Current Events in June 2015

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    Frontiere Natural Meats recalls ground elk meat

    The product may be contaminated with E. coli

    Frontiere Natural Meats of Denver, Colo., is recalling 1,640 pounds of ground elk meat.

    The meat may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 bacteria.

    The company says it has received no reports of illnesses associated with consumption of this product to date.

    The recalled product, sold in retain stores in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, was packed in 205 8-pound cases containing 8 1-pound packages -- each identified with a label that states “DK Natural Meats All Natural Ground Elk” with a “Use or Freeze By 4-27-15” on the back of each package.

    Customers who purchased the recalled product should return it to the place of purchase for a full refund or to discard it in a manner that prevents humans or animals from consuming it.

    Consumers with questions may contact Josh Viola at 303-466-8826.

    Frontiere Natural Meats of Denver, Colo., is recalling 1,640 pounds of ground elk meat. The meat may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 bacteria. The c...

    One more time -- LQNN updates recall of poultry, beef and pork products

    The update reflects a change in pounds, products and production dates of recalled products

    LQNN, Inc., of Garden Grove, Calif., has added additional items to the list of products it recalled last month.

    The new total recalled poundage is 465,483 pounds. The products which were moved and sold in commerce, included the unapproved use of another facility’s mark of inspection, which has been identified as Establishment number 18995.

    LQNN, operating as Lee’s Sandwiches, has been processing products from federally-inspected establishments and re-packaging them without the benefit of inspection. Products produced without inspection present potential of increased human health risk.

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

    The the following poultry, beef and pork items, produced prior to May 26, 2015, are being recalled:

    • 2,434-lb of “Sliced Jambon.”
    • 1,460-lb of “Sliced Head Cheese.”
    • 1,712-lb of “Sliced Pork Roll.”
    • 58-lb of “Sliced Cured Pork.”
    • 8,033-lb of “Sliced Ham.”
    • 2,796-lb of “Roast Beef.”
    • 150-lb of “Fully Cooked Grilled Pork.”
    • 200-lb of “Fully Cooked Nuong.”
    • 1,620-lb of “Fully Cooked Meatball Filling.”
    • 90-lb of “Fully Cooked Teriyaki Chicken.”
    • 4,080-lb of “Pork & Shrimp Egg Roll.”
    • 126-lb of “Steam Pork Bun Filling.”
    • 576-lb of “Pork/Shrimp Egg Rolls.”
    • 645-lb of “Fully Cooked Baked Pork Pate Chaud (Large).”
    • 674-lb of “Fully Baked Chicken Pate Chaud (Large).”

    On May 28, 2015, the company recalled an additional 227,731 pounds of chicken, beef and pork products produced prior to May 26, 2015. The following products should have been included in the initial recall:

    • 63,734-lb of “Ham & Cheese CROISSANT.”
    • 5,218-lb. of “Cooked Dry SHREDDED PORK Cha Bong Thit Heo.”
    • 8,631-lb. of “SHREDDED PORK Bi.”

    On May 20, 2015, the company recalled 213,192 pounds of chicken, beef and pork products produced prior to May 26, 2015. The following products listed below were included in the initial recall and were sent to various restaurant locations in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas to be cooked and served to consumers. They may contain “Est. 11041” or “P-11041” inside the USDA mark of inspection:

    • 54,509 -lb. of “Banh Bao Pork & Egg Steamed Bun.”
    • 15,147 -lb. of “Banh Bao Trung Cut Pork & Quail Egg Steamed Bun Vietnamese Style.”
    • 55,114 -lb. of “PORK PATE CHAUD (LARGE).”
    • 6,016.5-lb. of “PORK PATE CHAUD (SMALL).”
    • 50,036-lb. of “CHICKEN PATE CHAUD (LARGE).”
    • 6,184.5-lb. of “CHICKEN PATE CHAUD (SMALL).”

    The following recalled products were sent to the aforementioned restaurant locations in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas to be prepared and served to consumers. They may contain “Est. 11041” or “P-11041” inside the USDA mark of inspection:

    • 22,812-lb. of “SLICED OIL BROWNED TURKEY PREMIUM BREAST MEAT FULLY COOKED.”
    • 2,453.5-lb. of “SLICED SALAMI MEAT with wine FULLY COOKED.”

    The following recalled products were sent to various retail locations in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas for retail distribution to consumers. They may contain “Est. 18995” inside the USDA mark of inspection:

    • 222.25-lb. of 4-oz. plastic containers of “FRUIT BEEF JERKY (Kho Bo).”
    • 352-lb. of 4-oz. plastic containers of “B.B.Q. BEEF JERKY (Kho Bo).”
    • 354-lb. of 4-oz. plastic containers of “Curry BEEF JERKY (Kho Bo).”

    Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Tom Quach at (714) 333-8688.

    LQNN, Inc., of Garden Grove, Calif., has added additional items to the list of products it recalled last month. The new total recalled poundage is 465,48...

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      America's seniors under growing financial pressure

      Housing collapse, exploitation and family pressures take big economic toll

      Twenty years ago retirement in America was a bit easier. You might have worked at the same company for most of your career and looked forward to a nice pension to supplement Social Security and savings. The house in which you and your spouse had raised a family was just about paid for.

      Since then America has experienced a housing boom that tempted many people to use their homes like an ATM, followed by a housing bust that led to the biggest wave of foreclosures since the Great Depression.

      A 2012 report by AARP found that 5 million Americans age 50 or older had lost their homes to foreclosure during the housing collapse. The report's authors were also disturbed that a growing number of people were carrying mortgage debt into retirement.

      “More older Americans are carrying mortgage debt than in the past, and the amount of that debt is also increasing, leading to their worsening situation,” said Debra Whitman, AARP executive vice president for policy. “It’s one thing if your housing value goes down in your 50s. It’s another thing if you’re 75. For some people, it’s not like you can go back to work.”

      Scam targets

      While housing is a big challenge, it isn't the only financial challenge seniors face. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau operates an Office for Financial Protection for Older Americans. It notes that older adults are prime targets for financial exploitation both by persons they know and trust and by strangers.

      “Financial exploitation has been called 'the crime of the 21st century,' with one study suggesting that older Americans lost at least $2.9 billion to financial exploitation by a broad spectrum of perpetrators in 2010,” CFPB writes in its resource guide, “Money Smart for Older Adults.”

      A recent scam targeting seniors involved the pretense that the caller was affiliated with a government program providing benefits to senior. Last October a federal judge stopped a telemarketing scheme that tricked senior citizens by pretending to be part of Medicare, and took millions of dollars from consumers’ bank accounts without their consent.

      Unfortunately, these types of prosecutions tend to be the exception rather than the rule. CFPB says senior exploitation is an “epidemic” that flies under the radar. In most cases, the agency says, seniors who lose money – sometimes their life savings – have no way to get it back. It's an economic setback with an exponential impact on their future.

      Family matters

      Since the financial crisis income growth has slowed to a crawl and labor force participation has sharply declined. That has hit many older adults doubly hard if they are still in the job market. Not only is their income not growing, they are often called upon to financially support their adult children.

      A recent report from the Pew Research Center found 61% of U.S. seniors had provided financial support to an adult child in the last 12 months. This is a number that worries many financial planners who work with seniors preparing for retirement.

      Financial services firm Ameriprise says 23% of Americans 50 to 79 report their retirement savings have gone off track because they are financially helping adult children. The firm offers this advice: take a step back to see if you are enabling a problem or supporting a new solution.

      If the financial gift is a short-term fix and no major behavior change accompanies it, the problem is only being postponed and could lead to multiple cash requests over time.  

      Twenty years ago retirement in America was a bit easier. You might have worked at the same company for most of your career and looked forward to a nice pen...

      Illinois Attorney General urges feds to crack down on student debt-relief scammers

      Student loans are bad enough. Being targeted by debt-relief scammers makes matters worse

      It's bad enough that America's current and former college students are struggling under a collective $1.2 trillion in bankruptcy-proof student loan debt, without scam artists bearing bogus offers of debt relief enriching themselves by preying on students' sense of desperation.

      Early in May, Illinois' Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed suit against five student-loan “debt settlement companies” which, she says, used false promises suggesting their debt burdens could be reduced or even forgiven entirely in order to defraud student-loan borrowers out of hundreds or even thousands of dollars in fees. Madigan also filed suit against two other such companies last July.

      Yesterday, Madigan asked the U.S. Department of Education to “initiate a program to provide certified nonprofit credit counselors for the millions of student loan borrowers seeking help to repay their federal student loans.” She mentioned scammy debt-relief companies to explain why “more qualified sources for help are needed.”

      Certification needed

      In a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Madigan urged the DoE to certify nonprofit credit counselors who can help borrowers who need help understanding what repayment options they have, because “Student loan borrowers have nowhere to turn right now to access legitimate information and assistance about their repayment options,” so “It is critical that we provide these borrowers a lifeline before they make costly mistakes by turning to scam artists for help.”

      In the meanwhile, borrowers must remain wary of scammy debt-relief services. Last December, when the feds shut down two other scammy student debt-relief companies, it reminded federal student loan borrowers that enrollment in alternative repayment programs, such as the Income-Based Repayment or Pay As You Earn program, is available at no cost.

      Also, all debtors – not just those owing student loans – should avoid any company pressuring them to pay high upfront fees. In fact, avoid any debt-relief program requiring you to pay money before they actually do anything for you – especially if they ask you to sign a contract, or ask for your credit or debit-card number, or bank acocunt information.

      Also, student loan borrowers should be cautious of any company asking for your Federal Student Aid PIN, because anyone who has your PIN has the ability to perform actions on your student loan. Honest companies will work with you to devise a plan without your PIN.

      It's bad enough that America's current and former college students are struggling under a collective $1.2 trillion in bankruptcy-proof student loan debt, w...

      Another decline -- the 6th in a row -- for mortgage applications

      The refinance share of mortgage activity is at a 1-year low

      Even with an adjustment to account for the Memorial Day holiday, mortgage applications fell last week for the sixth consecutive week.

      According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, applications tumbled 7.6% in the week ending May 29.

      The Refinance Index plunged 12%, taking the refinance share of mortgage activity down 2 % to 49% of total applications -- the lowest level since May 2014. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity dropped to 6.1% of total applications.

      The FHA share of total applications rose 0.4% to 14.9%, the VA share was up to 12.0% from 11.7%, and the USDA share of total applications inched ahead to 1.0% from 0.8% the prior week.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) slipped 5 basis points -- to 4.02% from 4.07%, with points decreasing to 0.33 from 0.35 (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) dropped to 4.01% from 4.06%, with points increasing to 0.30 from 0.29 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA was down 6 basis points to 3.77%, with points rising to 0.21 from 0.16 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs decreased to 3.27 percent from 3.29 percent, with points increasing to 0.33 from 0.24 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs inched down to 2.97% from 3.04%, with points increasing to 0.50 from 0.48 (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.

      Even with an adjustment to account for the Memorial Day holiday, mortgage applications fell last week for the sixth consecutive week. According to the Mor...

      Job creation bounces back

      Manufacturing -- not so much

      After coming in below the closely-watched mark of 200,000 for 2 straight months, job creation appears to be back on track.

      According to the May ADP National Employment Report, private sector employment increased by 201,000 jobs from April to May.

      "The labor market moved back up to the 200,000 jobs added mark in May, a number which has been something of a bellwether for healthy employment growth," said Carlos Rodriguez, president and chief executive officer of ADP. "We hope that the May number is the beginning of an upward trend going into the summer months."

      Where the jobs are

      Payrolls for businesses with 49 or fewer employees increased by 122,000 jobs in May, while employment among companies with 50-499 employees increased by 65,000 jobs.

      Large companies -- those with 500 or more employees -- added 13,000 jobs in May, although firms with 500-999 employees lost 3,000 jobs. Companies with over 1,000 employees added 16,000 jobs.

      Employment in goods-producing companies rose by 9,000 jobs in May, after adding just 1,000 in April. The construction industry had a good month in May adding 27,000 jobs. However, manufacturing lost 5,000 jobs in May in top of the 8,000 that disappeared in April.

      Service-providing employment rose by 192,000 jobs in May, up 28,000 from April. Professional/business services contributed 28,000 jobs in May, trade/transportation/utilities grew by 56,000 and financial activities added 12,000 positions.

      "Employment growth remains near the average of the past couple of years,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics. “At the current pace of job growth the economy will be back to full employment by this time next year. The only blemishes are the decline in mining jobs due to the collapse in oil prices and the decline in manufacturing due to the strong dollar."

      After coming in below the closely-watched mark of 200,000 for 2 straight months, job creation appears to be back on track. According to the May ADP Nation...

      Feds taking closer look at homeopathic advertising

      The scientific evidence to support homeopathy is scanty at best

      Promoters of homeopathic treatments may face an uphill battle later this year as the Federal Trade Commission takes a closer look at their claims. The FTC announced yesterday that it is hosting a public workshop on Sept. 21 to examine advertising for over-the-counter “homeopathic” products.

      The FTC said that the workshop will cover topics including:

      • A look at changes in the homeopathic market, its advertising, and what consumers know;

      • The science behind homeopathy and its effectiveness;

      • The effects of recent class actions against homeopathic product companies;

      • The application of Section 5 of the FTC Act to advertising claims for homeopathic products; and

      • Public policy concerns about the current regulation of homeopathic products.

      Section 5 of the FTC act bars unfair or deceptive practices in interstate commerce.

      Homeopathic fans seeking proof of the “science behind homeopathy and its effectiveness” will have their work cut out for them, because outside of unverifiable anecdotes or poorly controlled studies which fall apart upon closer examination, no such evidence actually exists.

      Capsule summary

      The FDA's online compliance manual offers this capsule summary of the subject:

      The term "homeopathy" is derived from the Greek words homeo (similar) and pathos (suffering or disease). The first basic principles of homeopathy were formulated by Samuel Hahnemann in the late 1700's. The practice of homeopathy is based on the belief that disease symptoms can be cured by small doses of substances which produce similar symptoms in healthy people.

      To be fair, such an idea sounded plausible in the 1700s, before humanity discovered the germ theory of disease in the 1860s.

      And given the abysmally ignorant state of medicine in the 1700s – some of the bloodletting prescriptions from that time called for draining more blood out of a patient than an adult human body actually holds – it's true that in those days, getting no medical treatment at all (or taking a placebo) was often a better option than seeking what passed for official medical attention at the time.

      But the frontiers of medical knowledge have advanced considerably since the 1700s, while homeopathy has remained the same.

      The water remembers

      Homeopaths believe that diluting substances in water actually makes those substances more potent, and that water can “remember” and maintain the qualities of substances once diluted in it. If you inspect the ingredients label of a homeopathic product, you’ll see the “active” ingredients are usually measured in C units: “This ingredient 6C,” “that ingredient 30C,” and so forth.

      They’re not talking about temperature measured in Celsius; the C in homeopathy stands for “centesimal,” which is another way of saying “dilute to one part in a hundred.”

      Suppose you have a shotglass full of whiskey and want to dilute/strengthen it according to homeopathic principles. If you combine one drop of whiskey with 99 drops of water, you'll get 1C whiskey, which is 99 percent water and 1 percent whiskey.

      Combining one drop of 1C whiskey with 99 drops of water results in 2C whiskey, which is 99.99 percent water and 0.01 percent whiskey. One drop of 2C added to 99 drops of water makes 3C, which is water containing 0.0001 percent whiskey, and so on.

      Once you reach 12C you crash against the physical barrier of Avogadro’s limit, which means that your 12C whiskey probably doesn’t contain even a single molecule of alcohol. Yet, if the homeopathic “dilution increases strength” idea were true, drinking a glass of that 12C water should give you a much stronger alcoholic buzz than a glass of undiluted whiskey, and a glass of 200C water would presumably make you pass out from booze intoxication even though you never downed a single drop of alcohol.

      As the National Institutes of Health noted in a background paper it produced on homeopathy, “it is not possible to explain in scientific terms how a remedy containing little or no active ingredient can have any effect.”

      Public comments to the FTC can be submitted electronically here.

      Promoters of homeopathic treatments may face an uphill battle later this year as the Federal Trade Commission takes a closer look at their claims. The FTC ...

      CoreLogic: Home prices up again in April

      Price appreciation is seen continuing into next year

      They did it gain.

      For the 38th month in a row, home prices nationwide -- including distressed sales -- have posted a year-over-year gain.

      CoreLogic reports its Home Price Index (HPI) increased by 6.8% in April 2015 from the same month in 2014. On a month-over-month basis, home prices nationwide, including distressed sales, rose 2.7% from the previous month.

      Distressed sales include short sales and real estate-owned (REO) transactions.

      “For the first four months of 2015, home sales were up 9% compared to the same period a year ago,” said Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic. “One byproduct of the increased sales activity is rising house prices, and, as a result, month-over-month home prices are up almost 3% for April 2015 and up more than 6% from a year ago.”

      Approaching the peak

      Including distressed sales, 30 states plus the District of Columbia were at or within 10% of their peak prices in April. Eight states and D.C. reached new price peaks not experienced since January 1976 when the CoreLogic HPI started. These states include Alaska, Colorado, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming.

      Excluding distressed sales, home prices increased by 6.8% from a year earlier 2.3% month-over-month compared. Excluding distressed sales, only South Dakota (-0.3%) and Louisiana (-0.2%) showed year-over-year depreciation in April.

      Report highlights

      • Including distressed sales, the 5 states with the highest home price appreciation were: South Carolina (+11.4%), Colorado (+9.7%), Washington (+9.1%), Florida (+9%) and Texas (+8.3%).
      • Excluding distressed sales, the 5 states with the highest home price appreciation were: South Carolina (+10%), Florida (+9.5%), Colorado (+9.3%), Washington (+8.7%) and Texas (+8.2%).
      • Including distressed transactions, the peak-to-current change in the national HPI (from April 2006 to April 2015) was -9%. Excluding distressed transactions, the peak-to-current change for the same period was -5.1%.
      • Including distressed sales, 4 states experienced year-over-year home price depreciation: Massachusetts (-1.7%), Louisiana (-1.5%), Connecticut (-1.1%) and Maryland (-0.7%).
      • The 5 states with the largest peak-to-current declines, including distressed transactions, were: Nevada (-33.9%), Florida (-29.3%), Rhode Island (-28.2%), Arizona (-26.2%) and Connecticut (-24.8%).
      • Of the top 100 Core Based Statistical Areas (CBSAs) measured by population, 92 showed year-over-year increases. The eight CBSAs that showed year-over-year declines were: Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, Md.; Camden, N.J.; Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, Conn.; New Orleans-Metairie, La.; Worcester, Mass.-Conn.; Albany-Schenectady-Troy, N.Y.; New Haven-Milford, Conn. and Wilmington, Del.-Md.-NJ.

      Looking ahead

      The CoreLogic HPI Forecast indicates that home prices -- including distressed sales -- are projected to increase by 1.1% month over month from April 2015 to May 2015 and by 5.3% on a year-over-year basis from April 2015 to April 2016.

      Excluding distressed sales, home prices are projected to increase by 0.9% month over month from April 2015 to May 2015 and by 4.9% year over year from April 2015 to April 2016.

      “Old fashion supply and demand, fueled by historically low mortgage rates and improving consumer finances and confidence, continue to push home prices up,” said Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO of CoreLogic. “We expect continued price appreciation throughout 2015 and into next year. Over the longer term, household formation, up by more than one million over the past year alone, will drive down vacancy rates and create tighter housing markets in many metropolitan areas. This should provide the necessary underpinning for rising prices for the foreseeable future.”

      They did it gain. For the 38th month in a row, home prices nationwide -- including distressed sales - have posted a year-over-year gain. CoreLogic report...

      John Wood oil-fired water heaters recalled

      Combustible material near the outside of the water heater can catch fire

      A.O. Smith Corp., of Milwaukee, Wis., is recalling about 250 John Wood oil-fired water heaters.

      The water heater’s combustion chamber can be misaligned and heat the exterior walls of the water heater instead of the water. Combustible material near the outside of the water heater can catch fire, posing fire and burn hazards.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves John Wood brand 50- and 70-gallon oil-fired water heaters. The 50-gallon water heaters have model number JW517 and serial numbers from 1349A021678 through 1503A016643. The 70-gallon water heaters have model number JW717 and serial numbers from 1421M001517 through 436M000040.

      The water heaters are gray with “John Wood” printed in blue and white near the top. The model number, size and serial numbers are printed on the rating plate near the top of the tank. Only oil-fired water heaters are included in this recall.

      The water heaters, manufactured in the U.S., were sold by John Wood sales representatives to plumbers and consumers from January 2014, through March 2015, for about $1,500 to $2,500.

      Consumers should immediately turn off and stop using the recalled water heaters and contact A.O. Smith for a free inspection and free replacement of misaligned water heaters.

      Consumers may contact A.O. Smith toll free at (866) 880-4661 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., ET, Monday through Friday.

      A.O. Smith Corp., of Milwaukee, Wis., is recalling about 250 John Wood oil-fired water heaters. The water heater’s combustion chamber can be misaligned an...

      Court rules against mortgage relief law firm

      Struggling homeowners warned to beware of lawyers asking for upfront cash

      If you were a struggling homeowner fighting to prevent foreclosure, would you be more willing to pay thousands of dollars upfront if the company that promised it could help was a law firm?

      You might, but it would be money down the drain. Paying anyone who promises relief from foreclosure always ends badly.

      The number of foreclosures has declined since the worst days of the Great Recession but a recent study found that since 2010, more than 40,000 homeowners have complained they were scammed by someone promising to offer foreclosure assistance or help them with a mortgage modification.

      Sadly, many of the complaints involved lawyers and the scams conducted by lawyers tend to be much more expensive than those run by less qualified con artists, according to the study conducted by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

      The study found that in 2013, nearly 60% of all complaint calls to the HOPE hotline -- which offers assistance to homeowners in trouble -- involved a lawyer. The average reported loss was $3,601. As in other foreclosure assistance scams, many of the victims lost not only the fees they paid but also their homes.

      A Florida case reported earlier, illustrates the problem. The state of Florida and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) heard so many complaints about the Hoffman Law Group that they brought changes against the firm and its corporate affiliates. A court has granted a final judgment against the defendants on charges of using deceptive marketing practices and scamming distressed homeowners into paying illegal advance fees.

      Consumers conned into paying millions

      The complaint claims the law firm and four other companies worked together to con consumers into paying millions of dollars in illegal upfront fees to join frivolous lawsuits, claiming the litigation would pressure banks to come to terms and provide foreclosure relief. The suits were inevitably dismissed.

      The court found the corporate defendants liable for more than $11.7 million — the full amount of illegal fees paid by consumers — and ordered them to pay a $10 million civil penalty to CFPB and more than $6 million in penalties to Florida.

      "Scamming homeowners worried about losing their homes is not only illegal, it is despicable, and thanks to the great work of my consumer protection division and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, these defendants will pay for preying on Florida homeowners facing foreclosure,” said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. "Foreclosure rescue scammers cannot evade the law by hiding behind a law firm. It is discouraging that there are attorneys out there that will allow their licenses to be used by shady companies to target people facing foreclosure."

      Different wrinkle

      It was a different wrinkle in an old scheme. At the height of the foreclosure crisis operators routinely contacted homeowners on the brink of losing their homes and persuaded them to pay thousands of dollars upfront, promising the foreclosure could be stopped by working out a deal with the loan servicer.

      The approach may have changed but CFPB Director Richard Cordray says the scam has the same result.

      “The false promises made by these companies lured struggling homeowners into scams that led to greater financial hardship,” Cordrey said. “We are working to protect consumers from illegal predatory practices by holding bad actors accountable for their actions.”

      The Hoffman Law Group, formerly Residential Litigation Group, is just the latest legal enterprise to run afoul of the courts or government regulators. In 2013 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reached a settlement with a California group accused of victimizing more than 1,000 consumers by promoting its "forensic loan audits" and "mass joinder" lawsuits to homeowners seeking relief from mortgage-related problems.

      The FTC said the promoters deceived cash-strapped consumers into believing they could hold onto their homes and reduce their mortgage payments by signing on to these efforts with hefty up-front fees.

      If you were a struggling homeowner fighting to prevent foreclosure, would you be more willing to pay thousands of dollars upfront if the company that promi...

      Melanoma rates have doubled in the last 30 years

      Rates of other cancers are decreasing but melanoma is on the rise

      The rate of most cancers is declining in the U.S. but the incidence of melanoma, the most deadly skin cancer, doubled from 1982 through 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

      It's a big problem because skin cancer is the most common form of caner in the U.S. and melanoma is the most deadly skin cancer. It's caused primarily by skin cell damage from ultraviolet radiation -- the sun and tanning beds. 

      “Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, and it’s on the rise,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a hat and clothes that cover your skin. Find some shade if you’re outside, especially in the middle of the day when the dangerous rays from the sun are most intense, and apply broad-spectrum sunscreen.”

      The CDC report warns that without additional community prevention efforts, melanoma will continue to increase over the next 15 years, with 112,000 new cases projected in 2030. It calls for more community prevention efforts -- like providing more shade in playgrounds and keeping teens out of tanning salons.

      “The rate of people getting melanoma continues to increase every year compared to the rates of most other cancers, which are declining,” said Lisa Richardson, MD, MPH, Director of the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control. “If we take action now, we can prevent hundreds of thousands of new cases of skin cancers, including melanoma, and save billions of dollars in medical costs.”

      9,000 deaths

      This CDC report shows that melanoma is responsible for more than 9,000 skin cancer deaths each year. In 2011, more than 65,000 melanoma skin cancers were diagnosed. By 2030, according to the report, effective community skin cancer prevention programs could prevent an estimated 230,000 melanoma skin cancers and save $2.7 billion dollars in treatment costs.

      Successful programs feature community efforts that combine education, mass media campaigns, and policy changes to increase skin protection for children and adults.

      This report highlights the recommendations for communities from the Community Guide for Preventive Services. Communities can increase shade on playgrounds, at public pools, and other public spaces, promote sun protection in recreational areas, encourage employers, childcare centers, schools, and colleges to educate about sun safety and skin protection, and restrict the availability and use of indoor tanning by minors. 

      Everyone is encouraged to protect their skin with protective clothing, wide-brimmed hats, broad-spectrum SPF sunscreen, and seek shade outdoors.

      Through the Affordable Care Act, more Americans will qualify to get healthcare coverage that fits their needs and budget, including important preventive services. Behavioral counseling is now provided with no cost-sharing to counsel people aged 10–24 years with fair skin about limiting their exposure to UV radiation to reduce risk of skin cancer. Visit Healthcare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596 (TTY/TDD 1-855-889-4325) to learn more.

      To learn about CDC’s efforts to prevent skin cancer, visit: www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin.

      Vital Signs is a report that appears on the first Tuesday of the month as part of the CDC journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The report provides the latest data and information on key health indicators. These are cancer prevention, obesity, tobacco use, motor vehicle passenger safety, prescription drug overdose, HIV/AIDS, alcohol use, health care-associated infections, cardiovascular health, teen pregnancy, and food safety.

      The rate of most cancers is declining in the U.S. but the incidence of melanoma, the most deadly skin cancer, doubled from 1982 thro...

      Court affirms second mortgages aren't written off in bankruptcy

      Gives defaulting homeowners less wiggle room

      After the housing meltdown, quite a few homeowners found themselves in the following situation:

      Facing bankruptcy a homeowner is unable to sell his or her home that is hopelessly underwater and has a second mortgage as well as a first. Foreclosure will get the first lender at least a portion of what is owed but the homeowner is still stuck with the second mortgage.

      A group of bankrupt homeowners challenged that idea in court, arguing that since the home had lost so much of its value, the second mortgage was essentially an unsecured debt and should be written off entirely in bankruptcy, just like credit card debt.

      When a federal appeals court bought that argument Bank of America, which was owed $47,000 on a second mortgage on a Florida foreclosure, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. After considering the arguments all nine justices on the high court sided with the bank, ruling (PDF) the second mortgage remained a secured debt, even though there was no value in the collateral to secure it.

      How lenders get paid

      In the typical foreclosure the senior lender, the company that financed the purchase, is first in line to get repaid. If there is any money left after the first lien on the property has been settled, it goes to whomever is second in line – usually a lender that issued a second mortgage.

      But because most foreclosures sell for well below the market value and there is no money left over, any second-mortgage holder turns to the former homeowner for repayment. As the legal experts at Nolo.com explain it, foreclosure wipes away the lien against the property but not the debt.

      “While the security for the debt has been eliminated, the obligations remain in place,” Nolo.com explains on its website.

      Foreclosure, after all, is simply a legal step to clear the title to the property so that it can be resold to a new buyer. It does not address whether the homeowner still has legal obligations to the lien-holders.

      The argument

      The issue before the court was whether this obligation holds up in a bankruptcy proceeding. A former homeowner claimed that it didn't because there was nothing of value to secure the loan. The justices unanimously agreed that was a stretch – pointing out that when the loan was taken out and the promissory note signed, there was in fact enough value in the home to serve as collateral.

      Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas said the homeowner's contention that the home's loss of value changed the meaning of the term “secured” was not compelling.

      “Whether or not that proposition is true, it is an insufficient justification for giving the term 'secured claim' a different definition depending on the value of the collateral,” Thomas wrote. “We are generally reluctant to give the 'same words a different meaning' when construing statutes.”

      The Supreme Court has, in effect, upheld the status quo. If a second lien holder, such as a bank that has extended a home equity loan, does not receive enough money in a foreclosure proceeding, it can turn to the foreclosed homeowner for payment.

      If the homeowner can't or won't pay, the bank can sue – something NoLo.com says happens in most cases.

      After the housing meltdown, quite a few homeowners found themselves in the following situation:Facing bankruptcy a homeowner is unable to sell his or h...

      Windows 10 with new security options coming July 29

      Security features to include biometric options and an end to “Patch Tuesday”

      Microsoft announced it plans to publicly release Windows 10 on July 29. Current users of Windows 7 and 8 will be able to upgrade free for one year after the release, and prices for those who don't qualify for a free upgrade will range from $110 for Windows 10 Home to $199 for the Pro version.

      Last month, Microsoft announced that Windows 10 would do away with the tradition of “Patch Tuesday” – issuing software updates (including patches to fix recently discovered security holes) on Tuesdays.

      The obvious problem with releasing patches only once a week is that hackers tend not to respect the scheduling needs of their intended victims, so why should security fixes adhere to a once-a-week schedule when security threats do not?

      Instead, Microsoft will release Windows 10 security patches as soon as they're available.

      "Key innovations"

      If Windows 10 works as its developers intend (always a big “if” with any major software release, let alone an entire operating system), it will also come with additional security options including Device Guard, Windows Hello and Microsoft Passport, all of which were first introduced at San Francisco's RSA Conference last April.

      Microsoft's Chris Hallum identified those three as the “key security innovations in Windows 10.”

      Device Guard is intended to protect data and software from malware or hackers that have already managed to break into an organization's system, by what RedmondMag describes as “creating a virtual machine that's isolated from the rest of the operating system.”

      Or, as Hallum wrote on the Windows blog, when Device Guard is enabled it “block[s] anything other than trusted apps — which are apps that are signed by specific software vendors, the Windows Store, or even your own organization.” This should protect against malware-ridden apps from spam emails and similar threats.

      Facial recognition

      Windows Hello is intended to bypass easy-to-steal passwords with biometric security options including “facial recognition technology,” according to Hallum. Users of Windows Hello can also choose iris-scan or fingerprint recognition although, as the Dark Reading security blog points out, any of the biometric Hello options will require additional hardware and software support:

      Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of Microsoft's operating systems group, says Hello is more secure because it allows you to authenticate applications, enterprise content, and online experiences without storing a password on the user device or on a network server.

      The catch is you need a machine with a fingerprint reader and scanning software and hardware for the infrared technology to identify a user by his face or iris. And the devices require Windows Biometric Framework support.

      Microsoft does say that hackers won't be able to get around any biometric requirements using photographs or other images:

      For facial or iris detection, Windows Hello uses a combination of special hardware and software to accurately verify it is you -- not a picture of you or someone trying to impersonate you. The cameras use infrared technology to identify your face or iris and can recognize you in a variety of lighting conditions.

      Windows Hello, if enabled, will be integrated with the third security feature, Microsoft Passport, which the company says “is a code name for a programming system that IT managers, software developers and website authors can use to provide a more secure way of letting you sign-in to their sites or apps. Instead of using a shared or shareable secret like a password, Windows 10 helps to securely authenticate to applications, websites and networks on your behalf -- without sending up a password. Thus, there is no shared password stored on their servers for a hacker to potentially compromise.”

      In other words, Windows 10 users who opt-in to Hello (and buy the necessary equipment) can then use Microsoft Passport in lieu of passwords to authenticate their identities. But all of these features will be opt-in rather than opt-out; if you want to install Windows 10 without Passport or Hello's biometric identifiers, you still can.

      Microsoft announced it plans to publicly release Windows 10 on July 29. Current users of Windows 7 and 8 will be able to upgrade free for one year after th...

      You need a passport to travel internationally -- and so does your dog

      Most destinations have strict rules about bringing pets into the country

      Does your pet have a passport? If you are traveling Down Under or elsewhere, you might want to check the laws regarding pets coming in and out of the country.

      Johnny Depp just went through a little bit of a hassle with his two dogs as he was leaving Australia. In fact he had to hire a plane out of the country in order to get the dogs out. That little plane ride probably exceeded First Class to the tune of about $400,000.

      Emelye Bunny of UK-based PBS Pet Travel told CNN: "Australia is definitely the most complicated and strictest place to get a pet to.”

      They are strict for a reason -- it’s to prevent the spread of non-native diseases such as rabies, as well as other diseases and internal and external parasites. Before you leave the U.S. to travel to Australia you have to get a rabies shot and wait a month to make sure it takes effect. They take a blood test to be sure.

      Closer to the travel date, cats and dogs need to have internal and external parasite treatments, blood tests and a government export certificate. In addition, Bunny said, pets need an import permit from Australia and then 10 days quarantine on arrival.

      A Pet Passport is a document that that records your pet’s information. The reason for it is to speed up and make the whole traveling with a pet a little simpler between member countries. The process before this was implemented was tedious and trying.

      Because the UK was so difficult to get into with a pet several European Union countries came up with something called the Pet Travel Scheme ("PETS"). It is a system which allows animals to travel easily between member countries without undergoing a quarantine. The UK used to have a six-month quarantine. Now it is a month. PETS is used by many countries including the U.S.

      Besides having a rabies shot some countries also request proof of treatment for ticks and tapeworm. If owners follow the requirements of PETS, dogs can skip the quarantine period implemented at the airport during entry or re-entry to a country. The PETS policy and requirements typically apply to cats as well.

      It doesn’t have to be a international flight to need documentation for your animal. Many states require that as well. Some states require not only a proof of rabies but a certificate of good health issued by a vet, as well as registration tags that are current before you can come into another state. To fly out of some states, owners must fill out the United States Interstate and International Certificate of Health Examination for Small Animals, or the APHIS Form 7001.

      To make life a little easier on yourself make sure your dog’s immunizations are up to date and it will help as you claw your way through all the paperwork.

      Does your pet have a passport? If you are traveling Down Under or elsewhere, you might want to check the laws regarding pets coming in and out of the count...

      Canadian court orders 3 tobacco companies to pay $12.5 billion in damages

      Companies say they'll appeal

      The tobacco industry has lost one more battle. And it's a big one.

      Three international firms – Philip Morris International, a British American Tobacco subsidiary and Japan Tobacco – have been ordered to pay damages to smokers in Quebec. In Canadian dollars the award amounts to $15.6 billion, or 12.5 U.S. dollars.

      As many as 1 million Canadian smokers and former smokers were part of the suit and could stand to receive varying amounts of compensation.

      "The companies earned billions of dollars at the expense of the lungs, the throats and the general well-being of their customers," said Quebec Superior Court Judge Brian Riordan.

      Appeals

      The companies are free to appeal the ruling but are still required, according to the court order, to start paying out compensation within 60 days.

      In their complaint the plaintiffs charged – and the court agreed – that the tobacco companies did not adequately warn smokers that lighting up carried a multitude of health risks. They further maintained that the defendants failed to meet their obligation under the law not to cause injury to another person.

      The tobacco companies argued that health risks associated with smoking have been well known for decades. Bloomberg News reports the three companies plan to appeal the judgment.

      Though tobacco stock prices dropped on the news, investors initially seemed to shrug off the verdict.

      “Class actions always have big numbers attached and having it quantified is a bit of a shock,” Erik Bloomquist, an analyst at Berenberg in London, told Bloomberg. “It’s unlikely the full amount will ever be paid.”

      Response

      British American Tobacco issued a statement noting it was not a party to the judgment, only its Canadian subsidiary, Imperial Tobacco Canada.

      “There are strong legal grounds with which to challenge both the overall judgment, and to seek a stay of the provisional execution order, which Imperial Tobacco Canada will do within 30 days of the original 27th May ruling,” the company said in a statement. “As such, no payments will be made until the request to stay the provisional execution order has been heard and a judgment made.”

      The Canadian litigation began in 1998 but didn't make it to court until 2012. In 1998 the 4 largest U.S. tobacco companies entered into the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement with the U.S. government and 46 states.

      Under the agreement, the companies agreed to, among other things, curtail a number of marketing practices and pay billions of dollars to the states to compensate them for Medicaid expenses. In return, the tobacco companies have been shielded from private tort liability in the U.S.

      The tobacco industry has lost one more battle. And it's a big one. Three international firms – Philip Morris International, a British American Tobacco s...

      Controlling blood pressure with drugs might not prevent strokes

      If you take 3 or more blood pressure pills you could still have a stroke

      Millions of people take medication that successfully controls their blood pressure. But new research suggests they haven't eliminated their risks of suffering a stroke.

      Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) say developing hypertension, even if it is eventually controlled with medication, significantly increases the chance of having a stroke.

      The researchers followed up with participants in a major blood pressure study for more than 6 years. Three-quarters of the participants' blood pressure was controlled by medication. The remain quarter had uncontrolled hypertension. At the end of the 6 years more than 800 had suffered a stroke.

      The researchers conclude that the harder hypertension is to control, the more likely the patient is to eventually suffer a stroke, even if medication returns blood pressure to normal levels.

      Stroke risk rises with each pill

      Dr. George Howard, a professor in the Department of Biostatistics in the UAB School of Public Health, found the risk of stroke went up 33% with each blood pressure medicine required to treat blood pressure to goal.

      People with normal blood pressure without having any kind of treatment are two and a half times less likely to have a stroke than people on three or more blood pressure medications.

      That's bad news for people who have suffered hypertension for years but have finally reduced their blood pressure to normal levels with the help of multiple pills.

      “You’re in as much trouble by the time you are on three medications that achieve excellent control as you are when you have hypertension and it is untreated, which is amazing,” Howard said.

      False sense of security

      Howard's point is this: relying on medication to control blood pressure presents a false sense of security.

      The way to reduce strokes, he says, is to prevent hypertension in the first place. His four steps for preventing high blood pressure are:

      • Taking part in moderate physical activity
      • Keeping weight in normal rages
      • Reducing salt intake
      • Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products and reduced in saturated and total fat.

      “It’s everything we know we should be doing,” Howard said. “And over the past 14 years, stroke deaths are down 42%, likely because of this general shift of everybody in the population working toward having lower blood pressures.”

      Drug sales booming

      But the sale of medication to control blood pressure is a huge part of the pharmaceutical industry. The government reports that in 2010, more than 58 million adults were treated for hypertension and spent more than $20 billion on medication to control blood pressure.

      Last year researchers at Duke University irked the phamaceutical industry when they suggested millions of Americans are taking blood pressure medication they don't need.

      That's because health guidelines had just raised what was considered normal blood pressure. The Eighth Joint National Committee said adults over 60 could be healthy with blood pressure readings of 150/90 instead of the previous 140/90.

      “As individuals, we need to take the right actions for our health,” Howard said. “Individuals and society need to work together to keep people from becoming hypertensive.”

      In other words, we need to address what is causing our blood pressure to rise to unhealthy levels, not lower it with drugs.

      Millions of people take medication that successfully controls their blood pressure. But new research suggests they haven't eliminated their risks of suffer...

      Incomes rise, spending slips in April

      The manufacturing economy continued to expand

      The additional money consumers found in their pockets in April stayed there.

      Figures released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis show personal incomes during the month rose 0.4% or $59.4 billion. Disposable personal income (DPI) -- personal income less personal current taxes – increased $48.8 billion, or 0.4%.

      Personal consumption expenditures (PCE) was virtually flat at $2.6 billion, declining less than 0.1%.

      The rise in incomes came as wages and salaries increased $17.7 billion in April, versus an advance of $9.5 billion in March. Private wages and salaries were up $15.7 billion, while government wages and salaries increased $2.0 billion.

      Personal spending and saving

      Personal outlays -- PCE, personal interest payments, and personal current transfer payments – fell $2.7 billion in April following surge of $69.9 billion in March.

      Personal saving -- DPI less personal outlays -- was $744.0 billion in April. The personal saving rate -- personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income – was 5.6% in April, up 0.4% from March.

      “Consumers are still spending, but with rising costs elsewhere, particularly healthcare, Americans have to strategically redirect funds from discretionary spending to essential purchases, while still leaving some monies left over to allocate to savings,” said Sterne Agee Chief Economist Lindsey M. Piegza. “What appears to be a sound long-term plan, in the short-run, if the consumer remains restrained, there is little hope for a 2014-style rebound in the works.”

      The complete income and spending report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      Manufacturing

      Another monthly increase -- the 29th in a row -- for the manufacturing sector.

      The Institute for Supply Management reports the Purchasing Managers Index PMI registered 52.8% in May, an increase of 1.3%s over the April reading of 51.5%.

      A reading above 50% indicates that the manufacturing economy is generally expanding; below 50% indicates that it is generally contracting.

      The New Orders Index registered 55.8%, an increase of 2.3% from the April reading of 53.5% in April, while the Production Index was down 1.5% to 54.5%. The Employment Index jumped 3.4% in March to 51.7%, and inventories of raw materials registered were up, 2.0% at 51.5%.

      The Prices Index shot up 9% to 49.5%, indicating lower raw materials prices for the seventh consecutive month.

      How the sectors performed

      Of the 18 manufacturing industries, 14 reported growth in May in the following order:

      1. Apparel Leather & Allied Products
      2. Furniture & Related Products
      3. Paper Products
      4. Food, Beverage & Tobacco Products
      5. Nonmetallic Mineral Products
      6. Plastics & Rubber Products
      7. Electrical Equipment, Appliances & Components
      8. Primary Metals
      9. Transportation Equipment
      10. Printing & Related Support Activities
      11. Fabricated Metal Products
      12. Machinery
      13. Miscellaneous Manufacturing, and
      14. Chemical Products.

      The two industries reporting contraction in May were Textile Mills and Computer & Electronic Products.

      The additional money consumers found in their pockets in April stayed there. Figures released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis show personal incomes dur...