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    What can you tell about cars from social media?

    Facebook "likes" don't translate into sales -- yet

    In past generations, consumers were influenced by friends and advertising when it came to choosing a new car.

    You might notice when your neighbor drove home in a new set of wheels and consider the same model yourself if he raved about it. Meanwhile, car companies spend millions on advertising to shape consumer tastes.

    The digital age has brought change. Now it's very common to research a vehicle online, checking the specs and consumer feedback before making a decision.

    Auto Insurance Center study

    Social media can also play a role, since that's how most people tend to communicate these days. The Auto Insurance Center has studied 23 major car brands and their 114 million American Facebook fans to look for trends in fan demographics, political orientations, and career paths.

    Specifically, it wanted to know which brands have the most fans and how that influences sales. Additionally, how do companies’ marketing efforts impact consumer perceptions – and prompt users to click “like?”

    Here's what it found.

    Among the most “liked” models on Facebook, there is little correlation between likes and sales.

    For example, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Ferrari occupy the top three spots in terms of Facebook following. Mercedes-Benz has an impressive 19.4 million Facebook fans, but the company only sold around 1.7 million vehicles in 2014. Ford, on the other hand, failed to crack the top 10 list with its 3.1 million Facebook fans, but it sold more than 6.3 million vehicles worldwide.

    Just kicking tires

    The assumption is that consumers may “like” a particular luxury car, even though they can't afford to buy it. In the vernacular of the industry, they're just kicking tires. But the Center says it's worth noting that high-end luxury vehicles are the fastest-growing segment in terms of sales in the U.S.

    The data gets more interesting when you see who “likes” what. You might expect teens to be the ones dreaming of driving a luxury sports car, but the study shows Dodge has the most new teen drivers as fans. Oddly, they share their affection for Dodge with people engaged in farming.

    Ford is apparently seen as a family car. It has the most married fans. Grandparents, meanwhile, are most likely to “like” Chrysler.

    Jeep vs. Jaguar

    From a political standpoint, consumers who “like” Jeep are most likely to be conservative. Those who prefer Jaguar are most likely to be liberal.

    And no surprise – Tesla, with its $100,000-plus sticker price, has the richest fans, as well as those most likely to work in the technology industry.

    What does all this mean? For automakers, it may mark a departure from how they tried to influence buying decisions in the past. In the future, they may rely less on advertising and more on the persuasiveness of millions of your neighbors, giving a simple thumbs up on Facebook.

    In past generations, consumers were influenced by friends and advertising when it came to choosing a new car.You might notice when your neighbor drove ...
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    A three-minute test for dementia

    Quiz determined Lew Body disease from Alzheimer's with 96.8% accuracy

    Early detection is important in cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s, and researchers are hard at work trying to find ways to diagnose these illnesses earlier.

    A neuroscientist at Florida Atlantic University says he has developed a simple, three-minute test to identify the onset of Lew Body disease (LBD), a little-understood condition but the second-most-common cognitive disease after Alzheimer’s.

    LBD affects more than 1.3 million Americans, but it is poorly recognized, meaning diagnosis is often significantly delayed. Patients with LBD simultaneously experience losses in cognitive function, mobility, and behavior.

    Actor Robin Williams had this form of dementia. So did NHL coach Alger Joseph “Radar” Arbour.

    Misdiagnoses common

    “Most patients never receive an evaluation by a neurologist skilled in the diagnosis of Lewy body dementia, and significant delays and misdiagnoses occur in most patients with this disease,” said Dr. James E. Galvin, who developed what he calls the Lewy Body Composite Risk Score (LBCRS).

    The LBCRS is a brief rating scale that is completed by a clinician to measure the symptoms highly associated with the LBD. With the tool, which takes about three-minutes to administer, a clinician can determine the type of dementia affecting the patient.

    Results of a study deploying the LBCRS appear promising. In a real-world clinical setting, the LBCRS was able to discriminate between Alzheimer’s disease and LBD with 96.8 percent accuracy.

    “Early detection of Lewy body dementias will be important to enable future interventions at the earliest stages when they are likely to be most effective,” said Galvin. “Our study provides evidence-based methodology that will have applications in clinical practice, participation in clinical trials, prevention studies, community surveys, and biomarkers research.”

    Early detection is important in cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s, and researchers are hard at work trying to find ways to diagnose these illnesses earli...
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      Brooklyn women have highest levels of chemicals used in cosmetics, study finds

      The chemicals could cause hormonal disruptions in fetuses and children

      A study finds that women in Brooklyn -- especially those of Caribbean and African-American descent -- have the highest levels of preservatives used in cosmetics in human cord blood samples.

      The preservatives in question are parabens -- antibacterial substances commonly used in cosmetics and other proucts. Researchers from SUNY Downstate Medical Center and Arizona State University said the women had the highest levels of the chemicals of any group worldwide. 

      Parabens have been used for decades and, at recommended levels, are categorized as "generally recognized as safe" by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Union. However, parabens have the potential to disrupt the expression of hormones during influential times of development, possibly affecting fetal, child, and even adult health.

      The researchers point out that recent studies have raised awareness for potential health effects, particularly during fetal development and in children younger than six to 12 months of age, a period when detoxification systems are still immature, "and thus leaving the exposed more vulnerable," notes senior author Rolf Halden, PhD, professor and director of the Biodesign Center for Environmental Security at Arizona State University.

      Transferred to fetuses

      "What we know from the study is that parabens are being transferred from pregnant women to their fetuses," said study co-author Laura A. Geer, PhD, MHS, associate professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences in the School of Public Health at SUNY Downstate. "This is problematic because parabens have demonstrated endocrine-disrupting potential in animal studies, leading to developmental and reproductive disorders. It is too early to know if these same effects can occur in humans, and if so, at what levels of exposure."

      The results were published online in the journal Environment International, in an article titled, "Maternal and fetal exposure to parabens in a multiethnic urban U.S. population."

      A study finds that women in Brooklyn -- especially those of Caribbean and African-American descent -- have the highest levels of preservatives used in cosm...
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      Bridgestone to acquire Pep Boys

      Deal gives company 3,000 U.S. locations

      There is some consolidation taking place in the automotive services industry. Bridgestone, known primarily for tires, is acquiring and merging with Pep Boys, an automotive service and parts retailer.

      Bridgestone Retail Operations, LLC (BSRO), a wholly owned subsidiary of Bridgestone, will acquire Pep Boys in an all-cash transaction for $15.00 per share, or approximately $835 million. For Pep Boys shareholders, that represents a 23% premium over Pep Boys' Friday closing stock price.

      “Bridgestone and Pep Boys are two leading companies that share a proud heritage in the American automotive services industry,” said Gary Garfield, CEO and President of Bridgestone Americas. “Our shared expertise and commitment to our customers and employees will help us build an even stronger organization.”

      Founded in 1921

      Pep Boys is a national chain of automotive services and after market parts providers, founded in 1921. It operates more than 7,500 service bays in more than 800 locations in 35 states and Puerto Rico. Its business model closely resembles Bridgestone's, offering tires, maintenance, repairs, parts, and accessories.

      Bridgestone says it is the world's largest manufacturer of tire and rubber products. While it provides other automotive services, tires make up 84% of its business.

      Bridgestone currently operates a huge network of company-owned automotive service providers, made up of nearly 2,200 tire and vehicle service centers across the U.S., and includes Firestone Complete Auto Care, Tires Plus, and Wheelworks store locations.

      5,000 dealers and distributors

      In addition, Bridgestone is associated with more than 5,000 dealers and distributors in the U.S. The company says Pep Boys’ distribution network will help reach even more consumers in search of automotive products and services. Company executives say the acquisition of Pep Boys expands Bridgestone's retail operations by 35%.

      “We are excited to join the Bridgestone family of companies to become part of the world’s largest company-owned tire and automotive service retail network,” said Scott Sider, CEO of Pep Boys. “This transaction delivers a significant premium for Pep Boys’ shareholders and offers new opportunities for our employees across a bigger business. We look forward to working with the Bridgestone team for a smooth and successful transition.”

      The sale is scheduled to close early next year, assuming the deal clears a Justice Department anti-trust review. Last year, Bridgestone entered a guilty plea in a Justice Department probe of alleged price fixing for rubber parts used in many U.S. cars. The government's investigation of the auto parts industry began in 2011.

      There is some consolidation taking place in the automotive services industry. Bridgestone, known primarily for tires, is acquiring and merging with Pep Boy...
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      Where did the first-time homebuyers go?

      They had been driving the housing market. Now they'e not

      One statistic jumped out of last week's report on existing home sales. Sales in September were up slightly but who was buying might be more significant.

      "Despite persistent inventory shortages, the housing market has made great strides this year, backed by an increasing share of pent–up sellers realizing the increased equity they've gained from rising home prices and using it towards trading up or moving into a smaller home," said National Association of Realtors chief economist LawrenceYun. "Unfortunately, first–time buyers are still failing to generate any meaningful traction this year."

      Over the last year and a half, first-time buyers had been returning to the housing market, purchasing entry level homes that allowed those owners to move up, providing fuel for an accelerating housing market.

      Down to 29% of sales

      But first-time buyers fell to 29% of sales in September after climbing to their highest share of the year in August – 32%. First-time buyers are back to the level they were a year ago.

      What happened to this group? Jonathan Smoke, chief economist at Realtor.com, admits the drop was a surprise but suggests it could be a temporary pause in activity.

      “Despite that decline, we estimate from the monthly sales data this year that first-time buyers have been responsible for 45% of the growth in sales over last year,” he said. “The September share decline may simply reflect more competition in September by repeat buyers whose closings slipped in August due to the stock market disruptions.”

      When the stock market drops suddenly, it can affect the housing market. That's because at least one in five buyers funds a portion or all of their purchase with stock or retirement accounts.

      “But barring stock corrections that reflect real economic downturns — which we are not experiencing — home sales typically return to the prior trend after stock values stabilize.” Smoke said.

      Tight supply

      Tight supply, meanwhile, is an impediment to future growth. Smoke is concerned that the homebuilding industry is not producing enough new construction to fill the void. As a result, he says the market should experience a tight supply for the year ahead.

      With first-time buyers heading to the sidelines last month, a few more investors returned to the market. All-cash sales rose to 24% of transactions in September.

      Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 13% of homes in September, up from 12% in August but down from 14% a year ago. Three years ago, investors accounted for 30% of monthly sales.

      One statistic jumped out of last week's report on existing home sales. Sales in September were up slightly but who was buying might be more significant....
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      Retailers using free shipping for a competitive edge this holiday season

      Best Buy and Target are getting out in front early with their offers

      If you sell products online, how do you set yourself apart from your competitors? Last holiday season it was free shipping.

      This holiday season, free shipping might be the default mode. A retailer that isn't offering it may risk lowering their sales numbers. A consumer who doesn't demand it may be leaving money on the table.

      Over the weekend BestBlackFriday.com reported that Target will repeat last year's offer of free shipping with no minimum purchase.

      Returns free also

      “While Target has not yet made an official announcement, it appears as though they will indeed offer free shipping and returns from November 1 through December 25 for every single order, regardless of the amount,” BestBlackFriday.com wrote in a post. “This includes standard shipping to 48 states and it may exclude oversized items.”

      The website has published a screen shot from Target's leaked toy catalog, advertising the shipping offer.

      Best Buy has already disclosed its plan to give customers free shipping with no minimum purchase amount. The move will surely increase competition this holiday season -- a move that was not made last year when customers had to spend at least $35 to get free shipping.

      Walmart and Amazon

      “This leaves Walmart and Amazon as the only two of the four largest Black Friday stores that have not offered free shipping with no minimum in the last two years,” Best Black Friday notes. “While they did not give into Target offering it last year, they could be pushed to offer it this year.”

      Last year, Walmart provided free shipping on all orders $50 or more. Amazon provided free shipping for orders $35 or more, which is equal to what Best Buy offered last year.

      But that was then and this is now. Consumers appear to be gaining leverage, holding out for free shipping and – so far – getting it from Target and Best Buy.

      Amazon uses free shipping to sell Prime memberships and may be reluctant to go all in. But Phil Dengler, of Jones-Dengler Marketing – operator of BestBlackFriday.com – tells ConsumerAffairs he expects Walmart will be the next retailer to take up the free shipping challenge. The company may even look for a way to up the ante.

      If you sell products online, how do you set yourself apart from your competitors? Last holiday season it was free shipping.This holiday season, free sh...
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      New home sales post largest decline in two years

      In addition, the August sales pace was revised lower

      September was a tough month for sales of new, single-family homes.

      In a joint release, the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development put sales an at annual rate of 468,000 houses -- down 11.5% from August and the lowest number sold since last November. If that wasn't bad enough, the government revised its estimate of August sales downward from the initially reported 552,000 to 529,000.

      Even with the decline, the largest since July 2013, the September rate was 2% above the same month a year ago.

      Prices and inventory

      The median sales price of new houses sold last month was $296,900, up $7,800 from August and $235,400 year-over-year. The median is the point at which the price of half the homes was higher and half was lower. The average sales price was $364,100, a gain of $21,100 from the previous month and $45,000 more than September 2014.

      The seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of September was 225,000, representing a supply of 5.8 months at the current sales rate, versus a supply 4.9 months in August.

      The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      September was a tough month for sales of new, single-family homes. In a joint release, the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Developm...
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      Big Game recalls tree stands

      The cable assembly on the climbing tree stand can release

      Big Game of Windom, Minn., is recalling about 12,200 climbing tree stands.

      The cable assembly on the climbing tree stand can release, posing a fall hazard to the user.

      The company has received one report of the cable assembly releasing which resulted in injuries to the knee, wrist and hip.

      This recall involves three model year 2014 Big Game climbing tree stands models: CL050 (The Outlook) with batch number 9B-0414, CL100-A (The Cobalt) with batch numbers 9B-0214 and 9B-0514, and CL500-AP (The Fusion) with batch numbers 9B-0214 and 9B-0514.

      These climbing tree stands are used to hunt from an elevated position and were sold with an accessory bag. The black metal tree stands include the main stand platform with a nylon hanging strap assembly.

      The Outlook has a nylon netted seat without a backrest. The Cobalt and The Fusion have a camouflage-print, padded seat with the Big Game logo at the front of the backrest.

      The batch number starts with BN and can be found on a small tag located on the frame below the seat.

      The climbing tree stands, manufactured in China, were sold at Bass Pro Shop, Cabela’s, Menards, Rogers Sporting Goods and Sportsman’s Guide stores nationwide and online from June 2014, through June 2015, for between $130 and $380.

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled tree stands and return them for free replacement cables.

      Consumers may contact Big Game at 800-268-5077 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, online at www.biggametreestands.com and click on Recall Notice for more information, or write to the firm at Big Game P.O. Box 382, Windom, MN 56101.

      Big Game of Windom, Minn., is recalling about 12,200 climbing tree stands. The cable assembly on the climbing tree stand can release, posing a fall hazard...
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      Buick LaCrosse; Cadillac XTS; Chevrolet Camaro, Equinox, Malibu; and GMC Terrain vehicles recalled

      The front seat-mounted side impact air bag inflator may rupture

      General Motors is recalling 395 model year 2015 Buick LaCrosse, Cadillac XTS, Chevrolet Camaro, Equinox, Malibu, and GMC Terrain vehicles.

      The vehicles have front seat-mounted side impact air bags whose inflator may rupture upon its deployment.

      In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of one or both of the side impact air bags, the air bag's inflator may rupture and the air bag may not properly inflate. The rupture could cause metal fragments to strike the vehicle occupants, potentially resulting in serious injury or death. Additionally, if the air bag does not properly inflate, the driver or passenger is at an increased risk of injury.

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the side impact air bag modules, free of charge. The recall began on October 19, 2015.

      Owners may contact Buick customer service at 1-800-521-7300, Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020, Cadillac customer service at 1-800-458-8006, or GMC customer service at 1-800-462-8782. GM's number for this recall is 01320.

      General Motors is recalling 395 model year 2015 Buick LaCrosse, Cadillac XTS, Chevrolet Camaro, Equinox, Malibu, and GMC Terrain vehicles. The vehicles h...
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      L.L. Bean recalls knives with sheath

      The knife can cut through the sheath

      L.L. Bean of Freeport, Maine, is recalling about 300 hunting knives with sheaths.

      The knife can cut through the sheath, posing a laceration hazard.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      The recall includes the L.L. Bean GTO Hunting Knife with Sheath with product identification number 296435 printed on the product’s packaging. The knife measures eight inches long including a four-inch blade. The handle is made of G10 synthetic. L.L. Bean is printed on the blade and an outline of a mountain is printed on the blade. The sheath is made of black ballistic cloth, embroidered with “L.L. Bean” and an outline of mountains.

      The knives, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at L.L. Bean retail stores nationwide, catalog and online at www.LLBean.com from June 2015, through September 2015, for about $90.

      Consumers should immediately stop using the knife sheath and contact the firm to receive a free replacement sheath.

      Consumers may contact L.L. Bean at 800-555-9717 daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. (ET) or online at www.llbean.com for more information.  

      L.L. Bean of Freeport, Maine, is recalling about 300 hunting knives with sheaths. The knife can cut through the sheath, posing a laceration hazard. No in...
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      Volkswagen recalls Jettas, Golfs and E-Golfs

      The Passenger Occupant Detection System may have been manufactured improperly

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 993 model year 2015 Jetta vehicles manufactured September 8, 2014, to November 28, 2014; Golf vehicles manufactured April 2, 2014, to December 3, 2014; and E-Golf vehicles manufactured July 26, 2014, to October 18, 2014.

      The vehicles are equipped with a Passenger Occupant Detection System (PODS) that may have been manufactured improperly. As a result, the front passenger seat occupant may be improperly classified or may not be detected.

      In the event of a crash, if the front passenger seat occupant is incorrectly classified or non-detected, the passenger frontal air bag may deploy improperly or not at all, increasing the risk of occupant injury.

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will replace the PODS control module, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in November 2015.

      Owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at 1-800-893-5298. Volkswagen’s number for this recall is 69L6.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 993 model year 2015 Jetta vehicles manufactured September 8, 2014, to November 28, 2014; Golf vehicles manufacture...
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      Innopower recalls Hawk climbing sticks

      Folding steps can bend or break during use

      Innopower of Frankenmuth, Mich., is recalling about 730 Hawk climbing sticks.

      The folding steps can bend or break during use, posing a fall hazard.

      The firm has received reports of five incidents of steps breaking. Only minor injuries, including scratches and bruises, have been reported.

      This recall includes 2014 and 2015 Hawk 2085 RAZOR 3PK (32 inches long), the 2085-1 RAZOR 1PK (32 inches long), and the 2015 Hawk 2084 RAZOR SHORTMAX 4PK (20 inches long) and 2084-1 RAZOR SHORTMAX 1PK (20 inches long) climbing sticks.

      The aluminum sticks, which have a gray finish, tie with nylon strap to tree trunks and provide steps for consumers to climb. Recalled steps have three rectangular holes cut in the bottom of them, which differentiate them from non-recalled steps, which have circular holes.

      Model 2085 and 2085-1 have two 32-inch long metal poles with steps and a tree V-bracket to contact the tree.

      Model 2084 and 2084-1 have two 20-inch long metal poles with steps and a tree V-bracket to contact the tree.

      The model number is on the black and gray sticker located on the back side of the vertical post.

      The climbing sticks, manufactured in China, were sold at A-1 Archery, Camofire LLC, Cinnamon Creek Ranch Archery, DNW Outdoors, Eunice Archery Range, Franks Great Outdoors, GameMasters, Grabow Archers, Hunter's Refuge, & Gear, Innovations of Home, Jay’s Sporting Goods, Jon’s Sports Shop, Long Range Archery, Mack's Sport Shop, RackFan Addicts, Simmons Sporting Goods and Woodbury Outfitters from June 2014, to August 2015, for between $38 and $130.

      Consumers should immediately stop using the climbing sticks and contact Innopower for information on returning the folding steps for a free replacement.

      Consumers may contact Innopower at 800-916-3115 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, online at www.hawkhunting.com or by writing to Innopower (Hawk) at 393 List St, Suite B, Frankenmuth, MI 48734.

      Innopower of Frankenmuth, Mich., is recalling about 730 Hawk climbing sticks. The folding steps can bend or break during use, posing a fall hazard. The f...
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      Hyundai recalls model year Elantras and Sonatas with corrosion issue

      The coil springs could fracture

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 27,700 model year 2011 Elantra vehicles manufactured November 12, 2010, to March 31, 2011, and Sonata vehicles manufactured December 11, 2009, to February 28, 2010.

      The vehicles were originally sold in, or are currently registered in, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.

      Road salt may corrode the front coil springs, possibly resulting in the coil springs fracturing. If a front coil spring fractures, it may contact the tire, possibly puncturing it, increasing the risk of a crash.

      Vehicles that were previously registered in salt belt states but are currently registered elsewhere are eligible to be inspected and repaired.

      Hyundai will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front coil springs, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin November 30, 2015. Owners may contact Hyundai customer service at 1-855-671-3059. Hyundai's number for this recall is 133.  

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 27,700 model year 2011 Elantra vehicles manufactured November 12, 2010, to March 31, 2011, and Sonata vehicles manufactu...
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      Takata side airbags in VWs and GM vehicles may have faulty inflaters

      Safety regulators say their probe is expanding to front and side Takata airbags

      What with the dirty diesel scandal and all those defective ignition switches, Volkswagen and General Motors have had their share of problems lately, but there may be more on the way.

      Federal safety regulators say newer side airbags in some VW and GM models may be at risk of rupturing violently, just like the older front airbags that have led to recalls of 19 million cars made by 12 automakers.

      At a briefing yesterday, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Mark Rosekind, said it is not yet known how many vehicles could be affected, but the agency's investigation has been expanded to include newer airbags and side airbags.

      The problem with the Takata inflaters is that they can rupture violently, spewing small, shrapnel-like pieces of metal into the passenger compartment. At least eight deaths and hundreds of injuries have been attributed to the problem.

      The investigation began to expand over the summer when a Takata side airbag in a 2015 VW Tiguan ruptured. Last weekend, General Motors recalled about 400 cars after Takata said the side airbags used in the affected models had failed its safety tests.

      NHTSA officials now say their investigation does not include all Takata inflaters that use ammonium nitrate as a propellant. 

      Takata said it is cooperating in the investigation. 

      What with the dirty diesel scandal and all those defective ignition switches, Volkswagen and General Motors have had their share of problems lately, but th...
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      Tax preparers increasingly become identity theft targets

      Scammers use those identities to file multiple bogus returns

      With the end of the year fast approaching, consumers are starting to gather their 2015 tax information.

      Tax preparers are getting ready for the start of the busy tax-filing season in January.

      The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) warns they had better get ready for something else – identity thieves looking for information to use on fraudulent tax returns.

      Preparers more lucrative targets

      If a scammer impersonates a single taxpayer, he only gets a single fraudulent refund. But if he steals the identity of a tax preparer, he can file for hundreds of bogus refunds, each possibly worth several thousand dollars.

      As a defense, the IRS recommends tax preparers have a security plan in place. It should include:

      • High-quality security software that includes a firewall, anti-malware, and anti-virus programs
      • An education program for all employees to ensure they understand the dangers of phishing emails and other threats to taxpayer data.
      • Strong passwords that are changed periodically; consider having different levels of password protection.
      • Secure wireless connection. If Wi-Fi is used, protect taxpayer data by making sure it is password protected. Be sure to use encrypted email programs to exchange PII information with taxpayers.

      Secure data

      While it is recommended that tax preparers back up taxpayer data on a regular basis, the IRS says media containing this data should be put in a secure location with limited access.

      Tax preparers should also access IRS e-services weekly during the filing season and several times during the year to check the number of returns filed using the preparer’s EFIN against the actual number. If there is a discrepancy, preparers are urged to contact the IRS e-Help Desk for e-Services immediately.

      With the end of the year fast approaching, consumers are starting to gather their 2015 tax information.Tax preparers are getting ready for the start of...
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      Amazon shortens delivery times in more markets

      Prime members in Chicago and Orlando now get free same day deliveries

      Amazon.com continues to increase the number of markets where it provides same-day delivery.

      The online retailer says the Chicago and Orlando metro areas and parts of New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia are the latest places where Prime members can get free same-day delivery

      Amazon now provides the service to more than 750 cities and towns across 16 metro areas. Under the system, Prime members can order by noon and receive all same-day orders over $35 before bedtime that very same day, seven days a week.

      Amazon has focused intense efforts on speeding delivery to better compete with brick-and-mortal retailers, as well as online competitors.

      "We're focused on making Prime better and better,” said Greg Greeley, vice president of Amazon Prime.

      What consumers need today

      What do consumers order for same day delivery? In addition to fun items like the latest electronics, Amazon says the orders include the Fire TV Stick, Crest 3D White Luxe Strips, and Optimum Nutrition chocolate-flavored protein powder.

      Orders vary by locality. In New York, Amazon says it receives rush orders for water filters. In Atlanta, inflatable water toys are popular same-day items. In San Francisco, there are a lot of same-day orders for bicycle locks.

      In California, Amazon is expanding the areas where Prime customers can get one-hour deliveries of certain products. Customers in most San Francisco and San Jose neighborhoods such as Potrero Hill, Mountain View, and Cupertino can now use the one-hour service. Customers can enter their zip code in the Prime Now app to see if their neighborhood is eligible or to be notified when the service is available in their area.

      Delivery the new battleground

      Now that consumers can order just about anything online, the next area of competition is free delivery and the speed at which the merchandise arrives. Among the major retailers offering free shipping on at least some items are TargetApple, and Kohl's. All require a certain order amount to qualify.

      Online retailers that use Federal Express may be able to deliver the same day, in some cases, to consumers willing to pay the express charge. Fed Ex says it can get some parcels to your door within hours.

      During the 2014 holiday season, free shipping almost became the norm. To make an online sale, a retailer almost had to eat the shipping charges. Many retail analysts think that will be even more prevalent this year.

      Amazon.com continues to increase the number of markets where it provides same-day delivery.The online retailer says the Chicago and Orlando metro areas...
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      Gasoline prices drift lower for another week

      $3 a gallon fuel becoming a distant memory

      Motorists in most parts of the country are in for a treat, not trick, when they fill up in late October. Retail gasoline prices have been in decline for nearly two weeks.

      The national average price of self-serve regular is $2.21 a gallon, according to AAA's Fuel Gauge Survey. Unless you live in Alaska, Hawaii, or California, you might not remember the last time prices were north of $3.

      A year ago, oil prices had just begun their dramatic decline, but gasoline prices had yet to follow suit. The national average price 12 months ago was $3.08 a gallon.

      Below $2 a gallon more common

      Now, it's getting hard to find prices over $2 a gallon. In a Tweet, GasBuddy.com's Patrick DeHaan said 27% of U.S. gas stations are selling gasoline for less than $2 a gallon.

      Gasoline prices continue to drift lower as refineries complete the switch over to winter grade gasoline blends and oil remains plentiful and cheap. And there is little evidence that oil prices will increase anytime soon.

      “A number of factors have the potential to shift the global price of crude oil in the weeks ahead,” AAA said in a release this week. “The Iranian nuclear deal is once again front-of-mind, as global negotiators continue to move forward, which could bring Iranian oil back to the market in as little as two months.”

      More Iranian oil on the market will only increase the supply glut that has depressed prices over the last year. Added to that, AAA notes that China’s economic growth rate fell below 7% for the first time since 2009, putting a damper on speculations that demand there could offset some of the market’s oversupply.

      U.S. swimming in oil

      The U.S. also has more oil than it can use. The latest report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows crude oil supplies are building. Because of ample supply, oil prices have settled into a trading range well below $50 a barrel.

      Refineries and distribution remain the variables most responsible for price disparities from one region to another. The Southeast, for example, continues to enjoy low prices while motorists in the West pay significantly more.

      The states with the most expensive gasoline are:

      • Hawaii $2.90
      • California $2.85
      • Nevada $2.78
      • Alaska $2.57
      • Utah $2.47

      The states with the cheapest gasoline are:

      • South Carolina $1.91
      • Mississippi $1.94
      • Alabama $1.94
      • New Jersey $1.95
      • Tennessee $1.96
      Motorists in most parts of the country are in for a treat, not trick, when they fill up in late October. Retail gasoline prices have been in decline for ne...
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