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    Report makes argument for lifting ban on U.S. oil exports

    Claims prices would drop 8 cents gallon

    Consumers paying attention to the price of crude oil this spring may have wondered why gasoline prices were slow to fall while oil prices were plunging.

    After regaining stability in May and June oil prices are falling again, with some analysts predicting they could touch $30 a barrel before the end of the year. But if they do, it doesn't necessarily follow that gasoline prices will go below $2 a gallon as many consumers would like.

    For crude oil to become gasoline it has to pass through refineries, and that's where bottlenecks tend to occur. When refineries don't keep up with the demand for gasoline, for whatever reason, the price tends to go up.

    But dirt cheap oil, and gasoline that's only relatively cheap, translates into fat profit margins for refineries.

    Increasing profits

    Major refiner Valero Energy reported a quarterly profit of $2.66 a share Thursday, blowing away the Zacks Equity Research estimate of $2.41. Zack's reports the company's profit margin on a barrel of oil rose from $9.84 to $13.71, year-over-year, a 39% increase.

    It's against that backdrop that IHS Inc., a business intelligence company, has issued a report making a case for lifting the ban on U.S. oil exports. Congress enacted the ban in the 1970s, when the U.S. imported much of its oil and was suffering from periodic shortages that spiked prices.

    It's a very different environment today, the report argues, pointing out that the U.S. now produces more oil than it can use. That, it says, creates inefficiencies in the supply chain, further decoupling the price of gasoline from oil prices.

    The study found that the wholesale price of gasoline in the inland Chicago market continued to track those in other markets in recent years, even when when U.S. oil production grew and prices relative to international oil prices declined.

    The gasoline price in that market continued to track prices in other domestic and international hubs rather than weaken with the U.S. crude price.

    “This latest analysis further confirms what IHS research has consistently shown – that the fear that lifting the ban on U.S. crude exports would raise U.S. gasoline prices is unfounded,” said Kurt Barrow, IHS vice president, downstream energy.

    A global commodity

    Barrow says that's because U.S. gasoline is a global commodity. It's traded on the international market and international prices influence what American motorists pay.

    U.S. crude oil is not an international commodity, since it can't be exported. If it could, the report claims there would be more oil available on the world market, which would bring down gasoline prices in nearly every country.

    “Removing the crude export ban would actually lower U.S. gasoline prices by increasing the supply of crude on the global market that is central to determining the price of gasoline the world over,” Barrow said.

    The IHS report says removing the export ban on U.S. oil would lower the retail price of gasoline by about 8 cents a gallon. It says such a move would also revive the U.S. oil industry, which has been forced to curtail production in the way of the Saudi Arabia-engineered supply glut.

    Will it happen? Probably not anytime soon. Neither party has expressed much of an appetite for lifting the ban and, with an election year looming, neither is likely to propose it.

    Consumers paying attention to the price of crude oil this spring may have wondered why gasoline prices were slow to fall while oil prices were plunging. ...
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    OwnStar lets hacker hijack General Motors vehicles equipped with OnStar

    Mobile app exploit allows unauthorized remote control of locks and engines

    Every computer, including those in modern automobiles, is vulnerable to malware. And every Internet connection, including those involving modern automobile computers, is hackable. Therefore, if you can remotely control a computerized device such as your car with your tablet or smartphone, a hacker potentially can do the same.

    The hypothetical danger of hackers hijacking highway drivers has been known for as long as vehicles have been outfitted with wireless connections, but especially over the past year those hypotheticals have too-often become real.

    Nearly all cars on the market are hackable

    Last August, when security researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek attended that year's Black Hat USA convention in Las Vegas, they presented the results of a study listing the most and least hackable automobiles currently available on the U.S. market.

    The following February, the Senate's Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee released a report showing that “Nearly 100 percent of vehicles on the market include wireless technologies that could pose vulnerabilities to hacking or privacy intrusions.”

    Last week, Miller and Valasek made headlines again when they demonstrated their discovery of a software flaw affecting up to half a million late-model Fiat/Chrysler vehicles in America (and the company recalled a total of 1.4 million vehicles over it a few days later).

    Specifically, Miller and Valasek showed that any hacker who knows a vehicle's IP address could seize control of it from anywhere in the U.S. — or at least, anywhere in the U.S. with a reliable cell phone signal. As proof, they remotely hijacked a Jeep Cherokee driven by a willing reporter for Wired, and cut the transmission and other controls while the reporter drove on a nearby Interstate.

    OwnStar hack

    Just yesterday, another security researcher named Samy Kamkar posted an online video demonstrating how easily he could remotely take control of General Motors' OnStar systems by using a device he calls OwnStar (get it?) to exploit a flaw in OnStar's mobile app, thereby unlocking the cars and starting their engines.

    Granted, that's far less severe than the previous week's Fiat/Chrysler security flaw: although OwnStar let Kamkar start a vehicle's engine, he still couldn't drive it anywhere without the key - and the engines will shut down 10 minutes after starting if the vehicle hasn't moved. Still, it doesn't take too much imagination to picture reasons it's bad for a hacker to be able to secretly track a vehicle's location and unlock its doors at will.

    Kamkar intends to demonstrate OwnStar next week at the DefCon security conference in Las Vegas.

    The good news is that after Kamkar posted the video yesterday, General Motors responded by promptly issuing an automatic fix requiring no action from OnStar drivers. The bad news, as Kamkar soon discovered, is that the fix doesn't work to completely solve the problem and patch the vulnerability.

    As of press time, the security problem still exists and is still hackable, and General Motors is working to solve it.

    Every computer, including those in modern automobiles, is vulnerable to malware. And every Internet connection, including those involving modern automobile...
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      Carhop customers may want to hop a little more slowly before driving off the lot

      Buying an older used car is always a risky undertaking and shouldn't be done quickly

      CarHop is a used-car dealer with locations all over the country, advertising low-priced cars and financing for, customers with bad credit. This may sound like a godsend to low-income consumers who need a car to get around but it may not always turn out as planned.

      Scott bought a van with a bum air-conditioner, took it back the next day and is still waiting for his refund.

      Scott's not the only displeased CarHop customer.

      "Nothing but problems for the past year with this car. This is my second car with CarHop coz the first one couldn't be fixed. I've had nothing but problems with this car. There are battery caps and tape holding things together under the hood," said Jeannie of North Highlands, Calif., in a ConsumerAffairs review. "When I called their corporate office one of the ladies told me that the car was going to have problems because it's an old car. My question is then why did you sell it to me? These people try to take you for your money and sell you cheap unreliable cars."

      Mark of Hudson, Wis., bought a 2001 Monte Carlo and isn't much happier than Jeannie.

      "The day that I drove it home, the check engine light came on. The ABS brakes didn't work, and the air bags were disabled. I called them about the check engine light, and they told me they couldn't have anyone look at it until the day after their 3-day return period," he said. "They didn't say that exactly, they just made sure it was the day after, and then they said it was not covered under their 'warranty.'"

      In fairness, not everyone's unhappy. Jeff of Stanchfield, Minn., said everything went well for him: "Had a great experience. I feel our sales associate went above and beyond. We very much appreciate it."

      Didn't know what she was buying

      Patricia of Salem, Ore., said she bought her car "under duress."

      Consumers rate CarHop Auto Sales and Financing

      "The salesman picked it out for me because, well, I am 68 and have a lady brain. ... I felt trapped and when presented with the paperwork to sign the salesman's hand covered most of the legalese while his other hand pointed to the dotted line."

      Oddly, Patricia said that she did not even know what car she was buying when she signed the paperwork.

      "Now mind you I have not seen a car yet. This particular lot does not come out to help you, you are made to go into their building and well you are basically held captive til you agree to buy a car and get this they don't even tell you what you can qualify for."

      Patricia said wound up with a 2002 Elantra that cost her $12,000. "Yes it did break down and the warranty did not cover a radiator which had to be replaced," she added.

      What to do

      Of course, many if not all of these problems could probably have been avoided if the consumers had followed the advice laid out by Stephanie Moore in her classic ConsumerAffairs article, "How not to buy a car."

      Though it's even older than many of the cars CarHop is selling, it's as true today as ever, even if you don't get past Stephanie's 8 Thou Shalt Nots:

      CarHop is a used-car dealer with locations all over the country, advertising low-priced cars and financing for,customers with bad credit. This may sound li...
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      Debit vs. credit cards to pay for a vacation

      Both cards carry very different risks

      The next three weeks will be prime vacation time in the U.S., when families hit the open road or head to the beach. It can be a dangerous time for consumers who carry big credit card balances.

      It's very convenient to charge gas, meals, and lodging to a credit card, but unless there is a plan to pay for all those things when the bill arrives, that big credit card balance can get even bigger.

      After conducting an online survey, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) was pleased to learn that many consumers have already gotten that message. It found a surprising number of consumers have been saving all year for that vacation and plan to pay for it with cash or a debit card.

      But carrying large amounts of cash or using a debit card for everything is not without some risks.

      Considerations

      “It is natural to be concerned about overspending when planning a vacation,” said Bruce McClary, vice president of public relations and external affairs for the NFCC. “While using cash or a debit card is a great way to avoid going into debt, there are some additional considerations that should be made before making them the only options for travel.”

      One big consideration should be security. While many banks and credit unions have improved security options for debit cards, NFCC says lost or stolen cards can give thieves access to checking and savings accounts. Who is liable and for how much often depends on when the card is reported lost or stolen. It can also vary, depending on who issued the card.

      In some cases a cardholder who waits three days before reporting a missing card can face a liability of up to $500.

      Then, there is the matter of how long it takes the bank to replace the stolen money. If you are vacationing with a debit card, it is best to have fast access to the card issuer’s fraud center and a very secure place to store the card.

      Don't carry a bankroll

      Carrying cash can be even riskier. NFCC advises small amounts are okay, but avoid carrying a bankroll to pay for everything.

      Businesses often treat debit and credit cards differently. When you pay for gasoline with a debit card or to reserve a hotel room, be aware that there could be a hold placed on the card beyond the amount of the purchase.

      Suppose your balance isn't quite enough to cover the hold. That could result in either overdraft fees or a rejection of the card – something you don't want when you're traveling.

      The fact is, a credit card is made for paying for things while you are traveling. It's more secure and limits your liability. It's only a problem when consumers run up a bill they can't pay in full and end up padding their credit card balance.

      What to do

      Fortunately, there's an easy solution. Simply set aside the money you've saved for your vacation and put it in a place where it won't get spent on other things. Then, use it to pay for all your vacation spending when the bill arrives.

      It will be easier to manage if you limit vacation spending to one credit card and keep a record of your spending during your trip. Think of it as if you were actually just spending cash. 

      The next three weeks will be prime vacation time in the U.S., when families hit the open road or head to the beach. It can be a dangerous time for consumer...
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      Google resists broadening "right to be forgotten"

      Advertisers group backs Google, privacy advocates not so much

      Not surprisingly, Google is resisting a demand that it broaden the "right to be forgotten" by censoring search results worldwide, saying that allowing one country to censor the Web worldwide would start a "race to the bottom."

      "We believe that no one country should have the authority to control what content someone in a second country can access," global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer says on Google's blog.

      Privacy advocates say that an individual's right to privacy is well-established principle in American law.

      "In the end, the Internet would only be as free as the world’s least free place," Fleischer writes, noting that content that is legal in one country might be illegal in another. "Thailand criminalizes some speech that is critical of its King, Turkey criminalizes some speech that is critical of Ataturk, and Russia outlaws some speech that is deemed to be 'gay propaganda.'"

      Google has been struggling with the European Union since last year's court ruling that search engines must allow Europeans to request removal of links about themselves. In June, France demanded that Google remove results from all of it results pages -- even in the U.S. -- rather than simply from results pages in Europe.

      In the U.S., Consumer Watchdog, a California group, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission saying that Google's refusal to let Americans ask it to remove information about themselves was "unfair and deceptive."

      "No legal basis"

      Today, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) came to Google's defense. In a letter to the FTC, the group said the "terms suggested in the complaint are extraordinarily broad, vague and elusive and would create dangerous precedents adversely impacting numerous other U.S. companies in addition to Google."

      The advertisers group argued that there is,"absolutely no legal basis, and in fact, it would be unconstitutional to allow the U.S. government to compel companies to give to these types of demands."

      “Allowing ‘Right to Be Forgotten’ policies to be enforced in the U.S. would cause serious and undue harm to the public’s right to determine for itself what is important and relevant information,” said Dan Jaffe, ANA’s Group Executive Vice President for Government Relations. “Such a rule would force American companies to edit the past under the supervision of federal regulators. Consumer Watchdog’s costly, onerous censorship proposal runs contrary to consumers’ interests, and is certainly not constitutional in the U.S.”

      Cornerstone of privacy law

      "There is a lot that is incorrect in the ANA statement," said,Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) in an email to ConsumerAffairs, "But my favorite is this: 'Consumer Watchdog is clearly confusing the right to privacy with the right not to be embarrassed.'"

      Said Rotenberg: "No, actually, Consumer Watchdog is describing the right to privacy set out by [former Supreme Court Justice] Louis Brandeis in the famous 1890 law review article. That right is, not surprisingly, the cornerstone of privacy law in the USA."

      Rotenberg and other privacy advocates note that no one is suggesting newspapers should remove articles or not publish them in the first place.

      "In Google v. Spain, the European Court of Justice ruled that the European citizens have a right to request that commercial search firms, such as Google, that gather personal information for profit should remove links to private information when asked, provided the information is no longer relevant. The Court did not say newspapers should remove articles," EPIC said in a recent posting on its website.

      "The Court found that the fundamental right to privacy is greater than the economic interest of the commercial firm and, in some circumstances, the public interest in access to Information," EPIC said.

      A recently leaked version of a Google transparency report found,that the vast majority of requests for delisting concern private matters of private individuals, EPIC said.

      Not surprisingly, Google is resisting a demand that it broaden the "right to be forgotten" by censoring search results worldwide, saying that allowing one...
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      Special class of protein could provide treatment for type 1 diabetes

      Scientists have uncovered more about the nature of immune cells while making the discovery

      Diabetes comes in a variety of different forms. The most common form of the disease, type 2 diabetes, results from cells in the body not using insulin as well as they should. Type 1 diabetes (T1D), however, is much rarer, and results when the body simply can’t produce its own insulin at all. People who have this condition must take part in insulin therapy and other treatments in order to live a full and healthy life.

      Scientists from Uppsala University have investigated the disease thoroughly, and believe that a certain protein found in the body could potentially provide a cure.

      The protein in question is called interleukin-35 (IL-35), and it is made of immune cells. Dr. Kailash Singh, who is a PhD student at Uppsala University, began studying this immune cell when she was examining T1D in rat models. In her research, she found that immune regulatory T-cells in the models were producing pro-inflammatory destructive proteins instead of IL-35, which is an anti-inflammatory protein.

      This reversal is the exact opposite of what should be happening in a normal body, and Singh believes that it may be something that is prompted by T1D.

      “This suggests that the good guys (the anti-inflammatory proteins) have gone bad in early development of Type 1 diabetes and therefore our immune cells destroy the beta cell,” she said.

      Crucial protein

      As a result of this destructive process, Singh found that the levels of IL-35 that should have been present in the models were much lower than they should be. These low levels indicate that the protein may play a crucial role in stopping T1D.

      The research team that Singh was a part of, which was led by Professor Stellan Sandler, set out to find if IL-35 could suppress or reverse T1D, even if the disease was already established. The team utilized mice who had been injected with a chemical that induced symptoms of T1D. After the symptoms had been established for two days, the researchers injected them with IL-35 to see if their blood glucose levels normalized.

      Their findings show that the blood glucose levels in the mouse models stabilized after they were given the injections. In addition to this finding, the researchers were also able to test IL-35 injections against a specific model of T1D, called non-obese diabetic mouse (NOD). Even after the IL-35 treatments were stopped, diabetic symptoms did not return in any of the subjects.

      Unique insights 

      "To the best of our knowledge, we are the first to show that IL-35 can reverse established Type 1 diabetes in two different mouse models and that the concentration of the particular cytokine is lower in Type 1 diabetes patients than in healthy individuals. Also, we are providing an insight into a novel mechanism: how immune regulatory T cells change their fate under autoimmune conditions", said Singh.

      The full study has been published in Scientific Reports

      Scientists from Uppsala University have investigated the disease thoroughly, and believe that a certain protein found in the body could provide a cure....
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      Inventory of homes for sale falls for fifth straight month

      First-time buyers finding fewer homes to choose from

      Talk about bad timing. For the first time since the financial crisis there has been a surge in first time homebuyers looking for homes. But according to real estate marketing site Zillow, there are fewer homes on the market.

      Residential inventory fell in June for the fifth straight month, giving sellers additional leverage as the 2015 real estate season reaches its peak.

      Zillow reports the biggest decline in inventory came in entry-level housing, the homes usually sought by first time buyers.

      Inventory down 6.5%

      The total number of homes listed for sale on Zillow in June was down 6.5% year-over-year but was up 2.1% on a monthly basis. Not surprisingly, the hot real estate markets drew the most sellers, with inventories posting double-digit increases in Austin, Atlanta, and Washington, DC.

      "Historically low mortgage rates continue to keep overall ownership affordability very good by historical standards, making it a great time to buy a home, especially with rent becoming increasingly unaffordable," said Zillow Chief Economist Stan Humphries. "Finding a house is the last hurdle for many buyers who have saved a down payment and gotten pre-approved for a mortgage. But low inventory levels like those we're seeing across the country can bring the home-buying process to a screeching halt. In many markets, there just isn't a lot to choose from in terms of homes on the market."

      What's behind the relatively low number of homes for sale? A couple of factors could be at work.

      Fewer new homes

      U.S. home building activity declined sharply in the wake of the financial crisis and has not kept pace with new household formation over the last six years. Much of the residential construction has centered on apartments, since more people were renting and fewer were buying.

      For someone to decide to sell their home, a seller has to be able to buy something else. He or she may not be able to qualify for a mortgage under today's tighter underwriting standards and, because of stagnant incomes, might not be able to afford to move up.

      As we reported in June, a huge segment of homeowners might want to sell their homes but can't, because they are still under water – owing more on mortgages than the homes are worth. While rising home values have returned many homeowners to positive equity, about half of those still underwater are in so deep that they may never be able to sell.

      Home values are rising, but pretty slowly. The Zillow reports show U.S. home prices were up 3.3% year-over-year in June, with a median price of $180,000.

      Challenges

      As values continue to rise, Zillow says buyers are faced with more challenges in a tighter market, especially in hot markets like Denver, which saw the highest home value appreciation from last year, surpassing even San Jose and San Francisco.

      For those priced out of the housing market or unable to qualify for a mortgage, the alternative is continuing to rent. And here the news gets worse.

      Zillow reports rents are rising faster than home values, with the Zillow Rent Index rising 4.3% in the second quarter, to $1,369.

      Talk about bad timing. For the first time since the financial crisis there has been a surge in first time homebuyers looking for homes. But according to re...
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      Mortgage company slammed for blocking consumers’ attempts to save their homes

      Residential Credit Solutions will pay $1.5 million for wrongdoing

      Imagine, if you will, a company blocking consumers’ attempts to save their homes from foreclosure.

      You don't really have to imagine that because it's exactly what Residential Credit Solutions is accused of doing.

      According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the mortgage servicer failed to honor modifications for loans transferred from other servicers, treated consumers as if they were in default when they weren’t, sent consumers escrow statements falsely claiming they were due a refund, and forced consumers to waive their rights in order to get a repayment plan.

      As part of a settlement with CFPB, Residential Credit Solutions has agreed to pay $1.5 million in restitution to victims and a $100,000 civil money penalty for its illegal actions.

      “By failing to honor loan modifications already in place, Residential Credit Solutions put consumers through more headaches but in some cases cost consumers their homes,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Residential Credit Solutions must now compensate its victims $1.5 million as a result of our action.”

      The Fort Worth, Texas-based mortgage servicing company has about $95 million in total assets. Since 2009, approximately 75,000 borrowers have had their loans transferred to Residential Credit Solutions, which specializes in servicing delinquent loans and “credit-sensitive” residential mortgage loans, where the borrower is at high risk for default.

      As a servicer, it is responsible for, among other things, creating and sending monthly statements to borrowers, and collecting and processing payments. For troubled borrowers, it administers short sale and foreclosure relief programs provided by the owner of the loan. These “loss mitigation” programs provide alternatives to foreclosure.

      Serious damage

      According to a consent order, Residential Credit Solutions engaged in illegal practices when servicing loans that it acquired from other servicers. On a number of occasions, the company failed to honor trial loan modifications that consumers had entered into with their prior servicers. Instead, it insisted that the consumer re-prove that they qualified. This effectively set consumers back as though they had not received a trial modification.

      It also prolonged many people’s loss mitigation plans. The company put consumers in loan modification trial period purgatory and confused consumers about the status of their modifications, making it difficult for them to take appropriate action. In many cases, the company delayed or deprived borrowers of the opportunity to save or sell their homes.

      Residential Credit Solutions’ failures as a mortgage servicer hurt homeowners. In many cases, the company deprived borrowers of the ability to make an informed choice about how to save or sell their home, caused borrowers to drop out from the loss mitigation process entirely, and drove borrowers into foreclosure. In violating the Consumer Financial Protection Act, the company has --since January 2009 -- specifically:

      • Failed to honor in-process modifications,
      • Provided incorrect information,
      • Misrepresented to consumers that they had extra money in escrow and were due a refund, and
      • Forced consumers to waive certain rights to get a payment plan

      Enforcement Action

      The consent order requires Residential Credit Solutions to, among other things:

      • Pay $1.5 million in redress to victims,
      • Engage in efforts to help affected borrowers preserve their home,
      • Honor prior loss mitigation agreements,
      • End all mortgage servicing violations,
      • Adhere to rigorous servicing transfer requirements,
      • Make loss mitigation applications readily available, and
      • Make a $100,000 penalty payment to the CFPB’s Civil Penalty Fund.

      Imagine, if you will, a company blocking consumers’ attempts to save their homes from foreclosure. You don't really have to imagine that because it's exa...
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      Greenland Trading recalls squab products

      The products, imported from France, were not presented at the U.S. point of entry for inspection

      Greenland Trading of Paterson, N.J., is recalling approximately 12,672 pounds of squab (domesticated pigeon).

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

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

      The following products, imported on June 21, 2014; August 16, 2014; and February 16, 2015, from a French establishment not eligible to export meat or poultry product to the U.S., are being recalled:

      • 8-lb. cardboard boxes containing 12 individually plastic wrapped squab weighing less than one pound, labeled “AL MARAAI SQUAB HALAL.”

      The recalled products bear the establishment number “79.213.004 CE” on the box containing the individual packages, and were shipped to port #4601, Port Newark, New York, N.Y.

      Consumers with questions may can contact Mohamed Mebaraz of Greenland Trading at (973) 225-0322.

      Greenland Trading of Paterson, N.J., is recalling approximately 12,672 pounds of squab (domesticated pigeon). The products, imported from France, were not...
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      NVIDIA recalls tablet computers

      The lithium-ion battery in the tablets can overheat

      NVIDIA Corp., of Santa Clara, Calif., is recalling about 88,000 NVIDIA SHIELD tablet computers in the U.S. and Canada.

      The lithium-ion battery in the tablets can overheat, posing a fire hazard.

      The company has received 4 reports of batteries overheating due to thermal runaway, including 2 reports of damage to flooring.

      This recall involves NVIDIA SHIELD tablet computers with 8-inch touch screens. Model numbers P1761, P1761W and P1761WX and serial numbers 0410215901781 through 0425214604018 are included in this recall.

      NVIDIA and the model and serial numbers are etched on the left side edge of the tablets. The SHIELD logo is on the back of the tablets.

      The computers, manufactured in China, were sold at GameStop stores nationwide and online at Amazon.com, BestBuy.com, GameStop.com, NewEgg.com, TigerDirect.com and other websites from July 2014, through July 2015, for between $300 and $400.

      Consumers should immediately stop using the tablets and contact NVIDIA for instructions on receiving a free replacement tablet.

      Consumers may contact NVIDIA toll free at (888) 943-4196 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT Monday through Friday or online at www.nvidia.com and click on “NVIDIA Tablet Recall Program” at the bottom center of the page in green letters.

      NVIDIA Corp., of Santa Clara, Calif., is recalling about 88,000 NVIDIA SHIELD tablet computers in the U.S. and Canada. The lithium-ion battery in the tabl...
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      Stork Craft recalls crib mattresses

      The mattresses fail to meet the mandatory federal mattress flammability standard

      Stork Craft Manufacturing USA of Las Vegas, Nev., is recalling about 18,500 foam crib mattresses.

      The mattresses fail to meet the mandatory federal mattress flammability standard for open flames, posing a fire hazard.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Stork Craft foam crib and crib/toddler mattresses with model numbers 06710-100 and 06710-200 and a date of manufacture between August 2014, and January 2015. The mattresses have a zippered white fabric cover and measure about 28 inches wide, 52 inches long and have a 5 inch thick foam core.

      The model number, date of manufacture and “Stork Craft Manufacturing (USA) Inc.” are printed on white federal label attached to the white mattress cover. The mattresses’ box has a Graco logo.

      The mattresses, manufactured in China, were sold at Walmart stores nationwide and online at Amazon.com, EChannel.com, ToysRUs.com, Walmart.com and Wayfair.com from August 2014, through April 2015, for between $38 and $50.

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled crib mattresses and contact Stork Craft for a free, zippered mattress barrier cover to be placed over the mattress foam core and under the white mattress cover provided with the mattress.

      Consumers may contact Stork Craft at (800) 274-0277 Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. (PT), by email at parts@storkcraft.com, or online at http://storkcraftdirect.com and click on Product Recall near the bottom of the page for more information.

      Stork Craft Manufacturing USA of Las Vegas, Nev., is recalling about 18,500 foam crib mattresses. The mattresses fail to meet the mandatory federal mattre...
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      Ford recalls vehicles with parking brake issue

      The parking brake may not fully engage when applied

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 7,165 model year 2015 Ford Taurus, Ford Flex, and Lincoln MKS vehicles manufactured May 4, 2015, to May 23, 2015; Lincoln MKT vehicles manufactured May 4, 2015, to May 21, 2015; and 2015-2016 Ford Explorer vehicles manufactured May 4, 2015, to May 23, 2015.

      The recalled vehicles have a parking brake that may not fully engage when applied. As such, they fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 135, "Light Vehicle Brake Systems."

      If the parking brake does not fully engage and the transmission is left in a gear other than 'Park' while on a slope, the vehicle may roll away, increasing the risk of a crash.

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will test the operation of the parking brake system, and if necessary, replace the parking brake control assembly, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin August 31, 2015.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 15C07.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 7,165 model year 2015 Ford Taurus, Ford Flex, and Lincoln MKS vehicles manufactured May 4, 2015, to May 23, 2015; Lincoln M...
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      Doctors push to eliminate most child vaccination exemptions

      Aging group urges greater vaccination effort for seniors

      Most states require immunizations for children, but nearly all allow for exemptions. These range from religious and philosophical reasons to medical ones.

      It's a contentious subject that rose to the surface in January when health officials blamed a new outbreak of measles on parents opting their children out of recommended vaccinations.

      The controversy may pick up where it left off now that the summer meeting of the Board of Regents of the American College of Physicians (ACP) has backed elimination of all vaccination exemptions, except those for medical reasons.

      'Risk to public health'

      "Allowing exemptions based on non-medical reasons poses a risk both to the unvaccinated person and to public health," said Dr. Wayne J. Riley, president of ACP. "Intentionally unvaccinated individuals can pose a danger to the public, especially to individuals who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons."

      The ACP Board of Regents said it supports:

      • The immunization of all children, adolescents, and adults, according to the recommendations and standards established by the U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), the National Vaccine Advisory Committee (NVAC), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
      • State laws designed to promote all recommended immunizations.
      • States passing legislation to eliminate any existing exemptions, except for medical reasons, from their immunization laws.

      "Physicians should help educate patients and parents about the risks of vaccine preventable diseases and the safety and effectiveness of vaccines,” Riley said. “Outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases have been linked to communities of unvaccinated and under-vaccinated individuals."

      Riley maintains that the easier it is to receive an exemption, the higher the rate of exemptions in a particular state.

      “As the number of exemptions increases, the risk of vaccine-preventable disease has been found to increase,” he said. “Exemptions from evidence-based immunization requirements should be limited to medical indications in order to protect the public's health."

      That point of view faces stiff opposition from organizations that oppose mandatory vaccinations. The National Vaccine Information Center points out that medical exemptions are hard to come by.

      It says that in 2014, all 50 states allowed a medical vaccine exemption; 48 states allowed a religious vaccine exemption, and 17 states allowed a philosophical, conscientious, or personal belief exemption.

      Vaccines for seniors

      Meanwhile, the Alliance for Aging Research has issued a report, calling for greater vaccination efforts for seniors. Although influenza, pneumococcal, tetanus, and shingles vaccines are routinely recommended for older adults, the report says they are under-utilized.

      "Vaccinations are available for many of the most common and deadly infectious diseases in older Americans and can save countless lives and health care dollars," said Susan Peschin, president and CEO of the Alliance. "Unfortunately, vaccination rates in seniors fall far short of target rates recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)."

      The group says vaccinations for seniors are cost-effective, covered to varying degrees by health insurance, and prevent conditions that have relatively high incidence rates and disease burdens.

      Most states require immunizations for children, but nearly all allow for exemptions. These range from religious and philosophical reasons to medical ones....
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      What ride-sharing drivers need to know about insurance

      You may need to beef up your coverage

      You've got a fairly new car and plenty of time on your hands. Why not pick up some extra cash being an Uber or Lyft driver?

      Before you sign up and start transporting people around town, better update your auto insurance policy. Unless you are already a commercial driver, your auto insurance policy isn't going to provide all the protection you need.

      As soon as Transportation Network Companies (TNC) like Uber started rapidly growing, insurance companies expressed alarm. Non-professional drivers using personal vehicles were essentially jumping into the livery business without changing their consumer-grade auto insurance.

      “Private-passenger auto (PPA) insurance is not designed, underwritten, or priced for commercial ride-sharing,” the Insurance Information Institute (III) warns on its website. “Private-passenger motorists transport themselves, family members, and friends, with average annual travel reaching about 12,000 miles per year. No money is made from these private trips.”

      Not for commercial purposes

      III says that if you read the fine print in your auto insurance policy, then you'll see that it probably explicitly prohibits using the vehicle for commercial purposes. When you obtained the policy, the underwriter also based the rate on the estimated number of miles driven each year. Using a vehicle for ride-sharing most likely pushes the mileage well beyond that.

      State insurance commissioners have also expressed concern about the explosive growth in ride-sharing. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) notes that the major TNCs require drivers to have personal auto insurance, then the company provides additional commercial auto insurance.

      NAIC says before signing up with a TNC, drivers should talk to their insurance company about what a personal auto policy would cover in an accident.

      “Be aware that some providers may not insure you if you choose to conduct commercial business with your personal vehicle,” the group advises. “Others may offer to provide coverage for additional premium.”

      Uber's coverage

      Uber says it requires its drivers to maintain a personal auto insurance policy. In addition, it provides $1 million in commercial auto coverage on each ride-share trip with special commercial insurance specifically designed for ride-sharing.

      But when a driver's app is turned off – when the driver isn't accepting riders – the personal coverage is in force. If the app is on but he or she isn't carrying a passenger, Uber's contingent liability coverage is in force.

      GEICO is among the personal auto insurance providers that has adapted to the ride-sharing environment. It offers a ride-sharing policy, and says that it covers all the gaps. The policy covers the driver and vehicle whether the app is on or off.

      Still, if you are considering becoming a ride-sharing driver, educating yourself on the ins and outs of insurance is a prudent first step. NAIC suggests that you ask these questions when talking to your insurance provider:

      Things to ask

      • How much liability insurance does the TNC provide while I'm transporting a passenger? Is it enough?
      • Will I be charged a deductible? If so, how much?
      • Is the commercial liability insurance coverage my main source of coverage, or is it supplemental to my personal auto policy?

      Also, find out what is covered by the TNC's commercial policy if you are involved in an accident in each of the following circumstances:

      • You are available for hire (logged into your ridesharing app) but not transporting a passenger.
      • You are logged into your ridesharing app and transporting a passenger.
      • You are unavailable for hire (not logged into your ridesharing app) and not transporting a passenger.

      Depending on the TNC you drive for, you may need to consider buying a commercial policy that provides liability insurance as well as comprehensive, collision, medical payments, and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. This will ensure that you are properly protected if you get into an accident while you are driving for hire.

      You've got a fairly new car and plenty of time on your hands. Why not pick up some extra cash being an Uber or Lyft driver?Before you sign up and start...
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      Economic growth snaps back

      Jobless claims moved a bit higher last week

      Everything you heard about economic growth during the first three months of the year -- forget it.

      As it issued the “advance” estimate of second quarter real gross domestic product (GDP) -- the value of the production of goods and services in the U.S., adjusted for price changes, the Commerce Department revised its final figure for the first quarter. Instead of declining by 0.2%, GDP actually expanded 0.6%. Not a lot, but better than a decline.

      Now for the current stuff: The government reports that the GDP increased at an annual rate of 2.3% in the April-June quarter. Keep in mind, though, that this estimate is based on source data that is incomplete or subject to further revision.

      The stronger second-quarter showing comes from growth in personal consumption expenditures (PCE) or consumer spending, exports, state and local government spending, and residential fixed investment. Those gains were partly offset by declines in federal government spending, private inventory investment, and nonresidential fixed investment. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased.

      GDP inflation and spending

      The price index for gross domestic purchases, which measures prices paid by U.S. residents, edged lower from 1.6% in the first quarter to 1.4% in the second three months of the year. Stripping out the volatile food and energy categories, the “core” price index for gross domestic purchases shot up 1.1% after inching ahead 0.2% in the first quarter.

      PCE jumped 2.9% in the second quarter, versus an an increase of 1.8% in the first. Spending on durable goods, such as cars, computers, and major appliances, rose 7.3%, compared with a minuscule gain of of 2.0% in the previous quarter. Spending on nondurable goods was up 3.6%; it rose just 0.7% from January through March. Services spending increased 2.1%, the same increase as in the first quarter.

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

      Initial claims

      After falling to a 42-year low a week ago, first-time applications for state unemployment benefits have moved higher.

      According to the Labor Department (DOL), initial jobless claims were up by 12,000 in the week ending July 25 to a seasonally adjusted 267,000. Analysts at Briefing.com had expected the total to come in a bit higher -- 272,000.

      The 4-week moving average, which smooths out the volatility found in the weekly tabulation, was 274,750, down 3,750 from the previous week -- a level economists say suggest a labor market that is close to full employment.

      The complete jobless claims report may be found on the DOL website.

      Everything you heard about economic growth during the first 3 months of the year -- forget it. As it issued the “advance” estimate of second quarter real ...
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      Medicare scammers banned from selling healthcare products

      The scheme took money from seniors’ bank accounts

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has reached settlements with a group of scammers who falsely promised consumers new Medicare cards in order to obtain their bank account numbers and debit their accounts.

      The settlements, resolving charges the FTC filed last year against Benjamin Todd Workman and Glenn Erikson and their companies, ban the schemers from selling healthcare-related products and services.

      Empty promises

      Telemarketers falsely told consumers they needed their bank account numbers to verify their identities before sending a new Medicare card, promising they would not take money from the accounts. In fact, they took several hundred dollars from each consumer’s account and provided nothing in return. In some cases, the telemarketers falsely promised to provide consumers with identity theft protection services.

      Under the settlement orders, the defendants also are banned from selling identity theft protection-related products and creating or depositing remotely created checks or remotely created payment orders, which are used to make bank account debits.

      They also are prohibited from billing or charging consumers without their consent, misrepresenting material facts about any product or service, violating the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and selling or otherwise benefiting from customers’ personal information.

      The orders impose a judgment of more than $1.4 million, which will be suspended upon payment of $35,000 by Workman and the surrender of certain bank accounts. In each case, the full judgment will become due immediately if either defendant is found to have misrepresented his financial condition.

      The defendants are Workman, Sun Bright Ventures LLC and Citadel ID Pro LLC, and Erickson and Trident Consulting Partners LLC.

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has reached settlements with a group of scammers who falsely promised consumers new Medicare cards in order to obtain th...
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      Ford F-150 crew cab pickup truck aces IIHS evaluations

      But, the extended cab model struggled in the small overlap test

      Call it a tale of 2 pickups.

      The 2015 F-150 crew cab, which Ford calls the SuperCrew, earned good ratings for occupant protection in all 5 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) crashworthiness evaluations -- small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint evaluations -- and earned a 2015 TOP SAFETY PICK award.

      However, the extended cab, or SuperCab, earned good ratings in the moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint evaluations but just a marginal rating for occupant protection in a small overlap front crash.

      The Institute picked the F-150 to test first because it is not only the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. but also the first mass-market vehicle with an all-aluminum body.

      “Consumers who wondered whether the aluminum-body F-150 would be as crashworthy as its steel-body predecessor can consider the question answered,” said David Zuby, IIHS chief research officer.

      Both the crew cab and extended cab F-150 pickups are rated basic for front crash prevention when equipped with Ford’s optional forward collision warning system, which meets performance criteria set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

      The F-150 crew cab isn’t eligible for TOP SAFETY PICK+ because it lacks an autonomous braking system. Vehicles that earn a good or acceptable rating for small overlap protection and good ratings in the moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint evaluations qualify for TOP SAFETY PICK.

      To earn TOP SAFETY PICK+, vehicles also must have an available autobrake system that earns an advanced or superior rating.

      Evaluating 2 models

      For vehicles with multiple body styles, IIHS typically evaluates the one with the biggest sales. Initially, only the F-150 crew cab was on the schedule.

      “After we tested the crew cab in the spring, questions were raised about the extended cab’s ability to match the crew cab’s good small overlap performance'” said Zuby. “We did some initial analysis and decided to test the extended cab, too,”

      “For starters, there’s been lots of buzz around the release of the first aluminum-body pickup and how it would perform in crash tests,” Zuby says. “What’s more, even the lower-selling extended cab sales top those of many of the passenger vehicles we rate.”

      The small overlap test

      In the small overlap front test, each F-150 traveled at 40 mph toward a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier. Twenty-five percent of the pickup’s total width struck the barrier on the driver side, where a Hybrid III dummy representing an average-size man was positioned at the steering wheel. The test replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object such as a tree or a utility pole.

      The two versions of the F-150 had markedly different outcomes.

      “In a small overlap front crash like this, there’s no question you’d rather be driving the crew cab than the extended cab F-150,” Zuby says.

      The crew cab’s occupant compartment remained intact. The front-end structure crumpled in a way that spared the occupant compartment significant intrusion and preserved survival space for the driver.

      Measures recorded on the test dummy indicated low risk of injuries to the dummy’s head, chest, legs and feet.

      The front and side curtain airbags worked together to keep the dummy’s head from contacting injury-producing stiff interior structures or outside objects. The dummy’s head loaded the front airbag, which stayed in place until the dummy rebounded.

      The extended cab is a different story. Intruding structure seriously compromised the driver’s survival space, resulting in a poor structural rating. The toepan, parking brake and brake pedal were pushed back 10-13 inches toward the dummy, and the dashboard was jammed against its lower legs.

      Measures recorded on the dummy indicated there would be a moderate risk of injuries to the right thigh, lower left leg and left foot in a real-world crash of this severity. The steering column was pushed back nearly 8 inches and came dangerously close to the dummy’s chest. The dummy’s head barely contacted the front airbag before sliding off to the left and hitting the instrument panel.

      “Ford added structural elements to the crew cab’s front frame to earn a good small overlap rating and a TOP SAFETY PICK award but didn’t do the same for the extended cab,” Zuby noted. “That shortchanges buyers who might pick the extended cab thinking it offers the same protection in this type of crash as the crew cab. It doesn’t.”

      Call it a tale of 2 pickups. The 2015 F-150 crew cab, which Ford calls the SuperCrew, earned good ratings for occupant protection in all 5 Insurance Insti...
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      Hercules recalls All Trac A/T tires

      The tires may experience a tread separation

      Hercules Tire & Rubber Company is recalling 90,000 All Trac A/T tires, sizes 235/70R16 106T, 235/75R15 109T XL, 245/70R16 107T, 255/70R16 111T, 265/70R16 112T, 265/75R16 116T and 275/70R16 114T.

      The affected tires may experience a tread separation which could result in sudden air loss, increasing the risk of a vehicle crash.

      Hercules will notify owners, and dealers will replace the tires, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in August 2015.

      Owners may contact Hercules customer service at 1-888-943-2402. Hercules number for this recall is 01-2015.

      Hercules Tire & Rubber Company is recalling 90,000 All Trac A/T tires, sizes 235/70R16 106T, 235/75R15 109T XL, 245/70R16 107T, 255/70R16 111T, 265/70R16 1...
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      Windows 10 automatically grants home wi-fi network access to your Outlook and Skype contacts

      You have to change your network name if you want to opt out of this

      Microsoft officially launched its new Windows 10 operating system last night, offering free upgrades to current Windows 7 and 8 users who make the switch within the next year.

      Before the rollout, Microsoft trumpteted the various new security features that Windows 10 would offer, so it's arguably ironic that the operating system comes pre-installed with a security flaw touted as a connectivity advantage: a feature called Wi-Fi Sense which, unless you deliberately opt out of the default setting, automatically shares your Wi-Fi network password with all of your contacts in Outlook, Hotmail, and Skype. (You can also share your network password with Facebook “friends,” but that's not automatic; it requires you to opt in.)

      More specifically, it doesn't actually hand out your password to your contacts; it “merely” shares an encrypted version of your password and stores it on Microsoft's servers, thus allowing anyone in your contact list to use your Wi-Fi network when they visit you at home, or merely happen to be in range of it. Or maybe when they're breaking into your house.

      Opting out

      Wi-Fi Sense's FAQ page claims to offer “answers to some questions you might have about Wi-Fi Sense.” Unfortunately, it does not answer the question “Where the hell did Microsoft get the idea that if I exchange an email with someone, this means I want that someone to have access to my home Wi-Fi network?”

      According to Microsoft, the only way to opt out of Wi-Fi Sense is by changing the name of the network to include the phrase _optout (note the underscore symbol before the word). Microsoft offered as an example the name mynetwork_optout. However, Microsoft also says that “It can take several days for your network to be added to the opted-out list for Wi-Fi Sense. If you want to stop your network from being shared sooner than that, you can change your Wi-Fi network password. For more information about how to do that, check the documentation for your router or access point.”

      Don't forget that if you change your Wi-Fi network name, you and everyone in your household will then have to re-connect your devices to the newly named network.

      "Disaster waiting to happen"

      Security expert Brian Krebs, who called the automatic password-sharing “a disaster waiting to happen,” noted that, although Wi-Fi Sense has been a feature on Windows Phone for quite awhile, that was “less of a concern” because Windows Phone has only a tiny share of the mobile device market, which is largely dominated by Android and Apple iOS. However, “embedding this feature in an upgrade version of Windows makes it a serious concern for much of the planet.”

      If you intend an upgrade to Windows 10 but have not yet done so, make sure you change the name of your Wi-Fi network to include _optout before you make the upgrade. Krebs also recommends that “While you’re at it, consider keeping Google off your Wi-Fi network as well. It’s unclear whether the Wi-Fi Sense opt-out kludge will also let users opt-out of having their wireless network name indexed by Google, which requires the inclusion of the phrase “_nomap” in the Wi-Fi network name.”

      Microsoft officially launched its new Windows 10 operating system last night, offering free upgrades to current Windows 7 and 8 users who make the switch w...
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      Rental housing harder to find in second quarter

      Apartment vacancy rate lowest since 1989

      Renters continued to get squeezed in the second quarter of the year as rents rose and the number of vacant apartments available for rent declined.

      A report (PDF) by the U.S. Census Bureau shows the national rental unit vacancy rate dipped to 6.8% in the April to June period, marking the lowest vacancy rate since 1989. The vacancy rate was 7.1% in the first quarter.

      With fewer available homes and apartments, landlords were able to charge more in rent. The median advertised monthly rent in the second quarter was $803. That's up about $50 a month since the financial crisis.

      Fewer rental opportunities in cities

      The Census numbers show rental inventory is tightest in metropolitan areas, suggesting there are more homes and apartments to choose from in non-urban areas. Regions of the country with the most cities also have the fewest available rentals.

      The south and Midwest had the highest rental vacancy rates while things were much tighter in the northeast and west. The vacancy rate in the northeast was 5.4% and 4.9% in the west.

      It's no coincidence that home prices are highest in those two regions of the country, meaning more people priced out of the real estate market have no other option than to rent their home. Wall Street economists predict the trend means current rents are set to go even higher.

      Home ownership rate falls

      Meanwhile, the Census report shows that as more people have moved into rentals, the home ownership rate has continued to fall.

      In the second quarter, the home ownership rate dipped to 63.4%, down 0.4% from the first quarter and 1.3% from the second quarter of 2014. The downward glide in home ownership began at its all-time high of 69.1% in 2005, just before the housing bubble popped.

      Rising rents and harder-to-find apartments could be combining to drive home sales higher. This week's S&P;/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices release shows Home prices continued their rise across the country over the last 12 months on both a year-over-year and month-over-month basis in May.

      The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported existing-home sales increased in June to their highest pace in over eight years. At the same time, the lack of inventory helped push the national median sales price to an all-time high. NAR says all major regions of the country experienced sales gains in June and have now risen above year-over-year levels for six consecutive months.

      Rental crisis

      Unfortunately, not everyone can afford to buy a house or qualify for a mortgage. Those consumers will pay the cost of rising rents. Real estate marketing site Zillow recently reported that rents rose faster than home values in April, suggesting a “rental crisis” may be deepening.

      While home values have been up and down since the housing crash, Zillow says rents have been steadily rising. It creates something of a Catch-22 for renters.

      Dr. Stan Humphries, Zillow's chief economist, says while renters are financially motivated to become homeowners, rising rents make it more difficult to save for a down payment.

      Renters continued to get squeezed in the second quarter of the year as rents rose and the number of vacant apartments available for rent declined.A rep...
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      Pending home sales post first decline in 6 months

      Still, pending sales are close to a 9-year high

      Pending home sales, it appears, have hit a summer slump.

      The National Association of Realtors reports that after 5 consecutive months of increases, the Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, fell 1.8% in June to 110.3 .

      Even with the decline, though, they remained close to May's level, which was the highest in over 9 years, and are 8.2% above June of last year. The June reading for the PHSI is the third highest of the year, and it has now increased year-over-year for 10 consecutive months.

      Strong demand a driver

      Although pending sales decreased in June, the overall trend in recent months supports a solid pace of home sales this summer.

      "Competition for existing houses on the market remained stiff last month, as low inventories in many markets reduced choices and pushed prices above some buyers' comfort level," said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. "The demand is there for more sales, but the determining factor will be whether or not some of these buyers decide to hold off even longer until supply improves and price growth slows."

      Yun says strong price appreciation and an improving economy are finally giving some homeowners the incentive and financial capability to sell and trade up or down. "Unfortunately, because nearly all of these sellers are likely buying another home, there isn't a net increase in inventory,” he adds. “A combination of homebuilders ramping up construction and even more homeowners listing their properties on the market is needed to tame price growth and give all buyers more options."

      Regional tally

      • The PHSI in the Northeast inched up 0.4% to 94.3 in June, and is now 12.0% above a year ago.

      • In the Midwest the index fell 3.0% to 108.1, but is still 5.0% above June 2014.
      • Pending home sales in the South also dropped 3.0% to a reading of 123.5, but are 7.8% above last June.
      • The index in the West was up 0.5% to 104.4, and is now 10.4% above a year ago.

      Looking ahead

      The national median existing-home price for all housing types in 2015 is expected to increase around 6.5% to $221,900 -- matching the record high set in 2006.

      Total existing-home sales this year are forecast to increase 6.6% to around 5.27 million, roughly 25% below the peak set in 2005 (7.08 million).

      Pending home sales, it appears, have hit a summer slump. The National Association of Realtors reports that after 5 consecutive months of increases, the Pe...
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      A rise in mortgage applications

      Applications for refinancings were on the rise

      Mortgage applications were on the rise last week, helped along by an increase in refinancings.

      Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey shows total applications inched up 0.8% in the week ending July 24.

      The Refinance Index jumped 2%, taking the refinance share of mortgage activity to 50.6% of total applications from 50.3% a week earlier. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity slipped to 6.6% of total applications.

      The FHA share of total applications edged down fro 14.0% to 13.7%, the VA share fell to 10.9%t from 11.3% and the USDA share was unchanged at 0.9%.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) fell 6 basis points -- from 4.23% to 4.17%, the lowest level since June 2015, with points increasing to 0.36 from 0.34 (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 4.12%, the lowest level since May, from 4.16%, with points increasing to 0.35 from 0.33 (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 slipped 2 basis points to 3.98%, the lowest level since June, with points increasing to 0.26 from 0.17 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs declined to 3.39%, the lowest level since June, from 3.43%t, with points rising to 0.38 from 0.34 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs was down 4 basis points to 3.04%, with points decreasing to 0.37 from 0.41 (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.

      Mortgage applications were on the rise last week, helped along by an increase in refinancings. Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly M...
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      MINI Coopers with side impact performance issues recalled

      The vehicles do not meet the side impact performance requirements for the rear seat passengers

      BMW of North America is recalling 30,456 model year 2014-2015 MINI Cooper and MINI Cooper S Hardtop 2 Door vehicles and 2015 MINI John Cooper Works Hardtop 2 Door vehicles.

      The vehicles do not meet the side impact performance requirements for the rear seat passengers, and thus fail to comply with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 214, "Side Impact Protection."

      If the side impact performance requirements are not met, rear seat passengers may be at a higher risk of injury during a crash.

      MINI will notify owners, and dealers will install additional energy absorption material between the rear interior side panels and the exterior vehicle body, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin September 12, 2015.

      Owners may contact MINI customer service at 1-866-825-1525.  

      BMW of North America is recalling 30,456 model year 2014-2015 MINI Cooper and MINI Cooper S Hardtop 2 Door vehicles and 2015 MINI John Cooper Works Hardtop...
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      Arctic Cat recalls off-highway utility vehicles

      Fuel can leak from the fuel fitting at the throttle body

      Arctic Cat is recalling about 2,700 Arctic Cat Prowler 500 HDX off-highway utility vehicles.

      Fuel can leak from the fuel fitting at the throttle body, posing a fire hazard.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves model year 2014 Arctic Cat Prowler 500 HDX and model year 2015 Prowler 500 HDX models. The recalled vehicles include vehicle identification numbers (VIN) from 303194 through 305166. The VIN number is located on the rear frame tube under the rear of the box.

      The vehicles are green, red, vibrant red metallic, or emerald green metallic. “Arctic Cat” is printed on each side of the hood. Also 500 is printed on each side on the front fenders, HDX on each side of the rear cargo box, and “Arctic Cat” on the cargo box tail gate.

      The vehicles, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at Arctic Cat dealers nationwide from August 2013, to July 2015, for between about $11,000 and $12,400.

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled Prowlers and contact an Arctic Cat dealer to schedule a free repair. Arctic Cat is contacting its customers directly.

      Consumers may contact Arctic Cat at (800) 279-6851 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday.

      Arctic Cat is recalling about 2,700 Arctic Cat Prowler 500 HDX off-highway utility vehicles. Fuel can leak from the fuel fitting at the throttle body, pos...
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      Kia recalls Sorentos with seat belt issue

      The front passenger may not be able to fasten the seat belt

      Kia Motors America is recalling 2,587 model year 2016 Kia Sorentos manufactured October 23, 2014, to December 10, 2014.

      The vehicles have a front passenger seat belt whose buckle latch assembly may prevent the front passenger from fastening the seat belt. If the front passenger seat belt cannot be latched, an occupant sitting in the front passenger seat has an increased risk of injury in the event of a crash.

      Kia will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front passenger seat belt buckle cover, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin August 18, 2015.

      Owners may contact Kia customer service at 1-800-333-4542. Kia's number for this recall is SC123.

      Kia Motors America is recalling 2,587 model year 2016 Kia Sorentos manufactured October 23, 2014, to December 10, 2014. The vehicles have a front passeng...
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      Crash test dog dummies reveal which carriers are safest

      Putting safety first when purchasing a carrier is of the utmost importance

      Crash tests are used throughout the automotive industry to ensure that drivers are protected if they have an accident. Although watching the crash test dummies get mangled up can be off-putting, it is all in the name of safety. Now, crash test dummies have been created to test the safety of pet carriers.

      The Center for Pet Safety, a non-profit organization, has teamed up with Subaru of America and NASA engineers to create crash test dog dummies. Each one is designed to model the size and weight of a dog that would fit into a specific carrier. Many different carriers were tested by the researchers, but three of them came out on top in terms of safety.

      The three types of carriers that performed the best during testing were the Gunner Kennels G1 Intermediate with 8’ Tie Down Straps, the PetEgo Forma Frame Jet set Carrier with ISOFIX-Latch Connection, and the Sleepypod Mobile Pet Bed with PPRS Handilock. All of the other carriers that were tested can be found here.

      Safety first

      The safety of a carrier is of the utmost importance for dog owners. If a crash ever occurred with your dog in the car, a good carrier could stop your pet from becoming a projectile. They could strike another passenger in the car, which could lead to multiple injuries. Researching this kind of topic is a great step toward making sure all car passengers remain safe.

      “We at Subaru recognize the importance of keeping the entire family safe on the road, including our beloved pets,” said Michael McHale, who is Subaru’s director of corporate communications. “Alongside Center for Pet Safety, we are proud to help lead the charge in identifying the best crates and carriers for pet lovers everywhere, while, more importantly, making pet parents aware of the safety measures they can take and the dangers that can occur if they don’t.”

      The researchers have included several tips for pet owners in their study. They state that your dog should fit properly inside the crate so that they are snug, but still have enough room for comfort. Also, pet owners should ensure that pet carriers are secured with stength-rated cargo anchor straps, not with elastic bands or bungee cords. This will ensure that the carrier will not tip over or move around while the car is in motion. 

      Crash tests are used throughout the automotive industry to ensure that drivers are protected if they have an accident. Although watching the crash test dum...
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      Still single? You're probably paying more for car insurance

      Consumer group's study says even widows get socked with higher rates

      Saving on car insurance is no reason to get married, but new research by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) shows that getting hitched will lower your rates.

      The CFA questions the fairness of this practice, arguing that it doesn't seem to have much to do with risk.

      Insurers maintain that married people tend to be more responsible drivers, but the CFA says if a woman's husband dies, her rate often rises as a result. Is she suddenly a bad driver because she's a widow, the group asks?

      Widow penalty

      The study focused on 10 cities and 6 major insurers. The authors says four companies – GEICO, Farmers, Progressive, and Liberty – increased rates on state-mandated liability coverage for widows by an average of 20%.

      The study found Nationwide sometimes increased rates for widows. The sixth company, State Farm, did not change rates because of marital status. Its price quotes were the same, regardless of whether the driver was single, separated, divorced, widowed, a domestic partner, or married.

      “Hiking rates on women whose husbands die seems both unfair and inhumane,” said Stephen Brobeck, CFA’s Executive Director. “Why don’t insurers instead emphasize driving-related factors such as accidents, traffic violations, and miles driven in their pricing?”

      The CFA research was conducted using quotes from insurance company websites for the minimum liability insurance coverage required by states. Everything remained the same except for marital status.

      The authors said Farmers, Progressive, Nationwide, and Liberty always charged single, separated, and divorced drivers the same price. It was almost always higher than the premium it charged married consumers.

      The study said GEICO’s premium quotes were always lower for married drivers, but varied unpredictably, with single, separated, and divorced drivers often being charged different prices.

      Industry defense

      The insurance industry for years has defended this practice, saying numbers don't lie.

      “Statistics show that married drivers have fewer accidents than single drivers,” National General Insurance says on its website. “So, if you’re married you’ll probably pay lower auto insurance premiums. This particularly applies to younger drivers.”

      Despite these explanations, Brobeck is unconvinced. He notes that most of the rate examples collected by his organization were for 30 year-old, safe, female drivers. When her age was boosted to 50, the price gap persisted.

      “One would like to see any evidence that two 50 year-olds with the same characteristics pose considerably different insurer risks because of their marital status,” he said.

      Motoring website DMV.org points out that getting married doesn't always lower your car insurance rates. If you have an excellent driving record but your spouse doesn't, your joint rate will be higher than if both parties were good drivers.

      Saving on car insurance is no reason to get married, but new research by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) shows that getting hitched will lower you...
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      Microsoft launching Windows 10 tonight

      Though when the rollout will be complete remains anybody's guess

      Only a handful of hours remain until midnight Eastern time (or 9 p.m. this evening in the Pacific time zone), the start of Microsoft's official roll-out of Windows 10, which is predicted to break Internet traffic records.

      Actually, some current Windows 7 and 8 users have already seen version 10 pre-loaded on their computers.

      Microsoft formally announced the July 29 roll-out date early last month. Current users of Windows 7 and 8 will be eligible for a free upgrade for one year after the release, while prices for everyone else will range from $110 for Windows 10 Home to $199 for the Pro version.

      Also, Microsoft has said that Windows 10 would do away with its old tradition of “Patch Tuesday,” or releasing software updates (including security fixes, as necessary) every Tuesday. The obvious problem with limiting security fixes to a once-a-week schedule is that hackers and malware writers tend not to respect the scheduling needs of their intended victims, so why should security fixes adhere to a regular pattern when security threats do not?

      Indeed, shortly before the Windows 10 rollout, Microsoft made a last-minute fix to patch a big problem that caused the Control Panel to crash anytime a user tried uninstalling an application.

      Delayed rollout

      Despite the official “midnight” rollout time, only a relative few customers will get a Windows 10 upgrade at that exact time. Some Windows 7 and 8 users have already seen early upgrades, as mentioned before, whereas others who have reserved copies of Windows 10 might not receive their actual upgrades for several days, weeks, or even months.

      A Forbes contributor who spoke to Microsoft couldn't get a firm prediction regarding just when the Windows 10 rollout is expected to reach completion. A Microsoft spokesperson said “By Christmas we want to have hundreds of millions of [Windows 10] users worldwide” — but would not guarantee that everyone who's reserved a copy of Windows 10 could get the upgrade by December.

      Those who do get their upgrades tomorrow will only be able to install Windows 10 on regular PCs, though Microsoft says that eventually Windows 10 will cross platforms and be available for phones, tablets, and Xbox, too.

      Only a handful of hours remain until midnight Eastern time (or 9 p.m. this evening in the Pacific time zone), the start of Microsoft's official roll-out of...
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      Businesses slow to embrace ride-sharing for travel needs

      24% of surveyed companies don't pay for employees to use Uber or Lyft

      Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft may be insanely popular with large segments of the consumer population, but businesses appear far from willing to allow employees to use them on company business.

      The GBTA Foundation, the education and research arm of the Global Business Travel Association, has released a study showing rental cars and taxis are the most common methods of business ground transportation, accounting for a combined 60%.

      Ride-sharing services actually make up 11% of ground business travel, and that number might be higher if more businesses allowed employees to use ride-sharing while on company business - but businesses haven't exactly been early adopters.

      24% of businesses say no to ride-sharing

      "Our research shows 1 in 4 travel buyers say their company does not allow their business travelers to use ride-sharing companies, by far the highest percentage for any form of ground transportation," said GBTA Executive Director and COO Michael McCormick. "In addition, a large number of companies still have not adopted policies around ride-sharing companies, revealing a need for education about the benefits and the risks. GBTA hopes this study is the start to closing that knowledge gap and we welcome an open and constructive dialogue on this topic."

      The issue appears to be one of liability. People behind the wheel of taxis and chauffeured limousines are professional drivers who work for actual companies. Uber and Lyft drivers are not.

      When business travelers rent cars they drive themselves, they are taking on the liability with the rental car company responsible for the integrity of the vehicle.

      Safety

      The 2015 Ground Transportation Study also identified the most important factors business travelers and travel buyers consider when choosing ground transportation. Topping the list was traveler and vehicle safety.

      It was followed by availability for a timely pick-up and convenience of payment methods. Three-quarters of business travelers and 8 in 10 travel buyers agree that these factors highly important.

      In short, safety of business travelers was a major issue. However, the authors say awareness of specific aspects of duty of care is not universal.

      For example, only about a third of business travelers have some knowledge of all aspects such as pre-employment driver certification, driver training requirements, and regulations affecting each ground transportation method. Travel buyers have a higher level of awareness but fewer than a quarter are very familiar with all of them.

      What stands out in the research is that ride-sharing, despite its popularity and explosive growth among consumers, has yet to catch on in the corporate world.

      "Undoubtedly, there is significant market controversy around ride sharing and we felt it was important to have impartial research to create awareness in the industry," said David Seelinger, Chairman and CEO of EmpireCLS Worldwide Chauffeured Services.

      According to the Insurance Information Institute, ride-sharing drivers using their personal vehicles should have commercial insurance coverage, like taxi companies and livery car services. If a rider sues a ride-sharing driver, it wouldn’t be covered if the driver only had a private-passenger auto policy, the organization said.

      Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft may be insanely popular with large segments of the consumer population, but businesses appear far from willing to ...
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      A slide in consumer confidence

      Job concerns is among the causes

      After showing some improvement in June, The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index posted a decline in July. It now stands at 90.9 after rising to 99.8 the previous month.

      The Present Situation Index dipped moderately from 110.3 last month to 107.4, while the Expectations Index plummeted to 79.9 from 92.8 in June.

      “Consumers continue to assess current conditions favorably, but their short-term expectations deteriorated this month,” said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at The Conference Board. “A less optimistic outlook for the labor market, and perhaps the uncertainty and volatility in financial markets prompted by the situation in Greece and China, appears to have shaken consumers’ confidence. Overall, the Index remains at levels associated with an expanding economy and a relatively confident consumer.”

      The consumers-eye view

      Consumers’ assessment of current conditions was somewhat less favorable in July. Those who see business conditions as “good” fell from 26.1% to 24.2%. However, those who believe conditions are “bad” was virtually unchanged at 17.9%.

      Consumers were slightly less positive about the job market. Those who said jobs are “plentiful” dropped to 20.7% from 21.3%, while those saying jobs are “hard to get” inched up from 26.1% to 26.7%.

      Optimism about the short-term outlook was down sharply in July. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next 6 months declined from 17.9% to 14.7%; those who see conditions worsening rose from 10.2% to 10.7%.

      Consumers’ outlook for the labor market was even less optimistic. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead decreased from 17.1% to 13.1%, while those expecting fewer jobs jumped from 15.2% to 20.0%. The proportion of consumers expecting growth in their incomes edged down from 17.6% to 17.0%, while the proportion expecting a decline rose slightly from 10.6% to 11.2%.

      The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen around what consumers buy and watch. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was July 16.

      After showing some improvement in June, The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index posted a decline in July. It now stands at 90.9 after rising to 99....
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      Increase in home prices continues in May

      A slowdown in the rate of increase may be in the works

      Home prices continued their rise across the country over the last 12 months on both a year-over-year and month-over-month basis in May, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices.

      Both the 10-City Composite and National indices showed slightly higher year-over-year gains while the 20-City Composite had marginally lower year-over-year gains when compared with the previous month.

      The 10-City Composite posted a year-over-year gain of 4.7%, while the 20-City Composite was up 4.9%. The S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index, covering all 9 U.S. census divisions, recorded a 4.4% annual increase in May; the advance in April was 4.3%.

      “As home prices continue rising, they are sending more upbeat signals than other housing market indicators,” said David M. Blitzer, Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “Nationally, single family home price increases have settled into a steady 4%-5% annual pace following the double-digit bubbly pattern of 2013.

      At the same time though, Blitzer expects the rate of home price increases is more likely to slow than to accelerate over the next two years or so. “Prices are increasing about twice as fast as inflation or wages, “he notes, adding “moreover, other housing measures are less robust. Housing starts are only at about 1.2 million units annually, and only about half of total starts are single family homes. Sales of new homes are low compared to sales of existing homes.”

      The West leads the way

      Denver, San Francisco and Dallas reported the highest year-over-year gains among the 20 cities with price increases of 10.0%, 9.7% and 8.4%, respectively. Ten cities reported greater price increases in the year ended May 2015 over the year ended April 2015.

      New York and Phoenix reported 6 consecutive months of increases in their year-over-year returns since November 2014. Year-over-year returns in New York increased from 1.3% last November to 3.0% in May. Phoenix climbed from 2.0% to 3.8% in the same period.

      Month-over-month

      Before seasonal adjustment, the National index, 10-City Composite and 20-City Composite all posted a gain of 1.1% month-over-month in May. After seasonal adjustment, the National index was unchanged; the 10-City and 20-City Composites were both down 0.2% month-over-month. All 20 cities reported increases in May before seasonal adjustment; after seasonal adjustment, 10 were down, 8 were up, and 2 were unchanged.

      Blitzer says first time homebuyers are the weak spot in the market, providing the demand and liquidity that supports trading up by current home owners. But he adds, “Without a boost in first timers, there is less housing market activity, fewer existing homes being put on the market, and more worry about inventory.”

      Research at the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank argues that one should not blame millennials for the absence of first time buyers. The age distribution of first time buyers has not changed much since 2000; if anything, the median age has dropped slightly.

      “Other research at the New York Fed points to the size of mortgage down payments as a key factor,” said Blitzer. “The difference between a 5% and 20% down payment -- particularly for people who currently rent -- has a huge impact on buyers’ willingness to buy a home. Mortgage rates are far less important to first time buyers than down payments.”  

      Home prices continued their rise across the country over the last 12 months on both a year-over-year and month-over-month basis in May, according to the S&...
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      Google surrenders, won't require Google+ account anymore

      Forcing Google+ sign-ups was part of an effort to overtake Facebook, Twitter

      Google has conceded what everyone else already knew -- Google+ is sort of a big minus and is not going to knock Facebook and Twitter out of cyberspace. Google says it will no longer require users to have a Google+ account to interact with other users.

      In a Google+ post, Google+ manager Brad Horowitz announced that Google will "retire [Google+] as the mechanism by which people share and engage within other Google products." Instead, users will need only a Google email or other type of account.

      When it launched "+" -- as it may affectionately be known somewhere in the universe -- four years ago, Google's hope was that it would grow into a huge social network with a billion users. While it had its pluses, including the ability to break groups into categories such as "friend," "family" and "colleague," + actually grew into a big source of frustration for many users.

      "Why the f---?"

      YouTubers, in particular, were miffed that after years of commenting loudly and vociferously they suddenly needed to sign up for a + account, the most famous outburst coming from YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim, who asked "Why the f— do I need a google+ account to comment on a video?”

      As Horowitz tells it, the goal was to establish a "platform layer" that would tie all of Big G's services together. But many users saw it as a way for Google to muscle into social media by forcing its users to sign up for G+ whether they wanted to or not. Some critics went so far as to label it downright Microsoftian.

      Horowitz says the company meant well.

      “This was a well-intentioned goal, but as realized it led to some product experiences that users sometimes found confusing,” he wrote.

      Horowitz said Google is rolling out the policy change "as fast as possible," starting with YouTube.

      "What does this mean for Google+ the product?" he asked rhetorically, replying: "Relieved of the notion of integrating with every other product at Google, Google+ can now focus on doing what it’s already doing quite well: helping millions of users around the world connect around the interest they love."

      Horowitz said it's been "incredibly gratifying" to see how well the change has been received.

      ,

      Google has conceded what everyone else already knew -- Google+ is sort of a big minus and is not going to knock Facebook and Twitter out of cyberspace. Goo...
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      Volkswagen recalls Audi SQ5s

      The vehicles could experience a loss of power steering assist

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 5,625 model year 2014-2015 Audi SQ5s manufactured May 22, 2013, to April 14, 2015.

      The electric power steering assist system could shut down in cold temperatures due to a steering motor sensor fault. A loss of power steering assist would require extra steering effort at lower speeds, increasing the risk of a vehicle crash.

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will update the power steering control module software, free of charge. The recall was expected to begin July 28, 2015.

      Owners may contact Audi customer service at 1-800-253-2834. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 48M1.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 5,625 model year 2014-2015 Audi SQ5s manufactured May 22, 2013, to April 14, 2015. The electric power steering a...
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      Nature's Variety recalls Instinct Raw Chicken Formula for dogs

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Nature’s Variety is recalling its Instinct Raw Chicken Formula for dogs.

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported to date

      The following products are being recalled:

      • UPC# 769949611431 – Instinct Raw Chicken Formula Bites for Dogs 4 lb.; Best By 04/27/16
      • UPC# 769949611448 – Instinct Raw Chicken Formula Bites for Dogs 7 lb.; Best By 04/27/16
      • UPC# 769949611486 – Instinct Raw Chicken Formula Patties for Dogs 6 lb.; Best By 04/27/16

      The “Best By” date is located on the back of the package below the seal.

      The recalled products were sold in retail stores in the U.S. and Canada.

      Consumers should discontinue use of the recalled product and should returning it in its original packaging or bring a proof of purchase back to their retailer for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact consumer relations at 888-519-7387 from 8 am to 7 pm (CT) 7 days a week or by email at cservice@naturesvariety.com.

      Nature’s Variety is recalling its Instinct Raw Chicken Formula for dogs. The products may be contaminated with Salmonella. No illnesses have been reporte...
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      UPPAbaby recalls strollers and RumbleSeats

      The strollers’ and RumbleSeats’ bumper bar can pose a choking hazard

      UPPAbaby of Hingham, Mass., is recalling about 79,000 UPPAbaby 2015 CRUZ , 2015 VISTA strollers and 2015 RumbleSeats in the U.S and Canada.

      The strollers’ and RumbleSeats’ bumper bar poses a choking hazard when a child bites the bumper bar and removes a piece of the foam covering.

      The company has received 22 reports of children biting off a piece of the bumper bar foam. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves 2015 CRUZ and 2015 VISTA strollers and 2015 RumbleSeats. The CRUZ strollers have an aluminum alloy grey or black frame with a black fabric toddler seat with a colored fabric sunshade canopy and a black basket under the seat. The UPPAbaby name and logo are printed on the side of the canopy and “CRUZ” is printed in white lettering on the handlebars of the stroller.

      The VISTA strollers have grey or black aluminum frames, colored sunshade canopy and are made to hold one, two or up to three children. VISTA is printed in white lettering on the handlebars of the stroller and UPPAbaby is printed across the bottom diagonal rail of the stroller frame next to a black, fabric basket.

      The RumbleSeat is a separate seat attachment that can be attached to the stroller frame. RumbleSeats have manufacture dates stamped on the bottom of the seat from September 2014 through May 2015. It comes in various colors and allows the child to ride rear facing, forward facing or reclined. All of the strollers and RumbleSeats have a foam bumper bar across the middle of the product for the child to hold.

      The CRUZ and VISTA strollers with the following model and serial numbers are included in the recall:

      CRZ0415018100001  through CRZ0415018100738
      CRZ0415018100739through  CRZ0415018101284
      CRZ0515018101285throughCRZ0515018101824
      CRZ0714018100001throughCRZ0714018101441
      CRZ0814018102464throughCRZ0814018102983
      CRZ0814018100001throughCRZ0814018100521
      CRZ0814018103764throughCRZ0814018104024
      CRZ0814018103504throughCRZ0814018103763
      CRZ0814018103244throughCRZ0814018103503
      CRZ0914018104905throughCRZ0914018105353
      CRZ0914018104617throughCRZ0914018104760
      CRZ0914018104025throughCRZ0914018104184
      CRZ0914018104185throughCRZ0914018104328
      CRZ0914018104761throughCRZ0914018104904
      CRZ0914018104329throughCRZ0914018104472
      CRZ1014018106646throughCRZ1014018109347
      CRZ1114018109348throughCRZ1114018112151
      CRZ1114018114244throughCRZ1114018115495
      CRZ1114018112242throughCRZ1114018114243
      CRZ1214018115496throughCRZ1214018117465

      The 2015 VISTA strollers have model number 0101 printed on a sticker on the lower crossbar frame. They also have the following serial number printed on a sticker with a barcode below the rear axle of the stroller frame on the left:

      VIS0315010103097through VIS0315010103696
      VIS0315010104435  through  VIS0315010105310
      VIS0315010106433throughVIS0315010107416
      VIS0814010100001throughVIS0814010101261
      VIS0814010100001throughVIS0814010100631
      VIS0914010101894throughVIS0914010102525
      VIS0914010102526throughVIS0914010103155
      VIS0914010103156throughVIS0914010103785
      VIS1014010103786throughVIS1014010104417
      VIS1014010105048throughVIS1014010105677
      VIS1014010104418throughVIS1014010105047
      VIS1014010112494throughVIS1014010112973
      VIS1014010111598throughVIS1014010111864
      VIS1014010107220throughVIS1014010111063
      VIS1014010111865throughVIS1014010112133
      VIS1014010111064throughVIS1014010111330
      VIS1014010112134throughVIS1014010112493
      VIS1014010111331throughVIS1014010111597
      VIS1014010105678throughVIS1014010107219
      VIS1114010112974throughVIS1114010114205
      VIS1114010114206throughVIS1114010121671
      VIS1114010121672throughVIS1114010124381
      VIS1114010124382throughVIS1214010127183
      VIS1214010127184throughVIS1214010129685

      The strollers and RumbleSeats, manufactured in China, were sold at BuyBuy Baby and other juvenile product retailers nationwide and online at Amazon.com from December 2014, through July 2015, for about $500 for the CRUZ stroller, $860 for the VISTA stroller and $170 for the RumbleSeat.

      Consumers should immediately remove and stop using the bumper bar on these recalled strollers and RumbleSeats and contact the firm to receive a free bumper bar cover and warning label.

      Consumers may contact UPPAbaby customer service toll-free at (844) 540-8694 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, or by email at contact@uppababy.com.

      UPPAbaby of Hingham, Mass., is recalling about 79,000 UPPAbaby 2015 CRUZ , 2015 VISTA strollers and 2015 RumbleSeats in the U.S and Canada. The strollers’...
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      Stagefright security flaw leaves 95% of Android devices vulnerable to hackers

      Android versions 2.2 and later are at risk

      Early today, security researchers announced their discovery of six massive software vulnerabilities which leave up to 95% of all Google Android devices at major risk of being hijacked by hackers. (The 95% number is based on the estimate that there are currently 1 billion Android phones and tablets in the world, with 950 million of them at risk — any device running version 2.2 or later is vulnerable.)

      Joshua Drake from Zimperium zLabs discovered the critical flaws inside the source code for AOSP, the Android Open Source Project.

      Zimperium's Z Team announced the discovery in a Monday blog post:

      Built on tens of gigabytes of source code from the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), the leading smartphone operating system carries a scary code in its heart. Named Stagefright, it is a media library that processes several popular media formats. … [Drake] discovered what we believe to be the worst Android vulnerabilities discovered to date …. multiple remote code execution vulnerabilities that can be exploited using various methods, the worst of which requires no user-interaction.

      No protection from hack

      In other words: Stagefright leaves your Android device so vulnerable that hackers could (at least in theory) hijack your device without your knowledge and without any activity from you.

      Most “beware of the hacker” news articles you read advise you to protect yourself by avoiding certain actions: do not download any unsolicited file attachments, do not click on strange links in emails or texts, do not return hang-up phone calls from numbers you don't recognize.

      What makes Stagefright so scary is that there's no similar “Avoid this and you'll be safe” action: in order to seize control of your device, a hacker need only send you a file containing malicious code – and can then take control whether you respond to that sent file or not.

      “These vulnerabilities are extremely dangerous because they do not require that the victim take any action to be exploited,” Drake said. “Unlike spear-phishing, where the victim needs to open a PDF file or a link sent by the attacker, this vulnerability can be triggered while you sleep. Before you wake up, the attacker will remove any signs of the device being compromised and you will continue your day as usual – with a trojaned phone.”

      Complete control

      If this happens, the hacker has pretty much complete control over the device, including camera and audio recording functions – which means the hackers can spy on anything in range of the device. Furthermore, Drake says, “Sophisticated attackers could also create what we call ‘elevated privileges,’ which would provide complete access to the phone’s data.”

      The one bit of good news is that so far, there doesn't seem to be any evidence indicating that hackers have taken advantage of Stagefright. Drake said Zimperium has sent the necessary patch to Google.

      However, given the structure of the current cell phone industry, Google itself can't really get the patch to customers who need it – the individual phone and tablet manufacturers whose devices run on Android (versions 2.2 or later) do, and as Vice's Motherboard blog noted, “it’s anyone guess when that’ll happen. Historically, some manufacturers have taken months to issue even critical patches. At times, for devices older than a year or 18 months, patches never come.”

      Joshua Drake ended his Zimperium post with the suggestion that consumers “contact your device manufacturer and/or carrier to ascertain whether or not your particular device has been updated [with] the requisite patches,” and an additional plea to the makers and sellers of such devices: “If you’re part of any of the various parties that ship derivative versions of Android that might be affected, we encourage you to reach out to obtain the patches from us directly.”

      Early today, security researchers announced their discovery of six massive software vulnerabilities which leave up to 95% of all Google Android devices at ...
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      New skin cancer drug wins approval of FDA

      More than half of patients who tested the drug had their tumors shrink or disappear

      Novartis Pharmaceuticals' new drug Odomzo has gotten a green light from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of locally advanced basal cell carcinoma that has recurred following surgery.

      The drug, with the generic name sonidegib, will be used to treat patients who are not candidates for surgery or radiation therapy.

      Basal cell carcinoma accounts for about 80% of non-melanoma skin cancers. It starts in the top layer of the skin and usually develops where skin has been regularly exposed to the sun and other forms of ultraviolet radiation.

      Waxy bump

      According to the Mayo Clinic, this form of skin cancer often appears as a waxy bump, though it can take other forms. It shows up most often on areas of the skin that are most exposed to the sun, such as your face and neck. The National Cancer Institute says the number of new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer appears to be increasing every year.

      Locally advanced basal cell skin cancer refers to basal cancers that have not spread to other parts of the body, but can't be cured with local treatments, such as surgery and radiation.

      This type of skin cancer grows slowly. The American Academy of Dermatology says it rarely spreads to other parts of the body. However, treatment is important because the cancer can grow wide and deep, destroying skin tissue and bone.

      In contrast, melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. The Skin Cancer Foundation says melanoma develops when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells triggers mutations. Melanoma kills an estimated 10,000 people in the U.S. each year.

      Once a day pill

      In order to treat basal cell carcinoma, Novrtis has developed Odomzo as a pill that can be taken once a day. It works by inhibiting a molecular pathway, called the Hedgehog pathway, which is active in basal cell cancers. By suppressing this pathway, Odomzo may stop or reduce the growth of cancerous lesions.

      “Our increasing understanding of molecular pathways involved in cancer has led to approvals of many oncology drugs in difficult-to-treat diseases for which few therapeutic options previously existed,” said Dr. Richard Pazdur, director of the Office of Hematology and Oncology Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Thanks to a better understanding of the Hedgehog pathway, the FDA has now approved 2 drugs for the treatment of basal cell carcinoma just in the last three years.”

      Erivedge, with the generic name vismodegib, was one such drug that was approved in 2012 to treat locally advanced and metastatic basal cell carcinoma.

      Unfortunately, this new treatment will not be available to pregnant women. Odomzo will carry a Boxed Warning alerting healthcare professionals that the drug may cause death or severe birth defects in a developing fetus. Pregnancy status should be verified prior to the start of Odomzo treatment, and both male and female patients should be warned about these risks and advised to use effective contraception.

      Odomzo won FDA appoval after a multi-center, double-blind clinical trial involving 66 patients.

      Results showed that 58% of patients treated with Odomzo had their tumors shrink or disappear.

      Novartis Pharmaceuticals' new drug Odomzo has gotten a green light from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of locally advanced basal cell...
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      Things drivers do that drive other drivers crazy

      Jackass Parking Chalk promoted to relieve parking rage

      At a family gathering over the weekend, one of my cousins arrived a few hours late after driving from Lincoln, Neb. He was still seething at some of the drivers on I-64 who were navigating through extensive road construction.

      What set my cousin off was a practice that probably irritates most drivers. There were ample signs warning that the left lane was blocked ahead and drivers should stay to the right, but dozens of cars ignored the signs and whizzed past him in the left lane, pulling in far ahead of him and slowing his, and all the other considerate drivers' progress to a crawl.

      That led to a discussion about other inconsiderate driver behaviors – like drivers who realize too late that they are supposed to be in the left turn lane and partially nose their way in, with the rest of their vehicle blocking the through lane.

      Left turns

      Left turns tend to be a real sore spot. There were complaints voiced about drivers attempting to make a left turn onto a busy highway, causing a back-up of vehicles behind them.

      Then there are drivers who cut you off, turn without signaling, and sit though half a green light because they're too busy sending a text to notice the light has changed.

      There really isn't any way to deal with these drivers, which no doubt can lead to road rage incidents that can turn violent.

      A couple of entrepreneurs in New Jersey had a pet peeve about people who pull into a crowded parking lot and manage to place their cars straddling two parking spaces. They say that they've developed a product that can give frustrated drivers a confrontation-free outlet.

      Jackass Parking Chalk

      Jackass Parking Chalk, what the entrepreneurs call "emotional expression utensils," is touted as a product and platform for frustrated drivers to take on this all-too-common social crime.

      The product is a simple box of chalk that can be kept in the glove box. When a driver encounters an inconsiderate parking job, he or she can write a message on the pavement in front of the inconsiderately parked car, telling the car's driver – and the rest of the people in the parking lot – what a poor, inconsiderate job of parking it is.

      The public shaming doesn't stop there. The company has a social media platform called Chalkyou.com. It is a platform for irritated parkers to upload photographs of inconsiderate parking jobs and post a rant about it if they're really ticked off.

      In order to maximize awareness, the company says each photo submitted via the website is automatically hash tagged with #ChalkYou and is then shared across the Jackass Parking Chalk Social Media channels, including Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

      The company cautions that users of Jackass Parking Chalk should not be offensive or use chalk somewhere that it isn't allowed. It's also probably a good idea not to use it to write a rude message if the inconsiderate parker is anywhere close by.

      Otherwise, it might cause a parking rage incident that could get ugly.

      At a family gathering over the weekend, one of my cousins arrived a few hours late after driving from Lincoln, Neb. He was still seething at some of the dr...
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      Tips from the TSA on flying with your pet

      Traveling with a pet can be stressful, but there are many ways that you can prepare

      The summer travel season isn’t over quite yet, and you still might be looking to take some trips with your family and friends. You can’t always pick up and..

      Kroger recalls four seasonings

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      The Kroger Co. is recalling Kroger Ground Cinnamon, Kroger Garlic Powder, Kroger Coarse Ground Black Pepper and Kroger Bac'n Buds sold in its retail stores.

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with these products.

      Stores under the following names in the 31 states where Kroger operates are included in this recall: Kroger, Ralphs, Food 4 Less, Foods Co., Fred Meyer, Fry's, King Soopers, City Market, Smith's, Dillons, Baker's, Gerbes, Jay C, Ruler Foods, Pay Less, Owen's, and Scott's.

      The following items are being recalled:

      Product

      UPC

      Codes

      Size

      Kroger Ground Cinnamon

      1111070034

      Sell by: May 19 18PS4

      18.3 oz

      Kroger Garlic Powder

      1111070039

      Sell by: May 18 17PS4

      24.7 oz

      Kroger Coarse Ground 
      Black Pepper

      1111070041

      Sell by: May 18 18PS4

      Sell by: May 19 18PS4

      17.1 oz

      Kroger Bac'n Buds

      1111070025

      Sell by: May 20 18PS4

      12.0 o

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them and should return them to a store for a full refund or replacement.

      Customers with questions may contact Kroger at 1-800-KROGERS.

      The Kroger Co. is recalling Kroger Ground Cinnamon, Kroger Garlic Powder, Kroger Coarse Ground Black Pepper and Kroger Bac'n Buds sold in its retail stores...
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      Briggs & Stratton recalls Simplicity riding mowers and garden tractors

      The chute deflector can fail to prevent projectiles from being expelled

      Briggs & Stratton of Wauwatosa, Wis., is recalling about 2,800 Simplicity riding mowers, garden tractors and mower decks.

      The chute deflector can fail to prevent projectiles from being expelled, posing a risk of injury to consumers.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves orange Simplicity brand zero turn riding mowers, mower deck attachments and garden tractors. Mower deck sizes range from 44 to 54 inches. The Simplicity logo is on the side of the mower or garden tractor.

      Mowers and garden tractors with the following model and serial numbers are being recalled:

       Model Serial Number      Range        
       1695058 2016939034 – 2017048430
       1696445 2016943253 – 2017107153
       1696446 2016933459 – 2017114841
       1696459 2017100601 – 2017100603
       2691175 2016825203 – 2017125081
       2691176 2016869892 – 2017114891
       2691179 2016893089 – 2017100633
       2691224 2016905124 – 2017114535
       2691280 2016969131 – 2017104015
       5901269 2016868431 – 2016869752

      The model and serial numbers are located on the frame near the front tires or on the frame rail below the seat.

      The lawn equipment, manufactured in the U.S., was sold at Briggs & Stratton dealers nationwide from August 2014, through May 2015, for between $3,600 and $16,000.

      Consumers should stop using the recalled products immediately and contact a Briggs & Stratton dealer to schedule a free repair.

      Consumers may contact Briggs & Stratton at (800) 227-3798 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday.

      Briggs & Stratton of Wauwatosa, Wis., is recalling about 2,800 Simplicity riding mowers, garden tractors and mower decks. The chute deflector can fail to ...
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      Polaris recalls Youth RZR recreational off-highway vehicles

      The vehicle’s fuel pump can leak, posing a fire hazard

      Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 4,300 Polaris Youth RZR recreational off-highway vehicles.

      The vehicle’s fuel pump can leak, posing a fire hazard.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Model Year 2015 Polaris Youth RZR 170 EFI recreational off-highway vehicles with model number R15YAV17AA/AF and VINs between RF3YAV170FT000076 and RF3YAV17XFT005141. The VIN is on the left-hand front frame tube.

      They were sold in both blue and red. The blue models have a “170 EFI” decal on the right and left side of the hood and an “RZR” decal on the right and left front fenders. The red models have a “170 EFI” decal on the right and left front fenders and a “RZR” decal on the right and left rear fenders.

      The vehicles, manufactured in Taiwan, were sold at Polaris dealers nationwide from October 2014, through June 2015, for about $4,600.

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled vehicles and contact their local Polaris dealer to schedule a free repair. Polaris is contacting its customers directly and sending a recall letter to each registered owner of an affected product.

      Consumers may contact Polaris toll-free at (888) 704-5290, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday.

      Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 4,300 Polaris Youth RZR recreational off-highway vehicles. The vehicle’s fuel pump can leak, posin...
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      Chrysler recalls Ram trucks with air bag issue

      The side impact sensor calibrations may be overly sensitive resulting in unexpected air bag deployment

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 667,406 model year 2013-2015 Ram 1500, 2500, and 3500 trucks manufactured June 20, 2012, to January 26, 2015.

      The side impact sensor calibrations may be overly sensitive, and as a result, the side air bag inflatable curtains and seat air bags may deploy unexpectedly and the seat belt pre-tensioners may activate. Air bags that deploy unexpectedly increase the risk of a crash or injury.

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will update the Occupant Restraint Control module calibration, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is R23.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 667,406 model year 2013-2015 Ram 1500, 2500, and 3500 trucks manufactured June 20, 2012, to January 26, 2015. The side...
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      Over 1 million Ram trucks recalled

      An electrical short could cause driver's frontal air bag to deploy unexpectedly

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 1,060,531 model year 2012-2014 Ram 1500, 2500, 3500, 4500, and 5500 trucks manufactured January 18, 2011, to October 7, 2014, and equipped with the Electronic Vehicle Information Center option.

      The vehicles have a steering wheel wiring harness that may rub against the driver air bag module retainer spring. This abrasion could result in an electrical short that could cause driver's frontal air bag to unexpectedly deploy. Inadvertent deployment of the air bag may increase the risk of injury and the possibility of a vehicle crash.

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will inspect, repair as necessary, and secure the steering wheel wiring harness. Additionally, protective caps will be added to the air bag retainer spring ends. These repairs will be done free of charge. The recall is expected to begin September 19, 2015.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is R36.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 1,060,531 model year 2012-2014 Ram 1500, 2500, 3500, 4500, and 5500 trucks manufactured January 18, 2011, to October 7, ...
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      Alzheimer's conference produces cautious optimism

      Researchers present results of drug and non-drug intervention

      The Alzheimer's Association International Conference, an annual event held in Washington, DC, is usually marked by cautious optimism as pharmaceutical companies and health researchers report on their latest efforts to treat the memory-robbing disease.

      This year has been no exception. While there have been no breakthroughs reported, there are a number of hopeful advances.

      Solanezumab

      Drug company Eli Lily reported that its new drug, solanezumab, might be able to slow the onset of Alzheimer's in the early stages of the disease. According to researchers, the drug can slow down the disease by about 33%.

      Solanezumab works by attacking amyloid that builds up in the brain, which is believed to be a major contributor to Alzheimer's. Eli Lily says it plans to launch a new trial of the drug early next year. That trial, it says, should yield more information about the drug's efficacy.

      Nuedexta

      In another development, Avanir Pharmaceuticals disclosed its findings from the dementia/Alzheimer's disease cohort of the PRISM II study, a phase IV study evaluating the safety and effectiveness of Nuedexta in treating Alzheimer's paients.

      Specifically, it treats pseudobulbar affect (PBA) in patients with dementia, as well as stroke and traumatic brain injury (TBI). PBA is a condition characterized by sudden and uncontrollable outbursts of laughing and/or crying resulting from certain neurologic diseases or brain injury.

      The study concluded that a patient taking Nuedexta had no loss of effectiveness if they were also taking any anti-depressants.

      Non-drug intervention

      Researchers also reported positive results of three new randomized controlled trials of aerobic exercise in Alzheimer's disease, vascular cognitive impairment (VCI), and mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

      The results provide hope that there may soon be a way that people with dementia can prolong their independence and improve their quality of life. The researchers said they found regular physical activity can reduce the risk of cognitive decline, and maybe even reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.

      It reflects similar findings that lifestyle changes can not only help people improve their physical health, but their mental health too.

      The latest research suggests physical exercise can improve cognition while reducing symptoms in people with Alzheimer's by positively impacting the physical changes in the brain caused by the disease. Maria Carrillo, Alzheimer's Association Chief Science Officer, says this research is important because it highlights the potential value of non-drug therapies for Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.

      “It reminds us that research ought to adamantly pursue combination and multi-modal approaches to Alzheimer's therapy and prevention," she said.

      The Alzheimer's Association International Conference, an annual event held in Washington, DC, is usually marked by cautious optimism as pharmaceutical comp...
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      Fiat Chrysler recalls vehicles to fix hackable software exploit

      Researchers earlier demonstrated that affected cars could be taken over by hackers

      FCA US LLA -- Chrysler, in other words -- is recalling about 1.4 million vehicles to fix a flaw in their Uconnect softeware that makes it possible for hackers to remotely seize control of a car if they know its IP address.

      Customers affected by the recall will receive a USB stick to upgrade their. Alternately, customers may visit http://www.driveuconnect.com/software-update/ to input their Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) and determine if their vehicles are included in the recall.

      Affected models

      The recall affects models with 8.4-inch touchscreens, including: 

      • 2013-2015 MY Dodge Viper specialty vehicles

      • 2013-2015 Ram 1500, 2500 and 3500 pickups

      • 2013-2015 Ram 3500, 4500, 5500 Chassis Cabs

      • 2014-2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Cherokee SUVs

      • 2014-2015 Dodge Durango SUVs

      • 2015 MY Chrysler 200, Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger sedans

      • 2015 Dodge Challenger sports coupes

      Flaw revealed

      The flaw was revealed earlier this week when cyber-security researchers Charlie Miller of IOActive and Chris Valasek (formerly with the NSA) went public with news of the security vulnerability, which they had discovered nine months earlier.

      Miller and Valasek told Chrysler of the problem, then kept quiet about it for nine months while Chrysler figured out how to fix it.

      On July 16, FCA made its first (thickly veiled) public reference to the problem, when it published an eye-glazing press release headlined “FCA US LLC Releases Software Update to Improve Vehicle Electronic Security and Communications System Enhancements.”

      The announcement that followed made absolutely no mention of “security flaws” or “hackable exploits” or anything negative; instead, it boasted of a new “software update” which “offers customers improved vehicle electronic security and communications system enhancements” at absolutely “no cost to customers.”

      Three days after that, on July 24, FCA published another statement which said that the number of affected vehicles is actually closer to 1.4 million. That, at least, is the number of vehicles subject to the “voluntary safety recall” FCA said it is conducting in order to apply a software update, aligning with “an ongoing software distribution that insulates connected vehicles from remote manipulation, which, if unauthorized, constitutes criminal action.”

      FCA US LLA -- Chrysler, in other words -- is recalling about 1.4 million vehicles to fix a flaw in their Uconnect softeware that makes it possible for hack...
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      IKEA offers free wall-anchoring repair kit for chests and dressers

      Two children have died in tip-over incidents

      IKEA North America and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) are implementing a repair program that includes a free wall anchoring kit, for their MALM 3- and 4-drawer chests and two styles of MALM 6- drawer chests, and other chests and dressers.

      The chests and dressers can pose a tip-over hazard if not securely anchored to the wall.

      IKEA has received reports of 2 children who died after MALM chests tipped over and fell on them.

      Fatalities and injuries

      In February 2014, a 2-year-old boy from West Chester, Pa., died after a MALM 6-drawer chest (48 3/8 inches high) tipped over and fatally pinned him against his bed. Then, in June 2014, a 23-month old child from Snohomish, Wash., died after he became trapped beneath a 3-drawer (30 ¾ inches high) MALM chest that tipped over. Neither chest had been secured to the wall.

      IKEA and CPSC have also received 14 reports of tip-over incidents involving MALM chests, resulting in 4 injuries. Since 1989, IKEA is aware of 3 additional reports of deaths from tip-overs involving other models of IKEA chests and dressers.

      A child dies every 2 weeks and a child is injured every 24 minutes in the U.S. from furniture or TVs tipping over, according to CPSC data.

      Anchor repair kits offered

      IKEA is offering U.S. consumers a wall anchoring repair kit free of charge for use with the MALM chests, IKEA children’s chests and dressers taller than 23 ½ inches, and IKEA adult chests and dressers taller than 29 ½ inches.

      The kit contains replacement tip-over restraints for use by any consumer who has not secured their IKEA chest or dresser to the wall. The kit also includes complete wall anchoring hardware, instructions and warning labels to be affixed to the furniture.

      The MALM chests that are part of the repair program were sold starting in 2002. The price of the chests range from about $80 to $200.

      Consumers can receive a free wall anchoring kit at any IKEA retail store, or by calling (888) 966-4532.

      CPSC and IKEA urge consumers to inspect their IKEA chests and dressers to ensure that they are securely anchored to the wall. Unanchored chests and dressers should be moved into storage or other areas where they cannot be accessed by children until the chests and dressers are properly anchored to the wall.

      IKEA North America of Conshohocken, Pa., and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) are implementing a repair program that includes a free wall anch...
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      LG to pay $1.8 million for failing to report dehumidifier defects

      The appliance maker was charged with failure to report a defect

      LG Electronics will pay a maximum $1,825,000 civil penalty, settling charges by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) staff charges that the firm knowingly failed to report to CPSC a defect and an unreasonable risk of serious injury with several models of dehumidifiers.

      Fires caused by the defective dehumidifiers resulted in millions of dollars of property damage.

      Defective dehumidifiers

      Due to a defective fan, the dehumidifiers overheated, smoked, melted or caught fire, posing fire and burn hazards to consumers. Federal law required LG to report to CPSC immediately about a consumer product containing a defect that could create a substantial product hazard or presenting a risk of serious injury or death.

      Starting in 2003, LG received dozens of reports of the dehumidifiers catching fire and causing extensive property damage to consumers’ homes. By the time the dehumidifiers were recalled in 2012, LG was aware of 107 reports of incidents, with more than $7 million in property damage and three reports of smoke inhalation.

      LG manufactured and imported about 795,000 of the defective dehumidifiers under the Kenmore brand name. The dehumidifiers were recalled in 2012 and the recall was reannounced in July 2013.

      Settlement terms

      LG’s conduct occurred before August 2009, at a time when a maximum civil penalty was $1.825 million. In addition to paying a civil penalty, LG has agreed to maintain a compliance program designed to ensure compliance with the Consumer Product Safety Act. Additionally, the firm has agreed to maintain a related series of internal controls and procedures.

      The compliance program requires written standards, policies and procedures, including those designed to ensure that information that may relate to or impact CPSC compliance is conveyed effectively to personnel responsible for CPSC compliance.

      The compliance program also must address:

      • Confidential employee reporting of compliance concerns to a senior manager with authority to act;
      • Effective communication of compliance policies and procedures, including training;
      • Senior management and responsibility for, and general board oversight of, compliance; and
      • Requirements for record retention.

      LG does not admit to CPSC staff’s charges.

      LG Electronics will pay a maximum $1,825,000 civil penalty, settling charges by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) staff charges that the firm k...
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      New home sales fall to lowest level in 8 months

      Prices were lower as well

      June was not a good month for firms hoping to sell new single-family homes.

      Figures released jointly by the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development show sales sank 6.8% from the revised May level of 517,000 -- to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 482,000. That's the first decrease in 3 months and the lowest rate since last November.

      Even with this decline, the sales pace is 18.1% above the year-ago pace of of 408,000.

      Sales in the Northeast were robust, rising 28% last month. But that was offset by declines in the West (-17.0%), Midwest (-11,1%) and South (-4.1%).

      Prices and inventory

      The median sales price -- the point at which the prices are higher and half are lower -- was $281,800, down $5,200 from a year ago; the average sales price was $328,700 last month, a year-over-year decline of $9,400.

      The seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of June was 215,000, representing a supply of 5.4 months at the current sales rate -- the largest supply since November of last year.

      The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      June was not a good month for firms hoping to sell new single-family homes. Figures released jointly by the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing an...
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      The most and least dangerous jobs

      There's a big difference between a first responder and an accountant

      People usually choose career paths for financial or personal fulfillment reasons. Sometimes, personal safety enters into the equation as well.

      What are the safest and most dangerous lines of work? In case you haven't given it much thought, CareerCast, an employment site, has. It has released its list of the jobs that carry the most and least physical risk.

      The most-dangerous list contains the obvious – truck driver, firefighter, and police officer, as well as the less evident – emergency medical technician, construction laborer, and animal care worker.

      Inherent dangers

      In spite of ongoing efforts by regulators and employers to increase employee safety, there are unique and inherent dangers in every workplace. It's hard to get around the fact that life-threatening danger is part of the job description for police officers and firefighters.

      A police officer's job is often marked by hours of boredom, punctuated by moments of pumping adrenaline. The Officer Down Memorial Page reports 63 deaths in the line of duty this year. Like police officers, parole/corrections officers also face dangers as a fundamental part of their job.

      Spending countless hours steering huge trucks on crowded interstate highways, filled with cars driven by people checking their smartphones, can also be risky business. To make that job safer, the Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) enacted a 70-hour workweek restriction to prevent fatigued truck drivers from getting behind the wheel. Now, if they'd only do something about other drivers texting or checking Facebook.

      Less obvious danger

      Some dangerous jobs aren't all that obvious. The Office of Occupational Safety and Health Statistics reports in its 2013 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), released last year, that the highest rate increase of casualty occurred in private construction. The 828 deaths on the job in 2013 equates to a 3% increase over the previous CFOI.

      Another profession you might not consider that dangerous is animal care. It might not be as hazardous as rushing into a burning building, but it does carry certain risks.

      CareerCast says people taking care of animals can face certain risks from hostile, unpredictable, and dangerous animals. Sometimes the animals aren't hostile, just big - like cows and horses.

      If danger beyond a paper cut is not appealing to you, CareerCast suggests considering a career in business, such as an actuary, human resources manager, or executive assistant.

      Jobs in academia are also relatively safe. Historians and mathematicians enjoy 2 of the top 7 best rankings in that category in the 2015 Jobs Rated report.

      People usually choose career paths for financial or personal fulfillment reasons. Sometimes, personal safety enters into the equation as well.What are...
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      Akttive High Performance Fat Burner Gold capsules recalled

      The product contains ingredients that make it an unapproved new drug

      Life & More is recalling 783 bottles of Akttive High Performance Fat Burner Gold capsules weight loss supplements.

      The product contains Sibutramine, desmethylsibutramine and Phenolphthalein. Sibutramine is an appetite suppressant that was withdrawn due to increased risk of seizures, heart attacks, arrhythmia and strokes. Phenolphthalein is an ingredient previously used in over-the-counter laxatives, but because of concerns of carcinogenicity, it is not approved for marketing in the United States. These undeclared ingredients make the product an unapproved new drug for which safety and efficacy have not been established.

      No illnesses or injuries have been reported to the company to date in connection with this product.

      The product, marketed as a dietary supplement for weight loss, is packaged in aluminum bottles containing 30 gold capsules per bottle and labeled with Lot #000185004400, UPC 859189005005, Expiration 12/17.

      The products were distributed from January 2012, until July 2015, directly to distributors, online to consumers at www.akttive.com, and shipped to Nevada, Florida, New York, Arizona, Massachusetts, New Jersey, California, Maryland, Texas, Virginia and Michigan.

      Life & More is notifying its distributors and customers by letter and arranging for return of all recalled products.

      Consumers should not consume the recalled product and should return it immediately to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions may contact Life & More at 01157-300-487-0534 or by e-mail at info@akttive.com , Monday through Friday from 9:00am - 5:00pm (EST).

      Life & More is recalling 783 bottles of Akttive High Performance Fat Burner Gold capsules weight loss supplements. The product contains Sibutramine, desm...
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      Husqvarna recalls lawn and garden tillers

      The tiller may unintentionally move forward or backward

      Husqvarna Consumer Outdoor Products of Charlotte, N.C., is recalling about 24,000 lawn and garden tillers.

      The tiller’s transmission shift rod and clip can come into contact with the control cable during shifting and cause the tiller to unintentionally move forward or backward, posing a risk of bodily injury and/or laceration.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Ariens, Husqvarna, Jonsered and Poulan Pro brand rear tine tillers used for plowing, cultivation and ridging gardens and lawns. The tillers have an engine to power the wheels and the rear tines, an operator handle with forward and reverse transmission and tilling widths ranging from 17 to 19 inches.

      The brand name is printed on the side of the tiller. They were sold in red, orange and yellow/black colors. The following model and serial numbers are included in the recall:

      Brand Name Model NumberSerial Number Range
       Ariens A600DRT
      HusqvarnaCRT900, CRT900L, DRT900, DRT900E, DRT900H

      101514MXXXXX

      through

      053115MXXXXX

       JonseredJ208C14, J208D14
      Poulan ProPRRT900

      The tillers, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at hardware stores, home centers and independent outdoor power equipment dealers from October 2014, through May 2015, for between $600 and $850.

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled tillers and return it to the nearest Husqvarna dealer for a free repair.

      Consumers may contact Husqvarna toll free at (877) 257-6921 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, or by email at recalls@husqvarna.com.

      Husqvarna Consumer Outdoor Products of Charlotte, N.C., is recalling about 24,000 lawn and garden tillers. The tiller’s transmission shift rod and clip ca...
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      Teavana recalls glass pitchers

      The pitchers can break or leak

      Teavana of Seattle, Wash., is recalling about 56,800 Tristan glass pitchers in the U.S. and Canada.

      The pitchers can break or leak, posing laceration and/or burn hazards to consumers if filled with hot tea.

      The company has received 50 reports of the glass pitchers breaking or leaking, including 3 reports of lacerations and 2 minor burns.

      The company has received 50 reports of the glass pitchers breaking or leaking, including three reports of lacerations and two minor burns.

      This recall involves 64-oz. Tristan glass pitchers for hot or cold tea with a glass handle, stainless steel infuser and a lid and base that are made of flexible black silicone. The pitchers measure about 12 inches tall and 4 inches in diameter. The Teavana logo is printed on the bottom. Style #30593000064 and SKU#11034874 are printed on the pitchers’ box.

      The pitchers, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at Teavana stores nationwide and online at www.Teavana.com from May 2012, through June 2015, for about $50.

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled glass pitchers and return them to a Teavana store location (except for two stores: Columbia Mall, Columbia, Maryland, and Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, Texas) or contact Teavana for a free replacement 66-oz. infusion tea pitcher plus a $25 Teavana gift card or for a Teavana gift card for the purchase price plus tax.

      Consumers may contact Teavana toll free at (888) 665-0463 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday.

      Teavana of Seattle, Wash., is recalling about 56,800 Tristan glass pitchers in the U.S. and Canada. The pitchers can break or leak, posing laceration and/...
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      Geography plays a role in early cancer diagnosis

      A state's regulatory policies can be a matter of life and death, study finds

      Whether or not someone survives cancer often depends on when the disease is diagnosed. If it is caught early then the odds are better, but a late-stage diagnosis is often a death sentence.

      Now, a research team from Georgia State University and the University of North Carolina has determined where a patient lives can make a big difference in whether their cancer is caught early or late.

      The team's study found that individual state regulations for health insurance and practitioners significantly influence when patients receive colorectal or breast cancer diagnoses, especially among people younger than the Medicare-eligible age of 65. This suggests that where a person lives is a strong predictor of whether they will receive potentially life-saving cancer screenings.

      Dr. Lee Rivers Mobley, associate professor at Georgia State's School of Public Health, has spent years exploring similar issues. He was the principal author of "United States Health Policies and Late-Stage Breast and Colorectal Cancer Diagnosis: Why Such Disparities by Age?", which was recently published in Health Economics Review.

      Disparities of geography

      Now, he's focusing his attention on disparities that exist between different geographic regions.

      "Progress has been made in the war against cancer, yet the high proportions of late-stage diagnoses remain a public health concern," the researchers wrote.

      Their analysis discovered that 54% to 60% of colorectal cancer diagnoses are late-stage, meaning the disease has spread. The analysis found 24% to 36% of breast cancer cases are caught at the late stage.

      The conclusion? A state's regulatory climate is "an important predictor" of late-stage colorectal and breast cancer diagnoses.

      The study reached its conclusion after examining individual states' regulatory policies, matching them with their colorectal and breast cancer diagnoses. It used the United States Cancer Statistics (USCS) database and examined data that was reported between 2004 and 2009 in order to determine whether area cancer screening use or accessibility to health care providers affected odds of late-stage diagnosis.

      States requiring health insurance providers to offer more screenings had fewer late stage diagnoses.

      Common cancers

      Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. and the risk of developing it rises after age 40. Overall rates of the disease have been on the decline, largely because of endoscopic screenings and polyp removal.

      However, rates have been rising since 1998 among those younger than age 50 "for whom screening is not routinely recommended," the authors said.

      Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women and its rates have remained steady since about 2003.

      According to the Colon Cancer Alliance, 90% of those diagnosed when the cancer is found at a local stage – confined to colon or rectum – survive more than five years. Unfortunately, the association says only 40% of colon cancers are diagnosed at the early, local stage.

      Whether or not someone survives cancer often depends on when the disease is diagnosed. If it is caught early then the odds are better, but a late-stage dia...
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      Microsoft now honors Bing revenge porn takedown requests; deletes images from OneDrive and Xbox Live

      Also offers new webpage to make reporting easier

      Microsoft has added itself to the list of tech companies cracking down on revenge porn. In a blog post yesterday evening, Chief Online Safety Officer Jacqueline Beauchere announced that in order to “help put victims back in control of their images and their privacy,” henceforth Microsoft will honor victim requests to remove links to photos and videos from Bing search results, “and remove access to the content itself when shared on OneDrive or Xbox Live.”

      Microsoft also set up a new support page (Javascript required) for victims to file reports. Right now that reporting page is only available in English, but Beauchere says other languages will be added in the forthcoming weeks, and “When we remove links or content, we will do so globally.”

      As the name suggests, revenge porn is a practice wherein people (usually angry ex-lovers, sometimes criminal hackers who break into strangers' devices to steal images), post identifiable nude, sexually explicit, or otherwise compromising images of victims, along with the victim's name and other identifying information, for the express purpose of humiliating the victims and damaging their personal and professional reputations.

      Cracking down on revenge porn

      Microsoft's announcement makes it at least the fifth major tech or social media company to crack down on revenge porn this year. Reddit and Twitter announced policy changes in February and March, respectively; Twitter updated its content boundaries to include the clause “You may not post intimate photos or videos that were taken or distributed without the subject's consent.”

      A few days after Twitter made this announcement, Facebook “clarified” its policies to specifically disallow “images shared in revenge or without permissions from the people in the images.”

      Then, in June, Google said that it would honor requests from victims to remove revenge-porn images from its search engine, and stop linking to any such results: “going forward, we’ll honor requests from people to remove nude or sexually explicit images shared without their consent from Google Search results. This is a narrow and limited policy, similar to how we treat removal requests for other highly sensitive personal information, such as bank account numbers and signatures, that may surface in our search results.”

      And now Microsoft is doing the same for its own Bing search engine, plus deleting revenge-porn images entirely when they're shared though OneDrive or Xbox Live. But removing links or deleting files from Xbox Live is not the same thing as removing such images from the Internet altogether, as Beauchere noted in her Microsoft announcement; in that regard, “victims still need stronger protections across the Web and around the world.”

      Microsoft has added itself to the list of tech companies cracking down on revenge porn. In a blog post yesterday evening, Chief Online Safety Officer Jacqu...
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      Student Financial Aid Services Inc. illegally billed students and their families, feds allege

      The company until recently operated FAFSA.com

      The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is accusing Student Financial Aid Services, Inc. of illegally billing college students and their families millions of dollars.,

      The CFPB says the company,lured consumers with misleading information about the total cost of its subscription financial services and hit them with undisclosed and unauthorized automatic recurring charges.

      Under a proposed consent,order, the company would halt illegal practices and pay $5.2 million, which would be distributed by the Bureau to harmed consumers.

      “Student Financial Aid Services, Inc. made millions of dollars at the expense of consumers through its illegal recurring payment scheme,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Our enforcement action will put money back in the pockets of consumers who were misled while seeking to access federal student aid.”

      Student Financial Aid Services, Inc. (SFAS) is based in Sacramento, California. The company has operated websites, including FAFSA.com and SFAS.com, and related call centers, where it offers fee-based assistance to consumers filling out the federal government’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). These websites were not at that time affiliated with the federal government’s FAFSA program.

      On July 13, the company announced its intention to transfer the website FAFSA.com to the U.S. Department of Education.

      “Students and families applying for federal student aid shouldn’t have any confusion about whether they’re on the official FAFSA website or a commercial website,” said United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “This transfer will help provide clarity for parents and students.”

      “I applaud the Department of Education’s recent announcement to take over this website domain name,” said CFPB Director Cordray. “Both agencies’ actions will benefit consumers seeking information to advance and finance their educations.”

      Annual subscriptions

      When consumers entered their payment information for financial advisory services, the company began to bill them for an annual self-renewing subscription costing $67 to $85 each year, the CFPB alleges.

      Under the terms of the proposed consent order filed today,,Student Financial Aid Services, Inc. would be required to: ,

      • Pay $5.2 million in consumer relief:,Student Financial Aid Services, Inc. would pay $5.2 million to the Bureau. The funds would be used to repay consumers who were allegedly illegally charged for unauthorized, recurring service fees.
      • End illegal sales and billing practices:,Student Financial Aid Services, Inc. would be required to cancel all recurring, automatic charges. The company would also be prohibited from misrepresenting the,cost or price of its products or services.
      • Pay civil money penalty:,The company would also be required to pay a civil penalty of $1 to the CFPB’s Civil Penalty Fund. The Bureau is not seeking a larger penalty because of the company’s limited financial resources after repaying harmed consumers. By requiring the company to pay a $1 penalty, victims of the company’s illegal practices may be eligible for additional relief from the CFPB Civil Penalty Fund in the future, although that determination has not yet been made.
      The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is accusing Student Financial Aid Services, Inc. of illegally billing college students and their families millions...
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      Massachusetts schools improving food options for students

      Recent standards have been implemented in many schools, and provide students with healthier competitive foods

      Obesity trends in children have been on the rise in recent years. Some states have very loose laws when it comes to what they serve their children in school lunchrooms, but others are adopting more rigid standards to try and provide healthy options for students. Massachusetts is an example of the latter, and after a year of implementation many schools are getting on board.

      Food standards within schools have been a tricky subject, since they are subject to change depending on what part of the country you live in. While some states have good standards set in place for school lunches, they may not be up to par on their standards for competitive foods, which are the types of snacks and drinks that may be offered in vending machines, school stores, or at fundraising events.

      New standards

      In 2012, Massachusetts implemented new standards in their schools in order to ensure that competitive foods were healthier. At the time, many schools were not performing up to the new standards: only 13 percent of competitive middle schools and 28 percent of high schools were already compliant with the new legislation.

      Many people were unsure about how Massachusetts’ schools would react to the changes. Completely adapting to new food standards is bound to take some time, and many schools and students may have been against the change, due to matters such as cost, taste, effort, etc. Jessica Hoffman, who is an associate professor in the Department of Applied Psychology at Northeastern University, decided to conduct a study to see how many schools were able to adapt.

      Hoffman and her team visited 74 middle schools and high schools in 37 Massachusetts school districts over an 18-month period. They collected data on the competitive foods that were being offered after the legislative changes, including brand names, packaging, and serving size.

      Surprising turnaround

      The researchers found that the new legislation was adapted very quickly in Massachusetts schools. After just one year, middle schools that complied with the new standards jumped from 13 percent to 69 percent. High schools showed an even more drastic improvement, jumping from 28 percent to 80 percent. This turnaround was completely unexpected due to the strictness of the new standards. Hoffman went so far as to say that they were “some of the strictest standards in the whole country”.

      So why did this change come so quickly? Is it that easy for schools to change their nutritional strategies to make things healthier? Apparently so. Hoffman notes that changes to beverages made a big impact in schools.

      “It’s easier to make the changes in beverages because categorically things are compliant or not compliant… For example, the sugar-sweetened beverages are easy to recognize and eliminate,” she said. The new state regulations also mandated that only non-fat or low-fat milk could be served, and that fruits and vegetables must be offered wherever food products were sold. This gives students a healthy option to turn to wherever they decide to eat.

      The researchers stress that other states would do well to learn from the new standards that Massachusetts has implemented. Doing so might go a long way toward curbing obesity trends in the country. The full study has been published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

      Obesity trends in children have been on the rise in recent years. Some states have very loose laws when it comes to what they serve their children in schoo...
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      Discover Bank rapped for illegal student loan servicing practices

      The bank's actions will cost it $18.5 million

      Discover Bank and its affiliates are under fire from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) for illegal private student loan servicing practices.

      According to the agency, Discover overstated the minimum amounts due on billing statements and denied consumers information they needed to obtain federal income tax benefits. The company also engaged in illegal debt collection tactics, including calling consumers early in the morning and late at night.

      The CFPB’s order requires Discover to refund $16 million to consumers, pay a $2.5 million penalty, and improve its billing, student loan interest reporting, and collection practices.

      “Discover created student debt stress for borrowers by inflating their bills and misleading them about important benefits,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Illegal servicing and debt collection practices add insult to injury for borrowers struggling to pay back their loans.”

      Discover Bank's student loan affiliates -- The Student Loan Corporation and Discover Products, Inc. -- are also charged in this action. Beginning in 2010, Discover expanded its private student loan portfolio by acquiring more than 800,000 accounts from Citibank.

      As a loan servicer, Discover is responsible for providing basic services to borrowers, including accurate periodic account statements, supplying year-end tax information, and contacting borrowers regarding overdue amounts.

      Huge debt market

      Student loans make up the nation’s second largest consumer debt market. Today there are more than 40 million federal and private student loan borrowers and collectively these consumers owe more than $1.2 trillion. The market is now facing an increasing number of borrowers who are struggling to stay current on their loans.

      Earlier this year, the CFPB revealed that more than 8 million borrowers were in default on more than $110 billion in student loans, a problem that may be driven by breakdowns in student loan servicing. While private student loans are a small portion of the overall market, they are generally used by borrowers with high levels of debt who also have federal loans.

      According to CFPB, thousands of consumers encountered problems as soon as their loans became due and Discover gave them account statements that overstated their minimum payment. Discover denied consumers information that they would have needed to obtain tax benefits and called consumers’ mobile phones at inappropriate times to contact them about their debts.

      Charges outlined

      Specifically, the CFPB found that the company:

      • Overstated the minimum amount due in billing statements
      • Misrepresented on its website the amount of student loan interest paid
      • Illegally called consumers early in the morning and late at night, often excessively
      • Engaged in illegal debt collection tactics

      Enforcement action

      Among the terms of the consent order, Discover must:

      • Return $16 million to more than 100,000 borrowers: Specifically, Discover will:
      1. Provide an account credit (or a check if the loans are no longer serviced by Discover) to the consumers who were misled about their minimum payments in an amount equal to the greater of $100 or 10 percent of the overpayment, up to $500. About 5,200 victims will get this credit;
      2. Reimburse up to $300 in tax preparation costs for consumers who amend their 2011 or 2012 tax returns to claim student loan interest deductions. For consumers who do not participate in this tax program or did not take advantage of earlier ones offered by the company, Discover will issue an account credit of $75 (or a check if their loans are no longer serviced by Discover) for each relevant tax year. About 130,000 victims will receive this relief; and
      3. Provide account credits of $92 to consumers subjected to more than 5 but fewer than 25 out-of-time collection calls and account credits of $142 to consumers subjected to more than 25 calls. About 5,000 victims will receive these credits.
      • Accurately represent the minimum periodic payment: Discover cannot misrepresent to consumers the minimum periodic payment owed, the amount of interest paid, or any other factual material concerning the servicing of their loans.
      • Send clear and accurate student loan interest and tax information to borrowers: Discover must send borrowers the IRS W-9S form that it requires them to complete to receive a form 1098 from the company, and it must clearly explain its W-9S requirement to borrowers. Discover must also accurately state the amount of student loan interest borrowers paid during the year.
      • Cease making calls to consumers before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.: Discover must contact overdue borrowers at reasonable times. This will be determined by the time zone of the consumer’s known residence or phone number, unless the consumer has expressly authorized Discover to call outside these hours.
      • Pay $2.5 million civil penalty: Discover will pay $2.5 million to the CFPB’s Civil Penalty Fund.

      Discover Bank and its affiliates are under fire from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) for illegal private student loan servicing practices. ...
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      Initial jobless claims fall to 42-year low

      Leading economic indicators posted their third advance in a row

      Fewer people, it would appear, lost their jobs last week.

      The Labor Department (DOL) reports first time applications for state jobless benefits fell by 26,000 in the week ending July 18 to seasonally adjusted total of 255,000. That's the lowest level for initial claims since November 24, 1973, when it was 233,000.

      DOL says there were no special factors affecting the claims level. Economists at Briefing.com., who were expecting the claims level to drop to 279,000, say the fact that there were no special factors leads them to believe that the drop will be temporary and that the level will soon be back in the 275,000 – 290,000 range.

      The 4-week moving average, considered a better gauge of the labor market that the volatile initial claims, fell by 4,000 to 278,500.

      The complete report is available on the DOL website.

      Leading economic indicators

      From The Conference Board, word that its Leading Economic Index (LEI) rose for a third straight month, increasing by 0.6% on top of gains of 0.8% in May and 0.6% in April.

      The upward trend in the LEI, said Ataman Ozyildirim, Director, Business Cycles and Growth Research, at The Conference Board, “seems to be gaining more momentum with another large increase in June pointing to continued strength in the economic outlook for the remainder of the year. Housing permits and the interest rate spread drove the latest gain in the LEI, while labor market indicators such as average workweek and initial claims remained unchanged.”

      The 10 components of the LEI include:

      1. Average weekly hours, manufacturing
      2. Average weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance
      3. Manufacturers’ new orders, consumer goods and materials
      4. ISM Index of New Orders
      5. Manufacturers' new orders, nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft orders
      6. Building permits, new private housing units
      7. Stock prices, 500 common stocks
      8. Leading Credit Index
      9. Interest rate spread, 10-year Treasury bonds less federal funds
      10. Average consumer expectations for business conditions

      Fewer people, it would appear, lost their jobs last week. The Labor Department (DOL) reports first time applications for state jobless benefits fell by 26...
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      Dodge Journey vehicles recalled

      The engine cover may detach from the engine and contact the exhaust manifold

      Chrysler (FCA US) is recalling 144,416 model year 2011-2015 Dodge Journey vehicles manufactured July 19, 2010, to May 26, 2015 and equipped with 2.4L engines.

      The engine cover may detach from the engine and contact the exhaust manifold, increasing the risk of a vehicle fire.

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will install an improved mounting system for the engine cover, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin August 26, 2015.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is R32.

      Chrysler (FCA US) is recalling 144,416 model year 2011-2015 Dodge Journey vehicles manufactured July 19, 2010, to May 26, 2015 and equipped with 2.4L engin...
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      Ronan Bistro chairs recalled

      The rear metal legs can bend unexpectedly

      Cost Plus Management Services of Oakland, Calif., is recalling about 9,200 Ronan Bistro chairs.

      The rear metal legs can bend unexpectedly and cause the chair to become unbalanced, posing a fall hazard to the user.

      The firm has received 3 reports of bent or fractured or torn rear chair legs. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves metal Ronan Bistro chairs intended for outdoor use. The chairs measure 35 inches tall, have a slatted seat, a 2 horizontal-slat back and were sold in antique white, lagoon blue and Poinciana (red).

      SKU number 502281, 502282 or 502283 is printed on the UPC sticker attached to the sales tag at the time of purchase.

      The chairs, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at Cost Plus World Market and World Market stores nationwide and online at www.worldmarket.com from February 2015, through May 2015, for about $60.

      Consumers should immediately stop using the Ronan Bistro chairs and return them to any Cost Plus World Market or World Market store for a full refund.

      Consumers may contact Cost Plus World Market toll-free at (877) 967-5362 from 7 a.m. to midnight (ET) daily.

      Cost Plus Management Services of Oakland, Calif., is recalling about 9,200 Ronan Bistro chairs. The rear metal legs can bend unexpectedly and cause the ch...
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      Altering molecules that control motivation, pleasure, and reward can help those suffering from depression

      Researchers have found that increasing cAMP levels in the brain may change our behavioral response to stressors

      Overcoming depression can be a major challenge for people who experience it every day. There are currently over 120 million people who suffer from it worldwide, and the existing therapies and prescriptions do not work for everyone. Luckily, recent research has found that elevating the levels of a signaling molecule in the brain can alter a person’s response to stress. This discovery could provide a new approach to treating depression.

      The study was conducted by researchers from the UT Southwestern Medical Center. They found that mice changed their stress-induced behaviors when cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) levels in their brains were increased. This is extremely relevant to depression because other studies have showed that depressed people often have impaired cAMP signaling in their brains. Most antidepressants work by attempting to turn this signaling system on.

      “This is the first step in the development of a treatment for patients with major depressive disorder using this new strategy,” said Dr. James Bibb, who is the lead author the study and a professor of psychiatry, neurology, and neurotherapeutics at UT Southwestern.

      Changing responses to stressors

      The cAMP levels in the brain correlate with feelings of pleasure, motivation, and reward. They are controlled by a variety of other molecules, which include an enzyme called phosphodiesterase-4 (PDE4). By disrupting PDE4 levels in the brain, scientists found that cAMP levels were able to elevate higher within the mice, which changed their behavioral responses to different stressors.

      The researchers have already developed a drug-like peptide that they hope can selectively block PDE4 function. If successful, it could provide a new way for people with depressive disorders to deal with their condition and the stressors that cause it.  

      “These exciting findings could help us develop very novel treatments to reduce stress response and prevent or treat depression effectively in the future," saidDr. Madhukar Trivedi, who is the Director of the Center of Depression Research and Clinical Care. The full study has been published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

      Overcoming depression can be a major challenge for people who experience it every day. There are currently over 120 million people who suffer from it world...
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      Experian faces class-action suit over selling data to identity thieves

      Plaintiffs want to force Experian to notify victims and make restitution

      It's been almost two years since word first leaked out that the massive data broker Experian had, through a subsidiary known as Court Ventures, allowed a Vietnamese identity thief to buy access to databases containing the personal and confidential information on up to 5 out of every 6 American adults — 200 million people in all.

      The identity thief in question, Hieu Minh Ngo, was sentenced last week to 13 years in prison.

      Law suit cites negligence

      A couple days later, on July 17, three plaintiffs filed a federal class action suit against Experian in California, alleging that the company was negligent in allowing an identity thief to buy access to its data for nearly 10 months.

      Security expert Brian Krebs (who first broke word of the Experian breach in October 2013) announced the lawsuit yesterday. The 38-page suit, which is available as a .pdf here, seeks statutory damages for alleged violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, declaratory and injunctive relief, and reimbursement of the plaintiffs' court costs and litigation expenses.

      The suit also claims that “Experian refuses to notify the victims of Ngo's identity fraud operation or provide them with protection even though Experian knows their identities, and its senior vice president promised Congress [that] Experian would 'make sure they're protected'.”

      Therefore, the plaintiffs have asked the court to force Experian to notify all consumers who were affected by Ngo's actions. They're also pushing for Experian to provide everyone who was affected with free credit monitoring services.

      Incidentally, in American English, the phrase “make a federal case” is a common idiomatic phrase used to indicate that somebody is overreacting: “Dude, he didn't intend to spill your drink! There's no need to make a federal case out of this.” But in other contexts, it's not an idiom but a straightforward description, as in “Apparently you do need to make a federal case out of it, if you want Experian to notify the victims of its own negligence.”

      It's been almost two years since word first leaked out that the massive data broker Experian had, through a subsidiary known as Court Ventures, allowed a V...
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      Home sales, prices on the rise in June

      The national median sales price is at an all-time high

      Sales of previously-owned homes rose last month to their highest pace in over 8 years as the median sales price hit a record high.

      The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports total existing-home sales -- completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – were up 3.2% in June to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.49 million.

      Sales are now at their highest pace since February 2007, have increased year-over-year for 9 consecutive months and are 9.6% above a year ago (5.01 million).

      Return of the buyers

      "Buyers have come back in force, leading to the strongest past two months in sales since early 2007," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. "This wave of demand is being fueled by a year-plus of steady job growth and an improving economy that's giving more households the financial wherewithal and incentive to buy."

      Yun says June sales were also likely propelled by the spring's initial phase of rising mortgage rates, which, he said, “usually prods some prospective buyers to buy now rather than wait until later when borrowing costs could be higher."

      Prices and inventories

      The median existing-home price for all housing types in June was $236,400, which is 6.5% above June 2014 and surpasses the peak median sales price set in July 2006 ($230,400). June's price increase also marks the 40th consecutive month of year-over-year gains.

      The median is the point at which half of houses sold for more and half for less.

      Total housing inventory at the end of June inched up 0.9% to 2.30 million existing homes available for sale, and is 0.4% higher than a year ago. Unsold inventory is at a 5.0-month supply at the current sales pace, compared with 5.1 months in May.

      "Limited inventory amidst strong demand continues to push home prices higher, leading to declining affordability for prospective buyers," said Yun. "Local officials in recent years have rightly authorized permits for new apartment construction, but more needs to be done for condominiums and single-family homes."

      Sales and prices by region

      • Existing-home sales in the Northeast climbed 4.3% last month to an annual rate of 720,000, and are now 12.5% above a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $281,200 -- up 3.9% from June 2014.
      • In the Midwest, sales rose 4.7% to an annual rate of 1.33 million, a year-over-year gain of 12.7%. The median price in the Midwest was $190,000, up 7.2% from a year ago.
      • Sales in the South totaled 2.20 million, a gain of 2.3%, and are 7.3 percent above the same time last year. The median price in the South rose 7.2% from a year ago to $205,000.
      • Existing-home sales in the West rose 2.5% to an annual rate of 1.24 million in June -- 8.8% above a year ago. The median price in the West was $328,900, which is 9.9% above June 2014.

      Sales of previously-owned homes rose last month to their highest pace in over 8 years as the median sales price hit a record high. The National Associatio...
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      Compulsive drinking: It may be in your genes

      New research could lead to treatments

      Results of a recent animal study funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggest that carrying a gene variant that affects the release of a specific brain protein may put one at greater risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.

      Scientists led by Professor Dorit Ron, PhD, Endowed Chair of Cell Biology of Addiction, Department of Neurology, University of California, San Francisco, found that mice carrying the Met68BDNF gene variant, which reduces the release of brain-derived neurotrophic (BDNF) factor, would consume excessive amounts of alcohol, despite negative consequences.

      BDNF plays a role in the survival of existing neurons and the growth of new neurons and synapses, the junctures through which cell-to-cell communication occurs. The human form of this gene variant, Met66BDNF, leads to a reduction in the normal function of BDNF in the brain and is associated with several psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia and depression.

      In an animal study reported earlier this year, NIAAA-supported scientists found that adolescent binge drinking was linked to lower levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, and these changes persisted into adulthood.

      “Genetic factors play a role in determining who develops alcohol problems,” said Dr. George Koob, PhD, NIAAA Director. “By understanding the genetic underpinnings of alcohol use disorder, we will be better able to develop targeted treatment and prevention strategies.”

      Alcohol addiction in mice

      In the study, published in Biological Psychiatry, researchers tested the role of BDNF in alcohol addiction by creating a “knock-in” mouse carrying Met68BDNF. In this variant, the amino acid valine (Val) is replaced by methionine (Met) in a specific position within the protein sequence of BDNF, resulting in reduced activity-dependent BDNF release.

      These “knock-in” mice drank more alcohol, even when the alcohol was treated with bitter-tasting quinine. This suggests Met68BDNF carriers compulsively drink alcohol despite aversive consequences.

      The effect of the genetic mutation seemed to be specific to alcohol consumption since the mice did not differ in their consumption of other fluids, or exhibit differences in levels of anxiety or compulsive behaviors

      Practical application

      Significantly, researchers were able to reverse compulsive alcohol drinking in the mice using gene delivery and pharmacology. Increasing levels of BDNF in the ventromedial portion of the prefrontal cortex, a brain region involved in compulsive drug and alcohol seeking, returned the mice to moderate levels of alcohol intake.

      In addition, by administering a pharmaceutical compound developed to mimic the action of BDNF, researchers were also able to put a stop to compulsive drinking behaviors. This compound (LM22A-4) may have potential as a therapeutic for humans. It appears to reduce compulsive alcohol drinking without a generalized effect on motivation.

      Alcohol use disorder affects about 16.6 million U.S. adults. Knowing whether patients carry a gene that results in decreased BDNF function could help in tailoring alcohol prevention and treatment strategies in the future.

      Results of a recent animal study funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggest that carrying a gene variant that affects the rel...
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      Study finds e-cigarettes may be as addictive as "real" ones

      Nicotine in e-cigs is as addictive other forms of the chemical, researchers say

      Electronic cigarettes or "e-cigs" have been touted as a safer tool smokers can use to wean themselves off of traditional cigarettes. But is that really true? After all, e-cig liquid contains nicotine and emits carcinogens, just like tobaco-based cigarettes.

      A research team reports in the ACS journal Chemical Research in Toxicology that much of the nicotine in e-cigarettes is the addictive form of the compound.

      Although e-cigs don't burn tobacco, they heat and vaporize a liquid that contains nicotine, flavorings and other substances. 

      Some experts say the nicotine content in e-cigs could lead users to become addicted to e-cigs, or that it could even serve as a gateway to conventional cigarettes and other drugs. But not all nicotine is created equal, and studies had yet to investigate what kind of nicotine was in the liquids.

      Out of three forms, scientists believe "free-base" nicotine is the only one that gets absorbed by the body, making it the most addictive kind. Najat Saliba and colleagues wanted to find out which nicotine forms are in e-cigs.

      The researchers tested commercial samples of liquids made for the devices and found that, by and large, the nicotine was in the most addictive form. They also determined that the concentration of nicotine varied and often didn't match the concentrations the labels claimed.

      Funding for the study came from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the U.S. FDA's Center for Tobacco Products.

      Electronic cigarettes or "e-cigs" have been touted as a safer tool smokers can use to wean themselves off of traditional cigarettes. But is that really tru...
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      Home sales outpacing supply

      The balance of power is tipping to sellers

      Home sales are rising, which is good news for the housing market. But the downside to that good news is a shrinking inventory.

      As homes disappear from the market, there aren't additional ones to take their place. That tips the balance of power toward sellers and could frustrate the new wave of first-time buyers just starting to look.

      By its accounting, online real estate marketplace Redfin says home sales jumped 11.4% year-over-year in June, leaving buyers looking at the lowest inventory of available homes on record.

      Selling quickly

      June was also the fastest month for home sales on record, with median days on market falling to 26, breaking the record of 27 days set in June 2013.

      Even with robust buyer demand and low inventory, Redfin reports prices have not responded accordingly. Prices were up, but only by a modest 5.1% year-over-year.

      Even 5.1% might be high, since Denver, Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco are commanding premiums that pushed up the national average. All four cities posted double-digit year-over-year price increases in June.

      Prices elsewhere may have been held in check by conservative appraisals, which have become the norm under tighter loan underwriting guidelines.

      Local Market Insights in June

      In fact, some of the hotter markets are showing signs of cooling off over the last couple of months. In San Francisco, one of the most expensive housing markets in the nation, the median sale price fell 2.8% month-over-month, to $1.07 million. But year-over-year, prices were up 16.3%.

      Redfin reports new listings in San Francisco declined 10.6% from June 2014. San Francisco hasn’t seen year-over-year growth in new listings since February 2014.

      Home values continued to soar in Denver, rising 14.8% year-over-year to a median of $325,000. July was the eighth consecutive month of year-over-year price growth above 10%.

      Denver was still the fastest-moving market, with half of all new listings selling in 6 days or less, followed by Seattle at 9, Portland at 10, and Boston and Omaha at 11.

      According to Redfin, the pricey San Jose market suffered the biggest year-over-year drop in sales on record going back to 1998, falling by 50.7% since last year. In another bad sign for the market, inventory grew by 13.5% and average days on the market surged from 13 to 33 days.

      Richmond, Va., led the nation in year-over-year sales growth, with a massive increase of 35.4% over last June. Boston had the highest increase from May to June at 49.3%.

      Home sales are rising, which is good news for the housing market. But the downside to that good news is a shrinking inventory.As homes disappear from t...
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      Many cities may force you to spend half your income in rent

      Be sure to shop around and be careful where you settle down

      Renting used to be the easier way to have a home without all of the expenses tied to it. Things have changed quite a bit since the renting market went through the roof and now monthly rent checks could take a good portion of your salary in certain areas.

      The Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies has conducted a study and published some staggering facts about renting in the United States. According to a 2013 report, tenants spend more than 30% of their paychecks on housing in nearly 20.7 million renting households.

      Financial advisors counsel that you should spend less than a third of your pay on housing costs, but nearly 11 million renters spend more than half of their paychecks on utilities and rent. That is a 37% increase since 2003.

      Rising rent prices

      Historically, cities like New York or San Francisco have always had very high rents, but many other cities are beginning to follow suit.

      “The rental housing crisis is everywhere,” says Angela Boyd, Vice President of Advocacy at Enterprise Community Partners. Her organization is active in supporting affordable housing.

      Rents have shot up recently in locations like Miami. Nearly 36 percent of renters spent more than half of their pay on rent and utilities in the city in 2013, which is the highest of the 100 metro areas that were examined in the study. People with a median income of $32,000 were paying an average of $1,100 in rent each month. That equates to roughly 41 percent of their total income at the end of the year.

      New Orleans is another city with extremely high rents. After Hurricane Katrina, the city was forced into a period of rebuilding that has heavily influenced the economy; 35 percent of renters in the city use more than half of their pay for housing as a result.

      Middle class hit hardest

      Middle class families have been hit hardest by these high prices. People making $45,000-$75,000 who spent more than 50 percent of their income on housing increased by 72 percent in a 10-year period, from 2003 to 2013. People making $30,000-$45,000 have been hit even harder in the same time period, with a 69 percent increase in people paying more than half their income on housing.

      The most inexpensive apartments are usually grabbed up very quickly. Apartments that cost $800 dollars or less a month may only stay on the market for a matter of days before they are picked up. Metro areas tend to have less of these kinds of listings, and more luxury housing with higher price points.

      Higher rent costs make saving for a down payment on a house a real struggle. If so much of your income is devoted to your current living situation, saving up for a house of your own may be quite a long struggle. 

      Renting used to be the easier way to have a home without all of the expenses tied to it. Things have changed quite a bit since the renting market went thro...
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      Little change in demand for mortgages

      Refinance activity was off

      Not much movement last week in the mortgage business.

      According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey, mortgage applications inched up a tiny 0.1% during the week ending July 17.

      The Refinance Index was down 1%, with the refinance share of mortgage activity slipping to to 50.3% of total applications from 50.8 % the previous week. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity dropped to 7.3% of total applications.

      The FHA share of total applications edged up to 14.0% from 13.8% the week prior, the VA share was 11.3%, and the USDA share of total applications was unchanged at 0.9%.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) was unchanged at 4.23%, with points decreasing to 0.34 from 0.39 (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) dipped 4 basis points -- to 4.16% from 4.20%, with points increasing to 0.33 from 0.28 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA slipped from 4.02% to 4.00%, with points down to 0.17 from 0.26 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs held steady at 3.43%, with points rising to 0.34 from 0.33 (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 fell to 3.08% from 3.13%, with points edging down to 0.41 from 0.42 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.

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

      Not much movement last week in the mortgage business. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey, mortgage...
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      FTC: Lifelock violates earlier deceptive claims settlement

      A federal court is asked to order Lifelock to make refunds to affected customers

      The Federal Trade Commission is charging that Lifelock has violated a 2010 settlement in which it agreed to stop making deceptive claims about its identity theft protection service.

      The commission is asking a federal court to order Lifelock to make refunds to customers affected by the alleged violations.

      “It is essential that companies live up to their obligations under orders obtained by the FTC,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “If a company continues with practices that violate orders and harm consumers, we will act.”

      The 2010 settlement stemmed from previous FTC allegations that LifeLock used false claims to promote its identity theft protection services. The settlement barred the company from making any further deceptive claims; required LifeLock to take more stringent measures to safeguard the personal information it collects from customers and required LifeLock to pay $12 million for consumer refunds.

      Consumers rate LifeLock

      The FTC charged today that in spite of these promises, from at least October 2012 through March 2014, LifeLock violated the 2010 Order by:

      1) failing to establish and maintain a comprehensive information security program to protect its users’ sensitive personal data, including credit card, social security, and bank account numbers;

      2) falsely advertising that it protected consumers’ sensitive data with the same high-level safeguards as financial institutions; and

      3) failing to meet the 2010 order’s recordkeeping requirements.

      The Federal Trade Commission is charging that Lifelock has violated a 2010 settlement in which it agreed to stop making deceptive claims about its identity...
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      Osamu Corporation recalls frozen tuna products from distributors

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Osamu Corporation of Gardena, Calif., is recalling all of its frozen tuna (loin, saku, chunk, slice, and ground market forms) sourced from one processing plant in Indonesia.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      There have been two reports of illness associated with a single distributor in Minnesota.

      The frozen tuna was sold in bulk packaging to distributors who further sold it to sushi restaurants, and grocery stores, which packaged sushi rolls made available for consumers to purchase and take home.

      The products, sold at stores throughout the U.S. from May 9, 2014 to July 9, 2015 contain all sequential four digit Purchase Order Numbers (PO#) of 8563 through 8599.

      The Purchase Order Number (PO#) is printed on each product carton box end panel.

      Consumers concerned about whether the sushi they purchased may contain the recalled tuna product should check with the place of purchase. Customers who purchased the recalled products from their distributors should return them to the distributor for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-310-849-8881, Monday through Friday, 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. (PDT).

      Osamu Corporation of Gardena, Calif., is recalling all of its frozen tuna (loin, saku, chunk, slice, and ground market forms) sourced from one processing p...
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      The Natural Dog Company recalls Tremenda Sticks pet chews

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      The Natural Dog Company of Windsor, Colo., is recalling 12-oz bags of 12-inch Tremenda Sticks pet chews.

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

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

      The recalled products come in a 12-oz bag without a lot number or expiration date with UPC number: 851265004957. They were sold in retail stores in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Utah and Washington.

      Customers who purchased this 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 1-888-424-4602 – Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm (MST).

      The Natural Dog Company of Windsor, Colo., is recalling 12-oz bags of 12-inch Tremenda Sticks pet chews. The products may be contaminated with Salmonella....
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      Osamu Corporation recalls frozen yellow fin tuna chunk meat

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Osamu Corporation of Gardena, Calif., is recalling frozen yellow fin tuna chunk meat (Lot #68568) sold to AFC Corporation of Rancho Dominquez, Calif., sourced from one processing plant in Indonesia.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      There have been 2 reports of illness to date associated with exposure to AFC sushi in Minnesota.

      The recalled product was shipped to AFC from May 15-26, 2015. AFC has sushi franchises nationwide in many different grocery stores and it is sold from sushi counters.

      Customers concerned about whether the sushi they purchased may contain the recalled tuna product should check with the store where they purchased the sushi. That store will be able to determine if it used the recalled product to prepare the sushi.

      Customers who have purchased the recalled product should return it to the distributor for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-310-849-8881, Monday through Friday, 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. (PDT).

      Osamu Corporation of Gardena, Calif., is recalling frozen yellow fin tuna chunk meat (Lot #68568) sold to AFC Corporation of Rancho Dominquez, Calif., so...
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      Sunburn tattoos: a really bad idea

      Temporary tattoos can have permanent consequences

      Dermatologists are alarmed by a new fad that they say is jeopardizing health. It's called sunburn tattooing, and doctors say there is nothing “cool” about it.

      Some people are creating temporary tattoos by using sunblock or sunscreen to either stencil or freehand designs onto their skin. Then, they bake in the sun, purposefully getting a sunburn on their skin, with the red contrasting with their protected skin.

      While it isn't permanent like a real tattoo, doctors say a sunburn tattoo can cause lasting damage.

      “When you get any kind of unprotected sun exposure, you are doing damage to the DNA in your skin cells,” said Dr. Michael Ioffreda, a dermatologist at Penn State University Medical Center. “Your skin has memory, so the damage accumulates over time. Eventually, your body’s repair mechanisms can’t keep up and skin cancers erupt.”

      True, you may not get skin cancer – at least, maybe not for a couple of decades – but there are more imminent, unappealing side effects of unprotected sunning, dermatologists warn.

      Early wrinkles

      Too much sun can bring on early wrinkles. Strangely colored spots and irregular pigmentation of the skin can also occur. Ironically, people often expose themselves to the sun's rays in search of healthy looking, radiant skin. Over the long haul, that isn't what they usually get.

      Some people may have some degree of natural pigmentation in their skin and are less at risk for the harmful effects of unprotected sun exposure, but doctors say even they can be harmed by too much unprotected sun.

      “As dermatologists, our stance is that there is no safe level of sun exposure,” Ioffreda said. “We can’t say it’s okay to get a tan once a week because we don’t know what the threshold is.”

      Tattoo artists' warning

      Even a traditional tattoo parlor is joining in the warnings against sunburn tattooing. Elite Tattoo Gallery of Jacksonville, N.C., says that you can't get a real tattoo if you have sunburned skin. 

      “Tattooing breaks down your epidermis, which, if you’re sunburned, is already damaged,” the company says on its website. Your body is already trying to heal your sunburned skin, so more damage will only mean trouble for a fresh tattoo.”

      Ioffreda suggests everyone should be using a daily moisturizer containing sunscreen. If you're going to be spending time in the sun each day, he recommends a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.

      Sunscreen should always be applied 15 to 20 minutes before sun exposure so it has time to react chemically with your skin to form a protective shield. Ioffreda says it should be reapplied every hour and a half -- unless you are sweating or in water, in which case it should be reapplied more frequently. You can also use a sunblock such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide instead.

      “That’s the real white stuff that lifeguards use,” Ioffreda said. “It’s almost like putting paint on your skin but it works immediately to reflect the sun’s rays.”

      Ioffreda and other dermatologists worry about this new fad because it's spreading so quickly across social media. If you have to do it, he suggests doing it with a spray-on tanner. You can get the same effect, he says, without causing damage to your skin.

      Henna tattoos

      Another temporary tattoo fad has triggered the concern of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The agency says temporary tattoos marketed as "henna" are applied to the skin's surface and usually last two to four weeks.

      Henna is a dark coloring made from a flowering plant that grows in tropical and subtropical regions of Africa and Asia. The FDA says henna body artists are using so-called "black henna," which is potentially harmful.

      It says inks marketed as "black henna" may actually be hair dye or a mix of henna with other ingredients that can cause dangerous reactions. The FDA says reactions may occur immediately after the application or even up to two or three weeks later.

      Reported problems include redness, blisters, raised red weeping lesions, loss of pigmentation, increased sensitivity to sunlight, and even permanent scarring.  

      Dermatologists are alarmed by a new fad that they say is jeopardizing health. It's called sunburn tattooing, and doctors say there is nothing “cool” about...
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      Tougher consumer protection rules for military members adopted today

      The new rule closes loopholes in previous versions of the Military Lending Act

      The Defense Department today closed loopholes to protect U.S. men and women in uniform from predatory lending practices, adopting the final version of the Military Lending Act, which covers all forms of payday loans, vehicle title loans, refund anticipation loans, deposit advance loans, installment loans, unsecured open-end lines of credit and credit cards.  

      “We’re going to keep fighting to give our troops and veterans a chance to enjoy the American freedom you helped defend,” President Barack Obama said this morning as he previewed the measure at the 116th Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

      “There’s already a lot to protect our troops and families against unscrupulous predatory lenders, but some of the worst abusers -- like payday lenders -- are exploiting loopholes to trap our troops in a vicious cycle of crushing debt,” Obama said.

      “It is the right thing to do,” he said of the new rule.

      "Important stand"

      "With this action, the department takes an important stand against companies that can prey on our men and women in uniform,” Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said in a news release after the president’s announcement.

      The new version of the MLA addresses more types of credit products, including many that a three-year study found were often problematic for servicemembers.

      Research by the Department of Defense released last year found that as many as one out of every ten enlisted servicemembers continued to be targeted by high-cost credit designed to evade the Military Lending Act.  DoD estimates that the final rule will reduce involuntary separation caused by financial hardship, resulting in a savings of $14 million a year or more

      “This new rule addresses a range of credit products that previously escaped the scope of the regulation, compromising the financial readiness of our troops," Work said.

      Consumer advocates praised the measure. 

      “For nearly a decade, high-cost lenders have exploited loopholes in critical military financial protections so they can continue lending at abusive rates far above the 36 percent rate cap established by Congress,” said Tom Feltner, director of financial services at Consumer Federation of America.  “The final rule published today will ensure that servicemembers and their families get the financial protections they deserve.”

      The final rule will:

      • Apply market-wide to all high-cost credit products that target service members, including payday, auto title and installment loans that were excluded from the 2007 protections;
      • Cap interest and add-on fees at 36 percent for loans issued to service members and their dependents; and
      • Preserve service members’ access to the courts by prohibiting mandatory arbitration agreements.

      “We applaud the Obama Administration and DoD for finalizing this important rule and ensuring that servicemembers and their families will no longer be put at risk by abusive lending practices,” said Feltner.

      The Defense Department today closed loopholes to protect U.S. men and women in uniform from predatory lending practices, adopting the final version of the...
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      Summer has become a season when kids pack on the pounds

      Making sure they stay active throughout the season is extremely important

      In years gone by, summer was a season for youthful activity. Kids played outdoors all day – swimming, playing baseball and kicking the can after dinner.

      In short, kids got plenty of exercise during the summer – maybe more than any other time of year.

      That doesn't appear to be the case today. Health officials say summer is one of the most challenging times of the year when it comes to preventing childhood obesity.

      What's changed? The school year is still the way it always was. A lot of students walk to school, go to gym class, play outside at recess, and participate in after-school sports.

      Even though they remain seated at their desks for long stretches of the day, they eat only during designated times. These days, school cafeterias and vending machines have been mostly purged of junk food.

      Kids are healthier during the school year

      Ironically, it is during the school year, when kids are more confined, that they maintain a more healthy lifestyle.

      “In school, you can’t keep snacking while you’re learning history,” said Lara Dugas, a physical activity epidemiologist at Loyola University.

      It's children's summer lifestyle that has undergone a change, and not for the better. During the summer months many children have relatively little structure or supervision. This is especially true in low-income households that can’t afford summer camps, says Dugas.

      As a result, many children get less exercise during the summer and pass the time eating as much junk food as they want.

      Fitter in June than August

      “Many children finish the school year in June fitter and leaner than when they go back to school in August,” Dugas said.

      This changing summer lifestyle has occurred over the last 30 years, at precisely the time childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC reported that in 2012, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.

      Dugas says the cycle can be broken, but it will take getting kids up off the couch and outside, involved in summer camps, sports teams, and park activities.

      “Such structured activities provide opportunities to benefit both their physical and cognitive development,” she said.

      Summer activity tips

      The American Heart Association has these tips for keeping kids physically active during the summer:

      • Encourage outdoor play that involves any kind of movement. Informal games like tag, jumping rope, or hopscotch are beneficial.
      • Introduce new games to a group of children. When kids learn the rules of a game at the same time as their peers, they're more confident and are more likely to participate.
      • Limit screen time to two hours a day.
      • Keep it fresh. Don’t get stuck in a workout rut. Try and incorporate a new exercise or game every few weeks to keep kids motivated.
      • Try to make sure kids get in 60 minutes of physical activity every day, but it doesn't have to be 60 uninterrupted minutes. Break it up into several shorter periods of play. As long as daily physical activity adds up to at least 60 minutes, it's fine.  
      In years gone by, summer was a season for youthful activity. Kids played outdoors all day – swimming, playing baseball and kicking the can after dinner....
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      Making things easier for disabled consumers

      Massachusetts reportedly probes ride-sharing services track record

      The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of the disabled by requiring public facilities to make provisions for people using wheelchairs and those who are vision- or hearing-impaired.

      Reuters is reporting that the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office is investigating ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft to make sure they're complying with the law. The report says the attorney general's civil rights division contacted the companies last week to discuss whether everyone had equal access to the services.

      The National Federation of the Blind of California sued Uber in 2014, charging discrimination because some drivers allegedly refused to transport service dogs.

      Both Uber and Lyft were defendants in a Texas lawsuit last year when they were charged for failing to provide wheelchair-accessible rides for disabled passengers.

      Taxis updating technology

      Meanwhile, Taxis – engaged in a sometimes bitter competition with the ride-sharing services – are updating in-car technology for blind passengers. In cooperation with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), Verifone is enhancing the accessibility of their in-taxi technology for blind passengers.

      The technology enables passengers to pay their cab fare with a credit or debit card and enjoy curated media content during taxi rides. The upgrades should be completed by the end of the year, Verifone said.

      Under the present system, vision-impaired passengers can tap the center of a terminal screen to launch an accessibility mode, which uses voice prompts to provide information about the fare and to guide the user through the payment process.

      Adding audio information

      The planned upgrade will add audio information about the cab's current location, as well as other improvements. The upgrade stems from NFB concerns presented to Verifone which stated that their interface wasn't the most user-friendly for the vision-impaired.

      "We are committed to providing a great experience for all users of our technology,” said Amos Tamam, Senior Vice President of Taxi Systems for Verifone. “We are delighted to work with the National Federation of the Blind to make sure that our systems are usable and accessible to blind taxicab passengers."

      Some apps might need some work

      Researchers at the University of Washington (UW) state that making provisions for the vision-impaired in digital device apps is no less important than doing so in transportation. Yet when they conducted an academic review of 9 mobile health (mHealth) applications on the market in March 2014, they found none met all the criteria that would make them fully accessible to blind consumers.

      The reviewed apps included applications that upload data from blood pressure and blood sugar monitoring devices. The research team said accessibility shortcomings ranged from improperly labeled buttons to confusing layouts that didn't work well with iPhone VoiceOver or Android TalkBack services that "read" information on the phone screen.

      "We wanted to see if these health applications would be out-of-the-box accessible, and most really weren't," said lead author Lauren Milne, a UW computer science and engineering doctoral student. "They made a lot of amateur mistakes that people make when they build apps."

      But the problem might be easily fixed. The researchers say that it would be easy for developers to make mainstream health sensors that are fully accessible to blind smartphone users. All they have to do is follow the guidelines already put in place by Apple and the U.S. government.

      The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of the disabled by requiring public facilities to make provisions for people using wheelchair...
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      MassGen takes top spot in U.S. News hospital rankings

      Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins, UCLA round out the top spots

      Massachusetts General Hospital takes top spot in this year's U.S. News & World Report Best Hospitals rankings, which highlight hospitals that are exceptional in numerous specialties. 

      The Mayo Clinic was No. 2 while Johns Hopkins Hospital and UCLA Medical Center tied for third.

      Designed to help patients with life-threatening or rare conditions identify hospitals that excel in treating the most difficult cases, Best Hospitals includes consumer-friendly data and information on nearly 5,000 medical centers nationwide.

      University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center is No. 1 in cancer care, the Cleveland Clinic is No. 1 in cardiology & heart surgery and the Hospital for Special Surgery is No. 1 in orthopedics.

      Best Hospitals features national rankings in 16 specialties. In the 2015-16 rankings, 137 U.S. hospitals performed well enough in complex care to be nationally ranked in one or more specialties. Just 15 of these qualified for a spot on the Honor Roll by ranking at or near the top in six or more specialties.

      The 2015-16 Honor Roll

      1. Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston
      2. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota
      3. (tie) Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore
      3. (tie) UCLA Medical Center, Los Angeles
      5. Cleveland Clinic
      6. Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston
      7. New York-Presbyterian University Hospital of Columbia and Cornell, New York
      8. UCSF Medical Center, San Francisco
      9. Hospitals of the University of Pennsylvania-Penn Presbyterian, Philadelphia
      10. Barnes-Jewish Hospital/Washington University, St. Louis
      11. Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago
      12. NYU Langone Medical Center, New York
      13. UPMC-University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
      14. Duke University Hospital, Durham, North Carolina
      15. Stanford Health-Stanford Hospital, Stanford, California

      U.S. News also identified 520 Best Regional Hospitals, ranking them by state and metro area based on their performance in both complex and common care.

      "Patients deserve high-quality information on hospitals," said Ben Harder, chief of health analysis at U.S. News. "We strive to provide them with the most comprehensive data available so they can make more informed decisions together with their doctor about where to undergo treatment."

      Massachusetts General Hospital takes top spot in this year's U.S. News & World Report Best Hospitals rankings, which highlight hospitals that are exception...
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      Marijuana use is on the rise for teenagers; cigarette and alcohol use remains stable or in decline

      Researchers predict that marijuana use may overtake all other substance abuse cases for teens in the next few years

      Substance abuse can be pervasive at all ages, but a recent study conducted by researchers at Penn State shows that marijuana use is rising amongst teenagers. At the same time, other controlled substances, such as alcohol and cigarettes, are either remaining stable or declining in use within the same age group.

      The war against smoking has been raging on for years. Many anti-smoking campaigns have targeted teens in the hopes that stopping the habit before it starts is the best solution. “Our analysis shows that public health campaigns are working—fewer teens are smoking cigarettes,” said Stephanie Lanza, who is a professor of biobehavioral health and the scientific director of the Methodology Center at Penn State.

      Marijuana trends rising

      Unfortunately, Lanza and her team have discovered that teens are not simply stopping when it comes to smoking. They are just replacing cigarettes with marijuana.

      The researchers collected data from surveys that were given to high school seniors over a 37-year period, from 1976 to 2013. Over 600,000 students were questioned about their use of alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana. The study used data that was originally collected by the University of Michigan for their own long-term study.

      The statistical findings showed that, as of 2013, nearly 19 percent of white teens smoked cigarettes and 22 percent used marijuana. These numbers shift slightly for black teens, where only 10 percent smoke cigarettes but nearly 25 percent used marijuana. The researchers also found that teens were more likely to use marijuana if they smoked or drank excessively, and vice versa.

      When compared to alcohol, though, cigarettes and marijuana still lag behind in teen use. Although these numbers have decreased since the 1970s, alcohol consumption is still more widespread amongst white teens than cigarette or marijuana use. But if abuse trends continue in this manner, then marijuana will likely begin to challenge alcohol consumption as the number one substance that teens abuse.

      Decisive shift

      “What will this look like in a few years?” asked Lanza when looking at graphs that showed black teens’ use of marijuana and alcohol consumption. “All signs point to these two lines crossing within the next few years. This is a decisive shift.”

      Lanza and her colleagues will continue to analyze their data to see what else can be learned from it. They hope to see if the legalization of marijuana in several U.S. states will impact their figures in any significant way. The full study has been published in the Journal of Adolescent Health

      Substance abuse can be pervasive at all ages, but a recent study conducted by researchers at Penn State shows that marijuana use is rising amongst teenager...
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      Citibank fined $700 million for illegal credit card practices

      CFPB: Consumers spent millions of dollars for services they didn't order

      The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) says Citibank, N.A. bilked roughly 7 million customers through deceptive marketing and billing for debt protection and credit monitoring services.

      It has ordered the bank to pay $700 million in relief to consumers and $35 million in penalties.

      A Citibank subsidiary also deceptively charged expedited payment fees to nearly 1.8 million consumer accounts during collection calls, the CFPB said. 

      “We continue to uncover illegal credit card add-on practices that are costing unknowing consumers millions of dollars,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “In our four years, this is the tenth action we’ve taken against companies in this space for deceiving consumers. We will remain on the lookout for similar conduct and will address it as we find it.”

      According to the CFPB, Citibank actively marketed and enrolled consumers in five debt protection add-on products: “AccountCare,” “Balance Protector,” “Credit Protection,” “Credit Protector,” and “Payment Safeguard.”

      These products promised to cancel a consumer’s payment or balance, or defer the payment due date, if the consumer experienced certain hardships, such as job loss, disability, hospitalization, and certain life events, such as marriage or divorce.

      Citibank also marketed and sold other add-on products – “IdentityMonitor,” “DirectAlert,” “PrivacyGuard,” and “Citi Credit Monitoring Services” – that offered credit-monitoring or credit-report-retrieval services. Citibank also offered “Watch-Guard Preferred,” a wallet-protection service that notified credit and debit card issuers if the consumers reported a card lost or stolen.

      Deceptive marketing

      The service were marketed through a variety of deceptive methods, including telemarketing calls, online enrollment, “point-of-sale” application and enrollment at retailers, or when enrolled consumers later called tocancel certain products, the CFPB said. 

      For example, confusing text on pin-pad offer screens at the point of sale increased the likelihood that consumers applying for credit cards at a retailer would not realize they were both applying for credit and purchasing debt-protection coverage.

      The full text of the CFPB’s consent order is available online

      The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) says Citibank, N.A. bilked roughly 7 million customers through deceptive marketing and billing for debt pro...
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      NY sues "shameful" Children's Leukemia Foundation

      Organization raised millions to help sick children but pocketed the money, state charges

      For years, the National Children's Leukemia Foundation (NCLF) has claimed to be a charitable operation that operated a bone marrow registry and fulfilled the last wishes of dying children, among other supposed good deeds.

      But New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that his office has filed a court action to shutter NCLF and to hold its founder and officers accountable for misusing the nearly $10 million it raised from donors.

      The suit says NCLF was little more than a one-man operation run by founder Zvi Shor, 64, out of the basement of his Brooklyn home. 

      “Nothing is more shameful than pocketing millions of dollars donated by good-hearted people who just wanted to help children afflicted with a terminal illness,” said Schneiderman. “My office will continue to identify, investigate, and shutter so-called charities that use legitimate-sounding names to exploit the generosity of New Yorkers and betray the public’s trust."

      $9.7 million

      The lawsuit alleges that between 2009 and 2013, the NCLF raised $9.7 million from donors across America by:

      • Repeatedly lying about having a bone marrow registry, an umbilical cord blood banking program, and its own cancer research center; and telling donors it had filed a patent application for a new lifesaving treatment for leukemia when it had not;
      • Lying when it told potential donors that funds raised would be used to “fulfill wishes of terminally sick children,” including sending these children to Disney World, when NCLF had not done so in years;
      • Making false official filings, including annual financial filings submitted to the Attorney General’s Office, by reporting individuals as directors of the organization without their knowledge, and falsely reporting a large portion of fundraising expenses as public education about cancer;
      • Filing false audit reports, when no audits were in fact conducted.

      As the petition charges, between April 2009 and March 2013, NCLF collected approximately $9.7 million in revenue from thousands of donors across the country. Of that, $8.9 million was solicited by professional fundraisers hired by Shor, who were in turn paid approximately $7.5 million – or 83% – of the money raised.

      Less than 1%

      Of the remaining funds, according to the organization’s filings, the organization spent less than 1% – $57,541 – of its income on direct cash assistance to leukemia patients and transferred another 5% – $655,000 – to a shell organization in Israel run by Shor’s sister, allegedly for research purposes. Over the same time period, Shor was paid a salary of nearly $600,000, and awarded himself another $600,000 in deferred compensation.

      The Attorney General’s investigation found that NCLF’s president, Yehuda Gutwein, 58, who lives in Brooklyn, was president in name only. Gutwein, a certified public accountant, took over the title in May 2010, when reports surfaced that Shor, who had been president since the organizations 1991 founding, was convicted of felony bank fraud in the Eastern District of New York in 1999.

      Shor’s son, Shlomo Shor, 43, also of Brooklyn, stepped in as a director and vice president, but did nothing other than sign checks and forms, as he was ordered to do by his father, Schneiderman charged.

      For years, the National Children's Leukemia Foundation (NCLF) has claimed to be a charitable operation that operated a bone marrow registry and fulfilled t...
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      Military lenders cautioned against illegal military allotment practices

      New Defense Department rules are now in effect

      Companies that sell retail goods to military servicemembers are receiving letters from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) advising them to review their websites and other advertising for potentially misleading marketing and to review other practices related to payment by military allotment.

      Active-duty servicemembers are not permitted to use allotments to pay for personal property such as vehicles, appliances and consumer electronics. The CFPB is concerned that companies that are still advertising repayment by way of military allotment may be violating federal consumer financial protection laws.

      “Companies that are still advertising repayment via military allotment may be violating the law,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Companies should give consumers accurate and reliable information so they can make the best decisions for their own financial situations. We will continue our work protecting servicemembers and promoting a fair and transparent marketplace for all consumers.”

      Better protection for service members

      The military discretionary allotment system allows servicemembers to automatically direct a portion of their paycheck to financial institutions or people of their choosing. However, military personnel using the allotment system instead of other automatic payment options like ACH (Automated Clearing House) can end up losing out on certain legal protections.

      To better protect servicemembers, the Department of Defense (DoD) announced changes to the allotment system last year. The updated regulations, which took effect in January, prohibit new allotments to purchase, lease or rent personal property such as vehicles, appliances and consumer electronics.

      The regs do allow allotments made for the purpose of savings, insurance premiums, mortgage or rent payments, support for dependents or investments. Military retirees and DoD civilian employees were not affected by the changes.

      Offering servicemembers misleading information about payment options and allowing servicemembers to pay by allotment when prohibited by DoD regulations could violate the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act’s prohibition against unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices in consumer financial products or services.

      The letters advise the recipients that their advertisements may violate federal law, and that they should review their advertising and practices relating to military allotments. However, these letters are not a finding or ruling that the recipients have actually violated the law.

      Companies that sell retail goods to military servicemembers are receiving letters from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) advising them to rev...
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      Huxtable’s Kitchen recalls salad products

      The products may contain nitrites, allergens not listed on the label

      Huxtable’s Kitchen of Fife, Wash., is recalling approximately 778 pounds of salad products.

      The bacon in the products may contain nitrites, allergens not listed on the label.

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

      The following products, produced on July 14 and 16, 2015, are being recalled:

      • 9.5 oz. tray containers containing “Trader Joe’s Cobb Salad” with the sell by date 7-20-15, 7-21-15 and 7-22-15.
      • 11 oz. tray containers containing “Trader Joe’s Uncured Bacon & Spinach Salad” with the sell by date 7-20-15 and 7-21-15.

      The recalled products bear the establishment number “P-11079A” or “EST. 11079” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped to retail locations in Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Andy Foster at (323) 923-2905.

      Huxtable’s Kitchen of Fife, Wash., is recalling approximately 778 pounds of salad products. The bacon in the products may contain nitrites, allergens not ...
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      Adultery-dating website AshleyMadison hacked

      Information that was supposed to have been deleted is allegedly still available

      Here's some good news for divorce lawyers, though probably bad news for anyone else involved: this weekend, hackers broke into the adultery-dating website “AshleyMadison” and leaked personal details about some of its clients, including credit card details.

      AshleyMadison (registered motto: “Life is short. Have an affair.®”) is owned by Avid Life Media, which owns other hookup sites including “Established Men” and “Cougar Life.”

      ALM chief executive Noel Biderman confirmed the hacking to security expert Brian Krebs late Sunday evening, and said the company was “working diligently and feverishly” to take down as much of that information as it could. Biderman also suggested that the hacker might be someone who has or had legitimate access to ALM's servers – in other words, a current or former employee or contractor.

      Hackers demand site be taken down

      The hacker or hackers behind the breach self-identify as The Impact Team. The team is threatening to release all of the information it stole from AshleyMadison unless the site is taken down. According to its own statements, The Impact Team's main complaint with AshleyMadison isn't that the website promotes or facilitates adultery, but that it allegedly lies to its clients.

      Specifically, people with dating profiles on AshleyMadison are also offered the chance to pay $19 for a “full delete” function – basically scrubbing your complete profile and activity history from the site.

      But according to the hacker or hackers who comprise The Impact Team, AshleyMadison's “full delete” service is a lie:

      Full Delete netted ALM $1.7mm in revenue in 2014. It’s also a complete lie. Users almost always pay with credit card; their purchase details are not removed as promised, and include real name and address, which is of course the most important information the users want removed. Avid Life Media has been instructed to take Ashley Madison and Established Men offline permanently in all forms, or we will release all customer records, including profiles with all the customers’ secret sexual fantasies and matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails. The other websites may stay online. …

      ALM today released a statement saying, in part, that: “We have always had the confidentiality of our customers’ information foremost in our minds, and have had stringent security measures in place, including working with leading IT vendors from around the world. As other companies have experienced, these security measures have unfortunately not prevented this attack to our system.”

      The statement did not address the question of whether any of the compromised information was supposed to have been deleted after its owner paid the $19 fee.

      Here's some good news for divorce lawyers, though probably bad news for anyone else involved: this weekend, hackers broke into the adultery-dating website ...
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      When to cash out and sell your house

      It isn't a move to make without a lot of careful thought

      It has been six years since the housing bust, and home prices are starting to recover - though more so in some areas than others. This is prompting home-owners to consider putting a for sale sign in their front yards. 

      Sometimes it's a change in life's circumstances that starts the home-selling process. Sometimes it's activities going on around you.

      Our recent story about the renewed rise of “tear downs” in Chicago neighborhoods brought an email from Rebecca, of Austin, Tex.

      “We live in a small several-street little neighborhood that was formerly like a quiet accidental cul de sac with houses built in late 1970s, with large mature live oaks sitting in large lots,” she wrote. “Folks seem to be trying to buy up as many houses as possible and use as rentals. These rentals don't get much care/maintenance so we worry it may affect our property values at some point.”

      Rebecca says she could sell her home and pocket a profit of $70,000 to $80,000 after owning it just three years. On the other hand, her neighborhood is close to shopping, entertainment, and other amenities that she likes.

      Should she sell?

      That depends on whether she has some other place she would like to go, and can afford. It doesn't sound like the presence of multiple rental homes on the street has depressed property values, so maybe she should wait and see.

      Some of these homes might become owner-occupied again. Starting last year, many hedge funds that bought up distressed property and converted them to rentals started selling them. True, the buyers might turn out to be other investors but many may find their way back onto the real estate market.

      The point is, Rebecca's neighborhood might take a turn for the better. But her question is a relevant one – how do you know when it's time to sell?

      Lifestyle changes

      One of the main reasons to sell is when your home just doesn't fit your lifestyle any longer. Maybe the 2-bedroom bungalow you purchased with your spouse as newlyweds is a bit crammed now that you have a couple of children. It might be time to look for a 3-bedroom ranch close to a good school.

      By the same token, if you are a Baby Boomer couple whose oldest child has finally moved out of the basement, a 2-bedroom bungalow with a small yard might be just the way to downsize.

      Another reason to sell is when all the numbers add up. When you've got plenty of equity in your home, and prices in the neighborhood have rapidly appreciated, then you can benefit greatly from putting it on the market.

      Taking advantage of a hot market

      There are plenty of people who bought homes in 2003 who wish they had sold them in 2006, before prices came crashing back to earth. That's not likely to happen again, but if your neighborhood has enjoyed rapid price appreciation, it may flatten out for a while. Sometimes it's better to sell when a neighborhood is hot.

      Of course, you've got to live somewhere. Before selling your home think about what you can afford to buy in order to replace it. Yes, you could become a renter, but keep in mind that rents are rising faster than home prices in many markets.

      Before deciding whether to sell your home, Realtor.com advises potential sellers to make sure they understand all the costs associated with the sale and the amount of money they are likely to walk away with.

      A typical real estate sales commission is 6% of the sale price. Other assorted costs could end up making you lose a couple thousand more dollars on top of that, so plan accordingly.

      It has been six years since the housing bust, and home prices are starting to recover - though more so in some areas than others. This is prompting home-ow...
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      Cost of treating Baby Boomers with Alzheimer's set to surge

      Alzheimer's Association to highlight promising research this week

      It has long been assumed that the combination of Alzheimer's disease and an aging Baby Boom generation will spell trouble. A recent study that was submitted at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference confirms that it will be pretty bad.

      The report projects that 28 million Boomers – Americans born between 1946 and 1964 – will develop Alzheimer's at some point. Researchers predict that the cost of treating them will consume nearly 25% of all Medicare spending by 2040.

      The report starts with the assumption that there will be no significant advancements in Alzheimer's treatment between now and then. Today, Alzheimer's remains a slowly developing disease that robs its victims of their memory before it is ultimately fatal. There is no known cure.

      $11 billion to $328 billion

      If nothing is done by 2020, the projected Medicare costs of caring for Baby Boomers with Alzheimer's is projected to be $11.86 billion in 2014 dollars, making up 2.1% of total Medicare spending. By 2040, when Boomers are aged 76-94, the projected Medicare costs are expected to be $328.15 billion in 2014 dollars.

      "The risk of Alzheimer's increases with age, and as baby boomers get older, the number of people developing the disease will rise to levels far beyond anything we've ever seen before," said Keith Fargo, Alzheimer's Association Director of Scientific Programs & Outreach.

      It's unlikely that medical research will stand still as this disease ravages a generation. Fargo says there is a pipeline of experimental therapies that have the potential to delay the onset of Alzheimer's and perhaps even prevent the disease. Many will get an airing at the association's conference this week in Washington, DC.

      Promising developments

      In fact, there have been a number of developments in the area of Alzheimer's research in the last few months. One of the more promising ones was revealed in October, when researchers said a novel and complex treatment had restored memory function in 9 out of 10 participants.

      The study, conducted jointly by the UCLA Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, is the first to suggest that memory loss in patients may be reversed, and that improvement can be lasting.

      The treatment consists of a 36-point therapeutic program involving comprehensive changes in diet, brain stimulation, exercise, optimization of sleep, specific drugs and vitamins, and many additional steps that affect brain chemistry.

      As we reported just last week, scientists in Texas have isolated a biomarker that may help doctors predict who will get Alzheimer's, allowing for early intervention.

      Financial commitment 

      Fargo points to recent advances in the treatment of HIV, cancer, and heart disease, saying the same financial commitment made to battling those deadly diseases is needed to tame Alzheimer's disease.

      "Alzheimer's is extremely underfunded compared to the magnitude of the problem,” Fargo said. “If we're going to change the current trajectory of the disease, we need consistent and meaningful investments in research from the federal government to ensure a more robust pipeline."  

      It has long been assumed that the combination of Alzheimer's disease and an aging Baby Boom generation will spell trouble. A recent study that was submitte...
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      Researchers say consumers would prefer to buy U.S. meat

      Repealing country of origin label law, they say, hurts U.S. producers and consumers

      American meat processors were never fully enthusiastic about the Country of Origin Labeling law (COOL), and when the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled it violated trade agreements, they were quick to advocate its repeal.

      In June North American Meat Institute CEO Barry Carpenter was among those urging the U.S. Senate to repeal the law, which requires labels on fresh meat to inform consumers where the animals had been raised and slaughtered.

      But repealing COOL might ultimately work against the U.S. meat industry, according to marketing researchers at the University of Arkansas.

      Consumers, they say, want to know where meat came from and they would actually prefer to purchase U.S. meat.

      Researchers found that consumers preferred meat from the United States when provided only with information about where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered – and not given information about country-specific meat-processing standards.

      Direct and indirect effects

      “The country-of-origin requirement appears to provide consumers with additional information that has both direct and indirect effects on purchase intentions,” said Scot Burton, a professor of marketing. “The requirement impacts inferred attributes, meaning that meat products from the United States are perceived to be safer, tastier and fresher than meat products from Mexico. Of course, these attributes, in turn, have positive effects on purchase decisions.”

      Burton and his colleagues reviewed 3 studies to arrive at their conclusion. In 2 of the 3 studies consumers, when given a choice, preferred meat from the United States.

      Congress passed COOL in the 2002 Farm Bill and expanded it in 2008. It requires U.S. retailers to provide country-of-origin labeling for most meat and poultry products.

      The law also requires meat labels to identify the country where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered. The legislation had the backing of farmers and ranchers who raise the livestock but not so much the meat packers, who are responsible for applying the labeling.

      COOL support from cattle country

      In a blistering editorial over the weekend, the Rapid City Journal, a newspaper covering much of South Dakota's cattle country, took Congress to task for rushing to consider a repeal of COOL, or to make it a voluntary program.

      “Voluntary COOL failed because big meatpackers don’t want to disclose the origins of meat,” the newspaper wrote. “In 2013, they sued the USDA claiming that COOL violated their First Amendment free speech rights by forcing them to provide COOL labels against their will. Our federal courts repeatedly rejected their claims.”

      Consumer groups, who were in the forefront of lobbying efforts on behalf of COOL, are also among those urging lawmakers not to repeal it. A coalition of 283 farm, rural, consumer, manufacturer, labor, faith and environmental groups from across the U.S. issued a statement last month, calling for Congress to refrain from repealing the consumer legislation.

      “If Congress repeals COOL, then the next time consumers go shopping for a steak or chicken for their families, they won’t be able to tell where that product came from,” said Chris Waldrop, Director of the Food Policy Institute at Consumer Federation of America. “That's completely unacceptable. Consumers want more information about their food, not less.”

      The House of Representatives quickly approved a repeal of COOL in late May. Similar legislation is now before the U.S. Senate.

      American meat processors were never fully enthusiastic about the Country of Origin Labeling law (COOL), and when the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled i...
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      National Taxpayer Advocate: It was generally a successful tax filing season

      It was the best of years; it was the worst of years

      In her statutorily mandated mid-year report to Congress, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson says the IRS ran a generally successful filing season under difficult circumstances.

      “With funding down about 17% on an inflation-adjusted basis since FY 2010, and with the IRS having had to implement large portions of the [ACA] (Obamacare) and the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) this year without any supplemental funding, sharp declines in taxpayer service were inevitable,” she wrote.

      Olson likened the 2015 filing season to “A Tale of Two Cities” saying, “For the majority of taxpayers who filed their returns and did not require IRS assistance, the filing season was generally successful. For the segment of taxpayers who required help from the IRS, the filing season was by far the worst in memory.”

      Highlights and lowlights

      According to the report:

      • The IRS processed 126.1 million individual tax returns compared with 125.6 million last year, and issued 91.8 million refunds (versus 94.8 million last year. The average refund amount was $2,711; it was $2,686 last year.
      • The IRS answered only 37% of taxpayer calls routed to customer service representatives overall, and the hold time for taxpayers who got through averaged 23 minutes. That represents a sharp drop-off from the 2014 filing season, when the IRS answered 71% of its calls and hold times averaged about 14 minutes.
      • The IRS answered only 39% of calls from taxpayers seeking assistance from the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) on the National Taxpayer Advocate (NTA) Toll-Free hotline, and hold times averaged 19 minutes. TAS serves as the IRS’s “safety net” for taxpayers who are experiencing a financial or systemic hardship as a result of IRS action or inaction.
      • Only 17% of calls were answered from taxpayers who called after being notified that their tax returns had been blocked by the Taxpayer Protection Program (TPP) on suspicion of identity theft, and the hold times averaged about 28 minutes. In 3 consecutive weeks during the filing season, the IRS answered fewer than 10% of these calls.
      • The tax agency answered only 45% of calls from practitioners who called the IRS on the Practitioner Priority Service line, and hold times averaged 45 minutes.
      • The number of “courtesy disconnects” received by taxpayers calling the IRS skyrocketed from about 544,000 in 2014 to about 8.8 million this filing season -- an increase of more than 1,500%. The term “courtesy disconnect” is used when the IRS essentially hangs up on a taxpayer because its switchboard is overloaded and cannot handle additional calls.
      • The decline in telephone performance can be attributed largely to three factors: The number of taxpayer calls routed to telephone assistors increased by 41%, the number of calls answered by telephone assistors decreased by 26%, and the average call duration increased by 10%.
      • The IRS sharply restricted the availability of paper copies of forms and publications, imposing burden on taxpayers without Internet access or online literacy. The IRS’s own Taxpayer Assistance Centers (TACs) and its Tax Form Outlet Partners such as libraries and post offices did not receive forms until February 28, almost halfway through the filing season. Once a TAC ran out of forms or publications, it could not order more.

      Olson says the decline in taxpayer service imposes increased compliance burdens on taxpayers and may lead to erosion in taxpayer trust. “For a tax system that relies on voluntary self-assessment by its taxpayers, none of this bodes well,” she wrote. “In fact, there is a real risk that the inability of taxpayers to obtain assistance from the government, and their consequent frustration, will lead to less voluntary compliance and more enforced compliance.”

      Affordable Care Act impact

      The report says the most significant new challenge the IRS faced during the 2015 filing season was the processing of tax returns reflecting two central provisions of the ACA -- the Premium Tax Credit (PTC) and the Individual Shared Responsibility Payment (ISRP).

      Overall, the report credits the IRS with doing a commendable job implementing those provisions, including by developing or updating information technology systems, issuing guidance, and working with other federal agencies.

      The report says there were some significant glitches that occurred during the filing season, but most were not attributable to IRS error. The most significant was the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ issuance of erroneous Forms 1095-A, Health Insurance Marketplace Statement, to about 800,000 individuals who had purchased health insurance from the federal Exchange.

      The Treasury Department addressed the mistake by issuing taxpayer-favorable guidance informing taxpayers who had already filed returns based on the incorrect information that they did not need to file amended returns and pledging that the IRS would not pursue the collection of any additional tax based on the updated information in the corrected forms.

      The IRS answered about 68% of taxpayer telephone calls on ACA issues that were routed to telephone assistors, which far exceeded the overall average on its customer service lines of about 37%.

      The report says a primary ACA focus for TAS during the upcoming year will be to train its Case Advocates to better assist taxpayers requiring assistance, notably on ACA collection activities and the Employer Shared Responsibility Payment provision.

      TAS will also continue to participate on internal IRS working groups to present a taxpayer perspective on ACA issues and raise concerns it identifies through its casework and other sources.

      In her statutorily mandated mid-year report to Congress, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson says the IRS ran a generally successful filing season un...
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      Olympus recalls digital point-and-shoot camera

      An improperly installed part poses an electric shock risk

      Olympus America of Center Valley, Pa., is recalling about 1,200 Olympus VG 170 digital cameras

      An improperly installed part can touch the camera’s circuit board, posing an electric shock risk to the user.

      There are no reported incidents of injury in the U.S.

      The recall involves the Olympus VG-170 Digital Point-and-Shoot Cameras. The VG-170 measures about 4 x 2.5 x 1 inches, weighs 5.1 ounces and comes in white, black or red. “VG 170” is printed on the top of the camera, on the side opposite the shutter button.

      “Olympus” is printed on the upper right hand corner of the front of the camera,“5 X Wide” is printed on lower left hand corner of the front of the camera. The camera has a 3-inch digital LCD screen on the back.

      The cameras, manufactured in China, were sold at HHGregg Appliance stores and online at www.hhgregg.com from September 2013, to December 2014, for about $120.

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled digital camera and contact Olympus for a free inspection and repair.

      Consumers may contact Olympus at (800) 622-6372 from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday.

      Olympus America of Center Valley, Pa., is recalling about 1,200 Olympus VG 170 digital cameras An improperly installed part can touch the camera’s circuit...
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      Bexco recalls DaVinci brand cribs

      A baby can become trapped in the crib

      Bexco Enterprises of Montebello, Calif., is recalling about 11,700 DaVinci cribs in the U.S and Canada.

      A metal bracket that connects the mattress support to the crib can break, creating an uneven sleeping surface or a gap. If this occurs, a baby can become trapped in the crib, fall or suffer lacerations from the broken metal bracket.

      The firm has received 10 reports of the mattress support brackets detaching. No injuries have been reported.

      The recall includes DaVinci brand full-size cribs including the Reagan crib (model #M2801), the Emily crib, (model #M4791), the Jamie crib (model #M7301), and the Jenny Lind crib (model #M7391) manufactured from May 2012 through December 2012.

      The model number, serial number and manufacture date are printed on a label affixed to the bottom right hand side panel of the crib.

      Cribs included in the recall have serial numbers that begin with “N00,” followed by one of the following numbers:

      Model Number and NameSerial Number (N00 + number below)
      M2801 Reagan 4959/ 5035/ 5109
      M4791 Emily 4648/ 4669/ 4962
      M7301 Jamie 4954/ 5029
      M7391 Jenny Lind 4954/ 4620/ 4669/ 4758/ 4934/ 4994/ 5041/ 4648

      The cribs, manufactured in China, were sold at Target and juvenile products stores nationwide and online at Amazon.com from May 2012, to December 2013, for between $150 and $250.

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled cribs and contact Bexco for a free replacement mattress support which includes replacement brackets. In the meantime, parents are urged to find an alternate, safe sleeping environment for the child, such as a bassinet, play yard or toddler bed depending on the child’s age.

      Consumers may contact Bexco toll-free at (888) 673-6652 from 8:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday. 

      Bexco Enterprises of Montebello, Calif., is recalling about 11,700 DaVinci cribs in the U.S and Canada. A metal bracket that connects the mattress support...
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      Boeing: Lithium batteries an "unacceptable fire hazard" in cargo holds

      The warning is expected to be heeded by most of the world's airlines

      It's lithium ion batteries that power the iPhones, iPads and other iStuff that have come to be regarded as the essentials of life. Only problem is, they tend to catch fire, leading Boeing Co. to warn airlines that loading up their planes' cargo compartments with bulk battery shipments pose unacceptable fire hazards.

      There've been plenty of cases of individual phones and other devices catching fire, both on the grund and in the air. Just one blazing phone is a problem; think what a blazing pallet of burning batteries could do.

      That, says the Wall Street Journal, is what led Boeing to issue a formal warning to its customers, urging them to stop accepting large shipments of lithium batteries until safer packaging and fire protection efforts can be worked out.

      Let them take a slow boat from China, Boeing advised, though not in so many words.

      Nothing new

      It's hardly a new problem. There have been many case over the years of cell phones igniting in people's pockets, on airplanes and in other inconvenient locations.

      Last August, an airplane was evacuated in Tel Aviv after an iPhone 5 caught fire and filled the cabin with smoke. Last July, a smartphone caught fire under a 13-year-old girl's pillow in Dallas. And way back in 2008, a laptop computer caught fire in a vintage pickup truck in Nevada, destroying the truck, a Remington rifle and setting off two boxes of ammunition.

      Boeing has reportedly been giving the no-big-battery-cartons advice to airlines who asked but has now issued a formal warning to all of the world's carriers, who are expected to comply. Airlines that disregard the warning would be on shaky legal ground in the event of a disaster attributed to flaming batteries.

      Feds pondering

      Boeing at least beat the U.S. government, which has been considering rules limited lithium batteries in carry-on luggage since 2007. In March 2007, the Department of Transportation said there had been five fires in airplane passenger cabins or cargo holds since 2005, a period of only two years.

      Lithium metal batteries were banned from the cargo holds of U.S. airliners in 2004 but lithium ion batteries -- which are much more common -- are still good to go.

      Lithium metal batteries are nonrechargeable while the lithium ion type is the one we're all familiar with -- requiring frequent plug-ins to keep the juices flowing.

      The problem is that other things can get the juices flowing as well. Both types of batteries contain chemical-infused metals that get very hot very quickly if they come into contact with each other due to a short circuit or leaking seal. The result is a fast-spreading, very hot fire that is very difficult to extinguish.

      While a single battery catching fire in a phone or laptop may start a small fire, a battery catching fire in a shipment of thousands of batteries could start a blaze that would quickly become catastrophic. 

      Many airlines have already stopped accepting battery shipments and Boening's warning may push the recalcitrants to act as well. While Boeing's warning doesn't have the force of law, airlines nearly always comply with formal warnings from manufacturers, so Boeing may have accomplished what governments so far have not gotten around to.

      It's lithium ion batteries that power the iPhones, iPads and other iStuff that have come to be regarded as the essentials of l...
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      Finding a brick and mortar bank may be getting harder

      Banks are closing branches because they don't think they need them

      Bank of America's (BOA) announcement this week that it would close some more of its branches underscores a new reality for the banking industry -- consumers are doing more of their banking business online.

      During a conference call to discuss the company's second quarter earnings report, BOA CEO Brian Moynihan mentioned the bank had closed nearly 20% of its branches in the last 5 years, dropping the number from 6,100 to about 4,800. He said more closures would follow, without attaching a number.

      BOA is not alone in cutting its overhead. In June Fifth Third Bank announced plans to close 100 branches, the largest branch closing in the bank's history.

      Part of an ongoing trend

      It's been going on for some time. SNL Financial reports U.S. banks closed a net 1,487 branch locations in 2013, the most since the research firm began collecting the data in 2002.

      Industry analysts agree the reason has nothing to do with declining business. In fact, business for banks has never been better. It's just that banks are convinced they no longer need branches because “everyone” is adopting mobile banking.

      While mobile banking no doubt is growing by leaps and bounds, this trend will work against consumers who like to conduct their banking business with a human being.

      Transformation to smart banking

      Consumers rate Bank of America

      Traditional branch-based banking practices are undergoing transformation into smart banking, according to Frost & Sullivan, a research firm.

      “Banks are now focusing on integration of futuristic technologies and applications to explore new opportunities for higher customer engagement and improving customer experience,” the company said in a recent report, which focused on technology and application innovations that are enabling the transformation.

      Each bank's smart or mobile banking system is different but most offer similar functions. BOA's mobile banking lets customers deposit checks from a mobile device, check account balances and send money to just about anyone.

      Changing with the customers

      During this week's conference call Moynihan said the bank would save money by closing branches but that isn't the only motivation. They're doing it, he said, because customer behavior is changing. The number of BOA's mobile customers has more than doubled in 4 years to 17 million. The company says 13% of the check's deposited in the bank are coming in by mobile.

      If you have fewer branches you need fewer employees. BOA has been steadily cutting staff. Although the bank is beefing up its corps of financial advisors, it has cut more than 70,000 jobs since 2011.

      Bank of America's (BOA) announcement this week that it would close some more of its branches underscores a new reality for the banking industry -- consumer...
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      Self-driving Google car gets rear-ended; minor injuries reported

      It took Google 16 days to get around to mentioning it

      Google may be applying the "right to be forgotten" to its own activities. The company revealed in a blog post yesterday that one of its self-driving cars was rear-ended in an accident that sent three employees and the driver of the other car to the hospital for check-ups.

      The accident happened July 1 and Google gave no reason why it took 16 days for it to get around to mentioning it.

      Of course, one could argue that Google is not obligated to reveal details of its internal operations, but since it is using public roads for its experimental commutes and trying to persuade regulators and the public that autonomous cars will be safe, cover-ups aren't exactly helpful.

      The accident happened with one of Google's Lexus RX450h prototypes was rear-ended by another car in Mountain View, Calif., where Google autonomous cars ply the streets regularly.

      The Googlemobile had a green light but the cars in front of it had slowed down to avoid getting stuck in the intersection in an upcoming light change, according to a blog account by Chris Urmson, director of Google's self-driving project. 

      Whiplash

      The three Google employees in the car and the long occupant of the car that plowed into it all complained about neck pain and were checked out and then released from a local hospital.

      Google says it's the first injury accident in a self-driving car. It's the 14th accident overall involving Google's fleet of self-driving cars. In 11 of those incidents, the Google car was rear-ended.

      Google displayed its usual self-assurance in describing the incident.

      "Our self-driving cars are being hit surprisingly often by other drivers who are distracted and not paying attention to the road," wrote Chris Urmson, director of Google's self-driving car project, in the blog post. "The clear theme is human error and inattention" in those incidents.

      Proponents of self-driving cars, as well as some scientists, say there will likely be fewer accidents when computers replace humans at the controls. We'll see.

      Google may be applying the "right to be forgotten" to its own activities. The company revealed in a blog post yesterday that one of its self-driving cars w...
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      Senate committee rejects rental of recalled cars

      Instead, it adopts a bill that outlaws such rentals

      A Senate committee has rejected a measure that would have allowed car dealers and rental companies to rent,recalled cars to consumers. Instead, the committee adopted a provision that expressly forbids such rentals.

      "We are now one step closer to permanently keeping recalled rental cars off the road, and I commend Senator (Claire) McCaskill (D-Mo.) and others on the committee for moving this legislation forward," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

      Boxer's bill -- the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act -- was adopted unanimously by the committee, rejecting a measure that car-rental industry sources said was backed largely by car dealers, who frequently rent cars to customers whose vehicles are being serviced.

      Boxer's bill is named for two sisters who were killed near Santa Cruz, Calif., in their rented Chrysler PT Cruiser. The car had been recalled for a power steering hose defect that had not been repaired.

      Boxer first introduced her bill in 2011. The Senate Commerce Committee yesterday adopted it as part of the DRIVE Act, which incorporates numerous transportation programs.

      Backed by car rental companies

      The Houck bill was endorsed by all the major rental car companies -- who say they already withhold recalled cars until repairs are made -- as well as,the American Car Rental Association, Honda,and General Motors, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, and a broad coalition of auto safety, labor and consumer groups.

      The National Automobile Dealers Association and affiliated groups were seen as leading opposition to the measure.

      NADA President Peter Welch testified in 2013 that Boxer's bill was "overly broad,in that it regulates auto dealerships that operate small rental or loaner fleets in the same manner as multi-national rental car giants."

      "Unlike large rental car companies that maintain a wide array of vehicle makes and models in their fleets, many dealers only maintain a single vehicle model in their loaner pools," Welch said, saying the Boxer bill "could cause an economic hardship for small dealers if a part necessary to fix a dealer’s only loaner vehicle model is unavailable."

      Welch also said that some safety recalls are really not for high-priority defects.

      Committee chairman Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) had been backing the,NADA-backed measure, which would have allowed dealers and car rental companies to rent recalled cars as long as consumers signed a waiver in advance.

      Thune did not respond to a request for comment but Frederick Hill, communications director for Thune's committee, said the measure was intended to be "pro-consumer."

      A Senate committee has rejected a,measure that would have allowed car dealers and rental companies to rent,recalled cars to consumers. Instead, the committ...
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      Philadelphia woman sues Comcast, alleging 9 months of robocalls for paid-off bill

      Total damages could reach $900,000 under federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act

      It's only been a bit more than a week since a Manhattan federal judge ruled that Time-Warner Cable must pay $229,500 in damages to a Texas woman who received 153 automated calls on her cell phone in less than a year, even after she told Time-Warner they were calling the wrong person. (Indeed, TWC made 74 of those calls after the woman had already filed a lawsuit asking them to stop.)

      Now, Philadelphia resident Kia Elder has filed a similar complaint against Comcast. The lawsuit, available in .pdf form here, alleges that “Beginning in late September 2014, and continuing through June 2015, Defendant [Comcast] repeatedly called Plaintiff [Elder] on her cellular phone …. us[ing] an automatic telephone dialing system and automated and/or pre-recorded messages.”

      In late September, the lawsuit says, Elder spoke with a human Comcast representative, who told her the company was calling to collect a $527 bill. But Elder had actually paid the debt in 2011, and said so. Despite this, Comcast continued robocalling her: “From late September 2014, Defendant placed cellular calls to Plaintiff an average of once or twice each day. Calls continued at least through June 18, 2015.”

      Like the suit against Time-Warner Cable, Elder's suit against Comcast is based on the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act (a law intended to reign in abusive telemarketing practices, including robocalls), and asks for damages of $1,500 per call. The TCPA establishes a fine structure of $500 per call, with triple damages awarded for knowing or willful violations. Since Elder told Comcast last September that she'd paid off her debt three years earlier and did not consent to receive any more calls about the matter, she's seeking triple damages for every robocall Comcast made afterward.

      If she's awarded the full $1,500 for every call she alleges Comcast made, the total damages could exceed $900,000.

      The lawsuit, available in .pdf form here, alleges that “Beginning in late September 2014, and continuing through June 2015, Defendant.....
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      Obese individuals face huge odds in returning to normal weight

      British researchers conclude current weight loss programs aren't working

      Common sense would tell you that it would be hard to attain a normal weight once you are obese. Researchers at King's College in London have figured out just how hard.

      For an obese man, the odds of getting back a normal body weight is 1 in 210. Obese women face slightly better odds – 1 in 124.

      The study, written up in the American Journal of Public Health, suggests current weight management programs that focus on dieting and exercise are not effective in tackling obesity at the population level.

      First, it might help to understand what is obese and what is normal body weight. The terms are defined by each individual's body mass index (BMI) score. BMI is a measure of body fat that is based on a person's height and weight.

      BMI calculator

      The National Institutes of Health (NIH) provides this BMI calculator to help you find where you fit. You enter your weight and height using either standard or metric measures and the calculator gives you a number, which is your BMI.

      A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal body weight. If your BMI is 25 to 29.9, it classifies you as overweight. A BMI of 30 or higher puts you in the obese category.

      The Kings College researchers wanted to find out how likely it was for someone who was obese to lose enough weight to return to normal weight. They tracked the weight of 278,982 participants – 129,194 men and 149,788 women – using electronic health records from 2004 to 2014.

      The study measured the probability of obese patients attaining normal weight or a 5% reduction in body weight through diet and exercise, excluding patients who received bariatric surgery.

      Temporary results

      The chance obese patients could achieve a 5% weight loss within a year was 1 in 12 for men and 1 in 10 for women. But for those who were able to lose 5% of their body weight, 53% regained the weight within 2 years and 78% had regained the weight within 5 years.

      Out of the nearly 300,000 subjects, only 1,283 men and 2,245 women with a BMI of 30-35 reached their normal body weight, equivalent to an annual probability of 1 in 210 for men and 1 in 124 for women.

      The study concludes that current obesity treatments aren't working for the majority of obese patients.

      “Once an adult becomes obese, it is very unlikely that they will return to a healthy body weight,” said Dr. Alison Fildes, the study's first author. “New approaches are urgently needed to deal with this issue.”

      Fildes says obesity treatments should focus on preventing overweight and obese patients from gaining more weight, while also helping those that do lose weight to keep it off. More importantly, she says, there needs to be more emphasis on preventing weight gain in the first place.

      Bariatric surgery

      According to NIH, bariatric surgery currently is recommended for people categorized as severely obese – with a BMI greater than 40.The surgery restricts food intake, which promotes weight loss and reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes. It has been shown to be effective, though like any surgery, there are risks associated with it.

      There are also benefits from going from Obese to simply overweight. The Mayo Clinic points out that even modest weight loss can improve or prevent the health problems associated with obesity.  

      Common sense would tell you that it would be hard to attain a normal weight once you are obese. Researchers at King's College in London have figured out ju...
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      The economy: Consumer prices and new home construction on the rise in June

      Higher gasoline and food costs pushed the CPI higher

      The cost of living moved moderately higher in June, with gasoline, food and shelter prices all contributing to the increase.

      According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose a seasonally adjusted 0.3% last month and over the last 12 months is up a miniscule 0.1%.

      Food and energy

      Food prices, which were unchanged in April and May, rose 0.3% last month. The food at home category -- things you buy at a grocery store -- jumped 0.4% after declining in each of the 3 previous months. Over three-fourths of that increase came in the price of eggs, which rose 18.3% -- the largest increase since August 1973. Also posting gains were for meats, poultry, fish, and eggs (+1.4%), and cereal and bakery products (+0.5%). In contrast, prices for dairy and related products fell for the sixth consecutive month (-0.6%), and the fruits and as did the cost of vegetables (-0.4%. Food at home costs are up 1.0% over the last 12 months.

      Energy prices were up 1.7% following a surge of 4.3% in May, due largely to an advance of 3.4% in gasoline costs. Electricity prices rose 0.2%, and natural gas prices advanced 0.3% -- the first increase since December. Fuel oil was the only major energy component index to decline, falling 1.9%.

      Core inflation

      The core rate of inflation -- all items excluding the volatile food and energy categories -- rose 0.2% in June. The cost of shelter, which rose 0.3%, accounted for over two-thirds of the increase. Other increases include prices for recreation, airline fares, personal care, tobacco, and new vehicles. Those advances more than offset declines in the prices of medical care, household furnishings and operations, used cars and trucks, and apparel. The core rate of inflation is up 1.8% over the past 12 months.

      The complete CPI report is available on the Labor Department website.

      Housing starts

      A surge in new-home construction in June recovered nearly all the losses suffered a month earlier.

      The Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development report privately-owned housing shot up 9.8% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,174,000 -- 26.6% above the same month a year ago.

      Construction of single-family housing was up 0,9% to an annual rate of 685,000, while the rate for units in buildings with 5 units or more was 476,000 -- up 116,000 from May.

      Building permits

      The outlook for construction in the months ahead improved as well.

      Privately-owned housing units authorized by building permits were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,343,000 in June -- 7.4% from May.

      Permits for single-family construction rose 0.9% to a rate of 687,000; authorizations of units in buildings with 5 units or more were at a rate of 621,000 -- a gain of 86,000 from May.

      Stifel Fixed Income Chief Economist Lindsey Piegza says the housing market continues to take steps in the right direction. But, she adds, "growth remains far from robust; as we have seen in the recent decline in retail sales, consumers continue to struggle to afford purchases -- particularly large ticket items -- amid stagnant income growth. Still, with the threat of rising rates on the near horizon, some homeowners are jumping in to lock in low rates."

      The full report on housing construction is available on the Commerce Department website.

      The cost of living moved moderately higher in June, with gasoline, food and shelter prices all contributing to the increase. According to the Bureau of La...
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      Sausage Factory recalls sausage products

      Some packages may not bear the USDA mark of inspection

      The Sausage Factory of Carson City, Nev., is recalling approximately 5,960 pounds of sausage products.

      Although produced under USDA inspection, some packages may not bear the USDA mark of inspection.

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

      The following sausage items, produced between March 30 and June 12, 2015, are being recalled:

      • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Banger 5 oz” and bearing case code 10025, batch #22318.
      • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Bockwurst 2 oz” and bearing case code 10049, batch #22286.
      • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Bockwurst 4-1” and bearing case code 10048, batch #22286.
      • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Knockwurst 4-1” and bearing case code 10062, batch #22308.
      • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Andouille 4-1” and bearing case code 10044, batch #22224.
      • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Pulled Pork” and bearing case code 12152, batch #22164.
      • 50-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Pulled Pork” and bearing case code 12153, batch #22164.
      • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Sweet Italian Rope” and bearing case code 12156LV, batch #22216.
      • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Banger 13-1” and bearing case code 12235, batch #22238.
      • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Della’s Pork Sausage” and bearing case code 12581, batch #22130.
      • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory 8” Old Fashioned Frank” and bearing case code 11254, batch #22337 and #22388.
      • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory 7” Old Fashioned Frank” and bearing case code 10080, batch #22337 and #22388.
      • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory 6” 8-1 Hot Dog” and bearing case code 10085, batch #22388.

      The recalled products, which should bear the establishment number “EST. 6236” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to distribution locations in California and Nevada.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Karla Bell at (775) 882-8110.  

      The Sausage Factory of Carson City, Nev., is recalling approximately 5,960 pounds of sausage products. Although produced under USDA inspection, some packa...
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      Pedal axle extenders recalled

      The extenders can break and the rider can lose control

      Specialized Bicycle Components of Morgan Hill, Calif., is recalling about 6,680 pedal axle extenders in the U.S. and Canada.

      The extenders can break and the rider can lose control and fall.

      There have been 10 reports of the pedal extenders breaking, including 2 reports of minor injuries, involving scrapes and bruises.

      This recall involves Specialized Body Geometry Pedal Axle Extenders that are used to extend the outward reach of the pedals. They are sold in pairs and mount directly into the bicycle crank arms. Pedal extenders are made of stainless steel and fit a 9/16 inch pedal thread. They are labeled with an “L” and an “R.”

      The extenders, manufactured in Taiwan, were sold at authorized Specialized retailers and online at www.specialized.com from January 2009, to June 2015, for about $40.

      Consumers should stop using the recalled pedal extenders immediately and return them to an authorized Specialized retailer for a full refund.

      Consumers may contact Specialized at (800) 722-4423 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday.

      Specialized Bicycle Components of Morgan Hill, Calif., is recalling about 6,680 pedal axle extenders in the U.S. and Canada. The extenders can break and t...
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      Ferrari recalls vehicles with air bag issue

      The driver side air bag module may have been improperly assembled

      Ferrari North America is recalling 814 model year 2015 Ferrari 458 Italia, 458 Spider, 458 Speciale, 458 Speciale A, California T, FF, F12 Berlinetta, and LaFerrari vehicles manufactured December 19, 2014, to April 29, 2015.

      The vehicles may be equipped with a driver side air bag module that was improperly assembled, which can cause the air bag to deploy in a rotated orientation. In the event of a crash, the deployment of the driver's air bag in a rotated orientation increases the risk of injury.

      Ferrari will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front Driver's Side Air Bag Module, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on July 30, 2015.

      Owners may contact Ferrari customer service at 1-866-551-2828. Ferrari's number for this recall is 57.

      Ferrari North America is recalling 814 model year 2015 Ferrari 458 Italia, 458 Spider, 458 Speciale, 458 Speciale A, California T, FF, F12 Berlinetta, and ...
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      Aspen Foods recalls frozen, raw, stuffed & breaded chicken products

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella Enteritidis

      Aspen Foods of Chicago, Ill., is recalling approximately 1,978,680 pounds of frozen, raw, stuffed and breaded chicken products.

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella Enteritidis.

      Working in conjunction with Minnesota State Departments of Health and Agriculture, the federal Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has determined that there is a link between the recalled products and this illness cluster.

      Based on epidemiological evidence and traceback investigations, 3 case-patients have been identified in Minnesota with illness onset dates ranging from May 9, 2015, to June 8, 2015.

      The recalled items were produced between April 15, 2015, and July 10, 2015 with “best if used by” dates between July 14, 2016, and October 10, 2016. The products bear the establishment number “P-1358” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped to retail stores and food service locations nationwide.

      To view a full list of recalled products, please click here(XLS)

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at (844) 277-6802.

      Aspen Foods of Chicago, Ill., is recalling approximately 1,978,680 pounds of frozen, raw, stuffed and breaded chicken products. The products may be contam...
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      Amazon records “record sales” on Prime Day

      Says sales beat its best Black Friday ever

      It might have been dismissed as a marketing gimmick, wrapped in a lot of hype, but when the cash register receipts were recorded, Amazon.com says Wednesday's Prime Day sales shattered records, exceeding even its best Black Friday ever.

      The achievement is a bit more impressive because consumers had to be members of Amazon Prime to take part. While it costs $99 a year to be a Prime member, Amazon allowed anyone to sign up for a 30-day free trial membership and take part in the sale.

      Amazon said consumers did in droves, with more new members trying Prime worldwide than any single day in Amazon history. When all was said and done, the company reported members ordered 34.4 million items across Prime-eligible countries, breaking all Black Friday records with 398 items ordered per second.

      Beat Black Friday by 18%

      “Worldwide order growth increased 266% over the same day last year and 18% more than Black Friday 2014 – all in an event exclusively available to Prime members,” said Greg Greeley, Vice President, Amazon Prime.

      July 15 was selected since it was Amazon's anniversary. Greeley said the company went into the promotion expecting it would be a one-off thing. But after getting the attention of rival Walmart and setting sales records, Greeley said Prime Day will likely become an annual event.

      Among the milestones set during the promotion, Prime Members ordered tens of thousands of Fire TV Sticks in one hour, making it the fastest-selling deal on an Amazon device ever. Fire tablet sales exceeded sales on Black Friday last year.

      The company sold 47,000 television sets in a single day, a 1300% increase over July 15 last year. It sold 51,000 Bose headphones, compared to the 8 it sold the previous Wednesday.

      Dissent

      In the midst of Amazon's victory lap, there are a few voices of dissent. CBS Moneywatch interviewed a number of consumers who said they were disappointed at what was on sale and the depth of the discounts.

      “I was frustrated to see that only a certain amount of users could claim each deal," Doug Messer, a Prime member from Westchester, N.Y., told CBS. "We found a TV we wanted and when we went to claim it, we were added to a waitlist. Not really a deal if only a certain percentage of visitors can take advantage of it."

      On Twitter, a consumer named Thomas Nguyen said he tried to buy a selfie stick but was number 293 on the wait list.

      “Not sure if this is the low point in my life or not,” he Tweeted.

      Walmart, which took up the Amazon challenge by launching price “rollbacks” of its own, has released no sales figures from yesterday. Instead, it is still offering digs at its online rival, proclaiming on its website “No 1-day sales here! Just savings every day.”

      It might have been dismissed as a marketing gimmick, wrapped in a lot of hype, but when the cash register receipts were recorded, Amazon.com says Wednesday...
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      Honda's long airbag nightmare may not be over

      The company says it used some of the ARC airbags now being investigated

      For Honda, the long airbag nightmare just keeps getting worse. The Japanese automaker has already recalled 20 million cars made with Takata airbags, blamed for killing at least eight people, and now the company says it used inflators made by ARC Automotive Corp.

      The National Highway Traffic Safeway Administration (NHTSA) said earlier this week that it was opening an investigation into a couple of recent accidents involving ARC airbags.

      Honda said it used ARC inflators from 2000 to 2001 and is checking how many vehicles are involved and whether there is a need to recall them. ARC Automotive, based in Knoxville, Tenn., said it is cooperating with investigators.

      “This shows the difficulty of making safe inflators,” said Takeshi Miyao, an analyst at researcher Carnorama in Tokyo, according to a report in Automotive News. “The authorities and the industry have also become more sensitive about the matter of airbag safety due to the Takata issue.” 

      Not many complaints but ...

      Consumers rate Honda

      NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) said Tuesday that it received a complaint back in 2009 involving a driver's side airbag in a 2002 Chrysler Town and Country minivan. The inflator reportedly ruptured, spraying bits of metal into the cabin. ODI found no other incidents at that time.

      Then last month, Korean automaker KIA notified ODI that it was a target of a lawsuit claiming that the inflator in the driver's side airbag in a 2004 Optima had ruptured. ODI said it went back to the 2009 report and found the inflators in the airbags in both the Town and Country and the Optima were manufactured by ARC Automotive.

      The inflator in both airbags was a hybrid design that relies on two different sources of energy. The inflator fills the air bag cushion by releasing an inert gas stored in the inflator at high pressure. This gas mixture is augmented by an ammonium nitrate based propellant.

      “Preliminary analysis indicates that the exhaust path for the inflation gas mixture may have been blocked by an object of indeterminate origin,” ODI said in a document filing. “This blockage appears to have caused high internal pressure and subsequent rupture of the inflator assembly.”

      Has your airbag been recalled?

      All the publicity surrounding the Takata airbag recall has many consumers worried about whether they may be driving around with an explosive device in their dashboard that's just waiting to spray them with metal fragments.

      After all, many recalled cars are never taken in to dealers and used car owners, in particular, can't be sure their car is up to snuff.

      What can you do?

      To check specifically on airbags, see the Center for Auto Safety's website. It has a 45-page .pdf list of U.S. airbag recalls arranged by auto manufacturer.

      You can check for all types of recalls by typing your VIN number into NHTSA's Recall Look-Up form.

      For Honda, the long airbag nightmare just keeps getting worse. The Japanese automaker has already recalled 20 million cars made with Takata airbags, blamed...
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      Predicting who will get Alzheimer's disease

      Researchers say they are getting better at it

      There is no conclusive test that can predict who will develop Alzheimer's disease as they age. However, it is information doctors would like to know, since it would allow earlier treatment and, perhaps, a delay in the onset of the fatal condition.

      Researchers in the field are constantly looking for biomarkers that could offer a more complete picture of who is most at risk. They think they may have identified one in amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI).

      Researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas have noticed that people with aMCI appear to be at twice the risk of developing Azheimer's disease when compared to others in their age group.

      In findings published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, researchers identify a specific variation in brain waves of people with aMCI. Specifically, they think a delayed neural activity in aMCI patients that shows up in a word-finding task may indicate an early dysfunction that points to the progression of Alzheimer's disease.

      One of the main symptoms of Alzheimer's disease is the inability to retain new memories about recent conversations, events, or upcoming appointments.

      Specific type of impairment

      While mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is the recognized clinical state between healthy aging and Alzheimer's disease, aMCI is a specific type of impairment marked by deficits in episodic memory.

      "This is a promising start at looking at a group of MCI patients. The long-term goal is whether this can be applied to individual patients one day," said study principal investigator John Hart.

      If the method proves reliable, it could provide a more affordable and non-invasive alternative to other available methods, such as MRI or a spinal tap, to measure neural responses.

      Examining spinal fluid

      Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have been studying brain scans and looking for biomarkers that could help with earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. In this study, scientists have found that changes in the spinal fluid during middle age may help doctors identify people at risk of developing Alzheimer's disease later in life.

      "It's too early to use these biomarkers to definitively predict whether individual patients will develop Alzheimer's disease, but we're working toward that goal," said senior author Anne Fagan, PhD, a professor of neurology. "One day, we hope to use such measures to identify and treat people years before memory loss and other cognitive problems become apparent."

      Early lifestyle changes can help

      While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer's disease, the Alzheimer's Association recently released research suggesting lifestyle changes in middle age can reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

      "The research on cognitive decline is still evolving," said Angela Geiger, who is the chief strategy officer of the Alzheimer's Association. "But there are actions people can take.”

      For example, certain healthy behaviors known to combat cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes may also reduce the risk of cognitive decline. These healthy behaviors include staying mentally active, engaging in regular physical activity, and eating a heart-healthy diet that benefits your body and your brain.

      “There is also some evidence people may benefit from staying socially engaged with friends, family and the community," she said.

      There is no conclusive test that can predict who will develop Alzheimer's disease as they age. However, it is information doctors would like to know, since...
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      Builder confidence on the rise

      It's at the highest level in more than 9 years

      You could be seeing a lot more new home construction in the months ahead.

      Builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family hit a level of 60 in July, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). At the same time, June's reading was revised upward 1 point to 60 as well. The HMI hasn't seen that level since November 2005.

      “This month’s reading is in line with recent data showing stronger sales in both the new and existing home markets as well as continued job growth,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “However, builders still face a number of challenges, including shortages of lots and labor.”

      The NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as “good,” “fair” or “poor.” It 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.

      How things look

      Two of the 3 HMI components posted gains in July. The component gauging current sales conditions rose 1 point to 66 and the index charting sales expectations in the next 6 months increased two points to 71. Meanwhile, the component measuring buyer traffic dropped a single point to 43.

      Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the West and Northeast each rose 3 points to 60 and 47, respectively. The South and Midwest posted respective 1-point gains to 61 and 55.

      “The fact that builder confidence has returned to levels not seen since 2005 shows that housing continues to improve at a steady pace,” said NAHB Chairman Tom Woods, a home builder from Blue Springs, Mo. “As we head into the second half of 2015, we should expect a continued recovery of the housing market.”

      Initial jobless claims

      In a separate report, the government says first-time applications for state unemployment benefits fell sharply last week.

      Figures released by the Labor Department (DOL) show initial jobless claims plunged by 15,000 in the week ending July 11 to seasonally adjusted 281,000. The previous week's level was revised down by 1,000.

      The DOL says there were no special factors affecting this week's initial claims.

      The 4-week moving average, which is considered a more accurate gauge of the labor market than the volatile weekly tally, rose 3,250 – to 282,500.

      The complete report is available on the DOL website.

      You could be seeing a lot more new home construction in the months ahead. Builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family hit a level of 6...
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      General Motors recalls Chevrolet Cruzes and Volts

      The tie rod could separate from the steering gear

      General Motors is recalling 10 model year 2014-2015 Chevrolet Cruzes manufactured November 8, 2013, to March 12, 2015, and 2015 Chevrolet Volts manufactured April 11, 2014.

      The inner tie rod may not be tightened to specification, allowing the tie rod to separate from the steering gear. This could result in the loss of steering, increasing the risk of a crash.

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the steering gear assembly, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in July 2015.

      Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 15386.

      General Motors is recalling 10 model year 2014-2015 Chevrolet Cruzes manufactured November 8, 2013, to March 12, 2015, and 2015 Chevrolet Volts manufacture...
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      Murry’s recalls chicken product

      The product tested positive for Staphylococcal enterotoxin

      Murry’s, Inc., of Lebanon, Pa., is recalling approximately 20,232 pounds of gluten-free breaded chicken nugget product.

      The product tested positive for Staphylococcal enterotoxin.

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

      The following product, bearing establishment number “P-516” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and shipped to an establishment for distribution nationwide, is being recalled:

      • 12-oz. boxes of “Bell & Evans Gluten Free Breaded Chicken Breast Nuggets” with a “Best By” date of March 25, 2016.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Murry’s customer service, at (800) 638-0215.

      Murry’s, Inc., of Lebanon, Pa., is recalling approximately 20,232 pounds of gluten-free breaded chicken nugget product. The product tested positive for S...
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      Honda Pilots recalled

      The third row seatbelt may be trapped between the rear seat and the rear sideliner

      Honda is recalling 1,358 model year 2016 Pilots manufactured May 4, 2015, to June 5, 2015.

      Due to an assembly issue, the third row seatbelt may be trapped between the rear seat and the rear sideliner. If the seatbelt is trapped, the occupants may not be restrained properly, increasing the risk of injury.

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and repair the rear third row seat belt, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on August 6, 2015.

      Owners may contact Honda customer service at 1-310-783-2000. Honda's number for this recall is JS7.

      Honda is recalling 1,358 model year 2016 Pilots manufactured May 4, 2015, to June 5, 2015. Due to an assembly issue, the third row seatbelt may be trappe...
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      Nissan recalls Versa Sedans, Cubes and Jukes

      The engine start/stop button may stick

      Nissan North America is recalling 14,595 model year 2014 Versa Sedan vehicles manufactured July 16, 2013, to January 29, 2014; 2013-2014 Cube vehicles manufactured July 3, 2013, to October 21, 2013; and 2013-2014 Juke vehicles manufactured July 3, 2013, to October 22, 2013.

      When exposed to hot temperatures, the engine start/stop button may stick inside the button housing. If the engine start/stop button gets stuck in the housing, road vibrations may cause the engine to shut off unexpectedly while the vehicle is being driven, increasing the risk of a crash.

      Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will modify the start/stop switch housing, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin by late-August 2015.

      Owners may contact Nissan customer service at 1-800-647-7261.

      Nissan North America is recalling 14,595 model year 2014 Versa Sedan vehicles manufactured July 16, 2013, to January 29, 2014; 2013-2014 Cube vehicles manu...
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      Chevrolet Sparks and Sonics recalled

      The warning chimes may not function properly

      General Motors is recalling 45,785 model year 2014-2015 Chevrolet Sparks manufactured April 30, 2014, to May 20, 2015, and 2015 Chevrolet Sonics manufactured June 18, 2014, to June 10, 2015.

      In the recalled vehicles, equipped with the base radio and OnStar, the radio may lock up due to a software issue, causing the display to go blank and all audio functions to cease. Because of this, there may be no warning chimes such as the reminder to buckle the seat belt and the key being left in ignition when the driver goes to exit the vehicle.

      Without audible indicators, the driver may leave the key in the ignition, increasing the risk of theft. If a driver or front passenger does not buckle his seat belt, there would be no chime to remind him to do so. Failure to buckle up increases the risk of injury in a crash.

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will update the radio software, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 15504.

      General Motors is recalling 45,785 model year 2014-2015 Chevrolet Sparks manufactured April 30, 2014, to May 20, 2015, and 2015 Chevrolet Sonics manufactur...
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      Amazon vs. Walmart: stakes are bigger than just a day of sales

      Retailers may be trying to win consumers over for the long haul

      Amazon and Walmart are going at it today in a battle of high-profile sales, trying to win over consumers who don't normally go on a shopping spree in the middle of July.

      When Amazon announced its Prime Day for July 15, it boasted that its one-day deals for its Prime members would beat those offered on Black Friday, the traditional start to the holiday shopping season.

      BestBlackFriday.com, operated by Jones-Dengler Marketing, threw down a challenge of its own, listing some of last year's Black Friday specials and challenging Amazon to beat those prices. After viewing the Prime Day deals at midnight, BestBlackFriday.com's Philip Dengler had to admit, Amazon did what it said it would do.

      “To our surprise, they are beating Black Friday 2014 prices on some of the most sought-after items,” Dengler told ComsumerAffairs in an email.

      Side-by-side comparison

      Dengler and his associates reached that conclusion after doing a side-by-side comparison of last year's Black Friday deals and Amazon's Prime Day prices.

      “While Black Friday wins in a few areas, Prime Day is winning where it counts,” Dengler said. “They have the lowest price on the very popular 32" and 40" televisions.”

      Dengler said Amazon is also winning on the Kindle Fire 7, Kindle Fire 7 Kids Version, Crucial MX100 Drives, VTech Kidizoom Smartwatch, Bose SoundTrue Headphones On-Ear Style and many other items.

      “Judging by the information available to us now, we think Amazon was right in their Prime Day comparison to Black Friday,” Dengler said.

      Walmart's response

      These prices, of course, are only available to consumers who have paid $99 a year to be Prime members, a point Walmart has made in its none-too-subtle promotion of its own sale. Visitors to Walmart.com are greeted with a bold banner declaring “thousands of new rollbacks, no upfront fees!”

      Why would these two retail giants be duking it out in the dead of summer with seemingly little at stake? As we reported yesterday, consumers were sitting on their wallets last month, resulting in disappointing retail sales.

      Amazon's motivation probably lies in a desire to boost Prime memberships. Walmart's response may be driven by a determination not to let its rival get out in front on anything. Both are taking the opportunity to try to win over consumers who do most of their shopping online.

      Increasing e-service quality

      "Increased e-service quality is associated with increased customer satisfaction, which then leads to higher repurchase intentions," said Vikas Mittal, professor of marketing at Rice University. "In other words, increasing e-service quality enhances customer satisfaction and the likelihood of customer repurchase. If Amazon and Wal-Mart want to keep their customers coming back, they must focus on increasing satisfaction via e-service quality."

      Mittal and an international team of colleagues have completed a study of what makes up e-service quality. Price is only one part of it.

      Their analysis identified four core dimensions of e-service quality: website design, fulfilment, customer service and security/privacy. Together, these four dimensions strongly impact overall e-service quality, the authors conclude. And they should be there 365 days a years – even when the sale prices aren't.

      Amazon and Walmart are going at it today in a battle of high-profile sales, trying to win over consumers who don't normally go on a shopping spree in the m...
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      Updated ransomware threats: TeslaCrypt 2.0, child-pornography blackmail and fake-cop warnings

      Ransomware attacks increase in frequency and intensity

      Earlier this year, the California-based cybersecurity firm Bromium issued a warning about a then-new strain of ransomware called TeslaCrypt, which primarily focused on attacking game files and game platforms including Minecraft, World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, Diablo, several ES sports titles, and many more (though after encrypting a victim's game files, it would then spread to encrypt Word documents, Excel files, PowerPoint presentations and various image files, too).

      Now TeslaCrypt is back, after the research firm Kaspersky warned about the updated TeslaCrypt 2.0, which has been refined, strengthened, and also disguised as an older form of ransomware called CryptoWall.

      As its name suggests, ransomware is a type of malware that lets attackers hold a victim's device and/or files for ransom, by encrypting the files and refusing to decrypt them unless the victim pays money (usually via Bitcoin or wire transfer, both of which are untraceable).

      Form of extortion

      Like all cybersecurity threats, ransomware appears in many forms. In January, investigators in Tennessee discovered a particularly nasty variant: after taking control of a victim's smartphone, the hackers would then plant child pornography on the device and refuse to remove the images or otherwise relinquish control unless the victim paid $500. The phones' owners cannot delete the pictures, and they're usually afraid to contact police for fear they'll be arrested for possession of illegal images.

      A teenager in Washington State apparently fell victim to child-pornographic malware last month. The Renton Reporter's police blotter from July 12 said that:

      A 16-year-old boy viewed pornography on his phone discovered it was infected with “ransomware” when he tried to free up space.

      He and his mother went to the Police Department on June 17 to report the ransomware, which was activated when he attempted to delete a URL.

      An officer scrolled through the screens on the phone, noticing sexually explicit photographs of people, some of whom looked younger than 18.... With permission, the officer tried to remove the ransomware but the fix didn’t work.

      The boy told the officer he didn’t download any photos. Because of the boy’s age, the officer placed the phone into evidence so the boy wouldn’t get into trouble for possessing pornography. The boy said OK.

      In Texas, the Austin Police Department issued a July 15 warning about another ransomware strain, this one snaring victims by initially pretending to be messages from law enforcement agencies: “Forms of ransomware which impersonate law enforcement agencies have been on the rise. These forms of the malware typically show a notification page from either a federal law enforcement agency or from the victim’s local law enforcement agency informing the user that they have committed illegal activity online and have been given a fine.”

      Back up your files

      Ransomware is another form of malware and is spread like any other kind: through spammy emails or text messages, virus-riddled file attachments, and similar techniques. Even if you have the bad luck to be infected, it generally won’t be a problem if you have backup copies of all your files; rather than pay the ransom, you can wipe your device clean and use your un-infected backup files to restore it.

      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 important data you don't want to lose – you should make copies right away, and keep them on a dedicated thumb drive, 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 come with entrusting your data to anyone other than yourself.

      Earlier this year, the California-based cybersecurity firm Bromium issued a warning about a then-new strain of ransomware called TeslaCrypt, which primaril...
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      Consumers enjoying lowest summer gas prices since 2009

      So far, refineries are keeping up with demand -- except in California

      Don't mention this to consumers in California, but the U.S. is enjoying the lowest summer gasoline prices in years.

      While Los Angeles area motorists are paying well over $4 a gallon for gas this week, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that the average retail price for gasoline this summer – April through September – is expected to be $2.67 a gallon, a dime less than the current national average.

      The prediction is based on EIA's Short-Term Energy Outlook and the $2.67 figure is the lowest since 2009.

      California's woes are the result of inefficiencies in the supply chain. For example, the state received no imports of gasoline in early July, leading to acute shortages in the state.

      Ample supplies outside California

      EIA's report suggests supplies are holding up well elsewhere, in spite of increased consumption. EIA expects travel and gasoline consumption to be higher this summer compared to last year. Motor gasoline consumption is expected to increase by 194,000 barrels per day, up 2.1% from last summer, reflecting a number of positive factors.

      Not only are prices at the pump substantially lower, EIA says consumers have higher real disposable income, more employment opportunities, and growing consumer confidence. The lower fuel prices, the agency says, are largely the result of the projected 41% year-over-year decline in the average price of North Sea Brent crude oil, the U.S.'s main source of imported oil.

      EIA arrives at its predictions by measuring the product supplied, which reflects refinery and blender output, inventory change, and net imports, as a proxy for consumption. Net refinery output is expected to increase by 208,000 barrels per day, staying slightly above growth in consumption.

      The main inventories of gasoline and gasoline blending components began the summer season 10.7 million barrels above the previous 5-year average and should end the season 3.7 million barrels above the previous 5-year average.

      Consumers drew 8.4 million barrels on inventories last summer. This summer, that should grow to 14.3 million. Supplies should remain fairly tight but not enough to affect retail prices.

      California inquiry

      California motorists may soon get some relief from high prices, but no doubt are getting tired of the constant price roller coaster. According to AAA, the California Energy Commission is now investigating what's behind the volatility.

      California refineries are putting out plenty of gasoline but the state still has to import fuel from other areas to meet its needs. As AAA observes, suppliers often operate in “just-in-time” gasoline inventories, with supply delivered only as demand requires it. It limits storage costs but can lead to significant spikes in price when supply and demand are out of balance.

      “Upward pressure is likely to remain on prices in the region until supply issues are resolved,” AAA said.

      Lingering supply issues in the Midwest have mostly been resolved and motorists are reaping the benefits. AAA says the average retail price of a gallon of regular gas has fallen 12 cents in Indiana and 11 cents in Michigan.

      Don't mention this to consumers in California, but the U.S. is enjoying the lowest summer gasoline prices in years.While Los Angeles area motorists are...
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      Today's adolescents are less likely to classify themselves as overweight or obese

      Making sure that teens are clear about their weight status is the first step to getting healthier.

      Recognizing that you are overweight is usually the first step to getting healthier. Unfortunately, this admission is not always the easiest to make. A new study shows that adolescents have a particularly hard time recognizing that they have a weight problem.

      The study, which was conducted by researchers at Georgia Southern University, was based on findings from two separate surveys. One survey was given over roughly six years, from 1988 to 1994. The second survey was given over five years, from 2007 to 2012. All participants from both studies were between the ages of 12 and 16 and were classified as obese, overweight, or normal weight through their body mass index (BMI) scores.

      The surveys attempted to gauge how each era’s young people viewed their own weight. After adjusting for certain variables, such as age, race, sex, and socio-economic standing, the researchers found that the more recent generation was 29% less likely to classify themselves as overweight or obese.

      Peer pressure and social comparison

      So what do these numbers mean? Well, the researchers believe that self-perception has changed over the last 20 years, and there are a couple of ways that this could have affected the survey results.  

      “In the wake of the obesity pandemic, the media, weight loss industries, and medical communities have encouraged adolescents to maintain slender frames. Facing harsher messages, more and more overweight and obese adolescents may be increasingly reluctant to admit that they are overweight,” said Dr. Jian Zhang, who led the study.

      This seems to make some sense. With the amount of pressure that adolescents face to “fit in”, along with the media and peers venerating people who are thin, many teens may not be willing to admit that they don’t belong.

      To offer a completely contrary explanation, many overweight or obese teens may not feel that they should be classified as such because of who their friends and family are. This is explained by the “Social Comparison Theory”. In short, the theory suggests that people compare their weight with those around them, rather than with any actual number or scale. As such, a teen who has a lot of friends or family members who are overweight may feel that they are perfectly normal for being overweight too.

      Adopting healthy behaviors

      Regardless of the cause, the researchers believe that it is extremely important for adolescents to be clearly informed about their own weight status. By being aware of how healthy they are (in terms of weight), adolescents can begin to make choices that will help them adapt healthier behaviors. This, in turn, will help reduce obesity numbers in adolescents and contribute to healthier living.

      "Becoming conscious of one's excess weight is the precursor to adopting behavioral changes necessary for appropriate weight control. The declining tendency of correctly perceiving overweight status presents a vast challenge to obesity prevention among adolescents, making the overweight and obese adolescents less motivated to actively engage in effective weight loss behaviors,” said Dr. Zhang

      The full study has been published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine

      Recognizing that you are overweight is usually the first step to getting healthier. Unfortunately, this admission is not always the easiest to make. A new ...
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      Parents see college costs becoming “unaffordable”

      New York Fed report explores possible link between student loans and higher tuition

      For most college students, parents are a major partner. They help shape college choices, career paths, and are likely to help foot the education bill. So what parents have to say about the process matters.

      A survey of parents by HSBC finds that parents are growing more pessimistic about higher education. Nearly three quarters of those surveyed – 71% – now believe higher education is unaffordable for the majority of Americans.

      At the same time, almost two thirds – 60% – consider a college degree to be essential in enabling their children to achieve important lifetime goals.

      No doubt skyrocketing tuition costs have fueled parental pessimism. The cost of a college education has risen many times faster than the rate of inflation over the last few decades.

      Some critics of higher education have blamed the increased availability of student loans and financial aid, and a new report from the New York Federal Reserve Bank lends some ammunition to that argument.

      Higher tuition and loan demand

      “When students fund their education through loans, changes in student borrowing and tuition are interlinked,” the report concludes. “Higher tuition costs raise loan demand, but loan supply also affects equilibrium tuition costs—for example, by relaxing students’ funding constraints.”

      The authors said they found colleges and universities more exposed to changes in the subsidized federal loan program increased their tuition disproportionately around these policy changes, with a sizable pass-through effect on tuition of about 65%.

      “We also find that Pell Grant aid and the unsubsidized federal loan program have pass-through effects on tuition, although these are economically and statistically not as strong,” they wrote.

      The analysis found that the subsidized loan effect on tuition is most pronounced for expensive, private institutions that “are somewhat, but not among the most, selective.”

      Housing bubble parallels

      The Fed report explores an interesting parallel between the rising cost of college tuition and the rapid increase in home prices during the housing bubble. It examines the argument that one big reason home prices escalated so quickly is because so many consumers had access to so much credit they were able to bid up prices beyond what was justified.

      While noting there is little empirical evidence linking credit availability and rising tuition, the report notes that the two events occurred at about the same time.

      “Yearly student loan originations grew from $53 billion to $120 billion between 2001 and 2012, with about 90% of originations in recent years occurring through federal student aid programs,” the authors write. “Against this backdrop of increased borrowing, average sticker tuition rose 46% in constant 2012 dollars between 2001 and 2012, from $6,950 to $10,200, resembling the twin house price and mortgage balance booms.”

      Parents, meanwhile, are squeezed between daunting costs and the desire to see their children succeed. The HSBC survey suggests they will continue to go into debt to reach that goal. And the debt may spread across two generations.

      Sixty-five percent of parents with children under the age of 5 expect that their children will personally contribute toward their own tuition, and 59% admit their child will need to take on debt in order to do that. Around 3 in 10 – 29% -- of parents surveyed whose children are yet to begin their college education anticipate that grandparents will also share the financial burden.  

      For most college students, parents are a major partner. They help shape college choices, career paths, and are likely to help foot the education bill. So w...
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      Mortgage applications on the decline

      Contract interest rates were mixed

      In calculations that included an adjustment for the Independence Day holiday, mortgage applications decreased 1.9% percent in the week ending July 10, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey.

      At the same time, the Refinance Index was up 4%, raising the refinance share of mortgage activity to 50.8% of total applications from 48.0% the previous week. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity rose to 7.4%.

      The FHA share of total applications inched up to 13.8% from 13.7%, the VA share was unchanged at 10.8%, as was the USDA share at 0.9%.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) was unchanged at 4.23%, with points increasing to 0.39 from 0.37 (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) edged up 2 basis points -- from 4.18% to 4.20%, with points decreasing to 0.28 from 0.30 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA rose to 4.02% from 4.01%, with points increasing to 0.26 from 0.18 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs was up 2 basis points to 3.43%, with points increasing to 0.33 from 0.31 (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 to 3.13% from 3.03%, with points increasing to 0.42 from 0.37 (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.

      In calculations that included and adjustment for the Independence Day holiday, mortgage applications decreased 1.9% percent in the week ending July 10, acc...
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      Producer prices continue to rise

      It's the second straight gain in wholesale inflation

      Producer prices for final demand (PPI), the cost of goods and services one step shy of the consumer level, were up in June for the second month in a row.

      Led primarily by surging energy costs, the PPI rose 0.3% last month on top of the May increase of 0.5%, according to the Labor Department (DOL).

      Almost two-thirds of the June increase is the result of a 0.7% increase in the cost of goods. Services prices rose 0.3%

      Goods and services

      The 0.7% gain in the cost of goods was the result of a 2.4% surge in energy prices. Within that category, the cost of gasoline was up 4.3%. Food prices were up 0.6%, with the cost of eggs higher, and fresh and dry vegetables lower.

      Thirty percent of the 0.3% gain in services costs last month can be attributed to prices for loan services, which climbed 2.4%. Prices for machinery and equipment wholesaling, fuels and lubricants retailing, truck transportation of freight, deposit services and portfolio management also advanced. Margins for food and alcohol wholesaling were down 3.7%.

      The core PPI, which excludes the volatile food, energy and trade services categories,rose 0.3% in June after edging down 0.1% the month before. For the 12 months ended in June, core PPI was up 0.7%

      The complete PPI report is available on the DOL website.  

      Producer prices for final demand (PPI), the cost of goods and services one step shy of the consumer level, were up in June for the second month in a row. ...
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      Subaru recalls Impreza 4-Door and Station Wagon vehicless

      The front passenger air bag may not deploy in some circumstances

      Subaru of America is recalling 32,400 2012 model year Subaru Impreza 4-Door and Station Wagon vehicles (except WRX/STI models) manufactured April 21, 2011, to February 16, 2012.

      The Occupant Detection System (ODS) may deactivate if a front seat passenger operates a device that is plugged into the power outlet such as a music player or cell phone, or touches a metal part of the vehicle such as the forward/rearward seat adjuster lever.

      If the ODS deactivates, the front passenger air bag will be turned off and the front passenger air bag will not deploy in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of injury to the seat occupant.

      Subaru will notify owners, and dealers will replace the Occupant Control Unit with a modified one, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Subaru customer service at 1-800-782-2783. Subaru's number for this recall is WQT-55.

      Subaru of America is recalling 32,400 2012 model year Subaru Impreza 4-Door and Station Wagon vehicles (except WRX/STI models) manufactured April 21, 2011,...
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      Acura MDX and MDX AWD vehicles recalled

      The vehicle could lose its air conditioning compressor clutch

      Honda is recalling 106,439 model year 2014-2015 Acura MDX and MDX AWD vehicles manufactured April 23,2013, to December 16, 2014.

      The vehicles' air conditioning compressor clutch drive bolts may not have received the proper anti-corrosion coating. If a bolt was not coated, it may corrode and break, allowing the compressor clutch plate may separate from the vehicle, possibly becoming a road hazard.

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will replace the air conditioning compressor clutch drive bolt and install a new clutch plate if necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin July 31, 2015.

      Owners may contact Acura client relations at 1-800-382-2238. Honda's number for this recall is JQ7.

      Honda is recalling 106,439 model year 2014-2015 Acura MDX and MDX AWD vehicles manufactured April 23,2013, to December 16, 2014. The vehicles' air condit...
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      Toyota recalls Prius v hybrids

      The vehicles have a software glitch

      Toyota Motor Sales USA is recalling approximately 109,000 Model Year 2012-2014 Prius v hybrid.

      The software settings for the motor/generator control ECU and hybrid control ECU could result in overheating in certain transistors, potentially causing them to become damaged. If this happens, various warning lights will illuminate and the vehicle can enter a failsafe mode. In rare circumstances, the hybrid system might shut down while the vehicle is being driven, resulting in the loss of power and the vehicle coming to a stop.

      Owners of the recalled vehicles will be notified by mail.

      Toyota dealers will update the software for both the motor/generator control ECU and hybrid control ECU.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331.  

      Toyota Motor Sales USA is recalling approximately 109,000 Model Year 2012-2014 Prius v hybrid. The software settings for the motor/generator control ECU...
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      Feds begin probe of second airbag manufacturer

      Investigators looking into two incidents similar to Takata's rupturing inflators

      Hot on the heels of recalls of millions of cars equipped with Takata airbags, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has begun an investigation of another brand of airbag component that may have a similar defect.

      NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) reports it received a complaint back in 2009 involving a driver's side airbag in a 2002 Chrysler Town and Country minivan. The inflator reportedly ruptured, spraying bits of metal into the cabin.

      ODI said it searched for similar incidents but found none. Fast forward to last month, as recalls of cars equipped with Takata airbags piled up.

      KIA target of suit

      In June, Korean automaker KIA notified ODI that it was a target of a lawsuit claiming that the inflator in the driver's side airbag in a 2004 Optima had ruptured. ODI said it went back to the 2009 report and found the inflators in the airbags in both the Town and Country and the Optima were manufactured by ARC Automotive.

      The inflator in both airbags was a hybrid design that relies on two different sources of energy. The inflator fills the air bag cushion by releasing an inert gas stored in the inflator at high pressure. This gas mixture is augmented by an ammonium nitrate based propellant.

      “Preliminary analysis indicates that the exhaust path for the inflation gas mixture may have been blocked by an object of indeterminate origin,” ODI said in a document filing. “This blockage appears to have caused high internal pressure and subsequent rupture of the inflator assembly.”

      Only two reports

      ODI said that as far as it knows, the two incidents – one in Ohio and one in New Mexico – are the only ones to have been reported. It also says the root cause of the rupture is not known.

      ODI said it is opening the investigation to collect the facts and learn if there is a widespread flaw in inflators. It says there are approximately 420,000 2002 Chrysler Town and Country vehicles on the road and 70,000 2004 KIA Optimas.

      Japanese manufacturer Takata has recalled more than 40 million vehicles in the U.S. because of exploding airbag inflators. The pieces of metal blasted into passenger compartments are blamed for more than 100 injuries and eight deaths.

      The Takata-related recall drama has played out throughout 2015. The problem first came to light late last year, but from the start NHTSA found the manufacturer's cooperation lacking. In February it leveled a $14,000 a day fine against the firm until it provided additional documentation.

      It was not until May, under intense prodding from NHTSA, that Takata ordered the first recall.

      Hot on the heels of recalls of millions of cars equipped with Takata airbags, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has begun a...
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      Honda to pay $24 million in alleged interest overcharges to minority consumers

      Dealers claim the feds' action will increase consumers' costs

      Honda will pay $24 million to resolve charges that its finance arm charged higher interest rates to minority car buyers. But dealers groups say the agreement will "hamstring the ability of thousands of consumers to negotiate lower interest rates with their local auto dealership.”

      The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the U.S. Justice Department charged that Honda’s past practices resulted in thousands of African-American, Hispanic, and Asian and Pacific Islander borrowers paying higher interest rates than white borrowers, without regard to their creditworthiness.

      As part of today’s order, Honda will change its pricing and compensation system to substantially reduce dealer discretion and minimize the risks of discrimination.

      Fair marketplace

      “The CFPB is committed to creating a fair marketplace for all consumers, and other auto lenders should take note of today’s action,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Honda’s proactive decision to move to a new pricing and compensation system demonstrates industry leadership and represents a significant step towards protecting consumers from discrimination.”

      Dealers disagree. “This enforcement action artificially constrains the right of consumers to benefit from interest rate reductions of up to 1% of the APR on their next auto loan,” said Bill Fox, chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA). 

      But the head of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, said Honda's new system "balances fair compensation for dealers and fair lending for consumers" and said she hopes today's action "will spur the rest of the industry to constrain dealer markup to address discriminatory pricing.”

      That's not likely. NADA and other dealers groups have been lobbying Congress to rein in CFPB's attempts to more tightly regulate dealer financing of car purchases.

      Big business

      Auto loans are the third-largest source of outstanding household debt in the United States, after mortgages and student loans. When consumers finance automobile purchases from an auto dealership, the dealer often facilitates indirect financing through a third-party lender like Honda, one of the largest indirect auto lenders in the United States.

      As an indirect auto lender, Honda sets a risk-based interest rate, or “buy rate,” that it conveys to auto dealers. Honda then allows auto dealers to charge a higher interest rate when they finalize the deal with the consumer. This is typically called “dealer markup.”

      Markups can generate compensation for dealers while giving them the discretion to charge consumers different rates regardless of consumer creditworthiness. Honda permitted dealers to mark-up consumers’ interest rates as much as 2.25 percent for contracts with terms of 5 years or less, and 2 percent for contracts with longer terms.

      Today’s enforcement action is the result of a joint CFPB and DOJ investigation that began in April 2013. The agencies concluded that Honda's policies:

      • Resulted in minority borrowers paying higher dealer markups: Honda violated the Equal Credit Opportunity Act by charging African-American, Hispanic, and Asian and Pacific Islander borrowers higher dealer markups for their auto loans than non-Hispanic white borrowers. These markups were without regard to the creditworthiness of the borrowers.
      • Injured thousands of minority borrowers: Honda’s discriminatory pricing and compensation structure meant thousands of minority borrowers from January 2011 through July 14, 2015 paid, on average, from $150 to over $250 more for their auto loans.

      To hear dealers tell it, CFPB's action will increase the price consumers pay.

      “There’s no getting around the fact that this enforcement action is going to reduce the savings consumers depend on when financing a new vehicle,” said Brad Hoffman, chairman of AIADA, which represents imported car dealers. “Everyone in our industry is mystified as to why the government continues to overlook its own common-sense approach in favor of the anti-consumer methods forced on Honda Finance.”

      Honda will pay $24 million to resolve charges that its finance arm charged higher interest rates to minority car buyers. But dealers groups say the agreeme...
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      Lifting of Iranian sanctions will add to world oil glut

      But it might not make much difference in the price of gasoline

      The agreement announced Tuesday between six world powers and Iran, to slow that country's nuclear program, will result in the lifting of economic sanctions against Iran that have been in place for years.

      Among other things, that means Iran can start exporting its oil again. When it does, it will find very different market conditions.

      The last time Iran sold oil, it was a seller's market. Today, it's a buyer's market.

      Iran's oil ministry has promised it can quickly ramp up to 1 million barrels of oil a day on the world market, but with an existing oil glut from over production and consistent declines in worldwide consumption, it will make much less per barrel than it once did.

      Immediate price drop

      With the announcement of an Iranian deal, the price of crude oil dropped more than 1.5% to $51.32 a barrel. Before the sanctions, Iran was getting around $100 a barrel.

      “Iran’s efforts to raise oil exports could not have come at a worse time, given the market’s lingering oversupply,” Michael Cohen, an energy analyst at Barclays, told The Wall Street Journal.

      Ordinarily, this would be great news for U.S. motorists, sending prices at the pump lower. But there appears to be a limit to what effect falling crude oil prices have on what motorists pay for gasoline.

      The national average price of regular gasoline has been below $3 a gallon for months now. Lower oil prices, due to a building over-supply, will have a muted effect because the crude oil has to be turned into gasoline at refineries, and there is a finite refinery capacity.

      Stability

      But while the Iran deal might not send U.S. gasoline prices lower, it should keep them from going up, even with the country using more fuel.

      “The demand for gasoline has been impressive over the last few months,” Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at Gas Buddy, told ConsumerAffairs. “This summer demand for gasoline has been the highest in years, most likely due to the lower price.”

      As long as demand does not outstrip refineries' ability to produce gasoline, pump prices should remain stable. The addition of Iranian oil to the world supply guarantees the glut of oil isn't going away anytime soon.

      California still feeling pain

      Currently, the national average price for self-serve regular is about $2.78 a gallon, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey. As we reported last week, prices have shot up in California due to supply issues.

      The average price in California is $3.80 a gallon, up 37 cents in the last week. Consumers in the Los Angeles area are feeling the most pain, paying an average of about $4.20 a gallon for gasoline.

      The agreement announced Tuesday between six world powers and Iran, to slow that country's nuclear program, will result in the lifting of economic sanctions...
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      Online travel sites leery of new airline policies

      Trade group claims airlines are trying to limit consumer access to information

      It turns out there are a number of interested parties following the Justice Department's investigation into possible collusion among U.S. airlines.

      In particular, it is travel-related businesses that have expressed some concern.

      “We applaud the Department of Justice for its interest in protecting air travel for consumers,” the Travel Technology Association (Travel Tech) said in a statement. “There is less competition in air travel due to carrier consolidation. As a result, it is more important than ever that consumers continue to have the ability to effectively shop for transparent travel options across suppliers.”

      The Travel Technology Association represents many of the websites consumers use to book travel, including Orbitz, Expedia, Priceline, Sabre, Amadeus, Travelport, Skyscanner, Airbnb, HomeAway, TripAdvisor, CheapOAir, and Vegas.com.

      As such, it has a bone to pick with airlines that it says have adopted policies that restrict the availability of fare and schedule information in the marketplace.

      Negatively impacting consumer welfare

      “Limiting access to airline content through the independent channel – which provides travelers with the transparency and choice they demand – negatively impacts consumer welfare,” the group said.

      In a study it released in May, the association claims that if airlines are successful in efforts to restrict access to flight information, ticket prices would rise more than 11% for leisure and unmanaged business travelers. That, I says, would translate into about $30 more for the average ticket.

      “Preserving the competitive benefits of consumers’ ability to access comparative and transparent information on prices and schedules of major U.S. airlines is more important than ever,” writes Scott Morton, author of the study. “At a time when independent, transparent comparison shopping is most needed, some airlines are attempting to restrict access to their fare and schedule information, reduce the ability of consumers to easily compare prices, and drive travelers to their own websites, which do not offer price comparisons with other airlines.”

      Statements by airline executives

      The association has also expressed concern about recent statements by airline executives during a June round table discussion in Miami, hosted by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The group of airline CEOs reportedly talked approvingly of recent actions by a U.S. airline to implement new discriminatory surcharges on consumers who choose to book travel through third-party channels.

      “The events at the Miami IATA meeting may suggest a coordinated effort by the airlines present – and by the larger trade group – to promote and potentially collectively impose the surcharge,” Travel Tech said. “Those events raise serious questions as to whether the airlines and IATA departed from their obligations to compete, not coordinate, when it comes to the imposition of fares, fees and surcharges on their customers.”

      Travel Tech is not the only trade group unlikely to volunteer as character witnesses should the Justice Department eventually bring anti-competitive charges against United, America, Delta and Southwest airlines – the objects of the probe. Others in the travel industry might prove reluctant as well.

      Alarm

      Earlier this month the U.S. Travel Association expressed “alarm” at the government's announcement of the airline investigation. Association CEO Roger Dow worried that the traveling public is already “jaded” about flying and hoped that, where the Justice Department sees smoke, there is no fire. Still, he says the airline industry has invited much of this unwelcome scrutiny.

      "If not for the radical consolidation we have seen in the airline industry in the last few years, we probably would not even be having this conversation,” Dow said. “Now that 4 carriers control 85% of domestic routes, 'collusion' is a thought that's constantly going to be in the back of the minds of federal regulators.”

      Dow says Congress could increase airline competition by making it easier for airports to raise funds for expansion. Many Wall Street analysts disagree, however. They says airlines have only recently become profitable by consolidating and, in essence, reducing competition.

      It turns out there are a number of interested parties following the Justice Department's investigation into possible collusion among U.S. airlines.In p...
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      Google accidentally releases European “right to be forgotten” data

      Most takedown requests involve personal information; almost half have been honored

      Google accidentally revealed more than it intended to in its latest transparency report. The Guardian reported today that it discovered “new data hidden in source code on Google’s own transparency report that indicates the scale and flavour of the types of requests being dealt with by Google – information it has always refused to make public. The data covers more than three-quarters of all requests to date.”

      Those “requests” the Guardian mentioned are link-takedown requests invoking the so-called “right to be forgotten,” a legal [privilege and/or burden, depending who you ask] covering people and organizations in the European Union, but not in the United States (though some U.S.-based consumer groups would like to see that change).

      Origins of "right to be forgotten"

      The European “right to be forgotten” dates back to May 2014, when the E.U. Court of Justice ruled that Google and other search engines are, in at least some circumstances, legally obligated to stop linking to old news stories about various people — true and accurate news stories about people — if the people in question request it.

      The original case was brought by a Spanish national, Mario Costeja González, whose house was auctioned off for unpaid taxes back in 1998. A Spanish newspaper printed legal notices about the proceedings — standard operating procedure for a local paper, in Spain or in America — and then in 2009, Costeja asked the newspaper to remove the stories from their online archives and also asked Google to stop linking to the stories, on the grounds that those 11-year-old news pieces about his debts were no longer relevant, since the debts in question had been settled.

      Google and the newspaper refused, so Costeja sued them both. The court sided with the newspaper – so it is not required to remove the stories from its website. But the court also sided against Google – the stories can stay online, but Google has to stop linking to them when people search for the name “Mario Costeja González.” Specifically, Google and other search engines must honor certain takedown requests which involve “irrelevant and outdated” search results.

      Data leak

      As soon as the European court announced its decision, Google was inundated with takedown requests. Within two days of the court ruling, the BBC mentioned three of them: a politician running for re-election asked Google to stop linking to old news stories about his behavior while in office, a pedophile wanted Google to stop linking to news articles about his previous criminal conviction for possession of child pornography, and a doctor wanted to take down links to negative reviews written by his patients.

      But that was only during the first two days of Europe's “right to be forgotten.” That right is now 14 months old and, according to the Guardian, “Less than 5% of nearly 220,000 individual requests made to Google to selectively remove links to online information concern criminals, politicians and high-profile public figures … with more than 95% of requests coming from everyday members of the public.”

      Not that you'll find this statistic in the transparency report itself. The Guardian figured it out by analyzing previously archived versions of older transparency reports. The data “details the numeric breakdown of each request and associated link by country and issue type. The underlying source code has since been updated to remove these details.”

      Largely private and personal information

      Information about specific takedown requests doesn't seem to be available, but the Guardian said that “Of 218,320 requests to remove links between 29 May 2014 and 23 March 2015, 101,461 (46%) have been successfully delisted on individual name searches. Of these, 99,569 involve 'private or personal information'.”

      Although some consumer or privacy groups want Google to honor a similar “right to be forgotten” in America – and even asked the Federal Trade Commission to require it – it's not certain whether such a law would even be constitutional. Unlike Europeans, Americans have First Amendment guarantees to free speech and a free press, which sometimes means that laws allowable in the E.U. wouldn't pass constitutional muster in the United States (and, conversely, that certain U.S. laws and practices violate privacy laws in the E.U.).

      For example: in Europe, you won't find many websites like ConsumerAffairs or Yelp, for the simple reason that businesses can bring libel charges against anyone who speaks ill of them and have a reasonable certainty of winning, even if the criticism is accurate. (And now, even if websites like ConsumerAffairs did operate in Europe, it might be illegal for Google to link to our stories anyway.)

      That said, European supporters of the “right to be forgotten” will likely view the accidental Google data dump as evidence favoring their cause. The Guardian quoted Dr. Paul Bernal, a lecturer in technology and media law at the University of East Anglia, as saying that the data suggests the right to be forgotten is a legitimate law (in the United Kingdom): “If most of the requests are private and personal ones, then it’s a good law for the individuals concerned. It seems there is a need for this – and people go for it for genuine reasons.”

      Google accidentally revealed more than it intended to in its latest transparency report. The Guardian reported today that it discovered “new data hidden in...
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      Shark researchers offer some tips for staying safe

      Researchers say we can coexist with predators; fishermen are not so sure

      It might have been enough that this year marked the the 40th anniversary of the movie “Jaws”, but then there was a rash of shark attacks along North Carolina's Outer Banks.

      All of a sudden long-dormant fear of an ocean predator was top of mind among the public. It wasn't just “Shark Week” on a popular cable TV channel – it was shark summer.

      All of this makes conservationists uncomfortable and worried that the U.S. is about to declare war on sharks. That would be a mistake, they say.

      Coexisting with predators

      "We don't necessarily have to see conservation and public safety as at odds with each other,” said Fiorenza Micheli, a Stanford researcher and co-author of a new study tracing the history of shark attacks in California. “This is also true of coastal economies. People can coexist with predators."

      Micheli and fellow researcher Francesco Ferretti say they found that the risk of a great white shark attack for individual ocean users in California has fallen by over 91% since 1950. To arrive at that figure they looked at the number of reported great white shark attacks that caused injuries on the California coast from 1950 to 2013, as recorded by the Global Shark Attack File.

      During that time there were 86 attacks, with 13 of them being fatal. They weighted the numbers with information on coastal population growth and seasonal and weekly beach-going, surfing, scuba diving, abalone diving, and swimming.

      The number of attacks has actually increased over the years, but the scientists attribute that to the fact that there are a lot more people in the ocean – not necessarily more sharks.

      For example, they argue that three times as many people live in coastal California now than in 1950. The 7,000 surfers in 1950 became 872,000 by 2013. Certified scuba divers grew from about 2,000 at the beginning of the 1960s to about 408,000 in 2013.

      Avoiding sharks

      The study also looks at when and where shark attacks take place, offering guidance for swimmers who want to avoid them.

      "Doing this kind of analyses can inform us on hot spots and cold spots for shark activity in time and space that we can use to make informed decisions and give people a way to stay safe while they are enjoying the ocean,"

      For example, in the fall there is a higher chance of finding big white sharks on the California coast than in the spring, when they migrate to Hawaii, said Ferretti. He points out that the chance of a shark attack increases at night. 

      The authors say that in Mendocino County, Calif., it is 24 times safer to surf in March than in October and November. If surfers choose the coast between Los Angeles and San Diego in March, they can be 1,566 times safer than they would be during the fall months in Mendocino.

      Meanwhile, the reason for eight shark attacks along North Carolina's beaches this summer remains a mystery. According to National Geographic, warmer water and ocean currents may have attracted smaller fish, which in turn attracted sharks. But the magazine states that it's probably due to more humans being in the water.

      In North Carolina, evidence is piling up that suggests there are also a lot more sharks in the water. Charter boat captains interviewed by the Richmond Times-Dispatch say there is now an over-population of sharks off the Carolina coast that has been building for years.

      Some tuna fishermen say they are only able to boat half their catches before they are at least partially eaten by sharks.

      It might have been enough that this year marked the the 40th anniversary of the movie “Jaws”, but then there was a rash of shark attacks along North Caroli...
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      Foreclosure rate continues to fall

      The rate of seriously delinquent loans is at a 7-year low

      The inventory of homes in foreclosure plummeted 27.4% in May, while completed foreclosures were down by 19.2% from the same time a year ago, according to the CoreLogic National Foreclosure Report .

      Additionally, the provider of property information reports the number of foreclosures nationwide decreased year over year from 51,000 in May 2014 to 41,000 in May 2015, representing a plunge of 64.9% 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 5.7 million completed foreclosures across the country; since home-ownership rates peaked in the second quarter of 2004, there have been approximately 7.8 million homes lost to foreclosure.

      As of this past May, the national foreclosure inventory included approximately 491,000, or 1.3%, of all homes with a mortgage compared with 676,000 homes, or 1.7%, in May 2014. This is the lowest foreclosure rate since December 2007.

      Serious delinquencies down sharply

      CoreLogic also reports that the number of mortgages in serious delinquency (defined as 90 days or more past due, including those loans in foreclosure or REO) fell 22.7% from May 2014 to May 2015, with 1.3 million mortgages, or 3.5%, falling into this category. This is the lowest serious delinquency rate since January 2008. On a month-over-month basis, the number of seriously delinquent mortgages dipped 3.4%.

      “With three million jobs created during the past year, the improving labor market has helped more borrowers stay current on their mortgage loan,” said Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic. “Because fewer loans are becoming seriously delinquent, the foreclosure inventory has come down to its lowest level in more than seven years, with only 1.3% of loans in foreclosure proceedings.”

      Report highlights

      • On a month-over-month basis, completed foreclosures increased by 4.1% from the 39,000 reported in April 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 May 2015 were: Florida (104,000), Michigan (46,000), Texas (33,000), California (28,000) and Ohio (27,000). These 5 states 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 May 2015: South Dakota (19), District of Columbia (105), North Dakota (326), Wyoming (498) and West Virginia (500).
      • Four states and the District of Columbia had the highest foreclosure inventory as a percentage of all mortgaged homes: New Jersey (4.9%), New York (3.7%), Florida (2.9%), Hawaii (2.5%) and District of Columbia (2.4%).
      • The 5 states with the lowest foreclosure inventory as a percentage of all mortgaged homes were: Alaska (0.3%), Colorado (0.4%), Minnesota (0.4%), Nebraska (0.4%) and North Dakota (0.4%).

      “While the nation’s seriously delinquent rate -- 0 3.5% -- is at its lowest level since January 2008, it remains very high in several big markets,” said Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO of CoreLogic. “The greater New York City region and central Florida continue to have some of the highest serious delinquency rates, almost doubling the national level. Default rates remain elevated in the Chicago and Baltimore metro areas as well.”

      The foreclosure inventory plummeted 27.4% in May while completed foreclosures were down by 19.2% from the same time a year ago, according to the CoreLogic ...
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      Retail sales slip in June

      The decline is the first in three months

      Retail sales fell in June after rising for 2 consecutive months

      Figures released by the Census Bureau show sales, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, totaled $442.0 billion. While that's down 0.3% from May, it's up 1.4% from the same time a year ago.

      Major declines were seen in furniture and home furnishing stores (-1.6%), clothing and clothing accessories stores (-1.5%) and building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers (-1.3%). Sales at auto and auto parts dealers were down 1.1%.

      Gainers included electronics & appliance stores (+1.0%), gas stations (+0.8) and general merchandise stores (+0.7%).

      Core sales, which strip out 3 volatile categories -- auto and auto parts dealers, building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers, and gas stations -- were down 0.1%.

      The complete retail sales report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      Retail sales fell in June after rising for 2 consecutive months Figures released by the Census Bureau show sales, adjusted for seasonal variation and holi...
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      Hyundai recalls Sonatas with seat belt issue

      The front passenger may be unable to fasten the seat belt

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 128,804 model year 2015 Sonatas manufactured April 25, 2014, to December 4, 2014.

      The front passenger seat belt's buckle latch assembly may prevent the passenger from fastening the seat belt. As a result, the occupant of the front passenger seat runs an increased risk of injury in the event of a crash.

      Hyundai will notify owners, and dealers will repair or replace the front passenger seat belt buckle free of charge. The recall is expected to begin August 21, 2015.

      Owners may contact Hyundai customer service at 1-855-671-3059. Hyundai's number for this recall is 130.

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 128,804 model year 2015 Sonatas manufactured April 25, 2014, to December 4, 2014. The front passenger seat belt's buck...
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      “I and love and you” recalls beef gullet strips

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      NatPets, doing business as "I and love and you," of Boulder, Colo., is recalling 1,299 cases of cow-boom! strips -- beef gullet.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      There have been no reported pet or human illnesses associated with this recall.

      The recall involves cow-boom! Strips – beef gullet packaged into 2.0-oz bags, with the lot numbers C20130-1994T1 and C20130-2024T1, a best-by-date of 07/2016 and UPC number 8 18336 01134 4.

      The Company has notified its distributors and retailers and is taking this voluntary action as a precautionary measure. No other products of the company are affected by this recall.

      Routine sampling by an inspector for the Colorado Department of Agriculture revealed the presence of Salmonella, which prompted this voluntary recall. This product is supplied by a U.S. supplier.

      Customers who purchased this product should dispose of it or return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may call at 855-ILY-LOVE Monday – Friday between 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM (MT) or by email at service@ilypet.com.

      NatPets, doing business as "I and love and you," of Boulder, Colo., is recalling 1,299 cases of cow-boom! strips -- beef gullet. The product may be contam...
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      Chevy Caprices and Pontiac G8s recalled

      The driver seat and the front passenger seat occupants may not be properly restrained in the event of a crash

      General Motors is recalling 47,042 model year 2011-2013 Chevrolet Caprice vehicles manufactured October 15, 2010, to October 22, 2013, and 2008-2009 Pontiac G8 vehicles manufactured July 25, 2007, to February 18, 2009.

      The flexible steel cables that connect the seat belts to the vehicle at the outside of the driver seat and the front passenger seat may be bent from being sat on while entering the vehicle. This repeated bending may result in the cable breaking.

      If the cable breaks, the seat occupant may not be properly restrained in the event of a crash, increasing their risk of injury.

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the seat belt tensioner assembly which includes the steel cable, free of charge. These replacement parts reposition the tensioner cable out of the path of entry into the vehicle and uses a more flexible cable, set at a more upright angle. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020 or Pontiac customer service at 1-800-762-2737. GM's number for this recall is 15206.

      General Motors is recalling 47,042 model year 2011-2013 Chevrolet Caprice vehicles manufactured October 15, 2010, to October 22, 2013, and 2008-2009 Pontia...
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      Proposed highway bill would allow renting recalled cars

      It's described as a "pro-consumer" measure

      Should rental car fleets have to perform safety recalls on the cars they rent to customers? Sen. John Thune thinks it should be left up to the customer. He has inserted language into a pending transportation funding bill that would allow rental car companies to keep renting recalled cars without bothering to fix them, as long as they notified renters in writing in advance.

      But Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who earlier introduced a measure that would prohibit renting recalled cars, objects.

      "This bill would give companies the federal government's blessing to rent out dangerous vehicles and shifts the liability onto consumers if something goes wrong," Boxer said Friday

      Most rental car companies have voluntarily agreed to stop renting recalled cars to consumers until they are fixed and the major companies say they support Boxer's bill. 

      A fatal error

      But that didn't help Jewel Brangman, 26. She was driving a rented Honda Civic last Sept. 7 when she was involved in a collision. The Takata airbag spewed shrapnel-like metal into the car, inflicting a severe neck laceration and killing Ms. Brangman, who became the eighth person known to have died from Takata-caused injuries. 

      The car had been recalled back in 2009 but its owner, Sunset Car Rental of San Diego, had never bothered to have the car, which had been bought at auction with a salvage title, fixed, a lawsuit filed by Ms. Brangman's family alleges. Sunset Car Rental is now out of business. 

      So, if the major rental companies are supporting Boxer's bill, who is behind Thune's measure?

      Car rental industry sources point the finger at NADA, the National Automobile Dealers Association. NADA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

      However, NADA President Peter Welch testified in 2013 that Boxer's bill was "overly broad in that it regulates auto dealerships that operate small rental or loaner fleets in the same manner as multi-national rental car giants."

      "Unlike large rental car companies that maintain a wide array of vehicle makes and models in their fleets, many dealers only maintain a single vehicle model in their loaner pools," Welch said, saying the Boxer bill "could cause an economic hardship for small dealers if a part necessary to fix a dealer’s only loaner vehicle model is unavailable."

      Welch also said that some safety recalls are really not for high-priority defects.

      Manufacturers' influence?

      Sources within the car rental industry suspect that one or more manufacturers are supporting the NADA effort because of "loss of use" concerns.

      If a rental company is required to take hundreds of cars out of service for weeks or months waiting for parts needed to perform a recall, they can under some circumstances sue the manufacturer for the rental revenue they lose while the car sits idle on their lot. 

      Last summer, the spike in recalls left rental companies with many cars out of service, putting a dent in revenue and causing inconvenience and frustration for consumers whose reservations could not be honored.

      Thune's measure would make it easier for rental companies to keep recalled cars rolling down the road and ringing up revenue, partially relieving manufacturers' concerns.  

      Not prohibited

      Thune, who is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, inserted the language permitting rentals of recalled cars into S. 1732, the Comprehensive Transportation and Consumer Protection Act of 2015, a comprehensive measure commonly known as the "Highway Bill."

      Under the provision, besides notifying customers in advance that their vehicle had been recalled, rental companies would also have 24 hours to notify customers if a recall notice was received during the time that the customer was using the car. 

      But Thune's language makes clear that rental companies would be permitted to rent recalled cars: "Nothing in this subsection may be construed to prohibit a rental company from offering a motor vehicle for rent."

      Thune did not respond to a request for comment but Frederick Hill, communications director for Thune's committee, said the measure is intended to be "pro-consumer." 

      “Most rental companies do not rent vehicles under recall and some states also prohibit the practice. But in places where rental of vehicles under recall does occur, this provision would establish a new pro-consumer requirement that the recall status of a vehicle must be disclosed before renting a vehicle. This new requirement does not in any way preempt stronger state laws or stricter voluntary policies of individual rental companies,” Hill said.

      Photo © Robert Wilson -- FotoliaShould rental car fleets have to perform safety recalls on the cars they rent to customers? Sen. John Thune thinks it...
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      Athlete-athlete collisions are leading cause of concussions for high school soccer players

      Practicing proper techniques for heading the ball and avoiding unnecessary collisions are key to avoiding injury

      Soccer has been growing in popularity in the U.S. for many years. Hundreds of thousands of school-aged athletes participate at varying levels of competition across the nation. Unfortunately, the increasingly physical nature of the sport has led to a high number of concussions.

      Many of these concussions can be attributed to the high volume of players that the nation produces. From 1969 to 2014, the number of schools that offered a soccer program increased from 2,217 to 11,718. Boy players increased from roughly 49,593 to 417,419 in the same time span; there were no girls playing soccer in 1969, but that number had increased to 375,564 in 2014. The sheer increase in numbers would naturally lead to more injuries, including concussions.

      Athlete-athlete contact

      It would be easy to leave it at that, but researchers believe that there are other factors that contribute to the high concussion rate. R. Down Comstock, of the Colorado School of Public Health, and other researchers examined concussion data from 2005 through 2013, which comprised over three million athlete exposures (school-sanctioned soccer practices and competitions).

      They found that instances of player-on-player contact were among the highest causes of concussions. For boys, 68.8 percent of all concussions resulted from player contact. This number decreased to 51.3 percent for girls, though that number is still very high.

      Researchers were also able to focus on what players were doing when they were sustaining these concussions. Unlike other sports, soccer requires a player to actually use their head to strike the ball. This impact, along with collisions that occurred between players who contested for the same ball in the air, contributed to the largest number of concussions (78.1 percent for boys and 61.9 percent for girls).

      Proper technique is key

      Even though the researchers were able to determine why concussions were so widespread, it does not mean that they are likely to decrease. Soccer, especially in the U.S., is becoming more and more physical as time goes on. Even if leagues were to ban heading the ball, the numbers would not likely decline.

      “We postulate that banning heading from soccer will have limited effectiveness as a primary prevention mechanism (i.e. in preventing concussion injuries) unless such a ban is combined with concurrent efforts to reduce athlete-athlete contact throughout the game,” the researchers said.

      For now, the most important thing that players and coaches can do is practice and teach proper technique when heading or contesting the ball. Players should be sure to avoid heading the ball on unsafe areas of the head (usually right on top of the skull). Using one’s arms to secure an area (without pushing out) can also reduce dangerous athlete-athlete collisions.

      The full study has been published in JAMA Pediatrics.  

      Soccer has been growing in popularity in the U.S. for many years. Hundreds of thousands of school-aged athletes participate at varying levels of competitio...
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      It's on! Walmart responds to Amazon's Prime Day

      Retailers clash over who can offer best mid-summer savings

      By declaring Wednesday, July 15 “Prime Day,” Amazon.com has unleashed the competitive juices of American capitalism.

      Walmart, America's largest retailer, isn't taking the challenge lying down. While Amazon is promising huge one-day savings for members of Amazon Prime, Walmart is having a sale of its own. And in a dig at its online rival, Walmart says you don't have to pay a membership fee to save money.

      “We’ve heard some retailers are charging $100 to get access to a sale,” Ferbando Madeira, president and CEO of Walmart, wrote in a blog. “But the idea of asking customers to pay extra in order to save money just doesn’t add up for us.”

      Slew of discounts

      With the holiday shopping season still months away, Wamart said it will lower the purchase threshold for free shipping and promises to unveil a slew of discounts on Wednesday, when Amazon hopes to reap a bonanza in sales.

      Earlier this month Amazon announced Prime Day as a challenge to Black Friday, the official start to the holiday shopping season – a day famous for dramatic mark-downs at retail stores. On Wednesday, new and existing Prime members will have access to a series of Black Friday style bargains, with new deals posted as often as every 10 minutes.

      Amazon says Prime Members can shop thousands of Lightning Deals, 7 popular Deals of the Day and receive unlimited fast, free shipping. The promotion may not just be about moving merchandise, but also signing up prime members.

      It costs $99 a year to be a Prime member but you get free second-day shipping on purchases and access to video content, as well as the ability to borrow Kindle ebooks at no charge.

      Black Friday challenge

      As we reported earlier, Amazon's challenge to Black Friday promotions caught the attention of a Black Friday deal site, BestBlackFriday.com. The folks at Jones-Dengler Marketing, which operates the website, responded to Amazon by issuing a challenge of their own.

      “Since Amazon is claiming Prime Day will surpass Black Friday in items and prices, we issued them a challenge,” BestBlackFriday.com's Phil Dengler said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “We listed the prices for the most popular items in their sale, and across other retailers, on Black Friday 2014 and dared them to go lower.”

      All of this, no doubt, is good for consumers who don't want to wait until the holidays to find good deals. But it goes without saying it's pretty good for Amazon too. Every time a rival challenges Prime Day, it simply calls more attention to Amazon's Christmas-in-July promotion.

      By declaring Wednesday, July 15 “Prime Day,” Amazon.com has unleashed the competitive juices of American capitalism. Walmart, America's largest retailer...
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      Corinthian Colleges debt collection suspended until November

      The feds backed this company for years. Who will ultimately foot the bills for it?

      Good news for former students of Corinthian Colleges, the now-defunct chain of for-profit schools that operated under the names Everest, WyoTech and Heald: as a result of court documents filed last Friday, the Department of Education will temporarily halt collection efforts against students in default, until at least November 6.

      Corinthian declared bankruptcy in May after years of trouble with state and federal-level legal authorities. To offer a small sampling of those troubles: in Corinthian's last year of operation, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued the company for predatory lending (ultimately resulting in a collective $480 million in debt relief for former students); the Department of Education levied tens of millions of dollars in fines against it after an investigation “confirmed cases” that the company misrepresented the schools' job placement rates to current and prospective students; and the attorneys general of multiple states went so far as to urge the feds to relieve all Corinthian student debt on the grounds that Corinthian misled students about pretty much everything: the quality of its educational programs, transferability of credits, likelihood of job placement afterwards, the availability of internships … pretty much everything a student needs to consider before choosing a school.

      Federally financed scam

      Under ordinary circumstances, suspending Corinthian-related student debt would be a no-brainer: the company was essentially running a scam, with students as the victims. But the federal government has so far been reluctant to offer a broad-sweeping debt amnesty, because that would leave the feds on the hook for the money: like most for-profit schools, Corinthian was almost entirely dependent on federally backed student aid (especially student loans that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy) for its operating costs and profit margins.

      That's probably why, as the Huffington Post noted earlier this month, Education Secretary Arne Duncan is “'thrilled' to close Corinthian Colleges, not so ready to help its former students.”

      Indeed, during Corinthian's final year of operation, even as various state and federal agencies suspended aid or levied fines against the company, the Department of Education bent over backwards to try keeping the company afloat. In June 2014, for example, when the DoE temporarily suspended all federal aid for Corinthian students, Corinthian initially protested that the action could put it out of business (possibly the only 100% truthful statement the company ever made about its operations). But Corinthian was able to hang on a few months longer, after reaching a “memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of Education that maintains uninterrupted daily operations at its schools.”

      The federal government spent years financing a harmful scam, and thus far the victims of that scam are still left holding the bag. Who will pick it up after this November remains to be seen.

      Good news for former students of Corinthian Colleges, the now-defunct chain of for-profit schools that operated under the names Everest, WyoTech and Heald:...
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      Online tools to take some guesswork out of homebuying

      Online listing site teams with airbnb to let consumers "try before they buy"

      Airbnb is a lodging app for travelers, but in a partnership with real estate site Reator.com, it's moving into the real estate marketing space with a promotion called “Try Before You Buy.”

      The idea is to allow a prospective buyer to check out a neighborhood before making the huge commitment of buying a home there. Spending a night or two in the environment you're considering as a home might give you a whole new perspective.

      It's always been possible to check into a hotel for that purpose, but hotels are usually in commercial areas, whereas airbnb rentals are normally in residential neighborhoods.

      Try Before You Buy

      Now, when you click on a listing on Realtor.com, you are given a Try Before You Buy option, just above the map. For example, let's say you were interested in this condo in the West Hollywood neighborhood of Los Angeles.

      Among the three airbnb Try Before You Buy offerings is this Hollywood Hills guest suite for $145 a night. According to the listing, the room is in a house in the heart of the Hollywood Hills, 5 minutes from the Sunset Strip, 10 minutes from shopping on Rodeo Drive, 15 minutes from the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Dolby Theater, and 20 minutes from Universal Studios.

      Other tools

      Realtor.com says its just one of the ways prospective buyers can carry out neighborhood reconnaissance, helping to make good buying decisions and avoiding bad ones. For example, the site suggests doing a little cyber-sleuthing, consulting websites like City-Data, which collects and analyzes data from a wide variety of sources to create detailed profiles of U.S. cities. You'll find information about everything from crime rates to weather patterns.

      Homefacts includes similar information, but goes further by listing neighborhood statistics such as median home price, homes for sale, and foreclosures.

      If you are concerned about potential crime in a neighborhood, check out My Local Crime. By typing in an address, you get a map showing reported crimes in the vicinity.

      AreaVibes is another site that can help you narrow down a search. Just type a ZIP code or city and adjust metrics that are important to you – amenities, crime, cost of living, and housing prices, for example. You'll then get a list of neighborhoods that match your “livability” needs.

      Not sure what you should be looking for? Realtor.com suggests scoping out potential neighborhoods, taking note of the number of homes for sale, the overall appearance, and proximity to shopping or business areas. In urban areas, parking and public transit may also be important considerations.

      Airbnb is a lodging app for travelers, but in a partnership with real estate site Reator.com, it's moving into the real estate marketing space with a promo...
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      Why flying will never be as comfortable as it is now

      Airlines have a new way to cram even more people aboard flights

      The future, when we are teleported great distances or fly around like the Jetsons, cannot get here soon enough.

      But until that time comes we must all rely on commercial airlines, and the evidence suggests that isn't going to become any more pleasant than it is right now. The latest evidence comes in the form of a patent application filed by a French aircraft equipment manufacturer.

      Zodiac Seats France has devised a way to cram even more passengers aboard a commercial aircraft. Drawings submitted with its patent application (PDF) show the reconfigured cabin, with the middle seat in each row facing backward. The company says that will allow current planes to hold additional passengers.

      “Described are seating arrangement with at least one row having at least one forward-facing seat and at least one aft-facing seat,” the company said in its filing. “The at least one forward-facing seat and the at least one aft-facing seat are arranged adjacent to one another so that a shoulder space on one side of the at least one forward-facing seat overlaps with the adjacent shoulder space of the at least one aft-facing seat.”

      Getting to know the person next to you

      In other words, you'll get to know the person sitting next to you on a flight a little better than you ordinarily might.

      Just because such a thing is being patented does not necessarily mean that airlines will implement it, but it is hard to believe that at least some won't. Airlines have rarely overlooked any possible means to add more passengers to planes without having to increase flights.

      Restrooms are another area airlines have targeted for cost-cutting. While on-board facilities are vital to passenger comfort, they do not make a dime for an airline.

      Marketwatch recently reported that Boeing is shrinking the size of restrooms on the 777-300ER jetliner. Doing so might reduce comfort for the 400 passengers but it will allow airlines to add 14 seats – whose occupants will have to compete for the smaller lavatories.

      Airbus is reportedly planning to install smaller restrooms on its A320 to make more space for luggage.

      Avoiding additional flights

      Airlines clawed their way back to profitability after the 2008 financial crisis by adding fees for everything from checked bags to blankets and pillows. Now that the economy is recovering and demand for air travel is increasing, airlines are searching for ways to accommodate the demand without adding flights.

      There is little thought, apparently, to raising fares because travel experts seem to agree that travelers are entirely too focused on price when they select a flight. Consumers want to pay as little as possible to fly, and are apparently willing to sacrifice comfort to save a few dollars.

      The airlines may be about to put that theory to the test.

      Photo © kasto - FotoliaThe future, when we are teleported great distances or fly around like the Jetsons, cannot get here soon enough.But until t...
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      Some crayons harbor asbestos and can pose a danger

      Researchers have found that many crayons have asbestos in them, which could lead to a litany of medical problems for those who are exposed to them

      Crayons: they make the color of the rainbow and you can make anything you want with them. They are the secret element in making a child’s world come to life, but a new study commissioned by the Environmental Working Group says some crayons may contain asbestos. Most crayon boxes say that the product is non-toxic, but this study indicates they could pose a serious risk to small children.

      The researchers found that asbestos could be released into the air while the crayon products are being used. Sonya Lunder, EWG's lead researcher on the study, cautions parents to be careful about what they expose their children to. “The lesson here is that parents can’t just read labels and choose safer products by looking at the labels themselves,” she said.

      Members of the Office of Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OHSHA) and Richard Lemen, the Ex-U.S. Assistant Surgeon General, echo this sentiment from Lunder. They explain that exposure to asbestos, however brief or small, is potentially dangerous.

      Harmful but not banned

      So what exactly is asbestos and how can it be so harmful? Well, asbestos is made of long, thin mineral fibers that are too small to be seen by the naked eye. If they are inhaled by humans, it can lead to scarring and inflammation of the lungs, breathing impairment, lung cancer, and malignant mesothelioma (which is a cancer of the lining of the lungs and abdominal cavity).

      These terrible medical problems have led to asbestos being banned for many uses around the world. Now that it has been found in crayons, many people are panicking that it may already have affected their loved ones. It was discovered in 2000 that three out of eight crayon brands contained asbestos, according to a Seattle Post Intelligencer study. Although crayon companies are not required to keep asbestos out of its products, families everywhere are calling for its removal.

      “Asbestos in toys poses an unacceptable risk to children, today as it did in 2000 and 2007, the last time tests found the deadly substance in these children’s products,” says Dr. Phillip Landrigan, who is a professor of pediatrics and preventive medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. 

      Crayons: they make the color of the rainbow and you can make anything you want with them. They are the secret element in making a child’s world come to lif...
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      SkyWest Airlines facing $1.2 million in FAA penalties

      The carrier allegedly operated aircraft not in compliance with federal regulations

      The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is proposing penalties totaling $1.23 million against SkyWest Airlines for 2 separate cases of regulation violations.

      In the first, in which the penalty is $911,000, the St. George, Utah-based carrier allegedly operated 2 aircraft that were not in compliance with federal aviation regulations. According to the agency, SkyWest failed to inspect the cargo door skins on two Bombardier CL-600 jets at required intervals. The inspections were required by an Airworthiness Directive (AD) issued in 2006 after cracks were discovered in the aluminum cargo door skin of a CL-600 during fatigue testing.

      The FAA determined that regular inspections of that type of aircraft for similar cracking could help prevent a situation in which a cracked skin could lead to an accident or unsafe condition. SkyWest is said to have operated the aircraft on a total of 15,969 flights when the inspections were overdue.

      Alleged landing gear violations

      The FAA is also proposing a penalty of $320,000 on grounds that SkyWest failed to inspect certain main landing gear components on four Bombardier CL-600 jets at required intervals for wear that could lead to an unsafe condition or failure of a component. SkyWest allegedly operated the aircraft on more than 6,700 flights when the inspections were overdue.

      “Safety is our top priority,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “We expect operators to comply fully with all FAA regulations and directives.”

      SkyWest has 30 days from receipt of the FAA’s enforcement letters to respond.

      The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is proposing penalties totaling $1.23 million against SkyWest Airlines for 2 separate cases of regulation violati...
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      Carnivore Meat Company recalls raw pet treats

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Carnivore Meat Company is recalling select products and lots of Carnivore Vital Essentials pet foods.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      The company says it has received no reports of human illness as a result of these products.

      The following products are being recalled:

      • Vital Essentials Frozen Beef Tripe Patties, UPC 33211 00809, Lot # 10930, Best by date 20160210
      • Vital Essentials Frozen Beef Tripe Nibblets, UPC 33211 00904, Lot # 10719, Best by date 12022015

      The "Best By" date code and lot # are located on the back of the package. The recalled products were distributed in Washington, California, Texas, Georgia, Illinois, Colorado, New Mexico, Florida, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Ohio and Vermont.

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should call 920-370-6542 Monday-Friday 9:00AM-4:00PM (CST) for assistance in obtaining replacement or a full refund. Open packages should be disposed of in a covered trash receptacle.

      Consumers with questions may call the company at 920-370-6542 Monday - Friday 9:00AM - 4:00PM (CST).

      Carnivore Meat Company is recalling select products and lots of Carnivore Vital Essentials pet foods. The products may be contaminated with Listeria monoc...
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      Maya Overseas Foods recalls Cashew Split

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Maya Overseas Foods of Maspeth, N.Y,, is recalling approximately 8000 lbs. of Cashew Split.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The recalled product was distributed between February 18, 2015, and March 20, 2015 to retailers and restaurants in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Florida, in 7-oz. (UPC 020843230389), 14-oz. (UPC 020843230716), 28-oz. (UPC 020843230327) and 5-lb. (UPC 020843230303) clear plastic pouches. It was also sold in bulk 50-lbs. tins.

      Customers who purchased Maya brand Cashew Split should not to consume it, but return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at 718-894-5145, Monday - Friday, 9 am - 5 pm (ET).

      Maya Overseas Foods of Maspeth, N.Y,, is recalling approximately 8000 lbs. of Cashew Split. The product may be contaminated with Salmonella. No illnesses...
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      Dodge Challengers with air bag issue recalled

      The front air bag inflator could rupture

      Chrysler (FCA US) is recalling 88,346 model year 2008-2010 Dodge Challengers manufactured September 19, 2007, to October 29, 2010.

      The dual-stage driver front air bag that may be susceptible to moisture intrusion which, over time, could cause the inflator to rupture. In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the driver's front air bag, the inflator could rupture with metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the driver's front air bag inflator, free of charge. Parts to remedy the vehicles are not currently available. Interim notices will be mailed to owners beginning August 14, 2015. Owners will be sent a second notice when remedy parts become available.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is R37.

      Chrysler (FCA US) is recalling 88,346 model year 2008-2010 Dodge Challengers manufactured September 19, 2007, to October 29, 2010. The dual-stage driver ...
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      Gourmet Culinary Solutions recalls turkey sausage product

      The product may contain pieces of a conveyor belt inside the packaging

      Gourmet Culinary Solutions of Statham, Ga., is recalling approximately 495 pounds of turkey sausage product that is part of a frozen entree that also contains French toast sticks and peaches.

      The product may contain pieces of a conveyor belt inside the packaging.

      There are no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of this product.

      The following product, produced May 14, 2015, is being recalled:

      • 8.25-oz. compartment trays of “Golden Gourmet French Toast Sticks with Turkey Patty & Peaches” with “Use by Date: 11/14/16.”

      The package bears establishment number “P-21200” inside the USDA mark of inspection. Individual entrees were distributed to older adults in Georgia as part of the Meals on Wheels program.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Brian Zulaica at (770) 725-4620.

      Gourmet Culinary Solutions of Statham, Ga., is recalling approximately 495 pounds of turkey sausage product that is part of a frozen entree that also conta...
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      GM recalls vehicles with power liftgate option

      The power liftgate struts may prematurely wear and the open liftgate may suddenly fall

      General Motors is recalling 686,287 model year 2008-2012 Buick Enclaves manufactured January 3, 2007, to February 29, 2012; 2009-2012 Chevrolet Traverses manufactured July 6, 2008, to February 29, 2012; 2007-2012 GMC Acadias manufactured September 15, 2006, to February 29, 2012; and 2007-2010 Saturn Outlooks manufactured August 17, 2006, to March 18, 2010.

      The vehicles, equipped with the power liftgate option, have gas struts that hold the power liftgate up when open. These struts may prematurely wear and the open liftgate may suddenly fall. If the open liftgate unexpectedly falls, it may strike a person, producing a risk of injury.

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will update the software for the power liftgate actuator motor control unit so that the motor will prevent the rapid closing of the lift gate, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Buick customer service at 1-800-521-7300, Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020, GMC customer service at 1-800-462-8782, and Saturn customer service at 1-800-553-6000. GM's number for this recall is 15240.

      General Motors is recalling 686,287 model year 2008-2012 Buick Enclaves manufactured January 3, 2007, to February 29, 2012; 2009-2012 Chevrolet Traverses m...
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      Gasoline prices surging in California

      Analyst predicts pump prices could quickly rise by up to 50 cents a gallon

      Gasoline prices always tend to be higher on the West Coast, but motorists in California are almost dizzy because of how prices have jumped in the last couple of days.

      The Energy Information Administration (EIA) report on Wednesday showed almost no gasoline was imported into California in the previous week. With refineries in the state already operating under maintenance schedules and trying to meet growing demand, the market immediately reacted to the growing shortfall.

      “In the next 48 hours prices in California are expected to jump 25 to 50 cents a gallon,” Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at Gas Buddy, told ConsumerAffairs. “In some cases we're already seeing people on social media reporting gas stations raising prices 80 cents in one day.”

      The price escalation began Wednesday when the implications of the numbers became clear. Refineries increased shipments to California weeks ago because prices were rising.

      When the gasoline market became saturated, the wholesale price began to fall and suppliers started looking elsewhere. As a result California got shortchanged.

      42 million barrel shortfall

      “Because there were no imports into California, gasoline inventories on the West Coast declined by 42 million barrels in one week,” DeHaan said. “That's a huge drop and it put California's supply of gasoline below what I would consider a healthy level.”

      Wholesale prices went through the roof in the moments and hours after the EIA report became public; on Thursday they surged even more. DeHaan says there could even be temporary shortages.

      “It's becoming very hard to find gasoline in California and don't be surprised if some stations there decide not to fill their tanks,” he said.

      That's because these sky-high prices won't last. Because of the current shortage, shipments will likely surge in the next few days, bringing the wholesale price back to earth. If a station has paid the current high price for fuel, it will be stuck with overpriced product when competitors are selling it for much less. If stations can wait a few days, the price might be much less.

      Game of roulette

      “It's a game of roulette,” DeHaan said. “If prices go up a buck a gallon, they'll eventually come back down by that amount.”

      With market forces in play, California will go from having virtually no imported gasoline to being flooded with the stuff.

      “You now have refineries throughout the globe trying to secure tankers to send gasoline to California because of the absolute insanity and the lofty prices they can lock in,” DeHaan said.

      And that will continue the vicious circle. A huge influx of supply will bring down prices. In the meantime, however, consumers will feel some pain at the pump.

      “This market isn't going to see any relief for at least a couple of weeks,” DeHaan said.

      In the meantime, DeHaan says the refineries that are producing gasoline in California “are making a windfall.”

      California and other West Coast drivers may be particularly irked that their fuel prices are surging at a time when crude oil prices are falling even more, but the excess supply of petroleum isn't helping because the refineries first have to turn it into gasoline. At the present time, they lack the capacity to do that, DeHaan says.

      Gasoline prices always tend to be higher on the West Coast, but motorists in California are almost dizzy because of how prices have jumped in the last coup...
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      Takata to air bag victims: drop dead

      Tells senator a victims' fund is "not currently required"

      At least 8 deaths and scores of injuries have been attributed to faulty inflators in Takata airbags, prompting the recall of millions of vehicles worldwide.

      The company has apologized numerous times but it seemed logical to Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) that the company set up a fund to compensate victims and their families. Blumenthal aired that opinion during a meeting of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

      Blumenthal says he got a response from Takata in the form of a letter (PDF) and he is not pleased.

      Deeply disappointed

      “I am astonished and deeply disappointed by Takata's refusal to establish a victim’s compensation fund – even after 100 injuries and eight deaths attributed to its defective airbags, numbers almost certain to rise,” Blumenthal said in a statement. “Takata is apparently unwilling to acknowledge its responsibility for these tragic deaths and injuries, or do justice for victims and their loved ones.”

      Blumenthal, formerly Connecticut's consumer-friendly attorney general, said he would press Takata to reconsider what he calls a “callous misjudgment and do right by the innocent victims of its harm.”

      In a letter to Blumenthal, Takata Executive Vice President Kevin Kennedy once again expressed regret for the deaths and injuries. But the reason for declining the suggestion to compensate victims now appears to be grounded in a policy of providing compensation only when forced to do so.

      “Not currently required”

      “As you may know, Takata has already resolved a number of claims involving airbag ruptures, and we intend to continue to discuss settlement of claims in appropriate cases going forward,” Kennedy wrote. “At the present time, given the limited number of claims filed and the MDL procedures in place that permit the efficient coordination of related claims, Takata believes that a national compensation fund is not currently required.”

      Kennedy did say the company would give Blumethal's suggestion further study and would let him know if its thinking changed.

      Takata only agreed to a recall in May under vigorous prodding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The agreement between Takata and NHTSA came after Takata at first denied the airbags were defective and at one point even questioned NHTSA's authority to order a recall.  

      At least 8 deaths and scores of injuries have been attributed to faulty inflators in Takata airbags, prompting the recall of millions of vehicles worldwide...
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      OPM director out as feds admit hackers stole data on 22 million holders of security clearances

      If you, your roommate or your spouse applied for a clearance since 2000, your data is probably compromised

      Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta quit today amid widespread criticism of her office’s handling of a massive data breach that exposed the personal records of more than 22 million people. 

      Members of Congress had been calling for Archuleta's resignation since June, when the OPM, which handles security clearances for government employees and contractors, admitted that for the second time in a year, hackers had managed to breach their own security and steal data on up to four million current or former holders of security clearances.

      Those four million people in June were presumably in addition to the five million federal employees whose data had been compromised when hackers breached the OPM the previous July.

      But in a statement released yesterday, the OPM admitted that the extent of the breach was vastly greater than originally believed:

      The team has now concluded with high confidence that sensitive information, including the Social Security Numbers (SSNs) of 21.5 million individuals, was stolen from the background investigation databases.  This includes 19.7 million individuals that applied for a background investigation, and 1.8 million non-applicants, predominantly spouses or co-habitants of applicants.  As noted above, some records also include findings from interviews conducted by background investigators and approximately 1.1 million include fingerprints.  

      That innocuous statement about “findings from interviews” presumably includes a lot of blackmail-worthy information, though no further details have been provided. OPM says that the data of anyone who applied for a security clearance since 2000 (or the spouse or roommate of any such person) is probably at risk. Even pre-2000 data is not guaranteed safe, though it's far less likely that the hackers have it.

      Possible connections to China

      Security investigators familiar with the case say the evidence suggests the hackers had backing from the Chinese government – though China's government has consistently denied having any role in the attacks, and pointed out that hacking is illegal under Chinese law.

      The OPM hackers aren't the only ones suspected of having Chinese connections. The same hackers are also believed to be behind:

      • last November's breach of the United States Postal Service database (800,000 USPS employees' records compromised, and possibly information about USPS customers as well);

      • last February's breach of Anthem health insurance company (80 million current and former customers compromised, many of whom work for the federal government or various defense contractors);

      • last March's breach of Premera Blue Cross (11 million records compromised); and

      • last May's breach of CareFirst Blue Cross/Blue Shield (“only” 1.1 million that time, but they're mostly residents of D.C. or its suburbs which, like the Anthem breach, means a large percentage of them probably worked for the federal government in some capacity).

      Credit and identity monitoring services

      On Thursday, when the OPM announced the newly discovered extent of the breach, it also said it would provide credit and identity monitoring services for affected individuals. The OPM also established what it calls an “online incident resource center” as a clearinghouse for information about the breach, and said that “We will begin to notify people affected by the background investigation incident in the coming weeks. At that time, you will be auto-enrolled in some services and will need to take action to enroll in others.”

      In fine print at the bottom of the page, the OPM also said that you can email cybersecurity@opm.gov with any questions, or call 866-740-7153 for an “automated message on the incidents.” As of press time, that automated message doesn't offer any information you can't find more readily on the OPM's “incident resource center” – if you want generalized information about the breach information, clicking this link is a better bet than calling the number.

      Archuleta (OPM Photo) Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta quit today amid widespread criticism of her office’s handling of a m...
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      European Union accuses MasterCard of gouging tourists

      The card giant's "artificially high" interbank fees are being investigated

      The European Union's quibbles with Google are well-known and now it's taking on another symbol of American domination -- MasterCard. EU regulators say the credit card giant overcharges travelers for their purchases.

      The EU for two years has been conducting an antitrust investigation into whether MasterCard stifles competition by charging "arrtificially high" interbank fees that stifle competition (and tourism) by driving up the total cost of purchases made by tourists.

      The fees are not paid directly by tourists but are passed on to retailers, who in turn build them into the prices paid by consumers, even those who pay with cash.

      "We currently suspect MasterCard is artificially raising the costs of card payments, which would harm consumers and retailers in the EU," said competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager, according to Courthouse News Service. "We have concerns both in relation to the rules MasterCard applies to cross-border transactions within the EU, as well as the fees charged to retailers for receiving payments made with cards issued outside Europe. MasterCard now has an opportunity to respond to our charges."

      MasterCard said it is "working with the European Commission on the issue" and promised to release a formal response soon.

      The European Union's quibbles with Google are well-known and now it's taking on another symbol of American domination -- MasterCard. EU regulators say the...
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