Follow us:
  1. Home
  2. News
  3. 2016
  4. February

News in February 2016

Browse by year

2016

Browse by month

Get trending consumer news and recalls

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

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

    Volkswagen's dirty diesels will cause at least 60 U.S. deaths, MIT study finds

    The number could be more than twice that if a recall is not conducted promptly

    Those cute little Volkswagen "clean diesels" -- you know, the ones with the defeat devices that cheat emissions tests -- will directly contribute to at least 60 premature deaths in the United States, more if a recall is not conducted promptly, a new MIT-led study finds.

    Researchers took the amount of estimated excess pollution per car -- roughly 40 times the amount permitted by law -- and multiplied that times 482,000, the number of affected cars sold. Then they extrapolated the results to include population distribution and health risk factors and concluded the deceitful diesels will have "significant effects" on public health.

    "It seemed to be an important issue in which we could bring to bear impartial information to help quantify the human implications of the Volkswagen emissions issue," said Steven Barrett, lead author of the study and an associate professor of aeronautrics and astronautics at MIT. "The main motivation is to inform the public and inform the developing regulatory situation."

    According to the study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, excess emissions from Volkswagen's defeat devices will cause around 60 people in the U.S. to die 10 to 20 years prematurely.

    If the automaker recalls every affected vehicle by the end of 2016, more than 130 additional early deaths may be avoided. If, however, Volkswagen does not order a recall in the U.S., the excess emissions, compounding in the future, will cause 140 people to die early.

    Chronic cases

    Besides the death toll, the researchers estimated that Volkswagen's trickery will contribute directly to 31 cases of chronic bronchitis and 34 hospital admissions involving respiratory and cardiac conditions. They calculate that individuals will experience about 120,000 minor restricted activity days, including work absences, and about 210,000 lower-respiratory symptom days.

    "We all have risk factors in our lives, and [excess emissions] is another small risk factor," Barrett explains. "If you take into account the additional risk due to the excess Volkswagen emissions, then roughly 60 people have died or will die early, and on average, a decade or more early."

    Barrett says that, per mile driven, this number is about 20 percent of the number of deaths caused by highway accidents.

    Those cute little Volkswagen "clean diesels" -- you know, the ones with the defeat devices that cheat emissions tests -- will directly contribute to at lea...
    Read lessRead more

    Feds pressed to toughen protection for for-profit college students

    Issue has even popped up in GOP presidential race

    The Republican presidential candidates hammered fellow candidate and front-runner Donald Trump last week over Trump University, a for-profit school he set up to provide real estate training.

    "There are people who borrowed $36,000 to go to Trump University, and they're suing now — $36,000 to go to a university that's a fake school," said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), during last week's debate. "And you know what they got? They got to take a picture with a cardboard cutout of Donald Trump."

    Trump University is the defendant in a class action lawsuit, originally filed in 2010, that claims, among other things, that students were promised a one-year apprenticeship, but it ended after they paid for a three-day seminar. Attendees who were promised a personal photo with Trump received only the chance to take a photo with a cardboard cutout; many of the instructors had little or no academic qualifications.

    The Republican presidential campaign has actually focused renewed attention on for-profit universities and their role in mounting student loan debt.

    While Trump University was more of an industry-specific training institute rather than university, many students who have enrolled in for-profit colleges have lived to regret it, especially those who borrowed large sums to attend now-defunct Corinthian College.

    California Attorney General Kamala Harris is calling on the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to do more to protect students defrauded by Corinthian Colleges and other for-profit schools.

    New regulations

    The ED recently held the second of three negotiated rulemaking sessions to determine how student borrowers can get relief from federal student loans when these loans were used at a school engaging in decietful and abusive policies. Harris' office was one of two representatives for state attorneys general taking part.

    “Too many students defrauded by for-profit colleges remain buried under mountains of student debt,” Harris said in a release. “I call on the Department of Education to revise their proposed regulations to ensure meaningful debt relief is available to any student misled by a predatory college."

    Harris's office worked with federal investigators when looking into Corinthian College practices. The investigation found job placement rates were widely misrepresented to enrolled and prospective Corinthian students.

    As a result, thousands of students who attended Corinthian have asked the ED to discharge their federal loans because they were deceived by Corinthian’s inflated job placement rates.

    Attention on other for-profit schools

    Harris maintains that Corinthian was not the only for-profit school engaging in this kind of activity. She says other for-profit institutions have used similar dishonest tactics against their students, and it is expected that many more students will need to utilize this defense.

    Harris says another problem lies in vague federal regulations that make it hard to determine exactly who is eligible to have their student loans discharged. She says she would like to see new regulations define the criteria more clearly.

    She's calling for a number of changes in the new draft of ED rules, including a broadening of the categories of school misconduct that would give rise to a defense to repayment.

    The Republican presidential candidates hammered fellow candidate and front-runner Donald Trump last week over Trump University, a for-profit school he set ...
    Read lessRead more

    Amazon now has seven of its own clothing brands

    Experts say the affordably priced clothing already seems poised for success

    Amazon recently launched seven of its own private label clothing brands: Franklin & Freeman, Franklin Tailored, James & Erin, Lark & Ro, North Eleven, Scout + Ro, and Society New York.

    Reports note that while there wasn’t much in the way of launch day fanfare, the stylish and affordably priced brands seem poised for success.

    Getting in on the fast fashion game by offering relatively inexpensive basics will allow Amazon to take advantage of gaps in its variety from outside vendors, says fashion site WWD.

    Affordably priced

    The new lines -- which currently account for 1,800 listings on the site -- are as fashionable as they are budget-friendly. Women’s dresses are priced under $100, while men’s suits are listed for under $300.

    James & Erin, North Eleven, Society New York, and Lark & Ro focus on women’s apparel, while Franklin & Freeman and Franklin Tailored offer dress shoes and apparel for men. Scout + Ro has the little ones covered.

    Lark & Ro, which sells dresses for $66.50, offers a “practical yet polished look” for women on-the-go. Their collection of smart casual looks has everything from classic staples to fun florals. Lark & Ro also claims to source fabrics that will hold up all day, without creasing or wrinkles.

    Franklin & Freeman focuses on men’s dress shoes and loafers, the majority of which will only set you back about $65. To go with your new shoes, head over to Franklin Tailored to take care of your suit and tie needs. Ties are priced at around $25 and suits are generally under $250.

    Scout + Ro offers clothing for boys and girls aged 4 to 14. The brand describes its kid-friendly clothing as, “confident, comfortable, and ready-for-anything.” Girls and boys tops are going for around $10 to $15 and pants for around $20.

    Next steps

    While Amazon has not officially confirmed it, reports speculate that the brand is already working to build its private label team. Job openings for head of marketing, senior brand manager, senior sourcing manager, and senior merchandiser for its private fashion label unit are currently open.

    “Apparel is one of Amazon’s fastest-growing categories,” notes Ed Yruma, KeyBlanc Capital analyst, whose team believes the low barriers to entry, size, and significant competitive set "make this an attractive category for Amazon." 

    He adds, however, that there is more work to be done to scale the site’s foray into the realm of apparel. Yruma believes greater brand cooperation with third-party seller restrictions and an owned-brand approach will be necessary for future growth and success.

    Amazon recently launched seven of its own private label clothing brands: Franklin & Freeman, Franklin Tailored, James & Erin, Lark & Ro, North Eleven, Scou...
    Read lessRead more

    Get trending consumer news and recalls

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

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

      Scientific breakthrough could lead to huge advancements in anti-aging

      The discovery could have huge cosmetic and health implications

      It seems that skin cells are becoming a hot topic of discussion in the scientific community lately. After last week’s report on how skin cells are being used to fight brain cancer, researchers are now saying that they have made a breakthrough in understanding how skin cells relate to the aging process.

      A team from Newcastle University in the UK has discovered that a certain metabolic enzyme found in the “batteries” of human skin cells becomes much less active as we age. The researchers are hopeful that the new information will allow for new and improved anti-aging treatments.

      Discovering a target

      Professor Mark Birch-Machin led the study and explains just how our skin is affected by the aging process. “As our bodies age we see that the batteries in our cells run down, known as decreased bio-energy, and harmful free radicals increase. . . This process is easily seen in our skin as increased fine lines, wrinkles and sagging appears,” he said.

      However, up to this point, scientists never had a specific target for treatments that could mitigate this process. It is what makes this study’s findings so important. “Our research means that we now have a specific biomarker, or a target, for developing and screening anti-ageing treatments and cosmetic creams that may counter this decline in bio-energy,” said Birch-Machin.

      The research team found this biomarker by measuring the activity of mitochondrial complex II in 27 donors; they ranged in age from six years old to 72. After taking samples from each donor, the researchers saw that activity in mitochondrial complex II was down in donors that were older.

      Further implications

      The discovery may have implications that go far beyond the cosmetic, though. The research may allow scientists to understand how our organs age as well, which could prove to be crucial in understanding age-related diseases like cancer.

      Going forward, the researchers will continue to try to better understand cells in our skin and tissues. With additional research, they hope that anti-aging strategies can be created. “Our work brings us one step closer to understanding how these vital cell structures may be contributing to human ageing, with the hope of eventually specifically targeting areas of the mitochondria in an attempt to counteract the signs of ageing,” said Dr. Amy Bowman.

      The full study has been published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology

      It seems that skin cells are becoming a hot topic of discussion in the scientific community lately. After last week’s report on how skin cells are being us...
      Read lessRead more

      The Goldilocks approach to booking flights will save money

      Not booking too soon, or too late, but when it's just right, is the key

      Consumers are probably beginning to plan summer vacations. But if those trips involve air travel, when you book and when you fly can affect the total cost of the vacation.

      If you don't plan to travel for a couple of months, you're in luck. CheapAir.com reports the best time to book your flight is 54 days before departure.

      This year's study of dates and pricing analyzed 1.3 billion fares and identified five booking “zones” that can save consumers money.

      The study included airfares for roughly 3 million different trips across every day of the year. And by “trip,” the company means an itinerary going from Point A to Point B on a specific date with a specific return date.

      For each trip, CheapAir identified the lowest fare offered every day from 320 days in advance until 1 day in advance.

      Prime booking window

      “Fifty-four days is a good number to start with, but it’s important to know that every trip is different,” Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com, said in a release. “That’s why we have what we call the ‘Prime Booking Window’ which is between 21 and 112 days before departure.

      Klee says for most trips within the U.S., the best time to buy a ticket will be somewhere in that range.

      “But because different markets have different dynamics, we now also provide the Prime Booking Window for the specific city you want to visit,” he said.

      Klee says most airfares follow a fairly consistent pattern. Once the fare is posted, the price is pretty high. As the departure date approaches, the fare begins to drop.

      When the departure date is just a few weeks away, the fare begins to go up again. To save money, Klee says you have to hit the bottom of that curve, picking the “just right” moment to book your flight. The biggest mistake is waiting too late to purchase.

      “People ask all the time if it’s true that at the last minute the airlines have unsold seats that they practically ‘give away’, but that’s rarely the case,” Klee said. “Fares usually go up dramatically within 14 days of the flight.”

      Five zones

      Generally, fares are posted for 11 months before departure. CheapAir.com has divided that booking window into five “zones.” Here’s what travelers should know about each one:

      • First Dibs (197 - 335 days out): First Dibbers get their pick of flight times, nonstop options, and seats. However, they pay an average of $50 more than they would during the “Prime Booking Window.”
      • Peace of Mind (113 – 196 days out): The Peace of Mind zone offers a balance between flight options and price. Travelers pay an average of $20 more per ticket than they would in the Prime Booking Window but also have more flight options to choose from.
      • Prime Booking Window (21 – 112 days out): This is the zone for bargain hunters. During these 90 days, fares fluctuate a lot, sometimes day to day. By checking frequently during this time, travelers might find real bargains.
      • Push Your Luck (14 – 20 days out): This is when fares can fluctuate dramatically. Depending on how full flights are, travelers may get a fantastic deal, or they may pay significantly more. But remember, popular flights during peak seasons are less likely to have low fares in this zone.
      • Hail Mary(0 – 13 days out): On rare occasions, the Hail Mary zone offers an incredible rate. However, travelers in this zone pay an average of $75 over the Prime Booking Window. In the final week that premium shoots up to $200.

      Based on its findings, CheapAir has developed a tool to help consumers find the best time to book. You can check it out here.

      Consumers are probably beginning to plan summer vacations. But if those trips involve air travel, when you book and when you fly can affect the total cost ...
      Read lessRead more

      Winter chill hits pending home sales in January

      The only gain in signed contracts came in the South

      As if to prove that what goes up must come down, pending home sales fell in January following their highest average year in nearly a decade.

      The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports its Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, declined 2.5% last month to 106.0. Still, the index is 1.4% above a year ago and, while the PHSI has increased year-over-year for 17 consecutive months, last month’s annual gain was the second smallest during that time frame.

      Numerous factors

      “While January’s blizzard possibly caused some of the pullback in the Northeast, the recent acceleration in home prices and minimal inventory throughout the country appears to be the primary obstacle holding back would-be buyers,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “Additionally, some buyers could be waiting for a hike in listings come springtime.”

      Existing-home sales increased last month and were considerably higher than the start of 2015, but price growth quickened to 8.2% -- the largest annual gain since April 2015 (8.5%).

      While the hope is that appreciating home values will start to entice more homeowners to sell, Yun says supply and affordability conditions won’t meaningfully improve until home builders start ramping up production -- especially of homes at lower price points.

      Sales by region

      • The PHSI fell 3.2% to 94.5 in the Northeast but is still 10.9% above a year ago.
      • In the Midwest the index was down 4.9% to 101.1 but is still 1.4% above January 2015.
      • Pending home sales in the South inched up 0.3% to 121.1 but remain 1.3% lower than last January.
      • The index in the West decreased 4.5% in January to 96.5 but is 0.4% above the same month last year.

      Realtor.com Chief Economist Jonathan Smoke said he expects to see an increase in new contracts in February "as web activity and stated buyer intentions combine with better weather for most of the country to enable an early start to the spring buying season."

      In addition, he said, "The existing home market should see marginal growth in 2016, but tight supply will continue to be the biggest inhibitor of sales."

      As if to prove that what goes up must come down, pending home sales fell in January following their highest average year in nearly a decade.The Nationa...
      Read lessRead more

      Maytag Dairy Farms once again expands recall of blue cheese products

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Maytag Dairy Farms is again expanding its recall of Maytag Blue blue cheese wedges, wheels and crumbles.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported in connection with this issue.

      This expanded recall is of 35 lots of 1-, 4- and 8-oz. Wedges; 2- and 4-lb. wheels; and 43 batches of 8-oz. crumbles and 5-lb. crumbles. This includes the five lots and 15 batches that were recalled earlier this month are noted in the following tables:

      ProductsLot #s
      Wedges or wheels (all sizes)150479, 150480, 150481, 150482, 150483, 150484, 150485, 150486, 150488, 150489, 150492, 150493, 150495, 150498, 150499, 150500, 150501, 150506, 150508, 150509, 150514, 150515, 150516, 150517, 150518, 150532, 150533, 150534, 150535, 150538, 150539, 150648, 150649, 150650, 150651
      ProductBatch #s
      Crumbles (both sizes)950804, 960020, 950805, 960037, 950806, 960040, 950807, 960041, 950808, 960049, 950809, 960054, 950813, 960069, 950818, 960070, 950825, 960071, 960072, 950830, 960073, 950848, 950826, 950849, 960053, 950851, 960067, 950853, 960068, 950855, 950856, 950858, 950859, 960001, 960002, 960004, 960025, 960034, 960036, 960051, 960055, 960065, 960066

      The lot number or batch number appears on the side or the bottom of the product.

      The recalled products were sold through distributors, wholesalers, retail stores, restaurants and direct mail orders nationwide between November 24, 2015, and February 11, 2016.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased these products should discard them immediately and not consume them.

      Consumers may call Maytag Dairy Farms at 800-247-2458 or 641-791-2010 Monday – Friday 9AM-5PM (CST) to arrange for a refund and return of the product.

      Maytag Dairy Farms is again expanding its recall of Maytag Blue blue cheese wedges, wheels and crumbles. The products may be contaminated with List...
      Read lessRead more

      Outlook on the housing market shows strong demand and inventory growth

      Spring is indeed slated for early arrival, experts say

      Despite the stock market’s turbulent start to 2016, the housing market appears to be fine. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), existing-home sales rose 0.4% in January, hitting their highest annual rate in six months.

      We’re off to a solid start on the existing sales front, notes Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, and strong demand is evident as we head into spring.

      "The housing market has shown promising resilience in recent months, but home prices are still rising too fast because of ongoing supply constraints," he said. "Despite the global economic slowdown, the housing sector continues to recover and will likely help the U.S. economy avoid a recession."

      Early spring

      Experts say inventory in nine local markets is moving three weeks faster than last month, and the spring buying season has already begun. Realtor.com’s preliminary analysis of February data shows strong demand and slight inventory growth.

      “It looks like the groundhog was correct -- spring is coming early this year, and not just when it comes to the weather,” said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist of realtor.com. “Early readings on February inventory and activity indicate that the spring home buying season has begun.”

      Not only is housing inventory moving faster (six days faster than last year and four days faster than January), Median listing prices have risen to $230,000 -- an 8% increase from last year.

      Smoke notes that we don’t normally see this type of acceleration until March or April.

      “On a local level,” he says, “The acceleration is really dramatic with nine of the top ten hottest markets shaving three weeks or more from their median age in January.”

      California once again dominates the list of Realtor.com’s Hottest Markets, with cities in the Golden State accounting for 11 of the top 20 spots.

      Key statistics

      Some key takeaways from Realtor.com’s February preview:

      • Median age of inventory: 96 days
      • Median listing price for February: approximately $230,000
      • Listing inventory: down 4 percent year over year but has begun its seasonal increase of one percent month over month.
      Despite the stock market’s turbulent start to 2016, the housing market appears to be fine. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), existin...
      Read lessRead more

      Once considered retail roadkill, J.C. Penney rises from the ashes

      Latest earnings report suggests "back to the future" strategy has worked

      J.C. Penney, a retailer once left for dead, is turning heads on Wall Street, perhaps because it has regained the respect of consumers on Main Street.

      The proof was delivered in the company's fourth quarter and full-year earnings report late Thursday. Comparable store sales grew 4.1 % for the fourth quarter and 4.5 % for the full year.

      The company said the combination of strong sales growth, better profit margins, and disciplined expense reduction resulted in full year adjusted earnings of $715 million, a $435 million increase.

      "We are very pleased with our performance for the fourth quarter and full year,” J.C. Penney CEO Marvin Ellison said in a press release announcing the earnings. “Our focus on private brands, omnichannel and revenue per customer is clearly resonating as we continue to win market share in a competitive environment.”

      Disastrous makeover recovery

      Ellison probably has every right to be pleased since the company suffered what can only be described as a disastrous makeover and customer revolt just four years ago. For those who don't recall those events, here's what happened.

      At the urging of activist board member Bill Ackman, J.C. Penney at the beginning of 2012 abandoned its long tradition of serving a middle class, middle aged, and middle-of-the-road consumer. The company hoped to replace that J.C. Penney customer with one who was younger and cooler.

      It changed its brand to JCP and launched its offensive with the TV commercial below, which few people understood but old J.C. Penney customers universally hated.

      Complaints

      Complaints from long-time Penneys customers poured in to ConsumerAffairs.

      "This is the worst ad of all time, stop it immediately," wrote Kathy, of Hillsboro, Ore. "We will boycott J.C. Penney until it offers an apology to all its customers!"

      "I am complaining about the obnoxious television commercial aired announcing your new pricing campaign," wrote Carole, of Lakewood, Calif. "It has to be one of the most irritating, annoying commercials ever created for television. If you think this will make anyone shop at your stores, you are mistaken as far as I'm concerned.”

      What Kathy and Carole didn't understand was that the ad was probably designed to evoke that reaction in them. To many industry observers, Penneys appeared to be firing its customers, with plans to replace them.

      The old customers left, but the hoped-for new ones didn't arrive, at least not in the necessary numbers. Just over a year later, amid mounting losses, J.C. Penney went back to the future, reinstalling its former CEO and returning to many of its previous pricing and operational policies.

      Enough of its customers have returned that the company now appears to be back on its feet. In fact, it's doing better than some of its rivals like Macy's and Sears, that have struggled in the increasingly tough retail environment.

      J.C. Penney, a retailer once left for dead, is turning heads on Wall Street, perhaps because it has regained the respect of consumers on Main Street.Th...
      Read lessRead more

      How fast food chains are using apps to win customers

      Rewards, incentives, and the ability to skip the line are driving customers to use apps to place their orders

      Looking for a way to make fast food even faster? There’s an app for that. To an increasing extent, restaurants and fast food chains are using apps as a way to further streamline the fast food experience -- and even help customers save a little money.

      Customers who are interested in ordering ahead, skipping the lines, and getting nutritional data can do just that, straight from their phones. They’ll even be offered somewhat of a more personalized experience in the process.

      Domino’s

      Domino’s offers a prime example of this personalized ordering experience. In 2014, the company sought to take voice controlled technology to the next level by partnering with their agency, CP+B, and Nuance, the creators of Siri for Apple. Together, the team created “Dom” -- the likeable, voice controlled pizza ordering sidekick.

      The move was a seemingly smart one. JP Morgan subsequently called Domino’s, “A technology company disguised as a marketing company disguised as a pizza company.”

      Dom can take your order, offer a 'cheesy' joke, or even (during Dom’s BETA phase) send a talking apology card if you weren’t pleased with your pizza ordering experience. The app now even features the ability to pay for your order via Google Wallet.

      Rewards

      Customer rewards and incentives are a big part of what makes a fast food app successful. White Castle apparently caught on to this, judging from their newly redesigned mobile app which “offers Cravers a way to save money.” To encourage customers to use the app (or order online), the chain is offering those who do so a sack of 10 original sliders for $5.

      Dunkin Donuts and McDonald’s also offer users some pretty appetizing rewards. Dunkin Donuts features “DD Perks,” which can be easily tracked by users of their app. Free beverages, member bonuses, and other rewards await those who accrue enough points.

      And while they don’t currently offer the ability to order ahead and skip the lines, McDonald’s hoped to persuade customers to download their app by offering free food. The deals -- which vary week-to-week and based on location -- are accessible by downloading the app and registering a username, according to Business Insider.

      Users of the McDonald’s app can also participate in a coffee loyalty program, where customers can earn a free McCafe beverage for every five they purchase.

      Skip the lines

      While not every fast food app features the ability to skip the lines by ordering ahead, those who do are winning customers.

      Users of the Chick-Fil-A mobile app (which isn’t available for every location just yet) can order and pay online. You can even have the food delivered right to your car at some locations.

      Similarly, Chipotle, Subway, Taco Bell, and Wendy’s all accept mobile payments, and offer customers the ability to place their order through the app and pick it up in-store.

      Looking for a way to make fast food even faster? There’s an app for that. To an increasing extent, restaurants and fast food chains are using apps as a way...
      Read lessRead more

      Southern California drivers to see sharply higher gas prices

      In the rest of the country, the gasoline price decline appears to have stalled

      It took a long time for California gasoline prices to finally start falling, joining much of the rest of the country. But those prices are headed higher again, as early as next week.

      Refiners have been stuck with excess supplies of the cheaper, winter grade gasoline that cannot be legally sold after next Tuesday. To get rid of it, wholesalers have slashed prices in recent weeks.

      That's led to an average statewide price at the pump of $2.34 cents a gallon in California, more expensive than the national average but down nearly 80 cents a gallon from this time last year.

      20 to 35 cent rise

      “Now that the winter gasoline has been consumed, those big discounts have vaporized, leading it to appear to be a big hike in price,” Gasbuddy senior petroleum analyst Patrick DeHaan said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “I expect prices there to rise 20 to 35 cents a gallon over the next week as stations resupply with the more expensive, or less discounted, fuel.”

      DeHaan says this transition occurs every year around this time and is the reason behind the seasonal lift in prices at the pump.

      “As the summer fuel season starts, inventories are generally limited – they build over time – and that means going from a glut of cheap winter gasoline to tight supply of CARB-mandated summer spec fuel,” DeHaan said.

      DeHaan predicts Northern California will see a similar rise in three to four weeks. He says the price hike may come in at a lesser or greater degree, depending on refinery maintenance, supply, demand, and other factors that can affect price.

      “The rest of the country will also see a lift in gasoline prices over the next two to three months before prices peak in May or June just ahead of the deadline for the transition to be completed,” DeHaan said.

      Price decline stalls

      The national average price of gasoline, which had been steadily falling for months, appears to have stalled for now. According to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey, the national average price of self-serve regular is $1.728, a fraction of a cent higher than a week ago.

      The survey shows consumers in the vast majority of states are still paying average prices below $2 per gallon. Missouri and Oklahoma remain the cheapest in the nation, at $1.46. On the other end of the spectrum, motorists in the West are paying some of the nation’s highest averages led by Hawaii at $2.57 and California.

      Prices are also moving in different directions in different parts of the country. Weekly comparisons show prices are down in 30 states and Washington, D.C. on the week with the largest savings west of the Rockies. At the same time, drivers in 20 states have seen prices at the pump go up since last week.

      It took a long time for California gasoline prices to finally start falling, joining much of the rest of the country. But those prices are headed higher ag...
      Read lessRead more

      Mental agility may delay Alzheimer's symptoms, but not the disease

      Researchers also worry Alzheimer's is often misdiagnosed

      It turns out there is a difference between the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and the disease itself.

      Good health and physical and mental exercise as you age may in fact delay the onset of Alzheimer's symptoms, but researchers writing in a medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology say it won't prevent the disease.

      The study centered around people who carry a gene linked to Alzheimer's, the so-called APOE4 gene. An estimated 20% of the U.S. population carries it.

      The researchers divided people with the gene into two groups. One group stayed mentally active in middle age and one didn't.

      The mentally active group had lower levels of proteins, called amyloid plaques, that can build up in brain tissue and lead to Alzheimer’s disease than those who did not stay mentally active.

      The difference was significant. The mentally active group had the same plaque build-up at age 79 that the non-active group had at 74.

      “Recent studies have shown conflicting results about the value of physical and mental activity related to the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and we noticed that levels of education differed in those studies,” study author Prashanthi Vemuri of the Mayo Clinic, said in a release. “When we looked specifically at the level of lifetime learning, we found that carriers of the APOE4 gene who had higher education and continued to learn through middle age had fewer amyloid deposition on imaging when compared to those who did not continue with intellectual activity in middle age.”

      Misdiagnosis

      Some patients are diagnosed with Alzheimer's when they are actually suffering from frontotemporal dementia, which delays the correct treatment for them.

      “Some people cannot tell frontotemporal dementia from Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Joseph Masdeu, director of the Nantz National Alzheimer Center at Houston Methodist Hospital, said in a release. “However, these diseases have different symptoms and treatments. And with advances in neuroimaging, we can see a clear difference in how frontotemporal dementia manifests in the brain.”

      The accumulation of the protein beta amyloid in Alzheimer's can lead to excess production of an abnormal form of the important brain protein, tau.

      But beta amyloid is absent in frontotemporal dementia, and a different abnormal form of tau is detected.

      “A misdiagnosis of Alzheimer’s can prevent a person with frontotemporal dementia from participating in future trials for this group of disorders” Masdeu said.

      Since potential Alzheimer’s treatments would not help a patient with frontotemporal dementia, misdiagnosed patients participating in Alzheimer’s clinical trials can skew that data and prevent the advancement of those treatments, Masdeu said.

      It turns out there is a difference between the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and the disease itself.Good health and physical and mental exercise as y...
      Read lessRead more

      January finds increases in personal incomes and spending

      However, consumers tucked away a little less in savings accounts

      Consumers were doing a little better in January as both personal income and disposable personal income (DPI) went up. For that matter, so did spending.

      The Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) reports incomes rose $79.6 billion, or 0.5%, last month and disposable personal income (DPI) -- personal income less personal current taxes -- increased $63.5 billion, or 0.5%.

      Personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased $63.0 billion, or 0.5%.

      Compensation

      Wages and salaries rose $48.1 billion in January, following an $18.3 billion gain in December. Private wages and salaries were up $43.7 billion, while government wages and salaries increased $4.4 billion, compared with an increase of $2.4 billion in December.

      Supplements to wages and salaries advanced $6.5 billion; they were up $5.0 billion in December.

      Personal spending and saving

      Personal outlays -- PCE, personal interest payments, and personal current transfer payments -- jumped $67.5 billion in January, compared with an increase of $14.3 billion in December.

      Personal saving, which is DPI less personal outlays, fell from $709.2 billion in December to $705.1 billion last month. Still, the personal saving rate -- personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income -- was 5.2%, the same rate as in December.

      The full report is available on the BEA website.

      Consumers were doing a little better in January as both personal income and disposable personal income (DPI) went up. For that matter, so did spending....
      Read lessRead more

      Redesigned Audi Q7 earns TOP SAFETY PICK+ award

      The vehicle's standard front crash prevention system got a superior rating

      A superior rating for its standard front crash prevention system has earned the redesigned 2017 Audi Q7 a TOP SAFETY PICK+ award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

      The large luxury SUV also received good ratings in all five of the IIHS crashworthiness tests.

      The IIHS doesn't routinely test large SUVs, and the Q7 is the first to be put through the challenging small overlap front crash test, which was introduced in 2012. The Q7 was tested because Audi nominated it for TOP SAFETY PICK+ and paid for the vehicles used.

      In 2016, vehicles qualify for TOP SAFETY PICK or TOP SAFETY PICK+ if they have good ratings in all five crashworthiness evaluations -- small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraints, as well as an available front crash prevention system.

      If the system earns a basic rating, the vehicle qualifies for TOP SAFETY PICK. The "plus" is awarded to vehicles with an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention.

      In the front crash prevention evaluation, the Q7 avoided a collision in the 12 mph track test. In the 25 mph test, the vehicle's speed was cut by an average of 23 mph. The system also includes a forward collision warning component that meets National Highway Traffic Safety Administration criteria.

      A superior rating for its standard front crash prevention system has earned the redesigned 2017 Audi Q7 a TOP SAFETY PICK+ award from the Insurance Institu...
      Read lessRead more

      Evenflo recalls Transitions 3-in-1 Combination Booster Seats

      The child may be able to loosen the internal harness

      Evenflo is recalling 56,247 Transitions 3-in-1 Combination Booster Seats, model numbers 34411686, 34411695 and 34411029, produced from December 18, 2014, through January 29, 2016.

      The central front adjuster (CFA) button that is used to loosen the seat's internal harness may be within the child's reach, allowing the child to activate the CFA and loosen the internal harness.

      If the internal harness is not tightened snugly around the child, the child would be at an increased risk of injury in the event of a crash.

      This safety issue affects only the use of the seat in the forward-facing harnessed booster (22-65 lbs. and 28-50 in.) configuration.

      What to do

      Evenflo will notify owners and provide a remedy kit that includes a newly-designed seat pad and CFA assembly, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin during February 2016.

      Owners may contact Evenflo at www.transitions.evenflo.com or 1-800-233-5921. 

      Evenflo is recalling 56,247 Transitions 3-in-1 Combination Booster Seats, model numbers 34411686, 34411695 and 34411029, produced from December 18, 2014, t...
      Read lessRead more

      Judge puts Volkswagen on short leash to find a fix for its dirty diesels

      "Six months is long enough," judge hearing hundreds of VW lawsuits declares

      A federal judge today gave Volkswagen one month to come up with a firm plan to bring nearly 600,000 of its "clean diesel" cars into compliance with United States clean air laws.

      At a hearing in San Francisco, U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Breyer reminded VW that with every passing day, its cars are pumping excess pollution into the air and consumers who were taken in by VW's advertising are stuck with cars they can't sell.

      Breyer, who is overseeing hundreds of lawsuits against VW, gave the company until March 24 to say how it will repair or replace the cars and how it will compensate owners -- and said he expects whatever plan VW comes up with to take no longer than six months. 

      “It seems to me six months is long enough to determine whether or not there is an engineering process that can be utilized by Volkswagen and will be acceptable to the U.S. government,” Breyer said, Automotive News reported.

      Lawyers for VW said they are in negotiations with various federal and state agencies and with armies of lawyers representing various individual and class action plaintiffs, but Breyer said he wanted to introduce a "sense of urgency" into finding and implementing a solution.

      Earlier plan rejected

      Federal regulators earlier rejected VW's initial plans to retrofit about 500,000 of the affected vehicles with 2.0-liter engines. A plan to repair vehicles with 3.0-liter engines is still pending.

      At one point, Judge Breyer spoke harshly about the delays. 

      "The story about lawyers is that if you give them a year to do something, it will take them a year to do something. If you give them 30 days to do something, they'll do something in 30 days," he said.

      VW has said it is working as fast as it can to reach a solution that is acceptable to U.S. and European regulators.

      Breyer earlier appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as a settlement adviser in hopes of keeping the settlement and repair talks on track.

      A federal judge today gave Volkswagen one month to come up with a firm plan to bring nearly 600,000 of its "clean diesel" cars into compliance with United ...
      Read lessRead more

      Why it isn't always wise to file a car insurance claim

      Study finds one insurance claim will send rates up an average 44%

      It's generally assumed that insurance rates will go up after you have an accident and file a claim, but by how much? More than you might think, according to a report by insuranceQuotes.com.

      The survey found the average driver will face a 44% rate hike after a single claim of over $2,000.

      The biggest increase would come if you happen to live in California. There, a driver making a first claim would face an average increase of 78%. Massachusetts and Wisconsin are nearly as expensive, with average rate hikes of 67% and 54% respectively.

      On the other hand, claims are less expensive for drivers in Maryland, Michigan, and Oklahoma, who see their rates rise between 22% and 25%.

      Second claim

      If you have an accident and make a claim, the only worse thing you can do is have another accident and make a second claim. The study says your insurance rate will be twice as high as a driver without a claim.

      “Previous claims are a big factor in car insurance rates and can affect the amount you pay for years,” Laura Adams, senior analyst at InsuranceQuotes, said in a release. “If you get a rate hike for making a small claim, it could end up hurting your finances over the long run. In some cases, not making a claim can be a smarter move.”

      That's a hard concept for many consumers to grasp. You pay for insurance every month, so why can't you use it when you need it?

      That's certainly a rational argument, but unfortunately that's not how the insurance system works. Insurance is all based on perceived risk – the chances you will file a claim that costs the company money.

      Insurance companies believe that once you file a claim, chances are good you will file another at some point. Fair or not, under the concept of shared risk, you'll be penalized.

      Judgment call

      It becomes a judgment call when it makes economic sense to file an insurance claim and when it pays to pay for damage yourself. InsuranceQuotes.com has this handy calculator to help you figure it out.

      Why have insurance at all if you are penalized for using it? Good question. In a majority of cases it would pay to “self-insure,” putting the money you would pay for car insurance each month into a savings account.

      Unfortunately, your self-insurance policy would not be able to cover all potential accidents – which could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage and liability.

      That's why every state requires motorists to carry auto insurance, or pay into a state-maintained “uninsured driver” fund each month.

      The best thing a driver can do is put the phone away and drive carefully.

      It's generally assumed that insurance rates will go up after you have an accident and file a claim, but by how much? More than you might think, according t...
      Read lessRead more

      Mail carrier a key player in identity theft ring

      Alabama postal worker stole customers' identities for use in phony tax returns

      Identity theft seems like a high-tech crime, carried out by hacking into databases, harvesting purloined emails, and using phishing expeditions to trick consumers into revealing their private data.

      But sometimes it's as simple as reading the name on your mail. That's what prosecutors say postal carrier Elizabeth Grant did. The Seale, Alabama, woman worked for years delivering mail. On the side, she stole the names and addresses of the people on her mail route and provided them to her co-conspirators.

      Her accomplices prepared phony tax returns and when the government mailed out refund checks, Grant stole them and turned the checks over to her partners in crime, trial testimony indicated.

      The scheme resulted in more than 700 false returns being filed and more than $1.5 million in tax refunds being stolen.

      Grant pleaded guilty and was sentenced to more than five years in prison yesterday by a federal judge in Alabama. Several of her collaborators were sentenced earlier.

      Identity theft seems like a high-tech crime, carried out by hacking into databases, harvesting purloined emails, and using phishing expeditions to trick co...
      Read lessRead more

      Taxes an often-overlooked area of retirement planning

      For many retirees, taxes will play an important role in their financial life

      If you're retiring this year, congratulations. Life will get better if you've planned well, but remember that taxes can play a huge role in your financial future during retirement.

      Once you are no longer working full time and depending mostly on Social Security and retirement savings accounts, your tax situation can change. Dara Luber, senior manager of retirement at TD Ameritrade, says retirees – and those soon to be retired – need to pay closer attention to aspects of the tax law that can help or hurt.

      “You need to be aware of how Obamacare and tax penalties related to the Affordable Care Act might have tax implications,” Luber told ConsumerAffairs. “You need to know whether tax brackets are changing.”

      You also need to be aware of advantages that are available to older consumers, like changes to catch-up contributions. Ignoring legal changes could mean missing out on tax-favorable, last minute catch-ups to a retirement fund.

      Changes at 65

      When you turn 65, the way you file your taxes may change. You may be eligible for certain credits and deductions, and will be able to take a higher standard deduction, which may be more advantageous than claiming itemized deductions. Tax planning may change, especially if you are withdrawing funds from a tax-deferred retirement account.

      “You may want to take into consideration things like your required minimum distribution if you are 70 and a half, you may want to take into consideration some state tax benefits in terms of your Social Security, and how that's taxed,” Luber said.

      At the same time, certain credits or deductions you've enjoyed in the past may no longer apply. You may need to consider paying estimated quarterly taxes once you hit retirement.

      Luber says there is no cookie cutter retirement plan, but you can take into account some fairly general assumptions by asking yourself some questions.

      “Do you think taxes are going up? What do you think will happen with Social Security and Medicare? The answers can affect your tax planning,” she said.

      Resources

      Fortunately, there are many resources to help retirees deal with tax issues. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) provides an extensive resource for retirement issues. TD Ameritrade also maintains a 2016 Tax Resource Center that may prove helpful.

      Finally, Luber says it is important to consult with a tax professional as you transition into retirement. If you have been doing your own taxes each year, it might be wise to obtain the services of an enrolled agent—a tax professional who is licensed by the IRS, at least for the first year.

      If your retirement involves a move, you may want to check with your new state's CPA society, the Accreditation Council for Accountancy and Taxation, or the National Association of Enrolled Agents.

      The important thing is to make sure you are aware of all the benefits and responsibilities that come to a retired taxpayer. Retirement will likely change many of the ways you live your life, including the way you manage your finances and taxes.

      “It's really a balancing act, trying to figure out how you limit your taxes and keep more in savings and still have enough to live on in retirement,” Luber said.

      If you're retiring this year, congratulations. Life will get better if you've planned well, but remember that taxes can play a huge role in your financial ...
      Read lessRead more

      Housing prices rise for an 18th consecutive quarter

      Prices were up in all 50 states and DC

      The prices of houses in the U.S were up in the final three months of last year for the 18th quarter in a row.

      According to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) House Price Index (HPI), prices were up 1.4% from the third quarter of last year and 5.8% from the fourth quarter of 2014.

      "Instability in financial markets did not seem to put much of a drag on home prices in the fourth quarter," said FHFA Supervisory Economist Andrew Leventis. "The fourth quarter 1.4% increase for the U.S. was in line with the extremely steady -- but historically elevated -- appreciation rates we have been observing for several years now."

      The HPI is calculated using home sales price information from mortgages sold to, or guaranteed by, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

      While the purchase-only HPI posted a year-over-year gain of 5.8%, prices of other goods and services fell 0.8%. The inflation-adjusted price of homes rose approximately 6.7% over the latest year.

      Report highlights

      • Home prices rose in every state and in the District of Columbia between the fourth quarter of 2014 and the fourth quarter of 2015. The top five states in annual appreciation were: 1) Nevada 12.7%; 2) Colorado 10.9%; 3) Idaho 10.7%; 4) Washington 10.7%; and 5) Oregon 10.6%.
      • Among the 100 most populated metropolitan areas in the U.S., fourth-quarter price increases were greatest in the San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco, Calif., metropolitan statistical areas district, where prices increased by 20.7%. Prices were weakest in New Haven-Milford, Connecticut, where they fell 1.5%.
      • Of the nine census divisions, the Pacific division experienced the strongest increase in the fourth quarter, posting a 2.1% quarterly increase and an 8.0% advance since the fourth quarter of 2014. House price appreciation was weakest in the Middle Atlantic division, where prices rose just 0.6% from the previous quarter.

      The full report may be found on the FHFA website.

      Jobless claims

      In other economic news, first-time applications for state unemployment benefits moved sharply higher last week.

      The Department of Labor (DOL) reports seasonally adjusted initial claims totaled 272,000 in the week ending February 20, -- up 10,000 from the previous week.

      Even with that increase, which was not affected by any special factors, the number of claims remains at the lower end of the 250,000-300,000 range that has prevailed since July 2014.

      The four-week moving average, which lacks the weekly tally's volatility and is seen by economists as a more accurate gauge of the labor market, was 272,000, down 1,250 from the previous week.

      The complete report is available on the DOL website.

      © jpldesigns - FotoliaThe prices of houses in the U.S were up in the final three months of last year for the 18th quarter in a row.According to t...
      Read lessRead more

      Toyota Highlander earns Top IIHS safety award

      It's the second year in a row for the vehicle

      Toyota's 2016 Highlander has earned a good rating in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) small overlap front test -- improving from acceptable -- to clinch a 2016 TOP SAFETY PICK+ award.

      Last year's model was also a TOP SAFETY PICK+, but the criteria for the award was tightened for 2016. Previously, an acceptable rating for small overlap protection was enough, but now a good rating is required. Toyota made structural modifications to improve small overlap performance for 2016.

      During the test of the 2016 Highlander, the dummy's movement was better controlled than in the test of the earlier model. The head hit the front airbag, which stayed in front of the dummy until rebound. The dummy in the previous test slid off the airbag's left side.

      To qualify for TOP SAFETY PICK or TOP SAFETY PICK+, a vehicle must earn good ratings in all five crashworthiness evaluations -- small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraints.

      TOP SAFETY PICK winners also have an available front crash prevention system that earns a basic rating; vehicles earning the "plus" have an “advanced” or “superior” rating. The Highlander's optional front crash prevention is rated “advanced.”

      Toyota's 2016 Highlander has earned a good rating in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) small overlap front test -- improving from accepta...
      Read lessRead more

      Toyota recalls Scion FR-S vehicles

      It may be possible to remove the ignition key without the transmission being in the "Park" position

      Toyota Motor Company is recalling 25,706 model year 2013-2016 Toyota Scion FR-S vehicles manufactured March 13, 2012, to January 14, 2016 and equipped an automatic transmission and ignition key. Vehicles with a push-to-start button are not affected.

      In the recalled vehicles, it may be possible to remove the ignition key without the transmission being in the "Park" position. As such, these vehicles fail to conform to the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard number 114, "Theft Protection and Rollaway Prevention."

      If the key can be removed from the ignition when the transmission is not in the "Park" position, the vehicle could roll away increasing the risk of a crash and occupant or pedestrian injuries.

      What to do

      Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the ignition key/transmission interlock wiring connections, correcting them as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on March 1, 2016.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331. Toyota's number for this recall is G0E.

      Toyota Motor Company is recalling 25,706 model year 2013-2016 Toyota Scion FR-S vehicles manufactured March 13, 2012, to January 14, 2016 and equipped an a...
      Read lessRead more

      Volkswagen recalls Routans with air bag issue

      The air bag control units may corrode and fail

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 1,037 model year 2009 Volkswagen Routans manufactured February 7, 2008, to August 28, 2008.

      The air bag control units may corrode and fail resulting in failure of the air bags may to deploy in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of occupant injury. Additionally, the air bags may inadvertently deploy, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      VW will notify owners, and dealers will replace the air bag control unit, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at 1-800-893-5298.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 1,037 model year 2009 Volkswagen Routans manufactured February 7, 2008, to August 28, 2008. The air bag co...
      Read lessRead more

      Sales of new homes down sharply in January

      Home builders say it just part of the cycle

      Sales of new single-family houses fell for the first time in four months in January.

      In a joint release, the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development report that sales plunged 9.2% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 494,000. That's 5.2% below the January 2015 rate of 521,000.

      Prices were mixed last month. The median sales price of new houses sold in January was $278,800 -- down $13,200 on a year-over-year basis. The average sales price was $365,700, a gain of $9,700 from January of last year. The median is the point at which half the houses sold for more and half sold for less.

      The seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of January was 238,000, which translates to a supply of 5.8 months at the current sales rate. That's the highest inventory since last September.

      No concerns

      The January decline does not present a concern for the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). Chief economist David Crowe, in an interview with ConsumerAffairs, characterized the drop as “an adjustment after three very good months. He said the January decline may have come as prospective buyers, fearing that mortgage rates would be on the rise, pushed to complete their purchases in December.

      Crowe said he expects the housing market to continue to “move modestly ahead.”

      The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      Sales of new single-family houses fell for the first time in four months in January.In a joint release, the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing...
      Read lessRead more

      Honda recalls 2016 Civics with 2.0L engines

      The engine could seize, increasing the risk of a crash

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 42,129 model year 2016 Civics manufactured September 22, 2015, to February 3, 2016 and equipped with 2.0L engines.

      The recalled vehicles have engines with piston assemblies that may have been manufactured without a piston wrist pin circlip or with an incorrectly installed piston wrist pin circlip.

      If a circlip is missing or incorrectly installed, the piston wrist pin may not be secure and may drift and damage the engine cylinder causing the engine to seize, and increasing the risk of a crash or a fire.

      What to do

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and replace the piston assemblies, as necessary, free of charge. Parts are expected to be available in the Summer of 2016. Owners will be mailed an interim notification beginning March 15, 2016, and will be mailed a second notice when parts are available.

      Owners may contact Honda customer service at 1-800-999-1009. Honda's number for this recall is JX9.

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 42,129 model year 2016 Civics manufactured September 22, 2015, to February 3, 2016 and equipped with 2.0L engines....
      Read lessRead more

      Choosing the right over-the-counter pain reliever

      Can you tell ibuprofen from acetaminophen?

      When pain strikes, what do you reach for? It can be confusing to walk up and down the pain reliever aisle at the drug store.

      We've all heard of the brands through advertising, but what is in them and what do they do? Dr. David Maine, Director of The Center for Interventional Pain Medicine at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, gets these questions all the time.

      Maine says there are two common types of pain relievers that get the most use today. One is ibuprofen and the other is acetaminophen. The two drugs, he says, are very different.

      Of course, you don't go to the drug store to pick up a bottle of acetaminophen. Instead, you reach for the brand name product, Tylenol. Tylenol is what you take when you have a headaches and Maine says it is also used to treat pain in children.

      On the other hand, if you have an aching back, you might reach for a drug containing ibuprofen, like Advil. Ibuprofen drugs attack inflamation in the body.

      Potential side effects

      Both ibuprofen and acetaminophin are effective against pain, but both come with potential side effects.

      "I don't think there's a specific medication when you think about Tylenol or non-steroidals such as ibuprofen that one is necessarily safer than the other," Maine said in a release. "I think ibuprofen and non-steroidals in general are more effective for treating pain conditions, but safety lies in how you're taking the medication and dose and they can both cause significant problems if taken excessively in doses that are not recommended."

      Common ibuprofen side effects may include upset stomach, mild heartburn, nausea, vomiting, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, dizziness, headache, nervousness, mild itching or rash, or ringing in your ears.

      Ibuprofen can also be problematic for people with heart conditions, since it can increase your risk of fatal heart attack or stroke, especially if you use it long term, take high doses, or if you have heart disease.

      Easy to overdose

      Acetaminophen can be dangerous if you take more than recommended, and that's easy to do because it's in so many other drug products you might be taking at the same time.

      In 2013, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that acetaminophen could cause serious skin reactions, a danger that was already described in product labeling.

      It is a good idea to discuss both drugs with your doctor if you are taking more than just an occasional tablet. Even though they are sold over-the-counter, both are powerful pain relievers and might even be substitutes for more powerful opioid painkillers that have the potential to become addictive and be abused.

      What about old fashioned aspirin? It is still used to treat mild pain, as well as reducing inflammation and fever. Some doctors have also recommended a daily low dose of the drug to prevent heart attacks.

      Maine stresses that if you are already taking pain medication, be wary of combination drugs, like cold medications, that can may contain painkillers, so you don't take too much.

      When pain strikes, what do you reach for? It can be confusing to walk up and down the pain reliever aisle at the drug store.We've all heard of the bran...
      Read lessRead more

      CEO Mueller is confident that VW will regain consumer trust

      Sales numbers and deliveries to its core autos division grew in January, but it seems certain the company will "be a loser in the U.S."

      Volkswagen may have a long way to go until it can fully regain the consumer confidence it lost due to the diesel scandal. But if the company’s January deliveries and sales are any indication, then perhaps it is on its way.

      Reuters reports that deliveries at VW’s core autos division grew in January after posting a decline in 2015. A rebound in sales numbers were also distributed along several different brands, including luxury brand Audi and Czech unit Skoda.

      Chief executive officer Matthias Mueller told German news agency DPA on Tuesday that he is confident that VW will win back customers as time goes on.

      “We are quite confident by regaining the trust of our customers, of the public and of our remaining shareholders, we will have a good year 2016,” he said.

      Despite the positive sales numbers, VW still has a long way to go in the U.S. before its diesel scandal can be put to rest. There is still no technical fix for the 600,000 vehicles in the country, and the legal ramifications still continue to pile up. Mueller admitted that things certainly do look bleak for VW on this front. “We will certainly be a loser in the U.S.,” he said.

      Volkswagen may have a long way to go until it can fully regain the consumer confidence it lost due to the diesel scandal. But if the company’s January deli...
      Read lessRead more

      What can a young person do to start saving for retirement?

      Author Michelle Perry Higgins offers money-saving tips for young people

      AARP, formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons, and Young Invincibles recently hosted an event called "Cheers to Your Future: A Happy Hour on Millennials’ Economic Outlook" in support of “Secure Choice” -- a legislation that would give working New Yorkers of every age the option to save at work via payroll deduction.

      The legislation could be a positive step towards helping Millennials save for retirement. Compared to earlier generations, Millennials haven’t had it so easy when it comes to saving for retirement; a nationwide survey showed that Millennials have less wealth overall than earlier generations, and over half of low-income Millennials lack access to workplace retirement savings programs.

      Savings plans like Secure Choice can go a long way towards helping an individual become self-reliant in retirement. But what other steps might a young person take to help them prepare for retirement?

      To answer this question, we spoke with Michelle Perry Higgins, Principle and financial planner at California Financial Advisors, San Ramon, Calif. She advises young people to learn to balance the funds coming in so they don’t go out too quickly.

      Visualize buckets

      “You might be in awe of your paycheck and ecstatic to have money coming in regularly,” says Higgins, “But be smart with your money.”

      She recommends visualizing various buckets: one for retirement, one for emergency reserves, one to pay down debt, and one for day-to-day expenses (yes, including some fun!). Keeping these buckets full can help ensure funds stay balanced -- which may also help you resist the urge to splurge while out shopping.

      “Remember,” says Higgins, “Budgets are sexy. Budgets are cool. Budgets breed confidence and self-respect.” Buying a new pair of shoes may produce momentary happiness, but your self-respect will be shot if you can’t make rent because you splurged on the shoes.

      20% for retirement

      Higgins also recommends saving 20% of your income for retirement. Even though retirement may feel like a million years away, it’s a mistake to think, “I just graduated. I’ve got plenty of time,” says Higgins.

      “Be savvier than that,” she says. "Once you get in the habit of saving 20% of your income for retirement, you’ll never miss the money."

      You can also check and see if your employer offers a retirement plan (some will even match a percentage of your contribution). It’s a painless way to save, says Higgins, because the money is deducted directly from your paycheck.

      Once a year, Higgins recommends checking in with a fee-based financial planner. With clear goals in place, you’ll never question your financial position.

      More money-saving tips for young people can be found in her book, "College Poor No More! 100 $avings Tips for College Students."

      AARP, formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons, and Young Invincibles recently hosted an event called "Cheers to Your Future: A Happy ...
      Read lessRead more

      Urban activists prod presidential candidates to talk about rent

      Group says cost of housing threatens American households

      Jimmy McMillan, who founded New York's Rent Is Too Damn High Party, was just a little ahead of his time.

      Raising the issue of skyrocketing rents, both before and after the financial crisis, McMillan has had the issue pretty much to himself. Now, urban activists are wondering why the issue doesn't come up in presidential debates.

      The Center of Opportunity Urbanism (COU), a think tank in Houston, says skyrocketing rents, growing much faster than incomes, threaten the economy and American households.

      Housing supply crisis

      “America faces a growing crisis in housing supply unseen since the aftermath of the Second World War,” COU Executive Director Joel Kotkin, said in a study of the issue.

      Kotkin says the cost of housing is driving families out of many regions, particularly along the ocean coasts.

      The study finds housing costs – particularly skyrocketing rents – are largely absent from the 2016 presidential campaigns. The campaigns, Kotkin says, call for lower taxes and higher minimum wages, but they fail to recognize how a housing crisis contributes to, and is at the root of, the country's socio-economic problems.

      "You would think that housing affordability would be the number one issue in this year's presidential contest, in light of the concern candidates from both parties have shown over the plight of America's middle class," said Kotkin. "But nowhere amongst the campaign rhetoric do we hear anything about this nation's very real housing crisis. If they care about middle-class Americans, they should put solving this growing problem at the top of their agendas."

      Financial crisis marked a change

      In the wake of the financial crisis, banks made it much harder to qualify for a mortgage. As a result, homes for sale went begging while consumers competed for rental properties. The increased demand sent rents soaring.

      The real estate industry has also tried to call attention to the plight of renters. In 2014 Zillow warned that rental affordability was currently much worse than mortgage affordability, largely because rents didn't experience the huge drop seen in home values during the recession. Instead, rents continued to climb. As a result, renters have continued to pay a dangerously high percentage of their income for housing.

      Zillow economist Stan Humphries warned that skyrocketing rents would eventually drag down the real estate market.

      "As rents keep rising, along with interest rates and home values, saving for a down payment and attaining homeownership becomes that much more difficult for millions of current renters, particularly millennial renters already saddled with uncertain job prospects and enormous student debt,” Humphries said at the time.

      The COU study, meanwhile, says the rent crisis is contributing to a number of housing trends, including more diverse suburbs, aging Baby Boomers remaining in their homes, and gentrified – and very expensive – urban neighborhoods.

      Jimmy McMillan, who founded New York's Rent Is Too Damn High Party, was just a little ahead of his time.Raising the issue of skyrocketing rents, both b...
      Read lessRead more

      Consumer confidence reverses course in February

      The view of the current situation grew bleaker

      Consumers have turned bearish about the economic situation.

      The Conference Board reports its Consumer Confidence Index, after posting a moderate gain in January, turned downward this month, dipping from 97.8 to 92.2.

      The decrease was led by the Present Situation Index, which fell from 116.6 to 112.1, and the Expectations Index, which dropped to 78.9 from January's reading of 85.3.

      “Consumers’ assessment of current conditions weakened, primarily due to a less favorable assessment of business conditions,” said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at The Conference Board. “Consumers’ short-term outlook grew more pessimistic, with consumers expressing greater apprehension about business conditions, their personal financial situation, and to a lesser degree, labor market prospects.

      Franco said continued turmoil in the financial markets may be rattling consumers, but their assessment of current conditions suggests the economy will continue to expand at a moderate pace in the near-term.”

      Consumers’ assessments

      The percentage of consumers saying business conditions were “good” decreased from 27.7% to 26.0%, while those who think they're “bad” increased from 18.8% to 19.8%.

      Consumers’ appraisal of the labor market was also negative, with those who say jobs are “plentiful” falling from 23.0% to 22.1%, while those who think jobs are “hard to get” rose to 24.2% from 23.6%.

      Consumers were more pessimistic about the short-term outlook than in January. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months dropped from 15.9% to 14.6%, while those who look for conditions to worsen jumped to 12.0% from 10.7%.

      Labor market outlook gloomy

      Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead decreased from 13.4% to 12.2%, while those expecting fewer jobs inched up from 17.0% to 17.2%.

      The proportion of consumers expecting their incomes to increase fell from 18.6% to 17.2%, while the proportion expecting a reduction rose from 10.7% to 12.5%.

      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 February 11.

      Consumers have turned bearish about the economic situation.The Conference Board reports its Consumer Confidence Index, after posting a moderate gain in...
      Read lessRead more

      Existing-home sales inch higher in January

      The increase in prices has picked up steam

      Sales of previously-owned homes rose slightly, but hit their highest annual rate in six months during January, with prices increasing at the fastest clip since last April.

      According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), total existing-home sales -- completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums, and co-ops -- crept up 0.4% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.47 million. Sales are now 11.0% higher than a year ago -- the largest year-over-year gain since July 2013.

      Existing sales kicked off 2016 on solid footing, rising slightly to the strongest pace since July 2015. "The housing market has shown promising resilience in recent months, but home prices are still rising too fast because of ongoing supply constraints," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. "Despite the global economic slowdown, the housing sector continues to recover and will likely help the U.S. economy avoid a recession."

      Prices and inventory

      The median existing-home price for all housing types in January was $213,800, up 8.2% from January 2015. Last month's increase was the largest since 8.5% in April 2015 and marks the 47th consecutive month of year-over-year gains.

      Total housing inventory at the end of the month increased 3.4% to 1.82 million existing homes available for sale, but is still 2.2% lower than a year ago. Unsold inventory is at a 4.0-month supply at the current sales pace, compared with 3.9 months in December 2015.

      "The spring buying season is right around the corner and current supply levels aren't even close to what's needed to accommodate the subsequent growth in housing demand," said Yun. "Home prices ascending near or above double-digit appreciation aren't healthy -- especially considering the fact that household income and wages are barely rising."

      Sales by region

      • Existing-home sales in the Northeast increased 2.7% last month to an annual rate of 760,000. They are now 20.6% above a year ago. The median price -- the point at which half the homes sell for more and half for less -- was $247,500, 0.9% above January 2015.
      • In the Midwest, sales rose 4.0% to an annual rate of 1.30 million. They are now 18.2% above January 2015. The median price was $164,300, up 8.7% from a year ago.
      • Sales in the South were at an annual rate of 2.24 million in January, the same as December. They are 5.7% above the same month a year ago. The median price jumped 8.5% from a year earlier to $184,800.
      • The West was the only region to show a decline -- 4.1% -- to an annual rate of 1.17 million, but sales are still 8.3% higher than a year ago. The median price was $309,400 -- up 7.4% from January 2015.
      Sales of previously-owned homes rose slightly, but hit their highest annual rate in six months during January, with prices increasing at the fastest clip s...
      Read lessRead more

      Toyota recalls vehicles with faulty side curtain-shield-air bags

      The side curtain-shield-air bags could deploy inadvertently

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling320,409 model year 2003-2006 Toyota Land Cruiser and Lexus LX470; 2005-2006 Toyota Tundra and Sequoia; and 2004-2006 Toyota 4Runner and Lexus GX470 vehicles equipped with side curtain-shield-air bags.

      The recalled vehicles have an air bag control module that may be improperly programmed, causing the side curtain-shield-air bags to deploy inadvertently and increasing the risk of occupant injury.

      What to do

      Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will replace the air bag control module with one that has improved programming, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin April 2, 2016.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-888-271-9371. Toyota's number for this recall is G0C and GLB.

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling320,409 model year 2003-2006 Toyota Land Cruiser and Lexus LX470; 2005-2006 Toyota Tundra and Sequoia;...
      Read lessRead more

      The tiny house movement may be branching out to micro apartments

      But what are the psychological effects of living in less than 400 square feet?

      For millennials, it’s the little things in life: same-day delivery, craft brews, the ability to express an entire thought using only emoji. Other groups may view them as entitled, but ironically, it doesn’t take much -- or much square footage -- to make a millennial happy.

      As we reported, the “tiny house” movement jives rather well with the budget constraints and lifestyle of young people -- but they’re not the only ones getting in on the trend. Older people, both single and partnered up, have also enjoyed the budget-friendly nature and practicality of small space living.

      Now, it appears small space living is taking on city life, in the form of micro-unit apartments and condominiums. As rents go up in the nation’s most expensive markets, some developers are finding there is a market for apartments smaller than 400 square feet.

      The National Association of Realtors (NARS) notes that small space living is not a new concept, of course. New Yorkers are used to coming home to just a few hundred square feet, as are residents of other big cities like Tokyo, Paris, and Singapore to name a few. But as the practicality of small space living begins to outweigh its perceived encumbrances, more consumers all over are happily snapping up teeny tiny spaces in big cities.

      Health concerns

      There is a health component to small space living, however -- one which has left many wondering how small is too small. Cramped conditions can take a toll on one’s mental and physical well-being, experts say.

      “Micro-apartments might be fantastic for young professionals in their 20’s,” says Dak Kopec, director of design for human health at Boston Architectural College and author of Environmental Psychology for Design. “But they definitely can be unhealthy for older people, say in their 30’s and 40’s, who face different stress factors that can make tight living conditions a problem.”

      Home is supposed to be the safe space on the other end of a day spent enduring cramped office buildings and crowded streets -- the light at the end of the tunnel. But if that mental reprieve gets taken away, there can be consequences. Too much crowding-related stress has been shown to increase rates of domestic violence and substance abuse, Kopec tells The Atlantic.

      While micro-apartments may address the need for affordable housing in cities, the task of imbuing them with some mental breathing room presents a whole new challenge.

      Views and amenities

      The East 27th Street building in New York City -- winner of a 2012 competition to design and build a residential tower of micro-units -- does a good job rounding out the concept of small space living. What residents lack in physical space, the building makes up for in views and amenities.

      Units boast nine-foot high ceilings, while the building itself offers a gym with floor-to-ceiling park views, a lobby with a public garden and a Juliet balcony. Eric Bunge, a principle at nArchitects, says features like these can help reduce the risk of claustrophobia and balance the discrepancy between housing standards and actual housing conditions.

      When this balance is achieved, most city officials agree that small space living can play a big role in cities. In declaring affordable living options crucial to the health of the city, former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn shares the sentiment of Mayor Bloomberg in New York.

      “It’s not good for the health of the city to create jobs here and not create places to live,” said McGinn.

      For millennials, it’s the little things in life: same-day delivery, craft brews, the ability to express an entire thought using only emoji. Other groups ma...
      Read lessRead more

      Scientists have begun using sugar to detect and assess tumors

      Using sugar offers several potential advantages over currently-used contrasting agents

      Too much sugar has been a problem for many consumers looking to lose weight, but putting more of it into your body may help in other ways. Scientists have developed a new imaging technique for magnetic tomography exams that utilizes sugar to assess the malignancy of tumors in cancer patients.

      The new method was developed by Linda Knutsson and a team of researchers at John Hopkins University. They found that injecting a small amount of sugar into a tumor can determine how malignant it is -- basically, the more sugar the tumor consumes, the more malignant it is.

      The scientists believe that the new technique could be beneficial in a couple of different ways. By using sugar over other contrasting agents, patients could be put more at ease. Knutsson explains that it could “have a positive psychological effect and make patients calmer.”

      Additionally, using a sugar-based contrasting agent is much less expensive than using the metal-based agents that are currently used. One drawback, however, is that patients affected by diabetes cannot use it.

      This is the first use of a non-synthetic contrasting agent for magnetic resonance tomography exams, and researchers believe that the results are encouraging. Results show that sugar consumption is much lower in healthy tissue. Tests have been conducted on three patients with brain tumors and four healthy people, with results being published in the journal Tomography in December. 

      Too much sugar has been a problem for many consumers looking to lose weight, but putting more of it into your body may help in other ways. Scientists have ...
      Read lessRead more

      2015 was a tough year for air travelers

      Airline consumer complaints were up significantly from the previous year

      To hear consumers tell it, last year was a whole lot worse for flying than 2014.

      The Department of Transportation's (DOT) Air Travel Consumer Report shows complaints filed during 2015 were up 29.8% from 2014 -- for a total of 20,170 compared with 15,539 the year before.

      In December alone, there were 1,565 complaints about airline service from consumers, up 46.9% from the same month a year earlier and 19.6% from November.

      The complaints cover a range of aviation service issues such as flight problems, baggage, reservation and ticketing, refunds, consumer service, disability, and discrimination. Consumers can compare the overall complaint records of individual airlines to determine which ones provide the best service so that they can make te best choice. The complaints also serve as a basis for investigations, rulemaking, legislation, and research.

      Also included in the report is data on on-time performance, cancellations, tarmac delays, chronically delayed flights, and the causes of flight delays. Consumers can also view statistics on mishandled baggage reports, the number of passengers denied confirmed space (oversales/bumping), and  the total number of animals that died, were injured, or were lost during air transport in December, as well as the calendar year.

      The complete report may be found on the DOT website.

      To hear consumers tell it, last year was a whole lot worse for flying than 2014.The Department of Transportation's (DOT) Air Travel Consumer Report sho...
      Read lessRead more

      Maytag Dairy Farms expands recall of blue cheese

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Maytag Dairy Farms of Newton, Iowa, is expanding its earlier recall Maytag Raw Milk Blue Cheese.

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      The expanded recall adds lot # 150482, which includes roughly 1,100 pounds of cheese, some of which has been distributed to retail locations prior to the initial recall, which was for lot # 150481.

      There have been no reported illnesses linked to the product to date.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased this product should not consume it.

      Customers may call Maytag Dairy Farms at 800-247-2458 or 641-791-2010 to arrange for a refund and return of the product.

      Maytag Dairy Farms of Newton, Iowa, is expanding its earlier recall Maytag Raw Milk Blue Cheese. The product may be contaminated with Listeria mono...
      Read lessRead more

      Volkswagen recalls Beetle Convertibles

      The tie placard may have incorrect sidewall height ratio information

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 325 model year 2016 Beetle Convertibles manufactured June 18, 2015, to November 9, 2015 and equipped with 18-inch wheels.

      The recalled vehicles may have incorrect sidewall height ratio information on the tire placard. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 110, "Tire Selection and Rims."

      If the tires are replaced using a smaller diameter tire, it can cause incorrect readings of the speedometer, which could increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will install a corrected tire placard, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in February 2016.

      Owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at 1-800-893-5298. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 01B3.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 325 model year 2016 Beetle Convertibles manufactured June 18, 2015, to November 9, 2015 and equipped with 18-inch ...
      Read lessRead more

      Raynor recalls office chairs

      The chair seat can detach, posing a fall hazard

      Raynor Marketing of West Hempstead, N.Y., is recalling about 1,200 Eurotech Lume office chairs.

      The chair seat can detach, posing a fall hazard to consumers.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Eurotech Lume office chairs. The black, mesh mid-back, adjustable chairs have a black base with five wheels. Item number MF2500 and the date of manufacture in YY/MM/DD format are printed on a label located on the underside of the seat. Dates of manufacture included in the recall are between 14/10/08 and 15/10/16.

      The chairs, manufactured in China, were sold at Davies Office in New York and Office Furniture Depot stores in New Jersey and by other independent distributors from January 2015, through November 2015, for about $300.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled chairs and contact Raynor to receive a full refund.

      Consumers may contact Raynor toll-free at 866-800-1377 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday or online at www.eurotechseating.com and click on Warranties at the bottom right hand corner of the page and then on the Lume Chair Recall link for more information.

      Raynor Marketing of West Hempstead, N.Y., is recalling about 1,200 Eurotech Lume office chairs. The chair seat can detach, posing a fall hazard to ...
      Read lessRead more

      Lexus RX350 and RX450h vehicles recalled

      The gas needed to inflate the driver's knee air bag may escape from the inflator

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 5,070 model year 2016 Lexus RX350 and RX450h vehicles manufactured November 16, 2015, to December 23, 2015.

      Due to an improper weld, the gas needed to inflate the driver's knee air bag may escape from the inflator. A defective inflator may increase the risk of injury in the event of a crash.

      What to do

      Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and, if necessary, replace the knee air bag assembly, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin March 27, 2016.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331. Toyota's number for this recall is GLA.

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 5,070 model year 2016 Lexus RX350 and RX450h vehicles manufactured November 16, 2015, to December 23,...
      Read lessRead more

      Fire deaths in recalled Jeeps far exceed Takata airbag deaths, safety advocates note

      Center for Auto Safety calls on feds to reopen investigation into Jeep fire deaths

      Takata airbag inflators have killed nine people in the United States while at least 19 have burned to death in Jeep SUVs since June 2013, when FCA US (Chrysler) was first asked to recall Jeep models that have the gas tank mounted behind the rear axle. At that time, the Jeep fire death toll stood at 270. 

      Something about this doesn't make sense, according to Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the non-profit Center for Auto Safety.

      "The most lethal vehicle safety defect in America today is not the Takata airbag inflator. It’s the fuel tank behind the rear axle in the 1993-98 Jeep Grand Cherokee, 1993-01 Cherokee and 2002-07 Liberty," Ditlow said.

      Read a partial timeline of the Jeep fire-death scandal

      "Will never do right"

      "This is the recall that Chrysler never wanted to do and will never do right. As far as Fiat-Chrysler is concerned Jeeps can continue to crash and burn until they are all off the road," Ditlow said in a letter to Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration head Mark Rosekind.

      "The Center for Auto Safety calls on you ... to reopen the Jeep fuel tank investigation and obtain a remedy that saves lives versus the fire deaths that will continue to occur if Fiat-Chrysler is left alone," Ditlow said.

      In his letter, Ditlow highlighted three recent Jeep deaths -- 17-year-old Skyler Anderson and 24-year-olds Chantae and Danny Reed Jr.

      Skyler’s father Todd testified before the NHTSA in the Chrysler recall hearings that he would never have let his son drive the Jeep if he had known about the recall, but he didn’t get a notice until more than a year after Chrysler agreed to a limited recall.  

      The Reeds, Ditlow said, are "double defect" deaths. Both survived the crash of their Jeep, but Danny Reed’s seat back collapsed, trapping him. His wife tried to free him from the seat but burned to death with her husband in the effort.

      FCA said Jeeps are safe

      FCA, formerly Chrysler, has insisted that the Jeeps have a safety record comparable to similar vehicles. The company initially refused the NHTSA's request that it recall the SUVs but finally negotiated a secret deal with ex-Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, now an industry lobbyist.

      The LaHood deal calls for installing a trailer hitch on the recalled models, in the hope that the hitch will keep the gas tank from being penetrated in a rear-end crash and exploding into flames.

      Even that effort has been seen as lagging, as consumers complain that dealers say they don't have the necessary parts and critics, including a former Chrysler engineer, say the supposed remedy has never been scientifically shown to be valid. 

      Jeep fire victims Chantae and Danny Reed (Photo via Center for Auto Safety)Takata airbag inflators have killed nine people in the United States while...
      Read lessRead more

      Cybercrime is big business and getting bigger

      Researchers calculate the massive returns hackers get on stolen credit cards

      In the last decade, hackers have shifted their primary targets from consumers' PCs to corporations' networks.

      The payoff from breaking into your computer might not be so much. Getting into Target, on the other hand, could be huge.

      Just how huge hasn't been widely appreciated, but researchers at Michigan State University recently calculated that even small-scale hacking operations are making millions of dollars in profits by targeting corporate databases and stealing credit and debit card data.

      "In the past two years there have been hundreds of data breaches involving customer information, some very serious like the Target breach in 2013," Thomas J. Holt, Michigan State University criminologist and lead investigator of the study, said in a release. "It's happening so often that average consumers are just getting into this mindset of, 'Well, my bank will just re-issue the card, it's not a problem.' But this is more than a hassle or inconvenience. It's a real economic phenomenon that has real economic impact and consequences."

      Black market in plain sight

      Holt and his fellow researchers found online forums in English and Russian where criminals who stole personal information auctioned it off in batches of 50 or 100. Someone who buys the data can then try to access the victims' bank accounts or buy goods or services with the stolen cards.

      Holt says, on average, a batch of 50 stolen credit or debit cards can bring between $250,000 and $1 million on the black market. Buyers consider it a reasonable price, since they, on average, can use those 50 credit or so debit cards to pull in between $2 million and $8 million.

      Coordinated approach

      Holt says there needs to be a more intensive, coordinated approach by law enforcement agencies around the world to crack down on cybercrime. He says consumers also need to understand the stakes.

      "My goal is make people cognizant of just how much their personal information means, how much value there is," Holt said. "If we don't understand the scope of this problem, if we just treat it as a nuisance, then we're going to enable and embolden this as a form of crime that won't stop."

      Consumer Security company Mcafee estimates the annual cost to the economy of cybercrime activity is more than $400 billion.

      In the last decade, hackers have shifted their primary targets from consumers' PCs to corporations' networks.The payoff from breaking into your compute...
      Read lessRead more

      Consumer prices hold steady in January

      Energy costs were down, while food prices were unchanged

      The Consumer Price Index (CPI) was unchanged in January, thanks to a drop in the cost of energy and no change in food prices, according to the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

      For the last 12 months, the CPI is up just 1.4%.

      Energy and food

      Energy costs were down 2.8%, with all major components falling for a second straight month. Gasoline prices fell 4.8%, fuel oil plunged 6.5%, electricity was off 0.7%, and natural gas posted a 0.6% decline.

      Over the last 12 months, fuel oil prices have plummeted 28.7%, natural gas has decreased 12.7%, gasoline has fallen 7.3%, and the cost of electricity is down 2.4%.

      Food prices were unchanged last month after falling in November and December. With the food at home category down 0.2% it's second decline in a row. Five of the six major grocery store food group categories were lower led by for meats, poultry, fish, and eggs (-1.3%). Cereals and bakery products, dairy and related products, nonalcoholic beverages, and other food at home all declined 0.2%. In contrast, fruits and vegetables increased 1.3% the largest increase since March 2011. The food at home index has declined 0.5% over the past 12 months. Food away from home (restaurant meals) rose 0.3% percent in January and is up 2.7% over the last 12 months.

      Core inflation

      The “core” rate of inflation, excluding the volatile food and energy categories, was up 0.3% for the month, due to increases in the cost of shelter (+0.3%), medical care (+0.5%), alcoholic beverages (+0.5% and motor vehicle (+0.4%). Education and communication prices were both unchanged in January, while household furnishings and operations costs dipped 0.1%.

      Over the past, the core rate of inflation is up 2.2%, its highest 12-month change since the period ending June 2012.

      The complete report is available on the BLS website.

      The Consumer Price Index (CPI) was unchanged in January, thanks to a drop in the cost of energy and no change in food prices, according to the Department o...
      Read lessRead more

      How to predict if you'll get cancer

      Researchers say biological/chronological age comparison is a reliable predictor

      Doctors at Northwestern Medicine have completed a study they say could provide a reliable way to predict who will get cancer, and even who will die from the disease.

      They found an unmistakable trend of cancer in people whose epigenetic, or biological age, is greater than their chronological age.

      Biological age is determined by how well your body functions, and is influenced by a wide variety of physical and emotional factors. For example, if you are overweight, suffer chronic stress or just look old, that can increase your biological age.

      When your biological age is greater than your actual age, researchers say, you are at a greater risk of developing cancer. The bigger the difference between the two ages, the higher your risk of dying of cancer.

      Early cancer warning

      "This could become a new early warning sign of cancer," senior author Dr. Lifang Hou said in a release. "The discrepancy between the two ages appears to be a promising tool that could be used to develop an early detection blood test for cancer."

      Hou is chief of cancer epidemiology and prevention in preventive medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and co-leader of the cancer prevention program at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.

      "People who are healthy have a very small difference between their epigenetic/biological age and chronological age," Hou said. "People who develop cancer have a large difference and people who die from cancer have a difference even larger than that. Our evidence showed a clear trend."

      For every year the biological age is greater than the actual age, the researchers found a 6% increased risk of getting cancer within three years and a 17% increased risk of dying from cancer within five years.

      Difference of three years could be lethal

      People in the study who got cancer had a biological age of about six months greater than their chronological age. Those who will die of cancer are about 2.2 years older, the study found.

      Hou says a person's epigenetic age is calculated using an algorithm measuring 71 blood DNA methylation markers. These markers are subject to change by factors such as a person's environment, including environmental chemicals, obesity, exercise, and diet.

      There isn't a commercially available test, but the subject is the focus of study by academic researchers, including a team at Northwestern. There are a number of online tests that may be subject to varying degrees of accuracy, like this one. They may be useful to give you an idea of where you fall on the biological age spectrum.

      Hou says a highly accurate test would use DNA methylation, where a cluster of molecules attaches to a gene and makes the gene more or less receptive to biochemical signals from the body.

      A first

      The Northwestern researchers say that their study is the first to link the difference between biological and chronological age with both cancer development and cancer death using multiple blood samples. They say the multiple samples, which showed changing biological age, allowed for more accurate measurements of cancer risk.

      Last summer InsideTracker, which operates the InnerAge platform that offers a biological age test, reported most Americans are actually older than their biological age.

      The company's survey found 60% of users are an average of 3.13 years older in real terms than their chronological age, yet most were clueless about this fact.

      Doctors at Northwestern Medicine have completed a study they say could provide a reliable way to predict who will get cancer, and even who will die from th...
      Read lessRead more

      Little cheese in some Parmesan cheese

      The FDA is investigating one company whose "100% Parmesan" allegedly contained wood filler

      Appearances can be deceiving, especially when you're talking about Parmesan cheese, according to recent reports which indicate that a lot of what is sold as Parmesan is anything but.

      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is building a case against one cheese processor, Castle Cheese of Slipper Rock, Pa., alleging that its "100 percent real Parmesan" contains fillers including wood pulp, Bloomberg News reports.

      The FDA began investigating Castle back in November 2012 after receiving a tip. In July 2013, it sent the company a warning letter saying it had found "doctored" Parmesan in Castle's products.

      In fact, said the FDA, some of what Castle labeled as "100 percent grated Parmesan" contained "no Parmesan cheese" whatsoever.

      Bloomberg ran independent lab tests on various brands claiming to be "100 percent" Parmesan and found much the same thing. Walmart's Parmesan tested at 7.8 percent while Whole Foods' 365 brand came out with 0.3 percent cellulose. Kraft had 3.8 percent, Bloomberg found, to cite just a few examples. The companies all said they are investigating. 

      Appearances can be deceiving, especially when you're talking about Parmesan cheese, according to recent reports which indicate that a lot of what is sold a...
      Read lessRead more

      Attractive mortgage rates help make homes more affordable at year's end

      Analysts look for continuing growth in home sales

      Declines in both home prices and interest rates resulted in a slight increase in nationwide housing affordability in the last three months of 2015.

      The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI) shows 63.3% of new and existing homes sold during the fourth quarter were affordable to families earning the U.S. median income of $65,800. In the previous quarter, 62.2% of homes sold were affordable to median-income earners.

      “Affordable home prices, attractive mortgage rates, and pent-up demand are keeping the housing market on a gradual, upward path,” said NAHB Chairman Ed Brady. “While this bodes well for housing in 2016, builders continue to face a number of challenges, including excessive and costly regulations and a lack of available lots and skilled labor.”

      The national median home price fell from $231,000 in the third quarter to $226,000 in the fourth, while average mortgage rates dipped from 4.18% to 4.09%.

      Most and least affordable

      Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Pa., was rated the nation’s most affordable major housing market, with previous leader Syracuse, N.Y., falling to the second slot. In Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, 90.1% of all new and existing homes sold in last year’s fourth quarter were affordable to families earning the area’s median income of $53,700.

      Rounding out the top five affordable major housing markets in respective order were Scranton-Wilkes-Barre, Pa.; Toledo, Ohio; and Columbia, S.C.

      For the 13th consecutive quarter, San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, Calif. was the nation’s least affordable major housing market. There, just 10.4% of homes sold in the fourth quarter were affordable to families earning the area’s median income of $103,400.

      Other major metros at the bottom of the affordability chart were located in California. In descending order, they included Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale; Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine; San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara; and Santa Rosa-Petaluma.

      “The signs point to continuing growth in home sales,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “We’ve seen an improvement in affordability due to favorable home prices and interest rates. Steady employment and economic growth, along with rising consumer confidence and pent-up demand will also help encourage more buyers to enter the marketplace.”

      Jobless claims

      In other economic news, the Department of Labor (DOL) reports first-time applications for state unemployment benefits fell by 7,000 in the week ending February 13 to a seasonally adjusted 262,000 the lowest level in 12 weeks.

      Officials say there were no special factors affecting the claims level.

      The four-week moving average, which is considered a more accurate gauge because it lacks the weekly tally's volatility, was down 8,000 from the previous week to 273,250.

      The complete report is available on the DOL website.

      Declines in both home prices and interest rates resulted in a slight increase in nationwide housing affordability in the last thr...
      Read lessRead more

      Lipari Foods recalls various raw pistachio products

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Lipari Foods of Warren, Mich., is recalling various raw pistachio products packaged by sister company JLM.

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      There are no reported illnesses in connection with these products to date.

      The following products are being recalled:

      ProductLipari Product #Lot #WeightBest Buy DateUPC
      Fancy Fruit & Nut Mix (Blue Goose Market, Hollywood Market, Market Fresh Fine Foods, Market Square, Roger’s Foodland Trentwood Farms)583524262015089oz (254.7g) Tubs8/25/2016094776144594
      Fancy Fruit & Nut Mix (Blue Goose Market, Hollywood Market, Market Fresh Fine Foods, Market Square, Roger’s Foodland Trentwood Farms)583524072015109oz (254.7g) Tubs10/6/2016094776144594
      Fancy Fruit & Nut Mix (Blue Goose Market, Hollywood Market, Market Fresh Fine Foods Market Square, Roger’s Foodland Trentwood Farms)583524042015129oz (254.7g) Tubs12/3/2016094776144594
      Fancy Fruit & Nut Mix(Blue Goose Market, Hollywood Market, Market Fresh Fine Foods, Market Square, Roger’s Foodland, Trentwood Farms)583524132016019oz (254.7g) Tubs1/12/2017094776144594
      Fancy Fruit & Nut Mix (Generic)5821642620150826201508 9oz (254.7g) Tubs8/25/2016094776144594
      Fancy Fruit & Nut Mix (Generic)582164072015109oz (254.7g) Tubs10/6/2016094776144594
      Fancy Fruit & Nut Mix (Generic)582164042015129oz (254.7g) Tubs12/3/2016094776144594
      Fancy Fruit & Nut Mix (Generic)582164132016019oz (254.7g) Tubs1/12/2017094776144594
      Fancy Fruit & Nut Mix (Generic)4646771220150825 Pound Bag8/11/2016094776129195
      Fancy Fruit & Nut Mix (Generic)4646770120150925 Pound Bag8/31/2016094776129195
      Pistachio Raw Whole Shelled (Generic)481966222015085 Pound Bag8/21/2016094776132119
      Pistachio Raw Whole Shelled (Generic)481966142015095 Pound Bag9/13/2016094776132119
      Pistachio Raw Whole Shelled (Generic)333803252015119oz (254.7g) Tubs11/24/16760208123818
      Pistachio Raw Whole Shelled (Generic)333803212015109oz (254.7g) Tubs10/20/16760208123818
      Pistachio Raw Whole Shelled (Generic)333803262015089oz (254.7g) Tubs8/25/16760208123818
      Pistachio Raw Whole Shelled (Generic)333803292016019oz (254.7g) Tubs1/28/17760208123818
      Pistachio Raw Whole Shelled (Generic)333803042016019oz (254.7g) Tubs1/3/17760208123818
      Pistachio Meat Raw (Marv & Alison’s Marketplace, Long Lake Market, Martin’s, Holiday Market, The Purple Onion, Trentwood Farms, Angeli Foods, Market Square, Village Food Market, Martha’s Vineyard, Remke Market)206661252015119oz (254.7g) Tubs11/24/16760208123818
      Pistachio Meat Raw (Marv & Alison’s Marketplace, Long Lake Market, Martin’s, Holiday Market, The Purple Onion, Trentwood Farms, Angeli Foods, Market Square, Village Food Market, Martha’s Vineyard, Remke Market)206661212015109oz (254.7g) Tubs10/20/16760208123818
      Pistachio Meat Raw (Marv & Alison’s Marketplace, Long Lake Market, Martin’s, Holiday Market, The Purple Onion, Trentwood Farms, Angeli Foods, Market Square, Village Food Market, Martha’s Vineyard, Remke Market)206661262015089oz (254.7g) Tubs8/25/16760208123818
      Pistachio Meat Raw (Marv & Alison’s Marketplace, Long Lake Market, Martin’s, Holiday Market, The Purple Onion, Trentwood Farms, Angeli Foods, Market Square, Village Food Market, Martha’s Vineyard, Remke Market)206661292016019oz (254.7g) Tubs1/28/17760208123818

      The recalled products were distributed to food service and retail stores throughout Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but return them to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions may call customer service at 1-800-729-3354, from8:15 am – 4:30 pm (EST) Monday through Friday.

      Lipari Foods of Warren, Mich., is recalling various raw pistachio products packaged by sister company JLM. The products may be contaminated with Sa...
      Read lessRead more

      VW recalls Touareg Hybrids

      The hybrid battery tray may not drain water sufficiently

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 825 model year 2011-2015 Touareg Hybrids manufactured March 20, 2010, to April 11, 2015.

      The hybrid battery tray may not drain water sufficiently. If water collects in the hybrid battery tray, it may cause an electrical short in the high voltage battery increasing the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will install a fitted drain valve to allow water to drain properly, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in late February 2016.

      Owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at 1-800-893-5298. Volkswagen's number for this 53B8.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 825 model year 2011-2015 Touareg Hybrids manufactured March 20, 2010, to April 11, 2015. The hybrid batter...
      Read lessRead more

      Forever Cheese recalls imported Mitica brand Pecorino Aged Cheese in Walnut Leaves

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Forever Cheese of Long Island City, N.Y., is recalling 40 cases of Mitica brand Pecorino Aged Cheese in Walnut Leaves (Pecorino Foglie di Noci).

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      There have been no reported illnesses related to this potential contamination to date.

      The recalled product is from one production code NOC15313 (found on shipping case only) and invoiced as Lot X2537 which the retailer or distributor would be familiar with. Each shipping case contains two wheels of varying weights; each wheel weighs a minimum of 2 lbs. It has a natural grayish rind, and will be labeled at the point of sale at the retail level or on a restaurant menu.

      The cheese was shipped to distributors between January 27 and February 3, 2016, and was further sold to retailers and restaurants located in Los Angeles, Cleveland, Philadelphia, New York, Colorado, Vermont, Virginia, Florida and Connecticut.

      What to do

      Customers should not consume product, but contact the retailer or the company for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact Sarah Weisensel at 1-888-930-8693, Monday through Friday, 9 am – 5 pm (EST).

      Forever Cheese of Long Island City, N.Y., is recalling 40 cases of Mitica brand Pecorino Aged Cheese in Walnut Leaves (Pecorino Foglie di Noci). Th...
      Read lessRead more

      Toyota recalls RAV4 and RAV4 EV vehicles

      The lap seat belt may not properly restrain the occupant

      Toyota Motor Sales, USA is recalling approximately 1.1 million model year 2006-2012 RAV4 and model year 2012-2014 RAV4 EV vehicles.

      The recalled vehicles are equipped with lap-shoulder seatbelts in both second-row outboard seats. There is a possibility that, in the event of a very severe front crash, the lap belt webbing could contact a portion of the metal seat cushion frame, become cut and separate.

      If this occurs, the seat belt may not properly restrain the occupant, which could increase the risk of injury.

      Toyota dealers will add resin covers to the metal seat cushion frame at no cost.

      What to do

      Consumers with questions may call Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331 or Lexus customer service at 1-800-255-3987.

      Toyota Motor Sales, USA is recalling approximately 1.1 million model year 2006-2012 RAV4 and model year 2012-2014 RAV4 EV vehicles. The recalled ve...
      Read lessRead more

      Wholesale prices post second gain in three months

      Advances in the cost of services led the increase

      A smidgeon of inflation on the wholesale level -- that's what we got in January.

      According to the Department of Labor (DOL), the Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand, which measures prices one step shy of the consumer level, was up a seasonally adjusted 0.1% last month. The PPI was down 0.2% in December after posting a 0.4% advance in November.

      For the 12 months ended in January, the index is down 0.2%.

      Services prices

      A 0.5% increase for services was behind the January advance, with nearly half of that attributable to a 4.0% increase in the cost of machinery and equipment wholesaling. Services related to securities brokerage and dealing; loan services (partial); apparel, footwear, and accessories retailing; fuels and lubricants retailing; and airline passenger services also rose.

      Prices for food and alcohol retailing declined 4.1%, with health, beauty, optical goods retailing, and physician care also falling.

      The cost of goods

      Prices for goods were down 0.7% for the second straight month. Energy costs were down 5.0%, thanks to a drop of 8.8% in gasoline prices. Additionally, the cost of for home heating oil, electric power, jet fuel, and basic organic chemicals fell.

      Food prices advanced 1.0%, led by a surge of 17% for fresh and dry vegetables. Prices for pharmaceutical preparations and residential natural gas also increased.

      The complete report may be found on the DOL website.

      A smidgeon of inflation on the wholesale level -- that's what we got in January.According to the Department of Labor (DOL), the Producer Price Index (P...
      Read lessRead more

      New-home construction tumbles in January

      Still, home builders remain cautiously optimistic

      Construction of privately-owned housing fell 3.8% in January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,099,000, according to figures released by the Commerce Department. Nevertheless, housing starts were 1.8% above the rate (1,080,000 ) of the same month a year ago.

      The decline was broad-based, with single-family starts down 3.9% -- a rate of 731,000. The rate for units in buildings with five units or more came in at 354,000, down 3.7%.

      "Despite the modest dip in starts this month, we expect to see ongoing, gradual growth in housing production in 2016," said National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Chief Economist David Crowe. "An improving economy, solid job creation and pent-up demand for housing should keep the market moving forward."

      Building permits

      Authorizations for future construction were also lower last month.

      Building permits were down 0.2% at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,202,000, with single-family authorizations off 1.6% and permits for units in buildings with five units or up 2.1% at a rate of 442,000.

      NAHB Chairman Ed Brady notes that builders are "being cautious as they face some market uncertainties and supply side constraints."

      The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      Construction of privately-owned housing fell 3.8% in January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,099,000, according to figures released by the Commer...
      Read lessRead more

      Refinancings help send mortgage applications higher

      The refinance share of activity is the highest in a year

      Mortgage applications rose last week, thanks in large part to more applications for refinancing.

      The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) reports overall applications were up 8.2% in the week ending February 12. The Refinance Index jumped 16% from the previous week, pushing the refinance share of mortgage activity up 3.1% to 64.3% -- its highest level since February 2015.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity rose to 6.7% of total applications, the FHA share was 11.5%, the VA share of total applications increased to 11.7% from 11.1% the week before and the USDA share was unchanged at 0.6%.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) fell eight basis points from 3.91% to 3.83% -- its lowest level since last April. Points decreased to 0.36 from 0.41 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans, with the effective rate declining from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) decreased to its lowest level since December 2012, 3.74 percent, from 3.76 percent, with points decreasing to 0.26 from 0.30 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA dropped to its lowest level since last April, 3.67%, from 3.72%, with points increasing to 0.34 from 0.33 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs dropped 7 basis points to 3.11% its lowest level since last April, with points decreasing to 0.31 from 0.38 (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 to its lowest level since last May -- 2.92% from 2.96%, with points rising to 0.32 from 0.30 (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 rose last week, thanks in large part to more applications for refinancing.The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) reports overall ...
      Read lessRead more

      Chrysler recalls Chrysler Town and Country and Dodge Grand Caravan vehicles

      The windshield could become displaced in the event of a crash

      FCA US LLC (Chrysler) is recalling 184 model year 2015-2016 Chrysler Town and Country, and 2014-2015 Dodge Grand Caravan vehicles manufactured August 16, 2014, to December 5, 2015.

      The windshield on the recalled vehicles may have been installed using expired urethane primer, allowing the windshield to become displaced in the event of a crash. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 212, "Windshield Mounting."

      If the windshield dislodges during a crash, there is an increased risk of occupant injury.

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the windshield, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on March 4, 2016.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is S02.

      FCA US LLC (Chrysler) is recalling 184 model year 2015-2016 Chrysler Town and Country, and 2014-2015 Dodge Grand Caravan vehicles manufactured August 16, 2...
      Read lessRead more

      Whole Foods Market recalls Pecorino Aged Cheese in Walnut Leaves

      The product be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Whole Foods Market of Austin, Texas, is recalling Pecorino Aged Cheese in Walnut Leaves sold in a store in Florida and one New York City.

      The product be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The recalled cheese was cut and packaged in clear plastic wrap with scale labels beginning with PLU code 294239 and "sell by" dates of 3/3/16 through 3/8/16 in the New York City store.

      In West Palm Beach, Fla., the recalled cheese was sold with scale labels beginning with PLU code 290107 and "sell by" dates of 2/29/16 through 3/8/16.

      The recalled cheese was pulled from store shelves and destroyed on Monday, Feb. 8, 2016.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased this product should discard it and bring their receipt to the store for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions should contact their local store or call 512-477-5566 ext. 20060 between 9am and 5pm (CST) Monday through Friday.

      Whole Foods Market of Austin, Texas, is recalling Pecorino Aged Cheese in Walnut Leaves sold in a store in Florida and one New York City. The produ...
      Read lessRead more

      General Motors recalls Saabs and Saturns

      Excessive internal pressure may cause the driver's-side front air bag inflator to rupture

      General Motors is recalling 179,861 model year 2003-2011 Saab 9-3 vehicles manufactured May 31, 2002, to February 15, 2011; 2010-2011 Saab 9-5 vehicles manufactured June 23, 2010, to February 21, 2011; and 2008-2009 Saturn Astra vehicles manufactured April 11, 2007, to July 24, 2008.

      Upon deployment of the driver's-side front air bag, excessive internal pressure may cause the inflator to rupture with metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the inflator on Saab 9-3 and 9-5 vehicles and will replace the airbag module on Saturn Astra vehicles, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Saab customer service at 1-800-955-9007 or Saturn customer service at 1-800-553-6000. GM's number for this recall is 28810.

      General Motors is recalling 179,861 model year 2003-2011 Saab 9-3 vehicles manufactured May 31, 2002, to February 15, 2011; 2010-2011 Saab 9-5 vehicles man...
      Read lessRead more

      Daily fantasy sports steps up grass-roots lobbying campaign

      Industry supporting legislation declaring the games are not gambling

      Thanks to intense lobbying, many states that have suggested that daily fantasy sports (DFS) sites like DraftKings and FanDuel engage in illegal gambling are now considering laws to allow exceptions.

      DFS leagues have gotten around federal gambling statutes because they have been declared games of skill instead of luck. Players choose “teams,” made up of real players, and get points for how well the players perform during a given game.

      In illegal gambling, players choose a team and are rewarded if the team wins a particular game, or performs better than expected – beating the odds.

      A number of attorneys general have looked at DFS and decided “if it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck, it's probably a duck.”

      Illinois declares illegal

      In Illinois, Attorney General Lisa Madigan is among them. She issued an opinion in December that declared DFS games to be in violation of the state's gambling laws.

      “Absent legislation specifically exempting daily fantasy sports games from the gambling provisions, it is my opinion that daily fantasy sports contests constitute illegal gambling under Illinois law,” Madigan concluded.

      In Illinois, and a number of states, legislatures are, in fact, considering measures that would declare that, while DFS might in fact look an awful lot like gambling, it really isn't.

      Big spenders

      The Wall Street Journal reports that the industry's lobbying arm is spending big – as much as $10 million – to support DFS-friendly legislation in all but 16 states – even states that have not yet taken a position on the legality of DFS.

      In late January, the Tampa Bay Times reported legislation to establish the legality of DFS is making progress in the Florida legislature. While most states considering legalization would tax DFS revenue, the Florida legislation would require major DFS companies to pay $500,000 to register with the state.

      As we reported back in October, the huge popularity of DFS, the involvement of major media companies and sports leagues, and the mountains of cash involved, all suggested that DFS was already “too big to fail.”

      With some states already moving aggressively against the established DFS enterprises – most notably New York and Nevada – it might not be surprising that the industry is moving quickly to shore up its legal position in the rest of the states – perhaps before the start of baseball season.

      Thanks to intense lobbying, many states that have suggested that daily fantasy sports (DFS) sites like DraftKings and FanDuel engage in illegal gambling ar...
      Read lessRead more

      Backpage.com faces contempt vote in U.S. Senate

      Senators irate over site's failure to disclose how it screens ads for sex traffickers

      Backpage.com faces a contempt vote in the U.S. Senate after failing to adequately answer senators' questions about how it screens its classified ads for sex traffickers.

      The free-classifieds site, once owned by Village Voice, accounts for 71% of all suspected child sex trafficking, representatives of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children told Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who announced the plan for a contempt vote last week.

      Portman commented after revealing a 196-page report that includes gruesome details of incidents involving children who were bought and sold for sexual exploitation, allegedly via Backpage ads.  

      One minor said she was forced at gunpoint to have sex with 15 different men.

      The possible contempt charge stems from Backpage's failure to adequately disclose how it combats and prevents traffickers from advertising on its site, according to a spokesperson for Portman.

      Backpage has questioned the government's authority to access its records and says it plans to argue that its activities are protected under the First Amendment.

      Backpage.com faces a contempt vote in the U.S. Senate after failing to adequately answer senators' questions about how it screens its classified ads for se...
      Read lessRead more

      Potential changes could be looming for Roth IRAs

      Administration would like to limit benefits for upper income savers

      Consumers with retirement accounts operate under certain assumptions that guide the way they invest and otherwise manage their assets.

      In his latest budget proposal, President Obama would make a number of changes that could alter many of those assumptions. While they are unlikely to survive the current budget process, especially in an election year, Morningstar points out that they reflect sentiment in Washington, at least on the Democratic side of the aisle.

      These provisions could reappear in other, unrelated legislation down the road, especially when both Democrats and Republicans are looking for ways to add revenue.

      In its analysis, Morningstar focuses on proposed changes to the Roth IRA that could result in higher taxes for retirees using that instrument. The Roth IRA is different from the traditional IRA, in that contributions to it are not tax deductible. When you make withdrawals, they aren't taxable income – the way withdrawals from traditional IRAs are.

      Grows tax free

      The big advantage to a Roth IRA is the money grows tax-free as long as it stays in the account. Morningstar says the Obama administration has two proposals that target wealthy consumers who use Roth IRAs.

      The first would curtail the ability to convert traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs, a tool many affluent savers use to get around the Roth's income limits. The second would require funds to be taken out of a Roth at some point. Right now that money can stay in there earning tax free income until it's passed on to an heir.

      Does that mean you should shun a Roth IRA? Not necessarily.

      Comparison

      Fidelity Investments has a chart to help you compare the Roth and Traditional IRAs to determine which is a better fit for you. Just keep in mind that some of the current rules might change in the future if you are an upper income saver.

      Bankrate.com reports financial advisors seem to favor the Roth for most people because it potentially has greater tax advantages. If you don't earn a six-figure income, those advantages could very well stay intact for years to come.

      Whether it's a Roth or traditional IRA, you should be saving for retirement. If you still aren't sure which way to go, talk to a trusted and objective financial advisor.

      Consumers with retirement accounts operate under certain assumptions that guide the way they invest and otherwise manage their assets.In his latest bud...
      Read lessRead more

      Burger King to begin serving hot dogs

      Burger chain hopes to tap into popularity of often-overlooked sandwich

      Burger King has always marched to the beat of its own drummer. Its marketing has always been a little eccentric.

      Now, when most fast food restaurants are catering to health-conscious Millennials and trying to show they have some redeeming nutritional value, Burger King appears to be heading in a different direction.

      The burger chain, home of the Whopper, hopes to become famous for its grilled hot dogs as well. The company says the new menu item will be available at participating restaurants nationwide, starting February 23rd.

      "The introduction of Grilled Dogs just made sense to our guests and for our brand," Alex Macedo, President, North America, for the Burger King brand, said in a release. "We're applying over 60 years of flame-grilling expertise with the Whopper sandwich to make Grilled Dogs the next great American icon."

      Nutritional questions aside – and to be honest, there are probably a lot more calorie laden items on the menu than hot dogs – the move appears aimed at enhancing the bottom line. The profit margin in a hot dog is probably huge. It's also easy to prepare. Better still, Burger King will pretty much have the fast food hot dog market to itself.

      20 billion dogs a year

      And Americans seem to like hot dogs. They're associated with baseball games and the Fourth of July. Burger King estimates that Americans eat over 20 billion hot dogs a year.

      The company believes its introduction of Grilled Dogs positions its restaurants to take a large bite out of that market with one of its' biggest launches in recent history.

      Burger King says its Grilled Dogs will be available in both the Classic Grilled Dog and the Chili Cheese Grilled Dog. The Classic Grilled Dog is a flame-grilled hot dog made with 100% beef, topped with ketchup, mustard, chopped onions, relish, and served on a baked bun.

      The Chili Cheese Grilled Dog is the same beef hot dog topped with warm chili, shredded cheddar cheese, and served on a baked bun. Both are sold separately or as a combo meal.

      Snoop Dogg helps launch

      Burger King has some marketing firepower behind the launch, enlisting pop culture personality Snoop Dogg to help promote the rollout.

      According to CalorieKing, a plain hot dog on a bun has 240 calories. Keep in mind a lot of the calories are in the chili, cheese, and other condiments you pile on.

      And the calories may not be the biggest health issue should one adopt a steady hot dog diet.

      According to health site LiveStong.com, a beef hot dog contains 13 grams of fat, with about 60% monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and 40% saturated fat.

      “The American Heart Association recommends that Americans consume no more than 7% of their total caloric intake from saturated fats, as this type of unhealthy fat increases your risk of heart disease,” the site advises.  

      Burger King has always marched to the beat of its own drummer. Its marketing has always been a little eccentric.Now, when most fast food restaurants ar...
      Read lessRead more

      A drop in builder confidence for February

      Concerns remain about 'negative economic trends'

      Taking a cue from consumers, the confidence of builders in the market for newly-built single-family homes took a hit in February.

      The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) fell three points to 58 from an upwardly revised January reading of 61.

      "Builders are reflecting consumers' concerns about recent negative economic trends," said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "However, the fundamentals are in place for continued growth of the housing market. Historically low mortgage rates, steady job gains, improved household formations and significant pent up demand all point to a gradual upward trend for housing in the year ahead."

      How they see it

      The HMI gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as "good," "fair" or "poor." The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as "high to very high," "average" or "low to very low." Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

      The HMI component measuring sales expectations in the next six months rose one point to 65 in February, while the index measuring current sales condition fell three points to 65 and the component charting buyer traffic dropped five points to 39.

      Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, all four regions registered slight declines. The Midwest fell one point to 57, the West registered a three-point drop to 72 and the Northeast and South each posted a two-point decline to 47 and 59, respectively.

      "Though builders report the dip in confidence this month is partly attributable to the high cost and lack of availability of lots and labor, they are still positive about the housing market," said NAHB Chairman Ed Brady. "Of note, they expressed optimism that sales will pick up in the coming months."

      Taking a cue from consumers, the confidence of builders in the market for newly-built single-family homes took a hit in February.The National Associati...
      Read lessRead more

      International Foodsource recalls various raw pistachio products

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      International Foodsource is recalling various raw pistachio products.

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      There are no reported illnesses in connection with these products.

      The following product, distributed to food service and retail stores nationally, are being recalled:

      ProductIFS Lot NumberWeightBest by DateUPC
      Bulk Raw Whole Pistachio 80% VP76114 (Sam International Lot# 102914)30 LBS Boxes4/29/16N/A
      Valued Naturals Raw Pistachio Kernels792495 oz Bags08/10/16790429241428
      IFS Club Bag Pistachio Raw Shelled 80% Wholes786343 LBS Bags7/16/16790429243026
      IFS Web Bulk Pistachio - Shelled 80% Whole7899830 LBS Boxes07/30/16790429239630

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but return them to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions may call customer service at 973-361-7044 from 8:15 am – 4:30 pm, (EST), Monday through Friday.

      International Foodsource is recalling various raw pistachio products. The products may be contaminated with Salmonella There are no reporte...
      Read lessRead more

      BMW recalls vehicles with air bag inflator issue

      The driver-side front air bag inflator could rupture

      BMW of North America is recalling 840,000 model year 2008-2013 128i and 135i coupes and convertibles and 1 Series M coupes; 2006-2011 325i, 325xi, 328i, 328xi, 328i xDrive, 330i, 330xi, 335i, 335xi, 335i xDrive Sedans; 2009-2011 335d sedans; 2006-2012 325xiT, 328i and 328xi sports wagons; 2007-2013 328i, 328xi, 328i xDrive, 335i, 335xi, 335i xDrive, 335is and M3 Coupes and Convertibles; 2013-2015 X1 sDrive28i, X1 xDrive28i and X1 xDrive35i SAVs; 2007-2010 X3 xDrive30i SAVs; 2007-2013 X5 xDrive30i, X5 xDrive35i, X5 xDrive48i, X5 xDrive50i and X5 M SAVs; 2009-2013 BMW X5 xDrive35d SAVs; 2008-2014 X6 xDrive35i, X6 xDrive50i, and X6 M SACs; 2010-2011 BMW X6 xDrive50i SACs; and 2008-2011 M3 Sedan vehicles.

      Upon deployment of the driver-side front air bag, excessive internal pressure may cause the inflator to rupture with metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will replace the driver's front air bag, free of charge. Parts are not currently available. Owners will be mailed an interim notification beginning March 31, 2016. A second notice will be mailed when remedy parts are available.

      Owners may contact BMW customer service at 1-800-525-7417.

      BMW of North America is recalling 840,000 model year 2008-2013 128i and 135i coupes and convertibles and 1 Series M coupes; 2006-2011 325i, 325xi, 328i, 32...
      Read lessRead more

      Honda recalls 2.23 million vehicles with air bag inflator issue

      Moisture intrusion, over time, could cause the inflator to rupture

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 2.23 million model year 2007-2011 Honda CR-V; 2011-2015 CR-Z; 2010-2014 FCX Clarity, and Insight; 2009-2013 Fit; 2013-2014 Fit EV; 2007-2014 Ridgeline; 2013-2016 Acura ILX; 2013-2014 Acura ILX Hybrid; 2007-2016 RDX; 2005-2012 Acura RL;2009-2014 Acura TL; and 2010-2013 Acura ZDX vehicles.

      The recalled vehicles are equipped with a dual-stage driver front air bag that may be susceptible to moisture intrusion which, over time, could cause the inflator to rupture with metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will replace the inflator, free of charge. Remedy parts are expected to be available in Fall 2016. Interim notices will be mailed to owners beginning on March 14, 2016. Owners will receive a second notice when remedy parts become available.

      Owners may contact Honda customer service at 1-888-234-2138. Honda's numbers for this recall are JX2, JX3 and JX4.

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 2.23 million model year 2007-2011 Honda CR-V; 2011-2015 CR-Z; 2010-2014 FCX Clarity, and Insight; 2009-2013 Fit; 2013...
      Read lessRead more

      Garden of Life expands recall of Raw Meal products

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Garden of Life is expanding its earlier recall to include additional lots of its Raw Meal Organic Shake & Meal Chocolate, Original, Vanilla and Vanilla Chai products.

      An ingredient used in certain lots of the product may be contaminated with Salmonella Virchow.

      The following products have been added to the recall:

      PRODUCT NAMELot NumberExp Date
      RAW Organic Meal 10 CNT Tray472148009/12017
      RAW Organic Meal Chocolate Full Size471988009/1/17
      RAW Organic Meal Full Size472146009/1/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Chai Full Size472155009/1/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Chai Full Size472155019/1/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Full Size472161009/1/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Full Size472255009/1/17
      RAW Organic Meal Chocolate Full Size472259009/1/17
      RAW Organic Meal Chocolate Full Size472492009/1/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Chai 10 CNT Tray471832019/30/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Full Size471986019/30/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Chai Half Size472060009/30/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Full Size472256009/30/17
      RAW Organic Meal Half Size472258009/30/17
      RAW Organic Meal Chocolate Half Size472262009/30/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Half Size472264009/30/17
      RAW Organic Meal Full Size472360009/30/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla 10 CNT Tray472480009/30/17
      RAW Organic Meal Full Size472489019/30/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Full Size472539009/30/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Half Size472574019/30/17
      RAW Organic Meal Chocolate Full Size4722600010/1/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Full Size4721620010/31/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Full Size4722560110/31/17
      RAW Organic Meal Chocolate Full Size4722610010/31/17
      RAW Organic Meal Chocolate Half Size4722620110/31/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Chai Full Size4722630010/31/17
      RAW Organic Meal Full Size4724650010/31/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Chai Full Size4724760010/31/17
      RAW Organic Meal Chocolate Half Size4724780010/31/17

      Consumers can find the lot codes prominently stamped on the underside of the plastic container.

      What to do

      Customers who have any of the recalled product should return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-866-465-0051, Monday-Friday from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm (EST).

      Garden of Life is expanding its earlier recall to include additional lots of its Raw Meal Organic Shake & Meal Chocolate, Original, Vanilla and Vanilla Cha...
      Read lessRead more

      One in five car recalls not completed

      Minivans and SUVs have the lowest completion rates, study finds

      That car hurtling at you on the other side of the thin white line? Chances are one in five that it has an outstanding safety recall, according to a recent analysis.

      Used-car history provider Carfax says there are more than 47 million cars in the U.S. with "open" recalls -- meaning recalls that have not been completed. That's up 27% from a year ago.

      Many, of course, are cars equipped with the dread Takata airbags, but others have problems like hoods that may fly open unexpectedly, fuel pipes that can rupture in a collision, and brake lines that may corrode faster than expected.

      Serious problems, in other words.

      Work to be done

      "Our data shows there's still much hard work to be done in addressing recalls," Larry Gamache, communications director at Carfax, said.

      Gamache said it is troubling that the type of vehicle with the highest rate of unfixed safety issues is the family-oriented minivan, with one out of every 4.6 having open recalls.

      SUVs are second at one in 5.1 vehicles, followed by pickup trucks and cars, each at one in 5.5 vehicles.

      For all vehicles, Carfax said one in 5.4 are operating with an open recall.

      The highest rates of unfixed vehicles were, in order, Texas, Mississippi, Alaska, Utah, and West Virginia, Carfax said.

      Recalls can be fixed at no cost to the consumer at U.S. dealerships.

      What to do

      If you have received a recall notice in the mail, you should contact your dealer to have the repairs completed as quickly as possible at no charge. Dealers may sometimes not have the necessary parts on hand and there may be a delay.

      Dealers are not required to provide you with a loaner while the repairs are made but it never hurts to ask.

      To check whether there are outstanding recalls on your car, check SaferCar.gov or the Carfax recall check page.

      That car hurtling at you on the other side of the thin white line? Chances are one in five that it has an outstanding safety recall, according to a recent ...
      Read lessRead more

      Home sales down but prices up in fourth quarter of 2015

      Realtors see lack of homes for sale driving up prices

      The U.S. housing market appeared to cool off during the last three months of 2015, but that didn't stop home prices from going up. However, the report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) suggests homes in metropolitan areas, rather than rural America, saw the most gains.

      The report shows that the median existing single-family home price increased in 81% of NAR's measured markets, down from 87% in the third quarter. Still, that might not be bad considering sales of existing homes fell 5.4% during the period.

      The disparity might be explained by a continued decline in the number of homes on the market.

      Unshakeable trend

      "Even with slightly cooling demand, the unshakeable trend of inadequate supply in relation to the overall pool of prospective buyers inflicted upward pressure on home prices in several metro areas," NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said in a release.

      The result, says Yun, is that a number of qualified buyers are being shut out of the housing market if they happen to live in the top job producing, but increasingly expensive, parts of the country – especially on the West Coast and parts of the South.

      "Without a significant ramp-up in new home construction and more homeowners listing their homes for sale, buyers are likely to see little relief in the form of slowing price growth in the months ahead," Yun said.

      A consumer who wanted to buy a single-family home at the national median price, putting 5% down, would need an income of $49,535. But first he or she would need to find a desirable home for sale. Increasingly, that's getting harder to do.

      Decline in number of for sale signs

      At the end of the fourth quarter, there were 1.79 million existing homes available for sale, down from 1.86 million homes for sale at the end of the fourth quarter in 2014. The average supply during the fourth quarter was 4.6 months – down from 4.9 months a year ago.

      This is creating a strong seller's market, especially in hot metro areas. Great if you're trying to sell your home – not so great if you want to buy.

      Nashville, Tennessee is one of the hot housing markets where affordability is slipping away. Christie Wilson, CEO of The Wilson Group Real Estate Services, says parts of the Nashville area have become “micro-markets” and are experiencing what she calls a mini-bubble.

      "The lack of inventory continues to drive prices up in certain price ranges and certain neighborhoods that have those price points, such as anything under $350,000," she said in an interview with the Nashville Tennessean. "But there is a lot of inventory in higher price points, and so there very well could be a pricing correction in the future."

      Real estate marketplace Zillow recently reported that urban home values have been rising faster than those in suburban areas. It says the shift reflects demographic trends of Millennials delaying family life and choosing condos, and shifting preferences, as people seek walkable neighborhoods with urban amenities.  

      The U.S. housing market appeared to cool off during the last three months of 2015, but that didn't stop home prices from going up. However, the report from...
      Read lessRead more

      New York settles “astroturfing” cases with four firms

      Companies were accused of paying for fake reviews posted online

      Consumer reviews on the Internet can be very helpful tools when you are trying to find a good business and avoid a bad one. But you have to be able to trust the information.

      Unfortunately, as consumers have come to rely more on sites like ConsumerAffairs, some companies have tried to game the system, creating their own review sites and passing off the content as objective consumer reviews.

      New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman investigated the practice and brought action against four firms. This week, he announced settlements that require the companies to be honest and transparent in online reviews and endorsements and pay penalties ranging from $20,000 to $50,000.

      “Consumers rely on reviews and other endorsements on the Internet to inform themselves in making daily purchasing decisions,” Schneiderman said in a release. “This investigation continues my office’s historical work into ‘astroturfing’ over the Internet and signals to companies that consumers deserve honesty and transparency in their reviews, endorsements and related content.”

      The four companies

      Included in the settlement is Machinima, a California-based online entertainment network that distributes video content relating to video games and gaming culture via a multi-channel network. Schneiderman says his investigation found that Machinima paid gaming experts known as “influencers” to post YouTube videos endorsing Microsoft’s Xbox One system and several games.

      Premier Retail Group, Inc., a chain of cosmetic and beauty supply stores, was found to be paying Yelp reviewers to post positive reviews about the stores and products, whether they had any experience with them or not.

      The investigation found Here2Four, Incorporated, a California Internet marketing company, solicited over 50 freelance writers to write over 200 fake reviews of its small-business clients for $10 to $15 per review.

      Finally, the investigation found New York-based Rani Spa agreed to pay a writer to post fictitious Yelp reviews.

      Violates state law

      Schneiderman said the practices engaged in by all four companies violated New York state law, which prohibits misrepresentation and deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any business.

      For good measure, he says it also violates the Federal Trade Commission Guide Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

      Consumer reviews on the Internet can be very helpful tools when you are trying to find a good business and avoid a bad one. But you have to be able to trus...
      Read lessRead more

      Retailers see higher than average sales in 2016

      Increased income and more job opportunities are credited

      The National Retail Federation (NRF) is bullish on 2016.

      The trade group is projecting retail industry sales -- excluding automobiles, gas stations, and restaurants -- will grow 3.1%, higher than the 10-year average of 2.7%. The NRF also says it expects non-store sales to grow between 6 and 9% this year.

      “Wage stagnation is easing, jobs are being created and consumer confidence remains steady, so despite the headwinds our economy faces from international developments -- particularly in China -- we think 2016 will be favorable for growth in the retail industry,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “All of the experts agree that the consumer is in the driver’s seat and steering our economic recovery. The best thing the government can do is stay out of the way, stop proposing rules and regulations that create hurdles toward greater capital investment and focus on policies that help retailers provide increased income and job stability for their employees.”

      Report highlights

      • Economic growth should be more of the same and uneven. It is likely to be in the range of 1.9 to 2.4% in 2016.
      • Employment gains of approximately 190,000 on an average monthly basis are expected. While that pace is down from 2015, it is consistent with the labor market growing near its underlying trend. By year end, unemployment should drop to 4.6%.
      • Prospects for consumer spending are straightforward -- more jobs equals more income, which equals more spending. However, spending will come largely from the growth in jobs and not as much from increased wages.

      “The economy had a bumpy ride in 2015 with fits and starts along the way,” said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz. “Despite the volatility, the economy continued to reduce unemployment, raise wages and actually increase real GDP by 2.4 percent.”

      Kleinhenz says lower gas prices are creating more discretionary income to save, pay down debt, spend on travel, eat out, and use personal services. “Retailers have benefited as well,” he concluded, “and continue to find ways to compete and succeed in a very cost-conscious environment.”

      The National Retail Federation (NRF) is bullish on 2016.The trade group is projecting retail industry sales -- excluding automobiles, gas stations, and...
      Read lessRead more

      Arctic Cat recalls snowmobiles

      The brakes can fail, posing a risk of injury or death

      Arctic Cat of Thief River Falls, Minn., is recalling about 1,600 turbo 9000 snowmobiles.

      The brakes can fail, posing a risk of injury or death.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves all model year 2016 Arctic Cat turbo 9000 snowmobiles. Recalled models include the M 9000, XF 9000, XF9000 Cross Trek and ZR 9000 snowmobiles. The recalled snowmobiles were sold in black, green, orange and white.

      The model name is on a decal on the top of the chassis between the seat and the rear bumper. The name Arctic Cat is on each side of the snowmobiles. The letter G in the 10th position of the vehicle identification number (VIN) indicates that the unit was made in the 2016 model year. The VIN is stamped into the chassis near the right foot rest.

      The snowmobiles, manufactured in the U.S., were sold exclusively at Arctic Cat dealers nationwide from June 2015, through January 2016, for between $14,000 and $16,000.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled snowmobiles 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 or online at www.arcticcat.com and click on Customer Care, then Product Recall and then List of Safety Bulletins for more information.

      Arctic Cat of Thief River Falls, Minn., is recalling about 1,600 turbo 9000 snowmobiles. The brakes can fail, posing a risk of injury or death....
      Read lessRead more

      Nuna Baby Essentials recalls high chairs

      The arm bar can bend or detach during use

      Nuna Baby Essentials of Morgantown, Pa., is recalling about 5,700 ZAAZTM high chairs in the U.S. and Canada.

      The arm bar can bend or detach during use, posing a fall hazard to children.

      The company has received 50 reports of the arm bar detaching, including six reports of children falling from the high chair. Four incidents resulted in injuries, including bruising and a cut on the forehead.

      This recall includes ZAAZTM high chairs in eight models:

      • HC-07-004 (pewter),
      • HC-07-005 (carbon),
      • HC-07-006 (plum),
      • HC-07-009 (almond),
      • HC-08-004 (pewter),
      • HC-08-005 (carbon),
      • HC-08-006 (plum) and
      • HC-08-009 (almond).

      ZAAZ and the model number are printed under the high chair seat on a white sticker. These high chairs look like a regular kitchen table chair and have removable trays, arm bars footrests, seat pads and harnesses so that they can convert into toddler chairs. “Nuna” is printed above the footrest of the unit.

      The high chairs, manufactured in China, were sold at Albee Baby, Giggle, Magic Bean, Nordstrom and other specialty stores nationwide and online at www.nuna.eu and www.wayfair.com and other online retailers from February 2013, through November 2015, for about between $250 and $300.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using these recalled high chairs and contact the firm to receive a free new arm bar and instructions on how to replace it.

      Consumers may contact Nuna Baby Essentials toll-free at 855-686-2872 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday or online at http://www.nuna.eu/usa/recallforthezaaz for more information.

      Nuna Baby Essentials of Morgantown, Pa., is recalling about 5,700 ZAAZTM high chairs in the U.S. and Canada. The arm bar can bend or detach during ...
      Read lessRead more

      Congress permanently bans taxes on Internet access; measure awaits Obama's signature

      States that collect these taxes will need to cease doing so by 2020 if Obama signs the bill

      A long era of uncertainty over the future of Internet taxes may be coming to a close. With a 75-20 vote in the Senate today, Congress passed the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act (PITFA), which bans taxing Internet access.

      Summed up by Congress, the act “amends the Internet Tax Freedom Act to make permanent the ban on state and local taxation of Internet access and on multiple or discriminatory taxes on electronic commerce.”

      While billed as a pro-consumer measure, the measure was supported most fervently by the cable and telecommunications industries.

      "We applaud the Senate on today’s passage of the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA)," said Michael Powell, president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the cable industry's trade association. "Internet access is more than a convenience, it’s critical to the daily lives of Americans."

      "By keeping Internet access free from state and local taxes, ITFA will permanently keep down the cost of connectivity, enable more American consumers and businesses to get online and allow the Internet to further power economic growth. We urge President Obama to sign this important legislation to make ITFA permanent once and for all,” said Powell. 

      Permanent tax ban

      PIFTA makes permanent the Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA), which was first passed in 1998. It placed a temporary ban, or moratorium, on taxing Internet access. 

      The key word here is “temporary.” ITFA was never made permanent, even though it received bipartisan support. Some senators consistently prevented the tax ban from being made permanent. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), for one, wanted to make passage of PITFA contingent on passage of another piece of legislation called the Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA), which stipulates that consumers must pay sales tax on online purchases.

      After being promised a vote on a new MFA in 2017, Durbin finally relented and agreed to the bill’s passing, ending 17 years of annual ITFA extensions. 

      The bill now awaits the signature of President Barack Obama. Whether he intends to sign it is unknown. If he does, states who have taxes in place for Internet access will need to cease collections by 2020.

      A long era of uncertainty over the future of Internet taxes may be coming to a close. With a 75-20 vote in the Senate today, Congress passed the Permanent ...
      Read lessRead more

      States settle with MoneyGram in scam case

      Company agrees to beef up measures to prevent MoneyGrams' use in scams

      When a scammer hooks a victim, he wants to make sure he gets the money neatly and cleanly, in a way that it can't be traced or recovered.

      For years, money wires like MoneyGram were the method of choice. It was easily accessible for the victim and it fit the bill of untraceability. Once the money was sent, it was gone.

      Because MoneyGram was often used to carry out these criminal enterprises, the attorneys general from 49 states brought a suit, claiming the company was liable. All sides have now agreed to a settlement that has two main components. There will be financial restitution for victims and MoneyGram will improve fraud detection and prevention.

      Detection and prevention

      The Dallas-based business must include the following:

      • Mandatory and documented compliance training for agents and guidelines for when an agent’s conduct warrants suspension or termination;

      • Suspension or termination of agents who fail to take reasonable steps to reduce fraudulently induced money transfers;

      • A telephone and online system where employees and agents can report noncompliance with anti-fraud measures;

      • Methods to track and evaluate actual fraud rates and consumer losses from fraudulently induced money transfers in order to utilize that information to improve compliance; and 

      • Continued enhancement of technology solutions, including its Anti-Fraud Alert System (AFAS).

      MoneyGram has agreed to pay a total of $13 million to the participating states to fund a nationwide consumer restitution program, and to cover the states’ costs and fees.

      “Heartless” scams

      “Sadly, con artists use an array of scams to prevail on people to wire them money,” acting New Jersey Attorney General Hoffman said in a release. “These range from the heartless ‘grandchild in distress’ scam -- in which a fraudster contacts a grandparent and falsely claims that money must be wired to assist with a grandchild’s medical or legal emergency -- to lottery and contest scams. In these lottery and contest scams, potential victims are told they’ve won a large sum of money but, in order to claim the prize, they must first wire money to cover required taxes or fees.”

      Can you collect? You can if you previously filed complaints with MoneyGram between July 1, 2008 and Aug. 31, 2009 related to fraudulently induced transfers sent from the U.S. to foreign countries other than Canada. Get more information here.

      Meanwhile, scammers have largely moved to an alternative way to collect funds. These days they are more likely to instruct victims to put money on a reusable money card.

      A word to the wise – never send strangers money using any method that can't be traced and in which the money can't be recovered.

      When a scammer hooks a victim, he wants to make sure he gets the money neatly and cleanly, in a way that it can't be traced or recovered.For years, mon...
      Read lessRead more

      Dog sharing app allows owners to loan out their dogs

      If you love dogs but can't commit to one, Bark'n'Borrow may be just the solution

      Dog lovers without a pooch of their own may be able to get their next dog fix with Bark’n’Borrow — an app through which you can find a dog to borrow.

      The way the app works is simple. Create a profile, pass the screening to become a verified “dog lover,” and you’ll be able to connect with a community of dog lovers in your local area.

      The three-sided marketplace aspect of Bark’n’Borrow allows you to become either a Sitter (someone who gets paid for their time), a Borrower (rewarded simply with canine companionship), or a dog owner looking for some extra love for your dog.

      Borrowing a pup

      If you’re a borrower looking to spend time with a dog — whether it’s for an afternoon walk, a day of play, or the entire time a pooch’s human is on vacation — just peruse some doggy profiles and you’ll be on your way.

      Similar to a dating app for humans, each dog has a profile which includes a photo and some basic info, such as breed, obedience level, and how it well it gets along with other dogs and children. Profiles also include typical dog characteristics, such as “curious,” “affectionate,” and “energetic.”

      Once you’ve found a winner, borrowers can reach out to the owner. If everyone gets along after meeting, they can arrange for dog walking or sitting later.

      Despite the meet-and-greets, however, there is a definite trust aspect to the service. Handing off your dog to a relative stranger might feel a little strange to a dog owner, but the company assures owners that each potential borrower has undergone a careful vetting process.

      Sharing economy

      Bark’n’Borrow’s founder Liam Berkeley believes the service might be a natural step in the sharing economy. In the age of AirBnB and Uber, dog sharing doesn’t seem too outlandish a concept.

      He says the idea for the app came to him when he was unable to commit to a dog due to work demands.  "I was contemplating rescuing a dog — I grew up with dogs — but I was working 12 or 13 hour days," Liam Berkeley tells Fast Company. "My girlfriend at the time was still in school and had a job on the side. So as much as we were thinking of getting one, we knew it wasn't the best idea."

      So Berkeley would occasionally borrow neighbors' dogs and take them for hikes. He soon discovered there was no shortage of people like himself who missed having a dog of their own, so he decided to create the simple dog-matching service.

      Dog owners and borrowers currently pay nothing for the service, but eventually Berkeley plans to charge a small fee for borrowers as well. The fee, he tells Fast Company, will help cover insurance and customer support, and a portion of the profits will go to animal rescue.

      Dog lovers without a pooch of their own may be able to get their next dog fix with Bark’n’Borrow — an app through which you can find a dog to borrow.Th...
      Read lessRead more

      Racing driver Scott Tucker indicted in payday loan operation

      He allegedly used an Indian tribe as a shield for illegally-priced loans

      Race car driver and businessman Scott Tucker has been indicted for allegedly operating a nationwide internet payday lending enterprise that systematically evaded state laws in order to charge illegal interest rates as high as 700% on loans to cash-strapped consumers.

      Tucker and his attorney, Timothy Muir, are named in criminal indictments unsealed yesterday (Wednesday) in New York. They face charges of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”) and the Truth in Lending Act (“TILA”). Both defendants were arrested in Kansas City, Kansas. 

      In Manhattan, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Tucker and Muir "targeted and exploited millions of struggling, everyday people by charging illegally high interest rates – as much as 700 percent."

      Bharara said the two claimed their $2 billion business was actually owned and operated by Native American tribes. "But," he said, through the work of the FBI and IRS, "this deceptive and predatory scheme to take advantage of the most financially vulnerable in our communities has been exposed for what it is – a criminal scheme.”  

      Miami Tribe

      Bharara also announced a non-prosecution agreement with two tribal corporations controlled by the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma. The tribes agreed to forfeit $48 million in criminal proceeds from the payday lending operation.

      The indictment charges that from at least 1997 until 2013, Tucker made small, short-term, high-interest, unsecured loans, commonly referred to as “payday loans,” through the Internet. He did business under a number of names, inclduing Ameriloan, f/k/a Cash Advance; One Click Cash, f/k/a Preferred Cash Loans; United Cash Loans; US FastCash; 500 FastCash; Advantage Cash Services; and Star Cash Processing (the “Tucker Payday Lenders”). 

      The loans were issued to more than 4.5 million working people throughout the United States, including hundreds of thousands of people in New York, many of whom were struggling to pay basic living expenses, Bharara said. Many of these loans were issued in states, including New York, with laws that expressly forbade lending at the exorbitant interest rates TUCKER charged, he added.

      The Federal Trade Commission has also been investigating Tucker. In January, the agency asked a federal court to pay $1.3 billion in damages to customers who were allegedly overcharged for their loans. That case is still pending.

      What to do

      If you believe you were a victim of one of Tucker's operations, and you wish to provide information to law enforcement or receive notice of future developments in the case, please contact the Victim/Witness Unit at the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, at (866) 874-8900. 

      More information is available online

      Race car driver and businessman Scott Tucker has been indicted for allegedly operating a nationwide internet payday lending enterprise that systematically...
      Read lessRead more

      Morgan Stanley pays $2.6 billion for its role in mortgage meltdowns

      Investors lost billions in "securitized" mortgages when the real estate market went south

      Morgan Stanley will pay $2.6 billion to settle claims that it misled investors about the value of subprime mortgages, a prime factor in the financial collapse of the last decade. 

      “Today’s settlement holds Morgan Stanley appropriately accountable for misleading investors about the subprime mortgage loans underlying the securities it sold,” said Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart F. Delery in announcing the penalty, the largest in a series that has so far totaled about $5 billion.

      As part of the agreement, Morgan Stanley admits in writing that it failed to disclose critical information to prospective investors about the quality of the mortgage loans underlying its residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) and about its due diligence practices. 

      Investors suffered billions of dollars in losses from investing in RMBS issued by Morgan Stanley in 2006 and 2007, a process dramatized in the recent film "Short."

      Investors misled

      In today's settlement, Morgan Stanley acknowledges that it made misleading representations to prospective investors about the characteristics of the subprime mortgage loans underlying its RMBS.

      In particular, Morgan Stanley told investors that it did not securitize underwater loans (loans that exceeded the value of the property).  However, Morgan Stanley did not disclose to investors that in April 2006 it had expanded its “risk tolerance” in evaluating loans in order to purchase and securitize “everything possible.” 

      As Morgan Stanley’s manager of valuation due diligence told an employee in 2006, “please do not mention the ‘slightly higher risk tolerance’ in these communications.  We are running under the radar and do not want to document these types of things.” 

      Through these undisclosed practices, Morgan Stanley increased the percentage of mortgage loans it purchased for its RMBS, notwithstanding its awareness about “deteriorating appraisal quality” and “sloppy underwriting” by the sellers of these loans. 

      Morgan Stanley will pay $2.6 billion to settle claims that it misled investors about the value of subprime mortgages, a prime factor in the financial colla...
      Read lessRead more

      Improving local job markets have fewer folks relocating for employment

      Challenger, Gray & Christmas says the economy has reached a 'turning point'

      The number of job-seekers packing up the truck for greener pastures is on the decline.

      Outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas says the latest data on relocation rates show that -- on average -- 11% of those finding employment each quarter in 2015 moved for a new position. That's down significantly from a four-quarter average of 13% in 2014 and 2013.

      Relocation reached a post-recession high in the second half of 2014, as 15% of job seekers pulled up stakes for new opportunities during the final two quarters of the year.

      The new data is based on a quarterly survey of approximately 1,000 people completing the job search.

      “It is typical to see these small windows of relocation surges,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “They tend to occur at the beginning of recessions and then again as the economy moves from recovery to expansion.”

      A turning point

      Challenger said last year definitely marked a turning point in the recovery. “We finally regained all of the jobs lost as a result of the 2008-2009 recession and, by the end of the year, the national unemployment rate fell to 5.0%. Even with the struggles in the oil industry, the number of metropolitan areas throughout the country with unemployment rates below the national average continued to grow."

      The relocation rate in the last half of 2014 was the highest since the first half of 2009, when an average of 16.3% of job seekers moved in the immediate wake of the recession.

      Relocation activity plunged after the first half of 2009 as home values continued to decline, which made it virtually impossible to sell an existing home without taking a significant loss. But, Challenger noted, “The housing market improved in enough places by the second half of 2014 to, once again, make relocation a job search consideration."

      “However,” he continued, “the window in which relocation is the best option typically closes quickly, since moving involves so much cost and risk -- even in the strongest economy.”

      What to do

      Challenger advises those relocating for a new position to make professional and social networking a top priority.

      “Join local professional associations related to your occupation or industry,” he said. “Volunteer for charitable and service organizations. And, do not overlook your new neighbors. Getting to know people in your new area will not only make the transition easier, but these are the people who will help you if your new employment situation does not work out.”

      Initial claims

      Elsewhere on the jobs front, the Department of Labor (DOL) reports that the number of people lining up to apply for unemployment benefits for the first time fell by 16,000 in the week ending February 6 to a seasonally adjusted total of 269,000.The previous week's claims level was unchanged.

      The four-week moving average, which is less volatile and considered a more accurate gauge of the labor market, came in at 281,250 -- down 3,500 from the previous week.

      The complete report is available on the DOL website.

      The number of job-seekers packing up the truck for greener pastures is on the decline.Outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas says the la...
      Read lessRead more

      Pier 1 Imports recalls swivel dining chairs

      The chairs can break at the base

      Pier 1 Imports U.S. of Fort Worth, Texas, is recalling about 804 Capella Island Swivel Dining chairs in the U.S. and Canada.

      The chairs can break at the base, posing fall hazard to the user.

      The company has received three reports of the chairs breaking, including two reports of customers falling. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Pier 1 Imports Capella Island Swivel Dining chairs. The plastic wicker chairs have a natural wood color. The chair measures about 26 inches wide by 26 inches deep and 39 inches high.

      The chairs, manufactured in Vietnam, were sold exclusively at Pier 1 Imports stores nationwide and online at Pier1.com from January 2015, through October 2015, for between $240 and $500.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled chairs and return them to any Pier 1 Imports store for a full refund or a merchandise credit.

      Consumers may contact Pier 1 Imports at 800-245-4595 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (CT) or Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (CT) or online at www.Pier1.com and click on the “Product Notes & Recalls” at the bottom of the page for more information.

      Pier 1 Imports U.S. of Fort Worth, Texas, is recalling about 804 Capella Island Swivel Dining chairs in the U.S. and Canada. The chairs can break a...
      Read lessRead more

      General Motors recalls vehicles with braking issue

      The brake pedal could loosen or become inoperative

      General Motors is recalling 426,593 model year 2015-2016 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 and 3500 heavy duty trucks manufactured October 1, 2013, to February 1, 2016; 2015-2016 Chevrolet Tahoe Police Pursuit Vehicles (PPV) manufactured March 1, 2014, to February 1, 2016; and 2015-2016 GMC Sierra 2500 and 3500 heavy duty trucks manufactured October 29, 2013, to February 1, 2016.

      The brake pedal pivot nut may loosen, causing the brake pedal to be loose or inoperative. If the brake pedal becomes loose or inoperative, the driver may be unable to stop the vehicle by using the brake pedal. Additionally, a loose pedal may also interfere with the accelerator pedal. Either condition may increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the brake pedal pivot nuts, adding thread adhesive and tightening the nut as necessary, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020 or GMC customer service at 1-800-462-8782. GM's number for this recall is 20760.

      General Motors is recalling 426,593 model year 2015-2016 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 and 3500 heavy duty trucks manufactured October 1, 2013, to February 1, 2...
      Read lessRead more

      Are you addicted to your smartphone?

      How to tell if your device is controlling you, and how to break free of digital dependency

      We’ve all been there: that moment when an instant of boredom becomes twenty minutes of mindlessly toggling back and forth between apps. “This is way better than sitting here doing nothing,” your brain tells you, as you take in yet another photo of your high school friend’s dog.

      While these phone-staring sessions are usually nothing more than a time waster, they can easily turn into something more harmful if left unchecked. As technology sinks its roots deeper into our daily lives, digital dependency is becoming more common. For many, device use can spiral into compulsion territory.

      So how can you tell if you’re in an unhealthy relationship with your smartphone? You can start by turning it off, says Mariya Shiyko, PhD., an Assistant Professor in Northeastern University’s Department of Applied Psychology.

      Take a break

      According to Shiyko, an expert on digital detoxes, the best way to tell if you could stand to distance yourself from your device is by turning it off for a few hours.

      “See if you can continue engaging with life without constantly thinking about the end of this miserable break, compulsively reaching for your phone or checking the time,” says Shiyko in an interview with ConsumerAffairs. During this break, are you able to function well and enjoy life? If not, then you may be too dependent on your device.

      “You know it’s not healthy if you NEED your device,” says Shiyko, adding that if your happiness and well-being become tied up in anything else — whether it’s drugs, alcohol, or your phone — it has become an addiction. Digital addiction is no different from any other forms of addiction, she says.

      There’s nothing wrong with a glass of wine just as there’s nothing inherently wrong with technology, explains Shiyko — but with each, there is the potential for misuse. 

      Detoxing

      If you’ve decided to give technology a rest, the next question might be “How?” — especially if you frequently use your device for work purposes. Shiyko says that as with anything else, you can go big or small.

      Digital detoxing, she says, is similar to a bodily cleanse in that there are many different routes to take. “A spring cleanse for your body might look like a week on juices and light vegetarian meals or it may be one fasting day per week continuously,” says Shiyko. “Everyone needs to find what works for them.”

      She suggests choosing one weekend a month to keep your phone and email locked up. Or you could go smaller by detaching yourself from computers and devices for half a day on a weekend, or simply by turning them off after 8 PM daily.

      Instead of being glued to a computer screen or a TV, go outside or make plans to visit your friends or family in person, says Shikyo. In conquering your reliance on technology, you’ll experience benefits similar to those of a person who is mentally healthy — less stress, anxiety, depression, and higher levels of life satisfaction.

      “The more mental freedom one has, independently of gadgets or political news,” says Shiyko, "the more one can enjoy meaningful interpersonal interactions, creativity, and multitudes of opportunities that technology enables.”

      We’ve all been there: that moment when an instant of boredom becomes twenty minutes of mindlessly toggling back and forth between apps. “This is way better...
      Read lessRead more

      Why homeownership is a ‘dream deferred’ for Millennials

      There are more hurdles in their quest for homeownership, but there's an upside to the delay, experts say

      Coming of age precisely as the housing market collapsed should, by all accounts, have caused millennials to become leery of mortgages — but it hasn’t. Despite the housing crash, research shows that more than 85% of the millennial generation still believe that owning a home makes more financial sense than renting.

      It comes as a surprise to many that the generation known for choosing to buy the latest gadget rather than a big-ticket item would be interested in owning property. But the general public has the wrong perception about them, says Yilan Xu, a professor of agricultural and consumer economics at Illinois.

      "It doesn't seem like they would want to. But it turns out that millennials still do eventually want to own a home,” says Xu. “They just face significant obstacles in doing so."

      According to a new paper co-written by a University of Illinois expert in household and individual financial behaviors, there are several factors that affect the housing demand of the millennial generation, including mortgage accessibility, the burden of student loan debt, and the fact that millennials are taking their time settling down and starting families.

      All of these factors indicate that the American dream of homeownership is not dead, says Xu — it’s just deferred.

      Upside in delay

      According to Xu, there is an upside in millennials delaying homeownership. In considering what happened during the credit expansion, Xu notes that many people who were not really ready for homeownership were lured into it.

      “That’s certainly not what we want to see again,” she says. But Xu explains that the more stringent credit conditions will select the more financially prepared millennials for homeownership.

      “As a result, millennials' homeownership will be more sustainable, and their financial stability and wealth accumulation may be enhanced,” says Xu. “If that's the case, then maybe a little delay in buying their first home isn't too bad if they're a more responsible homeowner."

      Older millennials

      Last year, as we reported, the generation once pigeonholed as renters surprised us. Millennials accounted for 68% of first-time home buyer sales in the first half of the year, according to the NAR’s 2015 Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends report.

      This is an important piece of data, says Realtor.com’s Chief Economist Jonathan Smoke, because the people who have increased the demand (and price) of rental inventory are increasingly trading rent payments for mortgages.

      “People who believe that Millennials are disinterested in home ownership are grossly mistaken,” said Smoke. He adds that they’ve just had to work a little harder to establish credit and save for a down payment.

      But now that older millennials are beginning to enjoy the life events that drive homeownership — marriage and children — now is the most appropriate time for them to consider homeownership, says Smoke. We’re beginning to see the impact of that, he says.

      Coming of age precisely as the housing market collapsed should, by all accounts, have caused millennials to become leery of mortgages — but it hasn’t. Desp...
      Read lessRead more

      IRS hacked using stolen Social Security numbers

      Thieves were trying to generate E-file PINS, the agency said

      Crooks have been using stolen Social Security numbers to try to get information that could be used to steal tax refunds, the Internal Revenue Service said.

      Most of the automated attacks were aimed at generating E-file PINs, the IRS said. The PINs would then be used to generate phony returns or to waylay refunds.

      The Social Security numbers were used in abot 464,000 automated attacks, of which about 101,000 successfully generated a PIN, the IRS said.

      The agency, which is no stranger to hacking, said that no personal taxpayer information was disclosed in this incident and said that affected taxpayers would be notified by mail.

      You may have mail

      Consumers should note that the official notification will come via the U.S. Postal Service. Scam artists will soon be out in force, sending emails and calling taxpayers claiming to be the IRS. 

      Last May, the IRS admitted that hackers had stolen the personal data of as many as 334,000 taxpayers after initially saying only 100,000 had been affected.

      Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) says he will question IRS Commissioner John Koskinen about the attack at a hearing today, the Wall Street Journal reported.

      “While it appears that the IRS was able to successfully block this attempted breach this time around, it’s past time we fundamentally rethink our approach in authenticating taxpayers and processing tax returns,” Mr. Hatch said, according to the Journal.

      Crooks have been using stolen Social Security numbers to try to get information that could be used to steal tax refunds, the Internal Revenue Service said....
      Read lessRead more

      Fed Chair Janet Yellen defends decision to hike interest rates

      Reaffirms view that the economy is healthy

      Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen was the subject of close attention Wednesday as she testified before the House Financial Services Committee.

      After all, since the Fed hiked its key interest rate in December, the stock market has been in turmoil, with averages selling off significantly. Some market analysts have suggested the U.S. economy is sliding into a recession and have questioned the Fed's wisdom in hiking rates in the face of a slowing economy.

      But if anyone expected Yellen to back away from the Fed's December rate hike, they were disappointed. Yellen told the committee that since her last appearance before it in July, the economy has made further progress toward full employment. In fact, the January unemployment rate fell to 4.9%.

      The Fed Chair did, however, concede that there could be some rough spots on the economic horizon.

      Less supportive of growth

      “Financial conditions in the United States have recently become less supportive of growth, with declines in broad measures of equity prices, higher borrowing rates for riskier borrowers, and a further appreciation of the dollar,” Yellen said in prepared testimony. “These developments, if they prove persistent, could weigh on the outlook for economic activity and the labor market, although declines in longer-term interest rates and oil prices provide some offset.”

      "If" may be the key word in that paragraph. Right now there is no strong consensus on the direction of the economy. Yellen said the Fed would be looking to see if there are ongoing employment gains and faster wage growth. If there are, she says that should promote faster economic growth.

      With rapid economic growth comes inflation – at least it has in the past. The Fed's policy of gradually raising interest rates is designed to keep inflation under control.

      In her appearance before the committee, Yellen made it clear that the Fed began on the path of rising interest rates because it believes the economy is growing, and so far it has seen nothing to suggest it was mistaken.

      Trouble outside the U.S.

      But she acknowledged that might not be the case in the rest of the world, and global economic trouble can always have a negative impact in the U.S. While the Fed is raising rates as a hedge against possible inflation, Japan has instituted negative interest rates – meaning it costs money to put money into bonds – to head off deflation.

      “As is always the case, the economic outlook is uncertain,” Yellen said. “Foreign economic developments, in particular, pose risks to U.S. economic growth.”

      She points to economic problems in China as a potential trouble spot that could have ramifications in the U.S. She also conceded that inflation remains below the Fed's target of 2%, which to many suggests the U.S. economy is not growing that fast.

      But Yellen attributes the low rate to a steep drop in energy prices. She again defended the Fed's decision in December to hike interest rates, saying it reflected the belief that economic activity would continue to expand at a moderate pace and labor market indicators would continue to strengthen.

      Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen was the subject of close attention Wednesday as she testified before the House Financial Services Committee.After al...
      Read lessRead more

      Falling gas prices still putting money in consumers' pockets

      U.S. has largest oil supply for this time of year in nearly 80 years

      Retail gasoline prices continue to fall across the U.S., hitting levels even the experts believed would never be seen again.

      The national average price of self-serve regular is around $1.72 a gallon, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey. A year ago, the average price was $2.17 a gallon.

      Motorists can thank oil prices, which continue to fall in the face of an increasing supply glut. AAA reports the U.S. is swimming in oil, with crude oil inventories at their highest level for this time of year in nearly eight decades.

      Barring any major disruptions in supply, AAA predicts gas prices will remain near their lowest price point since the Great Recession, at least for the next couple of weeks. Once refineries begin to curtail operations for seasonal maintenance, oil prices will be less of a factor and gasoline prices should rise a bit.

      The end of the decline?

      Also, gasoline demand usually starts to increase in February, reaching its peak in August.

      The combination of increased demand and reduced supply often leads to upward swings in the price at the pump. Still, with prices so low and oil prices headed down instead of up, increases at the pump should be fairly painless.

      For years, the national average gasoline price has disguised the fact that gas was cheap in some parts of the country and really expensive in other parts. AAA says prices are now more even than they've been in years, with the southeast and southwest still enjoying the lowest prices but the Pacific northwest not outrageously expensive.

      According to AAA, drivers in 44 states continue to pay gas prices below $2 per gallon. Oklahoma pays the least at $1.42 a gallon. Hawaii pays the most at $2.63 a gallon.

      In addition, prices at the pump are moving in the right direction, as far as drivers are concerned. Gasoline prices are down in nearly every state week-over-week and consumers in 20 states are saving a nickel or more per gallon at the pump.

      The biggest price drops in the last week came in the Midwest. Drivers in Ohio and Indiana saw their price drop 14 cents a gallon. Michigan motorists are saving 13 cents a gallon.

      Retail gasoline prices continue to fall across the U.S., hitting levels even the experts believed would never be seen again.The national average price ...
      Read lessRead more

      Job openings on the rise in December

      2015 saw a net employment gain

      Job openings rose to 5.6 million in December, according to new figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for an openings rate of 3.8%.

      The number of openings for private payrolls was up, but was little changed for government. Openings increased in construction (+69,000), nondurable goods manufacturing (+60,000) and durable goods manufacturing (+26,000). In the regions, job openings increased in the West.

      The number of job openings (not seasonally adjusted) increased over the 12 months ending in December for total nonfarm and total private, and edged up for government. The largest changes in openings over the year came in health care and social assistance (+172,000) and finance and insurance (+99,000). The number of job openings increased  over the year in the Northeast, Midwest, and West.

      Hires

      There were 5.4 million hires in December -- little changed from November, but up 5.0 million from December 2007, the first month of the recession. The hires rate for the month was 3.7%. There was little change in the number of hires for total private and government, with what gains there were coming in professional and business services.

      Over the 12 months ending in December, the number of hires (not seasonally adjusted) was little changed for total nonfarm and total private and edged up for government. At the industry level, hires increased in accommodation and food services (+93,000); transportation, warehousing, and utilities (+43,000); and federal government (+11,000). Hires edged down in construction. The number of hires was little changed in all four regions over the year.

      Separations

      Total separations includes quits, layoffs and discharges, and other separations, with total separations referred to as turnover. Quits are generally voluntary separations initiated by the employee, while layoffs and discharges are involuntary separations initiated by the employer. Other separations include separations due to retirement, death, and disability, as well as transfers to other locations of the same firm.

      There were 5.1 million total separations in December, roughly the same as November, for a total separations rate of 3.5%. There was little change in the number of total separations for total private and government. In December, total separations edged up in accommodation and food services and in state and local government. The number of total separations was little changed in all four regions.

      Quits

      There were 3.1 million quits in December for a rate of 2.1%, with the number of quits coming in higher than in December 2007 (2.8 million). The number of quits rose for total private and government over the month. Quits rose in state and local government (+20,000) but fell in nondurable goods manufacturing (-25,000). Quits increased in the South over the month.

      The number of quits (not seasonally adjusted) increased over the 12 months ending in December for total nonfarm, total private, and government. Quits increased over the year in several industries with the largest changes occurring in professional and business services (+102,000), accommodation and food services (+68,000), and retail trade (+58,000). In the regions, quits rose in the South and Midwest.

      Layoffs and discharges

      There were 1.6 million layoffs and discharges -- little changed from November, for a rate of 1.1%. The number of layoffs and discharges was little changed over the month for total private and unchanged for government, and showed little change in all four regions.

      The number of layoffs and discharges (not seasonally adjusted) decreased over the 12 months ending in December for total nonfarm and total private and edged up for government. Layoffs and discharges rose in mining and logging (+7,000) and fell in construction (-129,000) and retail trade
      (-64,000). The number of layoffs and discharges was little changed in all four regions over the year.

      Other

      In December, there were 411,000 other separations for total nonfarm, little changed from November. Over the month, the number of other separations was little changed for total private at 343,000 and for government at 68,000.

      Over the 12 months ending in December, the number of other separations (not seasonally adjusted) fell for total nonfarm and total private and was little changed for government. Other separations increased over the year in federal government (+7,000). Other separations decreased in the South region over the year.

      Net change in employment

      Large numbers of hires and separations occur every month throughout the business cycle. Net employment change results from the relationship between hires and separations. When the number of hires exceeds the number of separations, employment rises, even if the hires level is steady or declining.

      Conversely, when the number of hires is less than the number of separations, employment declines, even if the hires level is steady or rising. Over the 12 months ending in December 2015, hires totaled 61.4 million and separations totaled 58.8 million, yielding a net employment gain of 2.6 million. These totals include workers who may have been hired and separated more than once during the year.

      The complete report is available on the BLS website.

      Job openings rose to 5.6 million in December, according to new figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for an openings rate of 3.8%.The number of ...
      Read lessRead more

      Mortgage applications surge as interest rates drop

      Refinancings were up sharply

      Mortgage applications bounced back from their first decline in four weeks.

      According to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), applications jumped 9.3% during the week ending February 5.

      The Refinance Index shot up 16%, pushing the refinance share of mortgage activity to 61.2% of total applications from 59.2% the week before.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity rose to 6.4% of total applications, The FHA share dipped to 12.3% from 12.9% the prior week, the VA share was unchanged from 11.1% and the USDA share of total applications slipped to 0.6% from 0.7% a week earlier.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) fell six basis points -- from 3.97% to 3.91%, its lowest level since April 2015, with points unchanged at 0.41 (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 its lowest level since April 2013 -- 3.76%, from 3.84% -- with points increasing to 0.30 from 0.26 (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 dropped eight basis points to 3.72%, its lowest level since May 2015, with points decreasing to 0.33 from 0.35 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs decreased to its lowest level since April 2015, 3.18%, from 3.22%, with points increasing to 0.38 from 0.37 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs slipped four basis points to 2.96%, its lowest level since October 2015, with points decreasing to 0.30 from 0.34 (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 bounced back from their first decline in four weeks.According to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), applications jumped 9.3%...
      Read lessRead more

      Living Tree Community Foods recalls macadamia nuts and macadamia butter

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Living Tree Community Foods of Berkeley, Calif., is recalling Organic Macadamia Nuts and Organic Macadamia Butter.

      The products maybe contaminated with Salmonella.

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

      The recalled products were distributed throughout the U.S. via retail stores (California, Connecticut) and to mail order customers.

      Living Tree Community Foods Organic Macadamia Nuts come in a 4-oz. clear plastic pouch marked with lot #153442 on the top.

      Living Tree Community Foods Organic Macadamia Butter comes in an 8-oz. glass jar, with a Living Tree Community label on it.

      Affected lot numbers are: 134415, 136215, 101716. The UPC Code is: 641432000987. These items were shipped between December 12, 2015, and February 3, 2016.

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume, but return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-510-526-7106 from 8:30-4:30 (PST) Monday thru Thursday and 8:30-3:00pm (PST) on Friday.

      Living Tree Community Foods of Berkeley, Calif., is recalling Organic Macadamia Nuts and Organic Macadamia Butter. The products may be contaminated...
      Read lessRead more

      Toyota recalls Scion FR-S vehicles

      Automatic transmission key interlock connectors may not have been connected on some vehicles

      Toyota Motor Sales, USA is recalling approximately 26,000 Model Year 2013-2016 Scion FR-S vehicles.

      Connectors for the automatic transmission key interlock on some vehicles may not have been connected during pre-delivery service prior to sale. That would make it possible to remove the key in gear positions other than “Park,” increasing the risk of vehicle rollaway and a crash. Thus, theese vehicles do not comply with a portion of Federal/Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 114.

      All known owners of the subject vehicles will be notified by first class mail and instructed to return the vehicle to a Toyota dealer to have the ignition key interlock function confirmed, and if necessary, delivery mode connectors connected at no charge.

      Owners may contact customer at 1-800-331-4331 for Toyota or 1-800-255-3987 for Lexus.

      Toyota Motor Sales, USA is recalling approximately 26,000 Model Year 2013-2016 Scion FR-S vehicles. Connectors for the automatic transmission key i...
      Read lessRead more

      Feinberg: VW diesel compensation plans will be "generous" for consumers

      However, things are moving slowly as the company has yet to determine what kind of compensation consumers can expect

      Back in December it was announced that Volkswagen would be turning to Kenneth Feinberg to settle claims related to its diesel scandal. The American attorney, who is noted for handling compensation funds for GM’s ignition switch scandal and many others, has told a German newspaper that VW will be offering “generous compensation packages to the roughly 600,000 U.S. owners of diesel vehicles whose emissions are over the legal limit,” according to a Reuters report.

      However, in what manner -- and when -- consumers can expect to be compensated is still uncertain. The company has not yet determined whether vehicle owners will be given cash, car buy-back options, repairs to existing cars, or replacement cars, according to Feinberg’s report.

      High expectations

      The process of determining adequate compensation has been slowed mostly because VW has had trouble putting a price on the scandal. The company has not been able to come to an agreement with federal agencies on how the problem will be fixed – something that Feinberg is quick to note.

      “My hands are tied as long as VW and the authorities have not overcome their differences,” he said, stating that it’s unlikely that the fund would be set up within the established 60-90-day period. However, he is confident that once things get rolling he’ll be able to create a plan that will be accepted by the public. He will be looking to duplicate his past successes in creating compensation plans.

      “Look at my prior cases: 97 percent of the victims of Sept. 11 accepted my offer. At GM and BP it was more than 90 percent, too. That has to be my target for VW,” he said.

      Fair treatment

      For many consumers, being compensated for the scandal is simply a matter of fairness. The scandal may not have affected them on a personal level, but the general outcry shows that consumers won’t stand for being misled.

      “It is a purely business transaction, less emotional. I see that from emails I get from vehicle owners, who say things like: ‘Mr. Feinberg, I know I haven’t lost a relative, I just want to be treated fairly.’ They are all quite reasonable,” he said.

      The attorney shouldn’t have too much resistance when it comes to setting a price that consumers will agree on; VW has given him complete authority over setting compensation prices. 

      Back in December it was announced that Volkswagen would be turning to Kenneth Feinberg to settle claims related to its diesel scandal. The American attorne...
      Read lessRead more

      Study: renters pay more for car insurance

      Consumer group says practice falls most heavily on low income consumers

      Since the housing market crash, fewer people have been able to buy homes, meaning more people have to rent.

      Rents have quickly escalated to the point that last summer, Zillow declared a “rent affordability crisis.”

      It's bad enough that rent keeps going through the roof, but a new study claims renters face another hit in the pocketbook – they pay more for car insurance than people who own their homes.

      An analysis of auto insurance premiums by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) found major insurance companies charge consumers with good driving records as much as 47% more for car insurance if they rent.

      30 year-old safe driver

      The study is based on a sampling of insurance quotes across the country for a 30-year old safe driver. If that driver happened to be a renter rather than an owner, the CFA found he or she paid about $112 more per year.

      The CFA said Liberty Mutual penalized renters the most with premium hikes, averaging 19% more for state mandated auto insurance coverage.

      The CFA maintains this practice ends up placing an economic hardship on low-to-moderate income consumers who tend to be renters. In 2013, the median income of renters was $27,800 compared with $63,400 for homeowners.

      "To raise people's auto insurance premium because they can't afford to buy their homes unfairly discriminates against lower-income drivers," Robert Hunter, the CFA's Insurance Director and the former Insurance Commissioner of Texas, said in a release. "A good driver is a good driver whether she rents or owns her home. Insurance companies should not be allowed to target people based on homeownership status."

      Other rate-setting factors

      But homeownership status is far from the only thing that can affect what you pay for car insurance. As we have previously reported, your credit score can also affect your rate. Only three states – California, Massachusetts, and Hawaii – outlaw the practice of using credit scores to set auto insurance rates.

      Other external factors that insurance companies use to gauge risk – and thereby set rates – are marital status and the Zip Code in which you live. Again, some states – notably California – don't allow those criteria to be used.

      The CFA says the average rate differential for renters is 6%, but when you break it down on a company-by-company level, there are several that charge renters double-digit increases over homeowners.

      The consumer groups says Geico was the only company tested that did not consider homeownership status in any of the 10 cities it measured. And in one case – in Chicago – the CFA said it found Allstate actually gave renters a break, lowering their car insurance premiums by 11% compared to homeowners.

      Since the housing market crash, fewer people have been able to buy homes, meaning more people have to rent.Rents have quickly escalated to the point th...
      Read lessRead more

      Sale Slash to pay $10 million, slash its weight-loss spam

      Feds have slimmed down the bank accounts of two weight-loss supplement promoters

      Sale Slash LLC will stop flooding consumers' in-boxes with weight loss offers, can its fake news sites and bogus celebrity endorsements, and pay $10 million, most of which will be used for consumer reimbursement. 

      The Glendale, California, company sold diet pills, including Premium Green Coffee, Pure Garcinia Cambogia, Premium White Kidney Bean Extract, Pure Forskolin Extract, and Pure Caralluma Fimbriata Extract, while using fake endorsements from celebrities ike Oprah Winfrey.

      “Sale Slash’s business model was built on lies,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “They used spam email, fake news sites, and phony celebrity endorsements to make their outlandish weight loss claims.”

      The court order settling the FTC's charges prohibits Sale Slash and its affiliates from making weight-loss claims unless they are not misleading and are supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence. Such evidence specifically includes a human clinical test or study substantiating the claim.

      "Blizzard of lies"

      In another case, two Maine-based marketers will surrender "substantial" personal and business assets and will be prohibited from making deceptive claims about health products and engaging in deceptive marketing practices under a settlement reached with the FTC and the State of Maine’s Office of the Attorney General.

      The agencies’ joint complaint charges Anthony Dill, his wife Staci Dill, and their two companies, Direct Alternatives and Original Organics LLC, with violating the FTC Act and Maine consumer protection laws in connection with their promotion and sale of weight loss supplements AF Plus and Final Trim.

      In total, the defendants sold more than $16 million worth of the two products over the past four years. The companies have since ceased all sales.

      “The Dills’ companies told a blizzard of lies,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “They sold worthless weight-loss supplements, lied about their supposed ‘risk-free trial’ offers, took people’s money with unauthorized auto-renewal plans, and made it nearly impossible to return their bogus products.”

      “This company preyed on the vulnerability of consumers who seek a legitimate weight loss program,” said Attorney General Janet T. Mills. “The alleged conduct here is not limited to making false claims about their products; it also includes charging consumers hundreds of dollars in automatic monthly orders and making it very difficult for customers to cancel orders or get their money back. The Maine Attorney General’s Office is grateful to the FTC for the resources and assistance it brought to this case.”

      The joint complaint alleges that the defendants falsely claimed users would quickly and easily lose significant weight and reduce their waist size by taking AF Plus and Final Trim and that the results were “proven” by scientific studies. The defendants used radio ads – at least one of which claimed to be a public service announcement – to sell their products.

      Sale Slash LLC will stop flooding consumers' in-boxes with weight loss offers, can its fake news sites and bogus celebrity endorsements, and pay $10 millio...
      Read lessRead more

      Feds create unit to police for-profit colleges

      Will look for predatory practices before they ensnare students

      The problems students have had with some for-profit school are well documented. Remember Corinthian College?

      You don't have to have a long memory. In September 2014 the U.S. government sued the for-profit college for what it called an illegal predatory lending scheme.

      The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) charged that  Corinthian lured tens of thousands of students to take out private loans to cover expensive tuition costs by advertising bogus job prospects and career services. To make matters worse, CFPB said Corinthian then used illegal debt collection tactics to strong-arm students into paying back those loans while still in school.

      Before it declared bankruptcy and closed less than a year later, thousands of students had borrowed huge sums to attend, with nothing to show for it.

      Proactive move

      Now, the Department of Education wants to make sure potential train wrecks like Corinthian cross its radar screen before consumers have been harmed. It has announced creation of a Student Aid Enforcement Unit to respond more quickly and efficiently at the first suggestions of trouble.

      "When Americans invest their time, money and effort to gain new skills, they have a right to expect they'll actually get an education that leads to a better life for them and their families," Acting Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. said in a release. "When that doesn't happen we all pay the price. So let me be clear: schools looking to cheat students and taxpayers will be held accountable."

      To head up the unit, Robert Kaye is coming over from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), where he was a top enforcement attorney.

      Four divisions

      The new unit will have four divisions that will perform special roles. The Investigations Group will be the early warning system, on the lookout for potential misconduct or high-risk activity among higher education institutions so that it can protect federal funding.

      The Borrower Defense Group will provide legal support, It will analyze claims and make injury determinations.

      The Administrative Actions And Appeals Service Group will impose administrative actions, such as suspending an institution and levying a fine. It will also try to resolve appeals by program participants.

      The Clery Group will make sure for-profit colleges comply with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, requiring colleges and universities participating in federal financial aid programs to disclose campus crime statistics and security information.

      The problems students have had with some for-profit school are well documented. Remember Corinthian College?You don't have to have a long memory. In Se...
      Read lessRead more

      Completed foreclosures down again in December

      Foreclosure inventories were lower as well

      The latest National Foreclosure Report from CoreLogic shows completed foreclosures posted a year-over-year decline of 22.6% in December -- from 41,000 to 32,000 -- and are down 72.8% from their September 2010 peak of 117,722.

      In addition, the property information, analytics, and data-enabled services provider reports the foreclosure inventory that same month dropped 23.8%. The foreclosure inventory represents the number of homes at some stage of the foreclosure process and completed foreclosures reflect the total number of homes lost to foreclosure.

      Since the beginning of the financial meltdown in September 2008, there have been approximately 6.1 million completed foreclosures across the country. And since homeownership rates peaked in the second quarter of 2004, there have been about 8 million homes lost to foreclosure.

      As of this past December, the national foreclosure inventory included approximately 433,000, or 1.1%, of all homes with a mortgage, compared with 568,000 homes, or 1.5% the year before. The December 2015 foreclosure inventory rate is the lowest for any month since November 2007.

      “Reflecting on the full-year foreclosure results for 2015, we can see that completed foreclosures are down more than 20% for the year, which is the lowest level since 2006, before the crisis,” said Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic. “Maryland, which can be described as a suburb of the solid D.C. market, led the way with a 59% decline in foreclosures in 2015.”

      CoreLogic also reports that the number of mortgages in serious delinquency (defined as 90 days or more past due, including loans in foreclosure or real estate owned) declined by 23.3% from December 2014 to December 2015, with 1.2 million mortgages, or 3.2%, in this category. The December 2015 serious delinquency rate is the lowest in eight years.

      “The supply of distressed inventory continues to shrink rapidly. While this is positive for the housing market overall, it also drives a decline in the inventory of affordable for-sale homes,” said Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO of CoreLogic. “The lack of housing stock, particularly affordable inventory, is a growing issue and will limit a full housing recovery in the short to medium term.”

      Report highlights:

      • On a month-over-month basis, completed foreclosures declined by 5.6% to 32,000 in December 2015 from the 34,000 reported in November 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 five states with the highest number of completed foreclosures for the 12 months ending in December 2015 were Florida (79,000), Michigan (50,000), Texas (30,000), Ohio (24,000), and Georgia (24,000). These five 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 December 2015: the District of Columbia (81), North Dakota (220), Wyoming (541), West Virginia (560), and Alaska (700).
      • Four states and the District of Columbia had the highest foreclosure inventory rate in December 2015: New Jersey (4.2%), New York (3.5%), Hawaii (2.4%), the District of Columbia (2.3%), and Florida (2.3%).
      • The five states with the lowest foreclosure inventory rate in December 2015 were Alaska (0.3%), Minnesota (0.3%), Colorado (0.4%), Arizona (0.4%), and Utah (0.4%).
      The latest National Foreclosure Report from CoreLogic shows completed foreclosures posted a year-over-year decline of 22.6% in December -- from 41,000 to 3...
      Read lessRead more

      Fresh Express recalls chopped romaine salad

      The products may contain milk, eggs, wheat and fish, allergens not listed on the label

      Fresh Express Incorporated is recalling a limited quantity of 32-oz. Fresh Express Chopped Romaine with a Product Code of G034A06A and Use-By Date of February 19.

      The sealed condiment packets containing individual packets of dressing, croutons and Parmesan cheese used in the brand’s Caesar salads were mistakenly placed in a limited quantity of the chopped romaine product. Ingredients in the individual packets include milk, eggs, wheat and fish, allergens not listed on the label.

      No illnesses have been reported.

      The following products are being recalled:

      Recalled Product Distribution
      Fresh Express Precautionary Recall, Chopped Romaine – 2/06/16
      (No other Fresh Express Salads are included in this recall)

      BRANDPRODUCT NAMESIZEUPCPRODUCTION CODEBEST IF USED BY DATEPOSSIBLE DISTRIBUTION STATES
      Fresh ExpressChopped Romaine32 oz.071279261003G034A06A19-FebCT, DE, FL, GA, MA, ME, MD, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, VA

      Customers who have the recalled product should discard it

      A refund is available where purchased or by contacting the Fresh Express consumer response center toll-free at (800) 242-5472 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (ET).

      Fresh Express Incorporated is recalling a limited quantity of 32-oz. Fresh Express Chopped Romaine with a Product Code of G034A06A and Use-By Date of Febru...
      Read lessRead more

      H-E-B Creamy Creations Caramel Pecan Turtle Ice Cream recalled

      Pieces of wood pieces may be present in the product

      H-E-B is recalling H-E-B Creamy Creations Caramel Pecan Turtle Ice Cream.

      The product may contain pieces of wood.

      There have been no reports of illness.

      The following products are being recalled:

      DescriptionUPCSell By Date
      H-E-B Creamy Creations
      Caramel Pecan Turtle Ice Cream
      0 4122051877 7SELL BY: 20 APR(APR)16
      SELL BY: 10 MAY(MAY)16
      SELL BY: 07 JUN(JUN)16
      SELL BY: 18 JUL(JUL)16

      Customers who purchased the product can return it to the store for a full refund.

      Consumers with any questions or concerns may contact H-E-B customer service at 1-855-432-4438.

      H-E-B is recalling H-E-B Creamy Creations Caramel Pecan Turtle Ice Cream.   The product may contain pieces of wood.   There have been no report...
      Read lessRead more

      KHS America recalls children’s musical instrument

      The instrument may contain excessive levels of lead in the paint

      KHS America of Mt. Juliet, Tenn., is recalling about 150 Monkey Glockenspiel children’s musical instruments.

      The pink metal note bar on the glockenspiel may contain excessive levels of lead in the paint, violating the federal lead paint standard. If the paint is scraped off and ingested lead can cause adverse health effects.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      The Green Tones 8-note Monkey Glockenspiel is a children’s musical instrument with eight metal bars in multiple colors mounted on a wooden base shaped like a monkey. The bars are individually attached to the base with one screw at each end.

      The second bar from the top is pink, 3.5 inches long and has a “B” stamped on it. This is the bar that needs to be replaced.

      The Green Tones logo is stamped on the back of the glockenspiel and the tracking number HS0178410914 is printed in black at the bottom.

      The instruments, manufactured in Israel, were sold at independent toy and music retailers and online at amazon.com and gogreentones.com from January 2015, through September 2015, for about $40.

      Consumers should immediately remove the pink bar from the glockenspiel and contact KHS America for information on getting a free replacement pink bar.

      Consumers may contact KHS America Green Tones at 800-283-4676 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday or online at www.gogreentones.com for more information.

      KHS America of Mt. Juliet, Tenn., is recalling about 150 Monkey Glockenspiel children’s musical instruments. The pink metal note bar on the glocken...
      Read lessRead more

      Inflation may be low, but not for everything

      Housing and vehicles are just a couple of things that cost more

      There's no doubt falling gasoline prices have offered consumers a nice break. They've also pulled down the official inflation rate, which remains near record lows.

      In fact, the Federal Reserve would like to see a little more inflation in the economy, since its worry over the last few years has been that prices aren't rising enough.

      But behind the numbers suggesting little or no increase in consumer costs, the cost for some things that are common consumer expenditures continues to go up. They include housing, vehicles, restaurant meals, college tuition, and healthcare services.

      Housing

      The cost of putting a roof over your head is one thing that has gone up sharply over the last year, regardless of whether you are renting or buying. In mid 2015, real estate marketplace Zillow warned that rental affordability had worsened, with renters forced to pay 30.2% of their monthly income toward rent – the highest percentage ever.

      Before the real estate bubble and bust, U.S. renters were spending about 24.4% of their incomes on rent. Zillow expects rents to flatten out this year after a double-digit rise last year.

      "There are good reasons to rent temporarily – when you move to a new city, for example – but from an affordability perspective, rents are crazy right now,” Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell noted in an August press release. “If you can possibly come up with a down payment, then it's a good time to buy a home and start putting your money toward a mortgage."

      But consumers buying homes also face rising prices. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) report for December showed a 7.6% rise in the median home price in 2015.

      New and used cars

      The cost of both new and used cars has risen faster than the official inflation rate. Analysts at Kelley Blue Book (KBB) report the average transaction price of a new car hit another record high in January. KBB said the cost of a new set of wheels rose nearly $1,000 from January 2016 to last month, hitting $34,112.

      However, KBB points out that doesn't reflect increases in vehicle prices as much as it does consumers' preference for more expensive vehicles, primarily SUV and pick-up trucks. That said, prices for full-size and mid-size trucks increased by 5.9% and 7.9%, respectively.

      The average price of a used car has also gone up lately. Automotive site Edmunds.com reported that consumers are buying newer used cars, which cost more. It found average used car prices hit a record high of $18,800 in the second quarter of last year, up 7.6% — or $1,300 per vehicle — from the second quarter of 2014. Meanwhile, the average age of used cars sold in Q2 2015 was 4.5 years, down from an average of 4.9 years the same time last year.

      Mixed bag on food costs

      Like energy, food costs have generally been lower for consumers in recent months. With the exception of fresh vegetables, most other grocery items are down or have risen no more than the official inflation rate.

      The exception is restaurant meals. According to the Labor Department's December report, food consumed away from home rose 2.6% in 2015.

      For consumers attending college, costs continue to rise much faster than the inflation rate. According to the experts at FinAid, an online guide to college financial aid, tuition generally increases at about double the inflation rate, going back to the 1970s.

      But lately increases have been much higher. On average, the site says, tuition tends to increase about 8% per year. At that rate, the cost of college doubles every nine years.

      Drug prices

      That brings us to healthcare, and in particular, the cost of prescription drugs. The AARP reports that overall healthcare costs, while still going up faster than inflation, have begun to stabilize. The exception is for prescription medication.

      The seniors group reports drug costs have doubled, and in some cases soared by 1,000% or more.

      So the overall inflation rate may be tame, but that doesn't mean everything is cheap.

      There's no doubt falling gasoline prices have offered consumers a nice break. They've also pulled down the official inflation rate, which remains near reco...
      Read lessRead more

      Online shopping may not be that easy on the environment

      Just because consumers are shopping online, it doesn't mean they stay home

      Online shopping gets bigger every year, in large part because it is more efficient and convenient for consumers.

      It takes less time to shop online, comparing prices without going store to store. It also requires less driving, which saves energy, puts less stress on roadways, and creates less pollution.

      Experts at the University of Delaware don't quibble with the convenience of online shopping, but their research casts doubt on the other part.

      Researchers conducted a multi-year study that suggests online shopping might have unseen impact, only making it seem greener than driving to the nearest mall.

      Additional burden

      "Our simulation results showed that home shopping puts an additional burden on the local transportation network, as identified through four measures of effectiveness – travel time, delay, average speed, and greenhouse gas emissions," co-author Mingxin Li said in a release.

      To the consumer shopping from home, or placing an order using their smartphone, e-shopping seems like it would be saving resources. It requires less energy and space, right?

      Arde Faghri, University of Delaware professor and leader of the study, says it's the unseen impact that raises the environmental toll from online shopping. It puts more delivery trucks on the roads, which translates into more wear-and-tear on pavements and increased environmental pollution through the emission of fine particulate matter from diesel engines.

      Then there's the impact on traffic patterns. Residential and downtown streets were designed mainly to accommodate cars, not delivery trucks of varying sizes that make frequent stops to park, load, and unload.

      Not keeping shoppers at home

      The dramatic increase in truck traffic, he maintains, can interfere with through traffic, causing delays and compromising safety. And in the end, he says it isn't keeping consumers at home and off the roads.

      "We found that the total number of vehicles miles traveled hasn't decreased at all with the growth of online shopping," Faghri said. "This suggests that people are using the time they save by shopping on the internet to do other things like eating out at restaurants, going to the movies, or visiting friends."

      Faghri admits his research has its limitations. For one thing, it was conducted in a relatively small geographic area – Newark, Delaware.

      However, he does believe it has value to local, state, regional, and national planners, who may be unaware of what the explosion in online shopping will mean for traffic flow and infrastructure needs.

      The other impact, he says, is easier to see. In the future there will be less need for sales personnel and a greater demand for truck drivers.

      Online shopping gets bigger every year, in large part because it is more efficient and convenient for consumers.It takes less time to shop online, comp...
      Read lessRead more

      New Jersey sues VW for 'massive' dirty diesel fraud

      VW "put profit ahead of honesty," risked harm to public health, state charges

      Add the state of New Jersey to the long list of plaintiffs suing Volkswagen for using deceptive software to allow its VW, Porsche, and Audi diesel-powered cars to masquerade as low-emission vehicles.

      “For the past decade Volkswagen engaged in one of the largest frauds in the history of the automobile industry,” the state’s lawsuit asserts. “It developed and distributed into the marketplace sophisticated software to evade emissions requirements, it misled regulators about the true environmental impact of its vehicles, and it misled consumers about the products that it was marketing as supposedly good for the environment.”

      “Our lawsuit alleges that Volkswagen put profit ahead of honesty, integrity, fair business practices and – most disturbing of all – the well-being of people living and breathing the air here in New Jersey and across the country,” said Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman. 

      The New Jersey suit is similar to those filed by New Mexico, Texas, and West Virginia. The company also faces a federal complaint that seeks billions of dollars in damages, as well as a growing list of individual and class action suits.

      Volkswagen says its primary concern at the moment is figuring out how to recall and fix the affected vehicles in a manner that satisfies regulators.

      "Profited greatly"

      The New Jersey suit, filed Friday in Hudson County Superior Court, alleges that Volkswagen “profited greatly” from its effort – launched in 2005 – to gain a greater share of the U.S. passenger vehicle market by quietly developing, then deceptively promoting, diesel vehicles that appeared to be environmentally friendly, but in fact were equipped with pollution control systems that only functioned during emissions testing.

      The alleged conspiracy enabled Volkswagen to steadily increase its passenger vehicle sales over time so that by 2014, it accounted for about 70% of new diesel passenger car sales in the U.S. 

      The New Jersey suit alleges that Volkswagen fraudulently increased its sales and market share “at the expense of the unsuspecting public.” By emphasizing the supposed superiority of German engineering, the company successfully charged “inflated purchase prices” for the cars, which spewed illegal qualities of nitrogen oxide (NOx) into the air, endangering the health of New Jerseyans, the suit argues.

      NOx pollution has been shown to contribute to harmful ground-level ozone (smog) and fine particulate matter (soot), and exposure to NOx and its byproducts has been linked to such serious health problems as cardiopulmonary disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and exacerbation of asthma, the complaint alleges.

      Current estimates are that Volkswagen sold approximately 580,000 vehicles equipped with the defeat software in the United States, about 17,420 of them in New Jersey.

      Add the state of New Jersey to the long list of plaintiffs suing Volkswagen for using deceptive software to allow its VW, Porsche, and Audi diesel-powered ...
      Read lessRead more

      Margaritaville Banana Cream Pie Filling recalled

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      The Jel Sert Company of West Chicago, Ill., is recalling 52 cases of Margaritaville Banana Cream Pie Filling.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      There have been no reported illnesses related to this product to date.

      The product was not available to consumers on store shelves, only through directly provided sales samples and gift packages.

      The following product is being recalled:

      Margaritaville Banana Cream Pie Filling 4.16 ounce carton

      Lot number on cartons: WC5257

      UPC Code 7239202925

      Best before date: September 2017

      Anyone in possession of the recalled product should dispose of it.

      Consumers with questions may contact Jel Sert toll-free at 866-853-1969 at any time.

      The Jel Sert Company of West Chicago, Ill., is recalling 52 cases of Margaritaville Banana Cream Pie Filling. The product may be contaminated with ...
      Read lessRead more

      Wedgwood decorative baby rattles recalled

      The ball bearings inside each side of the decorative rattle can be released

      WWRD U.S. of Wall, N.J., is recalling nearly 700 Wedgwood Peter Rabbit decorative baby rattles in the U.S. and Canada.

      The ball bearings inside each side of the decorative rattle can be released, posing a choking hazard to young children.

      The firm has received two reports of ball bearings releasing from the decorative giftware baby rattle. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves all Wedgwood Peter Rabbit decorative baby rattles. The silver-plated giftware is shaped like a baby rattle, but is intended to be used as decoration only. It measures about 4 ½ inches long and 2 inches wide.

      A Peter Rabbit figure and “hop hop hop” underneath are embossed on one end cap and “hop little rabbit” over the Peter Rabbit figure is embossed on the other end cap.

      The decorative rattles, manufactured in China, were sold at Bloomingdales, Macy’s, WWRD Outlets and other department stores nationwide and online at www.amazon.com and www.wedgwood.com from April 2015, through December 2015, for between $75 and $95.

      Consumers should immediately stop using the decorative rattles and take them away from young children and contact WWRD for a full refund.

      Consumers may contact WWRD toll-free at 877-892-9973 anytime or online at www.wwrd.com for more information.

      WWRD U.S. of Wall, N.J., is recalling nearly 700 Wedgwood Peter Rabbit decorative baby rattles in the U.S. and Canada. The ball bearings inside eac...
      Read lessRead more

      Marin Pasta Works recalls pork products

      The products did not undergo federal inspection

      Marin Pasta Works of San Rafael, Calif., is recalling approximately 491 pounds of pork ravioli products.

      The products did not undergo federal inspection.

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

      The following sausage, Parmesan and spinach ravioli items, produced between Jan. 4, 2016, and Feb. 4, 2016 and distributed to retail locations in California, are being recalled:

      • 12-oz.vacuum-packaged packages containing pieces of “Sausage, Parm and Spinach Ravioli” with Best By Dates of Feb. 4 to March 4, 2016.

      Customers who purchased these products should not consume them, but throw them away or return them to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact John Sarrran at (877) 263-2332 ext 310.

      Marin Pasta Works of San Rafael, Calif., is recalling approximately 491 pounds of pork ravioli products. The products did not undergo federal inspe...
      Read lessRead more

      Dollar General recalls construction truck toy vehicles

      The toy truck’s remote control can short circuit

      Dollar General of Goodlettsville, Tenn., is recalling about 27,000 toy trucks.

      The toy truck’s remote control can short circuit, causing it to overheat and posing fire and burn hazards.

      The company has received five reports of the toy’s remote control overheating. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves a toy excavator and a shovel loader. The remote controlled plastic toys are orange with black and orange wheels. Both have tracking code 90RWE15 marked on the back of the battery compartment. UPC number 00430000549030 can be found on the bottom of the packaging.

      Power, Shovel Loader and Super Power are printed on stickers located on the side of the excavator. UPC 00400001622537 can be found on the bottom of the packaging. 6000Kg Peakload, FL-330 Deluxe Crane, and Crane Super Truck are printed on stickers located on the side of the shovel loader.

      The toy trucks, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at Dollar General stores nationwide and online at www.dollargeneral.com from July 2015, through December 2015, for about $10.

      Consumers should immediately take the recalled toy vehicles away from children and contact Dollar General for a full refund.

      Consumers may contact Dollar General at 800-678-9258 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, by email at custsv@dollargeneral.com or online at http://www2.dollargeneral.com/Customer-Care-Center/Pages/product-recall-pdfs/Recall-Toy_Construction_Vehicle.pdf.

      Dollar General of Goodlettsville, Tenn., is recalling about 27,000 toy trucks. The toy truck’s remote control can short circuit, causing it to over...
      Read lessRead more

      Late model Dodge Chargers recalled

      The vehicles do not contain wheel chocks

      FCA US LLC (Chrysler) is recalling 441,578 model year 2011-2016 Dodge Charger vehicles manufactured August 23, 2010, to January 7, 2016.

      When the vehicle is lifted using the supplied tire jack without chocking the wheels, the vehicle's body-side sill may give causing the tire jack to fail and the car to fall.

      A car that falls unexpectedly increases the risk of injury.

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will provide owners with wheel chocks, free of charge. Parts are not currently available. Owners will be sent an interim notification by early April 2016. A second letter will be mailed when the chocks are available.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is S03.

      FCA US LLC (Chrysler) is recalling 441,578 model year 2011-2016 Dodge Charger vehicles manufactured August 23, 2010, to January 7, 2016. When the v...
      Read lessRead more

      Graco recalls ComfortSport, Ready Ride and Classic Ride child restraints

      The label does not inform the seat owner of the instruction manual's location

      Graco Children's Products Inc. is recalling 31,838 ComfortSport child restraints, model numbers 1813040 and 1794333; Ready Ride child restraints, model numbers 1924520 and 1924519; and Classic Ride child restraints, model number 1812930. These seats were manufactured between March 1, 2014, and February 28, 2015.

      The restraints are missing a statement on the affixed label that informs of location of the instruction manual. Without that notice, these seats fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 213 "Child Restraint Systems."

      If the label does not inform the seat owner of the instruction manual's location, the owner may not be able to refer to it and may use the seat improperly, increasing the risk of injury to the child in the event of a crash.

      Graco will notify the registered owners and will mail them corrected labels to affix to the child restraints.

      The recall is expected to begin February 22, 2016. Owners may contact Graco at 1-800-345-4109.

      Graco Children's Products Inc. is recalling 31,838 ComfortSport child restraints, model numbers 1813040 and 1794333; Ready Ride child restraints, model num...
      Read lessRead more

      DraftKings takes its games to the UK

      Will allow North American players to compete against those in Britain

      The NFL plays a couple of games each season in London, so why wouldn't British fans want to get in on the daily fantasy sports (DFS) action?

      No doubt that's part of the reason behind DraftKings' announcement that it is launching games in the UK, where soccer and cricket matches may prove to be more popular draws than American football.

      “DraftKings will bring a totally new experience for sports fans, offering players the opportunity to test their skill at fantasy contests with the immediacy of daily play,” Jason Robins, co-founder and CEO of DraftKings, said in a statement emailed to ConsumerAffairs. “Alongside our new partners Arsenal, Liverpool and Watford, our ambition is to bring players as close to the action as possible, with all the information they need to assemble the best teams.”

      DraftKings says it anticipates the move will open up what it called “healthy competition” between players in North America and the UK. The company says the DraftKings FC site will give players access to all the research, strategy and news they need to assemble their line-up.

      The company no doubt hopes UK government authorities are less litigious than in the states. Several state governments – most notably New York – have made moves to limit, license or outright ban the games, declaring them to be illegal gambling.

      New York state's suit seeking to bar New Yorkers from from the games is awaiting a hearing by a state appeals court. The games continues to operate under a court-granted stay, meaning New Yorkers will be able play pending the court's ruling.

      The NFL plays a couple of games each season in London, so why wouldn't British fans want to get in on the daily fantasy sports (DFS) action?No doubt th...
      Read lessRead more

      Banks could play greater role in stopping elder abuse

      Report says financial institutions should do more to protect elderly clients

      A new study of elder abuse in the U.S. says banks and other financial institutions have a greater role to play in preventing the financial exploitation of their older clients.

      The study, published in Public Policy & Aging Report (PP&AR), finds financial exploitation of older adults and diminished financial capacity resulting from age-related cognitive impairments both pose major economic threats.

      "The problem is complex, but it is also a problem that unquestionably exists and is assuming remarkably large personal, monetary, and social dimensions," the authors write. "Elder financial abuse involves millions of individuals and billions of dollars. It damages health, harms wellbeing, and arguably costs lives."

      In 2009, U.S. household wealth was estimated to be $53.1 trillion. Older adults held approximately $18.1 trillion of it. The MetLife Study of Elder Financial Abuse estimates elder abuse cost older Americans at least $2.9 billion in 2010.

      Wealth at risk

      "In a very real sense, a huge portion of U.S. wealth is at risk due to the progressive decline of financial skills of the older adult age group," writes Daniel Marson, in one of the PP&AR articles. "Thus ironically, the age group that has amassed the most wealth over the longest period of accumulation is simultaneously at the greatest risk of financial self-impoverishment and exploitation by others."

      Older adults can be exploited by scammers, who contact them by telephone, email, or sometimes by simply knocking on their doors. More often than not, they may be exploited by a family member.

      And they aren't always cognitively impaired. A study cited by the National Institute of Justice found that out of 472 victims of financial exploitation, those living independently were 66% more likely to be exploited financially. Those not experiencing dementia or confusion were 29% more likely to be exploited.

      Technology solution

      The report suggests scientists may be able to develop predictive models and algorithms for the detection of diminished financial capacity in older adults. When a warning signal flashes, a protective institution could step in.

      That, the authors contend, should enable the banking industry to improve its interactions with older adults by creating proactive planning programs, recognizing signs of cognitive impairment, dementia, and financial exploitation, and by learning new methods of assessing financial decision-making abilities.

      Creating a system of real-time assessments and interventions, the report concludes, would help curb financial exploitation, as well as poor financial decisions by aging adults who are beginning to lose cognitive ability.

      A new study of elder abuse in the U.S. says banks and other financial institutions have a greater role to play in preventing the financial exploitation of ...
      Read lessRead more

      Strong builder confidence in the 55+ housing market

      Consumer demand continues to rise

      Builder confidence in the single-family 55+ housing market finished the year on a strong note.

      The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) says its 55+ Housing Market Index (HMI) had a fourth-quarter reading of 61 -- up one point from the previous quarter and the seventh consecutive quarter with a reading above 50.

      “Builders and developers for the 55+ housing sector continue to report increased optimism in the market,” said Jim Chapman, chairman of NAHB's 55+ Housing Industry Council. “We are seeing steady consumer demand for homes and communities that are designed to address the specific needs of the mature homebuyer.”

      There are separate 55+ HMIs for two segments of the 55+ housing market: single-family homes and multifamily condominiums. Each 55+ HMI measures builder sentiment based on a survey that asks if current sales, prospective buyer traffic, and anticipated six-month sales for that market are good, fair, or poor (high, average, or low for traffic). An index number above 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

      Market performance

      One of the three index components of the 55+ single-family HMI posted an increase from the previous quarter: traffic of prospective buyers increased six points to 52. Present sales held steady at 65 while expected sales for the next six months dipped four points to 63.

      The 55+ multifamily condo HMI dropped eight points to 42, falling back to a range typical of the past year and a half. All three components declined as well: present sales fell 10 points to 44, expected sales for the next six months fell 10 points to 46 and traffic of prospective buyers edged down three points to 37.

      Three of the four indices tracking production and demand of 55+ multifamily rentals posted gains in the fourth quarter. Present production and expected future production both rose one point to 56 and 61, respectively, and future demand increased three points to 71, while current demand for existing units fell four points to 66.

      “This quarter’s 55+ HMI is in line with our forecast for the overall housing market, which shows a gradual, steady recovery,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “In addition, the 55+ housing market is benefiting from growing home equity on the balance sheets of 55+ households, an improving economic outlook, historically low mortgage rates and a growing population as baby boomers age."

      Builder confidence in the single-family 55+ housing market finished the year on a strong note.The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) says its...
      Read lessRead more

      Mahina Mele Farms expands macadamia nut products recall

      The products may contain Salmonella

      Mahina Mele Farms is expanding its earlier recall of macadamia nut products.

      The company says that one sample from one was found to be positive for Salmonella, it's recalling all lots currently on the market, until the source of the contamination can be identified.

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

      The following recalled products, produced under the name Izzie Macs! in plastic bags and macadamia nut butter under the name Baby Bruddah's Mac Nut Buttah in plastic tubs, were distributed from Oct 21, 2015 - Jan 20, 2016:

      PRODUCTUPCSIZE
      Izzie Macs! Macadamia Nuts6890767926776 oz. (salted) plastic bag
      Izzie Macs! Macadamia Nuts6890767935756 oz. (unsalted) plastic bag
      Izzie Macs! Macadamia Nuts68907679277616 oz. (unsalted) plastic bag
      Izzie Macs! Macadamia Nuts68907679297416 oz. (salted) plastic bag
      Bulk Macadamia Nuts5 lb. plastic bag (salted and unsalted; wholes and pieces)
      Baby Bruddah's Mac Nut Buttah75318224201912 oz. plastic tub
      Baby Bruddah's Chocolate Mac Nut Buttah7351822420412 oz. plastic tub

      Customers who purchased the above products should not consume them, but return them to the store where they were purchased for a full refund or replacement. Mahina Mele Farms, LLC will reimburse the wholesaler for any returned product.

      Consumers may call Mahina Mele Farms at 808 328 8987, Monday-Friday, 8-4 (HST).

      Mahina Mele Farms is expanding its earlier recall of macadamia nut products. The company says that one sample from one was found to be positive for...
      Read lessRead more

      Volkswagen Tiguans and Audi Q5s recalled

      The air bag inflators may rupture in the event of a crash

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 734 model year 2015 Volkswagen Tiguans manufactured January 15, 2015, to January 21, 2015, and 2015 Audi Q5s manufactured January 13, 2015, to February 3, 2015.

      The recalled vehicles are equipped with driver and front seat passenger seat-mounted air bag inflators that may rupture in the event of a crash. Metal fragments could strike the driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will replace the side air bag modules, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Audi customer service at 1-800-822-2834 or Volkswagen customer service at 1-800-893-5298.

      Volkswagen's number for this recall is 69M1 (for Audi) and 69L9 (for VW).

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 734 model year 2015 Volkswagen Tiguans manufactured January 15, 2015, to January 21, 2015, and 2015 Audi Q5s manuf...
      Read lessRead more

      Eastwood recalls multi-function power packs

      The power packs' lithium ion batteries can burst during charging

      Eastwood Co., of Pottstown, Pa., is recalling about 500 Rockwood multi-function power packs.

      The power packs’ lithium ion batteries can burst during charging, posing a fire hazard.

      There have been two reports of the battery packs’ lithium ion batteries bursting during charging and emitting black smoke, damaging carpet and leaving a black mark on a wall. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Rockwood portable power packs with lithium ion batteries and cables. They are used to charge a variety of electronic devices and car batteries and have a recessed LED flashlight.

      The power packs have a black plastic cover with “Rockwood” printed in white on the top. They measure about 6 inches long, 3 inches wide and 1 inch tall. A yellow and white danger label is on the bottom. Item number 30554 is printed on the packaging.

      The power packs, manufactured in China, were sold at Eastwood stores in Chicago, Parma, Ohio, and Pottstown, Pa., in Eastwood’s catalog and online at www.eastwood.com and other websites from January 2015, through October 2015, for between $50 and $110.

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled power packs and return them to Eastwood for a full refund.

      Consumers may contact Eastwood at 800-345-1178 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday or online at http://www.eastwood.com/images/recall_poster_r2_combined.pdf.

      Eastwood Co., of Pottstown, Pa., is recalling about 500 Rockwood multi-function power packs.   The power packs’ lithium ion batteries can burst durin...
      Read lessRead more

      Bridgestone recalls tires for use on trailers

      The tires may experience possible tread separation or detachment

      Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations (BATO) is recalling 35,907 FS561 replacement tires, size 255/70R22.5, manufactured January 25, 2015, to January 27, 2016 (DOT weeks 0515-0416) for use on trailers.

      The tires may experience possible tread separation or detachment due to scrubbing during use which may result in a sudden loss of air pressure, increasing the risk of a crash.

      BATO will notify owners, and dealers will replace the tires, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact BATO customer service at 1-800-847-3272.

      Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations (BATO) is recalling 35,907 FS561 replacement tires, size 255/70R22.5, manufactured January 25, 2015, to January 27, 20...
      Read lessRead more

      No end in sight for Takata airbag recalls; safety advocates want executives imprisoned

      Honda is expected to add 2.3 million vehicles to the recall list today

      There is no end in sight for the Takata airbag crisis. As the number of recalls continues to grow, consumers and Congress grow restless, and safety advocates call for criminal prosecutions and imprisonment of top executives.

      In the latest development, Honda said it is expanding its recall of late-model Honda and Acura vehicles equipped with the devices, possibly adding as many as 2.3 million vehicles to the recall list. The company told dealers of the decision last week and is expected to make it public today (Thursday).

      With as many as 60 million defective airbag inflators potentially on the recall list, Takata Corp. faces an uncertain future. The staggering cost of the recalls is expected to endanger the company's future even as the plodding pace of the recall endangers the lives of consumers everytime they take the wheel. CEO Shigehisa Takada, grandson of the company's founder, may be forced to resign as the amount of money needed to carry out the recalls continues to rise, recent reports have said.

      Jail time

      Of course, there are worse things than resigning. Going to prison is one of them -- and that's what safety crusader Clarence Ditlow says should happen. He says the grisly injuries inflicted by the defective Takata airbag inflators are the result of corporate greed and should be punished by a harsh prison sentence.

      According to Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, Takata decided in the year 2000 to stop using sodium azide as a propellant in its airbags and replaced it with ammonium nitrate, "an incredibly powerful explosive."

      "It’s what Terry McVeigh used to bring down the government office building in Oklahoma City. It’s what a lot of terrorists in the Mideast are using in the improvised explosive devices. And so, yet this propellant that Takata used, it was known to degrade, known to explode, they put it into the airbag inflator to save, once again, a few pennies per inflator," Ditlow said in a radio interview.

      Obama urged to act

      In the U.S. Senate, Democrats Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) urged President Obama to recall every vehicle with airbags using ammonium nitrate as their propellant, and to use “every tool at his disposal” to accelerate the repair of all vehicles with potentially-lethal Takata airbags.

      The renewed calls for action follow the December death of Joel Knight in South Carolina, who was killed when his truck struck a stray cow. Instead of cushioning the impact from the wreck, the airbag ruptured, firing shrapnel into Mr. Knight’s neck and killing him, The New York Times reported.

      The senators said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) "has consistently deferred to Takata," allowing some automakers to take voluntary rather than mandatory actions to recall and replace defective airbags and later by limited mandatory recalls to "high-humidity" states on the theory that the problem would not occur in low-humidity climates.

      "This, coupled with NHTSA’s willingness to allow Takata to take until the end of 2018 to prove that ammonium nitrate is safe in existing airbags; and until 2019 to show that the latest models of the inflators that use the compound are safe, is an outrageous dereliction of NHTSA’s basic duty to protect consumers,” the senators said in a letter to Obama.

      As of the end of December 2015, 23 million airbags in 19 million vehicles had been recalled in the U.S. Two weeks ago, Takata agreed to recall another 5.1 million inflators and Honda is expected to recall another 2.3 million today.

      Most of the recalls have not yet been carried out. It's estimated that only about a third of the potentially deadly inflators have actually been replaced.

      There is no end in sight for the Takata airbag crisis. As the number of recalls continues to grow, consumers and Congress grow restless, and safety advocat...
      Read lessRead more

      New federal standards should make chicken safer

      It's an attempt to reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter in whole chickens and chicken parts

      Eating chicken will be getting a little bit safer under new standards adopted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

      The new standards are supposed to reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter in ground chicken and turkey products, as well as in raw chicken breasts, legs, and wings. FSIS estimates the new standards will prevent 50,000 illnesses annually.

      FSIS has also updated its microbial testing schedule and will soon begin posting more information online about individual companies' food safety performance.

      "Over the past seven years, USDA has put in place tighter and more strategic food safety measures than ever before for meat and poultry products. We have made strides in modernizing every aspect of food safety inspection, from company record keeping, to labeling requirements, to the way we perform testing in our labs," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a prepared statement.

      Tougher stance

      A coalition of consumer groups, the Safe Food Coalition, is commending the new standards while calling on the USDA to take a tougher stance overall on the presence of drug-resistant Salmonella in food.

      “These new standards are a welcome step that will better protect the public from dangerous foodborne illness,” the coalition said. “Salmonella and Campylobacter cause millions of illnesses every year, yet progress on reducing the number of infections has been stalled for over a decade. These standards will help to address an antiquated testing protocol and shine a light on companies that need to clean up their act.”

      Until now, the FSIS has been testing whole chicken carcasses, but will now add chicken parts to its testing schedule. That follows testing which found the level of contamination in poultry parts may be higher than in whole carcasses because of cross-contamination that occurs in the evisceration process.

      Under the new standards, FSIS will conduct a follow-up investigation of an establishment with large numbers of positive samples, but not necessarily demand that the company recall contaminated product.

      “Unfortunately, these new standards leave an important loophole in place,” the Safe Food Coalition said. “We continue to urge FSIS to declare certain antibiotic resistant serotypes of Salmonellato be adulterants, as the Center for Science in the Public Interest asked the agency to do in the petition it first filed in May 2011, and refiled in October 2014."

      The coalition cautioned that any standard will only be as reliable as the testing to measure compliance.

      “FSIS must ensure that its testing is accurate and reliable for all plants, regardless of the chemicals used in when processing the birds,” the group said. 

      Eating chicken will be getting a little bit safer under new standards adopted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Ser...
      Read lessRead more

      Study: BMI not a reliable measure of health

      Having a high Body Mass Index doesn't mean a person is unhealthy, UCLA researchers find

      Can you be both healthy and overweight? The commonly accepted answer these days is no, and increasingly, the Body Mass Index, or BMI, is used as an indicator of whether one is dangerously overweight or obese.

      But a new UCLA study finds that using BMI to gauge health incorrectly labels 54 million Americans as unhealthy even though they may not be. The study is being published online today in the International Journal of Obesity.

      "Many people see obesity as a death sentence," said A. Janet Tomiyama, an assistant professor of psychology at UCLA College and the study's lead author. "But the data show there are tens of millions of people who are overweight and obese and are perfectly healthy."

      BMI is calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by the square of the person's height in meters. A BMI over 25 is currently considered as an indication that an individual is unhealthily overweight.

      Many employers uses BMI to judge the health of prospective employees and a rule pending before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would permit insurance companies to charge higher premiums to those with higher BMIs. 

      Healthy though overweight

      Tomiyama and colleagues analyzed the link beteen BMI and several other health markers, including blood pressure, glucose levels, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, using data from the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

      They found that close to half of Americans who are considered "overweight" by virtue of their BMIs (47.4%, or 34.4 million people) are healthy, as are 19.8 million who are considered "obese."

      Given their health readings other than BMI, the people in both of those groups would be unlikely to incur higher medical expenses, and it would be unfair to charge them more for health care premiums, Tomiyama said.

      She said she was surprised at the magnitude of the numbers in the latest study.

      "There are healthy people who could be penalized based on a faulty health measure, while the unhealthy people of normal weight will fly under the radar and won't get charged more for their health insurance," she said. "Employers, policy makers and insurance companies should focus on actual health markers."

      Jeffrey Hunger, co-author of the paper and a doctoral candidate at UC Santa Barbara, said the research shows that BMI is a deeply flawed measure of health. "This should be the final nail in the coffin for BMI," he said.

      Hunger recommends that people focus on eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, rather than obsessing about their weight, and strongly opposes stigmatizing people who are overweight.

      Can you be both healthy and overweight? The commonly accepted answer these days is no, and increasingly, the Body Mass Index, or BMI, is used as an indicat...
      Read lessRead more

      Job cuts surge in January

      Energy and retail absorbed the brunt

      The new year started with a bang as U.S employers announced a January increase in job cuts that's 218% above the 15-year low recorded a month earlier.

      Outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas reports employers reported 75,114 planned job cuts to kick off 2016 -- 42% higher than the same month a year ago.

      Last month represents the highest monthly tally since July 2015, when cuts reached 105,696, and the largest January total since the first month of 2009.

      Heavy cuts in retail

      Even though holiday sales to close out 2015 were relatively strong, retailers led all other industries in January job cuts, announcing plans to eliminate 22,246 payroll positions -- the highest retail total since January 2009, when 53,968 people were sacked.

      The cuts were dominated by Walmart, which announced plans to close 269 stores worldwide, which is expected to affect 16,000 workers. Macys is also planning to close stores in 2016, a move that will hit 4,820 employees.

      “Retail job cuts came on the heels of a relatively strong holiday sales, which increased by nearly 8.0 percent,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “However, a growing portion of the sales gains are occurring online. At Macy’s, for example, November and December sales at its brick-and-mortar stores fell by about 5.0 percent, while orders through its online entities were up 25 percent from a year earlier, according to reports.”

      Energy hard-hit

      In addition to increased retail job cuts, January also saw the return of heavy terminations in the energy sector, where firms announced plans to reduce headcounts by 20,246 -- up from 1,682 in December.

      The January total for the energy sector was higher since the decline in oil prices began in late 2014. The previous high was January 2015, when 20,193 jobs in the sector were eliminated.

      Since oil prices began their decline, Halliburton has announced 22,000 job cuts through multiple job-cut announcements. Schlumberger has also reported multiple reductions since late 2014, with total job cuts exceeding 30,000. Baker Hughes has also announced multiple cuts, totaling 16,000.

      “The pace of downsizing in the energy sector ebbed in the second half of 2015, but the latest activity, which included more cuts from Halliburton and Schlumberger, is evidence the industry is far from concluding its cost-cutting initiatives,” said Challenger. “With oil prices expected to stay low for the foreseeable future, the potential for continued layoffs remains elevated.”

      The new year started with a bang as U.S employers announced a January increase in job cuts that's 218% above the 15-year low recorded a month earlier.O...
      Read lessRead more

      Honda recalls older Accords

      The air bag control units may corrode and fail

      American Honda Motor Company is recalling 341,444 model year 2008-2010 Accords.

      The air bag control units may corrode and fail, resulting in a failure of the air bags to deploy in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of occupant injury.

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will replace the air bag control units, free of charge. Parts are expected to be available in Fall 2016. Interim notifications will be mailed to owners beginning on March 15, 2016, and a second notice will be mailed when remedy parts are available.

      Owners may contact Honda customer service at 1-800-999-1009. Honda's number for this recall is JW9.

      American Honda Motor Company is recalling 341,444 model year 2008-2010 Accords. The air bag control units may corrode and fail, resulting in a fail...
      Read lessRead more

      Chrysler recalls vans with air bag issue

      The air bag control units may corrode and fail

      FCA US LLC (Chrysler) is recalling 112,001 model year 2009 Dodge Journey vehicles manufactured December 31, 2007, to August 31, 2008; 2008-2009 Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town and Country vehicles manufactured June 18, 2007, to August 31, 2008; and 2009 Volkswagen Routan vehicles manufactured August 11, 2008, to August 31, 2008.

      The air bag control units may corrode and fail, which could result in failure of the air bags to deploy in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of occupant injury. Additionally, the air bags may inadvertently deploy, increasing the risk of a crash.

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the air bag control unit, 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 S07.

      FCA US LLC (Chrysler) is recalling 112,001 model year 2009 Dodge Journey vehicles manufactured December 31, 2007, to August 31, 2008; 2008-2009 Dodge Grand...
      Read lessRead more

      Feds want banks to make checking accounts less risky for consumers

      Banks are being encouraged to offer products that reduce the risk of costly overdrafts

      A growing number of consumers are "unbanked," meaning they don't have a checking or savings account at a bank or credit union, making it hard for them to build a credit ratings and conduct routine chores of daily living.

      The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau wants the banking industry to step up to the challenge of improving the accuracy of information used to screen potential customers and begin offering lower-risk deposit accounts that would help consumers avoid the overdrafts that have driven many of them out of retail bank accounts.

      “Consumers should not be sidelined out of the basic banking services they need because of the flaws and limitations in a murky system,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “People deserve to have more options for access to lower-risk deposit accounts that can better fit their needs.”

      Consumers often find themselves paying overdraft charges that are thousands of times more than the amount of the overdaft in question. That's what happened to Amaka of West Melbourne, Fla.

      "I was overdraft $0.11 cents after paying for school fees. The charged me $35 dollars for 11 cents. Now they keep sending me fees. Now I'm overdraft $107.35 because of it and the fees won't stop until you're positive," Amaka said in a recent ConsumerAffairs review of Bank of America.

      One way that banks and credit unions screen account applicants for risk is to use information provided by checking account reporting companies, which have databases of information on involuntary closures of consumer checking accounts supplied by banks and credit unions.

      Sometimes those reports can cause problems when the consumer tries to open an account at another bank. That's what Elizabeth of Bellerose, N.Y., said happened to her.

      "TD Bank charged me thousands in overdraft fees," she said. "Closed my accounts and reported me to Chex Systems for account abuse. Cant open a new account anywhere because of them. ... "They robbed me blind and now are holding me financially hostage with chexsystems."

      Accurate reports

      In October 2014, the CFPB laid out concerns about the information accuracy of these reports, people’s ability to access the reports and dispute incorrect information, and the ways in which the reports were being used.

      Today, in a letter to the 25 largest retail banks, the CFPB is encouraging banks and credit unions to provide account options for consumers that make it less likely they will overdraw their accounts, and also warning that inaccurate reporting could result in penalties.

      Among other things, the CFPB wants banks to create accounts that do not authorize them to spend money they don't have. The agency is also weighing what additional consumers protections are needed to help prevent overdrafts.

      Lower-risk accounts

      The CFPB is also releasing resources to encourage consumers to shop for lower-risk checking and prepaid accounts that will not authorize them to exceed their account balances. These products can help consumers maintain their accounts longer, and the banks and credit unions that offer them are often more accepting in their screening practices. The resources include tips and information about choosing an account and managing an account.

      The CFPB also released a consumer advisory to help people know what to do if they have been denied a deposit account or have an involuntary account closure. The CFPB is concerned that most consumers are unaware of what to do if they are rejected by a bank; and most are probably unaware of the screening system that provided the information to the bank about their checking-account profile.

      The CFPB guide to managing your checking account is available online

      A growing number of consumers are "unbanked," meaning they don't have a checking or savings account at a bank or credit union, making it hard for them to b...
      Read lessRead more

      Fitness trackers aren't all that private, study finds

      Canadian study finds all but the Apple Watch leak data

      If you wear a popular fitness tracker to keep up with steps taken, miles walked, and calories burned, chances are you find it highly motivating. Some users have called it a personal trainer on their wrist.

      But researchers at the University of Toronto say there is something consumers should know. Like any electronic device that connects via WiFi, the data collected by most of these fitness trackers might not always be private.

      In a study, researchers say they found there are major security and privacy issues in trackers made by Basis, Fitbit, Garmin, Jawbone, Mio, Withings, and Xiaomi. The researchers reached their conclusion after analyzing data transmissions between the Internet and apps for the fitness trackers.

      The seven trackers communicate with smartphone apps through Bluetooth. The researchers say that Bluetooth leaks personal data, and that anyone near a device could track a user’s location over time.

      They also report certain devices by Garmin and Withings transmit information without encryption. Someone would have to know how to intercept the data, they say, but if they had the knowledge, it could be done.

      Apple Watch the exception

      The only device that did not leak data in the study was the Apple Watch.

      Andrew Hilts, one of the report’s authors, says the security issue exists because each device has a unique identifier that is constantly sent out via Bluetooth. It's there even when you think it is turned off.

      Hilts says the issue is easily resolved if device manufacturers implement an existing Bluetooth privacy standard. Until they do, he says, users will be vulnerable to location-based surveillance.

      “We hope our findings will help consumers make more informed decisions about how they use fitness trackers, help companies improve the privacy and security of their offerings, and help regulators understand the current landscape of wearable products,” Hilts said in a release.

      If you wear a popular fitness tracker to keep up with steps taken, miles walked, and calories burned, chances are you find it highly motivating. Some users...
      Read lessRead more

      No two ways about it -- VW had a lousy January

      But its press release projects a stiff upper lip

      There is a rule to writing press releases that goes something like this: if you can't say something nice about yourself, don't say anything at all.

      So when Volkswagen, still fighting to overcome negative consumer sentiment related to its diesel cheating scandal, reported January vehicle sales in the U.S., it seized on one of the few bright spots. Sales of the VW Tiguan were pretty good.

      In fact, VW says the Tiguan “produced the best January results on record,” selling 2,528 units – an increase of 71% over last January. As it turns out, the Tiguan accounted for 12.5% of all VW sales in the U.S. last month, since a total of 20,079 Volkswagens moved off dealer lots.

      The positives

      “We are encouraged by the strong performance of the Tiguan,” Mark McNabb, chief operating officer, Volkswagen of America, said in the release. “January sales numbers were down due to the seasonal nature of the fleet business. Despite that and the weather conditions in the Northeast portion of the country, Volkswagen dealers improved in terms of retail business.”

      VW was also happy with sales of the Golf R, noting 477 vehicles were delivered. It said sales of the e-Golf were pretty good too – all 328 vehicles.

      The negatives

      The rest of the release contains a chart that lists delivery of other VW models – those that went unmentioned in the body of the release. Here are a few:

      • Golf – down 51.7%
      • GTI – down 24.4%
      • Jetta – down 8.8%
      • Beetle – down 32.4%
      • Passat – down 43.1%

      For the month of January, Volkswagen's total U.S. sales declined 14.57%. 

      As we reported last week, overall new car sales are expected to be down once all of January's sales figures are added up.

      Analysts at Kelley Blue Book project, however, that total U.S. car sales will be down just 3%, due in part to the blizzard that socked the East Coast.

      There is a rule to writing press releases that goes something like this: if you can't say something nice about yourself, don't say anything at all.So w...
      Read lessRead more

      Researchers say painkiller prescriptions are too powerful

      Study suggests high-dosage opioid prescriptions lead to more overdose deaths

      In January most state attorneys general sent letters to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), asking the agency to issue new guidelines for prescribing opioid drug painkillers.

      Many states are struggling to control the abuse of these drugs that has resulted in an alarming increase in the number of overdose deaths.

      North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper says more than 1,000 people in North Carolina die from prescription drug overdoses each year. Nationwide, he says, deaths from prescription painkiller overdoses even outnumbered deaths from illicit drug use, including both cocaine and heroin overdoses combined.

      “Opioid misuse and abuse affects thousands of lives each year in North Carolina and across the country,” Cooper said in a release. “Safer, stricter guidelines for prescribing painkillers can help save lives.”

      Researchers in Michigan appear to agree. Opioid overdose experts from the University of Michigan Medical School and Veterans Administration (VA) Ann Arbor Healthcare System reviewed the records of 221 veterans who died from accidental opioid painkiller overdoses, and an equal number of veterans who were matched to be exactly alike in many ways, and took opioids for chronic pain, did not overdose.

      Simple solution

      They found preventing overdose deaths may, in fact, be as simple as reducing the dosage patients receive. The records indicate that the average dose that the overdose victims had been prescribed was far higher than what the comparison patients had received.

      On average, those who overdosed had been given a prescription higher than 71% of those who didn’t. But the researchers stopped short of saying how much is too much.

      Opioid strength is measured in morphine-equivalent milligrams, or MEM. The average daily prescribed dose in the group that overdosed was 98 MEM, compared with about 48 MEM among those who did not overdose.

      Current prescription guidelines for opioid painkillers recommend not going above a daily dose of 100.

      Could make a major difference

      “As the United States grapples with the rising toll of accidental overdoses due to opioids, our findings suggest that changing clinical practices to avoid escalating doses for patients with chronic pain could make a major difference in the number of patients who die,” first author Amy Bohnert said in a release.

      She says that it would have the added benefit of reducing the amount of dangerous medications in homes, where children and teens might abuse them.

      Part of the problem stems from the explosive growth of opioid painkillers in the U.S. The Michigan researchers say opioid painkiller prescriptions have quadrupled since 2000, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data showing that deaths from natural and semisynthetic prescription opioids had risen 9% between 2013 and 2014.

      The numbers show that in 2014, opioids of all kinds – including heroin -- were involved in 28,647 deaths, or 61% of all drug overdose deaths. The rate of overdoses from all opioids has tripled since 2000, the researchers say.

      In January most state attorneys general sent letters to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), asking the agency to issue new guidelines for prescribing o...
      Read lessRead more

      Study: mercury in seafood may not promote dementia

      However, health officials advise a balanced approach to seafood consumption

      If you are an aging Baby Boomer, should you be eating more fish?

      There have been studies suggesting that fish oils are good for brain function and may delay or prevent dementia. At the same time, fish can contain mercury, picked up from the environment, and mercury is believed to contribute to cognitive impairment.

      Researchers at Rush University Medical Center have studied the relationship between mercury and diseases associated with dementia. They report that as mercury levels rise with seafood consumption, there were no associations with harm to the brain.

      Instead, they discovered that seafood consumption was associated with less Alzheimer's disease neuropathology, in spite of the increased mercury levels.

      Helps people most at risk

      However, the the protection associated with seafood was only seen in people with a common genotype (APOE-?4) that increases the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. In other words, for people at risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, eating seafood made it less likely.

      "Seafood consumption is promoted for its many health benefits even though it's contaminated by mercury," study leader Martha Clare Morris, said in a release. "Since mercury is a known neurotoxin, we wanted to determine whether seafood consumption is correlated with increased brain mercury levels in older adults, and also whether seafood consumption or brain mercury levels are correlated with brain neuropathologies."

      The researchers conclude that seafood consumption was significantly correlated with less Alzheimer disease pathology. In particular, it was associated with lower density of amyloid plaques in the brain and less severe and widespread tangles within the neurons. Plaques and tangles are normally present in Alzheimer's patients.

      Mercury's role in dementia

      A 2010 German study, published on a National Institutes of Health (NIH) website, concluded that exposure to inorganic mercury led to “significant memory deficits.” Some autopsy studies found increased mercury levels in brain tissues of AD patients.

      The issue, then, may be the extent of mercury levels found in seafood. The Rush University researchers say it's likely that the types of fish consumed by the study participants reflect the top 10 consumed species in the U.S., which have low to moderate levels of mercury.

      How much seafood should you eat? A report by the Harvard School of Public Health notes that it is a controversial subject. The report suggests striking a healthy balance, with fish showing up on the menu once or twice a week.

      If you want to know what kind of fish is best, EatingWell.com has compiled a list of the best and the worst.

      If you are an aging Baby Boomer, should you be eating more fish?There have been studies suggesting that fish oils are good for brain function and may d...
      Read lessRead more

      Home prices post another year-over-year gain in December

      Prices also rose on a month-over-month basis

      Housing prices continue their rise with no end in sight for the foreseeable future.

      The CoreLogic Home Price Index (HPI) shows house prices nationwide -- including distressed sales – rose 6.3% in December from the same time a year earlier. In addition, prices were up 0.8% from November.

      Distressed sales include short sales and real estate-owned transactions.

      “Nationally, home prices have been rising at a 5 to 6% annual rate for more than a year,” said Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic. “However, local-market growth can vary substantially from that. Some metropolitan areas have had double-digit appreciation, such as Denver, Colorado and Naples, Florida, while others have had price declines, like New Orleans, Louisiana and Rochester, New York.”

      Looking ahead

      The CoreLogic HPI Forecast indicates home prices will increase by 5.4% on a year-over-year basis from December 2015 to December 2016, and on a month-over-month basis home prices are expected to increase 0.2% from December 2015 to January 2016.

      “Higher property valuations appear to be driving up single-family construction as we head into the spring. Additional housing stock, especially in urban centers on the coasts such as San Francisco, could help to temper home price growth in the longer term,” said Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO of CoreLogic. “In the short and medium term, local markets with strong employment growth are likely to experience a continued rise in home sales and price growth well above the U.S. average.”

      Housing prices continue their rise with no end in sight for the foreseeable future.The CoreLogic Home Price Index (HPI) shows house prices nationwide -...
      Read lessRead more

      ADP: January produces in excess of 200,000 jobs

      Most were in small and medium-sized businesses

      Another big jump in private sector employment.

      The January ADP National Employment Report says the economy cranked out 205,000 jobs from December to January.

      According to the report, which is derived from ADP's actual payroll data, the bulk of the new positions (82,000) came from medium-sized businesses, those with 50-499 employees. That was closely followed by small companies, those with under 50 workers (79,000).

      Employment at large concerns -- those with 500 or more employees -- came in at 44,000, while firms with 500-999 added 15,000 jobs, and companies with over 1,000 workers gained 30,000 jobs.

      "One of the main reasons for lower overall employment gains in January was the drop off in jobs added at the largest companies compared to December,” said Ahu Yildirmaz, VP and head of the ADP Research Institute. “These businesses are more sensitive to current economic conditions than small and mid-sized companies. Over the past year, businesses with less than 500 employees have created nearly 80% of new jobs."

      Jobs by sector

      Goods-producing employment rose by 13,000 jobs last month, down sharply from December's upwardly revised 30,000. Within that sector. the construction industry added 21,000 jobs, which was roughly in line with the average monthly jobs gained last year. Manufacturing, meanwhile, neither added nor lost jobs.

      Employment by service-providing firms rose by 192,000 jobs in January, compared with 237,000 in December. Professional/business services contributed 44,000 jobs, trade/transportation/utilities grew by 35,000, and financial activities added 19,000 positions -- the most since March 2006.

      Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, noted that, "Job growth remains strong despite the turmoil in the global economy and financial markets. Manufacturers and energy companies are reducing payrolls, but job gains across all other industries remain robust. The U.S. economy remains on track to return to full employment by mid-year."

      Another big jump in private sector employment.The January ADP National Employment Report says the economy cranked out 205,000 jobs from December to Jan...
      Read lessRead more

      Mortgage applications post first decline in four weeks

      Contract interest rates moved lower

      After rising for three consecutive weeks, mortgage applications were down last week.

      The latest Mortgage Applications Survey by the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) shows applications fell 2.6% in the week ending January 29.

      The Refinance Index, on the other hand, inched up 0.3% from the previous week to its highest level since October 2015. That pushed the refinance share of mortgage activity up slightly -- to 59.2% of total applications from 59.0%.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity came in at 5.9% of total applications, the FHA share was 12.9%, the VA share remained at 11.1%, and the USDA share was unchanged from 0.7% the week prior.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) fell five basis points -- from 4.02% to 3.97% -- its lowest level since October 2015. Points increased to 0.41 from 0.40 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans, the fourth straight weekly decline for this rate. 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 its lowest level since April 2015, 3.84%, from 3.89%, with points increasing to 0.26 from 0.25 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. This is the fourth straight weekly decrease for this rate. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA slipped three basis points to 3.80%, with points decreasing to 0.35 from 0.38 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs fell to 3.22% from 3.28%, with points unchanged at 0.37 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs plunged nine basis points to 3.00%, with points holding steady at 0.34 (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.

      After rising for three consecutive weeks, mortgage applications were down last week.The latest Mortgage Applications Survey by the Mortgage Bankers Ass...
      Read lessRead more

      Mazda B-Series trucks recalled

      The vehicles are equipped with Takata driver-side front airbag inflators

      Mazda is recalling approximately 19,000 model year 2004-2006 model year B-Series trucks with Takata driver-side front air bag inflators in the U.S., Puerto Rico and Saipan.

      There have been no reports of accidents or injuries on the Mazda-badged vehicles subject to this recall.

      Model year 2007-2009 B-Series Trucks with Takata passenger-side front air bag inflators are part of a previous recall.

      The following Mazda models with passenger- and/or driver-side front Takata air bag inflators are currently being recalled:

      • Total Number of Driver’s frontal air bag inflator - 442,266
      • Total Number of Passenger’s frontal air bag inflator - 416,475
      • 2003-2008 Mazda6
      • 2004-2006 B-Series
      • 2006-2007 Mazdaspeed6
      • 2004-2008 RX-8 (All Driver-side / Certain Passenger-side)
      • 2004 MPV (Certain Vins only. Click here to see if your vehicle is included.)

      Consumers with questions may contact Tamara Mlynarczyk at 202-467-5092 or Jeremy Barnes, 949-727-6844.

      Mazda is recalling approximately 19,000 model year 2004-2006 model year B-Series trucks with Takata driver-side front air bag inflators in the U.S., Puerto...
      Read lessRead more

      Land Cruiser, 4runner, Tundra, Sequoia, LX, and GX vehicles recalled

      The Curtain-Shield-Airbags and seat belt pretensioners may activate when not necessary

      Toyota Motor Sales, USA is recalling approximately 320,000 model year 2003-2006 Land Cruiser; 2004-2006 4Runner; 2005-2006 Tundra and Sequoia; 2003-2006 LX470; and 2004-2006 GX470 vehicles.

      The recalled vehicles are equipped with side Curtain-Shield-Airbags (CSAs) which deploy from the roof in the event of certain types of crashes. Due to improper programming in the airbag control modules, there is a possibility that, under certain specific and limited conditions shortly after startup, the CSAs and seat belt pretensioners could activate when not necessary.

      Unexpected activation of the CSAs could increase the risk of injury to the occupant.

      All known owners of the recalled vehicles will be notified by first class mail.

      Toyota and Lexus dealers will replace the airbag control module with one that has improved programming at no cost to owners.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331 or Lexus customer service at 1-800-255-3987.

      Toyota Motor Sales, USA is recalling approximately 320,000 model year 2003-2006 Land Cruiser; 2004-2006 4Runner; 2005-2006 Tundra and Sequoia; 2003-2006 LX...
      Read lessRead more

      CVS sued for claiming DHA dietary supplement improves memory

      The lawsuit argues that the claim is not supported by scientific research

      A lawsuit challenges CVS' claim that its Algal-900 DHA dietary supplement has been "clinically shown" to improve memory. The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says the claim is false.

      In fact, says CSPI, two high-quality clinical studies found the opposite -- that omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA, work no better than a placebo at improving cognitive function. CSPI filed the class action lawsuit along with two law firms and claims that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has previously discredited the study CVS cites as evidence of the drug's usefulness.  

      “CVS cites no scientific evidence that supports the outlandish memory claims used to market Algal-900 DHA supplements,” said CSPI litigation director Maia Kats. “CVS is relying on a discredited study, and one that the FTC has specifically prohibited from being used by another company in this context. And CVS is ignoring a large body of clinical testing and research on omega-3s, DHA and memory that indicates no benefit whatsoever in adults.”

      "Clinically shown ..."

      Packaging for Algal-900 DHA prominently states that the product provides “clinically shown memory improvement,” and that it is “the only DHA form & dosage clinically shown to improve memory.”

      On the back of the label, CVS states that in a clinical study daily supplementation with 900 milligrams of algal DHA resulted in a 50 percent reduction in errors in an episodic memory test, and that the algal DHA group’s “memory improved like it was 7 years younger versus the placebo group.”

      That study, known as the MIDAS study, was funded and conducted by Martek Biosciences Corporation for the purposes of promoting its own algae-based DHA supplement. But the FTC determined that the study does “not reveal any improvement in working memory” and banned Martek from basing any memory claims on it.

      A 2014 meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at 34 studies involving 12,999 participants and concluded that consuming omega-3 fatty acids does not “promote cognitive function in terms of composite memory, executive function, and processing speed domains.”

      “CVS is knowingly exploiting the fears of consumers, many elderly, who may have legitimate concerns about their memory or cognitive function, which makes these illegal claims especially concerning,” said Kats.

      A lawsuit challenges CVS' claim that its Algal-900 DHA dietary supplement has been "clinically shown" to improve memory. The nonprofit Center for Science i...
      Read lessRead more

      United and American airlines add snacks, entertainment options

      United will once again let families with children board early

      There are plenty of people out there who simply don’t enjoy flying. The long lines, security, and often-cramped flights can really give consumers headaches. Luckily, a couple of airlines have recently changed their certain policies to make the process more comfortable.

      United Airlines will be stepping up its game when it comes to boarding certain passengers, while American airlines has upgraded its in-flight entertainment to keep travelers happy. Both airlines are adding free snacks.

      Altered boarding procedures

      The first step to taking off is boarding a flight, and it can be downright miserable if the wait is long and your children are unhappy. That is why United Airlines’ altered boarding procedures could come as a huge relief to some consumers; the company has decided to rescind a decision it made four years ago and once again allow families with young children to board flights early, the Chicago Tribune reported.

      The change couldn’t come any sooner for families, who will be able to avoid some waiting time when getting on flights after February 15, the day the change will go into effect.

      “It takes a little bit of the stress out of the travel situation,” said Sandra Pineau-Boddison, United Airlines senior vice president of customers, in a prepared statement. “Some things are just the right thing to do.”

      Snacks and expanded entertainment

      Both carriers are adding free snacks on some flgihts. And American says it will be adding more free entertainment options to its flights. 

      United is offering an Asian-style snack mix of rice crackers, sesame sticks and wasabi peas, or a zesty ranch mix of mini pretzel sticks, Cajun corn sticks and ranch soy nuts. United is serving up the complimentary snacks to economy-cabin customers on flights within North America, to and from Central Americaand between Honolulu and Guam.

      Stroopwafels, available on flights before 9:45 a.m., may be enjoyed straight out of the package or warmed on top of a cup of coffee or tea to soften the waffle and melt the caramel filling.The packaged snack mixes will be available on flights departing at 9:45 a.m. or later.

      “American Airlines is continuing to elevate the customer experience by adding complimentary snacks and more free movies, TV shows, and music in the Main Cabin,” said the company in a news release.

      American passengers can expect the additional snacks and meals to begin rolling out in February, but only on certain flights. They include trips from New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX), New York (JFK) to San Francisco (SFO), and Miami (MIA) to Los Angeles (LAX). Other domestic flights will have additional snacks by April. Complimentary meal service will also be available for flights from Dallas (DFW) to Hawaii starting in May.

      For entertainment, American is expanding its in-flight library to include 40 movies, 60 TV shows, and 300 music albums. The airline will also be offering international live TV on its long-haul international flights, a first for the industry according to the press release. The company hopes these expanded options will keep consumers coming back for future flights.

      “We want customers to choose American every time they fly. . . We are giving our customer more choices to enhance their personal flying experience by offering new service and new entertainment options in all cabins,” said Fernand Fernandez, vice president of American Global Marketing. 

      There are plenty of people out there who simply don’t enjoy flying. The long lines, security, and often-cramped flights can really give consumers headaches...
      Read lessRead more

      Seniors want robots that take orders, not give them

      Older Americans comfortable with mechanical caregivers in limited roles

      Senior citizens have seen plenty of science fiction movies over the years, so it might not be surprising they are just a little leery of inviting a robot into their home to help with household chores.

      After all, Hal, the computer/robot in "2001, A Space Odyssey," made an indelible impression. Hal might have blindsided Dave, the astronaut, but we're all the wiser now. And those “mental models” seniors have formed over the years very much shape their comfort level with machines, researchers say.

      "When interfaces are designed to be almost human-like in their autonomy, seniors may react to them with fear, skepticism and other negative emotions," S. Shyam Sundar, co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory at Penn State, said in a release. "But, with those considerations in mind, there are actually several areas where older people would accept robot help."

      Cheap help

      With a large population of aging Americans, robots are seen as a cost-effective way to provide older people with in-home support. But Sundar says the research makes clear that seniors may accept mechanical helpers in some roles more than others.

      In a study, seniors felt most comfortable with robots as helpers and butlers, when they were following the user's instructions. What appears to make them uncomfortable, however, is when robots are autonomous. They don't want a robot that can make its own decisions and may not need to wait for a senior's commands to engage in a task.

      "It is clear senior citizens want robots to play passive and non-confrontational roles," said Sundar. "Seniors do not mind having robots as companions, but they worry about the potential loss of control over social order to robots."

      Filling a need

      Like it or not, robots are likely to take on a greater care-giving role in the future. Some 8,000 Americans turn 65 years old -- the typical retirement age for workers -- each day, according to the researchers. Even if they seem a little creepy, these robots might prove to be very useful.

      The concept of robot caregivers got an early start in Japan, which has a large aging population. Last March the Riken Institiute and Sumitomo Riko company highlighted efforts to develop a new robot nurse with a human-like touch. It doesn't talk but it does listen. And it's powerful enough to carry about 176 pounds, meaning it could help a patient move from a bed to a wheelchair.

      "We really hope that this robot will lead to advances in nursing care, relieving the burden on care-givers today,” Toshiharu Mukai, leader of the Robot Sensor Systems Research Team, said in a release.

      “We intend to continue with research toward more practical robots capable of providing powerful yet gentle care to elderly people."

      Just as long as it doesn't get any ideas about world domination.

      Senior citizens have seen plenty of science fiction movies over the years, so it might not be surprising they are just a little leery of inviting a robot i...
      Read lessRead more

      BPA replacement isn't much better than the original, study says

      UCLA study raises questions about Bisphenol S

      In recent years, packaging manufacturers have moved away from Bisphenol A (BPA), the hardening agent that was once found in nearly all plastic bottles and containers.

      A 2010 report from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) raised concerns about BPA exposure, especially to pregnant women, children, and infants. Despite the fact that the FDA says low levels of human exposure to BPA are safe, manufacturers have begun to look for alternatives.

      One alternative is Bisphenol S (BPS), and that's the agent used in many containers labeled as “BPA-Free.” However, researchers at UCLA have now raised concerns about the safety of the replacement.

      Their study, reported in the medical journal Endocrinology, links BPS to early puberty and a rise in breast and prostate cancers.

      Not necessarily safer

      “Our study shows that making plastic products with BPA alternatives does not necessarily leave them safer,” senior author Nancy Wayne, a reproductive endocrinologist and a professor of physiology at UCLA, said in a release.

      Wayne and her team used zebrafish for their study. It found that exposure to low levels of BPA and BPS—equivalent to the traces found in polluted river waters -- altered the animals’ physiology at the embryonic stage almost immediately, sometimes in as little as 25 hours.

      As a result, eggs hatched earlier than normal. Embryos also developed much faster when either of the chemicals was present.

      “Not harmless”

      “Exposure to low levels of BPA had a significant impact on the embryos’ development of brain cells that control reproduction, and the genes that control reproduction later in life,” said Wayne. “We saw many of these same effects with BPS found in BPA-free products. BPS is not harmless.”

      Wayne calls it the aquatic version of the canary in the coal mine.

      BPA became an issue in the marketplace when it was shown to leach into food, particularly under heat, from the lining of cans and from consumer products such as water bottles, baby bottles, food-storage containers, and plastic tableware. It prompted Walmart to stop selling children's products containing BPA in 2008.

      In 2012 the American Chemical Society (ACS) reported that people were also being exposed to BPS from the thermal paper used in cash register receipts. ACS noted at the time that BPS is closely related to BPA, with some of the same estrogen-mimicking effects, and “unanswered questions exist about whether it is safer.”

      In recent years, packaging manufacturers have moved away from Bisphenol A (BPA), the hardening agent that was once found in nearly all plastic bottles and...
      Read lessRead more

      Housing market not yet hit by stock market turbulence

      Realtor.com says 2016 off to a solid start

      The stock market got off to a rocky start in 2016, but, as January enters the books, it doesn't seem to have negatively affected the housing market. At least that's realtor.com's take.

      The online real estate marketplace says a preliminary analysis of data shows the market turmoil hasn't dampened the pent-up demand that lifted sales in 2015. True, there was cooler demand last month, but the site says that's typical for January

      “Our initial readings on January affirm the positive growth we expect to see in the residential real estate market in 2016,” Jonathan Smoke, chief economist of realtor.com, said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “Our traffic, searches and listing views exhibited the January ‘pop’ we saw last year, which made for a strong spring. In addition, a large number of prospective buyers have been telling us since the second half of 2015 that they plan to purchase in the spring and summer of 2016.”

      Based on the website's traffic, Smoke says the spring could be an active home-buying season. January median list prices are expected to show a substantial increase year over year, despite a slight decrease from December.

      Moving faster

      In spite of rising prices, the company says homes are selling 4% faster this year when compared to last year. Yearly inventory is 1,510,329 while monthly inventory continues its seasonal decrease. Buyers are encountering tighter supplies and fewer choices.

      “All indicators point to this spring being the busiest since 2006, but we’ll need to see inventory grow more robustly this year to satisfy these buyers,” Smoke said. “The decline in the stock market so far seems to be a net positive for real estate demand. Fixed 30-year mortgage rates are now about 25 basis points lower than at the end of 2015 as a result of the financial market weakness. That extra buying power appears to be offsetting any weakness from buyers whose stock-related losses impair their ability to buy.”

      The median listing price for January is estimated at $227,000, an 8% increase year over year and virtually flat over December. Prices, of course, are significantly higher in the hottest markets.

      San Francisco hangs onto the top spot as the nation's hottest housing market, as California maintains its dominance with seven of the top 10 markets and the majority of the top 20. Nashville is the biggest gainer, moving up six spots to number 7. Texas and Florida now feature multiple markets in the top 20.

      From the demand side, realtor.com says the hot markets get two to five times the number of views per listing compared to the national average. From the supply side, these markets are seeing inventory move 30 to 50 days more quickly than the rest of the U.S. They have also seen days on market drop by a combined average of 7% year-over-year.

      The stock market got off to a rocky start in 2016, but, as January enters the books, it doesn't seem to have negatively affected the housing market. At lea...
      Read lessRead more

      Another contraction for the manufacturing sector of the economy

      The rate of contraction, however, slowed a bit

      Even as the overall economy grew for the 80th consecutive month, economic activity in the manufacturing sector contracted in January for the fourth month in a row.

      According to the Institute for Supply Management (ISM), the January purchasing management index (PMI) was up 0.2% to 48.2% when compared to the seasonally adjusted December reading of 48%.

      The New Orders Index jumped 2.7% to 51.5%, the Production Index moved up 0.3% to 50.0%, while the Employment Index dropped 2.1% to 45.9%.

      Inventories of raw materials held steady at 43.5% and the Prices Index remained at 33.5%, indicating lower raw materials prices for the 15th consecutive month.

      Industry performance

      Of the 18 manufacturing industries, eight are reporting growth in January in the following order:

      1. Textile Mills;
      2. Wood Products;
      3. Miscellaneous Manufacturing;
      4. Printing & Related Support Activities;
      5. Furniture & Related Products;
      6. Computer & Electronic Products;
      7. Machinery; and
      8. Electrical Equipment, Appliances & Components.

      The 10 industries reporting contraction in January -- listed in order -- are:

      1. Apparel, Leather & Allied Products;
      2. Nonmetallic Mineral Products;
      3. Petroleum & Coal Products;
      4. Paper Products;
      5. Transportation Equipment;
      6. Plastics & Rubber Products;
      7. Fabricated Metal Products;
      8. Food, Beverage & Tobacco Products;
      9. Primary Metals; and
      10. Chemical Products.
      Even as the overall economy grew for the 80th consecutive month, economic activity in the manufacturing sector contracted in January for the fourth month i...
      Read lessRead more

      Braga Organic Farms recalls pistachios

      The nuts may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Braga Organic Farms is recalling pistachios and products containing pistachios.

      The nuts may be contaminated with Salmonella.

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

      The recalled nuts, which come in a clear or green standup bag, with the date code stamped on the bottom of the bag, were distributed in retail stores in California, Oregon and Washington, and through online sales nationwide.

      The following products are being recalled:

      ProductSizeUPCBEST BY OR PURCHASE DATE
      Raw Pistachio Kernels8 oz896547002047JUN 29 2016, JUL 04 2016, JUL 18 2016, JUL 25 2016, JUL 26 2016
      1 lb810126020215Purchased 12/28/15 to 1/27/16
      2 lbs896547002306JUN 28 2016, JUL 13 2016, JUL 27 2016
      5 lbs896547002641Purchased 12/28/15 to 1/27/16
      Trail Mix8 oz896547002139JUN 29 2016, JUL 7 2016, JUL 11 2016, JUL 26 2016
      1 lb810126020451Purchased 12/28/15 to 1/29/16
      2 lbs896547002320JUL 01 2016, Purchased 12/28/15 to 1/29/16
      5 lbs896547002603Purchased 12/28/15 to 1/29/16
      25 lbs896547002492Purchased 12/28/15 to 1/29/16
      Nut Mix8 oz896547002177JUL 06 2016, JUL 07 2016, JUL 11 2016, JUL 18 2016
      1 lb810126020192Purchased 12/28/15 to 1/27/16
      2 lbs896547002351JUL 01 2016, Purchased 12/28/15 to 1/27/16
      5 lbs810126020208Purchased 12/28/15 to 1/27/16
      25 lbs896547002412Purchased 12/28/15 to 1/27/16

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume it, but destroy them or return them to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions may call 855-661-2101, 8:15 am – 4:30 pm, (PST), Monday through Friday.

      Braga Organic Farms is recalling pistachios and products containing pistachios. The nuts may be contaminated with Salmonella. No illnesses ...
      Read lessRead more

      The consumer issue Presidential candidates aren't talking about

      The national debt is taking a back seat to immigration and drug prices

      Chances are you haven't heard the Presidential candidates in either party talking a lot about the national debt. It tends to get overshadowed by immigration, healthcare, and other economic issues.

      Yet this issue affects every consumer, particularity Millennials.

      The U.S. government must borrow increasing amounts of money each year to pay its bills. The national debt, in terms of that borrowing, is growing exponentially. Worse still, unfunded mandates, such as Social Security payments and government pensions, push that total much higher.

      According to the Treasury Department, the national debt more than doubled between 2007 and 2015. The numbers are so large it's hard to even comprehend.

      It might surprise you to learn that the United States has carried a national debt every year of its existence, except for one. In 1790 the U.S. government owed $70 million, a hefty sum in those days. It ran up the debt paying off the states' Revolutionary War debts.

      In debt every year but one

      Andrew Jackson, who hated debt, was elected President in 1828 and made it his mission to pay down the debt. He sold off U.S. government land during a land speculation boom and by 1835, the U.S. was debt-free.

      However, it didn't last. Jackson left office and the land speculation bubble popped in 1837, ushering in a big depression. The government was back to borrowing again. And even when borrowing increased during wars, it was generally manageable because the country's economy was growing.

      Think of it like a young couple's home mortgage. When they first buy a home, the mortgage payment takes a big bite out of their income. But as they get older and make more money, the debt is less of a burden.

      Even during times of prosperity, the U.S. government didn't attempt to pay off the debt – it simply maintained it, spending about what it collected in revenue each year. During those years, it built the Interstate Highway System, launched the Space Program, and began new entitlement programs.

      Borrowing to pay the bills

      The issue that worries some economists today is that the U.S. government must borrow just to pay its bills. The economic growth that would make the burden of increasing debt easier to bear just hasn't been there since the financial crisis.

      Either taxes must rise, spending must decrease, or a balance must be struck between the two. However the political process has been unable to even approach a solution.

      There are, in fact, two sides to the debate. Some economists say a rising debt is preferable to harming the economy with large tax hikes or by slashing government spending.

      Deficit “hawks” worry that interest on the debt is rising to the point that it competes with other expenses. Even the Congressional Budget Office points out that increasing interest payments will compete with other needs if the economy doesn't start growing again, or should interest rates spike. And it will be largely up to today's young people to deal with it.

      In the 1992 Presidential election, third-party candidate Ross Perot captured public attention with his hand-drawn charts showing an exploding deficit. At the time, the national debt and yearly deficit was a good bit smaller.

      Since then, we haven't heard much about deficits or debt in Presidential campaigns.

      Chances are you haven't heard the Presidential candidates in either party talking a lot about the national debt. It tends to get overshadowed by immigratio...
      Read lessRead more

      Los Angeles files criminal charges against two drone operators

      The defendants could face a $1,000 fine and six months in jail

      The simmering dispute over whether federal or local laws regulate drones is heating up, as Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer has filed criminal charges against two drone operators accused of violating the city's drone ordinances.

      “Operating a drone near trafficked airspace places pilots and the public at serious risk,” said Feuer. “We'll continue to use our new city law to hold drone operators accountable and keep our residents safe.” 

      Michael Ponce, 20, and Arvel Chappell, 35, were each charged with two criminal counts stemming from two separate incidents -- including allegedly operating a drone within five miles of an airport without permission and allegedly operating the device in excess of 400 feet above ground level. Chappell was also charged with one additional count of operating a drone at a time other than during daylight.

      If convicted, Ponce and Chappell could face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

      The Federal Aviation administration has taken the position that it has authority over the skies and late last year implemented regulations requiring drone operators to register their aircraft and abide by safety rules, including not flying near airports.

      California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed statewide legislation that would have banned flying drones over private property, prompting Los Angeles to pass its own ordinances in October. The L.A. rules closely mirror the FAA's.

      Heliports, hospitals

      In the Los Angeles incidents, a police department airship allegedly observed Ponce operating a drone above 400 feet over Griffith Park, within three miles of a number of hospital heliports. The drone was seized and Ponce was cited.

      On December 12, 2015, Chappell was cited by police for allegedly operating a drone in excess of 400 feet and within a quarter mile of Hooper Heliport, the LAPD Air Support Division’s base at Piper Tech in downtown Los Angeles. An air unit coming in to land allegedly had to alter its path in order to avoid the device. Ground units were notified and the device was seized.

      "While people may think that flying a drone is a minor or victimless crime, the results could be devastating," said city council member Mitchell Englander, Chair of the Public Safety Committee. "We saw firsthand what happened during a major brush fire where drones grounded firefighting helicopters. A single drone can take down a helicopter or an airplane. If drones fly, first responders can't."

      The simmering dispute over whether federal or local laws regulate drones is heating up, as Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer has filed criminal charges ...
      Read lessRead more

      "Coffee flour" enhances the health benefits of coffee

      Ever wanted a caffeinated muffin? With coffee flour, it's possible

      Buzz has been brewing lately over the health benefits of coffee. According to a recent Harvard study, those who drink three to five cups of java a day have a 15% lower chance of prematurely dying than non-drinkers.

      To thank for this little perk? A chemical called chlorogenic acid (CGA) — an antioxidant that appears to modulate how quickly the body breaks down glucose. But since the process of roasting coffee beans reduces concentrations of CGA (from 50% to nearly 100%), coffee drinkers aren’t seeing the full benefit of coffee’s naturally high CGA levels.

      One scientist, however, recently discovered a new method of roasting green coffee beans that retains CGA levels and enhances the health benefits of coffee. Through trial and error, Brandeis biophysicist Dan Perlman invented the process of "parbaking," which involves roasting the green coffee beans at a lower temperature and for less time.

      Parbaked beans

      The process of parbaking not only retains the concentration of CGA in the bean, it yields a flour. According to Perlman, this “coffee flour” can be used both as a food ingredient and a nutritional supplement.

      Perlman’s newly patented process of creating coffee flour involves just barely roasting the bean (at around 300 degrees fahrenheit), then freezing it with liquid nitrogen and pulverizing it into a power.

      “At the end of the process, you get a wheat-colored flour. Its taste is nutty, pleasant and mild," says Perlman, who also developed the "healthy fats" blend in the Smart Balance buttery spread.

      Mixes into anything

      The flour can then be used in countless ways, just not to make a cup of coffee. Perlman sees his coffee flour being blended with regular flours for baking, used in breakfast cereals and snack bars, and added to soups, juices, and nutritional drinks. And in doing so, you’ll be getting a caffeine boost, too.

      "This flour contains 2.5 percent caffeine by weight,” Perlman tells Eater. “So if you were to put 4 grams of this into, say, a breakfast muffin, it would be the equivalent of drinking a cup of coffee."

      Unlike a cup of coffee or an energy drink, however, the caffeine in coffee flour is absorbed gradually, says Perlman. So while it won't offer the instant kick of a shot of espresso, you will be able to experience a more sustained buzz throughout the day.

      A similar — yet very different — product was launched last year. Also called CoffeeFlour, it's made from coffee cherry fruit instead of green coffee beans. But despite the product's publicity, Perlman says, "It may be difficult to convince people that it's a good idea to eat vegetable materials that have not been routinely consumed by humans over many decades."

      Buzz has been brewing lately over the health benefits of coffee. According to a recent Harvard study, those who drink three to five cups of java a day have...
      Read lessRead more

      U-Haul barometer suggests Chicago is on the housing rebound

      More one-way truck rentals going into the city than leaving last year

      Economists have a variety of tools to measure economic progress or a lack thereof. U-Haul track rentals has a very simple gauge.

      Each year it tallies up the number of one-way truck rentals out of an area and the number arriving.

      In 2014, it says there were more U-Haul trucks leaving Chicago than arriving. Last year, the trend reversed, running counter to the state as a whole.

      The turnaround was enough to earn the Windy City the number five spot on U-Haul's Top 10 U.S. Growth Cities for 2015.

      "As a global transportation and communications hub, Chicago is attracting more major company headquarters each year as businesses recognize the region is one of the best places to live, work and visit in the nation," said Theresa E. Mintle, president and CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

      Pivotal year

      U-Haul says 2015 was a pivotal year for Chicago. Company records show Chicago had 50.6% of one-way truck rental customers coming into the city as opposed to leaving. That was up from 49.6% in 2014, when out-bound traffic was in the majority.

      U-Haul notes the city is still dealing with negative issues but that data suggests a turnaround is in progress.

      "There are more than 400 neighborhood festivals every year in Chicago, each with food, culture and music to enjoy," Jamie Lee, president of U-Haul Company of North Shore Chicago, said in a release. "The views from the rooftops and sky decks are breathtaking, no matter if you are a visitor or a resident. When you see the cityscape, it's stunning."

      Political issues

      The rest of Illinois' housing market is still dealing with some headwinds entering 2016. In a forum sponsored by the Illinois Association of Realtors, economists said factors such as available housing inventory, job growth, and ongoing political issues could have an impact.

      Geoffrey Hewings, director of the Regional Economics Applications Laboratory (REAL) at the University of Illinois, said the state's political impasse has the potential to affect the housing market. It could create economic uncertainty that could hinder future home sales and prices, he said.

      Currently, the state's Republican governor and Democratic House speaker are in a stand-off over taxes and spending.

      Economists have a variety of tools to measure economic progress or a lack thereof. U-Haul track rentals has a very simple gauge.Each year it tallies up...
      Read lessRead more

      Shopping for the best value in healthcare services

      Survey finds consumers usually don't select the least-expensive provider

      Getting the most bang for your buck from your healthcare spending is not a simple matter. Since what you pay for care goes through an insurance provider, it tends to complicate things.

      You have to factor in what you pay for health insurance as well as what you end up paying out of pocket to the provider. In nearly every case, it's more than you think.

      There are several things to consider. Most people focus first on the monthly premiums. If you can't afford them, then the coverage doesn't do you much good.

      The advisors at Healthcare.gov suggest that other things are just as important as the monthly premium. You also need to deliberate on what services will cost beyond your coverage.

      You also need to consider the type of insurance plan and the provider network. Different plan types provide different levels of coverage for care you get inside and outside of the plan’s network of doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, and other medical service providers.

      High deductible plans

      Getting a health insurance plan with a high deductible will lower your monthly cost but can add a significant cost in the event of expensive medical care. New research shows consumers on high-deductible plans are no better at price shopping for health care professionals or services than people on traditional insurance.

      “The main message of our research is this: Giving skin in the game or giving people financial incentives is not enough to prompt people to become better consumers of health care,” co-author Neeraj Sood, director of research at the University of Southern California (USC), said in a release.

      More and more Americans are enrolled in high-deductible plans. Sood said about one in four U.S. employees are enrolled in high-deductible plans while about 80% of the people insured through the health care exchanges are enrolled in some sort of high-deductible plan.

      Price differences

      Since consumers with high-deductible plans pay much of their initial health care costs out of pocket, you would think they would be better at choosing lower-cost providers. The USC survey, in fact, found that most people with high-deductible plans aren't convinced that high cost providers provide better care. So why use them?

      Yet the survey found only about 10% of consumers with high-deductible plans did comparison shopping for providers. Sood says there may be two reasons for that.

      “For one, it’s a hassle and very difficult to get good information about the prices and the quality of care by doctors, labs or other services,” he said. “And two, when it comes to doctors and services, people are concerned about quality of care, but there is not much information available about quality.”

      The way consumers with high-deductible plans usually save money on health care is by reducing the number of visits to the doctor. In some cases, that's counter productive if preventive care or early detection could have prevented major complications later on.

      Getting the most bang for your buck from your healthcare spending is not a simple matter. Since what you pay for care goes through an insurance provider, i...
      Read lessRead more

      Consumers earn more, spend less in December

      That helped push personal savings higher

      Consumers found themselves with more money in their pockets as the holiday shopping season got underway -- and tucked a good chunk of it away.

      The Commerce Department reports personal income rose $42.5 billion, or 0.3% in December, while disposable personal income (DPI) -- personal income less personal current taxes -- increased $37.8 billion or 0.3%. Personal consumption expenditures (PCE) dipped $0.7 billion, or less than 0.1%.

      In November, personal income was up 0.3%, DPI rose 0.2 percent, and PCE increased by 0.5%, according to revised estimates.

      Compensation

      Wages and salaries rose $13.1 billion in December, after surging $37.9 billion a month earlier. Within that category, private wages and salaries were up $10.3 billion, and government wages and salaries inched up $2.8 billion.

      Supplements to wages and salaries advanced $4.8 billion.

      Personal spending and saving

      Personal outlays -- PCE, personal interest payments, and personal current transfer payments -- increased $2.0 billion in December after surging $62.1 billion in November.

      Personal saving -- DPI less personal outlays -- was $753.5 billion in December, up $35.7 billion from the month before. The personal saving rate -- personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income -- was 5.5%, versus with 5.3% in November.

      The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      Consumers found themselves with more money in their pockets as the holiday shopping season got underway -- and tucked a good chunk of it away.The Comme...
      Read lessRead more

      Survey: Super Bowl 50 expected to draw nearly 190 million U.S. viewers

      It's more than a sporting event to many -- it's an excuse to party

      Are you ready for some football? You've got a lot of company.

      The National Retail Federation's (NRF) Super Bowl Spending Survey conducted by Prosper Insights and Analytics, say an estimated 188.9 million football fans, foodies, and social butterflies in the U.S. plan to watch the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers battle it out in Super Bowl 50 on February 7 -- up more than five million from those who planned to watch last year.

      Those celebrating will also spend an average of $82.19 on food, decor, team apparel, and more -- the highest in the survey’s history. Total spending is expected to top $15.5 billion.

      “Two great teams going head-to-head and a historic game celebrating the 50th Super Bowl could make this one of the most-celebrated football games we’ve seen in some time,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “We expect retailers will be aggressive with promotions on food and decorations as well as athletic wear and electronics in the coming days as they look to entice those planning to watch the Super Bowl.”

      Survey highlights

      • 34.7% say the football game is the most important part of the day (85 million) while 17.7% say the commercials are (43.4 million), and another 4.5% say enjoying the fun food is the most important for them (11 million);
      • 43.3 million fans are planning to throw a Super Bowl party (17.7%) while another 70 million say they’d rather let their friends and relatives do the hosting and attend one instead (28.6%);
      • 79.8% of partygoers and viewers will buy food;
      • 7.7% plan to buy a new TV to enjoy the game, which could amount to an estimated 8.6 million new televisions;
      • 11.1% of those planning to watch the game will buy new team apparel and/or accessories -- an estimated 20.9 million new items purchased;
      • Nearly eight in 10 (78.6%) Americans say they watch the commercials during the Super Bowl as entertainment, while 17.5% say they make them aware of advertisers’ brands, and 10.3% said they influence them to buy products from the advertisers.

      “The Super Bowl has become much more than something only football fans dream about for the entirety of the season,” said Prosper’s Principal Analyst Pam Goodfellow. “The growth in celebrations this year could be a result of increased interest among individuals who use sites like Twitter and Pinterest to bring out their creative skills when it comes to DIY party projects and even making festive game-day fare. Super Bowl Sunday is now more than just a game, it’s an experience for all.”

      The demographics

      • 12.9% of 18-24 year olds say the halftime show is the most important part of Super Bowl Sunday for them, the highest of any age group. 
      • 20.4% of 45-54 year olds say the commercials are the most important part of the day; 20.2% of 35-44 year olds agree
      • 47.9% of 18-24 year olds are planning to attend a Super Bowl party -- significantly higher than the next highest age group – 38.7% of 25-34 year olds;
      • 29.9% of 25-34 year olds will host a party, more than any other age group.

      Are you ready for some football? You've got a lot of company. The National Retail Federation's (NRF) Super Bowl Spending Survey conducted by Prospe...
      Read lessRead more

      Garden of Life recalls Raw Meal organic shake & meal products

      The products may contain Salmonella Virchow

      Garden of Life LLC is recalling a limited quantity of its Raw Meal Organic Shake & Meal Chocolate, Original, Vanilla and Vanilla Chai.

      The products may contain Salmonella Virchow.

      Raw Meal products are distributed throughout the United States and sold at better health food stores and natural grocers.

      Consumers who believe they may have a Raw Meal product affected by this recall, should look for the following lot codes prominently stamped on the underside of the plastic container:

      PRODUCT NAMELot NumberExp Date
      RAW Organic Meal 10 CNT Tray472148009/12017
      RAW Organic Meal Chocolate Full Size471988009/1/17
      RAW Organic Meal Full Size472146009/1/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Chai Full Size472155009/1/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Chai Full Size472155019/1/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Full Size472161009/1/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Full Size472255009/1/17
      RAW Organic Meal Chocolate Full Size472259009/1/17
      RAW Organic Meal Chocolate Full Size472492009/1/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Chai 10 CNT Tray471832019/30/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Full Size471986019/30/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Chai Half Size472060009/30/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Full Size472256009/30/17
      RAW Organic Meal Half Size472258009/30/17
      RAW Organic Meal Chocolate Half Size472262009/30/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Half Size472264009/30/17
      RAW Organic Meal Full Size472360009/30/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla 10 CNT Tray472480009/30/17
      RAW Organic Meal Full Size472489019/30/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Full Size472539009/30/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Half Size472574019/30/17
      RAW Organic Meal Chocolate Full Size4722600010/1/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Full Size4721620010/31/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Full Size4722560110/31/17
      RAW Organic Meal Chocolate Full Size4722610010/31/17
      RAW Organic Meal Chocolate Half Size4722620110/31/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Chai Full Size4722630010/31/17
      RAW Organic Meal Full Size4724650010/31/17
      RAW Organic Meal Vanilla Chai Full Size4724760010/31/17
      RAW Organic Meal Chocolate Half Size4724780010/31/17

      Customers who purchased the recalled products may return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-866-465-0051, Monday-Friday from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm (EST).

      Garden of Life LLC is recalling a limited quantity of its Raw Meal Organic Shake & Meal Chocolate, Original, Vanilla and Vanilla Chai. The products...
      Read lessRead more