid off but the servicemember had not yet stopped the automatic paycheck deductions.
The Bureau alleges that from 2010 to 2014, the company routinely charged recurring, undisclosed fees against these residual balances. Tens of thousands of servicemembers had their money slowly drained from their accounts because they were not notified about the charges.
And, since active allotments would replenish the money in the payment account, MAC continued to take such fees in a way that servicemembers could not easily track.
Fort Knox National Company began winding down MAC’s allotment business in 2014. Under the terms of the consent order filed today, Fort Knox National Company and MAC are required to provide about $3.1 million in relief to harmed servicemembers. Servicemembers who may be eligible for relief will be contacted by the Bureau.
Kraft to remove artificial food dyes from its macaroni and cheese
New versions to appear on store shelves by January 201604/20/2015ConsumerAffairs
Kraft Foods announced today that it is changing the recipe of its iconic boxed macaroni and cheese (or “Kraft Dinner,” if you're in Canada)...
Kraft Foods announced today that it is changing the recipe of its iconic boxed macaroni and cheese (or “Kraft Dinner,” if you're in Canada) to replace artificial food dyes with coloring from natural spices, including turmeric, paprika and annatto. The new, naturally colored products are supposed to appear on store shelves starting in January 2016.
The company has already made similar changes to the formulas of its more child-focused offerings; in late 2013, it announced that, due to consumer demand, it was removing Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6 from its cartoon-shaped macaroni and cheese offerings.
Kraft made that change in response to a Change.org petition asking the company to “Stop Using Dangerous Food Dyes In Our Mac & Cheese.” (There is some dispute over whether Yellow Nos. 5 and 6 actually are “dangerous” to humans; however, there’s no disputing that several other countries think those dyes are dangerous, and have banned them as a result.)
Kraft is not the only American food producer to remove artificial dyes in response to consumer demand; in February, the Nestle candy company said it would start removing artificial colors and flavors from its products, too.
People who suffer from food allergies will have to double-check Kraft's new recipes to make sure they're not allergic to any of the natural colorings.
Turmeric can even interact with certain over-the-counter or prescription drugs, including those taken for diabetes or stomach acid reduction, though for the most part, such drug interaction warnings only apply to people taking concentrated doses of turmeric as a medicinal supplement, not to the vastly smaller quantities used to give food a yellow tint.
Rescue groups trying new ways to get homeless animals adopted out
Sleep-overs, cat cafes and workplace visits are among the new strategies04/20/2015ConsumerAffairs
Rescue groups and Humane Societies in different states are getting creative in ways to attract potential adopters. One of the most recent creative spurts ...
Rescue groups and Humane Societies in different states are getting creative in ways to attract potential adopters. One of the most recent creative spurts comes from the Arizona Animal Welfare League. They came with the idea of slumber parties.
Many times when families or even individuals are looking for that special animal to add to their family the expectations are that the little dog or cat will jump right into their arms and give them a big wet sloppy kiss to demonstrate that they are "the one."
It doesn't always work that way because just like people, animals have personalities and some might be the perfect pet for that family but all the commotion of a shelter may inhibit them, and they don't "show" as well as they could.
"We came up with the idea to allow people that were interested in adopting a pet to take it home with them for a few days to see how it's going to work out," said Judith Gardner with the Arizona Animal Welfare League said
The slumber party idea seems to be working because since 2013 they have adopted out more than 1,000 cats and dogs that have had a slumber party with their potential new owner.
The stats aren't too bad -- 73% of the people that take dogs and cats home end up adopting them.
If the animal isn't the right fit, that’s all right also because it gives the agency an idea of exactly what the prospective owner wants and they can match them up better the next time.
Slumber parties aren't the only innovative idea. Cat Cafes have been popular all over the country, and it’s another way of being introduced to a new family member.
Hotels in Georgia have had prospective pets as "house guests." They basically hang around the hotel, available to spend time with guests and even do sleep-overs.
An animal shelter in Florida launched a "Snuggle Delivery" service bringing adoptable puppies and kittens to Broward County workplaces to raise money for homeless animals. Offices must donate a minimum of $150 to get an hour-long puppy or kitten play date during regular business hours. The animals will be available for adoption on the spot. They bring the paperwork and everything.
However it works, if a homeless little dog or cat works its way into a loving home, it's worth the trouble.
Operation RussianDoll exploits zero-day flaw in Adobe Flash and Microsoft Windows
Russian hackers behind scheme to spy on NATO diplomats and U.S. weapon-makers04/20/2015ConsumerAffairs
Over the weekend, researchers at the FireEye cybersecurity firm announced their discovery of zero-day flaws in Adobe Flash and Microsoft Windows, flaws apparently exploited by hackers from a Russian espionage campaign in order to spy on American defense contractors, NATO officials and diplomats, and others in whom Russia's government might take a particular interest.
FireEye nicknamed the campaign “Operation RussianDoll,” and refers to the hackers behind it as Advanced Persistent Threat 28, or APT 28. The official designations for the zero-day flaws themselves are CVE-2015-3043 for Adobe, and CVE-2015-1701 for Microsoft.
On April 18, when it made the announcement, FireEye said Adobe had already independently patched its security hole, and that “While there is not yet a patch available for the Windows vulnerability, updating Adobe Flash to the latest version will render this in-the-wild exploit innocuous. We have only seen CVE-2015-1701 in use in conjunction with the Adobe Flash exploit for CVE-2015-3043.” Windows 8 and later versions are not affected by the flaw.
It's suspected that the APT 28 hackers are connected to or associated with the hackers who breached the State Department and White House computers last year.
The RussianDoll zero-day attacks started April 13 and are still ongoing.
“Zero-day” is tech-speak for any threat that exploits a previously unknown vulnerability, so zero days pass between the discovery of the vulnerability, and the discovery of the attack. (Imagine a homeowner saying “I had no idea that back door even existed – until I discovered burglars walking through it and stealing my stuff.” The back door was a zero-day flaw, the burglary a zero-day exploit.)
Neither U.S. nor Russian government officials have commented on FireEye's announcements yet.
Leading Economic Index up moderately in March
However, weaker growth may lie ahead04/20/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
A closely watched economic prognosticating tool is suggesting continued economic growth, although at a slower pace. The Conference Board says its Leading ...
A closely watched economic prognosticating tool is suggesting continued economic growth, although at a slower pace.
The Conference Board says its Leading Economic Index (LEI) was up 0.2% last month following modest gains dating back to December.
“Although the leading economic index still points to a moderate expansion in economic activity, its slowing growth rate over recent months suggests weaker growth may be ahead,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, Economist at The Conference Board. “Building permits was the weakest component this month, but average working hours and manufacturing new orders have also slowed the LEI’s growth over the last six months.”
The 10 components of The Conference Board Leading Economic Index:
- Average weekly hours, manufacturing
- Average weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance
- Manufacturers’ new orders, consumer goods and materials
- Institute for Supply Management (ISM) Index of New Orders
- Manufacturers' new orders, nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft orders
- Building permits, new private housing units
- Stock prices, 500 common stocks
- Leading Credit Index
- Interest rate spread, 10-year Treasury bonds less federal funds
- Average consumer expectations for business conditions
Dog flu reaching epidemic status in parts of the Midwest
The disease is spreading beyond the Chicago area04/20/2015ConsumerAffairs
The dog flu is reaching epidemic proportions and now has crossed state lines. Originally Chicago was the city hit the hardest but it has spread across the ...
The dog flu is reaching epidemic proportions and now has crossed state lines. Originally Chicago was the city hit the hardest but it has spread across the state and now it has infiltrated into neighboring Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana. The concern that is the virus is a different strain than originally reported.
The Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Lab identified the strain as H3N2, not H3N8 as previously thought. The virus has affected at least 1,000 dogs in all four states. If your dog was inoculated it's possible that the vaccine will not be effective because it is for a totally different strain.
Although the strains are different symptoms remain the same with coughing and sneezing, runny nose and a fever. It is still recommended to get the vaccine because it may provide protection if the other strain is still circulating said Keith Poulsen from the UW veterinary school.
There is no evidence that this virus will be contagious to humans but the H3N2 is contagious to cats.
According to Myfoxchicago.com this new strain likely came from Asia and worked its way into the U.S. There is a small window of time that the dogs are contagious with the virus. So the dog must have hopped a plane on a trip from Asia to the U.S.
It was scientists at Cornell University that discovered we were blaming the wrong strain of virus. This is the first time H3N2 has been identified in North America. The last outbreak of the strain occurred in China and South Korea.
At this moment there haven't been any reports of any cats getting the virus but H3N2 can be transmitted from dogs to cats, but whether cats can transmit it to another animal is not known.
To help prevent the virus from spreading it has been recommended to stay away from dog parks, boarding facilities and groomers.
Possible processing deviation prompts recall of B & R pork products
The product may be contaminated with staphylococcal enterotoxin04/20/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
B & R Meat Processing of Winslow, Ark., is recalling approximately 2,129 pounds of pork products. A possible processing deviation may have led to staphylo...
B & R Meat Processing of Winslow, Ark., is recalling approximately 2,129 pounds of pork products.
A possible processing deviation may have led to staphylococcal enterotoxin contamination.
There are no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.
The following cured and uncured pork items, produced between August 7, 2014, and April 1, 2015, are being recalled:
- 1-lb. cryovac packages of “B & R MEAT PROCESSING CURED HAM PORK SAUSAGE.”
- 1-lb. cryovac packages of “B & R MEAT PROCESSING CURED PORK CANADIAN BACON.”
- 1-lb. cryovac packages of B & R MEAT PROCESSING CURED RATTLESNAKE PORK.”
- 1 to 2-lb. cryovac packages of “B & R MEAT PROCESSING CURED HAM PORK.”
- 0.5 to 1-lb. cryovac packages of “B & R MEAT PROCESSING CURED PORK JOWLS.”
- 1-lb. cryovac packages B & R MEAT PROCESSING CURED AR PORK BACON.”
- 1-lb. cryovac packages of “B & R MEAT PROCESSING UNCURED SMOKED PORK BACON.”
- 0.5 to 1-lb cryovac packages of “B&R MEAT PROCESSING SMOKED PORK JOWLS.”
- 0.5 to 1-lb cryovac packages of “B&R MEAT PROCESSING PORK HOCKS.”
- 1-lb cryovac packages of “B&R MEAT PROCESSING UNCURED PORK CANADIAN BACON.”
- 1-lb cryovac packages of “B&R MEAT PROCESSING CURED BACON PORK”
- 1 to 2-lb cryovac packages of “B&R MEAT PROCESSING UNCURED SMOKED PORK HAM.”
- 1 to 2-lb cryovac packages of “B&R MEAT PROCESSING UNCURED SMOKED PORK AR BACON.”
The recalled products bear the establishment number “Est. 46910” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped to local stores and farmer’s markets in Arkansas.
Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Scott Ridenoure of B&R Meat Processing, at (479) 634-2211.
BMW recalls older Cooper vehicles with air bag issue
The front passenger air bag may not deploy in a crash04/20/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
BMW of North America is recalling 91,800 model year 2005-2006 MINI Cooper and Cooper S vehicles manufactured January 5, 2005, to November 28, 2006, and 200...
BMW of North America is recalling 91,800 model year 2005-2006 MINI Cooper and Cooper S vehicles manufactured January 5, 2005, to November 28, 2006, and 2005-2008 MINI Cooper Convertible and Cooper S Convertible vehicles manufactured January 5, 2005, to July 31, 2008.
Due to manufacturing, installation, and exposure issues, the front passenger seat occupant detection mat may not function properly and, as a result, the front passenger air bag may not deploy in a crash.
Failure of the air bag to deploy increases the passenger's risk of injury.
MINI will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front passenger seat occupant detection mat, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin May 1, 2015.
Owners may contact MINI customer service at 1-866-825-1525.
Civia Cycles Recalls Hyland bicycles,aluminum Civia fenders
The fender mounting bracket can break or bend04/20/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Civia Cycles, of Bloomington, Minn., is recalling about 1,000 Hyland bicycles and aluminum fenders. The fender mounting bracket can break or bend, posing ...
Civia Cycles, of Bloomington, Minn., is recalling about 1,000 Hyland bicycles and aluminum fenders.
The fender mounting bracket can break or bend, posing a fall hazard to the rider.
The company has received 1 report in which a consumer stated that a bracket broke and resulted in the consumer suffering a cervical spine injury and nerve damage.
This recall includes all Civia aluminum fenders sold separately as aftermarket sets and all Civia Hyland bicycles sold with the fenders as original equipment. The recalled fenders are round, designed for use with 700c wheels and tires and have the Civia logo on the front and rear sides of each fender. Fender sets came in black, blue, green, olive, red and silver.
Hyland bicycles came in blue, green, olive and red. The bikes have "Hyland" on the top tube, "Civia" on the down tube and the Civia logo on the seat tube.
The bikes and fenders, manufactured in Taiwan, were sold at independent bicycle retailers nationwide and online from April 2008, through March 2013, for about $60 per Civia fender set and between $1,200 and $4,500 for Civia Hyland bicycles.
Consumers should immediately stop riding bicycles with the recalled fenders and contact an authorized Civia Cycles dealer to receive a $60 credit.
Consumers may contact Civia Cycles toll-free at (877) 311-7686 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. CT Monday through Friday.
Sixty really is the new 40
Researchers say it's time to redefine "old"04/17/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
There used to be an old saying, “you're as old as you feel.” It was normally said by old people trying to convince themselves they weren...
There used to be an old saying, “you're as old as you feel.” It was normally said by old people trying to convince themselves they weren't.
But increasingly science has begun to back that up. Sometimes, you see examples of it in real life – ordinary people active and alert into their 90s. Athletes on the field long after peers from earlier generations would have retired.
In Superbowl 49 last February, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had the game of his career at age 37, and no one is suggesting he is close to hanging up his cleats.
Sergei Scherbov, who led a research team studying how people age, says better health and longer life expectancy has turned ideas about what constitutes “old age” on its head.
Time lived or time left?
"Age can be measured as the time already lived or it can be adjusted taking into account the time left to live,” Scherboy said. “If you don't consider people old just because they reached age 65 but instead take into account how long they have left to live, then the faster the increase in life expectancy, the less aging is actually going on."
Scherboy notes that 200 years ago, a person who reached age 60 was old. Really old. In fact, they had outlived their life expectancy.
"Someone who is 60 years old today, I would argue is middle aged,” he says. "What we think of as old has changed over time, and it will need to continue changing in the future as people live longer, healthier lives."
People in their 60s and beyond may have a few advantages the generations that went before them didn't have. Health care services are better than in the past. There is better knowledge about destructive habits, like smoking and poor diet.
Today's older generation is also wealthier. A 2011 British survey found a third of people in their 60s said they were in the best financial shape of their lives, compared to just 23% of their younger peers. They took more vacations and enjoyed life more.
Organizations like AARP have promoted the idea of active, healthy people in their 60s, 70s or older, encouraging “seniors” to stay engaged both physically and mentally. In many cases that means working longer, if desired. But that can sometimes present a whole different set of problems.
Bill Heacock, who runs his own business as a seminar trainer, is 61 and has no intention of quitting. But he tells AARP he's worried that his much younger clients have a hard time seeing past his gray hair. Yet he eats wisely, runs 20 to 25 miles per week and weighs less than he did in college.
Stony Brook University researcher Warren Sanderson says someone like that should not be considered old.
"The onset of old age is important because it is often used as an indicator of increased disability and dependence, and decreased labor force participation,” he said.
A 2009 Pew Research Center study asked Americans to define when someone is “old.” As you might expect, the answers were wide ranging. Only 32% said when someone hits 65 years of age. Seventy-nine percent replied when someone celebrates their 85th birthday.
Geo-inference attacks: how the websites you visit can tell hackers where you are
There's no perfect protection against this, but clearing your browser history helps04/17/2015ConsumerAffairs
Researchers in Singapore have discovered a serious new threat to personal privacy...
Researchers at the National University of Singapore have discovered a serious new threat to personal privacy in the Internet era: “geo-location inference,” which allows almost anyone with a website to determine the precise location of that site's visitors (from country and city right down to street address), and “geo-inference attacks,” which makes this information available to hackers who can make hyper-precise measurements of the timing of browsers' cache queries.
The full research study, downloadable as a .pdf here, is titled I Know Where You've Been: Geo-Inference Attacks via the Browser Cache. The problem is particularly widespread in the U.S., U.K., Australia, Japan and Singapore, and among users of Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera and Safari browsers.
Head researcher Yaoqi Jia told the Daily Dot that geo-inference attacking is a “new attack” with a “big impact,” and that “It’s the first to utilize timing channels in browsers to infer a user’s geo-location. No existing defenses are efficient to defeat such attacks.” Even the anonymizing network Tor cannot provide perfect protection against it.
What is it?
But what exactly is this problem? Many popular websites are “location-oriented,” which means that different visitors from different locations see different things.
Craigslist lets users narrow their searches by geographical area. Google uses different pages in different countries: Google.com in the United States becomes Google.ca in Canada. And of course, anyone using Google Maps types in all sorts of specific addresses and locations, and Google Maps remembers them all. So does your browser, unless and until you clear your browser history.
You've surely noticed on your own computer or mobile device that, all else being equal, the websites you visit on a regular basis tend to load much faster than some new-to-you website you're visiting for the first time. That's because when you visit your regular sites, your browser saves time by relying partly on its memory cache: the files you see every time you visit a particular website get saved onto your computer or device, so you don't have to re-download them on every subsequent visit.
But this process is not secure, and it does take time. Exactly how much time varies based on many different factors, including your actual physical distance from the website's server.
Suppose that you, and your friend who lives 10 miles away, are both frequent visitors of a website based on the opposite side of the country. (For the sake of this hypothetical, let's also pretend that your computer or mobile device, and your friend's, are alike in every possible way: same connection speeds, same browsing history and memory space, same everything except your geographic locations, which are 10 miles apart.)
As far as your merely human senses can tell, it takes the same amount of time to visit that website from your home computer as it does your friend's. But with a computer's super-human senses, you can see there's actually a time lag – a very noticeable one, if you're measuring in something like fractions of nanoseconds.
That, in a nutshell, is geo-location inference. And when hackers break in and steal this information, that's a “geo-inference attack.” And who exactly is vulnerable to such attacks? According to the researchers, all mainstream-browser users and most popular-website visitors:
all five mainstream browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera and IE) on both desktop and mobile platforms as well as TorBrowser are vulnerable to geo-inference attacks. Meanwhile, 62% of Alexa Top 100 websites are susceptible to geo-inference attacks
So what can you do to protect yourself? Delete your browser cache on a regular basis — and Yaoqi also recommends you “Never give additional permissions to unfamiliar sites or open it for a long time” and “clear [your] cache after visiting a site with your credentials, e.g. online banking sites.” This still leaves users vulnerable while they're actually visiting a website, though: even if you clear your cache immediately after finishing an online session, the cache remains full during the session.
Kelley Blue Book finds 10 winners under $35,00004/17/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Photo credit: BMWMillennials appear content to wait for a lot of things – like getting married. An analysis of Census Bureau data by the Pew ...
Pesticides on fruits and vegetables lower men's sperm count
Switching to organic produce is the easiest way to cut pesticide intake04/17/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Christopher Maynard
It seems that it is becoming more difficult to stay away from chemicals that affect our reproductive systems. Shortly after research showed the negative ef...
It seems that it is becoming more difficult to stay away from chemicals that affect our reproductive systems. Shortly after research showed the negative effects that DEHP has on women, a new study shows that pesticides are hurting men in similar ways.
Research shows that men who eat fruits and vegetables with high levels of pesticides have a lower sperm count and less normal sperm than men who do not.
Jorge Chavarro, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology, highlights the importance of the study. “To our knowledge, this is the first report to link consumption of pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables, a primary exposure route for most people, to an adverse reproductive health outcome in humans,” he says.
Researchers collected data from the samples of over 150 men from 2007-2012. Results showed that men who ate pesticide-rich fruits and vegetables (more than 1.5 servings per day) had 49% lower sperm counts and 32% lower percentages of normal sperm than men who ate lesser amounts (less than 0.5 servings per day).
Despite these frightening numbers, Chavarro is adamant that people not forsake fruits and vegetables altogether.
“These findings should not discourage the consumption of fruits and vegetables in general…In fact, we found that consuming more fruits and vegetables with low pesticide residues was beneficial,” he said.
Chavarro goes on to say that picking the right kinds of fruits and vegetables will go a long way. He suggests avoiding foods with typically high levels of pesticides -- such as strawberries, spinach, apples, pears, and peppers. Instead, he urges people to buy these and other foods if they are grown organically.
The study was released in the journal Human Reproduction on March 30th, 2015.
Verizon FiOS begins unwinding the cable bundle
Slimmed-down program packages starting at $55 a month04/17/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
With consumers fleeing to streaming video sources like Netflix, cable companies clearly see the writing on the wall. Verizon FiOS today took the biggest st...
With consumers fleeing to streaming video sources like Netflix, cable companies clearly see the writing on the wall. Verizon FiOS today took the biggest step so far towards unwinding the cable programming bundles that charge consumers for channels they may never watch.
Beginning Sunday, Verizon said, it will offer FiOS Custom TV, starting at $55 a month, not including Internet or telephone service. It will offer a slimmed-down assortment of 35 programming packages with no long-term contract commitment.
Besides the basic package, which includes CNN, HGTV and AMC, customers can select two of seven genre-specific packages — like sports, children or entertainment — that include about 10 to 17 additional channels as part of the basic package. Additional packages are available for $10 a month.
Verizon's current typical cable package is about $90 a month.
The FiOS offering is the latest in a growing assortment of plans from program producers and distributors including CBS, HBO, Dish Network and Sony.
College & pro sports
Verizon has also announced new wireless service focused on college and pro sports, available later this year to Verizon Wireless customers who have a data plan.
“Sports fans are some of the most passionate around, and they never want to miss a single play,” said Terry Denson, vice president, content acquisition and strategy at Verizon. “With consumers – especially younger consumers – demanding access to entertainment and information that matters to them, whenever and wherever they are, college sports with all of its live programming and networks targeted to millennials are a natural fit for any mobile-first video platform.”
Bundles and bundles
While consumers are champing at the bit to disassemble bundles in an attempt to save money, it's not yet clear what the final results of all this unbundling will be.
With streaming video packages costing $10 and up, it doesn't take long to get back to the $90 that industry watchers say is the average household cable expenditure.
It's entirely possible consumers will wind up spending more to put together their own packages but the psychological satisfaction of doing so may outweigh the additional costs.
The picture is not so bright for the cable channels that appeal to niche audiences. Those channels are now included in the bundles lashed together by cable companies. As unbundling progresses, the smaller channels may go the way of the afternoon newspaper.
Food journaling not as easy or effective as it should be: study
Technology makes it easier but it still has a long way to go04/17/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Christopher Maynard
Photo: FatSecret.com Everyone should strive to make better health choices. Current technology has made this easier through the creation of various a...
Everyone should strive to make better health choices. Current technology has made this easier through the creation of various apps and online programs, but there is still a long way to go before some technologies are optimized.
A recent joint study conducted by the University of Washington and the Georgia Institute of Technology shows that food journaling still has a long way to go.
The study showed that logging meals in programs such as MyFitnessPal, FatSecret, and CalorieCount was much more difficult than it should be. This conclusion stems from a couple of causes.
Journalers reported that these programs were not always reliable when it came to logging food. Many databases contained inaccuracies, such as common foods not being listed or multiple listings being posted for a single food. This made it difficult to log the information accurately.
For many people, it simply became easier to log foods that were well-known, even if they weren’t necessarily the best foods to eat. Researchers found that pre-packaged and fast foods were much easier to log into the databases when compared to homemade foods.
Just scan a code
One respondent to the study stated that it was much easier to “scan a code on some processed stuff and be done with it.” This undermines the overarching goal of these programs, which is to allow people to make healthier choices.
Another problem found within the programs was the lack of a solid social dynamic. Many food journalers use this technology to create social connections with people who have similar food goals. But because of the difficulty that many users faced in logging their food, many people simply gave up and stopped using their program. This led to diminished comments and journaling, which negatively impacted the progress of those who remained.
Although these issues are problematic, researchers were able to provide several recommendations that could lead to improvement. One of these was the idea of designing more goal-specific systems.
James Fogarty, a researcher for the study, says that food journals have the potential to make a difference for many people, but there certainly need to be changes. He cautions against programs that attempt to “capture the elusive ‘everything’”. Instead, he suggests that programs create “a diversity of journal designs to support specific goals”.
Other suggestions included integrating reputation systems so that users could filter for their specific needs and vote on the accuracy of entries. This initial research has launched additional studies on how to create more journaling solutions in the future.
Consumer prices post second consecutive gain
An increase in energy costs offset a decline in food prices04/17/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Rising energy costs pushed consumer prices higher in March for the second increase in two months. Figures from the Labor Department (DOL) show the Consume...
Rising energy costs pushed consumer prices higher in March for the second increase in two months.
Figures from the Labor Department (DOL) show the Consumer Price Index (CPI) inched up 0.2% last month following an identical increase in February. Over the last 12 months, though, the CPI has dipped 0.1%.
Energy and food
Energy prices jumped 1.1% on top of February’s 1.1% advance. Gasoline prices shot up 3.9%, fuel oil surged 5.9%, while natural gas declined 2.7% and electricity fell 1.1%.
Food prices, on the other hand, dipped 0.2%, wiping out an 0.2% increase in February. Five of the 6 major grocery store food group indexes declined, with fruits and vegetables down 1.4%, nonalcoholic beverages off 0.6%, and dairy and related products along with meats, poultry, fish, and eggs down 0.5%. Beef and veal prices, however, rose01.% -- the 14th monthly increase in a row.
For March, the “core” rate of inflation -- all items less the volatile food and energy categories -- increased 0.2%. A major factor was a 1.2% advance in prices for for used cars and trucks and a 0.3% increase in the cost of shelter. Airline fares, in contrast, plunged 1.7% after rising in February.
Over the past 12 months, the core rate of inflation is up 1.8%, compared with the 1.7% increase for the 12 months ending February.
The complete CPI report for March is available on the DOL website.
The supposedly "all-natural" supplements were promoted as weight-loss aids04/17/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
"Lose weight without changing your diet!" boasts Floyd Nutrition's website, where it offers a supposed free trial of "Pure Asian Garcini...
Rotten eggs lead to prison sentences
Quality Egg LLC executives sentenced for distributing salmonella-infected eggs04/17/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
An egg rancher and a top executive of his company have each been sentenced to three months in federal prison for knowingly distributing eggs infected with ...
An egg rancher and a top executive of his company have each been sentenced to three months in federal prison for knowingly distributing eggs infected with salmonella.
Austin “Jack” DeCoster, 81, of Turner, Maine, who owned Quality Egg, was sentenced to serve three months in prison to be followed by one year of supervised release, and fined $100,000. His son, Peter DeCoster, 51, of Clarion, Iowa, who was Quality Egg’s chief operating officer, was also sentenced to serve three months in prison to be followed by one year of supervised release, and fined $100,000.
Quality Egg was sentenced to pay a fine of $6.79 million and placed on probation for three years. All three defendants were ordered to make restitution in the total amount of $83,008.19. Quality Egg also agreed to forfeit $10,000 as part of its plea agreement with the government.
The defendants were sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Mark W. Bennett in the Northern District of Iowa.
Quality Egg had earlier pleaded guilty to one count of bribery of a public official, one count of introducing a misbranded food into interstate commerce with intent to defraud and one count of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce. Jack and Peter DeCoster each pleaded guilty to one count of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce.
In plea agreements, the company and the father and son admitted that the company’s eggs contained Salmonella Enteriditis.
During the spring and summer of 2010, adulterated eggs produced and distributed by Quality Egg were linked to approximately 1,939 reported consumer illnesses in several states — a nationwide outbreak of salmonellosis that led to the August 2010 recall of millions of eggs produced by the defendants.
“The message this prosecution and sentence sends is a stern one to anyone tempted to place profits over people’s welfare,” said the U.S. Attorney Kevin W. Techau of the Northern District of Iowa. “Corporate officials are on notice. If you sell contaminated food you will be held responsible for your conduct. Claims of ignorance or 'I delegated the responsibility to someone else’ will not shield them from criminal responsibility.”
Prosecutors said that Quality Egg personnel had, for years, disregarded food safety standards and practices and misled major customers, including Walmart, about the company’s food safety practices.
The mowers were assembled with an incorrect blade driver and blade combination04/17/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
The Toro Company of Bloomington, Minn., is recalling about 800 walk behind power mowers. The mowers were assembled with an incorrect blade driver and blad...
B & R Meat Processing recalls pork products
Nitrite levels exceed regulatory limit04/17/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
B & R Meat Processing is recalling approximately 569 pounds of pork products. The product contains levels of Nitrites that exceed regulatory levels. The...
B & R Meat Processing is recalling approximately 569 pounds of pork products.
The product contains levels of Nitrites that exceed regulatory levels.
The following products, produced on various dates from July 1, 2014, through October 7, 2014, are being recalled:
- 1-2 lb cryovac packages of cured ham with production dates of 7/1/14 to 7/25/14
- 1-15 lb cryovac packages of cured bacon with production dates of 7/1/14 to 10/7/14
- 1 lb cryovac packages of cured jowls with production dates of 7/1/14 to 7/25/14
The recalled products bear the establishment number “Est.46910” inside the USDA mark of inspection and were shipped to retail outlets in the state of Arkansas.
Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Scott Ridenoure at B & R Meat Processing at (479) 634-2211.
Husky vertical bike hooks recalled
The mounted bike hooks can detach unexpectedly04/17/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Waterloo Industries of Waterloo, Iowa, is recalling about 120,000 Husky Securelock vertical bike hooks in the U.S. and Canada.. The mounted bike hooks can...
Waterloo Industries of Waterloo, Iowa, is recalling about 120,000 Husky Securelock vertical bike hooks in the U.S. and Canada.
The mounted bike hooks can detach unexpectedly, allowing the bike to fall posing a risk of injury to bystanders.
The firm has received 22 reports of the bike hooks falling from the mounted Trackwall, including 12 reports of property damage to bicycles and/or nearby vehicles. No injuries have been reported.
This recall involves Husky Securelock vertical bike hooks used with a Husky Trackwall garage storage system. The 3 by 3.5-inch black metal plate is mounted to the grooves in the Trackwall and the bike’s tire is attached to a hook protruding from the plate.
There are no markings on the hook. The Trackwall has “Husky” printed on the lower left corner. The hook holds up to a 35 pound bike.
The bike hooks, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at Home Depot stores nationwide from April 2011, to March 2015, for about $9.
Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled hooks and return them to the nearest Home Depot store for a full refund.
Consumers may contact Waterloo Industries at (800) 833-8851 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.
E-cigarette use tripled among teens -- a "staggering" increase, CDC reports
"A wake-up call that more and more of our kids are becoming addicted"04/16/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
Federal health officials lit a match today that ignited a firestorm on both sides of the vaping divide, reporting that current e-cigarette use among middle...
Federal health officials lit a match today that ignited a firestorm on both sides of the vaping divide, reporting that current e-cigarette use among middle and high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) called the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration "a wake-up call to all of us that more and more of our kids are becoming addicted to e-cigarettes.
"If e-cigarette companies are serious about helping people quit smoking, they must stop targeting our kids with their products and pull their advertisements from television," Boxer said.
The American Vaping Association -- an industry group -- in effect labeled the report a smokescreen and interpreted the numbers to indicate that "as youth experimentation with vaping has grown, teen smoking has declined at a rate faster than ever before."
The annual study found that current e-cigarette use (use on at least 1 day in the past 30 days) among high school students increased from 4.5% in 2013 to 13.4% in 2014, rising from approximately 660,000 to 2 million students. Among middle school students, current e-cigarette use more than tripled from 1.1% in 2013 to 3.9% in 2014 — an increase from approximately 120,000 to 450,000 students.
E-cigs now top tobacco product
This is the first time since the survey started collecting data on e-cigarettes in 2011 that current e-cigarette use has surpassed current use of every other tobacco product overall, including conventional cigarettes, the CDC said.
“We want parents to know that nicotine is dangerous for kids at any age, whether it’s an e-cigarette, hookah, cigarette or cigar,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Adolescence is a critical time for brain development. Nicotine exposure at a young age may cause lasting harm to brain development, promote addiction, and lead to sustained tobacco use.”
Hookah smoking roughly doubled for middle and high school students in the study, while cigarette use declined among high school students and remained unchanged for middle school students. Among high school students, current hookah use rose from 5.2% in 2013 (about 770,000 students) to 9.4% in 2014 (about 1.3 million students).
The increases in e-cigarette and hookah use offset declines in use of more traditional products such as cigarettes and cigars. There was no decline in overall tobacco use between 2011 and 2014. Overall rates of any tobacco product use were 24.6 % for high school students and 7.7 % for middle school students in 2014.
“In today’s rapidly evolving tobacco marketplace, the surge in youth use of novel products like e-cigarettes forces us to confront the reality that the progress we have made in reducing youth cigarette smoking rates is being threatened,” said Mitch Zeller, J.D., director of FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. “These staggering increases in such a short time underscore why FDA intends to regulate these additional products to protect public health.”
Cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, roll-your-own tobacco and smokeless tobacco are currently subject to FDA’s tobacco control authority. The agency currently is finalizing the rule to bring additional tobacco products such as e-cigarettes, hookahs and some or all cigars under that same authority.
Sen. Boxer would like to see things move along a bit faster. In March, she sent a letter to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg along with a petition urging the agency to finalize a rule to regulate e-cigarettes and protect public health.
Yesterday, she wrote to the executives of five of the largest e-cigarette manufacturers urging them to refrain from advertising e-cigarettes on television, citing the effects of e-cigarette advertising on young people.
The Vaping Association, meanwhile, claimed the CDC's figures -- showing a huge increase in vaping and a decline in smoking by high school students -- amounted to evidence that vaping was helping students resist the urge to smoke cigarettes.
"While no vaping or smoking by teens is obviously the ideal, we do not live in a perfect world. There remains no evidence that e-cigarettes are acting as gateway products for youth. In fact, this study and others suggest that the availability of vapor products has acted as a deterrent for many teenagers and potentially kept them away from traditional cigarettes," said Gregory Conley, the group's president.
Ohio State researchers explore psychological effects of acetaminophen04/16/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in pain relievers like Tylenol, can have well-known physical side-effects. According to the National Institutes of Hea...
Senators introduce Data Security Act: banks like it, consumer advocates do not
Law would weaken currently existing levels of consumer and privacy protection, critics argue04/16/2015ConsumerAffairs
This week, Senators Tom Carper (D-Delaware) and Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) introduced the Data Security Act of 2015...
This week, Senators Tom Carper (D-Delaware) and Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) introduced the Data Security Act of 2015, which is similar to the Data Security Acts the two senators proposed in 2012 and 2014.
If passed into law, the bill would require that companies who lost customer data to hackers let customers know within 30 days that their credit or debit cards have been compromised, and establish other rules as well.
For the most part, card-issuing institutions such as banks and credit unions support Carper and Blunt's bill, yet privacy and consumer-rights advocates worry that the proposal as currently written would actually weaken the amount of protection consumers currently have, by overriding stronger state-level consumer-protection laws and by eliminating certain national-level protections currently in place.
Weaker in some ways
Card-issuing institution incur massive costs anytime a major hacking compromises their cards en masse. The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) called the Data Security Act “much-needed legislation” that would “protect the sensitive financial information of American people by establishing a national standard for data security, protection and consumer notification.”
Yet that national standard, at least in some respects, would arguably be weaker than some standards which currently exist. For example: the language of the bill, as written, says that companies do not have to disclose security breaches to their customers if the companies discover that “there is no reasonable risk of identity theft, economic loss, economic harm, or financial fraud.” Currently, companies must notify consumers of data breaches, whether they cause financial harm or not.
Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois), speaking against the bill, told theWashington Post. “Fifty-one states or territories have some sort of data protection legislation on the books -- 38 would see the data protection breach notification diminished in some way because this is a preemption law.”
Yet that patchwork of varying state- or territorial-level laws is exactly why the bill's supporters want a single unifying national standard. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vermont), one of the bill's co-sponsors, said that right now, if a customer in one state is affected when hackers breach security at a company based in another state, it's not certain which state actually has jurisdiction. “I am usually, almost uniformly opposed to preemption — but this is an instance where unless you have a national standard you won't have protection,” he said.
On the other hand, under the current standard, companies in such situations generally adhere to the stronger of the two states' laws, which again hearkens back to the argument that this proposed bill would actually weaken consumer protections.
Airline service declined in 2014
Annual rating finds worst showing since 200904/16/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
What defines a good airline? Different consumers will have different opinions but most might agree that taking off and landing on time and not losing your ...
What defines a good airline? Different consumers will have different opinions but most might agree that taking off and landing on time and not losing your luggage rank pretty high as criteria.
Beyond that, consumers no longer expect a free lunch or much of anything for free. Expectations have fallen pretty low in the last decade.
So it was interesting when Wichita State University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University issued their annual Airline Quality Rating (AQR). According to the rating, only 3 of 12 U.S. airlines improved their performance in the last 12 months. One held steady while the remaining 8 declined.
Virgin America on top
Virgin America came out on top for the third straight year, largely on its record of keeping denied boardings to a minimum. In other words, if you booked a Virgin America flight, you had a good chance of not being bumped.
Virgin America’s involuntary denied boarding performance was just 0.09 per 10,000 passengers in 2014, the best of all the airlines. The industry average was 0.92.
Virgin's consumer complaint rate is also lower than the industry average, perhaps because its mishandled bag rate was the lowest in the industry. Its lost or mishandled luggage rate was 0.95 per 1,000 passengers. The industry average was 3.62.
Virgin America's one decline was its on-time performance, a drop from the previous year.
If getting there on time was your primary objective, you might have been better off flying Hawaiian Airlines. Its 2014 on-time performance was the best of the airlines that were rated. That helped make Hawaiian Airlines number 2 in the ratings.
Delta Airlines was the highest-rated legacy airline, moving up one notch from fourth to third place. Oddly, Delta moved up despite a decline in on-time performance, an increase in mishandled luggage and a rise in customer complaints. A drop in denied boardings was its only gain.
Of course, performance is all a matter of what you're comparing it to.
“The Airline Quality Rating industry score for 2014 shows an industry that declined in overall performance quality over the previous year,” the authors write. As an industry, performance in 2014 was worse than the previous four years. The AQR score for 2014 was a return to levels seen in 2009.”
In other words the airline industry, after managing to improve since the recession, appears to have take a step backward. Wichita State's Dean Headley says consumers should take that as a red flag. For airlines, he says it means working harder to compete for customer loyalty.
“Bigger isn’t always better, and the downturn in performance suggests that customer perceptions of poor outcomes are warranted,” said Headley.
Study co-researcher Brent Bowen, dean of the College of Aviation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Prescott, Ariz., campus, believes much of the problem can be traced to airline mergers and consolidations. He notes the airlines promised consolidation would improve service but that hasn't been the case. The one possible exception – Delta.
“Delta is an excellent example of a merger that declined in performance and systematically has clawed its way back to a new high level of quality performance,” Bowen said. “This shows that if an airline commits to improving their AQR rating, they can do it.”
Meanwhile, Bowen says the airline industry is doing quite well in terms of profits. It's evident, he says, they aren't investing in customer service and restoring employee concessions given up during the economic decline.
In network-security terms: We have met the enemy, and he is us04/16/2015ConsumerAffairs
Verizon released its 2015 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) this week and the results are neither surprising nor encouraging: most major security br...
Plasticizing agents dangerous to the female reproduction system
Researchers warn that many low doses are as dangerous as a few large doses04/16/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Christopher Maynard
As consumers, we are faced with decisions every day as to what products we need to buy. Unfortunately, new evidence shows that some of these products could...
As consumers, we are faced with decisions every day as to what products we need to buy. Unfortunately, new evidence shows that some of these products could be severely inhibiting our reproductive health.
Research shows that the phthalate DEHP, which is a plasticizing agent used in upholstery, baby toys, building materials and many other consumer products, is harming the female reproductive system. The chemicals in these products are disrupting the growth and function of the ovaries.
Specifically, these chemicals affect the follicles in the adult ovary in a negative way. Exposure to DEHP degrades them over time and inhibits the production of hormones that would regulate their growth. Jodi Flaws, a bioscience professor, explains why these follicles are so important.
“The follicles are the structures that contain the egg, and if you’re killing those, you may have fertility issues,” she says. “The bottom line is that DEHP may damage the follicles and impair the ability of the ovary to make sex steroids like estrogens and androgens, which are really important for reproduction.”
Low doses no better
Flaws’ research is ongoing, and is looking at the problem from a “real world” perspective. She explains that exposure to low doses of DEHP, which are typical in everyday life, can be just as damaging as the high doses.
"Sometimes it's at the low doses that you have the most profound effects, and that's what we're seeing with the phthalates," she said. Her research, amongst other similar initiatives, is being funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences at the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Target offers $19 million to MasterCard issuers to settle 2013 data breach
Separate settlement with Visa issuers still in the works04/16/2015ConsumerAffairs
Target continues sweeping up the fallout from the massive 2013 data breach...
Target continues sweeping up the fallout from the massive data breach which compromised the credit or debit card information of 40 million Target customers in late 2013.
On April 15 the retailer agreed to reimburse a total of $19 million to various financial institutions who issued MasterCard-branded cards compromised in the breach.
The company is negotiating a separate settlement with the issuers of Visa-branded cards.
This is not the first payment Target has incurred over the hacking. Last month, the company offered to pay $10 million to settle a class action suit brought by individual consumers who lost time and/or money after their cards were compromised at Target.
The current settlement offer with various MasterCard issuers is meant to cover the costs incurred by having to cancel and re-issue compromised cards.
(According to the Credit Union National Association, as of late 2014, the average cost for an issuing institution to replace a card was $8.02, which includes re-issuing the card itself, paying for fraudulent charges, and paying the additional staff costs required to monitor customer accounts, notify customers as necessary, and related costs.)
As off press time, Target's $19 million offer has not formally been accepted; acceptance is contingent upon approval of 90% of eleigible account holders. (On a similar note, last month's $10 million offer to settle a class-action suit is also pending approval, this time from a federal judge.) In order for the $19 million MasterCard deal to go through, Target will need approval to make payment on or before May 20.
A rebound in new home construction
Initial jobless claims moved higher04/16/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
New home construction bounced back in last month from the horrendous side of more than 15% it suffered during February. According to a joint release from ...
New home construction bounced back in last month from the horrendous side of more than 15% it suffered during February.
According to a joint release from the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, privately-owned housing starts rose 2.0% in March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 926,000. Nonetheless, the rate is 2.5% below the March 2014 rate of 950,000.
Single-family home construction was a major factor, with an increase of 4.4% -- to a rate of 618,000. The March rate for units in buildings with 5 units or more was 287,000 down 22,000 from the previous month.
Construction of new homes authorized by building permits in March fell 5.7%,to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,039,000, but is 2.9% above the March 2014 level.
Permits for single-family home construction jumped 2.1%, while apartment building permits were down 72,000 -- to a rate of 378,000.
The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.
Initial jobless claims
Separately, the government reports first-time applications for state unemployment benefits shot higher last week, confounding economists from Briefing.com who were forecasting a decline.
According to the Labor Department (DOL), initial jobless claims jumped 12,000 in the week ending April 11 to a seasonally adjusted 294,000 from the previous week's revised level of 282,000.
The 4-week moving average, which is less volatile than the weekly tally, and considered a better gauge of the labor market was dropped by 250 to 282,750. That's a level unseen since December 2000.
The full report may be found on the DOL website.
The herbal product is imported from Hong Kong04/16/2015ConsumerAffairs
A new alert issued by the FDA warns of lead in Bo-Ying Compound, an herbal product promoted as useful in treating a wide variety of conditions in...
Bankruptcy judge blocks large group of GM ignition-linked lawsuits
The ruling affects claims from accidents that occurred prior to 200904/16/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
The ruling does not affect class-action claims on behalf of customers whose accidents occurred after the 2009 bankruptcy filing. That case is moving...
A federal judge has given General Motors the key to lock out some claims by consumers seeking damages tied to faulty ignition switches in millions of Chevrolet Cobalts and other vehicles.
U.S. Bankrutcy Judge Robert Gerber ruled that GM can use its 2009 bankruptcy to shield it from many claims on behalf of 84 people who were killed and 157 seriously injured in accidents blamed on the switches, as well as from lawsuits filed by customers who said their car's value had been harmed by the defect.
Gerber said in a 134-page ruling that there was no evidence GM committed fraud during its bankruptcy claims, saying that GM executives did not know how serious the problem was until 2013.
It had been predicted that lawsuits against GM could total as much as $10 billion if allowed to go to trial.
The ruling does not affect class-action claims on behalf of customers whose accidents occurred after the 2009 bankruptcy filing. That case is moving forward, with GM executives expected to begin giving depositions next month.
GM recalled 2.6 million Cobalts and other vehicles in 2014 after a series of accidents that occurred when the defect switches caused engines to cut out, leaving the drivers without power steering or brakes.
GM has set up a victim's compensation fund to settle death and injury claims, including those submitted by customers who -- under the judge's ruling -- will not be able to sue.
Spring buying season boosts builder confidence
It's the first gain in 4 months04/16/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
It appears that all it takes is a little good weather to boost the spirits of home builders. According to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells ...
It appears that all it takes is a little good weather to boost the spirits of home builders.
According to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI), builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes rose 4 points in April to a level of 56.
“As the spring buying season gets underway, home builders are confident that current low interest rates and continued job growth will draw consumers to the market,” said NAHB Chairman Tom Woods, a home builder from Blue Springs, Mo.
The NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next 6 months as “good,” “fair” or “poor.” The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average” or “low to very low.”
Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.
All 3 HMI components registered gains this month. The component charting sales expectations in the next 6 months jumped 5 points to 64, the index measuring buyer traffic increased 4 points to 41, and the component gauging current sales conditions was up 3 points to 61.
“The HMI component index measuring future sales expectations rose 5 points in April to its highest level of the year,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “This uptick shows builders are feeling optimistic that the housing market will continue to strengthen throughout 2015.”
Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the South rose 1 point to 56 and the Northwest held steady at 42. The Midwest fell by 2 points to 54 and the West dropped 3 points to 58.
Volkswagen recalls Routans
The vehicles have an electrical defect04/16/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 20,676 model year 2009 Routan vehicles manufactured June 25, 2008, to June 10, 2009, and 2010 Routan vehicles manu...
Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 20,676 model year 2009 Routan vehicles manufactured June 25, 2008, to June 10, 2009, and 2010 Routan vehicles manufactured October 1, 2009, to August 11, 2010.
The vehicles have a defect that can affect the safe operation of the airbag system.
If the ignition key inadvertently moves into the OFF or ACCESSORY position, the engine will turn off, which will then depower various key safety systems including -- but not limited to -- air bags, power steering, and power braking. Loss of functionality of these systems may increase the risk of crash and/or increase the risk of injury in the event of a crash.
Until this recall is performed, customers should remove all items from their key rings, leaving only the ignition key. The key fob (if applicable), should also be removed from the key ring. Road conditions or some other jarring event may cause the ignition switch to move out of the run position, turning off the engine.
Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will replace the ignition switch and key fobs, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in April 2015 for 2009 Routan vehicles, and in August 2015 for 2010 Routan vehicles. Owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at 1-800-822-8987. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 28H1.
Cycle Gear recalls semi truck and motorcycle toys
The toys contain excessive levels of lead04/16/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Cycle Gear of Benicia, Calif., is recalling about 155 sets of Wheelies semi-truck with 6 motorcycles and push-along motorcycle with rider. The toys contai...
Cycle Gear of Benicia, Calif., is recalling about 155 sets of Wheelies semi-truck with 6 motorcycles and push-along motorcycle with rider.
The toys contain excessive levels of lead, which is a violation of the federal standard for lead content.
No incidents or injuries have been reported.
This recall involves plastic Wheelies semi-truck with 6 motorcycles toy and Wheelies push-along motorcycle toys. The semi-truck has a dual-level trailer that carries six motorcycles and comes in red and purple with multi-colored motorcycles. The truck with the trailer attached measures 18 inches long by 7 inches tall.
The truck has the item number Item # TAG66767 and SKU# 752249 printed on the packaging. The Wheelies push-along motorcycle is red with a rider in black with silver accents. The product has item # TBG04323 and SKU# 752251 printed on the package.
The toys, manufactured in China, were sold at Cycle Gear stores and online at www.cyclegear.com from November 2014, through December 2014, for about $10 for Push Along Motorcycle and $20 for Semi-Truck with six motorcycles.
Consumers should immediately take away from children and stop using the recalled toys and contact Cycle Gear Inc. for a full refund. Cycle Gear Inc. is contacting consumers directly.
Consumers may contact Cycle Gear at (800) 292-5343 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.
Toyota recalls Scion tC vehicles
The vehicles have a suspension issue04/16/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. is recalling approximately 114 model year 2015 Scion tC Release Series 9 vehicles. The rear suspension arm bolts and nuts could...
Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. is recalling approximately 114 model year 2015 Scion tC Release Series 9 vehicles.
The rear suspension arm bolts and nuts could have been tightened improperly at two of the Toyota facilities at which accessory coil springs are installed prior to delivery to dealers. In this condition, the bolts could become loose during vehicle operation. Under some circumstances the control arm could eventually detach, increasing the risk of a crash.
Toyota says it is unaware of any accidents or injuries caused by this condition.
Vehicle owners will receive a notification by first class mail, and Toyota dealers will replace the bolts, nuts, rear suspension arms and rear suspension member sub-assemblies.
Consumers may call Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331.
Buy4easy recalls full face helmets with visors
The helmets failed the penetration test04/16/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Buy4easy is recalling 786 TMS JX-A5005 full face helmets with visors, size XL, manufactured June 1, 2013, to July 15, 2013. The recalled motorcycle helme...
Buy4easy is recalling 786 TMS JX-A5005 full face helmets with visors, size XL, manufactured June 1, 2013, to July 15, 2013.
The recalled motorcycle helmets failed the penetration test, and the helmet label does not meet Department of Transportation regulations.
The wearer of this helmet may not be properly protected in the event of vehicle crash.
The remedy for this recall is still under development. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.
Owners may contact Buy4easy customer service at 1-626-388-9898.
Chrysler recalls Dodge Vipers
The driver or passenger door may open unexpectedly04/16/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 1,451 model year 2013-2014 Dodge Vipers manufactured October 1, 2012, to February 6, 2014. Moisture may get into the d...
Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 1,451 model year 2013-2014 Dodge Vipers manufactured October 1, 2012, to February 6, 2014.
Moisture may get into the door switch, resulting in the driver or passenger door opening unexpectedly while the vehicle is in motion, increasing the risk of a crash and injury.
Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the door handle assemblies and top covers, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin May 18, 2015.
Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is R14.
Cell phones have a nifty feature your landline phone doesn't04/15/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Telemarketers have had a much harder time of it in recent years. Millions of consumers have registered their home phones on the Federal Trade Commission...
A reader asks about a close call with a con artist04/15/2015ConsumerAffairs
If you're looking for work in this economy you know you must be careful, because there exist plenty of scammers, thieves and con artists using fake job...
Corinthian Colleges fined $30 million for misrepresenting job placement rates
Heald Colleges ordered to stop enrolling new students04/15/2015ConsumerAffairs
The Department of Education has levied a $30 million fine against Corinthian Colleges, Inc. after an investigation “confirmed cases” that ...
The Department of Education has levied a $30 million fine against Corinthian Colleges, Inc. after an investigation “confirmed cases” that the company misrepresented the schools' job placement rates to current and prospective students of Corinthian-owned Heald Colleges.
The DoE agreement also forbids Heald from enrolling any more students, and requires the school to help current students either complete their education or continue it elsewhere.
According to the DoE, Corinthian's deceptive practices include paying temporary employment agencies to hire graduates for on-campus jobs lasting as little as two days, so that Heald could then count those students as having found work in their field after graduation.
Such allegations against the company are nothing new. The DoE's fine is merely the latest in a series of legal actions taken against the embattled chain of for-profit colleges.
Last September, when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued Corinthian for predatory lending, the charges included allegations that the company would pay temp agencies to hire Corinthian grads to inflate the schools' placement rates, and also that the company promised good “career” options to graduates of Corinthian-owned Everest, WyoTech or Heald schools, yet Corinthian counted as a “career” any job lasting only one day, so long as there was the possibility of a second day of work.
In February, Corinthian students who'd taken out “Genesis” private loans got a collective $480 million in debt relief, resulting in debt reductions of up to 40 percent.
The schools' reputation among some groups is so unsavory that earlier this month, the attorneys general of nine states urged the federal government to forgive the federal debt burdens incurred by students holding the overpriced and worthless degrees.
And this week, when the Department of Education announced the $30 million fine against Corinthian, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement that “This should be a wake-up call for consumers across the country about the abuses that can exist within the for-profit college sector. We will continue to hold the career college industry accountable and demand reform for the good of students and taxpayers. And we will need Congress to join us in that effort.”
"Violent students' and taxpayers' trust"
The DoE's investigation found that Corinthian had badly mislead potential and current students of Heald Colleges, to the point where the students might not have enrolled in that school at all, had they known the truth.
U.S. Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell said in a statement, “Instead of providing clear and accurate information to help students choose which college to attend, Corinthian violated students' and taxpayers' trust. Their substantial misrepresentations evidence a blatant disregard not just for professional standards, but for students' futures.”
Among other things, the Department's investigation found that Heald paid companies to hire graduates for temporary positions lasting as little as two days, performing such basic tasks as moving computers and organizing cables, then counted those graduates as “placed in field.” Heald also counted obvious out-of-field jobs as in-field placements, including one graduate of an accounting program whose food-service job at Taco Bell was counted as “in-field” work.
In addition, the DoE said, “Heald College failed to disclose that it counted as 'placed' those graduates whose employment began prior to graduation, and in some cases even prior to the graduate's attendance at Heald.”
Like that Accounting graduate working at Taco Bell: she graduated from Heald in 2011 but had started at Taco Bell five years earlier, in June 2006.
A Corinthian spokesperson said in a statement that the Department of Education's conclusions were “highly questionable” and “unfounded,” and that “These unfounded, punitive actions do nothing to advance quality education … but would certainly shatter the dreams and aspirations of Heald students and the careers of its employees.” The spokesperson also said that Corinthian plans to appeal.
Fish oil "vitally important" to the developing brain
Supplements may not help adults but they're important for prenatal development04/15/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
Fish oil supplements may not do much for your heart, recent studies have suggested, but UC Irvine scientists say the fatty acids they contain are vitally i...
Fish oil supplements may not do much for your heart, recent studies have suggested, but UC Irvine scientists say the fatty acids they contain are vitally important to the developing brain.
The findings suggest that it's important for pregnant women to maintain a diet rich in those fatty acids during pregnancy and for their babies after birth.
In the study appearing today in The Journal of Neuroscience, UCI neurobiologists report that dietary deficiencies in the type of fatty acids found in fish and other foods can limit brain growth during fetal development and early in life.
Susana Cohen-Cory, professor of neurobiology & behavior, and colleagues identified for the first time how deficits in what are known as n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids cause molecular changes in the developing brain that result in constrained growth of neurons and the synapses that connect them.
These fatty acids are precursors of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which plays a key role in the healthy creation of the central nervous system. In their study, which used female frogs and tadpoles, the UCI researchers were able to see how DHA-deficient brain tissue fostered poorly developed neurons and limited numbers of synapses, the vital conduits that allow neurons to communicate with each other.
"Additionally, when we changed the diets of DHA-deficient mothers to include a proper level of this dietary fatty acid, neuronal and synaptic growth flourished and returned to normal in the following generation of tadpoles," Cohen-Cory said.
DHA is essential for the development of a fetus's eyes and brain, especially during the last three months of pregnancy. It makes up 10 to 15 percent of the total lipid amount of the cerebral cortex. DHA is also concentrated in the light-sensitive cells at the back of the eyes, where it accounts for as much as 50 percent of the total lipid amount of each retina.
Dietary DHA is mainly found in animal products: fish, eggs and meat. Oily fish - mackerel, herring, salmon, trout and sardines - are the richest dietary source, containing 10 to 100 times more DHA than nonmarine foods such as nuts, seeds, whole grains and dark green, leafy vegetables.
DHA is also found naturally in breast milk. Possibly because of this, the fatty acid is used as a supplement for premature babies and as an ingredient in baby formula during the first four months of life to promote better mental development.
Don't flush that goldfish!
Fish reproduce quickly and can spread disease to other fish04/15/2015ConsumerAffairs
Flushing fish is not recommended as the hardy fish can make it to natural waterways and wreak havoc. You don't want your fish responsible...
In my younger years when the goldfish didn't make it for whatever reason, they were simply flushed down the toilet. Perhaps it's not the most proper of burials but I'm not sure my parents really thought there were alternatives.
Many times people who own goldfish -- or any fish for that matter -- think when they no longer want them a lake or public water area may be a good alternative.
The problem is fish are pretty active sexually and they reproduce quickly. Someone who perhaps thought they were doing the best thing dumped a handful of goldfish into a lake in Boulder, Colorado, just three years ago and now they have reproduced into the thousands. If you remember from sex ed it only takes two.
"Based on their size, it looks like they're 3-year-olds, which were probably produced from a small handful of fish that were illegally introduced into the lake," Ben Swigle, a fish biologist at the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), told Live Science.
The issue with so many goldfish is that the overabundance will create competition for native fish. It disturbs the food chain. There are about three or four fish species considered threatened or "species of concern" living downstream from the lake. If the goldfish end up going downstream it will affect spawning and also foraging resources.
Disease is another concern because pet goldfish are not routinely tested for illnesses. These koi goldfish may be carrying viruses. They have the potential to kill thousands of other fish. Aquarium fish tend to get bacterial kidney disease and they could spread that throughout the area.
Scientists are currently considering three options for dealing with the exotic goldfish explosion. Officials could drain the lake and leave it dormant for a while, use electricity to stun the fish and then net them out, or use a chemical called rotenone that interferes with respiration to "remove" the fish.
Swigle said the plan is if they can remove them, they will feed them to injured hawks, ospreys and bald eagles, at a raptor sanctuary.
Looking to displace a fish? The American Veterinary Medical Association has guidelines for euthanasia of animals. You can check out their 2013
Flushing fish is not recommended as the hardy fish can make it to natural waterways and wreak havoc. You don't want your fish responsible for creating 3,000 other fish.
NY groups test toys, find toxins
Retailers say they meet federal safety standards04/15/2015ConsumerAffairs
It's hard to imagine that stores could still have toys and products on the shelves that can be toxic to kids.There has been so much awareness...
It's hard to imagine that stores could still have toys and products on the shelves that can be toxic to kids.There has been so much awareness about products containing chemicals that are harmful to children.
But according to a report by the New York League of Conservation Voters Education fund. and Clean and Healthy New York, some big-name brand stores are still selling toxic products. Stores like Target, TJ Maxx, Dollar General, 99 Cent City and Children's Place stores in Onondaga County are all selling children's toys with dangerous levels of toxic chemicals in them.
They had people from Clean and Healthy NY actually go into these stores and use a device to test merchandise. It's a hand-held tool that can measure levels of heavy metals.
What they found may be surprising. Arsenic seems to be a component in everything that is good. Like wine for instance lately people have been talking about the level of arsenic in that. Well, they found arsenic in children’s jewelry and hair clips. Xylophones seem to be the big ticket item for chemicals -- they were found to contain lead, cobalt and mercury. They even found toxins in zippers in kids' clothing.
The fear is that these products with the chemical compounds can cause brain damage and other problems as small children put them in their mouth. If they have had contact with the toys that contain the toxic chemicals and then put their fingers in their mouth they are transmitting the toxins that way also.
There are federal standards but the problem is they are voluntary. There has been a great deal of effort put forth to pass something but as of yet nothing has gone through. Some New York counties are acting on their own to pass laws. Washington State did pass laws in 2008 that require manufacturers of toys and other children's products to disclose the toxic chemicals they use.
Renee Havener is a former hospice nurse for children and she spoke when the report was released. She would like the state Legislature to pass a law that would force manufacturers to list the toxic chemicals in toys they sell in New York. Albany County recently passed its own law in absence of any state legislation.
According to Syracuse.com Target responded to the allegations with a statement: "Target is committed to providing high quality and safe products to our guests. The products in question meet all federal product safety requirements."
Health apps -- healthful or a health threat?
Researcher says the apps may contribute to an unhealthy obsession with health04/15/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Christopher Maynard
Health and wellness have never been easier to manage than in the current age of technology. Information is now easily accessible, and there are a wealth of...
Health and wellness have never been easier to manage than in the current age of technology. Information is now easily accessible, and there are a wealth of services that consumers can take advantage of to reach their fitness goals.
In particular, "health apps” have become increasingly popular. The question is, just how beneficial are these apps?
Many argue that health apps inspire people to adapt healthier lifestyles and stay committed to their health goals. They are extremely simple to access through smartphones and other devices that people use every day.
Iltifat Husain, editor of iMedicalApps.com, and assistant professor of emergency medicine at the Wake Forest School of Medicine, argues that the apps have great potential “to reduce morbidity and mortality.” He admits that there is not much research to support health app use, but that “doctors should not wait for scientific studies to prove benefits because these have already been shown.”
For example, Sylvia Warman, an office worker from London, believes that her health app has improved her life dramatically. She points out how much easier these apps make it to track her progress and adjust her lifestyle. She claims that her app has made her more conscious of her everyday choices. She is more active as a result, and has even improved her diet.
Too many choices
Despite these positive testimonials, there are some drawbacks to using these health apps. Because of the number of apps that have been produced, it is difficult to separate useful ones from those that are ineffective.
Des Spence, a general practitioner, argues that most health apps are “mostly harmless and likely useless,” but he cautions that there is another more serious danger associated with them -- they can play on the fears of “an unhealthily health obsessed generation.”
Spence points out that certain medical technologies, such as MRI’s and blood tests, are already overused. He believes that all of this extra technology leads to over-diagnosis which can “ignite extreme anxiety” and cause serious medical harm.
Whatever your opinion may be on the growth of these technologies, they will inevitably continue to progress. Luckily, the level to which they are utilized is still entirely up to the consumer.
Neiman Marcus' "faux fur" still riles Humane Society
The group faults the FTC for not making the retailer trim its claims04/15/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
What is it with Neiman Marcus? The upscale retailer seems to have an obsession with fake faux fur. No, that's not a typo -- the fur that's supposed...
What is it with Neiman Marcus? The upscale retailer seems to have an obsession with fake faux fur. No, that's not a typo -- the fur that's supposed to be fake isn't. Allegedly.
In 2013, Neiman Marcus settled Federal Trade Commission charges that it misrepresented some of its fur products. A few years before that, it paid $25,000 on a similar rap.
And now, the Humane Society of the United States is charging that Neiman is at it again, or still. It's petitioning the FTC to once again take action against the company.
"Following similar petitions in 2007, 2008 and 2011, which named dozens of nationally and internationally known retailers, The Humane Society of the United States hoped the FTC would realize the enormity of the problem and start being proactive in protecting consumers," the Humane Society said in a prepared statement. "However, as evidence collected from 2011 to 2014 shows, the situation is just as bad as it was in 2011."
"Many Americans are opposed to buying or wearing animal fur because they object to rabbits, foxes, coyotes and other animals suffering and dying for frivolous trimmings on jackets and shoes," spokeswoman Samantha Miller added. "American consumers deserve to have the facts, and should be able to make socially-conscious decisions while shopping."
The Humane Society says it's not just Neiman Marcus that needs to modify its behavior. It faults the FTC for allegedly not taking action until prodded to do so and says other retailers are playing the same game -- selling real fur instead of the more expensive faux fur that many consumers prefer.
"The FTC is tasked by Congress with protecting American consumers from deception and administering and enforcing the Fur Products Labeling Act. But even the most notorious offenders like Neiman Marcus continue with a business-as-usual approach, with the FTC taking minimal action after evidence being presented by our investigators year after year," Miller said. "Another notorious offender, DrJays.com, is the subject of a similar petition filed in July 2014. Now, almost a year later, the FTC has taken no public action."
In fact, Miller says, at least of the items mentioned in the petition was still being promoted on the Neiman Marcus website as recently as yesterday -- the "Fizzy Faux-Fur Bootie." As of this writing, the item is shown as sold out but is still displayed on the site.
Fruit winning new respect for its medicinal value
A pear a day keeps diabetes away04/15/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Nutritionists have known for a long time that fruit plays a big part in a healthy diet, but recently certain fruit has been singled out for its specific me...
Nutritionists have known for a long time that fruit plays a big part in a healthy diet, but recently certain fruit has been singled out for its specific medicinal effects.
In some cases, different fruits have been shown to provide some of the same benefits as prescription drugs.
One of the latest fruits to win new respect is the pear – in particular, the Bartlett and Starkrimson pear. A research team from North Dakota State University, Fargo and the University of Massachusetts has concluded the two varieties of pears could help better manage early stage diabetes and the high blood pressure that usually goes along with it.
The research showed that the peel of the Starkrimson pear had the highest total phenolic, or acidic content, and that peel extracts had significantly higher total phenolic content than pulp. These qualities were found in higher quantities in the the Bartlett pear.
North Dakota State's Kalidas Shetty said the laboratory research suggests eating pears as a whole fruit – both peel and pulp – because it may provide better control of early stage diabetes.
“Such dietary strategy involving fruits, including pears, not only potentially could help better control blood glucose levels, but also reduce over dependence on drugs for prediabetes stages, or complement a reduced pharmacological dose of drugs with side effects to combat very early stages of type 2 diabetes,” the authors wrote in their report.
Effects on blood pressure
Not only did pears appear to help control diabetes, the researchers also found they might help control blood pressure by mimicking angiotensin-I-converting enzyme, a drug also known as ACE inhibitor. These medications are often prescribed for people with high blood pressure because they make blood vessels more flexible.
The study showed that the watery extract of Bartlett pulp had low to moderate ACE inhibitory activity. It wouldn't replace an ACE inhibitor you are currently taking but it might supplement it.
Blueberries are another fruit that may be good for you in more ways than one. Not only are they rich in vitamins and minerals, as many fruits are, a 2011 study found they may help reduce cancer risks.
Researchers at the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) Comprehensive Cancer Center reported just a cup of blueberries each day can help prevent cell damage linked to cancer.
A 2013 study found both blueberries and strawberries are especially helpful in preventing heart disease. Harvard researchers said three or more servings of both fruits per week may help women reduce their risk of a heart attack by as much as one-third.
The flavonoids in strawberries and blueberries may help dilate arteries, counter the buildup of plaque and provide other cardiovascular benefits, according to the study.
Avocados and cranberries
More recent research has suggested avocados and cranberries can have medicinal-like effects. A study of 45 overweight or obese subjects who ate a moderate-fat diet including an avocado daily found avocado consumption had a positive impact on cholesterol than those on a similar diet without the avocado or those on a lower-fat diet.
Research has also shown that cranberries can promote improved health when you work them into your diet. Cranberries have long been associated with benefiting urinary tract health but have also shown to benefit heart health, cancer prevention, oral health, and glycemic response.
Air Methods hit with stiff FAA fine
The company is accused of operating helicopters in violation of federal regs04/15/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is proposing a $1.54 million civil penalty against Air Methods Corp. of Englewood, Colo., for allegedly operating...
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is proposing a $1.54 million civil penalty against Air Methods Corp. of Englewood, Colo., for allegedly operating Eurocopter EC-130 helicopters on dozens of flights when they were not in compliance with Federal Aviation Regulations.
According to the agency, Air Methods operated two helicopters on 70 passenger-carrying flights for compensation or hire, over water and beyond power-off gliding distance from shore, when they lacked required helicopter flotation devices and flotation gear for each occupant.
The company operated another helicopter on 13 such flights when it lacked required flotation gear for each occupant, the FAA contends. All 83 flights by the emergency medical transport company occurred around Pensacola, Fla.
“Operators must follow every regulation and take every precaution to ensure the safety of all those on board,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “Flying without required safety equipment is indefensible.”
Air Methods has 30 days from the receipt of the FAA’s civil penalty letter to respond.
Mortgage applications post first decline in four weeks
Contract interest rates were mostly higher04/15/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
After posting gains in each of the previous 3 weeks, applications for mortgages have turned downward. According the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) W...
After posting gains in each of the previous 3 weeks, applications for mortgages have turned downward.
According the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey, applications declined 2.3% in the week ending April 10.
While the Refinance Index fell 2% from the previous week, the refinance share of mortgage activity inched up to 58% of total applications from 57% the previous week. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity dipped to 5.4% of total applications.
The FHA share of total applications was 13.5%, the VA share was 11.1% and the USDA share of total applications was unchanged from the previous week at 0.8%.
Contract interest rates
- The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) edged up 1 basis point -- to 3.87% from 3.86%, with points increasing to 0.38 from 0.27 (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) rose from 3.81% to 3.84%, with points increasing to 0.35 from 0.26 (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 slipped 2 basis points to 3.67%, with points increasing to 0.23 from 0.18 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate remained unchanged from last week.
- The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs moved to 3.16% from 3.15%, with points unchanged at 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 jumped 6 basis points to 2.82%, with points falling to 0.40 from 0.45 (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.
Buy4easy recalls motorcycle half-helmets
The helmets may dampen impacts insufficiently04/15/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Buy4easy is recalling 2,505 TMS HY-809 motorcycle half-helmets, size Large, manufactured March 20, 2012, to October 31, 2012. The helmets may dampen impa...
Buy4easy is recalling 2,505 TMS HY-809 motorcycle half-helmets, size Large, manufactured March 20, 2012, to October 31, 2012.
The helmets may dampen impacts insufficiently and may be missing, or have incomplete, manufacturing dates and instructions to the purchaser.
The user may not be adequately protected in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of personal injury.
The remedy for this recall is still under development. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.
Owners may contact Buy4easy customer service at 1-626-388-9898.
Mobility is key to surviving the next Google update
Web sites scramble to polish their mobile sites as the April 21 drop-dead date approaches04/14/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
IRS.gov How often does this happen to you -- you type a search query into your smartphone, click on the first link and find yourself at a site that ...
How often does this happen to you -- you type a search query into your smartphone, click on the first link and find yourself at a site that looks like a schematic of an anthill? You know -- tiny letters, paragraphs that run off the page, photos the size of a deer tick.
It happens to everyone. A lot. And the reason is that way too many sites that rank highly on Google have for whatever reason not bothered to make their sites "mobile-friendly" -- a phrase that simply refers to having a separate format that automatically displays to users who are using a phone or small tablet.
It's hardly a secret that mobile devices are steadily replacing desktop and laptop computers, after all. You may not be aware of it but your browser communicates with every site you visit, passing along information about your operating system, browser and device, among many other things, so it's not as though the world's webmasters don't have access to the information.
Currently, it's reported that 29% -- nearly one-third -- of Google's search queries come from smartphones and tablets and the number is growing fast.
Why would a site not want to accommodate those visitors by presenting a layout that's easy to read and understand? Good question. While it's obviously a no-brainer for retail sites, the simple truth is that consumers aren't just using their phones and tablets when they're out and about, perhaps looking to duck in somewhere and buy something. They're using them at home, at work and at school as well. It's no longer unusual to watch television with one eye while nosing around on an iPhone with the other, so every kind of site needs to make itself mobile-friendly.
If you've muttered to yourself that someone should do something about this little annoyance, rest assured. Someone is and that someone is Google, a name that gets attention from web publishers everywhere.
The web is all aflutter today because come April 21, Google will be making a major modification to its search algorithm. This is something that happens every now and then and is greeted with the awe and trepidation usually reserved for the unveiling of a new Apple product.
Earlier Google algorithm changes have resulted in many previously successful sites being shoved off the edge of the earth. Companies large and small have literally gone out of business in some extreme cases when they were banished from the first few pages of search results.
Major changes over the past few years have been aimed at eradicating sites that trafficked in stolen content or played games with keywords, hoping to lure visitors who were looking for topic Y only to find a site that instead specialized in topic X. Or even XXX.
The change now pending could be even more far-reaching. It is intended to recognize -- and reward -- sites that are optimized for mobile users. In other words, if your site looks good on an iPhone or other mobile device, it will be more likely to rank highly in Google's index. If not, well ... you can always get a job driving for Uber.
Google takes heat for some of its ventures but no one can say it doesn't try to stay ahead of trends on the web. While those who lose out in the algorithm upgrades are understandably critical, there's general agreement among experts that Google does its best to deliver honest, useful results and that its algorithm adjustments are made with the consumer's best interests in mind.
So the results come April 21 should be mostly good for consumers, even though they're likely to take a big bite out of the traffic totals for many sites that have failed to look out for mobile users.
For smaller sites that use WordPress and other popular content management tools, it's not that hard to get into the mobile era, experts assure us. To test this theory, I went to one of the small community sites I manage and ran Google's mobile test and found my site did about as well as I did the summer I took intensive Russian. Flunked, in other words.
Ah, but salvation sometimes is easy for little guys. I loaded a small plug-in (free, open source) called WPtouch Mobile, activated it and ran the test again, with much better results. If you have a small site, you should do the same. If your site is built in what webmasters call "flat HTML," you may have to do a little more work but it's not all that difficult. Easy-to-use programs are available from comanies like CoffeeCup. That's the good news.
233 big bad sites
The bad news is that for a large site, becoming mobile-friendly is no simple task. You could just as easily invent a new and improved version of the aardvark as totally rework a site that sprawls over thousands and thousands of pages and has all kinds of complex interactive elements.
Big sites that have retooled for mobile users have spent months and hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, trying to prepare for April 21, a date that is now circled in very thick red ink on web developers' calendars.
Not all big sites are going to make the deadline, however. Some are working feverishly but others appear to be asleep at the switch, a ConsumerAffairs survey found.
We looked at the top 1500 sites, as determined by Quantcast, and found that fully 233 did not pass. Among the flunk-outs were 8 sites in the top 100, including MSN.com.
Perhaps because they are not as plugged into audience statistics and generally don't sell advertising, .org sites seemed to be over-represented in the no-pass list, including PBS.org and ConsumerReports.org.
But other no-shows were a bit more puzzling. They included RollingStone.com, which has recently flunked a couple of other tests we could mention. (At the last minute, RollingStone completed an upgrade and now passes Google's test).
And then there are the .gov sites. Flunk-outs include irs.gov, weather.gov, nih.gov and senate.gov. It's perhaps not a surprise that many of them didn't make the grade. Given the speed at which government moves, it may very well be that efforts to upgrade mobile readability are just about to get started after a few more studies and may even begin to show results in a few more fiscal years, which would probably be considered -- as the old saying has it -- good enough for government work.
What about the states? Same story: va.gov and wa.gov lead the no-shows with many trailing behind.
What does this mean to Joe and Jill Consumer? Maybe not much in the abstract but in terms of the Google searches we all rely on for day-to-day tasks, it may very well mean that some familiar sites no longer pop up where we expect them. The next logical conclusion is that some sites we may not know about will get their chance to rise to the top and may turn out to be not only more user-friendly but much more useful all around.
After all, a site that pays attention to its technology to make sure it delivers the most useful possible product to its visitors probably pays attention to the other parts of its business as well.
Those who criticize Google for gobbling up so much of the known universe may want to pause and be thankful that, unlike other companies that grab a big share of the market, it at least keeps stirring the barrel, keeping things frothy and fresh rather than stable and stale.
Despite the discomfort it causes webmasters, it should make life easier for consumers.
Questions you should ask and not answer on job interviews
CareerBuilder survey uncovers surprising number of illegal queries04/14/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
When it comes to applying for a job, far too many applicants walk into the interview expecting the employer to ask all the questions. But to make sure the ...
When it comes to applying for a job, far too many applicants walk into the interview expecting the employer to ask all the questions. But to make sure the job is the right fit, the applicant also needs to have a list of questions ready to ask.
Some job-seekers refrain from quizzing a potential employer for fear of appearing presumptuous. But asking good questions will only raise an applicant’s stature in the eyes of the interviewer. The key, of course, is asking good, smart questions.
Here are some questions human resources experts believe will help you gain insight to a potential employer and impress interviewers:
Can you provide more details about this position’s responsibilities?
You should have already read a job description, often produced from boilerplate. This question may uncover specific things about the job that aren’t in the job description or clear up something you aren’t sure of. It might uncover a specific need that isn’t currently being met.
In fact, uncovering that unscratched itch should be the aim of all your questions.
If I were to get the job, how could I most quickly become a contributor to your organization?
In other words, give me a blueprint for advancement. This question will uncover some of the interviewer’s biggest perceived needs.
It also shows that your focus is not on your own needs but on the needs of the organization. “Ask not what your company can do for you…”
What do you see as the most challenging tasks that go with this position?
This is a question that any savvy interviewer will appreciate. It takes time, effort and money to hire an employee. If it turns out not to be a good fit, everyone loses.
For the applicant, there might be something about this job he or she didn’t anticipate. Better to learn where the pitfalls are before a job is offered and accepted.
What are your expectations for this position and how would I be evaluated?
This might be the most important question an applicant can ask. It will help define the scope of the job up front and let the applicant know what he or she must do to meet and exceed expectations.
What shouldn’t be asked or answered
There are also plenty of questions an applicant should not ask during an interview, most having to do with financial issues and vacation time. And it goes without saying that you shouldn’t ask about things you should already know, like what the organization does, how long it’s been around, etc. That’s what Google is for.
In a typical interview applicants will answer more questions than they ask and anyone who has applied for a job has probably encountered them. But there are a whole host of questions an interviewer is not allowed to ask.
Incredibly, a recent CareerBuilder.comsurvey found that 20% of hiring managers have asked questions during a job interview that they later learned were illegal. For example, if you have some gray hair and an employer asks, “When do you plan to retire?” what they really want to know is how old you are. That’s out of bounds.
The survey uncovered these other questions that one-third of hiring managers didn’t realize were illegal:
- What is your religious affiliation?
- Are you pregnant?
- What is your political affiliation?
- What is your race, color or ethnicity?
- How old are you?
- Are you disabled?
- Are you married?
- Do you have children or plan to?
- Are you in debt?
- Do you drink or smoke?
“It’s important for both interviewer and interviewee to understand what employers do and don’t have a legal right to ask in a job interview – for both parties’ protection,” says Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder. “Though their intentions may be harmless, hiring managers could unknowingly be putting themselves at risk for legal action, as a job candidate could argue that certain questions were used to discriminate against him or her.”
Study casts doubt on athletes' use of salt pills
Researchers find the pills have negligible effects and could even be harmful04/14/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Christopher Maynard
Athletes are always looking for an edge when it comes to improving their performance. Various vitamins and supplements have been used for years, with ...
Athletes are always looking for an edge when it comes to improving their performance. Various vitamins and supplements have been used for years, with some being more effective than others.
One idea that has gained popularity amongst endurance athletes is the consumption of salt pills before a performance. By taking them before strenuous physical activity, these competitors are attempting to replace the salt in their body that they lose through sweating.
Sweating is an important process for the human body because it helps control its internal temperature. This is a process called thermoregulation. Many have theorized that consuming these supplements would allow athletes to sweat more, which would optimize their thermoregulation. Increased thermoregulation directly correlates with better performance amongst athletes.
But scientists aren't so sure. A recent study conducted by Saint Louis University shows that salt pill consumption has a negligible effect on performance for endurance athletes.
Edward Weiss, who is a professor of nutrition and dietetics, had athletes participate in a double-blind study to test the effectiveness of salt supplements on thermoregulation. He divided the athletes into two groups and had them participate in strenuous physical activity. One group was given a salt supplement while the other was given a placebo.
The experiment measured sweat rate, dehydration, skin temperature, and other body functions associated with thermoregulation. After completing the tests, Weiss and his team found that the salt pills did not increase thermoregulation in the bodies of the athletes in any meaningful way.
In fact, Weiss cautioned that taking salt supplements could be detrimental to the overall health of athletes. It is already known that consuming too much salt can be detrimental to the human body, and these salt pills increase the body’s salt level by drastic amounts.
"While moderate sodium consumption is perfectly reasonable and should be encouraged, high sodium intake is associated with health concerns, like hypertension," Weiss said. "I recommend that athletes use caution with sodium supplementation, especially when daily intakes already exceeds the upper safe limit of 2300 mg/day for most Americans."
What’s up with declining hybrid sales?
Is it low gas prices or are consumers waiting for new technology?04/14/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Has America lost its appetite for saving fuel? Hybrid sales have declined in recent months, at a time when high gasoline prices have fallen, so it is easy ...
Has America lost its appetite for saving fuel? Hybrid sales have declined in recent months, at a time when high gasoline prices have fallen, so it is easy to draw a connection. But industry analysts say there may or may not be a link.
Honda recently announced that it is moving its Honda Accord Hybrid production from Ohio to Japan. Not long afterward Chevrolet said it would cut its Chevy Volt production back because of rising inventories.
According to Kelley Blue Book (KBB), Volt sales went from just over 7,600 in 2011 to 23,464 the following year. But since then, sales have fallen – to 18,805 last year to just 1,874 so far this year.
Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at Autotrader.com, says the moves by both Chevy and Honda indicate weakness in hybrid sales.
“Autotrader’s analysis of IHS/Polk registration data shows the hybrid/electric vehicle share of vehicle registrations peaked in May 2014, and that share has dropped every month since then,” Krebs said.
Low gasoline prices?
If you think relatively low gasoline prices are solely to blame for sluggish hybrid sales, Krebs says you’re wrong. She says the market began trending downward when gas prices were still increasing, and continued to decline with gas prices above or near the $3.50 gallon mark.
“In fact, the share declined for 4 consecutive months from May to September 2014 when gas prices were near historically high levels,” she said. “Further, that was against the backdrop of strong total vehicle sales and a flurry of new hybrid and EV introductions.”
GM is already firmly committed to EVs with its announcement earlier this year of the Chevy Bolt, an advanced concept of the plug-in electric car. GM said its Orion, Mich., assembly plant would gear up to make the car, which has a higher mileage range and lower price tag than its predecessor, the Volt.
Just part of a strategy
At the same time, Chevy is about to introduce the next generation Volt. In light of that, KBB analyst Akshay Anand called Chevy’s curtailing current model year Volt production a smart move since it will mean less inventory and fewer incentives on the older model.
“Hybrid and alternative fuel vehicle sales have been declining for some time now, with gas prices well below the summer prices of 2014,” Anand said. “Sales of the Volt are down nearly 50% for the first quarter this year, as consumers are already anticipating the new 2016 Volt, which has more aggressive styling, more premium interior, and seating for five.”
Eric Ibara, Anand’s colleague at KBB, says consumers shouldn’t see the softness in Volt sales as a reflection on the product. He says when Chevrolet announced the 2016 Volt would have upgrades that include expanded range, it makes sense for buyers to wait.
Other analysts are also not ready to say America is losing its appetite for saving fuel. In January the Detroit Free Press looked at declining hybrid sales and drew a distinction: hybrids that still use gasoline are falling out of favor. At the same time, sales of plug-in EVs rose 17%.
German mother of 13 expecting quads at age 65
Older moms are becoming more commonplace, but not quite to this extent04/14/2015ConsumerAffairs
Photo via RTLAnnegret Raunigk, a school teacher from Germany, just may have the older mom market. Ms. Raunigk is 65 years old and she is pregnant w...
Annegret Raunigk, a school teacher from Germany, just may have the older mom market tied up. Ms. Raunigk is 65 years old and she is pregnant with quads. She is already a mother of 13. She gives the Dugger family from TLC's 19 kids and counting inspiration.
The Russian and English teacher's pregnancy follows several attempts at artificial insemination over the last year-and-a-half. According to German TV channel RTL her 9-year-old daughter wanted a sibling. Raunigk is not only a teacher and mother but a grandmother of 7 as well. Her eldest child is 44.
Mass circulation newspaper Bild am Sonntag reported the four-baby pregnancy on its front-page, quoting the prospective mother of 17 recalling the moment doctors broke the news."After the doctor discovered there were four, I had to give it some thought to begin with," Bild quoted her as saying, adding however she had not considered it an option to reduce the number of embryos.
Her gynecologist, Kai Hertwig, was quoted on the RTL website saying that quadruple pregnancies were always a strain but that everything was currently going well.
Although this is something of a phenomenon she's not the first to have a go at being a mom at the young age of 65. There are a few others who claim this throne.
As long as everything goes well and she remains healthy, Ms. Raugnigk will be the oldest to give birth to quadruplets, but not the oldest to give birth to a child -- that official record is held by Maria del Carmen Bousada Lara, who give birth to twins in Spain in 2006, at the age of 66.
Why do older women want to give birth?
Here in America, part of the reason may center on the fact that women are marrying later in life, due to careers and economics. Also many women are having children on their own, perhaps not finding that right partner and opting to go it alone later in life.
American women are also bombarded by media messages that suggest that technology can extend the age at which a woman can be fertile with little difficulty.
The facts are that the risk of a miscarriage during the first trimester of a pregnancy for women older than 40 is higher (double) than the risk at age 35 or younger, 50% versus 22%, respectively
Not much is known about the extent to which woman are seeking to use technology to have children at older ages in other nations. But the phenomenon is certainly present and growing.
Germany's RTL plans to follow Annegret Raunigk through her pregnancy up until the birth of her children this summer.
The clock is ticking for the tax-filing deadline
We have some last-minute filing tips to help relieve the pressure04/14/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
With the tax-filing deadline hours away, there are some things you need to do -- fast. But in your haste, you don't want to do things that can cause you tr...
With the tax-filing deadline hours away, there are some things you need to do -- fast. But in your haste, you don't want to do things that can cause you trouble.
To that end, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offers the following tips:
Doing so, whether through e-file or IRS Free File, vastly reduces tax return errors, as the tax software does the calculations, flags common errors and prompts taxpayers for missing information. And best of all, there is a free option for everyone. Whether filing electronically or on paper, be sure to make a copy of the return.
Check out tax benefits
Take a moment to see if you qualify for these and other often-overlooked credits and deductions:
- Benefits for low-and moderate-income workers and families, especially the Earned Income Tax Credit. The special EITC Assistant can help you see if your eligible.
- Savers credit, claimed on Form 8880, for low-and moderate-income workers who contributed to a retirement plan, such as an IRA or 401(k).
- American Opportunity Tax Credit, claimed on Form 8863, and other education tax benefits for parents and college students. Because limits and special rules apply to each of these benefits, the agency’s Interactive Tax Assistant, available on IRS.gov, can be a very useful tool.
Health care tax reporting
While most taxpayers will simply need to check a box on their tax return to indicate they had health coverage for all of 2014, there are also new lines on Forms 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ related to the health care law. Visit IRS.gov for details on how the Affordable Care Act affects the 2014 return. This includes:
- Reporting health insurance coverage.
- Claiming an exemption from the coverage requirement.
- Making an individual shared responsibility payment.
- Claiming the premium tax credit.
- Reconciling advance payments of the premium tax credit.
The Interactive Tax Assistant tool can also help.
Make the right IRA contribution
Eligible taxpayers have until April 15 to contribute to either a Roth or traditional individual retirement arrangement (IRA) for 2014. A six percent excise tax applies if a taxpayer contributes more than the law allows. Publication 590-A describes the limits in detail and includes examples.
Gifts to Charity
A new law gives taxpayers the option of claiming on their 2014 return cash contributions made by April 15 to charities aiding the families of two slain New York police officers. Details are on IRS.gov.
If claiming a charitable contribution deduction, use the IRS Select Check tool to see if a charity is eligible to receive tax-deductible donations. For donations of $250 or more, taxpayers must obtain a written acknowledgment from the charity before filing a return.
IRS Publication 526 has further details on making gifts to charity, including records to keep. In addition, special reporting requirements generally apply to vehicle donations, and taxpayers wishing to claim these donations must attach any required documents to their return.
Most taxpayers claiming refunds now choose to receive them by direct deposit. A taxpayer can choose to deposit a refund in a single account at a bank or other financial institution or allocate it among as many as two or three accounts. See Form 8888 for details.
To avoid a refund delay or misrouting to a wrong account, make sure the financial institution routing and account numbers entered on the return are accurate. After filing, whether or not direct deposit was chosen, track the status of a refund with the Where's My Refund? tool on IRS.gov or IRS2Go.
Special instructions for paper filers
Math errors and other mistakes are common on paper returns, especially those prepared or filed in haste at the last minute. These tips may help those choosing this option:
- Fill in all requested Taxpayer Identification Numbers, usually Social Security Numbers, such as those for any dependents claimed. Check only one filing status and the appropriate exemption boxes.
- When using the tax tables, be sure to use the correct row and column for the filing status claimed and taxable income amount shown.
- Sign and date the return. If filing a joint return, both spouses must sign.
- Attach all required forms and schedules, such as Schedule A for people who itemize their deductions. In addition, attach to the front of the return all Forms W-2 and other forms reflecting withholding.
- Mail the return to the right address. Check Where to File on IRS.gov or the last page of the tax instructions. If mailing on Wednesday, April 15, be sure to do so early enough to meet the scheduled pick-up time and ensure a postmark before the midnight deadline.
Need more time to file?
Avoid a late-filing penalty by requesting a tax-filing extension. There are several ways to do so, including through the Free File link on IRS.gov, or by designating a payment as an extension payment and making it via one of the IRS e-payment methods, including the newest, IRS Direct Pay. Alternatively, taxpayers can file Form 4868. While an extension grants additional time to file, tax payments are still due April 15.
If so, use IRS Direct Pay or any of several other e-payment options. They are secure and easy and you receive immediate confirmation of your payment. Or, send a check or money order payable to the “United States Treasury,” along with a Form 1040-V payment voucher. Taxpayers who can’t pay by April 15 often qualify to set up a monthly payment agreement with the IRS using the Online Payment Agreement option on IRS.gov.
Cats seem independent but they need help staying healthy04/14/2015ConsumerAffairs
Cats can be your best friend, and they can own that title that dogs have held for so long. But if you want them to remain your best friend and live a ...
Keep the green in your pocket when you garden
You can spend a fortune on gardening tools but it's not necessary04/14/2015ConsumerAffairs
The idea behind growing your own vegetables is to be able to keep a little money in your pocket and be able to live off the land like our hearty ances...
The idea behind growing your own vegetables is to be able to keep a little money in your pocket and be able to live off the land like our hearty ancestors did.
But if you have been to any of the big DIY stores you can see that you can end up spending a fortune on gardening equipment and it makes the prospect of fending for yourself and living off the land a little less appealing. It doesn't have to be that way, though, if you know how to cut corners.
Location is everything. The sun is your number one concern so in the months before you plant or at least in the days leading up to it, case your yard for where the sun is optimal for growing and at what time of day it will be peering down on your little fruits of your labor. If your garden fails and your plants die or get dried up, it will take more time and money to relocate to a new site in your yard. Scout out trees that might not be blooming now but will create shade later.
Plant a seed. Start with seeds, because buying plants is more expensive. If you want, start them inside before you plant the full garden outside. Research what you plant if you are going to plant them inside because some plants aren't as adaptable and won't do well in a replanting situation from home to garden.
Thin is in. When you plant from seedlings especially inside, you'll reach the step where you “thin” them. This involves cutting down the weaker plants so that they die and the strongest survive and continue to grow before you introduce them to your new lush garden outside.
Recycle your seeds. Starting from seeds is always cheaper but if you have a large garden, that can be a lot of seeds to sow and buy. One solution to this is to opt for heirloom seeds. They are reusable.
Take a stake in your garden but don't buy one. You will need a stake eventually in your garden but they can start adding up if you are planting rows and rows of a certain crop. At a hardware or garden store, you will probably find stakes to be priced around $3, and tomato cages can cost you even more. So look for something around your house that can be used as a stake. Branches or old fence posts can work fine.
Raised beds look great. But they are expensive no matter how you put them together. Stores have kits that end up costing over $100 just for 30 square feet or so. Making them yourself can cost as much or even more. So stay grounded -- it will be cheaper.
Grow something you want to eat that would cost more at the store. Get plants that have high yields.
Buy at garage sales, keep an eye out for pots (or other plant containers) and tools. You’ll be amazed at the markdowns you find on these two items specifically, as compared to their retail prices.
Producer prices on the rise
It's the first advance since last October04/14/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
After posting declines in four consecutive months, the Producer Price Index (PPI) moved higher in March. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the ...
After posting declines in four consecutive months, the Producer Price Index (PPI) moved higher in March.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the PPI was up a seasonally adjusted 0.2% last month after falling 0.5% in February and 0.8% in January. Over the last 12 months, the PPI is down 0.8%.
Goods and services
Prices for goods were up 0.3% following 8 consecutive decreases, led by a 1.5% surge in energy costs, due primarily to gasoline, which jumped 7.2%. Food prices, meanwhile, fell 0.8%, thanks to a plunge of 5.1% in pork prices. The “core rate” -- less foods and energy – was up 0.2% in March.
The cost of services inched up 0.1% in March following a decline of 0.5% in February. Services less trade, transportation, and warehousing, rose 0.3%, while transportation and warehousing services and trade services both declined 0.2% in March.
Details are available on the Labor department website
Retail sales post first advance in 4 months
A rebound in motor vehicle demand gets a lot of the credit04/14/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Retail sales shot higher in March after tumbling an upwardly revised 0.5% month earlier, for the first gain in 4 months. Figures released by the Census Bu...
Retail sales shot higher in March after tumbling an upwardly revised 0.5% month earlier, for the first gain in 4 months.
Figures released by the Census Bureau show sales totaled $441.4 billion -- an increase of 0.9% from February up 1.3% from a year earlier.
Sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers were up 2.7% last month following February's 2.1% decline. Other sectors show strong advances were building material and garden equipment and supplies (+2.1%), miscellaneous store retailers (+1.7%) and furniture & home furnishing stores (+1.4%)
Sales declines were posted by gas stations and grocery stores (-0.6%), and electronics and appliance stores (-0.5).
The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.
Completed foreclosures down sharply
Mortgage delinquencies posted a sharp decline as well04/14/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
The nation's foreclosure inventory posted a year-over-year decline of 27.3% in February, with completed foreclosures down 15.7%. According data from proper...
The nation's foreclosure inventory posted a year-over-year decline of 27.3% in February, with completed foreclosures down 15.7%.
According data from property information, analytics and data-enabled services provider CoreLogic, there were 39,000 completed foreclosures nationwide in February compared with 46,000 a year earlier, representing a decrease of 67% from the peak of completed foreclosures in September 2010.
Completed foreclosures are an indication of the total number of homes actually lost to foreclosure. Since the financial meltdown began in September 2008, there have been approximately 5.6 million completed foreclosures across the country. Since home-ownership rates peaked in the second quarter of 2004, there have been approximately 7.7 million homes lost to foreclosure.
“The number of homes in foreclosure proceedings fell by 27% from a year ago and stands at about one-third of what it was at the trough of the housing cycle,” said Frank Nothaft, chief economist at CoreLogic.
CoreLogic also reports the number of mortgages in serious delinquency fell 19.3% from February 2014 to February 2015, with 1.5 million mortgages -- or 4% -- in serious delinquency (defined as 90 days or more past due, including those loans in foreclosure or Real Estate Owned).
This is the lowest delinquency rate since June 2008. On a month-over-month basis, the number of seriously delinquent mortgages dipped 1.1%.
“While the drop in the share of mortgages in foreclosure to 1.4% is a welcome sign of continued recovery in the housing market,” Nothaft added, “the share remains more than double the 0.6% average foreclosure rate that we saw during 2000-2004.”
As of this past February, the national foreclosure inventory included approximately 553,000 homes compared with 761,000 homes in February 2014. The foreclosure inventory as of February 2015 represented 1.4% of all homes with a mortgage, versus 1.9% in February 2014.
“The foreclosure inventory dropped year-over-year in all but 2 states,” said Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO of CoreLogic. “The foreclosure rates in judicial foreclosure states are beginning to pick up and remain higher than in non-judicial states. What’s encouraging is that fewer Americans are seriously delinquent in paying their mortgages which in turn is reducing the foreclosure inventory across the country as a whole.”
- On a month-over-month basis, completed foreclosures were down 11.6% from the 44,000 reported in January 2015. As a basis of comparison, before the decline in the housing market in 2007 completed foreclosures averaged 21,000 per month nationwide between 2000 and 2006.
- The 5 states with the highest number of completed foreclosures for the 12 months ending in February 2015 were: Florida (110,000), Michigan (50,000), Texas (34,000), California (30,000) and Georgia (28,000). These 5 accounted for almost half of all completed foreclosures nationally.
- Four states and the District of Columbia had the lowest number of completed foreclosures for the 12 months ending in February 2015: South Dakota (15), the District of Columbia (83), North Dakota (334), West Virginia (506) and Wyoming (526).
- On a month-over-month basis, the foreclosure inventory was down by 1.4% from January 2015. The February 2015 foreclosure rate of 1.4% is back to March 2008 levels.
- Four states and the District of Columbia had the highest foreclosure inventory as a percentage of all mortgaged homes: New Jersey (5.3%), New York (4.0%), Florida (3.4%), Hawaii (2.8%) and the District of Columbia (2.6%).
- The 5 states with the lowest foreclosure inventory as a percentage of all mortgaged homes were: Alaska (0.3%), Nebraska (0.4%), North Dakota (0.5%), Montana (0.5%) and Minnesota (0.5%).
Leader Slaughterhouse recalls veal carcasses
The product did not undergo federal inspection04/14/2015ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Leader Slaughterhouse of Imler, Pa., is recalling approximately 1,800 pounds of veal carcasses. The product did not undergo federal inspection, and does n...
Leader Slaughterhouse of Imler, Pa., is recalling approximately 1,800 pounds of veal carcasses.
The product did not undergo federal inspection, and does not bear the USDA mark of inspection.
There are no reports of illness due to consumption of this product.
The following product, produced on April 10, 2015, is being recalled:
- 6 individual 300 pound veal carcasses, cut into quarters.
The product was picked up at the establishment’s Pennsylvania location and taken by customers to Pennsylvania and New York.
Consumers with questions about the recall may contact David Hill at 814-239-0182.
Researchers: Eat the right food and lose weight
There's a new focus on the role glycemic load plays in weight gain04/13/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
When consumers embrace a particular weight loss program, they may achieve results. But in other instances, try as they might, the pounds can be very slow t...
When consumers embrace a particular weight loss program, they may achieve results. But in other instances, try as they might, the pounds can be very slow to come off, if they come off at all.
In the latter case, it might not be a matter of how much a dieter is eating, but what the dieter is eating.
Changing those old eating habits – adding certain foods to the diet and avoiding others – can make it easier to win the battle of the bulge. At least that’s the conclusion of researchers at Tufts University.
At Tufts, the Friedman School Nutrition Science & Policy analyzed 3 previous studies that were based on more than 16 years of follow-up among 120,000 adults. That led researchers there to focus on the glycemic content, or load (GL) of particular foods.
The GL is determined by multiplying a food’s glycemic index, a measure of a food’s ability to create blood glucose, by the carbohydrate content. Foods with a high GL were more likely to make it easier to gain weight and harder to lose it.
Refined grains, starches and sugars
Food with a big GL include refined grains, starches and sugars. Researchers say these high GL foods can boost blood glucose and lead to chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes. Until now, they say, the link to weight gain had not been firmly established.
“There is mounting scientific evidence that diets including less low-quality carbohydrates, such as white breads, potatoes, and sweets, and higher in protein-rich foods may be more efficient for weight loss,” said Jessica Smith, one of the authors. “We wanted to know how that might apply to preventing weight gain in the first place.”
If you are trying, without result, to lose weight you may be interested in the food Smith and her colleagues say you should eat and what you should avoid – or at least keep consumption to a minimum.
Less red meat, more yogurt
The study concluded that increasing the amount of red meat and processed meat are the food items most strongly associated with weight gain.
Conversely, increasing consumption of yogurt, seafood, skinless chicken and nuts are most strongly associated with weight loss. In fact, the more people ate these foods, the more weight they lost.
Interestingly, the researchers found that eating dairy products in general didn’t seem to have much effect one way or the other.
“The fat content of dairy products did not seem to be important for weight gain,” Smith said. “In fact, when people consumed more low-fat dairy products, they actually increased their consumption of carbs, which may promote weight gain. This suggests that people compensate, over years, for the lower calories in low-fat dairy by increasing their carb intake.”
What else is on your plate?
The combination of foods you consume also appears to be important. For example, avoiding foods with a high GL seemed to make fish, nuts and other food associated with weight loss even more effective.
Weight-neutral foods like eggs and cheese appear to contribute to weight gain when combined with high GL food but are associated with weight loss when eaten with low GL food.
The chief take-away from the study seems to be this: not all calories are created equal.
“Our study adds to growing new research that counting calories is not the most effective strategy for long-term weight management and prevention,” said Dariush Mozaffarian, the study’s senior author. “Some foods help prevent weight gain, others make it worse. Most interestingly, the combination of foods seems to make a big difference.”
The Tufts researchers advise those trying to shed a few pounds to not only emphasize specific protein-rich foods like fish, nuts, and yogurt to prevent weight gain, but also focus on avoiding refined grains, starches, and sugars in order to maximize the benefits of these healthful protein-rich foods.
To further help consumers identify foods to eat and avoid, the Harvard Medical School recently published this list of 100 foods and their GL.
Ransomware hackers extort money from more police departments
If you don't have backup copies of your files and games, make those backups today04/13/2015ConsumerAffairs
Are ransomware attacks happening more frequently, or are more victims stepping forward and filing reports with the police? Actually, these days the police ...
Are ransomware attacks happening more frequently, or are more victims stepping forward and filing reports with the police? Actually, these days the police are just as likely to be the victims themselves.
Just last week, police in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, admitted that they'd had to pay an untraceable $500 Bitcoin ransom to the hackers who'd encrypted the Tewksbury PD's computer files. The chief of police admitted that the attack “basically rendered us in-operational, with respect to the software we use to run the Police Department.” Tewksbury PD did not keep backup copies of its crucial files.
Over the weekend came news of another law-enforcement organization who'd made a similar mistake: four small towns and a county in Maine all used a single computer network to share files and records with no backup.
WCSH-TV reported that Sheriff Todd Brackett of Lincoln County admitted somebody on the network had accidentally downloaded a “Megacode” virus (which a questioner on a BleepingComputer discussion forum described as being “Like Cryptolocker, but not as well done”).
The virus encrypted the computer files of four town police departments and a county sheriff, until the department paid a $300 ransom for the decryption key. Brackett said that the FBI could trace the money as far as a bank account in Switzerland, but could not trace it beyond that.
Megacode, Cryptolocker and other forms of ransomware work by literally holding files for ransom, specifically by encrypting them and demanding payment in exchange for the encryption key. Some of the less sophisticated forms of ransomware can be removed or decrypted with the right tools, but more often, the ransomware can't be removed or broken without the decryption key from the ransomer.
Ransomware is simply another form of malware and thus is spread just like any other kind. In Durham, New Hampshire, last June, the police department's computer network fell victim to ransomware after an employee clicked on what they described as a legitimate-looking email. Fortunately, the Durham PD did have backup copies of its computer files, so instead of paying the ransom, they wiped their computers clean and then restored everything with their backup files.
Anyone with any type of network connection is vulnerable to ransomware if they're not careful. Just last month, security researchers discovered a then-new version called TeslaCrypt which targeted people on multiplayer game platforms such as Minecraft, Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and other popular titles.
TeslaCrypt not only encrypted the victims' game files, but could also spread to Word documents, Excel files, PowerPoint presentations and similar files. The hackers behind the malware demanded $1,000 from their victims.
If you don't already have backup copies of all your important files – not just on your home computer, but also your tablet, smartphone and anything else holding files you don't want to lose – you should make copies right away, and keep them on a dedicated thumb drive or flash drive, or burn copies onto a disc.
In addition to these physical media storage options, you also have the option of hiring a backup service — though that brings the usual risks that comes with entrusting your data to someone other than yourself.
Researchers find evidence the virus can be passed between humans and canines04/13/2015ConsumerAffairs
Norovirus it's the one thing that can sink a cruise ship vacation. Noroviruses are a group of viruses that cause inflammation of the stomach and large ...
White Lodging hotel management finally admits to months-old customer data breach
Food and beverage payment systems at select Marriott, Sheraton, Renaissance and Courtyard locations compromised04/13/2015ConsumerAffairs
Last February, financial industry insiders first reported evidence that hackers might have breached security and stolen customer payment card information f...
Last February, financial industry insiders first reported evidence that hackers might have breached security and stolen customer payment card information from various hotels run by the White Lodging Services Corporation (which operates franchises under various brand names including Marriott, Sheraton, Renaissance and Courtyard).
Specifically, the hackers managed to plant malware on the point-of-sale systems used in the bars and restaurants attached to certain White Lodging-owned hotels, and stole the payment card information of anybody who ate in a hotel restaurant or drank in a hotel bar.
Security expert Brian Krebs first reported the suspected White Lodging breach in February. However, not until late last week did White Lodging confirm the breach and specify exactly which customers are at risk.
In a press release dated April 8, White Lodging admitted that from July 3, 2014 through February 6 of this year, hackers had compromised the point of sale systems for the food and beverage outlets connected to hotels in 10 different locations:
- Indianapolis Marriott Downtown, Indianapolis, IN
- Chicago Marriott Midway Airport, Chicago, IL
- Auburn Hills Marriott Pontiac at Centerpoint, Pontiac, MI
- Austin Marriott South Airport, Austin, TX
- Boulder Marriott, Boulder, CO
- Denver Marriott South at Park Meadows, Denver, CO
- Louisville Marriott Downtown, Louisville, KY
- Renaissance Boulder Flatiron, Broomfield, CO
- Courtyard Austin Downtown, Austin, TX
- Sheraton Hotel Erie Bayfront, Erie, PA
However, guests who stayed at those hotels without using their cards to pay for food or beverage services are not at risk.
The stolen data is believed to include customers' names, credit or debit card numbers, security codes and card expiration dates.
As usual in such circumstances, the company is offering a year of free credit protection services, this time through Experian:
For more information about how to enroll for this service please send an email to WhiteLodging@protectmyid.com. You will then receive enrollment instructions. Alternatively, you can enroll by calling 1-866-926-9803. If you call this number you will be presented with a recorded message and various options. Press 1 to access the enrollment information. If you are a non-U.S. resident the available services will vary. If you decide to enroll in the service, you will be required to provide your Social Security number for identification purposes.
Watch for scams
White Lodging's press release also warned customers to watch out for scam artists who might send them scammy emails or text messages falsely claiming to be from White Lodging. This also happens anytime there's a widely publicized hacking: as soon as the media reports that Company X has been hacked, scam artists immediately start using Company X's name in their bait-emails.
If you receive any email or other communication allegedly from White Lodging and warning you that you personally were compromised in the attack, that message is guaranteed to be a fake. White Lodging is not informing individuals, because they can't. The company's online FAQ page about the hacking includes this question-and-answer combo:
Q: Why wasn’t I notified directly about this incident?
A: Because this incident affected the point of sale systems at select food and beverage outlets we do not have not have contact information associated with the affected credit/debit cards. Therefore, we could not notify you directly by email, postal mail or telephone.
Muscle-building supplements tied to testicular cancer
The men might be strong but so is the association between the supplements and cancer04/13/2015ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
Gym rats who gulp down muscle-building supplements in hopes of getting really, really strong need to know about something else that's strong -- the lin...
Gym rats who gulp down muscle-building supplements in hopes of getting really, really strong need to know about something else that's strong -- the link between those supplmenets and testicular cancer.
A new study in the British Journal of Cancer found a "significantly higher" incidence of testicular cancer in men who took creatine or androstenedione pills or powders than in men who did not.
Moreover, said study senior author Tongzhang Zheng, the associated testicular germ cell cancer risk was especially high among men who started using supplements before age 25, those who used multiple supplements and those who used them for years.
"The observed relationship was strong," said Zheng, who led the study at Yale University before joining the Brown University School of Public Health as a professor of epidemiology. "If you used at earlier age, you had a higher risk. If you used them longer, you had a higher risk. If you used multiple types, you had a higher risk."
Testicular cancer incidence rose to 5.9 cases per 100,000 men in 2011, from 3.7 cases in 100,000 in 1975, Zheng said. Researchers aren't sure why.
"Testicular cancer is a very mysterious cancer," he said. "None of the factors we've suspected can explain the increase."
First study of its kind
The study is the first analytical epidemiological study of the possible link between supplements and testicular cancer, the authors wrote in the journal. The work was inspired by mounting evidence that at least some supplement ingredients may damage the testes.
"Our study found that supplement use was related to a higher risk of developing testicular cancer. These results are important because there are few identified modifiable risk factors for testicular cancer," said Russ Hauser, professor of environmental health science at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a main collaborator of the research.
To conduct the study, Zheng's research team conducted detailed interviews of nearly 900 men from Massachusetts and Connecticut -- 356 of whom had been diagnosed with testicular germ cell cancer, and 513 who had not.
In the interviews, researchers asked the men not only about their supplement use but also about a wide variety of other possible factors such as smoking, drinking, exercise habits, family history of testicular cancer, and prior injury to their testes or groin.
After tallying their data and accounting for all those possible confounders, as well as age, race, and other demographics, the researchers found that the men who used supplements had a 1.65 odds ratio (a 65 percent greater risk) of having developed testicular cancer compared to the men who did not use supplements.
"Considering the magnitude of the association and the observed dose-response trends, muscle-building supplements use may be an important and modifiable exposure that could have important scientific and clinical importance for preventing testicula