Browse by year
Autolist: VW owners getting a sweet deal
Reparations more than make up for loss of vehicle values06/30/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Suddenly, it's not so bad being the owner of a Volkswagen TDI “clean diesel” car. The settlement announced this week by VW will reward owners handsomely, a...
Suddenly, it's not so bad being the owner of a Volkswagen TDI “clean diesel” car. The settlement announced this week by VW will reward owners handsomely, according to an analysis by Autolist.
Thousands of U.S. consumers have been stuck with vehicles they assumed were good for the environment. But VW admitted last fall that the onboard computer adjusted the diesel emissions when it sensed an emissions test was taking place.
During the tests, the emissions were reduced to within standards. The rest of the time, the cars gave off emissions well above legal standards.
As a result, VW agreed to a more than $14 billion settlement, requiring it to buy back affected vehicles and terminate leases, as well as pay consumers cash reparations.
After studying the details of the deal, Autolist concludes consumers will come out ahead. The company reports nominal vehicle value has gone down an average of $2,017 because of the diesel emissions cheating scandal.
250% to 500% bonus
Owners, meanwhile, are getting $5,100 to $10,000 settlement reparations payments alone. That's 250% to 500% more than the loss.
At the same time, the anticipated market value of scandal and non-scandal vehicles has recovered to 4.8% and 1.5% below expectations, respectively. That's sharply higher since March.
Despite the recovery, however, it still takes a long time to sell a Volkswagen. Time on the market is up to all time highs, even for cars not involved in the scandal. Autolist.com says brand perception damage and the lack of a real fix for the scandal-affected cars may hurt sales for months to come.
According to Edmunds.com's projections for June auto sales, VW sales are expected to be down only 2.1% from June 2015, before the scandal broke. Even more encouraging for the brand, VW sales are expected to rise 0.4% from May.
Amazon promises more TV deals on Prime Day
Shopping expert expects retailer to correct some mistakes from last year06/30/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Amazon.com is releasing a few details about its second annual Prime Day, a July 12 shopping event that is designed to get consumers doing their Christmas s...
Amazon.com is releasing a few details about its second annual Prime Day, a July 12 shopping event that is designed to get consumers doing their Christmas shopping in the middle of the summer.
The company says the special shopping day will feature over 100,000 items, with new deals announced every five minutes throughout the day. As was the case last year, consumers must be Prime members in order to take advantage of the bargains.
“Prime Day is a unique opportunity to discover new items and great deals, on top of our already low prices,” said Greg Greeley, Vice President of Amazon Prime. "Following last year’s record sales, we have dramatically increased the inventory behind many deals.”
Amazon racked up record sales on last year's Prime Day, but Phil Dengler, principal at Jones-Dengler Marketing and operator of the website BestBlackFriday.com, says the retailer has plenty of room for improvement.
“Shoppers were largely disappointed with Prime Day last year because of the sheer number of irrelevant items — beard growers, toilet paper, lighter sleeves and other items that no one really wanted,” Dengler told ConsumerAffairs. “While there were some great deals, ones that were comparable or even better than Black Friday, they sold out within a matter of minutes.”
Amazon has already promised the deal inventory of TV sets in the promotion will be nearly twice the number available on Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined. Dengler says that means consumers should be able to snag some pretty good deals, if last year's prices are any indication. In fact, he says consumers with TVs on their holiday list might do well to shop in July, rather than November.
“Last year, they sold a 32" HDTV for $75 and a 40" HDTV for $115,” Dengler said. “Both of those prices were better than the top Black Friday prices at the time.”
But he says its unlikely TV deals will be available throughout the day, so consumers will have to pay close attention.
Competitors will probably react
Dengler says Prime Day looks promising so far, and will even get consumers better deals from Amazon's competitors. He notes that Walmart has announce a 30-day free trial of its free two-day shipping service. He expects Walmart will also roll out some serious deals of its own on July 12 as well.
But what if you aren't a Prime member? Dengler says it probably pays to take advantage of Amazon's 30-day free trial.
“If someone signs up for a Prime trial and finds that the service is not what they are looking for, they can simply cancel after 30 days and still be able to take part in Prime Day,” he said.
The bottom line, Dengler says, is Amazon's Prime Day should serve as a profitable way for consumers to get a head start on holiday shopping.
Consumers pick Jeep & Disney as most patriotic brands
"Believability and authenticity" are more important than flag-waving06/30/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
How are Jeeps and Mickey Mouse alike? Consumers regard them both as highly patriotic, that's how. In fact, Jeep and Disney tied for first place in a new Br...
How are Jeeps and Mickey Mouse alike? Consumers regard them both as highly patriotic, that's how. In fact, Jeep and Disney tied for first place in a new Brand Keys ranking of most patriotic brands, both hitting the 98% mark. Levi Strauss was second at 96% and Ralph Lauren third at 95%.
"Election years, and holidays like Independence Day, give marketers opportunities to help citizens celebrate and brands to leverage particular emotional values," said Brand Keys founder Robert Passikoff. "In this instance, brand advertising and social outreach typically features patriotic flag-waving and red-white-and-blue motifs, all in the cause of increased sales."
In the study, a national sample of 4,750 consumers, 16 to 65, were asked to evaluate which of the 248 brands included this year were most resonant when it comes to patriotism. Consumers identified the following brands as leading 2016's patriotism parade. Percentages indicate brands emotional engagement strength for the individual value of patriotism.
1 Jeep/Disney (98%)
2 Levi Strauss (96%)
3 Ralph Lauren (95%)
4 Ford (94%)
5 Coca-Cola/Jack Daniels (93%)
6 Harley Davidson/Gillette (92%)
7 Apple/Coors/Sam Adams (91%)
8 Gatorade/Amazon (90%)
9 Zippo/Hersheys/Kelloggs (89%)
10 American Express/Wrigleys (87%)
11 Colgate/Starbucks (88%)
12 Coach/New Balance (86%)
13 AT&T/Google (85%)
14 Marlboro/Converse (84%)
15 L.L. Bean/Facebook/J. Crew (83%)
16 McDonalds/Kraft/KFC (82%)
17 John Deere/Louisville Slugger/Walmart/ABC TV/Nike / (81%)
18 Craftsman Tools/GE/Wells Fargo (80%)
19 49ers/Cowboys/NFL/Patriots/MLB/NY Yankees/Wrangler/Wilson Sporting Goods/Old Navy (79%)
"When it comes to engaging consumers, waving an American flag and having an authentic foundation for being able to wave the flag are entirely different things, and the consumer knows it," added Passikoff.
He said "believability and authenticity" are the keys to emotional engagement. The more engaged a consumer with a particular emotional value and the associated brand, the more likely they'll act positively on that belief.
The Brexit vote: what's it mean for your money?
According to many financial experts, the impact will be mostly positive06/30/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Now that British voters have decided to leave the European Union, the shock on the financial markets has begun to wear off. Cooler heads are pondering what...
Now that British voters have decided to leave the European Union, the shock on the financial markets has begun to wear off. Cooler heads are pondering what it means for the future.
For U.S. consumers, the implications are mostly positive, according to financial experts who have been offering up opinions over the last few days.
For the average person with his or her retirement savings in a 401(k) or other retirement account, it was probably unsettling to see the stock market sell off Friday and Monday the way it did. But by Tuesday, stocks were bouncing back and there are plenty of indications stock prices could go even higher from here.
What about savers with money in Treasury bonds? Actually, those consumers have done okay and are poised to do even better in the future. That's because since the Brexit vote, the yield on newly issued T-bills has plunged, making older bonds paying even the miserly rate of 1.8% more valuable.
Here's why: appearing on CNBC Thursday, Hilltop Securities' Mark Grant predicted the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond would fall to below 1%. A bond with a 2% yield would be worth a lot more than its face value should the holder want to sell.
Grant predicts the worst impact of the Brexit vote will be felt in the European Union, which he predicts won't survive. With other central banks around the world now paying no yield, Grant predicts money will pour into the U.S. market, keeping U.S. rates low.
Low mortgage rates
For consumers who don't own stocks or bonds but who would like to buy a home, this development would be helpful. Mortgage rates are based on the 30-year Treasury bond – the lower the yield falls the lower mortgage rates go. So already-low mortgage rates should go even lower in the next few weeks, making homes slightly more affordable.
With international money flowing into the U.S., the dollar will get even stronger.
That's bad for U.S. businesses that rely on exports because it makes their goods and services more expensive overseas. But for American consumers, a strong dollar means imported goods will be cheaper. Consumers who travel outside the U.S. will also find their money goes farther.
Additionally, since oil is priced in dollars, a strong U.S. currency will tend to keep oil prices in check.
Not as bad as it looked
With the passage of several days, many experts have tempered their original dire outlook. Billionaire investor George Soros, who was among the most alarmed by the Brexit vote, has told the European Parliament he no longer views Brexit as having a “tragic” outcome for Europe.
While an element of risk and uncertainty remains, the Brexit vote also has short-term positive implications for Wall Street. There is now near-universal agreement among economists that the Federal Reserve will refrain from the previously expected interest rate hike for the next few months. The low interest rate environment has been a major factor in the stock market's long rally.
Helicopter parenting deemed detrimental to emerging adults, study finds
Children of helicopter parents report lower self-efficacy and life satisfaction06/30/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Christopher Maynard
Making sure a child grows up in a safe and supportive environment is of the utmost importance to many parents. But oftentimes, the need to protect and nurt...
Making sure a child grows up in a safe and supportive environment is of the utmost importance to many parents. But oftentimes, the need to protect and nurture our young can be taken too far. When this happens, parents can become too controlling or overly involved -- not allowing their children any freedom to grow and learn on their own. This is often referred to as “helicopter parenting.”
While the actions of these kinds of parents might come with the best of intentions, new research concludes that it might actually be detrimental in the long-run. A study conducted at Florida State University (FSU) shows helicopter parenting can lead to feelings of inadequacy and depression for young people entering into adulthood.
“Helicopter parents are parents who are overly involved. . . They mean everything with good intentions, but it often goes beyond supportive to intervening in in the decisions of emerging adults,” said Kayla Reed, a doctoral student at FSU.
For the purposes of the study, researchers surveyed over 460 college students between the ages of 18 and 25 to gauge how involved their mothers were in life decisions; the researchers focused primarily on mothers because, traditionally, they act as primary care givers.
Additionally, the students were asked to self-assess their own ability to handle difficult situations, as well as factors like depression, life satisfaction, anxiety, and physical health.
Participants were asked how their mothers would respond to various hypothetical situations. For example, they asked how mothers of participants would react to knowing that their child was having a fight with a roommate.
Responses varied, with some mothers encouraging their children to resolve the conflict on their own and others taking a direct hand and talking to the roommate themselves.
Lower self-efficacy and life satisfaction
After analyzing responses from each participant, the researchers found that those who reported higher levels of autonomy from their parents also said they had greater life satisfaction, better physical health, and more confidence in their own self-efficacy.
On the flip side, children of helicopter parents were more likely to report low levels of life satisfaction and self-efficacy, as well as higher levels of anxiety and depression. Physical health was also generally worse for these young adults.
“The way your parents interact with you has a lot to do with how you view yourself. . . If parents are simply being supportive, they are saying things like ‘you can manage your finances, you can pick out your classes.’ It changes if they are doing that all for you,” said Mallory Lucier-Greer, assistant professor of Family and Child Sciences at FSU.
“I think there are good intentions behind these helicopter behaviors, but at the end of the day you need to foster your child’s development,” she concludes.
How to help kids adjust to a new home06/30/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Sarah D. Young
Being uprooted during childhood may impact a person’s mental health well into adulthood, according to a new study. Researchers followed 1.5 million Dan...
Would you pay for one-hour drone package delivery?
73% of consumers say they would pay up to $10 for express drone delivery06/30/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
Does $10 sound about right for getting delivery of online purchases by drone in one hour? Seventy-three percent of consumers say they would pay that and 79...
Does $10 sound about right for getting delivery of online purchases by drone in one hour? Seventy-three percent of consumers say they would pay that and 79% say they would choose drone delivery if it was available.
It's quite a leap from just a few decades ago, when it seemed like an amazing bargain to get next-day delivery of documents via Federal Express for only $35. Now we want the stuff we buy when we want it ... and when we want it is now.
We won't have to wait long. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is expected to approve commercial drone delivery by 2019 and a recent study by Walker Sands hints that's none too soon.
The study, dubbed Future of Retail 2016, surveyed 1,433 U.S. adults and found that 40% of consumers expect that they will receive their first package delivered by drone within the next two years.
There are some lingering concerns, however, with 13% saying they don't trust the idea of drone delivery; 72% expressed fears that the packages would be damaged.
But in general, the study finds that consumers are generally beginning to accept the premise and possible value proposition of drone delivery, although they're not quite clear how drone delivery will fit into their daily routine.
Other key themes from the study include:
- Consumers are shopping online more frequently and purchasing a broader selection of products, but Amazon is still the go-to website for most categories.
- The decline of cash use and introduction of popular mobile payment systems such as Apple Pay have accelerated the shift to digital payments, consumers still have concerns retailers will need to address.
- As commerce and technology continue to intersect, consumers are open to integrating emerging technology such as drones and virtual reality into their shopping habits, bringing new opportunities – and challenges – for retailers.
Exercise may provide an immediate academic boost for kids, research shows
Experts say regular physical activity helps brain development06/30/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Sarah D. Young
Kids don’t have to be sitting at a desk to experience a boost in brain power. In fact, time spent out of the classroom may actually help kids get better gr...
Kids don’t have to be sitting at a desk to experience a boost in brain power. In fact, time spent out of the classroom may actually help kids get better grades.
According to new research, exercise and physical activity can help improve kids’ academic performance. Additionally, it has been shown to improve physical health and brain development in 6 to 18-year-old children.
The research, which comes in the form of a statement from the University of Exeter, shows that just about any form of physical activity can have a positive impact on kids' brains.
A single session of moderate exercise has immediate positive effects on brain function and academic performance, according to the panel of experts who contributed to the statement.
And it doesn’t matter whether the activity is structured or unstructured or if it takes place in school or out of school; the simple act of gaining a mastery of basic movements is what helps the brain.
In light of this finding, experts say educators shouldn’t hesitate to incorporate physical activity into every aspect of school life. Doing so not only helps kids' developing brains, it can improve their overall health and well-being.
Heart disease and type two diabetes are two health risks that can be kept at bay via vigorous physical activity during childhood, according to the statement. But even non vigorous activity has been shown to improve kids’ health.
Frequent sessions of low- to- moderate level exercise can improve children’s heart health and their metabolism -- which can, in turn, help stave off a number of other health conditions.
Engaging in regular physical activity with peers may also give children’s self-esteem a boost, which may help bolster their confidence, strengthen their relationships, and improve their overall sense of wellbeing.
All in all, there's no downside to allowing kids to take a break from school to engage in physical activity. On the contrary, experts say time taken away from lessons is time well spent.
The consensus statement has been published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Xpeed Learning Academy targeted Chinese families, NY charges
Families spent thousands to help their children get ahead, with few results, state alleges06/30/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
It's become a cliché that Asian families are ardent in their pursuit of education. The downside of that worthy pursuit is that it creates opportunities for...
It's become a cliché that Asian families are ardent in their pursuit of education. The downside of that worthy pursuit is that it creates opportunities for scam artists and con men, said New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, who recently settled with Xpeed Learning Academy.
Schneiderman said Xpeed used false advertising to lure Chinese-speaking parents to enroll their children in a summer enrichment program. Xpeed, its parent company Global Elites Network, and its owner, Maverick Bian, will pay $60,000 in restitution to parents of children in the program. The settlement also requires the company to cease its deceptive advertising of the program and to make changes to the company’s refund policy.
“This company took advantage of parents’ natural desire to go the extra mile to help their children achieve academic success,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “These devoted parents spent thousands of dollars to try to help their children succeed. But Xpeed was a company that touted empty promises, squandering parents’ hard-earned money and their children’s limited academic time. I am pleased that we have been able to secure restitution for these affected families, while also sending a message that this type of conduct will not be tolerated.”
Three grade levels
Xpeed advertised in Chinese-language media, promising that its 2015 summer program would boost children’s academic level by three grade levels in just eight weeks; transform poor-performing students into top students; enable children to complete high school by the age of 10; and even turn all children into “child prodigies” using a special new learning methodology and one-on-one tutoring. Xpeed also promised intensive SAT tutoring for high school students.
But an investigation by Schneiderman's office found that the company was unable to provide substantiation for the miraculous results promised in its advertisements. Moreover, the 2015 summer program failed to provide the promised one-on-one tutoring at the start of the program, and provided virtually no SAT tutoring at the largest Xpeed site, in Flushing, Queens. In addition, the program failed to provide any group instruction.
Schneiderman also said that children at the program’s six sites were told to spend hours engaged in “independent-study” using haphazardly-chosen educational computer “apps.” The college students hired as “tutors” were provided with virtually no training in any special “learning methodology.”
Parents typically paid more than $3,000 for the 2015 summer program, and some parents paid as much as $8,000.
What to do
If you are a parent of a child who was enrolled in the 2015 Xpeed summer program and you have not already filed a complaint with Schneiderman's office, you can file a complaint online.
Researchers make breakthrough in brain cancer research
A new discovery in how tumor cells grow gives hope for future therapies06/30/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Christopher Maynard
A new breakthrough in brain cancer research has shed light on how fatal brain tumors grow and has introduced a new drug target for treatment of the disease...
A new breakthrough in brain cancer research has shed light on how fatal brain tumors grow and has introduced a new drug target for treatment of the disease. Findings suggest that instead of growing through sugar consumption, glioma – a type of malignant brain tumor – are fueled by fats.
Researchers hope that the discovery will enhance the scientific community’s understanding of tumor behavior and allow for more precise treatments to emerge.
“Our results provide new insight into the fundamental biochemistry of cancer cells, with exciting implications for patients in the future,” said Dr. Elizabeth Stoll, lead author of the study.
Gaining new insights
The study, which was conducted at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, utilized tumor tissue from both patients undergoing surgery and mouse models. The tissues were treated with a drug called etomoxir, which inhibits cells' ability to make energy by using fatty acids.
The researchers found that the tumors grew much more slowly after being treated with etomoxir. This suggests that targeting fatty-acid metabolism may provide an additional therapeutic avenue that doctors can take advantage of in the future.
“Most cells within the adult brain require sugars to produce energy and sustain function. Interestingly, we have discovered that malignant glioma cells have a completely different metabolic strategy as they actually prefer to break down fats to make energy,” said Stoll. “Our finding provides a new understanding of brain tumour biology, and a new potential drug target for fighting this type of cancer.”
The researchers hope that they will be able to conduct studies with clinical partners so that a new drug can be developed in the future. The full study has been published in journal Neuro-Oncology.
Two huge entertainment companies are joining forces
Lionsgate is acquiring Starz for $4.4 billion06/30/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Lionsgate and Starz, who together are responsible for much of the video entertainment you watch on cable and internet, are joining forces.Lionsgate has...
Lionsgate and Starz, who together are responsible for much of the video entertainment you watch on cable and internet, are joining forces.
Lionsgate has announced a deal to purchase Starz for $4.4 billion and creating what the companies call a “global content powerhouse” with unlimited growth opportunities.
According to Lionsgate, the combination will greatly increase the combined enterprise's ability to create and distribute movies and TV programs across all consumer platforms – movie theaters, cable and satellite TV providers, mobile and broadband. It means it could make deals with content providers as well as grow the two companies' own over-the-top (OTT) distribution services.
It also demonstrates some new thinking in the executive suite, since Starz famously refused to renew its contract with Netflix in early 2012 over concern Netflix posed a threat to its bigger, and more lucrative cable clients. For its part, Netflix adapted by streaming more TV series and producing original content – two moves that have greatly influenced the evolution of digital entertainment.
Now, the combined Lionsgate-Starz will be the 800-pound gorilla in the room, in a stronger position if and when it wants to cut deals with Netflix and other platforms. Lionsgate points out the combined assets of the two companies include a 16,000-title film and television program library, along with an independent television business that has 87 original series on 42 U.S. networks. The feature film business has generated over $7 billion in global box office in the last four years.
"The combination of Lionsgate and Starz brings significant scale to our portfolio of content and distribution assets and will enable us to compete successfully in today's rapidly evolving global entertainment marketplace," said Dr. Mark H. Rachesky, Lionsgate's chairman.
The industry trade Deadline Hollywood reports Liberty Media's John Malone, Starz's controlling stockholder, was the driving force behind the deal. He reportedly felt the need to get bigger in order to stay competitive with the likes of Netflix and HBO.
The deal is expected to close by the end of the year.
Consumer spending rises in May, outpacing income gains
Jobless claims were on the rise last week06/30/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Consumers loosened up their purse strings a bit last month.The Commerce Department reports personal consumption expendi...
Consumers loosened up their purse strings a bit last month.
The Commerce Department reports personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased by $53.5 billion, or 0.4%. Personal income, by the way, also rose -- $37.1 billion, or 0.2% -- and disposable personal income (DPI), what you have left after the government gets its cut, was up by $33.9 billion, or 0.2%.
Compensation, spending, and saving
Most of the income increase came from a rise of $14.7 billion in wages and salaries, well below $40.4 billion advance in April. Private wages and salaries were up $11.8 billion, while government wages and salaries inched up $2.9 billion.
Personal outlays, which is made up of PCE, personal interest payments, and personal current transfer payments, rose just $57.0 billion in May, after a surge of $144.6 billion in April.
Personal saving -- DPI less personal outlays -- was $730.6 billion last month, pushing the personal saving rate down 0.1% to 5.3%.
The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.
After falling sharply in the preceding week, first time applications for state unemployment benefits jumped a bit in the week ending June 25.
The Department of Labor (DOL) reports initial jobless applications rose by 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 268,000. The previous week's level was revised down by 1,000.
It's now 69 consecutive weeks that the initial claims level has been below 300,000 -- the longest streak since 1973.
The four-week moving average, considered a more accurate gauge of the labor market as it lacks the weekly tally's volatility, was unchanged from the previous week at 266,750.
The full report may be found on the DOL website.
Volkswagen recalls model year 2008-2009 Audi A4, A5, and Q5 vehicles
The airbag control units may corrode and fail06/30/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Volkswagen Group of America is recalling model year 2008-2009 Audi A4, A5, and Q5 vehicles, in which the airbag control units may corrode and fail. ...
Volkswagen Group of America is recalling model year 2008-2009 Audi A4, A5, and Q5 vehicles, in which the airbag control units may corrode and fail.
If the air bag control unit fails, the air bags may not deploy in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of occupant injury.
What to do
Audi 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 Audi customer service at 1-800-253-2834. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 69O1.
Eillien's Candies recalls various sizes and brands of snack products
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes06/30/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Eillien's Candies of Green Bay, Wis., is recalling various snack products containing Roasted-Salted Sunflower Kernels and Roasted-Unsalted Sunflower Kernel...
Eillien's Candies of Green Bay, Wis., is recalling various snack products containing Roasted-Salted Sunflower Kernels and Roasted-Unsalted Sunflower Kernels.
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
There have been no reported illnesses to date.
The following products, sold through retail stores nationwide, are being recalled:
What to do
Customers who purchased any of the recalled products should dispose of or return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.
Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Eillien's Candies customer service toll free at 800-448-1556, Monday Through Friday 6:00 AM to 5:00 PM (CT).
Fresh Express recalls Caesar Salad Kits
The product may contain walnuts, an allergen not listed on the label06/30/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Fresh Express Incorporated is recalling 7.6-oz. net weight Fresh Express Caesar Salad Kits. The product may contain walnuts, an allergen not listed...
Fresh Express Incorporated is recalling 7.6-oz. net weight Fresh Express Caesar Salad Kits.
The product may contain walnuts, an allergen not listed on the label.
No illnesses are reported.
The following product is being recalled:
The recalled product was distributed to approximately 19 states primarily in the Southeast.
What to do
Customers who purchased the recalled product should discard it. A refund is available at the place of purchase or by contacting the Fresh Express consumer response center toll-free at (800) 242-5472 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (ET).
A survey finds 45% of borrowers are unhappy with the result06/29/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Since skyrocketing student loan debt became a major cause for concern, there has been some debate on the value of an expensive college education. Higher ed...
Eat your fruits and vegetables to avoid type 2 diabetes
Researchers say eating these foods reduce risk factors that lead to the disease06/29/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Christopher Maynard
Adopting a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables is beneficial from a general health standpoint, but a new study suggests that it may also reduce the ...
Adopting a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables is beneficial from a general health standpoint, but a new study suggests that it may also reduce the risk of contracting type 2 diabetes.
Researchers from the Institute of Health and Society and the Human Nutrition Research Centre at Newcastle University have found that these foods reduce biomarkers of inflammation and oxidative stress, which are major risk factors for the disease.
“This research points towards the importance of improving our understanding of the relation between diet as a whole and chronic disease outcomes such as type 2 diabetes,” the researchers stated.
The study utilized over 1,500 responses from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS), an annual survey that evaluates food consumption and nutritional status in the United Kingdom. Within this sample, the researchers tested two specific blood biomarkers that were taken from participants.
The two biomarkers that were tested were a serum C-reactive protein, which can be used to measure inflammation, and a plasma carotenoid, which measures oxidative stress in the body. They found that people who consumed higher amounts of fruits and vegetables had lower levels of these biomarkers, which put them at reduced risk of having type 2 diabetes.
Going forward, the researchers say that they want to find out which specific foods had the greatest impact on lowering inflammation and oxidative stress. They also want to test to see if certain combinations of foods can provide greater benefits.
“Though we know that individual foods may reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, we know little of how foods interact together and in relation to nutrients to achieve a desired health outcome,” they said.
They also hope to garner more information in the future in order to “understand even more how the diet of people with undiagnosed or diagnosed diabetes differs from people who do not have diabetes.”
The full study has been published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition.
Pups who panic over fireworks may benefit from a new calming gel
A non-sedative gel can now be prescribed to treat noise aversion in dogs06/29/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Sarah D. Young
Does a forecasted thunderstorm leave you in anticipation of a night spent trying to calm your anxiety-ridden pooch? If so, you might be interested to l...
Does a forecasted thunderstorm leave you in anticipation of a night spent trying to calm your anxiety-ridden pooch?
If so, you might be interested to learn of a new drug by Zoetis called Sileo: the first medication approved by the FDA to treat noise aversion in dogs.
Noise aversion affects an estimated 40 percent of dogs, new research shows. And the condition can be as stressful for dogs as it is for their human parents.
What is noise aversion?
Fear reactions are most commonly seen as a response to fireworks (81%) or thunderstorms (73%), but some pet owners report that gunshots, construction noises, or even doorbells send their pups into panic mode.
Common signs of noise aversion include trembling or shaking, hiding, whining, whimpering, or barking. But in some cases, dogs may actually run away due to fear. Experts say it’s no coincidence that July 5th is the busiest day of the year for shelters.
Many dogs end up at shelters as a result of their fear of loud noises, whether they experienced a flight response caused by fireworks or because their owners surrendered them due to behaviors caused by noise aversion.
“Many pet owners don’t recognize noise aversion as a medical condition, but it is important to get treatment early because if left untreated, noise aversion can progress to a more severe state,” said Sharon Campbell, DVM, MS, DACVIM, Veterinary Specialist, Medical Lead, Analgesia, Sedation, Anesthesia for Zoetis in a statement.
Now, the first medication developed specifically to treat this serious medical condition has become available.
Calms without sedation
Sileo is a flavorless calming gel that can be prescribed by your veterinarian and administered at home. And unlike some calming agents, it doesn’t involve sedation.
Instead of masking symptoms, as sedatives do, the drug attempts to tackle the phobia itself by inhibiting norepinephrine -- a brain chemical associated with anxiety and fear.
The gel, which is measured in a syringe ($30), is squeezed between the dog’s cheek and gum. While drugs like Prozac may take up to six weeks to begin calming a nervous dog, Sileo is absorbed within 30 minutes. It then lasts for several hours.
Tests have shown that the treatment works in the majority of cases. Three-quarters of pet parents said their dogs’ response to fireworks was “good to excellent” after being given the drug.
A new study suggests that what you value is more important than what you have06/29/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Sarah D. Young
Given the choice between more money or more time, which would you choose? Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Califor...
Uber will begin measuring drivers' safe-driving behavior on the road
Uber is also taking credit for reducing DWI arrests in Atlanta06/29/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
Uber will be looking even more closely over its drivers' shoulders as its latest app rolls out -- it will be monitoring its drivers' behavior on the road, ...
Uber will be looking even more closely over its drivers' shoulders as its latest app rolls out -- it will be monitoring its drivers' behavior on the road, measuring speed, braking and other data through the motion sensor in the drivers' smartphones.
"We believe that technologies like Uber provide an incredible opportunity to improve road safety in new and innovative ways — before, during and after every ride," said Joe Sullivan, Uber's chief security officer.
Starting today, Uber said drivers in four cities will be shown a summary after each trip that shows how smooth their driving was, with separate scores for acceleration, braking, and speed.
The apps won't wait until the trip is over to warn drivers about their speed; it will alert them immediately if it detects that they are going over the speed limit.
There are, of course, many metro areas where the speed limit is barely observed at all, and anyone driving at the posted speed is likely to be tailgated and harrassed, so it remains to be seen how well that feature plays out in practice.
Uber is also crediting itself with reducing drunken driving incidents. As the July 4th holiday looms, Uber studied drunken driving arrests in Atlanta and found that the number of arrests has gone down in nearly direct proportion to the number of Uber rides.
Uber also released a survey that it said produced these results:
- 90% of riders say that Uber helps reduce drinking and driving
- 80% of riders say that Uber has helped them personally avoid drinking and driving
- Uber is riders’ top choice for trips when they have “had too much alcohol to drive”—compared to other options such as public transportation, taxi, other ridesharing services, and walking
Why avoiding mosquitoes may be your only Zika defense this summer
Federal funding to combat the virus has become a political football06/29/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Warm weather has arrived for the summer in much of the U.S.. and so have the mosquitoes. Whether any of them carry the Zika virus, which has triggered a he...
Warm weather has arrived for the summer in much of the U.S.. and so have the mosquitoes. Whether any of them carry the Zika virus, which has triggered a health crisis in Latin America, is unknown, but chances are that some of them do.
Meanwhile, federal funding to combat the disease has become a political football in Washington, with Democrats and Republicans taking turns blocking a funding bill over unrelated provisions added to the legislation.
This week, Senate Democrats balked at a $1.1 billion funding measure after Republicans in the House added provisions benefiting their favorite causes. The Washington Post reports passage this summer of any kind of Zika funding is unlikely.
Meanwhile, scientists in the lab are reportedly making progress. Researchers have tested two Zika vaccines on mice and found they provide “complete protection.” Whether they will work on humans will have to be demonstrated in clinical trials, which of course take time.
Kansas State University's Biosecurity Research Institute is also working on the issue, studying mosquitoes to understand how they become infected with Zika virus in the first place. The institute's director, Stephen Higgs, says the key to Zika prevention probably lies in controlling mosquitoes.
Since the Zika virus was first reported in Brazil last year, there have been more than 700 cases in the U.S., nearly all from people returning home after international travel. Over the summer, health officials are concerned about the virus being spread through mosquitoes, as well as by person-to-person contact.
Fit Organic, which produces organic consumer products, has compiled a list of the top 10 Zika zones in the U.S., highlighting metro areas where residents may be most at risk. They are:
- Dallas-Fort Worth
- Miami-Ft. Lauderdale
- Los Angeles
- Washington, DC
- San Antonio
Until there is a vaccine, the best way to protect yourself from contracting the Zika virus is to avoid mosquitoes and to use insect repellent when you are outdoors.
The Zika virus is very similar to other mosquito-borne illnesses, such as dengue fever, with one important exception. Pregnant women who become infected may give birth to children with a severe birth defect.
New non-invasive cancer therapy shows promise
A newly patented cancer therapy induces cell death by altering cell acidity06/29/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Christopher Maynard
A new method for treating cancer may provide hope to children and patients with inoperable forms of the disease. The technique, which has been patented by ...
A new method for treating cancer may provide hope to children and patients with inoperable forms of the disease. The technique, which has been patented by UTSA associate professor Matthew Gdovin, kills cancer cells through a combination of injections and light radiation which forces the harmful cells to die off.
The method may have some far-reaching implications due to its ability to fight a wide variety of cancers. Gdovin says that every form of the disease can be affected by it.
“Even though there are many different types of cancers, the one thing they have in common is their susceptibility to this induced cell suicide,” he said.
Early trials look promising
At its most basic form, the new method, called photodynamic cancer therapy, relies on making cancerous cells very acidic so that they can no longer persist. This may seem ironic, Gdovin says, because changing acidity is one tool that cancer uses to thrive.
“All forms of cancer attempt to make cells acidic on the outside as a way to attract the attention of a blood vessel, which attempts to get rid of the acid. . . Instead, the cancer latches onto the blood vessel and uses it to make the tumor larger and larger,” he explains.
To test the technique, Gdovin used it on a form of triple negative breast cancer, which has historically been one of the most aggressive and difficult forms of cancer to treat; as a result, prognosis for it is generally very poor. After one treatment, Gdovin found that his photodynamic therapy had stopped tumors from growing in mouse models, effectively doubling their chance of survival.
Providing new hope
Although changing acidity may not be a new idea as far as cancer therapies go, this new method allows for a high degree of accuracy because it can solely target tumors. Also, because it only requires an injection and use of ultraviolet light, it is much less invasive than other treatment methods. This is especially important to patients who can no longer receive regular chemotherapy, as well as children who otherwise might experience permanent damage as a result of radiation.
Going forward, Gdovin intends to test his method on drug-resistant cancer cells to see if he can make further improvements. He also has begun development on a nanoparticle that can be injected into metastasized cancer cells and activated by certain wavelengths of light.
“There are so many types of cancer for which the prognosis is very poor. . . We’re thinking outside the box and finding a way to do what for many people is simply impossible,” he said.
The full study has been published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Use caution when supporting crowd-sourced causes
Connecticut attorney general says scammers have moved into the space06/29/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Crowdsourcing is a way for charities and public interest causes to quickly raise money. Companies like GoFundMe and Kickstarter have been game-changers, al...
Crowdsourcing is a way for charities and public interest causes to quickly raise money. Companies like GoFundMe and Kickstarter have been game-changers, allowing groups to quickly raise needed cash.
But like any good thing, scammers have figured out how to exploit it. By setting up a bogus campaign based on a lie, a scammer can quickly raise thousands of dollars from well-intentioned people, and pocket all of it.
"Technology has enhanced our lives in many positive ways, but it has also made it very easy for unscrupulous people to take advantage of those seeking to help others or contribute positively to a cause," said Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen.
Jepsen recently urged consumers in his state to do some homework about a campaign before supporting it financially.
Jonathan Harris, Connecticut's Consumer Protection Commissioner, says the basic first step is to check a charity's registration information. Scammers usually don't bother to register.
Ask plenty of questions if it is an unfamiliar cause, and use a search engine to research the campaign or the organization. If it is a scam, chances are there will be some warnings about it online.
“Collect any relevant background information before giving, even if it means foregoing donating immediately, and donating later," Harris said.
Remember, a reputable charity will be transparent about its plans and will not use high-pressure tactics to solicit a donation. If you have questions, you deserve and should expect honest answers.
It would be a mistake to assume that an organization running a funding campaign has been vetted. You need to do your own research and feel completely comfortable before giving.
Here's a tip for organizations running a crowdsourcing campaign: Jepsen says you should disclose up front how much of the donation will be retained by the crowdsourcing site. Also, encourage donors to learn more about your organization but to do their research outside of the crowdsourcing site.
Lawmaker urges elder abuse predator list
Officials see sharing information as key to reducing scams06/29/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
People convicted of sexual predator crimes go on a national list so that others are aware of the potential danger they may pose.A member of Congress ha...
People convicted of sexual predator crimes go on a national list so that others are aware of the potential danger they may pose.
A member of Congress has proposed a similar list for those convicted of running scams. Rep. Gwen Graham (D-FL) says such a list is needed to help protect senior citizens from fraud and abuse.
“Florida has a reputation as the best place in America to retire,” Graham said. “Unfortunately, that reputation is under threat by an increase in elder abuse and fraud targeting seniors.”
Graham has introduced legislation to create a national registry of people who have been convicted of abusing or scamming seniors, to make them more easily identified.
Florida sees rise in activity
Using state of Florida data, Graham estimates that there were more than 2,500 cases of scams directed against seniors last year in her state alone. She says these crimes have risen by 74% over the last five years.
Under her proposal, the Justice Department would design a registry that states could use as a guide to develop their own lists of offenders. The lists would be public and searchable, identifying people found guilty of committing both physical and financial crimes against older people.
She notes that a few states already have such a registry. If the Justice Department created the model, she says, more states would provide the service.
Once all the states created lists, Graham said the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) could then compile all the information and make it accessible through a national database.
Information is key
Access to warnings and information about scams and scammers could help consumers avoid being victimized, officials say. While technology has made consumers more vulnerable to scams, technology may also hold the key to prevention efforts.
Last month Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear launched a text messaging service that notifies consumers in his state when a new scam surfaces or an old one picks up intensity.
Through the program, Beshear has warned consumers in his state of a student loan debt relief scam, a Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes scam, and a scam targeting previous scam victims.
Beshear notes that seniors are a major target of these schemes, losing nearly $37 billion a year nationwide.
Pending home sales post first decline in four months
Sales were down in all four major regions06/29/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
After three straight months of increases, pending home sales have suffered a decline.The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports its Pending Hom...
After three straight months of increases, pending home sales have suffered a decline.
The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports its Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, fell 3.7% in May to 110.8. While the index reading is still the third highest in the past year, it's down year-over-year (-0.2) for the first time since August 2014. I
“With demand holding firm this spring and homes selling even faster than a year ago1, the notable increase in closings in recent months took a dent out of what was available for sale in May and ultimately dragged down contract activity,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “Realtors are acknowledging with increasing frequency lately that buyers continue to be frustrated by the tense competition and lack of affordable homes for sale in their market.”
Yun said that despite mortgage rates hovering around three-year lows for most of the year, scant supply and swiftly rising home prices -- which surpassed their all-time high last month -- are creating an availability and affordability crunch that’s preventing what should be a more robust pace of sales.
“Total housing inventory at the end of each month has remarkably decreased year-over-year now for an entire year3,” adds Yun. “There are simply not enough homes coming onto the market to catch up with demand and to keep prices more in line with inflation and wage growth.”
- The PHSI in the Northeast dropped 5.3% to 93.0, and is now unchanged from a year ago.
- In the Midwest the index slipped 4.2% to 108.0, and it is now 1.8% below May 2015.
- Pending home sales in the South dipped 3.1% to an index reading of 126.6, but that is still up 0.6% from last May.
- The index in the West was down 3.4% to 102.6, and is now 0.1% below a year ago.
What lies ahead?
Regarding the second half of the year, Yun says the fallout from the U.K.’s decision to leave the European Union breeds both immediate opportunity as well as potential headwinds for the U.S. housing market.
“In the short term, volatility in the financial markets could very likely lead to even lower mortgage rates and increased demand from foreign buyers looking for a safer place to invest their cash,” he said. “On the other hand, any prolonged market angst and further economic uncertainty overseas could negatively impact our economy and end up tempering the overall appetite for homebuying.”
Despite last month's decline in contract signings, existing-home sales are still expected to be around 5.44 million this year -- a 3.7% surge from 2015.
After accelerating to 6.8% a year ago, national median existing-home price growth is forecast to moderate to between 4 and 5%.
Mortgage applications continue to see-saw
Contract interest rates were mixed06/29/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Mortgage applications were lower last week for the second time in three weeks.According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, applications were down 2....
Mortgage applications were lower last week for the second time in three weeks.
According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, applications were down 2.6% in the week ending June 24.
The Refinance Index fell 2%, while the refinance share of mortgage activity inched up to 58.1% of total applications from 57.7% a week earlier. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity increased to 5.9%, the FHA dropped to 10.6% from 11.7%, the VA share was 12.2% and the USDA share of total applications rose to 0.7% from 0.6% 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) slipped to its lowest level since May 2013 -- 3.75%, from 3.76% -- with points increasing to 0.36 from 0.33 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate remained unchanged from last week.
- The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) rose four basis points -- from 3.70% to 3.74% -- with points increasing to 0.34 from 0.28 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
- The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA was unchanged at 3.61%, with points increasing to 0.37 from 0.24 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
- The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs was down two basis points to 3.02%, with points increasing to 0.38 from 0.36 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
- The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs fell to 2.88% from 2.92%, with points increasing to 0.30 from 0.21 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate remained unchanged from last week.
The survey covers over 75 percent of all U.S. retail residential mortgage applications.
A strong rebound for consumer confidence
'Cautious optimism' is the June takeaway06/29/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
A nice comeback for consumer confidence in June.After falling nearly two points in May -- to 92.4 -- The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index® ...
A nice comeback for consumer confidence in June.
After falling nearly two points in May -- to 92.4 -- The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index® shot up more than five points this month to 98.0. The Present Situation Index jumped from 113.2 to 118.3, while the Expectations Index rose to 84.5 from 78.5.
“Consumers were less negative about current business and labor market conditions, but only moderately more positive, suggesting no deterioration in economic conditions, but no strengthening either,” said Conference Board Director of Economic Indicators Lynn Franco. “Expectations regarding business and labor market conditions, as well as personal income prospects, improved moderately. Overall, consumers remain cautiously optimistic about economic growth in the short-term.”
The current situation
Consumers’ appraisal of current conditions improved in June. Those who said business conditions are “good” inched up from 26.1% to 26.9%, while those holding the opposing view dropped from 21.4% to 17.7%.
The assessment of the labor market was mixed. Consumers who think jobs are “plentiful” slipped from 24.5% to 23.4%. At the same time, those who believe jobs are “hard to get” also decreased -- from 24.5% to 23.3%.
Optimism regarding the short-term outlook improved in June. Those who expect business conditions to improve over the next six months rose from 15.0% to 16.8%, while those looking for conditions to get worse was down to 11.4% from 11.7%.
Consumers’ outlook for the labor market was more favorable than in May. The percentage anticipating more jobs in the months ahead increased from 12.5% to 14.2%, while those saying there will be fewer jobs decreased dipped from 18.2% to 17.9%.
The proportion of consumers who expect their incomes to increase advanced to 18.2% from 16.5%, while the proportion expecting a reduction fell 1.1% -- to 11.5%.
The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey®, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen, a provider of information and analytics around what consumers buy and watch. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was June 16.
GNP recalls chicken products
The products may be contaminated with extraneous materials06/29/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
GNP Company of Cold Spring, Minn., is recalling approximately 55,608 pounds of chicken products. Sand and black soil were found in some of the prod...
GNP Company of Cold Spring, Minn., is recalling approximately 55,608 pounds of chicken products.
Sand and black soil were found in some of the products. The source of the contamination is currently under investigation.
There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.
The following chicken products produced from June 6 to June 9, 2016, are being recalled:
- 40-lb. cases containing “Gold’n Plump CHICKEN WINGETTES & DRUMMETTES 32900” with a use-by date of 6/18/2016 and 6/20/16.
- 40-lb. cases containing “Gold’n Plump Chicken Tenders 34400” with a use-by date of 6/16/2016, 6/18/2016, and 6/19/2016
- 40-lb. cases containing “Gold’n Plump BONELESS SKINLESS CHICKEN BREAST PORTIONS 24700” with a use-by date of 6/29/2016.
- 40-lb. cases containing “Gold’n Plump CHICKEN LEG QUARTERS 20500” with a use-by date of 6/20/2016, 6/21/2016 and 6/22/2016.
- 40-lb. cases containing “Gold’n Plump CHICKEN DRUMSTICKS 30800” with a use-by date of 6/20/2016.
- 40-lb. cases containing “Gold’n Plump BONELESS SKINLESS CHICKEN BREAST PIECES 36400” with a use-by date of 6/22/16.
- 40-lb. cases containing “Gold’n Plump CHICKEN THIGHS WITHOUT BACKS 37800” with a use-by date of 6/20/2016, 6/24/2016, and 6/26/2016.
- 40-lb. cases containing “Gold’n Plump CHICKEN DRUMSTICKS 20800” with a use-by date of 6/18/2016 and 6/23/2016.
- 40-lb. cases containing “Gold’n Plump UNDER GRADE CHICKEN WING SEGMENTS 22900” with a use-by date of 6/17/2016, 6/19/2016, 6/20/2016, and 6/21/2016.
- 40-lb. cases containing “Gold’n Plump CHICKEN WINGS 31100” with a use-by date of 6/17/2016, 6/20/2016, and 6/21/2016.
- 40-lb. cases containing “Gold’n Plump CHICKEN LIVERS 31300” with a use-by date of 6/18/2016.
- 40-lb. cases containing “Just BARE BONELESS SKINLESS WHOLE CHICKEN LEG 37200” with a use-by date of 6/22/2016, 6/23/2016, 6/24/2016, and 6/25/2016.
- 40-lb. cases containing “Gold’n Plump CHICKEN WHOLE LEGS 20700” with a use-by date of 6/20/16.
- 40-lb. cases containing “Gold’n Plump CHICKEN GIZZARDS 31200” with a use-by date of 6/20/16 and 6/23/2016.
- 40-lb. cases containing “Gold’n Plump Chicken Wingette and Drummettes 33000” with a use-by date of 6/22/2016 and 6/24/2016.
- 40-lb. cases containing “Gold’n Plump Chicken Tenders 34900” with a use-by date of 6/23/2016 and 6/25/2016.
- 24-lb. cases containing “Just BARE WHOLE CHICKEN 59405” with a use-by date of 6/26/2016.
- 40-lb. cases containing “Just BARE CLIPPED CHICKEN BREAST TENDERS 53200” with a use-by date of 6/18/2016 and 6/20/2016.
The recalled products bear establishment number “P-322” inside the USDA mark of inspection and were shipped for food service and retail distribution nationwide.
What to do
Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but throw them away or return them to the place of purchase.
Consumers with questions may contact Jane Kalthoff at (800) 328-2838.
Polaris recalls Ranger ROVs
The ROVs can overheat during heavy engine loading06/29/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Polaris Industries Inc., of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 43,000 Polaris Ranger 570 ROVs. The ROVs can overheat during heavy engine loading, sl...
Polaris Industries Inc., of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 43,000 Polaris Ranger 570 ROVs.
The ROVs can overheat during heavy engine loading, slow-speed intermittent use and/or high outdoor temperatures and catch fire.
The company has received seven reports of the recalled ROVs overheating and catching on fire. No injuries have been reported.
This recall involves 2015 and 2016 model year Polaris Ranger 570 recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs). They have either two or four seats and a rear box. “Ranger” is printed on the rear box and “570” is printed on the hood. “Polaris” is stamped onto the front grill. The ROVs were sold in several colors.
The following models are included in the recall:
The ROVs, manufactured in Mexico, were sold at Polaris dealers nationwide from August 2014, through June 2016, for between $10,000 and $12,500.
What to do
Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled ROVs and contact Polaris to schedule a free repair. Polaris is contacting all known purchasers directly.
Consumers may contact Polaris at 800-765-2747 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, or online at www.polaris.com and click on “Off-Road Safety Recalls” on the main page for more information.
Integrated Food Service recalls ready-to-eat sandwiches
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes06/29/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Integrated Food Service (IFS), is recalling certain ready-to-eat sandwiches because that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. No illnes...
Integrated Food Service (IFS), is recalling certain ready-to-eat sandwiches because that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
No illnesses have been reported to date.
The recalled products were distributed nationwide directly to a number of school districts and to foodservice distributors that serve school districts. No retail products are affected by this recall.
A list of recalled products and districts that received the products being recalled may be found on the IFS website.
What to do
Any school district that believes it may have product still in frozen storage that is affected by this recall may contact the IFS recall coordinator at (800) 560-9999 between 8AM and 5PM (PDT) Monday through Friday, or at by email at email@example.com for return or disposal instructions.
National Frozen Foods recalls frozen green peas and frozen mixed vegetables
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes06/29/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
National Frozen Foods Corporation is voluntarily recalling a limited quantity of Not-Ready-To Eat frozen green peas and frozen mixed vegetables. Th...
National Frozen Foods Corporation is voluntarily recalling a limited quantity of Not-Ready-To Eat frozen green peas and frozen mixed vegetables.
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
There have been no reported illnesses attributed to the recalled items to date.
The following product, distributed in retail stores nationwide between September 2, 2015, and June 23, 2016, are being recalled:
What to do
Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.
Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-800-253-8269 Monday – Friday 8.am to 5 p.m. (Pacific Time).
Toyota recalls Prius and Lexus CT vehicles
The airbag inflators could separate06/29/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., is recalling about 482,000 model year 2010 - 2012 Prius; 2010 and 2012 Prius Plug-In Hybrids; and 2011 and 2012 Lexus CT 200h v...
Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., is recalling about 482,000 model year 2010 - 2012 Prius; 2010 and 2012 Prius Plug-In Hybrids; and 2011 and 2012 Lexus CT 200h vehicles.
The recalled vehicles are equipped with curtain shield air bags (CSA) in the driver and passenger side roof rails that have air bag inflators composed of two chambers welded together. Some inflators could have a small crack in the weld area joining the chambers, which could grow over time, and lead to the separation of the inflator chambers. This has occurred when the vehicle is parked and unoccupied for a period of time.
If an inflator separates, the CSA could partially inflate, and, in limited circumstances, one or both sections of the inflator could enter the interior of the vehicle. If an occupant is present in the vehicle, there is an increased risk of injury.
What to do
All known owners of the recalled vehicles will be notified by first class mail. Toyota and Lexus dealers will install retention brackets on the curtain shield air bag inflators at no cost. The retention brackets are designed to prevent the inflator chambers from entering the vehicle interior if separation occurs.
Information about automotive recalls, including but not limited to the list of involved vehicles, is subject to change over time.
Owners with questions may call Lexus customer service at 1-800-255-3987.
Details of VW Dieselgate settlements made public
Owners of affected VW, Audi vehicles eligible for buybacks or lease terminations06/28/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
The $14.7 billion settlements agreed to by Volkswagen today provide buyback and lease termination deals for nearly 500,000 consumers who bought the company...
The $14.7 billion settlements agreed to by Volkswagen today provide buyback and lease termination deals for nearly 500,000 consumers who bought the company's TDI "Clean Diesel" cars. However, the deals will not be available until this fall.
The affected vehicles include 2009 through 2015 Volkswagen TDI diesel models of Jettas, Passats, Golfs, and Beetles, as well as the TDI Audi A3.
Volkswagen will offer consumers a buyback and lease termination for nearly 500,000 model year 2009-2015 2.0 liter diesel vehicles sold or leased in the U.S., and spend up to $10.03 billion to compensate consumers under the program.
In addition, the companies will spend $4.7 billion to mitigate the pollution from these cars and invest in green vehicle technology.
The settlements require Volkswagen to offer owners of any affected vehicle the option to have the company buy back the car and to offer lessees a lease cancellation at no cost.
Volkswagen may also propose an emissions modification plan to EPA and CARB, and if that plan is approved, it may also offer owners and lessees the option of having their vehicles modified to reduce emissions instead of taking a buyback.
Under the U.S./California settlement, Volkswagen must achieve an overall recall rate of at least 85% of affected 2.0 liter vehicles under these programs or pay additional sums into the mitigation trust fund. The FTC order requires Volkswagen to compensate consumers who elect either of these options.
Volkswagen must set aside, and could spend up to, $10.03 billion to pay consumers in connection with the buyback, lease termination, and emissions modification compensation program. The program has different potential options and provisions for affected Volkswagen diesel owners depending on their circumstances:
Volkswagen must offer to buy back any affected 2.0 liter vehicle at their retail value as of September 2015 -- just prior to the public disclosure of the emissions issue.
Consumers who choose the buyback option will receive between $12,500 and $44,000, depending on their car’s model, year, mileage, and trim of the car, as well as the region of the country where it was purchased.
In addition, because a straight buyback will not fully compensate consumers who owe more than their car is worth due to rapid depreciation, the FTC order provides these consumers with an option to have their loans forgiven by Volkswagen.
Consumers who took out third party loans have the option of having Volkswagen pay off those loans, up to 130 percent of the amount a consumer would be entitled to under the buyback (e.g., if the consumer is entitled to a $20,000 buyback, VW would pay off his/her loans up to a cap of $26,000).
Modifications to emissions system
The settlements also allow Volkswagen to apply to EPA and CARB for approval of an emissions modification on the affected vehicles, and, if approved, to offer consumers the option of keeping their cars and having them modified to comply with emissions standards.
Under this option, as part of an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), consumers would also receive money from Volkswagen to redress the harm caused by VW’s deceptive advertising.
Consumers who sold their TDI vehicles after the VW defeat device issue became public may be eligible for partial compensation, which will be split between them and the consumers who purchased the cars from them as set forth in the FTC order.
Find your options
Eligible consumers will receive notice from VW after the orders are entered by the court this fall. Consumers will be able to see if they are eligible for compensation and, if so, what options are available to them, at VWCourtSettlement.com and AudiCourtSettlement.com.
They will also be able to use these websites to make claims, sign up for appointments at their local Volkswagen or Audi dealers, and receive updates.
Consumer payments will not be available until the settlements take effect if and when approved by the court, which may be as early as October 2016.
Consumers were cheated
“Today’s announcement shows the high cost of violating our consumer protection and environmental laws,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “Just as importantly, consumers who were cheated by Volkswagen’s deceptive advertising campaign will be able to get full and fair compensation, not only for the lost or diminished value of their car but also for the other harms that VW caused them.”
The FTC sued Volkswagen in March, charging that the company deceived consumers with the advertising campaign it used to promote its supposedly “clean diesel” VWs and Audis, which falsely claimed that the cars were low-emission, environmentally friendly, met emissions standards, and would maintain a high resale value.
The settlements use the authorities of both the EPA and the FTC as part of a coordinated plan that gets the high-polluting VW diesels off the road, makes the environment whole, and compensates consumers.
VW diesel owners could get $10,000 in settlement headed for court Tuesday
Federal judge is expected to sign off on deal with $15 billion price tag06/28/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
A few days ago, it was reported that Volkswagen would pay $10 billion to settle charges that it rigged more than 400,000 TDI "clean diesel" cars with softw...
UPDATE: Details of the proposed settlement -- with important information for VW diesel owners -- are now available here.
A few days ago, it was reported that Volkswagen would pay $10 billion to settle charges that it rigged more than 400,000 TDI "clean diesel" cars with software to fool emissions tests. Today, the figure looks more like $15 billion.
A settlement is to be filed today (Tuesday) in U.S. District Court in San Francisco and reports say the company will agree to buy back vehicles at pre-scandal prices and compensate consumers as much as $10,000 per car. The cost of that is said to come to about $10 billion.
On top of that, the company will pay $2.7 billion in fines to federal and California state agencies, as well as $400 million to New York and other states, reports said, as well as other assorted penalties and payments that push the total to about $15 billion.
The estimates rose over the last few days, reports say, as negotiators revised their estimates of what it will take to get VW diesel owners to turn in their cars for repairs or buybacks. This reflects a little-noticed element in the Dieselgate scandal -- namely, that VW diesel owners tend to love their cars and don't want them modified in a way that would reduce their excellent gas mileage or peppy acceleration.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee, said VW's scheme "was one of the most egregious examples of corporate fraud in recent history.”
“Today’s settlement is not only a victory for American consumers but hopefully it will serve as a deterrent to those who seek to intentionally deceive the public,” said Nelson, who lasst September pressed the Federal Trade Commission to seek compensation for consumers who relied on VW's false "Clean Diesel" advertising to make purchase decisions.
No end in sight
The $15 billion will exceed by far any comparable U.S. settlement with a carmaker, but it won't spell the ends of VW's troubles. The company still faces lawsuits by consumers, dealers and governments in other jurisdictions.
Assuming the proposed settlement is approved by Judge Charles Breyer, owners will have to surrender their cars or agree to have them retrofitted to meet emissions standards.
The problem with that is that neither the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nor the California Air Resources Board has approved the various fixes proposed by VW. Judge Breyer may agree to give the company another year or two to find a solution, sources said.
While some owners of VW diesels want to park their cars and never see them again, others like Ken Reed, an instructor at UC-Irvine, think the issue has been overblown.
"EPA has already fined VW. Now they're screwing the owners," he said in a comment on an earlier ConsumerAffairs story. "Let the fines stand and let the owners off the hook. I don't want to be forced to sell, and most VW owners would agree with me. EPA is screwing us as much as VW."
Google subsidiary looks at ways to improve parking and city life in general
Maybe Sidewalk Labs could also take over the TSA and eliminate the long lines?06/28/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
Looking for a parking space? Google may soon know where they are. It probably knows where you are too, so maybe it would make sense to put those data point...
Looking for a parking space? Google may soon know where they are. It probably knows where you are too, so maybe it would make sense to put those data points together.
That's apparently the thinking behind a secretive project involving Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Google's parent corporation Alphabet, and the city of Columbus, Ohio.
The Guardian reports that Sidewalk Labs wants to "radically overhaul public parking and transportation in American cities" and is starting with Columbus, where it is working on a plan to improve parking and public transit.
Replace the TSA?
Perhaps Sidewalk Labs is already thinking of pursuing transit solutions on a higher plane as well. Anyone familiar with the TSA's screening methodologies might welcome someone like Google or Amazon taking over the job of spotting possible terrorists and other troublemakers on passenger manifests.
We heard recently from a consumer who wears leg braces for a neurological condition and also has artificial, titanium knees. Although she is a Global Entry/TSA Pre-check member, she is never able to board a flight without a lengthy and humiliating examination and explanation of why she uses these devices to get around.
You would think this information would be included in TSA's profile of its Pre-check passsengers, but it's apparently not. It's hard to imagine Google being that bone-headed, so this may be a case where privatization is beneficial.
Back on solid ground, Sidewalk Labs is making its cloud software called Flow available to Columbus, which recently won a $50 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to be used in improving its transportation options.
More convenient life
Sidewalk Labs has been looking at ideas which include a system that would identify available parking spaces within a few blocks of one's destination. Besides making life more convenient, that might help reduce traffic congestion, since studies have shown that more than 30 percent of city traffic consists of drivers looking for a place to park.
Flow would use car-mounted cameras to keep track of parking availability, perhaps sticking a camera on every publicly-owned vehicle in the city.
“Only Google or Apple are in a position to track parking occupancy this way, without expensive sensors on poles or embedded in the tarmac,” said Alexei Pozdnoukhov, director of the Smart Cities Research Center at the University of California at Berkeley, according to the Guardian article.
Sidewalk is also looking at something called Flow Transit, which would integrate route and payment information for nearly every form of transport into Google Maps. You could enter a destination and get times and prices for everything from buses and taxis to Uber, Lyft, Zipcar, and even bike shares, the Guardian said.
Sidewalk Labs was spun out from Google last June with a mission to “improve city life for everyone.” Since then, it was part of a consortium that deployed several hundred free Wi-Fi kiosks in New York.
Your college student may be taught by a part-time professor
But rise in part-time faculty may be part of a long-term trend06/28/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
For consumers spending tens of thousands of dollars to send a son or daughter to college, and maybe going into debt to do so, this may come as a shock: you...
For consumers spending tens of thousands of dollars to send a son or daughter to college, and maybe going into debt to do so, this may come as a shock: your child may have one or more part-time professors.
A U.S. government report on “The Condition of Education” found that, between 1993 and 2013, the number of part-time faculty at the nation's colleges and universities increased by 104%.
During the same period, the number of full-time faculty rose by less than half – 45%.
It may not be a coincidence that during roughly the same period, part-time jobs proliferated throughout the U.S. economy as the number of full-time jobs declined. Many employees who wanted and needed full-time work had to settle for part-time hours.
As a result of the growth in part-time faculty, the report found part-time workers now make up 49% of the total college faculty workforce.
Colleges and universities have been moving toward more part-time faculty for three decades or more, and it is unclear what effect, if any, recent economic turmoil has had on the trend.
Other research has shown that many of the part-time faculty are clustered in community colleges, which often draw on professionals who can offer real-world experience.
The Condition of Education, published each year by the National Center for Education Statistics, analyzes education from preschool to the postgraduate years. The report covers everything from enrollment numbers to financial aid.
Among the other takeaways from this year's report:
Of students enrolling in a bachelors degree program in 2008, only 60% had completed it six years later. Women did a better job of graduating than men – 62% to 57%.
Colleges are awarding more degrees. From 2003-2004 to 2013-2014, associate’s degrees increased by 51%, bachelor’s and master's degrees both increased by 34%, and doctoral degrees rose by 41%. Bachelor’s degrees were the most prevalent, with 1.9 million awarded in 2013-2014.
For-profit schools, which have been under regulatory pressure lately, generated $19,480 per student in 2013-2014, a 34% increase from 2008-2009.
While that's expensive, it's still less than the $20,293 generated by private, non-profit schools. But that figure only constituted a 6% increase, compared to a 17% increase in costs at public colleges and universities.
The healthy way to handle food cravings during pregnancy
Health problems may await women who frequently give in to cravings, research shows06/28/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Sarah D. Young
Somewhere between the nausea and fatigue, pregnant women may find themselves struck by a food craving.An estimated 50 to 90 percent of all pregnant wom...
Somewhere between the nausea and fatigue, pregnant women may find themselves struck by a food craving.
An estimated 50 to 90 percent of all pregnant women experience a food craving at some point in their pregnancy. But should moms-to-be always heed their body’s advice when it comes to food cravings?
According to a new study, maybe not. New research suggests that pregnant women who frequently succumb to cravings may be hurting their health rather than helping it.
Weight gain concerns
Keeping your body -- and by extention, your growing baby -- healthy is the number one goal during pregnancy. But gaining too much weight during pregnancy should be avoided, as it can lead to health problems such as gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and postpartum weight retention.
Cravings may be one culprit to blame for excessive weight gain. A study, published recently in the journal Appetite, has found that the more often women give into cravings, the more likely they are to gain too much weight during their pregnancy.
Between 40 to 60 percent of women put on too many pounds while they’re renting out a womb, studies show. But whether it’s due to frequently indulging those cravings or the mindset that you're “eating for two," gaining more weight than is recommended for your BMI can be harmful.
The most common pregnancy cravings were for fast food and sweets, the researchers discovered. Chocolate, pizza, ice cream, and cookies were the most craved foods. And the more often women experienced each craving, the higher the chance that they would give in to it.
In light of these findings, the researchers suggest coming up with skills and strategies that can keep cravings from sabotaging a pregnant woman’s efforts to maintain a healthy weight.
So what can pregnant women do to stifle the urge to hit the drive through or pick up a pint of ice cream?
- Engage in a distraction, such as taking a walk or playing a favorite game
- Substitute an unhealthy craving for a comparable, healthy alternative. Instead of potato chips, try soy chips; instead of a hot fudge sundae, try frozen yogurt with fruit and granola
- Give in to cravings once in a while, then eat well for the rest of the day
New rule bans certain types of payment methods by telemarketers
The new rule is aimed at scammers and con artists06/28/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
As of now, the Federal Trade Commission bans certain types of payment methods by telemarketers, as part of an effort to reduce scammers' and con artists' a...
As of now, the Federal Trade Commission bans certain types of payment methods by telemarketers, as part of an effort to reduce scammers' and con artists' access to consumers' cash.
Under an amended FTC rule that went into effect this month, it is illegal for telemarketers to ask consumers to pay for goods or services using:
- cash-to-cash money transfers, such as those that MoneyGram and Western Union provide;
- PIN numbers from cash reload cards such as MoneyPak, Vanilla Reload, or Reloadit packs; and
- unsigned checks called “remotely created payment orders” to withdraw money directly from consumers’ bank accounts.
“Con artists like payments that are tough to trace and hard for people to reverse,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The FTC’s new telemarketing rules ban payment methods that scammers like, but honest telemarketers don’t use.”
The banned payment methods make it easy for unscrupulous telemarketers to debit bank accounts without consumers’ permission, and can make it difficult to reverse the transactions with consumers’ banks.
Any telemarketer requesting payment using these methods is a scammer because the payment method is illegal, the FTC said.
Businesses that want to be sure that they are on the right side of the law should consult a new guidance document available online.
Why seniors should limit alcohol consumption
Researchers say alcohol damages already dysfunctional immune system06/28/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
In recent years there has been plenty of research suggesting that there are health benefits that come with moderate alcohol consumption. Here's a study sug...
In recent years there has been plenty of research suggesting that there are health benefits that come with moderate alcohol consumption. Here's a study suggesting older consumers, in particular, should avoid it – or at least limit their consumption.
Brenda J. Curtis, Ph.D., a research assistant professor at the University of Colorado in Denver, says as people age their immune system becomes less functional and infections are more severe and harder to cure.
Drinking alcohol, she says, damages the immune system and organs. The effects can be worsened by some prescription and over-the-counter medications, which seniors tend to take. As a result, seniors often are vulnerable to infections like pneumonia much more than their younger peers.
“Our laboratory has been studying inflammatory and immune responses in the aged for well over a decade,” said Curtis. “We know that even healthy elderly individuals have an elevated basal inflammatory state, known as ‘inflamm-aging.’”
It's hard enough for the body to recover from inflammation when you are old, she says. Adding alcohol just compounds the problem.
“Our research suggests that alcohol intoxication perturbs the immune system of the aged both throughout the body and in local regions, like the lung,” said fellow researcher Elizabeth J. Kovacs. “Aged individuals also have decreased lung function and cough strength, which further escalates the risk for developing pneumonia.”
Seniors are drinking more
The research may take on added significance in light of recent research which shows that alcohol consumption has increased among the older population. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) produced the video below to highlight the rise in older Americans with alcohol dependency.
NIH warns that drinking too much alcohol can make some existing health problems worse, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, liver problems, and memory problems.
Health officials in New York call alcohol abuse among the elderly “a hidden epidemic.” The New York Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse reports that about 10% of the population abuses alcohol, but that as many as 17% of Americans over 65 have an alcohol problem.
Long naps can damage health, study finds
What you should know before dozing off during the day06/28/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Sarah D. Young
A midday snooze may be just the energy boost you need to power through the rest of your day. But napping for too long may have a negative impact on health....
A midday snooze may be just the energy boost you need to power through the rest of your day. But napping for too long may have a negative impact on health.
New research finds that those who regularly take naps longer than 40 minutes may be at an increased risk for metabolic issues, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and carrying excess fat around the waist.
Naps lasting 90 minutes or longer were found to increase the risk of developing type two diabetes by 50%.
Catnaps are still in the clear, however. Scientists found a slight decrease in the risk of metabolic syndrome among those who took naps lasting 30 minutes or less.
Sleepiness affects health
Tomohide Yamada, M.D., Ph.D. led the study, which involved over 300,000 participants from around the world.
Yamada, who is a diabetologist at the University of Tokyo, believes that shedding light on the relationship between naps and metabolic disease is important, especially as the rates of metabolic disease have continued to increase around the world.
“Sleep is an important component of our healthy lifestyle, as well as diet and exercise,” Yamada said in a statement. “Short naps might have a beneficial effect on our health, but we don’t yet know the strength of that effect or the mechanism by which it works.”
Excessive daytime sleepiness was also found to increase the risk of developing type two diabetes. For the one in three adults who do not get enough sleep here in the U.S., this finding could be especially important.
More research needed
Future research would delve deeper into how people’s sleep habits influence metabolic and cardiovascular disease.
If the precise nature of the relationship between long naps, daytime sleepiness, and metabolic syndrome were to be discovered, Yamada believes clinicians might be able to use patients’ nap habits as a predictor of health.
Can't do without that daytime nap? The National Sleep Foundation says that's perfectly fine -- just don't overdo it. To experience improved alertness without the grogginess, keep naps limited to 20 or 30 minutes.
Drought-stricken California sitting on huge pool of water
Stanford researchers discover large aquifer beneath state's Central Valley06/28/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
California has a water problem. Maybe that's something of an understatement.The state has been under drought conditions for well over four years and be...
California has a water problem. Maybe that's something of an understatement.
The state has been under drought conditions for well over four years and been under a drought state of emergency since January 2014.
But scientists at Stanford University report a potential solution to California's water problems may lie thousands of feet below the surface. Their study suggests that a large aquifer below California's Central Valley holds as much as 2700 cubic kilometers of fresh groundwater – much more than previously estimated.
“California’s Central Valley alone has close to three times the volume of fresh groundwater and four times the volume of USDWs (underground sources of drinking water) than previous estimates suggest,” the authors wrote. “Therefore, efforts to monitor and protect deeper, saline groundwater resources are needed in California and beyond.”
Mandatory water conservation
The California drought has produced statewide limits on water use, with public officials levying fines against consumers and businesses that do not take part in water conservation efforts.
But the drought also has effects beyond the state's borders, since a large portion of the U.S. food supply is produced there.
Still, the researchers say their discovery is a hopeful development, even though the risks of tapping the resource have yet to be fully measured. They concede that pumping huge amounts of water from aquifers can have impact on the surface of the land, causing the ground to sink in some areas.
The water may also be vulnerable to contamination by industrial activity, such as oil and gas exploration.
The report may also be greeted with some skepticism by other scientists. The Washington Post interviewed researchers who said the groundwater in question may have already been used for other purposes and contain contaminants that are not easily removed.
Groundwater extracted from deep levels may also have a high salt content. One water resource expert, Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, told the Post there are still a lot of unresolved issues before the parched state can begin pumping the newly discovered water.
Costco membership card can be used as a credit card at Sam's through July 4th06/28/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
Costco's troubled switch from American Express to Visa has left untold thousands of consumers adrift, as they find themselves without a usable credit card ...
Chipotle launches aggressive rewards program to win back customers
Frequent customers will earn points toward free food06/28/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Perhaps feeling the financial impact of its well-documented foodborne illness problems in late 2015, Chipotle Mexican Grill has launched an aggressive summ...
Perhaps feeling the financial impact of its well-documented foodborne illness problems in late 2015, Chipotle Mexican Grill has launched an aggressive summer promotion, offering loyal customers free food.
The Chiptopia Summer Rewards campaign kicks off Friday, July 1, and runs through September. During that time, the more consumers eat at Chipotle, the more free food they get.
While many rewards programs – the airlines,' most notably – reward consumers based on the amount of money they spend, Chipotle is making a point of basing its system on frequent visits.
Customers rack up rewards points based on the number of visits to a Chipotle Mexican Grill location where they make a qualifying purchase. The program has three different status levels – Mild, Medium, and Hot.
Mild, Medium, and Hot
Make four visits with a qualifying purchase and a participant achieves Mild status. That earns the participant a free entree.
Someone who dines at Chipotle regularly might earn Hot status in all three months this summer. He or she would then be entitled to up to nine free entrees during the summer and, as a bonus, could receive a $240 “Catering for 20” reward.
To qualify as a paid visit, customers will have to spend a minimum of $6, excluding tax. Over the course of July, August and September, a customer’s fourth, eighth and 11th visit and entrée purchase earns a reward for one free entrée and elevates the customer to the next status level.
Even the entrees a consumer gets by redeeming rewards will count as a purchase toward reaching the next status level.
“We created Chiptopia to reward our most loyal customers who continue to support our efforts to cultivate a better world,” said Chipotle executive Mark Crumpacker. “While Chiptopia Summer Rewards lasts just three months, we will be carefully listening to our customers and using what we learn as we consider the design of an ongoing rewards program.”
Those who sign up in the first month, the company says, will get a free chips and guacamole with their first entrée purchase of $6 or more and will be eligible for bonus rewards.
Chipotle Mexican Grill has struggled to regain its footing after last fall's E. coli outbreak that forced a number of restaurants in mostly western states to close temporarily. Once a Wall Street darling, the company's stock is down nearly 50% from its 52 week high.
Home prices up in April -- but at a slower pace
That marks six straight monthly increases06/28/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
House prices rose in value across the U.S. in April, but at a slower pace on both a year-over-year and month-over-month basis.According to the S&P;/Cas...
House prices rose in value across the U.S. in April, but at a slower pace on both a year-over-year and month-over-month basis.
According to the S&P/Case-Shiller National Home Price Index (HPI), which covers all nine U.S. census divisions, prices posted a 5.0% annual gain, compared with an advance of 5.1% the previous month. The 10-City Composite was up 4.7%, versus 4.8% in March, and the 20-City Composite reported a year-over-year gain of 5.4% -- from 5.5% from the prior month.
Portland led the way with a year-over-year price increase of 12.3%, followed by Seattle at 10.7% and Denver with a 9.5% gain. Nine cities reported greater price increases in the year ending April 2016 versus the year ending March 2016.
The HPI recorded a month-over-month gain of 1.0% in April, with the10-City Composite up 1.0% and the 20-City Composite rising 1.1%.
”The housing sector continues to turn in a strong price performance with the S&P/Case-Shiller National Index rising at a 5% or greater annual rate for six consecutive months,” said David M. Blitzer, Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “The home price increases reflect the low unemployment rate, low mortgage interest rates, and consumers’ generally positive outlook.”
Blitzer notes, however, that the outlook is not without a lot of uncertainty and some risk. “Last week’s vote by Great Britain to leave the European Union is the most recent political concern while the U.S. elections in the fall raise uncertainty and will distract home buyers and investors in the coming months,” he said.
In addition, a closer look at home price data also hints at possible softness. According to Blitzer, “Seasonally adjusted figures in the report show that three cities saw lower prices in April compared to only one city in March. Among the 20 cities, 16 saw either declines or smaller increases in monthly prices in the seasonally adjusted numbers.”
First quarter economic growth revised higher
Still, it's a slowdown from the previous three months06/28/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
The third time was the charm when it comes to growth in the economy.The Commerce Department has taken its third and final look at how things were going...
The third time was the charm when it comes to growth in the economy.
The Commerce Department has taken its third and final look at how things were going in the first quarter and determined that real gross domestic product (GDP) -- the value of the goods and services produced by the nation’s economy less the value of the goods and services used up in production -- expanded at an annual rate of 1.1%.
That's somewhat better than the 0.8% rate in the second estimate, but slower than the 1.4% rate chalked up in the final three months of 2015.
The increase in the first quarter comes from contributions from consumer spending, residential fixed investment, state and local government spending, and exports. Those were offset by declines in nonresidential fixed investment, private inventory investment, and federal government spending. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, were lower.
The slowdown in real GDP from the fourth quarter reflected a deceleration in consumer spending, a larger drop in nonresidential fixed investment, and a downturn in federal government spending that were partly offset by advances in state and local government spending and exports and an acceleration in residential fixed investment.
The price index for gross domestic purchases, which measures prices paid by U.S. residents, rose 0.2% in the first quarter, half the increase seen in the fourth.
The core rate, which excludes the volatile food and energy categories, was up 1.4%, versus a 1.0% increase in the final quarter of last year.
Profits from current production rose by $34.7 billion in the first quarter, after declining $159.6 billion in the fourth.
Taxes on corporate income increased $4.4 billion in the first quarter, in contrast to a decrease of $32.2 billion in the fourth.
The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.
Earnest Eats Dark Chocolate Almond Chewy Granola Bars recalled
The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes06/28/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Earnest Eats is recalling 6.2-oz. cartons of Earnest Eats Dark Chocolate Almond Bars. The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes....
Earnest Eats is recalling 6.2-oz. cartons of Earnest Eats Dark Chocolate Almond Bars.
The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
The company says it has not received any reports of illness to date.
The following product, distributed nationwide online and to retail stores between March 1 and June 17, 2016, is being recalled:
Earnest Eats 6.2-oz. Dark Chocolate Almond Chewy Granola Bars – 5-ct carton with Product UPC Codes:
- 891048001636 (individual bars sold only in 5-ct carton)
- 891048001667 (5-ct carton)
- 891048001674 (12-ct master corrugated case)
- Best Before Dates 29APR17
What to do
Customers who have purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but dispose of it or return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.
Consumers with question may contact the company at at 1-888-264-4599 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. (PST) Monday through Friday or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Green Cuisine recalls Pesto Pasta Salad with Arugula
The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes06/28/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Green Cuisine is recalling Pesto Pasta Salad with Arugula that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. There have been no reported illness...
Green Cuisine is recalling Pesto Pasta Salad with Arugula that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
There have been no reported illnesses attributed to the recalled items to date.
The recalled product, packaged in 7.4-oz clear plastic containers with the name “Whole Foods Pesto Pasta Salad w/Arugula,” UPC code 857898004333 and “best by” date of 6/20/16, was sold in Whole Foods Markets in Southern California, Nevada and Arizona June 15 – 16, 2016.
What to do
Customers who purchased the recalled product should discard it and bring their receipt back into the store for a full refund.
Consumers with questions may call Green Cuisine’s customer service line at 818-837-7774 between 8am – 4pm (PST) Monday through Friday.
HP Recalls Batteries for HP and Compaq notebook computers
The battery packs can overheat, posing fire and burn hazards06/28/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
HP Inc., of Palo Alto, Calif., is recalling about 48,100 HP lithium-ion batteries in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The battery packs can overheat, p...
HP Inc., of Palo Alto, Calif., is recalling about 48,100 HP lithium-ion batteries in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
The battery packs can overheat, posing fire and burn hazards.
The company has received seven reports of battery packs overheating, melting or charring, including four reports of property damage of about $4,000 total.
This recall involves lithium-ion batteries containing Panasonic cells that are used in HP notebook computers. The batteries are compatible with HP, Compaq, HP ProBook, HP ENVY, Compaq Presario, and HP Pavilion notebook computers.
The black batteries measure about 8 inches long, 2 inches wide and about 1 inch high. The battery bar code is printed on the back of the battery. “HP Notebook Battery” and the model number are printed on the battery.
The batteries included in this recall have the following barcodes: 6BZLU, 6CGFK, 6CGFQ, 6CZMB, 6DEMA, 6DEMH, 6DGAL and 6EBVA.
The batteries, manufactured in China, were sold at Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and Costco and authorized dealers nationwide and online at www.hp.com from March 2013, through August 2015. The batteries were sold with notebook computers for between $300 and $1,700. The batteries were also sold separately for between $50 and $90.
What to do
Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled batteries, remove them from the notebook computers and contact HP for a free replacement battery.
Consumers may contact HP toll-free at 888-202-4320 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday or online at the HP Battery Recall website directly at www.HP.com/go/batteryprogram2016 or www.hp.com and click “Recalls” at the bottom of the page for more information.
Ten expenses you should be budgeting for
Protect your budget by expecting the unexpected06/27/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Sarah D. Young
Budgets are to money as maps are to roads -- which is to say, they’re an integral part of helping you see where you’re going. But while you might think...
Budgets are to money as maps are to roads -- which is to say, they’re an integral part of helping you see where you’re going.
But while you might think you’ve got your money all mapped out and each area of your life budgeted for appropriately, no one is immune to the possibility of being hit by an unforeseen expense.
An unexpected expense can leave even the most well thought out budget in shambles. But preparing for the unexpected may help you keep your budget in tact.
Ten expenses to budget for
The experts at Quicken Loans suggest setting aside some cash for the following expenses in order to deter their budget-busting effects.
- Home maintenance. “It’s always something” may as well be the homeowner’s anthem. Repairs and maintenance typically set homeowners back $1,000 each year, according to HSH.com. To err on the side of caution, repairs -- especially big ones, such as water heater, furnace, and roof repairs -- should be planned for in a budget.
- Weddings. Receiving a wedding invitation often implies that you’ll be forking over a bit of money in the near future. Before witnessing the I do’s, you’ll likely be spending money on travel, food, clothing, and gifts.
- Pet bills. Pets come with many expenses, and even more can crop up as they get older. Pet insurance can help with costs, but consumers should also be saving for pet-related expenses such as annual vet visits, vaccinations, and pet food and litter.
- Charitable contributions. If you regularly donate to charity, be sure a specific amount of donation money is budgeted for. If you’re the type who donates to charities on a whim, it may be wise to add a few extra bucks to that amount.
- Work clothes. Your work clothes won’t last forever, especially if you tend to wear the same few outfits over and over. In the event that you need to freshen up your workday look, it can be helpful to have money already set aside.
- Car repairs. Expensive auto repairs can take an uncomfortably large bite out of your bank account -- but cushioning your account in anticipation of such repairs can help. Even if you don’t end up using it, putting money into a car fund each month can help you save for your next vehicle.
- Personal care. The cost of beauty products and appointments can really add up month-to-month. But keeping a close eye on how much you spend on personal care items will help you budget accordingly.
- Snacks. Many of the snacks you bring home probably weren’t on your list of budgeted-for essentials, but they eat up money regardless. Give your grocery budget a little flexibility by working snacks into it.
- Subscriptions and memberships. Your gym membership might be meager, but it can become less budget-friendly when combined with other subscriptions and memberships. Eradicate subscriptions and memberships you’re not using, even if they’re only setting you back $10 or $20 a month. Budget, instead, for subscriptions and memberships that you get the most use out of.
- Fun money. Fun money isn’t for planned entertainment or dining out; it’s for those spur-of-the-moment events that you simply don’t want to miss. Setting aside some cash for fun (as little as $40 a month will do) can add a little wiggle room to your entertainment fund.
Backup cameras may not be enough to reduce backover accidents
Are drivers depending on the cameras too much? Or too little?06/27/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
So we have all these new backup cameras in cars, but we're still backing into people and things. Why?The obvious answer is that we're not paying attent...
So we have all these new backup cameras in cars, but we're still backing into people and things. Why?
The obvious answer is that we're not paying attention to the images in the cameras, or to our rear-view mirrors or, for that matter, the view over our shoulder.
But federal safety offiicials would like to find a more scientific explanation. They're upset because the backup cameras were supposed to reduce the annual toll of deaths and injuries caused by so-called backover accidents. Such mishaps are often especially tragic because they tend to involve children, often the driver's children or grandchildren.
The Washington Post recently reported that the number of new cars with backup cameras more than doubled between 2008 and 2011, partly because of a new federal rule. Yet the number of injuries from backover accidents fell by less than 10 percent during that time.
The fatality rate dropped by 31 percent during those years, but the number of accidents increased, suggesting that cameras alone won't do the job. The same, of course, is true of all safety equipment; seat belts do no good if you don't wear them.
Ninety-four percent of new cars being sold this year will be equipped with backup cameras, it's estimated, and all new cars will have them by 2018.
58 to 69 lives
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) expects 58 to 69 lives to be saved each year when all cars have the cameras. But the results from recent years suggest it may take more than simply adding cameras.
A recent NHTSA study suggests that, rather than ignoring the cameras, drivers may be focusing too much attention on the camera and ignoring their surroundings, including objects (like running dogs or children) approaching quickly from the side.
Some experts speculate that automatic braking may have to be added to the safety arsenal -- providing a system that would stop the car whenever it detects either a stationary object or one closing at a speed that would put it in harm's way.
Until then, keep your neck nimble and glance over that shoulder now and then. You never know what you may see.
New drug has potential to slow down or reverse development of asthma
Trials with the drug are currently underway06/27/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Christopher Maynard
The number of people in the U.S. who suffer from asthma has steadily been climbing in recent years. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, a...
The number of people in the U.S. who suffer from asthma has held steady after climbing in recent years. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI), about 20 million people, or about 7% of the U.S. population, were affected by it in 2001. That number had increased to 25 million people by 2009.
Now, researchers at the University of Queensland (UQ) are working with a new drug that has the potential to slow or completely reverse the development of asthma. It is able to achieve this by suppressing a protein called IL-33, which many believe is a root cause of asthmatic symptoms.
“While IL-33 is well known for causing bronchial inflammation in asthmatics, our research demonstrated for the first time that it also weakens the ability of asthmatics to fend off respiratory viral infections, a common trigger for asthma attacks,” said UQ associate professor Simon Phipps.
Originally, researchers at UQ conducted a study that attempted to shed some light on how respiratory viruses and allergens were the driving force behind the development of asthma. When they tested these two factors, they found that they caused the release of IL-33, which made health conditions worse.
“The excess IL-33 protein was found not only to hinder recovery from the virus but also to promote the development of more severe and persistent symptoms of the disease,” said Dr. Jason Lynch, one of the lead authors of the study.
With this information, the researchers have begun conducting trials with a drug produced by Pfizer, an international pharmaceutical company. This drug is designed to target IL-33 production to see if asthmatic symptoms can be reduced or eliminated.
“Our aim is to eventually come up with better treatment therapies that will reverse or slow down the progression of asthma rather than just ease the symptoms,” said Rhiannon Werder, a PhD student at UQ.
Low fares are great but sometimes time is money06/27/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
Spirit Airlines is sort of the airline people love to hate for all kinds of reasons. New CEO Bob Fornaro hopes to remedy at least one of those reasons -- i...
Could your child's toys be making them sick?
Viruses can stick around on plastic toys longer than you might think06/27/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Sarah D. Young
The plastic toys strewn across your child’s bedroom floor may be harboring harmful viruses, new research suggests. Researchers at Georgia State Univers...
The plastic toys strewn across your child’s bedroom floor may be harboring harmful viruses, new research suggests.
Researchers at Georgia State University recently discovered that viruses, such as influenza, can cling to some toys for up to 24 hours -- long enough to increase a child’s risk of infection.
Experts say the lasting effect of viral contamination could be of particular concern in places where children share toys, such as daycare centers, doctor’s offices, and homes.
Previous studies have found that viral contamination is a risk in locations where toys are shared. But until now, scientists did not know how long viruses could survive on inanimate objects.
Children are vulnerable
Lead author Richard Bearden II of Georgia State University, says children’s tendency to put objects into their mouths makes them more vulnerable contracting infectious diseases from toys.
This tendency, combined with the fact that kids' immune systems aren't fully developed, puts them at an increased risk of coming down with a toy borne infection.
“People don’t really think about getting viruses from inanimate objects,” Bearden said in a statement. “They think about getting them from other people.”
But toys may be more likely than people to spread viruses, especially in places where toys are shared.
Researchers used an enveloped bacteriophage, a virus that infects bacteria, to mirror survival times in humans. The virus was placed on the toy in controlled humidity environments at 22 degrees celsius, at either 40 or 60 percent humidity.
Twenty-four hours later, 1% of the virus remained infectious on the toy at 60% relative humidity. But Bearden believes contamination could stick around even longer.
“It's likely the research team could have retrieved infectious virions beyond 24 hours,” he said.
What to do
To prevent infection from toys, Bearden says decontamination efforts are crucial.
“I think the main focus should be for parents, daycare facilities, doctor’s offices and other places where children share toys to implement some type of strategy for decontamination to make sure those toys aren’t a reservoir for disease,” he said.
To reduce the risk of contamination from shared toys, Bearden recommends the following strategies:
- Clean toys with household bleach
- Eliminate toys from waiting rooms in healthcare settings
- In addition to cleaning toys, decontamination plans could include door handles, elevator buttons, and other shared surfaces.
The study is published online in The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal.
Even with insurance, your hospital stay will cost you
University of Michigan study finds out-of-pocket cost likely to exceed $1,00006/27/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Consumers with private health insurance are paying more out of pocket when they check into a hospital, and the amount has risen in just the last few years....
Consumers with private health insurance are paying more out of pocket when they check into a hospital, and the amount has risen in just the last few years.
A study in the JAMA Internal Medicine says even consumers with a “good” benefits policy could end up paying $1,000 or more in out-of-pocket expenses, an increase of 37%.
Researchers at the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy looked at the billing records for more than 50 million U.S. consumers over a four year period. All of the subjects had health benefit packages offered by four major companies.
The researchers trace the increase to two changes: both deductibles and co-insurance went up.
Deductibles – what you pay out-of-pocket before the insurance company begins to pay – went up 86%. Co-insurance – the percentage of the hospital stay that patients must pay – rose 33%.
“It shows that even people with the most comprehensive insurance are paying thousands of dollars, at a time when they need hospital care and may not have time to shop around,” said first author Emily Adrion.
ACA policies not included
The period under review is 2009 to 2013 and focuses solely on private insurance plans and those offered through employers. It does not include plans offered under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which tend to have even larger deductibles than private health plans.
It suggests that health plans were beginning to shift more costs to the patient even before the ACA went into effect. The percentage of patients paying deductibles and co-insurance went up by more than 5% during the study period.
Co-payments for hospital stays actually went down during the study period – about the only cost to consumers that declined.
There were also pronounced differences in the expenses paid by people with “consumer-directed” health plans, which are usually the least costly on a premium basis, and people who bought individual private plans.
People with consumer-directed plans paid, on average, $1,200 out-of-pocket for a hospital stay. But for people who had purchased individual private plans, the out-of-pocket expense averaged $1,800.
The researchers say the results underscore the importance of reading the fine print when you choose a health care plan, and understanding what your financial obligation will be if you have to check into a hospital.
Here are five retirement destinations that can stretch your savings
What you pay for a house can make a big difference06/27/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Much of the discussion of retirement revolves around how much money you need to save for a successful retirement.That number, of course, is different f...
Much of the discussion of retirement revolves around how much money you need to save for a successful retirement.
That number, of course, is different for everyone for a variety of reasons. One of the overriding factors is the cost of living where you happen to live. In some areas, $50,000 a year would mean barely getting by. In others, it could be a comfortable income.
In recent years retirees have considered more than climate when thinking about relocating. To stretch dollars, they have also looked at housing costs, taxes, and the ease of getting around.
Bankrate.com reports smaller cities and suburbs rank highest among retirees as places where they retire. In its latest rankings, it picks Arlington, Va., a Washington, DC suburb as number one, followed by Franklin, Tenn., a Nashville suburb, and West Des Moines, Iowa.
But Arlington is one of the more costly housing markets in the country, suggesting that unless you already live there, it would cost a lot to relocate there.
In fact, relative housing costs are a major consideration of whether retirees decide to move, and if so, where. Someone retiring from a major metropolitan area might sell a home and walk away with several hundred thousand dollars in cash. By moving to a low-cost housing market, he or she could purchase a comfortable home with half the cash and bank the rest.
The south and Midwest probably offer some of the most affordable housing for someone seeking to relocate in retirement. Here are five you might consider:
Fishers, Ind., is a suburb of Indianapolis. According to Zillow, the median home price in Fishers is $207,000.
Fishers' proximity to Indianapolis, the state capital, provides plenty of entertainment, education, and cultural amenities. The downside, of course, are those chilly Hoosier winters.
Tuscaloosa, Ala., is a college town, home to the University of Alabama. A charming, tranquil city, Tuscaloosa housing prices are very affordable.
According to Zillow, the median home value in Tuscaloosa is $142,900. Interestingly, Zillow reports the median price has declined 1.6% in the last year but is projected to rise nearly 4% in the coming year.
Cumberland, Md., is one of the cheapest housing markets in the country. According to Trulia, the median home value in Cumberland is just $65,000.
Located in the western part of Maryland, Cumberland is a small city in a picturesque spot and about three hours away from both Pittsburgh and Washington, DC.
Las Vegas, Nev.
Las Vegas was one of the hardest hit housing markets after the real estate meltdown. As a result, homes there lost much of their value.
According to Zillow, the median home price in Las Vegas is $196,000, making it affordable for someone retiring from an expensive housing market. Las Vegas, of course, offers a desert climate and doesn't lack for entertainment.
Pensacola lies in the Florida Panhandle and is often overlooked by retirees who head farther south. It offers white sandy beaches on the Gulf of Mexico and has a metro population of less than half a million.
According to Zillow, the median home value in the Pensacola metro is $119,600. Because it's a tourist destination, there are always plenty of activities and amenities.
Independence Day weekend could bring some traffic jams
AAA projects record travel over the holiday weekend06/27/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
If you are traveling this Independence Day weekend – and the odds say you will be – you can expect some crowded highways.According to the latest projec...
If you are traveling this Independence Day weekend – and the odds say you will be – you can expect some crowded highways.
According to the latest projections from AAA, some 43 million Americans will travel over the weekend – a record for July 4th – about five million more than traveled over the Memorial Day weekend.
Marshall Doney, CEO of AAA, credits historically low gasoline prices for the increase in travel. It also helps that Independence Day this year falls on a Monday, making for a natural three-day weekend.
Doney estimates U.S. drivers have pocketed about $20 billion in savings on gasoline so far this year compared to the same period in 2015. He expects they are now ready to spend some of it.
“We are well on our way for 2016 to be a record-breaking year for summertime travel,” he said. “This trend is welcome news for the travel industry and a sign that Americans are taking to our nation’s highways and skies like never before.”
No jump in prices expected
Despite the expected increase in gasoline demand, consumers may continue to enjoy soft prices at the pump for a while. Gasbuddy senior petroleum analyst Patrick DeHaan Tweeted over the weekend that the Brexit vote last week has already pushed the wholesale gasoline price down six cents a gallon.
The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average retail price of self-serve regular started the week at $2.30 a gallon and is likely to be even lower by the weekend. Today's price is down three cents from a week ago and is 47 cents lower than this time last year.
South Carolina has the nation's lowest average gasoline price, right at $2 a gallon. California has the highest, with prices rising in recent days to an average of $2.90 a gallon.
Most of this coming weekend's travelers will be on the nation's highways. According to AAA, 84% of travelers will drive to their destinations, a 1.2% increase over last year.
With lower-than-usual airfares, air travel is projected to rise 2.2% over last year's numbers, with 3.3 million people crowding U.S. airports.
Why homeownership is at its lowest level in decades
Among entry-level homes, prices are surging and inventory is shrinking06/27/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
With home prices rising and inventory shrinking, the homeownership rate in the U.S. has hit its lowest point in nearly 50 years.That's the conclusion o...
With home prices rising and inventory shrinking, the homeownership rate in the U.S. has hit its lowest point in nearly 50 years.
That's the conclusion of the 2016 State of Housing Report from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, which found that a lack of first-time homebuyers entering the market is the primary reason for the fall in homeownership.
In the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis, lenders significantly tightened lending standards. At the same time, young people launching careers had difficulty finding jobs, while struggling under student loan debt. Faced with rapidly rising rents, they have had trouble in the intervening years saving up for a down payment.
As a result, homeownership rates for older, wealthier age groups have risen, but those increases have been more than offset by the decline in first-time buyers.
“The good news for the owner-occupied housing market is that these constraints should ease as the mortgage market continues to wrestle with the fallout from the housing crash and adapts to a new regulatory environment,” the authors write. “There are already indications from the Federal Reserve’s Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey that credit standards may be loosening, particularly for loans backed by the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs). The upturn in real income growth among younger households should also help.”
But these buyers could well face additional headwinds in finding a house that suits their needs and that they can afford. In its most recent market report, Zillow found the prices of entry level homes have been rising faster than other segments of the market.
While prices for homes near the top of the market appear to have stabilized this year, the prices of the least-expensive homes continue to grow by about 8% per year.
It's really a tale of two markets. Consumers shopping for homes in the top price ranges will find more homes to choose from and will be able to negotiate down from the listing price. But first-time buyers, looking at entry level homes in the lowest price ranges, will find fewer properties for sale and will have to compete against other buyers. That could mean having to pay the asking price, or in the case of multiple offers, even more than the asking price.
“The housing market is much more forgiving for current homeowners looking to move into a bigger, more expensive home,” said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell. “These buyers can be a bit more selective, and may even get a good deal."
But there are still fewer homes for sale in all price categories. The Zillow report shows the smallest decline in inventory among the top third of the housing market. In the bottom third of the market, first-time buyers are facing a nearly 9% drop in available homes.
Volkswagen recalls model year 2016 Golf R vehicles
The Federal Certification Label may list an incorrect rear axle weight limit06/27/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 11 model year 2016 Golf R vehicles manufactured March 17, 2016 to March 23, 2016. The recalled vehicles ma...
Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 11 model year 2016 Golf R vehicles manufactured March 17, 2016 to March 23, 2016.
The recalled vehicles may be equipped with a Federal Certification Label that lists an incorrect rear axle weight limit. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of 49 CFR Part 567, "Certification."
The listed weight limit is low enough that the vehicle owner may ignore the weight limits and overload the vehicle and exceed the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), thereby increasing the risk of a crash.
What to do
Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will install a corrected certification label, free of charge. The recall was expected to begin in June 2016. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 01B5.
Essential Foods recalls four flavors of Globespun Gourmet wraps
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes06/27/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Essential Foods of Seattle, Wash., is recalling four flavors of Globespun Gourmet wraps. The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogen...
Essential Foods of Seattle, Wash., is recalling four flavors of Globespun Gourmet wraps.
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem.
The recalled Globespun Gourmet wraps were distributed to grocery outlets and corporate cafeterias in Washington and Oregon to grocery outlets and corporate cafeterias.
The following products, which come in 8-oz, plastic wrapped, ready to eat form, and were distributed to grocery outlets and corporate cafeterias in Washington and Oregon, are being recalled:
- Globespun Gourmet Thai UPC#3232800405
- Globespun Gourmet Coconut Curry UPC#3232800210
- Globespun Gourmet Tandoori- flavors of India UPC#3232800211
- Globespun Gourmet Dolma La- Tibetan potato UPC#3232800503
The products have a date stamp of 06 17, 06 20 and 06 24 on the bottom of the wrap.
What to do
Customers who purchased the recalled products should return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.
Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-206-545-4194.
Kroger expands sunflower products recall
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes06/27/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
The Kroger Co. has expanded its earlier recall of several products containing sunflower seeds that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. ...
The Kroger Co. has expanded its earlier recall of several products containing sunflower seeds that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
No customer illnesses have been reported to date.
The expanded recall includes all code dates of Kroger Sunflower Salad Toppers, Kroger Sunflower Kernels, and Kroger Cranberry Delight Trail Mix:
Stores operating under the following names are included in the recall: Kroger, Jay-C, Dillons, Bakers, Gerbes, King Soopers, City Market, Fry's, Ralphs, Food 4 Less, and Smith's.
Products can be found in stores in the following states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
The expanded recall also includes all code dates of Kroger Broccoli Raisin Salads:
Stores operating under the following names are included in this recall: Kroger, Jay-C, Dillons, Bakers, Gerbes, and Food 4 Less (Mid-West only).
Products can be found in stores in the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Finally, the expanded recall includes Deli Broccoli Cranberry Salads and Deli Superfood Salads:
Stores operating under the Fry's and Smith's names in Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming are included in this recall.
What to do
Customers who purchased any of the recalled products should not consume them, but return them to a store for a full refund or replacement.
Consumers with questions may contact Kroger at 1-800-KROGERS, Monday through Friday 8:00 am to 12:00 am (EDT) and Saturday through Sunday 8:00 am to 9:00 pm (EST).
What the heck is Brexit and why should you care?
British voters surprised the markets, and markets hate surprises06/24/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
U.S. consumers awoke Friday morning to some shocking news. Voters in the UK voted Thursday to withdraw from the European Union (EU), a political and econom...
U.S. consumers awoke Friday morning to some shocking news. Voters in the UK voted Thursday to withdraw from the European Union (EU), a political and economic union of 28 European countries.
The so-called Brexit issue has been in the headlines for weeks, though most consumers have probably ignored it. It didn't seem to affect us. Some likened it to a big fuss over nothing, similar to the Y2K hysteria of 1999.
As voting day approached, the polls all signaled growing strength on the side favoring to remain in the EU. The global political and economic establishment all favored Britain remaining a part of the EU, so when the forces advocating a break prevailed with 52% of the vote, it was a shock.
Global stock markets plunge
The first impact was a massive drop in global stock markets. Japan's Nikkei Stock Exchange plunged nearly 8% with stocks opening sharply lower on Wall Street. And consumers who have retirement assets in stocks might be the most affected, at least in the short term.
Markets price based on certain assumptions, and stocks have risen over the last couple of weeks on Wall Street due to the strong belief that Britain would remain a part of the EU. Because the opposite has happened, stock values are being repriced.
But plenty of market analysts are pointing out today that, just as the market's value yesterday was unrealistic, a drastic drop in prices might also be an over-reaction to events.
"The reaction we're seeing in markets today is far more exaggerated and far more pronounced because it was so unexpected," Kristina Hooper, U.S. investment strategist at Allianz, told CNBC.
So what kind of reaction should U.S. investors have? That's a matter for investors to discuss with a financial adviser, because each individual is different.
For consumers who haven't been following events across the Atlantic until today, here are some key points:
- Nothing is going to happen immediately. It may take some time for the details of Britain's withdrawal to be negotiated.
- U.S. stock prices may go down in the short term. How long they will stay down is anyone's guess, though there are plenty of advisers who suggest these events will present an excellent opportunity for investors who have been sitting on cash.
- The real implication is for the future of the EU itself. Greece nearly exited last year and a number of weaker nations might follow Britain's example.
- Some have predicted the UK economy will slip into recession as a result of the vote. If a major trading partner suffers a recession, there is always the danger it could spread to other nations.
- A bigger implication of the British vote might well be political. After years of the world moving toward a single connected global economy, the British people have revolted, saying they want out. Politicians around the world might well tap into similar sentiments in their own countries.
Volkswagen diesel owners to get up to $7,000, reports say
VW may still have to buy back some cars if it can't fix them06/24/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
The ink is not yet dry, but reports say Volkswagen is agreeing to pay owners of its TDI "clean diesels" up to $7,000 and fund a grant program to reduce air...
The ink is not yet dry, but reports say Volkswagen is agreeing to pay owners of its TDI "clean diesels" up to $7,000 and fund a grant program to reduce air pollution.
Consumers would get between $1,000 and $7,000, depending on their car's age and other factors, according to reports in the Wall Street Journal, which quoted sources close to the negotiations. The talks are taking place under the supervision of U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer, who has issued a gag order prohibiting participants from discussing the negotiations publicly.
Breyer has given the attorneys for automakers and consumers until June 28 to reach an agreement.
VW is not expected to be able to repair all of the cars to meet federal clean air regulations and might have to buy back some of them, or make extra payments to the environmental fund. Former owners might also get some compensation and, reports say, VW will not be allowed to resell or export the cars it buys back.
The environmental fund is intended to partly compensate for the damage done by the 480,000 diesel cars, which emitted more than 40 times the legal amount of pollution under certan circumstances.
The total cost of the settlement to VW is estimated at $10 billion.
Volkswagen has admitted it rigged the cars to pass emissions tests, using software that reduced emissions when tests were being conducted but allowed much higher levels of emissions when the tests were over and the cars were being driven on public highways.
Senators blast cable TV providers over refund policies
Cable TV one issue that unites Senate Republicans and Democrats06/24/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Two members of the U.S. Senate – a Republican and a Democrat – are taking cable TV providers to task for failing to provide refunds to consumers who have b...
Two members of the U.S. Senate – a Republican and a Democrat – are taking cable TV providers to task for failing to provide refunds to consumers who have been overcharged.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) conducted a year-long probe of cable and satellite TV providers. Portman, Chairman of the Senate Permanent Investigations Subcommittee, says the panel looked at thousands of documents and interviewed a number of witnesses about the consumer practices of Comcast, Charter, Time Warner Cable, Dish Network, and DirecTV.
At a hearing Thursday, the lawmakers focused on the companies' billing and customer-service practices.
“Our joint report outlines troubling findings about the practices of two cable companies that have consistently failed to provide refunds to customers who they know they have overcharged, including thousands of people in my home state of Ohio,” Portman said.
The two offenders, he charged, are Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable, which recently merged. While all the companies have systems in place to track customer overcharges, Portman said not all act on the information.
“During the time period examined by the Subcommittee, Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications made no effort to trace equipment overcharges they identified and provide refunds to customers,” Portman charged. “Instead, their practice has been to just pocket the past overcharges.”
In a statement supplied to ConsumerAffairs, Charter Communications said it had invested $7 billion since 2012 in network improvements and added more than 7,000 jobs to improve customer relationships.
“An audit of our set-top boxes charges over the last nine months found them to be over 99% accurate,” the company said. “To move us closer to 100% accuracy and permanently resolve this issue, we have installed new controls to ensure discrepancies are caught and eliminated on a daily basis. Charter customers who were incorrectly charged for set-top boxes are being notified and given a 12-month credit for these fees.”
Portman said the subcommittee asked Time Warner Cable for specific information about overcharges in the lawmakers' home states. He said that during just the first five months of 2016, Time Warner Cable overbilled up to 11,000 customers in Ohio a total of $108,000. He said last year alone, Time Warner estimated it overbilled 40,000 Ohio customers to the tune of $430,000.
“And rather than correct the mistake by refunding the overcharges, the company just kept the money,” Portman said. "In my view, that is a rip-off of Ohio consumers.”
McCaskill's first hand experience
McCaskill knows about the issue first hand. She recently had a testy 26-minute conversation with her cable provider's customer service rep, trying to remove an unauthorized charge from her bill. She's posted a 15 minute excerpt from that conversation on her Senate website.
“Consumers in every corner of the country share common experiences about fending for themselves against customer service and billing practices by TV providers that are at best confusing, and at worst deceptive,” McCaskill said.
The Missouri lawmaker said some companies apply unnecessary fees that can be removed from your bill if you know to call and ask. She said even when directly asked, a customer service representative may not inform you of the lowest price available.
Based on data provided to the Subcommittee, Portman estimates Time Warner Cable will overbill its customers nationwide an estimated $2 million for equipment charges in 2016, and will not offer refunds.
What happens now? Portman says one answer is for consumers to have more options when it comes to television service, so when one provider proves unsatisfactory, it will be easy to go to another.
Researchers find a new way to boost memory
Their recent findings explain just how memories can be formed06/24/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Christopher Maynard
They say that memory is one of the first things to go when you get older, but that saying might be going out the window if the scientific community has its...
They say that memory is one of the first things to go when you get older, but that saying might be going out the window if the scientific community has its way.
A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Irvine and the University of Queensland has investigated how memories are formed. They found that adding a certain class of chemicals, called methyl groups, to RNA could potentially strengthen a person’s memory.
The process of adding methyl groups to RNA is called methylation, and it affects how the RNA functions within our cells. Normally, enzymes within cells reduce the level of methyl groups. However, after removing these inhibitive enzymes, the researchers found that memory formation in mice was improved.
For the purposes of the study, Timothy Bredy, an associate professor at UCI, and his colleagues searched the entire genome of mice to see where methylated RNA could be found in the brain tissue. They found extensive changes to one particular epigenetic mark, called N6-methlyadenosine (m6a), when new memories were created.
Epigenetic marks, or processes, are what link our genetic activity with the world around us, like when we learn something new.
The discovery of m6a has allowed the researchers to understand something about memory that they did not know before -- namely, that the formation of memories occurs on multiple genetic levels.
“Our findings show that memory processing is not just influenced by epigenetic control over our DNA but also occur at the level of RNA, variations in which act like a messenger in our cells,” said Bredy. “m6a shows enormous potential because the process can rapidly fine-tune our gene function and expression, which is often impaired in a variety of neurological disorders.”
While the discoveries are promising, the researchers admit that there is more work to be done before this new information can be validated. They say that their next step will be to test how memories are formed under various learning conditions, and determine how memory-related disorders and trauma affects this process.
The head-to-toe benefits of one hour in the garden
Gardeners reap countless physical and mental health benefits, studies show06/24/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Sarah D. Young
There’s a lot to dig about gardening. The simple act of spending time outdoors already comes with a number of mental health benefits, but gardeners may exp...
There’s a lot to dig about gardening. The simple act of spending time outdoors already comes with a number of mental health benefits, but gardeners may experience some other perks.
As a physical activity, gardening can help strengthen important muscles, nourish vital organs, and burn hundreds of calories. In fact, a new infographic by AXA PPP Healthcare shows that just one hour of gardening can positively impact the health of your whole body.
Read on to learn why you should pat yourself on the back (after taking off those dirt-covered gardening gloves, of course) for spending an hour sprucing up the yard.
The raking, weeding, and other physical demands of gardening can improve your overall health in a number of ways, studies show. Here's how different parts of the body are impacted:
- Head. Levels of the stress hormone cortisol are reduced as a result of gardening. Less stress can often translate to improved sleep patterns, greater relaxation, and a sense of mental wellbeing.
- Heart. Your arms might be doing most of the lifting, but your heart also works hard while gardening. The act of gardening naturally helps strengthen the heart, build endurance, and increase stamina, leading to a reduced risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Back. Raking and bagging involves a good amount of back movement, including twisting, bending, lifting, and carrying. All of these movements can help strengthen the muscles.
- Stomach. Planting new flowers comes with benefits beyond yard beautification. Greater exposure to soil bacteria can lead to a more resilient stomach and a stronger immune system.
- Feet and ankles. Whether you’re balancing an armload of plants or stretching to pull that hard-to-reach weed, your body will be fighting to stay balanced. Improved balance and flexibility can help prevent falls in older adults.
Gardeners often work up a sweat. But just how many calories do gardening chores end up burning? As it turns out, quite a few. Here are the estimated number of calories burned by each activity:
- Heavy landscaping — 400 to 600 calories/hour
- Cleaning the garden — 400 calories/hour
- Raking the leaves — 350 to 450 calories/hour
- Mowing the lawn — 250 to 350 calories/hour
- Weeding the lawn — 200 to 400 calories/hour
- Planting flowers — 200 to 400 calories/hour
- Watering the garden — 120 calories/hour
Car sales suggest no slowdown in the economy
Edmunds.com project highest June car sales since 2005s06/24/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Despite persistent signs of economic weakness, consumers continue to shrug off concerns in two areas – housing and cars, admittedly the two biggest purchas...
Despite persistent signs of economic weakness, consumers continue to shrug off concerns in two areas – housing and cars, admittedly the two biggest purchases most consumers make.
As we reported earlier this week, sales of existing homes surged last month, posting the strongest increase since before the housing meltdown.
Now there are indications that new car sales, which have set records month after month, will post another extremely strong month when June's final numbers are tallied.
Automotive site Edmunds.com projects that consumers purchased or leased1,528,812 new cars and trucks in June. That would make for a Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) of 16.9 million.
That would be down slightly from May but an increase of 3.8% from June 2015. In fact, if the Edmunds numbers hold, it would be the strongest June for auto sales since 2005.
On pace for another record year
Looking at the first half of 2016, which ends at the end of this month, Edmunds projects total sales of more than 8.6 million units, up 1.6% from the first half of last year, which turned out to be a record-setting year for car sales.
"The industry may not be growing as fast as in recent years but, at the halfway point of 2016, it's still on pace to set another annual sales record," said Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds' Director of Industry Analysis.
Caldwell says that as long as unemployment remains low and consumers have easy access to credit, the auto industry should be in a strong position through the busy summer sales months.
According to Edmunds' projections, GM will enjoy sales that are 6.5% above last month's total, but down 1.3% from last June. Ford, meanwhile, is expected to beat last month's total by 1.6% and June 2015 sales by 6.2%.
Volkswagen, meanwhile, continues to struggle in the wake of the diesel emissions cheating scandal, with projected U.S. sales in June of 47,676. That's down 0.2% from May but oddly, 3.8% better than June 2015, before the scandal broke.
Six cool tips for pet parents
How to beat the heat with your pooch06/24/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Sarah D. Young
Summer isn’t an ideal time to be wearing a fur coat. For this reason, a hot summer day can feel even hotter to a dog. Overheating and dehydration are j...
Summer isn’t an ideal time to be wearing a fur coat. For this reason, a hot summer day can feel even hotter to a dog.
Overheating and dehydration are just a few of the health scares that could happen if dogs spend too much time in the sun. But there are a few steps that pet owners can take to prevent pets from suffering.
Protecting your dog from the heat doesn’t have to mean sitting him on the sidelines. Your dog can join the rest of the family for a day at the beach or park. A few thoughtful considerations, however, can help reduce the risk of your pooch becoming overheated, dehydrated, or sunburned.
Useful tips for summer
Will your pup be tagging along on your next summer outing? If so, there a few things you can do to make a hot summer day a little more comfortable for your fur-covered friend.
- Cold treats. Bring along cold treats -- such as ice cubes, watermelon, or frozen chicken stock cubes -- to help make the heat a little more bearable. If you aren’t sure what to toss into Fido’s special ice cubes, check out these recipes from the pet experts at DogVacay.
- Sun protection. Ninety-five percent of pet owners don’t put sunscreen on their pets despite the fact that they can get sunburn and skin cancer just like humans. White dogs, hairless dogs, and those with light-colored fur are most susceptible to sunburn, but all pet owners should apply sunscreen to a dog’s nose, ear tips, underbelly, eyelids, and around the mouth. Protective clothing can shield pets’ skin from the sun.
- Well-timed walks. Walk your dog either earlier in the day or later in the evening when the sun is lower, the ground is cooler, and the air is easier to breathe. You can also protect your pup’s heat-sensitive paws by walking on dirt or grass rather than concrete or asphalt.
- Haircuts. Getting rid of excess fur can help keep pets cooler, but be sure to do your research before trimming hair too short. In some dogs, layers of fur can help protect them from sunburn and overheating.
- Take breaks. Frequent water breaks and time-outs in shady spots can help prevent dogs from becoming overheated or dehydrated. Also, limit exercise on especially hot days to keep a pup from overdoing it in the exertion department.
- Water fun. Time spent romping around in cool water can be the perfect way to beat the heat. Take your dog to a pet-friendly water location, such as a dog beach, or set up a sprinkler or kiddie pool in the backyard.
Why home prices keep rising, even though the economy isn't
Shortage of homes may turn off buyers, Trulia warns06/24/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
If you have been shopping for a home in recent months, it's likely you've encountered a puzzling situation. Home prices keep going up, yet you and many of ...
If you have been shopping for a home in recent months, it's likely you've encountered a puzzling situation. Home prices keep going up, yet you and many of your fellow home shoppers haven't seen much in the way of raises.
The reason is a continuing decline in inventory of available homes over the last four years. With fewer homes on the market, the competition to buy them is greater. Therefore, sellers are asking for, and getting, higher prices.
Oddly, this situation has not led to an increase in homebuilding, which has remained fairly static since plunging in the wake of the housing crash. Real estate experts are concerned that this situation, if prolonged, will turn off potential buyers.
In fact, real estate marketplace Trulia says there are some markets where this is already happening. It points to Columbia and Charleston, S.C., where buyers are disappearing at a faster rate than homes being removed from the inventory.
Of particular concern, Trulia says the number of available starter homes for first-time buyers is dropping at double digit rates. That means it is harder for renters to get into the housing market.
At the high end, Trulia reports the decline in inventory is much slower for premium homes. They may be selling at a slower rate because fewer homeowners are selling their starter homes and moving up.
Here's a major take-away from the Trulia report: national home inventory at the beginning of the summer is down 6% year-over-year, meaning homeowners will have a harder time finding a home and will have to pay more for it.
Especially for for first-time buyers
In the starter home segment, the decline is even more pronounced. The number of these homes with for sale signs in the front yard dropped by more than 12%.
Trulia estimates someone buying a starter home this summer will need to allocate an additional 1.3% of their income toward their purchase.
Despite this discouraging outlook, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) had some brighter news this week, reporting a big jump in May home sales. NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun says, ironically, that it may have been rising prices that are responsbile for the jump.
With more homeowners realizing they now have more equity in their homes, thanks to rising prices, Yun says more of these homeowners may be finally ready to move up. He says May's numbers suggest that's the case. It will take a few more months to determine if this is a real trend.
When does cool become creepy?
In-store technology can be cool but things like facial recognition get creepy quickly06/24/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
Getting a coupon on your phone while browsing in a store is one thing. Having a salesperson stroll up and address you by name is quite another, a new study...
Getting a coupon on your phone while browsing in a store is one thing. Having a salesperson stroll up and address you by name is quite another, a new study finds.
The "Creepy or Cool" study, conducted by RichRelevance, found that shoppers, especially Millennials, expect to use their smartphones as part of the shopping experience, but they get a little creeped out by things like facial recognition.
“[T]he study finds that shoppers think it is cool to get digital help finding relevant products and information – on their own terms when they choose to engage,” said Diane Kegley, CMO of RichRelevance. “However, they are creeped out by digital capabilities that identify and track without a clear value offered in return.”
Among the "cool" features identified by the study were:
- You can scan a product on your mobile device to see product reviews and recommendations for other items you might like. Overall: 79% cool; Millennials: 84% cool
- Soon after you leave the store, you receive a digital coupon for a product you looked at but didn’t purchase. Overall: 52% cool; Millennials: 60% cool
- When you check out, your print or email receipt includes product recommendations selected just for you.Overall: 50% cool; Millennials: 59% cool
Topping the creepy features:
- Facial recognition technology identifies you as a high value shopper and relays this information to a salesperson. Overall: 67% creepy; Millennials: 71% creepy.
- A salesperson greets you by name on the store floor because your mobile phone or app signals your presence. Overall: 64% creepy; Millennials: 64% creepy.
Millennials generally had stronger opinions both pro and con and were also the most likely to say they use their phones regularly when shopping in stores.
The survey of 1,018 US consumers was conducted by RichRelevance in May 2016.
GM hit with 'dirty diesel' suit
It's accused of rigging its Cruze diesel to deceive emissions tests06/24/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
General Motors has joined Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz in the Dieselgate scandal. A class action lawsuit alleges that GM misled consumers who paid $2,000 e...
General Motors has joined Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz in the Dieselgate scandal. A class action lawsuit alleges that GM misled consumers who paid $2,000 extra for a "clean diesel" version of the Chevy Cruze.
The suit argues that, like VW, GM used emissions-cheating software to make the Cruze look clean-burning when undergoing emissions testing while allowing it to pollute at higher than legal levels the rest of the time.
Volkswagen is expected to pay $10 billion or more to consumers who bought its TDI cars and to an environmental protection fund. The Merecedes-Benz case is still pending and the company has denied the allegations.
“Diesel emissions fraud didn’t stop with Volkswagen or Mercedes – GM has proven that it too placed greed and profits ahead of thousands of owners who paid premium prices for what they thought were clean diesel cars,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman, one of the law firms that is also representing plaintiffs in the VW and Mercedes cases.
The complaint states that recently, a German environmental group issued a report indicating that GM’s Opel model uses a "defeat device" to evade emission limits on nitrogen (NOx). The lawsuit alleges the same, or a similar, device is used on the Cruz diesels sold in the U.S.
The suit says plaintiffs have used a Portable Emissions Measurement System (“PEMS”) and found that the Cruze fails to meet the U.S. NOx limit of 70 mg/mile.
NOx contributes both to ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter, both associated with illness and premature death.
“In order to appeal to environmentally conscious consumers, GM marketed its Cruze diesel technology as a process that ensured emissions resulted in a ‘clean diesel’ and that its emissions were ‘below strict U.S. environmental standards.’ These representations are deceptive and false,” the suit alleges.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, seeks buyback and reimbursement for vehicle owners for the premium that they paid for a Clean Turbo Diesel, as well as compensation based on any “fix” and extended warranties that will go unused.
IIHS considers safety test with focus on passenger protection
As it stands now, there isn't much06/24/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
A new safety test may be in the works at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) -- one that would rate passenger-side protection as part of the ...
A new safety test may be in the works at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) -- one that would rate passenger-side protection as part of the small overlap crash test.
While drivers can expect to be protected well in a front crash involving the left corner of the vehicle, a new study shows that good protection doesn't always extend across the front seat to the passengers sitting next to them.
The Institute conducted 40 mph passenger-side small overlap tests on seven small SUVs with good driver-side small overlap ratings. Only one -- the 2016 Hyundai Tucson -- performed at a level corresponding to a good rating; the others ran the gamut from poor to acceptable.
"This is an important aspect of occupant protection that needs more attention," said Becky Mueller, an IIHS senior research engineer and the lead author of the study. "More than 1,600 right-front passengers died in frontal crashes in 2014."
Thus, the IIHS is considering a passenger-side rating as part of its TOP SAFETY PICK criteria.
IIHS currently conducts its tests for front ratings with a driver dummy and with the barrier overlapping the driver side. The reason is simple: every vehicle on the road has a driver, but there isn't always a passenger riding along.
"It's not surprising that automakers would focus their initial efforts to improve small overlap protection on the side of the vehicle that we conduct the tests on," said David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer. "In fact, we encouraged them to do that in the short term if it meant they could quickly make driver-side improvements to more vehicles. As time goes by, though, we would hope they ensure similar levels of protection on both sides."
The recent passenger-side tests show how big the differences can be. In the group of small SUVs that was tested, most didn't perform as well when they were crashed into a barrier on the right side instead of the left. That was even true of models that appeared symmetrical after removing bumper covers and other external components.
"When structural improvements are visible only on the driver side, there are large differences in performance," Mueller says. "But the inverse is not true. Some vehicle structures look the same on both sides, but they don't perform the same. That's why we can't rely on visual analysis but need to monitor this issue and possibly begin rating vehicles for passenger-side protection."
The IIHS passenger-side small overlap testing program could start next year and make it a requirement for one of its safety awards as early as 2018.
HelloFresh recalls frozen peas
The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes06/24/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
HelloFresh of New York, N.Y., is recalling frozen peas that have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. No illnesses or cust...
HelloFresh of New York, N.Y., is recalling frozen peas that have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
No illnesses or customer complaints have been reported to date.
The peas were included in HelloFresh recipe kits delivered the week of June 11-15, 2016 and the weeks of March 12-25, 2016.
The peas were delivered by a third party delivery service in Colorado, New Mexico, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, and Georgia, as part of the meals "Summer Vegetable Salad with Seared Chicken, Garlic Croutons, and Mustard-Chive Vinaigrette" (June 11-15, 2016), "Lemony Pan-Seared Chicken with Pesto Potato Salad and Peas" (March 12-18, 2016), and "Seared Steak with Spring Veggie Succotash and Mint-Chive Pesto" and "Nir's Lamb-Stuffed Zucchini with Spiced Lentil Stew" (March 19-25, 2016).
The peas would have arrived in a portion cup inside a kit box labeled with the recipe names described above.
What to do
Customers should discard the entire kit box, and not eat any of the ingredients from that recipe. Following the cooking preparation instructions printed on each individual case will effectively reduce the risk of exposure to this bacterium.
Consumers with questions may call HelloFresh 1-800-733-2414 from 6am to 11pm (EST) Monday through Friday and 6am to 7:30pm (EST) Saturday and Sunday.
Kashi amends date codes on recalled items
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes06/24/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Kashi Company is amending the date codes for Kashi GOLEAN® Honey Pecan Baklava Bars and Bear Naked® Soft Baked Granola, Cinnamon + Sunflower Butter that we...
Kashi Company is amending the date codes for Kashi GOLEAN® Honey Pecan Baklava Bars and Bear Naked® Soft Baked Granola, Cinnamon + Sunflower Butter that were recalled earlier.
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
The updated information affects the following products, sold only in the U.S.:
- Kashi® GOLEAN® Honey Pecan Baklava Bars, 5-count with UPC Code 18627 10474 – "Best If Used Before"dates of Jul21 16; Aug07 16; Sep13 16; Sep22 16; and Oct20 16
- Bear Naked® Soft Baked Granola, Cinnamon + Sunflower Butter, 11 oz pouch with UPC Code 84623 10163 – "Best if Used By"dates of Aug 13 2016 to Jan 11 2017
The date codes can be found on the top of the box of the Honey Pecan Baklava Bars, and at the bottom of the pouch of the Bear Naked Granola.
What to do
Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-877-747-2467, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. (ET) or online at https://www.kashi.com/contact-us.
Crescent Specialty Foods recalls raw pistachios
The product may be contaminated with Salmonella06/24/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Crescent Specialty Foods of Everett, Wash., is recalling 6-oz. bags of Crescent Pistachio Raw. The product may be contaminated with Salmonella....
Crescent Specialty Foods of Everett, Wash., is recalling 6-oz. bags of Crescent Pistachio Raw.
The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.
No illnesses have been reported to date.
The product, packaged in a 6-oz. clear, plastic bag with Crescent Nuts & Dried Fruits Pistachio Raw label attached and UPC code 8 95296 00103 5, was distributed to retail stores and on-line stores in Oregon and Washington from October 21, 2015 – May 2, 2016.
What to do
Customers should not consume the product, but return it to the place of purchase for a refund.
Consumers with questions may contact the stores where they purchased the product, or email the company at email@example.com.
The Land of Nod recalls octopus rattles
The fabric discs on the tentacles of the octopus rattles can detach06/24/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
The Land of Nod of Morton Grove, Ill., is recalling about 550 Octo-rattles. The fabric discs on the tentacles of the octopus rattles can detach, po...
The Land of Nod of Morton Grove, Ill., is recalling about 550 Octo-rattles.
The fabric discs on the tentacles of the octopus rattles can detach, posing a choking hazard to young children.
The firm has received five reports of the rattle’s fabric discs detaching. No injuries have been reported.
This recall involves The Land of Nod’s Octo-rattles, sold individually or as part of a gift bag set. The knit fabric rattles are yellow and shaped like an octopus with multi-colored felt discs sewn into the tentacles. The rattles measure about 9 inches tall, 4 inches wide and 3 inches deep and can attach to strollers or activity gyms.
“The Land of Nod,” “Morton Grove, IL 60053,” “951-3072461,” “Made in India” and SKU number 502882 are printed on a label attached to the underside of the rattle.
The rattles, manufactured in India, were sold exclusively at The Land of Nod stores nationwide and online from September 2015, through April 2016, for about $30 for the individual rattle and for $150 as part of a gift bag set.
What to do
Consumers should immediately take the recalled rattles away from children and contact The Land of Nod to receive a full refund.
Consumers may contact The Land of Nod at 800-933-9904 from 8:30 a. m. to 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday or online at www.landofnod.com and click on Product Recalls at the bottom of the page for more information.
Zupan's Markets recalls Macaroni Salad with Cheddar Cheese
The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes06/24/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Zupan's Markets is recalling its Macaroni Salad with Cheddar Cheese which may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. There have been no repor...
Zupan's Markets is recalling its Macaroni Salad with Cheddar Cheese which may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
There have been no reported illnesses attributed to the recalled items to date.
The recalled product, packaged in a 5-lb. net weight plastic bag, with listed item #23070 and the UPC 8 87241 80712 0, was distributed to four Zupan's Markets locations in Portland and Lake Oswego, Ore., between April 9 and June 14, 2016.
It was sold both in Zupan's Markets service deli salad case, sized to order, and available in prepacked round plastic containers (8, 12 & 16-oz.) in its Grab & Go area. Scale label on the bottom of the product container reads Macaroni Salad with Cheddar Cheese with code 394.
What to do
Customers who purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but destroy, discard it or return it to the store for a full refund.
Consumers with questions may call Duck Delivery Produce at 503-288-9380 Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (PT).
Fiat Chrysler steps up recall of Jeeps, other models with rollaway issues
The cars are 'unsafe in any driveway,' critic charges after death of actor Anton Yelchin06/23/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
Fiat Chrysler (FCA) is stepping up its recall of 1.1 million Jeeps and other models with a gear shifter that has been blamed for the death of actor Anton Y...
Fiat Chrysler (FCA) is stepping up its recall of 1.1 million Jeeps and other models with a gear shifter that has been blamed for the death of actor Anton Yelchin and injuries to at least 41 others.
“Fifty years ago, Ralph Nader described the Chevy Corvair as ‘unsafe at any speed,’ but these cars are unsafe in any driveway,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of HagensBerman, a consumer law firm that has said it is investigating the problem.
Most auto safety recalls are leisurely by any standard, often taking a year or more to be completed, but Yeltsin's death has seemingly spurred FCA to move a bit faster than usual.
The company sent a letter to owners of the affected models in April announcing the recall but said it did not yet have a fix available. Now, FCA says it will begin notifying consumers later this week about a software update intended to remedy the problem.
Yelchin's death brought some unwelcome attention to the gear-shift issue, and to Chrysler's less than enviable record, particularly its lengthy attempts to head off recalls of older Jeep Cherokees implicated in fires that safety advocates say have killed nearly 300 people. FCA agreed last year to pay $105 million for delays in nearly two dozen recalls.
Yelchin was killed in his own driveway when his 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee rolled away and pinned him against his brick mailbox. FCA has received more than 700 complaints about the issue, including reports of 200 crashes and 41 injuries.
The problem is rooted in the vehicles' ZF eight-speed electronic shifters, which provide insufficient feedback to the driver to indicate whether the car has been placed in “park” and do not have a safety override that automatically puts the car in “park” when the driver gets out, allowing it to unexpectedly roll away.
“Clearly the design of the shifter in these affected Jeep, Chrysler and Dodge vehicles is far from safe,” Berman said. “Fiat Chrysler’s competitors, like BMW, which use a similar shifter, have safety overrides in place that automatically put the car in ‘park’ when the driver’s door is opened and pressure taken off the foot brake."
Berman said there is "no good reason" why the Chrysler products should have been sold without such an override.
Besides the 2014-2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee, FCA models with the troublesome shifted are the 2012-2014 Chrysler 300 and 2012-2014 Dodge Charger.
The dispatcher will need more information than if you call from a landline06/23/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Increasingly, consumers are opting not to have the monthly expense of a landline telephone, but rather relying solely on their cell phones.While it doe...
$6.3 million going to consumers who bought Kevin Trudeau's book
The perennial pitchman claimed to reveal health secrets 'they don't want you to know about'06/23/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
Unfortunately, many people think that big drug companies and the government know how to cure common illnesses but keep the solution secret to protect drug...
Unfortunately, many people think that big drug companies and the government know how to cure common illnesses but keep the solution secret to protect drug company profits. That makes them perfect foils for pitchmen with a convincing line of patter.
One such super-salesman is Kevin Trudeau, currently serving a ten-year prison term for making phony claims about his best-selling book, “The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About.”
The Federal Trade Commission is now mailing checks totaling about $6.3 million to consumers who bought the book. In 2009, a federal judge ordered Trudeau to repay millions of dollars to consumers after he violated a 2004 FTC stipulated order by misrepresenting the book’s content.
"For years, Trudeau fought the FTC’s efforts to collect the money he owes consumers, including repeatedly denying that he had any money and hindering efforts to find his money," the FTC said in a statement.
During one court proceeding, he “took the Fifth” hundreds of times rather than answer questions about where his money was. At one point, the judge jailed Trudeau for not cooperating.
The court appointed a receiver, who eventually tracked down some of Trudeau's money, which the FTC is now using to partially repay consumers.
What to do
Consumers should deposit or cash checks within 60 days of the mailing date. Those who deposit or cash their checks may receive future proceeds if funds become available.
Do not pay money or give personal information to anyone who says you must pay a fee to receive your refund. The FTC never requires consumers to pay money or to provide information before refund checks can be cashed.
Consumers who receive checks and have questions can contact the FTC’s refund administrator, Analytics, at 844-828-4437. Learn more about this refund program at ftc.gov/trudeau.
Researchers work towards creating super strains of broccoli
The vegetables are being bred to contain 'mega-doses' of beneficial compounds06/23/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Christopher Maynard
Although young children and picky eaters often turn their nose up at it, broccoli is one of the most nutritious superfoods out there. And now, it looks lik...
Although young children and picky eaters often turn their nose up at it, broccoli is one of the most nutritious superfoods out there. And now, it looks like researchers are taking steps to make it even better.
A study conducted by scientists from the University of Illinois has identified certain candidate genes that control the amount of phenolic compounds found in broccoli. These compounds, along with certain flavonoids, are associated with lower risk of heart disease, type II diabetes, asthma, and a variety of cancers.
By cross-breeding particular strains of broccoli, the researchers believe that they can create new strains of the vegetable that have “mega-doses” of phenolic compounds.
Promoting phenolic compound grow
Experts have long known that phenolic compounds go a long way towards promoting health, but it is their interaction with inflammation that is most notable.
“Phenolic compounds have good antioxidant activity, and there is increasing evidence that this antioxidant activity affects biochemical pathways affiliated with inflammation in mammals. We need inflammation because it’s a response to disease or damage, but it’s also associated with initiation of a number of degenerative diseases,” said Jack Juvik, a geneticist at the University of Illinois.
“People whose diets consist of a certain level of these compounds will have a lesser risk of contracting these diseases,” he adds.
Branching to other vegetables
The researchers note that promoting the accumulation of phenolic compounds does not have to be limited to broccoli alone. They are also investigating other Brassica vegetables, such as kale and cabbage, to see how susceptible they are to the promotion of phenolic compounds.
While they hope that these and other vegetables can develop mega-doses of phenolic compounds, they recognize that it may take some time before that happens.
“This work is a step in that direction, but it is not the final answer. We plan to take the candidate genes we identified here and use them in a breeding program to improve the health benefits of these vegetables. Meanwhile, we’ll have to make sure yield, appearance, and taste are maintained as well,” said Juvik.
How your high expectations may be impacting your child
Intrusive parents can create overly self-critical kids, study finds06/23/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Sarah D. Young
You only want the best for your child, so it’s only natural that you would want them to get the best grades. But could your high expectations be setting th...
You only want the best for your child, so it’s only natural that you would want them to get the best grades. But could your high expectations be setting them up to become overly self-critical?
A new study suggests that parents may want to ease up on their academic expectations for kids. The five-year study of elementary school aged children found that kids with intrusive parents are more likely to have high levels of self-criticalness.
And this nagging sense of perfectionism instilled by mom and dad can snowball as kids get older, leading to symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Assistant Professor Ryan Hong, who led the study, says intrusive parents can signal to children that what they do is never good enough.
Consequently, he adds, “The child may become afraid of making the slightest mistake and will blame himself or herself for not being ‘perfect’. Over time, such behavior, known as maladaptive perfectionism, may be detrimental to the child’s well-being as it increases the risk of the child developing symptoms of depression, anxiety and even suicide in very serious cases.”
During the first year of the study, which began in 2010, games were used to sniff out parental intrusiveness. Parents watched as their 7-year-old children attempted to a solve puzzle within a time limit; they were told that they could help the child whenever necessary.
Highly intrusive parents would interfere -- for example, by retracting a move made by the child -- even if a child didn’t need or request assistance.
Are you prone to hijacking a school project? Do you go ballistic at the sight of a 'B'? If so, how can you rein in your tendency to impose expectations?
Tips for parents
It’s common to harbor some high expectations with regard to a child's academic performance. After all, it's your child -- and your child has had limitless potential since the day they was born. But parents should be mindful not to push children over the edge, says Hong.
“Children should be given a conducive environment to learn, and part of learning always involves making mistakes and learning from them. When parents become intrusive, they may take away this conducive learning environment,” he said in a statement.
In addition to being tolerant of mistakes, Hong says parents should consider changing the way they phrase certain school-related questions.
Instead of asking, “Did you get full marks on your test,” parents can ask, “How did you do on your test?” Taking the expectation element out of the question can help send the message that mistakes are okay.
If mistakes were made, try not to hone in on them right away. Instead, Hong recommends praising a child's acheivements before jumping into the experience of helping them learn from their mistakes.
The full study has been published in the Journal of Personality.
Study: new cars make biggest quality improvement in seven years
J.D. Power says auto quality has never been higher06/23/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Consumers who purchase a new car this year can expect fewer problems and improved quality over any vehicle they might have purchased last year.That's t...
Consumers who purchase a new car this year can expect fewer problems and improved quality over any vehicle they might have purchased last year.
That's the bottom line in J.D. Power's 2016 Initial Quality Study, which found the quality of 2016 models improved 6%, compared to only a 3% increase in 2015. It's the biggest increase since 2009.
Korean automaker Kia led all contenders, earning the top spot in initial quality, the first time in 27 years a so-called non-premium brand finished first. Porsche was second, followed by Hyundai, Toyota, and BMW.
The rankings are based on problems with a car that might crop up during the first 90 days of ownership. The J.D. Power rating is determined by the number of problems per 100 vehicles – the lower the score, the higher the quality.
What is notable about the latest rankings is quality improved across all the categories J.D. Power measures, with 21 of the 33 brands showing improvement and one holding steady at last year's rate.
Highest quality ever
Renee Stephens, vice president of U.S. automotive quality at J.D. Power, says carmakers are now turning out some of the highest quality products the industry has ever seen. She says it hasn't happened by accident.
"Tracking our data over the past several years, it has become clear that automakers are listening to the customer, identifying pain points, and are focused on continuous improvement. Even as they add more content, including advanced technologies that have had a reputation for causing problems, overall quality continues to improve," Stephens said.
Among the major take-aways from the report, domestic brands had fewer problems than international carmakers, with the “Detroit Three” all posting year-over-year quality gains. It was the first time domestic models did better than imports since 2010.
At the same time, non-premium brands performed better than premium nameplates, although their margin was slim.
For carmakers, giving new owners a trouble-free 90 days pays off when it is time for a trade-in. J.D. Power reports 54% of owners who don't experience a problem in the first 90 days of ownership buy another model of the same brand.
For its part, Kia says its number one ranking is no surprise. It notes it entered the top 10 in 2013 and placed second in the rankings last year.
The color of your kitchen could cost you money
White walls may not be the smartest choice, according to a survey06/23/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Sarah D. Young
Planning on selling your home? If so, it might be time to break out the paint bucket and rollers; a new survey finds that homes with white walls sell for l...
Planning on selling your home? If so, it might be time to break out the paint bucket and rollers; a new survey finds that homes with white walls sell for less.
According to an analysis by Zillow Digs, homes with kitchens that are painted yellow or green can sell for as much as $1,300 more.
Two shades in particular -- wheat yellow and sage green -- resulted in homes going for as much as $1,360 more than expected. Dove gray was also a common thread in the site’s top-performing listings.
But while modest, earthy tones may add value, certain colors may actually detract value.
Colors that deter buyers
Homes with dark walls, such as those painted slate gray or terracotta, sold for as much as $1,100 less than expected.
The absence of a paint color also didn’t do any favors for a home’s ultimate sale price; white or eggshell-colored kitchens tended to go for less than expected.
Tastefully painted walls can often help potential buyers see your home as their future home. But in order for this tactic to work, experts say it’s best not to let your personal style have too much influence on your color choice.
Colors with mass appeal
You might be smitten with bright turquoise, but there’s no guarantee that your home’s future inhabitants will be. To improve the odds of your painting effort paying off, steer clear of style-specific colors and go for the guaranteed crowd pleasers.
Colors with mass appeal include warm neutrals like yellow or light gray, says Svenja Gudell, Zillow chief economist, in a statement.
These colors, Gudell adds, can help signal that the home is well cared for. Additionally, clean and stylish wall colors can help convince buyers that the previous owners had an eye for design that may translate to other areas within the home.
Paint color and effect
Not sure what to color to choose? Check out these examples of paint colors and their impact on a home’s expected value. Zillow has broken down the list by room type, paint color, and how much more or less it caused the homes to sell for.
- Kitchen. Cream or wheat-colored yellow, $1,360 more
- Kitchen. Off-white or eggshell, $82 less
- Bathroom. Oatmeal or beige, $283 more
- Bathroom. Dark brown, $469 less
- Bedroom. Light green to khaki, $1,332 more
- Bedroom. Dark brown, $236 less
- Dining room. Mauve, eggplant, or lavender, $1,122 more
- Dining room. Slate or dark gray, $1,112 less
- Living room. Dove or light gray, $1,104 more
- Living Room. Terracotta, $793 less
Judge rules against Amazon in charges run up by children
Google and Apple have already refunded more than $50 million06/23/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
One of the most basic principles of contract law is that both parties must be competent adults, meaning that children can't enter into or be bound by contr...
One of the most basic principles of contract law is that both parties must be competent adults, meaning that children can't enter into or be bound by contracts.
You would think that companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple would know that and respect it, but you'd be wrong. Google and Apple have already paid more than $50 million in refunds to parents whose children ran up big in-app charges online. It seems Amazon will be next, now that a federal judge has granted the Federal Trade Commission’s request for summary judgment in the agency’s lawsuit against the company.
Summary judgment is what laypersons might refer to as "open and shut." It simply means the judge had heard enough and rendered a verdict without sitting through an entire trial.
The judge’s order in the case finds that Amazon received many complaints from consumers about surprise in-app charges incurred by children, citing the fact that the company’s disclosures about the possibility of in-app charges within otherwise “free” apps were not sufficient to inform consumers about the charges.
“We are pleased the federal judge found Amazon liable for unfairly billing consumers for unauthorized in-app purchases by children,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “We look forward to making a case for full refunds to consumers as a result of Amazon’s actions.”
The court will now gather evidence to calculate how much Amazon will have to return to the wrongfully charged parents.
Why more businesses are helping employees with student loans
Surveys show Millennials value it more that other employee benefits06/23/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
The student loan debt crisis has been well documented. Millions of young Americans have gotten educations with the expectation it would make their lives be...
The student loan debt crisis has been well documented. Millions of young Americans have gotten educations with the expectation it would make their lives better, only to be saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in debt.
People that are early in their careers have been faced with paying off student loans the size of a small mortgage. As a result, they haven't taken out actual mortgages because they have been unable to buy homes.
In recent years many employers have recognized the problem it has caused with hiring the right people and retaining them. According to EdAssist, it's created changes in the way businesses and organizations are structuring employee benefits.
EdAssist helps organizations develop these tuition assistance programs that offer help to employees who are struggling to pay back student loan debt. It currently managed more than $420 million in tuition reimbursement a year for more than 120 clients.
In a recent study of millennials, who now make up the largest segment of the U.S. workforce, EdAssist found one in three workers said employers should help to repay their student loans.
IonTuition.com, an education-fintech company specializing in helping borrowers monitor and manage their student loans, found much the same thing. Only it looked at the employer side, and found a strong recognition of the need to include student loan repayment assistance as part of the employee benefits package.
In a survey of more than 400 middle managers, the company found that most employers recognize value in helping employees manage their student loan debt. Further, they appear willing to offer plans that reduce some of that stress.
The survey found nearly universal belief that employees with student loan debt would take advantage of a student loan repayment benefit should one be offered. Employers also strongly believed that relieving some of this stress would improve morale, productivity, and general well-being.
A generation ago, childcare assistance and retirement savings accounts were the highly-prized employee benefits. While today's young workers undoubtedly could use those benefits, there's a growing consensus that they need help paying off their loans even more.
Why health officials are worried about tainted frozen vegetables
Vegetables reportedly used as ingredients in 350 other products06/23/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
In late April, we reported what, at the time, appeared to be a routine recall: CRF Frozen Foods of Washington state was recalling 15 frozen vegetable items...
In late April, we reported what, at the time, appeared to be a routine recall: CRF Frozen Foods of Washington state was recalling 15 frozen vegetable items. At the time, it was reported that the items might be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
Since then, the vegetables have been strongly suspected of causing a multi-state outbreak of the foodbourne illness, underscoring the inter-connectedness of the U.S. food supply.
The problem is at least 350 products use the vegetables, which are distributed to retailers in all 50 states and four Canadian provinces. When a tainted product is used as an ingredient in other products, the damage is spread across a wide spectrum of the food chain, complicating things for investigators.
A few years ago there was another ingredient-driven outbreak linked to contaminated pine nuts that were used in pesto, salads, and baked goods, and another more recently associated with sunflower seeds found in a variety of trail mixes.
In 2009, peanuts contaminated with Salmonella got into the ingredient chain, contaminating everything from peanut butter to ice cream. It sickened more than 700 people and may have led to at least nine deaths. According to the PEW Charitable Trust, that outbreak led to the Food Safety Modernization Act, giving the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) more authority to protect the food supply.
Strain first appeared in 2013
In the current frozen vegetable outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the strain of Listeria has been showing up since 2013, and that it has been working with various states to pin down the source since March, a month before the vegetable recall.
“Epidemiologic and laboratory evidence available at this time indicates that frozen vegetables produced by CRF Frozen Foods of Pasco, Washington and sold under various brand names are one likely source of illness in this outbreak,” the CDC said in a recent update. “Investigations are ongoing to determine if food sources used to manufacture CRF Frozen Foods products could explain some of the illnesses.”
The investigation into contaminated frozen vegetables is still underway, with the food company working with regulators, trying to protect consumers from getting sick. Meanwhile, new prevention-based rules for food-processing facilities – part of the Food Safety Modernization Act – begin to go into effect in September.
New home sales take a hit in May
Still, sales are above where they were a year earlier06/23/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
May was a tough month for sales of new single-family houses.The Commerce Department reports sales dropped 6.0% last month to a seasonally adjusted annu...
May was a tough month for sales of new single-family houses.
The Commerce Department reports sales dropped 6.0% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 551,000, following April's surge of 16.6%. Even with the decline though, sales are 8.7% higher than they were in May 2015.
Prices and supply
The median sales price of new houses sold in May was $290,400, up $3,000 from a year earlier. The average sales price was $358,900, a year-over-year gain of $18,100. The median is the point at which half the homes sold for more and half for less.
The seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of May was 244,000, which works out to a supply of 5.3 months at the current sales rate.
May's decline was led by the Northeast, where sales were down 33.3% from the month before. Sales in the West were off 15.6%, while the South saw a dip of 0.9%. The only gain -- 12.9% -- was registered in the Midwest.
The full report is available on the Commerce Department website.
House prices creep higher in April
Jobless claims posted a big decline last week06/23/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
The latest report from the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) shows house prices scored a small advance during April....
The latest report from the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) shows house prices scored a small advance during April.
The FHFA's monthly House Price Index (HPI) was up 0.2% on a seasonally adjusted basis. At the same time, March's previously reported 0.7% increase was revised to reflect an increase of 0.8%.
On a year-over-year basis. house prices were up 5.9%. Since last October, the national HPI level has surpassed the prior peak reached in March 2007.
For the nine census divisions, seasonally adjusted monthly price changes ranged from -0.7% in the Middle Atlantic division to +1.4% in the New England division.
The 12-month changes were all positive, ranging from +1.7% in the Middle Atlantic division to +8.6% in the Pacific division.
The FHFA monthly HPI is calculated using home sales price information from mortgages sold to, or guaranteed by, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
The full report may be found on the FHFA website.
First-time applications for state unemployment benefits were down sharply last week.
The Department of Labor (DOL) reports initial jobless claims plunged by 18,000 in the week ending June 18, to a seasonally adjusted 259,000. This makes 68 consecutive weeks of initial claims below 300,000 -- the longest streak since 1973.
The four-week moving average, which is less volatile and seen as a more accurate gauge of the job market, was down 2,250 from the previous week to 267,000.
The complete report is available on the DOL website.
G & M Co. recalls beef products
The products may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H706/23/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
G & M Co., of Newark, N.J., is recalling approximately 3,586 pounds of beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. There have been...
G & M Co., of Newark, N.J., is recalling approximately 3,586 pounds of beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.
There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.
The following bulk beef cuts and trimmings items, produced on June 8, 9, and 10, 2016, are being recalled:
3,586-lbs. - Various box sizes ranging from 30-195 lb. containing plastic wrapped bulk beef cuts and trimmings marked only with plant identifier “M5476.”
The recalled products bear establishment number “M5476” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped to retail locations in New Jersey and New York.
What to do
Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but throw them away or return them to the place of purchase.
Consumers with questions regarding the recall may contact Jose Morales at (973) 621-7444.
How to raise a successful, happy child
New study sheds light on how parenting style can affect a child's future06/22/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Sarah D. Young
When it comes to raising kids, are you a die hard disciplinarian or a laid back libertarian? Whatever your parenting style, studies show it can have a big ...
When it comes to raising kids, are you a die hard disciplinarian or a laid back libertarian? Whatever your parenting style, studies show it can have a big impact on the way your kids turn out.
Like most parents, you probably want your child to grow into a happy, educated adult with a high-paying job. But a new study has found that some parenting styles may be more conducive to creating this type of adult than others.
A new survey -- conducted by a research group led by Nishimura Kazuo, project professor at the Kobe University Center of Social Systems Innovation -- has found that the way a person was raised can greatly influence their level of happiness and professional success in adulthood.
Six categories of parenting
Earlier this year, the team surveyed 5,000 men and women to obtain information about their relationships with their parents during childhood. Participants responded to such questions as, “My parents trusted me,” and “I felt like my family had no interest in me.”
Based on responses, the research team was able to identify four key parenting factors -- (dis)interest, trust, rules, and independence -- and sort parenting methods into the following six categories:
- Supportive: High or average levels of independence, high levels of trust, high levels of interest shown in child, large amount of time spent together
- Strict: Low levels of independence, medium-to-high levels of trust, strict or fairly strict, medium-to-high levels of interest shown in child, many rules
- Indulgent: High or average levels of trust, not strict at all, time spent together is average or longer than average
- Easygoing: Low levels of interest shown in child, not strict at all, small amount of time spent together, few rules
- Harsh: Low levels of interest shown in child, low levels of independence, low levels of trust, strict
- Average. Average levels for all key factors
Supportive is best
The team found that positive attention and care from parents was the most effective parenting method -- at least when it came to producing adults who were both happy and successful.
Adults who reported being raised by “supportive” parents were more likely to have high incomes, high happiness levels, academic success, and a strong sense of morality.
Strict upbringings, however, tended to produce an entirely different type of adult. Although they reported high salaries and academic success, participants with parents who paid them high levels of attention combined with strict discipline became adults with lower happiness levels and increased stress.
The one thing you can do to start saving money
Trying to save without a budget is like building without a blueprint06/22/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
As we have reported a number of times that, since the financial crisis of 2008, more consumers have struggled to save money.There are many reasons for ...
As we have reported a number of times that, since the financial crisis of 2008, more consumers have struggled to save money.
There are many reasons for that, including stagnant wages and rising rents. Many complain that it's hard enough meeting day-to-day expenses, let alone building up a nest egg.
It's been suggested by many personal finance experts that just starting to save something – anything – on a regular basis is a great way to begin saving money. While that may be true, there is another important step to take before making that commitment to yourself.
It's pretty simple, really. You have to write out a budget.
Seeing a list of all your income and expenses on a single sheet of paper will help you see exactly what resources you have coming in each month and where it's going. If you have no money left at the end of the month, this sheet of paper will show you why.
Print this worksheet
To start, you might want to print out this handy budget worksheet from a the Institute for Financial Literacy. The space at the top of the first sheet is where you add up all your sources of income. For a majority of consumers it will be a paycheck. But others may have additional income, so make sure you list all of it.
The next section is where you list all the taxes you pay. Most people probably don't think much about taxes because they are taken out of your paycheck. But they are real expenses and should be listed. You may have to consult a recent pay stub to get that information.
After subtracting taxes from income, you have your net income – the total amount of money you have to spend each month.
The second page is where you start listing all your monthly expenses, broken down as “fixed,” “variable,” and “periodic.” Then there are all the “discretionary” expenses, like entertainment, gifts, and subscriptions.
You may have to consult bank records and credit card statements to assemble the list, but try not to leave anything out. If you made several ATM transactions during the month, try to remember what you bought with the cash.
The bottom line
After adding up all the expenses, subtract it from your total income. If you're lucky, it will show a positive balance at the end of the month. That is the amount of money you should be able to put into saving each month and still make ends meet.
You'll notice that the place where you list expenses has a column marked “Current” and one marked “Revised.” If you need to carve some money out of your current spending, look for areas where you can reduce spending and enter the revised amount.
You might not think you are wasting money, and truthfully, you probably aren't. But that doesn't mean there aren't areas where you can economize and start saving.
But without a budget, you probably aren't going to be able to identify these areas for saving.
New study shows that more hearts should be accepted for transplant in the future
Researchers hope that people in need of transplant will benefit soon06/22/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Christopher Maynard
Since the first successful surgery in 1967, researchers have worked tirelessly to perfect the process behind heart transplants. While there is still more w...
Since the first successful surgery in 1967, researchers have worked tirelessly to perfect the process behind heart transplants. While there is still more work to be done, these procedures have given years back to the people who need them.
However, the number of people on the transplant list vastly outnumbers the amount of available organs. Medical professionals have high standards for the hearts that they accept, but a new study shows that some of the organs they reject aren’t necessarily unusable.
A new study shows that the blood tests that determine the usability of hearts may not be a good predictor of whether or not the transplant will succeed or fail. Specifically, the researchers say that rejecting hearts based on the levels of troponin I – which is currently common practice – is unnecessary.
Troponin I is a protein found in heart muscle which finds its way into the bloodstream after the heart sustains some kind of damage. This could include damage done by heart disease or from an event like a heart attack. Currently, if medical professionals find high levels of the protein in the blood stream of a donor, then their heart is no longer considered viable for transplantation.
“If the heart looks okay but troponin I is elevated, many centers will reject the organ out of concern that this marker indicates dysfunction of the heart that will become evident after the stress of the transplant process,” explains Dr. Snehal R. Patel, senior author of the study and assistant professor of medicine at the Montefiore Medical Center at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
To find out if high levels of the protein truly make a difference, Patel and his team conducted a study that analyzed the outcomes of nearly 11,000 heart transplants. Within this sample, they found that high levels of troponin I had no bearing on whether death occurred within the first year after surgery.
In fact, high levels of the protein made no significant difference in survivability rates over the first 30 days, year, three years, or five years after the transplant took place. There was also no association with complications like graft failure within the first 30 days or the proportion of people who developed allograft vasculopathy, a rapid form of heart disease.
Increasing heart availability
The researchers hope that their findings will help increase the number of hearts available for transplant so that people who need them have a greater chance of survival.
“Heart transplantation is an incredible therapy for patients with end-stage heart failure, but there are only 2,000 – 2,400 transplants each year. A lot of focus has been on finding ways to sign up more people as organ donors, but there is a also a problem in that only an average of one in three donor hearts are placed,” said Patel.
“Our research shows that transplant centers should not exclude donor hearts based solely on elevated troponin I if the organ is otherwise suitable. At our institution it has already changed how we evaluate donors, and I think this data will lead to changes nationwide,” he added.
Which credit cards provide the best travel insurance protection?
According to a study, the Chase Sapphine Preferred comes out on top06/22/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
There are many things that can derail a vacation, leading to some hefty expense for those with non-refundable reservations. That's why many consumers choos...
There are many things that can derail a vacation, leading to some hefty expense for those with non-refundable reservations. That's why many consumers choose to purchase travel insurance.
But a new report from CardHub, a credit card comparison site, finds a handful of credit cards provide pretty good insurance coverage, if used to purchase the trip. They don't cover all contingencies, but some you might not expect.
The CardHub study found that travel insurance perks by credit card companies can reimburse customers when a trip gets cancelled, when a connecting flight is missed, when damage is lost or delayed, and even in the event of death.
The coverage varies from card to card, so the study compared 57 personal and 23 business credit cards to evaluate the coverage.
Nearly 93% of the cards in the study offer travel accident insurance, providing an average of $352,000 in coverage. Chase Sapphire Preferred was judged to be the best, providing $500,000 in coverage.
43% insure lost luggage
Almost 43% of cards will compensate travelers when luggage is lost, with an average of $2,500 included in the coverage. The Sapphire Preferred and Citi Prestige Card tied for best, with $3,000 in coverage. They both also pay up to $500 per trip for delayed bags.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred also wins in the category of best trip delay/cancellation coverage, paying $10,000 per trip. That beats the card average of $3,300, offered by 33% of cards in the study.
Not surprisingly, the Chase Sapphire Preferred also wins in the category of best overall card for travel insurance.
Among business credit cards, the Chase Ink Plus swept all categories as the best card to protect business trips. It achieved an overall score of 93%, compared to its nearest competitor, the Chase Ink Cash, at 84%.
Consumers using these cards do not have to register or sign up to receive the coverage. They simply have to contact their credit card company if they want to file a claim.
Two surprising new trends in baby naming
Why you might soon be seeing more babies named Hillary06/22/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Sarah D. Young
Parents often spend hours pouring over baby naming books and websites in an effort to find just the right name for their little one.It’s an important d...
Parents often spend hours pouring over baby naming books and websites in an effort to find just the right name for their little one.
It’s an important decision with lasting consequences. After all, it’s the name you’ll spend a lifetime calling out and the moniker your child will likely be saddled with for the rest of their life.
But these days, new moms and dads are finding baby name inspiration in some strange places. Instead of picking a name from a list or book, parents are tapping into their patriotic spirit for inspiration. Some are even going so far as to shell out thousands of dollars to have a professional name their baby.
Inspired by politics
Ahead of the upcoming presidential election, a few names seem to have taken up permanent residence in the headlines. Those names also seem to have ended up on the noggins of parents tasked with naming their new baby.
BabyCenter analyzed over 15,000 names registered on its site and found that politics may be responsible for casting the spotlight on several newly popular names.
The name Hillary has risen 142% since this time last year, and Bill has seen a 113% increase in popularity. Trump and his family have also inspired baby names, although to a lesser extent. The name Donald rose 8%, Melania by 36%, and Ivanka saw a 4% increase in popularity.
Not much happening on the Bernie front, however. The name Bernard fell by 50% and there have been no boys or girls named Bernie in the past six months, according to the site.
Professional baby namers
Choosing a baby's name is a big decision. But is it a decision worth hiring a professional to help with? According to some parents, the answer is yes.
More parents are enlisting the help of professional baby namers, whose services can cost a pretty penny. In fact, one firm in Switzerland charges roughly $29,000 to devote several weeks and 100 hours to naming your baby, Bloomberg reports.
In addition to dedicating staggering amounts of time to the decision, professional baby namers also screen names for other qualities, such as whether the name has been trademarked or whether it has “an aggravating past.”
But professional baby naming experts also realize that a name is personal. That’s why baby namers like Sherri Suzanne, owner of New York’s My Name for Life, also make sure a name fits with a family’s background.
"While some criteria, like name popularity, can be measured and ranked objectively, I find that other qualities, like morality of a name or likelihood for success, are very subjective and vary from person to person, community to community and particularly generation to generation," she told Bloomberg.
Mayo Clinic teams with Google to improve health information
Google Symptom Search features expert information and advice06/22/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
We all do it. At the first sign of illness we head for the the internet and Google our symptoms.What we find, of course, could be almost anything. Cred...
We all do it. At the first sign of illness we head for the the internet and Google our symptoms.
What we find, of course, could be almost anything. Credible medical information is often mixed in with some highly questionable advice – advice that may not be vetted or from a credible source. Sometimes these questionable sites rank higher than those from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or other trusted sources.
Back in 2014, researchers at the University of Florida published an interesting study that broad topic searches, such as “ear infection,” produced a search string in which more credible sources ranked higher.
But a search for more specialized and esoteric topics, like vaccines for newborns, produced a string where blogs and forums on the topic ranked higher. Most of the people posting opinions hadn't gone to medical school.
Google Symptom Search
The Mayo Clinic is taking steps that it hopes will place its advice in a more prominent position. In cooperation with Google Mobile Search, the Clinic is having its experts write concise descriptions and advice for a wide range of specific medical issues to be disseminated through a new feature called Google Symptom Search.
A symptom search using ordinary, non-medical terms will show a list of related conditions. A search for “headache” will show an overview, and provide links to self-treatment options and advice on when it is a good idea to seek help from a healthcare professional.
Mayo Clinic has enlisted teams of doctors and expert clinicians to assemble and vet the information. The goal is to get good information to consumers quickly, using the way they are most likely to seek it.
The Clinic says Google will navigate searchers to the information that may include details about how common a condition is, risk factors, and suggestions on when to seek medical care.
“Providing reliable and accessible health information at the digital consumers' initial point of need — such as through Google search — is a natural extension of Mayo Clinic and our health information website, MayoClinic.org,” said Sandhya Pruthi, M.D., chief medical editor, Mayo Clinic Global Business Solutions.
For its part, Google reviewed the information provided by Mayo Clinic and verified it with independent medical authorities.
The new feature also comes with a disclaimer. Mayo Clinic says the information it provides online is not intended to be medical advice or a diagnostic tool, and it is presented for informational purposes only.
Why would Mark Zuckerberg tape over his web camera?
Maybe because the inter-connected world is full of threats06/22/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Mark Zuckerberg made news this week when he posted a picture of himself at his desk. The news was supposed to be Instagram's announcement of 500 million ac...
Mark Zuckerberg made news this week when he posted a picture of himself at his desk. The news was supposed to be Instagram's announcement of 500 million active users.
But what made news was the laptop computer in the background, presumably Zuckerberg's, that appeared to show a piece of tape over the built-in camera. Why would Zuckerberg do that, if indeed he did?
Perhaps because of the pervasive and growing presence of malware threats, some of which are capable of taking over a device's camera and microphone. If Zuckerberg taped over his camera, he's not alone. Plenty of high-profile people do – and for good reason.
Hackers are more sophisticated and actively target high profile people. Also this week, Bloomberg News reported that Russian hackers appeared to have targeted the Clinton Foundation computer network, as well as systems operated by the Democratic National Committee.
The news agency says the data breach was first discovered last week. It reported the Clinton Foundation had not been officially notified and had no comment.
The headlines from a single week serve to underscore vulnerabilities of an inter-connected world, from major institutions to a single consumer checking email at home.
These days, computer users large and small fear the threat of ransomware. When a hacker tricks someone into opening an attachment or clicking on a link, this software can take over a computer or network and lock it down.
The only way for the victim to regain use of his or her files is to pay a ransom to the hackers. In recent months, ransomware hackers have targeted hospitals, with some measure of success.
“The threat of ransomware is very real and IT professionals are increasingly realizing traditional solutions are failing,” said Stu Sjouwerman, CEO of KnowBe4. “IT pros agree that end-user security awareness training is one of the most effective security practices to combat these ransomware threats.”
KnowBe4 has just released a study covering two years, measuring awareness and concern of the ransomware threat. It found that 79% of organizations it surveyed are “extremely concerned” about ransomware threats.
What was more eye-opening, the survey found that 38% of the organizations in the survey had already been hit by ransomware.
Older threats still around
Meanwhile, Sophos, a security software firm, says older malware threats are still prevalent and might even been more dangerous than ransomware. Writing in its Naked Security blog, the company notes that when you're hit with ransomware, you know it right away.
But if a hacker tricks you into downloading a keylogger, it might be weeks before you discovered it. Since a keylogger records keystrokes on a computer, a hacker can then get access to log-ins and passwords to bank accounts and other sensitive information.
McAfee, another security software company, reports a rise in a nasty little thing called Pinkslopbot, a backdoor trojan with worm-like abilities that also targets passwords. The company said it believed the malware was defeated in 2013, but that it has returned with a vengeance.
The best defense against these threats might ultimately be some healthy paranoia – the type Zuckerberg may have displayed this week. Be extremely careful about handling attachments – even from known sources.
It's also never a good idea to click on links in emails. If you want to visit a site, it's much safer to navigate to it yourself, either by typing in a url or by using a search engine.
Previously-owned homes sell at fastest clip in more than nine years
Median sales prices were at an all-time high06/22/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
You have to go back nearly a decade to find a time when previously-owned owned homes were selling at a faster pace than they did in May.According to th...
You have to go back nearly a decade to find a time when previously-owned owned homes were selling at a faster pace than they did in May.
According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), total existing-home sales -- completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops -- rose 1.8% last month a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.53 million.
Sales are now up 4.5% from the same period last year and are at their highest level since February 2007.
May marks the third consecutive month of rising sales. "This spring's sustained period of ultra-low mortgage rates has certainly been a worthy incentive to buy a home, but the primary driver in the increase in sales is more homeowners realizing the equity they've accumulated in recent years and finally deciding to trade-up or downsize," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun.
"With first-time buyers still struggling to enter the market, repeat buyers using the proceeds from the sale of their previous home as their down payment are making up the bulk of home purchases right now."
Prices and inventory
The median existing-home price for all housing types in May was $239,700, up 4.7% from May 2015, surpassing the peak median sales price of $236,300 set last June. May also marked the 51st consecutive month of year-over-year gains. The median is the point at which half the homes cost more and half cost less.
Total housing inventory was up 1.4% to 2.15 million existing homes available for sale at the end of May, but is still 5.7% lower than a year ago (2.28 million). That translates to a 4.7-month supply at the current sales pace.
"Existing inventory remains subdued throughout much of the country and continues to lag even last year's deficient amount," noted Yun. "While new home construction has thankfully crept higher so far this year, there's still a glaring need for even more, to help alleviate the supply pressures that are severely limiting choices and pushing prices out of reach for plenty of prospective first-time buyers."
- Existing-home sales in the Northeast rose 4.1% in May to an annual rate of 770,000, and are now 11.6% above a year ago. The median price was $268,600, down 0.1% from May 2015.
- In the Midwest, sales dropped 6.5% to an annual rate of 1.30 million in May, but are still up 3.2% year-over-year. The median price was up 4.8% to $190,000.
- The South saw a sales gain of 4.6% to an annual rate of 2.28 million, and are now 6.5% above May of last year. The median price was $211,500, a gain of 5.9% from a year ago.
- Sales in the West advanced 5.4% to an annual rate of 1.18 million, but are still down 1.7% from May 2015. The median price was $346,900 -- 7.7% above the year before.
Mortgage applications turn higher
Contract interest rates were mostly lower06/22/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Mortgage applications last week have rebounded from the previous week's decline.Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applicatio...
Mortgage applications last week have rebounded from the previous week's decline.
Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey show applications were up 2.9% for the week ending June 17.
The Refinance Index shot up 7%, pushing the refinance share of mortgage activity to 57.7% of total applications from 55.3% a week earlier.
The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity increased to 5.7% of total applications, the FHA share dipped to 11.7% from 11.8% the week prior, the VA share was unchanged at 11.1%, and the USDA share of total applications held steady 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 three basis points -- from 3.79% to 3.76% -- its lowest level since May 2013, with points increasing to 0.33 from 0.32 (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 January 2011 -- 3.70%, from 3.75% -- with points increasing to 0.28 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 was unchanged at 3.61%, with points decreasing to 0.24 from 0.27 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
- The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs slipped two basis points to 3.04%, with points increasing to 0.36 from 0.34 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
- The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs rose to 2.92% from 2.87%, with points decreasing to 0.21 from 0.26 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
The survey covers over 75% of all U.S. retail residential mortgage applications.
Sony recalls VAIO laptop computer battery packs
The lithium-ion battery packs can overheat06/22/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Sony Electronics of San Diego, Calif., is recalling about 1,700 Panasonic battery packs used in Sony Electronics laptop computers in the U.S. and Canada....
Sony Electronics of San Diego, Calif., is recalling about 1,700 Panasonic battery packs used in Sony Electronics laptop computers in the U.S. and Canada.
The lithium-ion battery packs can overheat, posing burn and fire hazards.
No incidents or injuries have been reported.
This recall involves Panasonic lithium-ion battery packs installed in 18 models of Sony’s VAIO Series laptop computers. The Panasonic battery packs were also sold separately and installed by Sony as part of repairs.
Panasonic battery packs included in this recall have model number VGP-BPS26 and part numbers 1-853-237-11 and 1-853-237-21. Panasonic battery pack model and part numbers are printed on the back of the battery pack.
Recalled model numbers for the Sony VAIO Series laptop computers are:
The battery packs, manufactured in China, were sold at Best Buy, Sony retail stores, other consumer electronic stores nationwide and online at www.store.sony.com and other websites from February 2013, through October 2013, for between $550 and $1,000 as part of Sony VAIO laptops and for about $170 for battery packs sold separately.
What to do
Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled battery packs, power off the laptop, remove the battery and follow instructions to obtain a free replacement. Until a replacement battery pack is received, consumers can use the laptop by plugging in the AC power only.
Consumers may contact Sony Electronics toll-free at 888-476-6988 from 8 a.m. to 12 a.m. (ET) Monday through Friday or 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. (ET) Saturday and Sunday or online at www.sony.com, click on “Support” and then “Support Alerts” for more information.
Infiniti Q50s and Q50 Hybrids recalled
The Direct Adaptive Steering system may malfunction06/22/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Nissan North America is recalling 28,182 model year 2014-2016 Infiniti Q50s manufactured December 26, 2012, to December 11, 2015, and Infiniti Q50 Hybrids ...
Nissan North America is recalling 28,182 model year 2014-2016 Infiniti Q50s manufactured December 26, 2012, to December 11, 2015, and Infiniti Q50 Hybrids manufactured December 10, 2012, to December 17, 2015.
The Direct Adaptive Steering system may experience an error at vehicle start up altering the steering responsiveness and turning radius.
If the vehicle does not steer as the driver anticipates, there is an increased the risk of a crash.
What to do
Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will reprogram the Direct Adaptive Steering ECU software, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin by August 9, 2016.
Owners may contact Nissan customer service at 1-800-647-7261.
Anton Yelchin's Jeep had been recalled
There have been hundreds of similar rollaway accidents involving Chrysler products06/21/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
The death of Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin attracted a lot of attention, but it is only one of hundreds of rollaway incidents involving Jeeps and other Chr...
The death of Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin attracted a lot of attention, but it is only one of hundreds of rollaway incidents involving Jeeps and other Chrysler products.
Yelchin was killed June 18 when his 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee pinned him against his mailbox, an accident that's unfortunately all too common because of confusion over the monostable gear selector on certain Chrysler models.
"Yelchin’s death is unfortunately the latest example of industry and government incompetence in the face of vehicle safety defects," the Center for Auto Safety charged.
On April 22, 2016, Chrysler issued a recall of 2014-2015 Grand Cherokees, as well as 2012-14 Chrysler 300s and Dodge Chargers, in order to add an additional part to enhance the Jeeps’ monostable gear selector.
The design of the monostable gear selector has been the source of much confusion for Chrysler owners, resulting in hundreds of rollaway incidents reported to both Chrysler and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Chrysler said that as of April 12, 2016 it knew of 212 crashes, 41 of them involving injuries. NHTSA has been investigating the situation since August 20, 2015.
Not very intuitive
The problem is that the electronic gear selector used in the affected models works differently from the mechanical models consumers are used to. To change gear, the driver moves the lever to P, D, R or whatever, the transmission shifts, and the lever returns to its default position.
The system works, but it is easy for drivers to forget which gear they are in, critics say, and especially easy for them to get out of the car when it is not in Park. This could occur when someone wants to jump out for a minute to -- for example -- check the mailbox, and may be what happened to Yelchin.
When it announced the recall, Chrysler sent a letter to owners promising to find a fix to the problem by the fourth quarter of 2016 but didn't say when that fix would actually become available.
"Given Chrysler’s recent recall efforts in fire-prone Jeeps, owners would be potentially subject to lengthy delays when seeking a remedy," said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the center.
In a letter to FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne, Ditlow said Chrysler should:
- Notify owners not to drive these vehicles until repaired under the safety recall.
- Provide free loaner or rental cars of comparable value to all owners until the vehicles are repaired under the safety recall.
- For owners who cannot wait until a recall repair is available, buy the recalled vehicles back at original purchase or lease cost with no deduction for use as is done under state lemon laws where the defect exists on the day the vehicle was bought.
- Provide a detailed public timeline within 10 days of what is being done to make a recall remedy available, when parts will be available for all vehicles, and who is doing the engineering for the recall.
- Sergio Marchionne should publicly go and apologize to the family of Anton Yelchin.
FAA gives commercial drones takeoff clearance
But the agency failed to implement any privacy restrictions despite protests06/21/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
Commercial drones can get ready to line up on the taxiways. The Federal Aviation Administration today released its final rule on drones, cheering business ...
Commercial drones can get ready to line up on the taxiways. The Federal Aviation Administration today released its final rule on drones, cheering business backers but outraging privacy advocates.
“We are part of a new era in aviation, and the potential for unmanned aircraft will make it safer and easier to do certain jobs, gather information, and deploy disaster relief,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We look forward to working with the aviation community to support innovation, while maintaining our standards as the safest and most complex airspace in the world.”
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), which had earlier sued the agency, said the FAA had ignored nearly 180 comments submitted during the rulemaking process which addressed the privacy risks posed by commercial drones.
"The FAA has repeatedly acknowledged the privacy risks of drone deployment, but has so far refused to adopt any privacy safeguards," EPIC said.
The new rule, which takes effect in late August, offers safety regulations for unmanned aircraft drones weighing less than 55 pounds that are conducting non-hobbyist operations.
According to industry backers, the rule could generate more than $82 billion for the U.S. economy and create more than 100,000 new jobs over the next 10 years, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said.
“Unmanned aerial systems have the potential to totally revolutionize our economy and way of life, on a scale similar to that of the invention of the wireless cell phone," Warner said. "We need to be looking at how we can safely integrate drones into American airspace, both right now and for the future, and I applaud the FAA for moving the ball forward today."
Far from endorsing EPIC's position, Warner said the U.S. lags behind many other countries in adopting drone technology.
"I encourage the FAA to continue to work with stakeholders and industry to ensure that the United States stays globally competitive in fully embracing the potential of new innovation in unmanned technology,” Warner said.
Warner has been pushing for a drone test range in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Today's rule, however, will not let Amazon drop packages at your door. Although companies will not need to have a licensed pilot to operate drones, they must still maintain a visual line of sight with the drone at all times and can only fly one mission at a time.
So don't count out the UPS trucks just yet.
EPIC filed suit against the FAA after more than 100 groups and experts petitioned the agency to conduct a rulemaking on drone privacy. EPIC also recommended the FAA implement a national database detailing the surveillance capabilities of commercial drones.
In its earlier filings with the FAA, EPIC argued that drones "are capable of conducting persistent surveillance at a distance, collecting a great deal of detailed and sensitive personal data."
“With special capabilities and enhanced equipment, drones are able to conduct far more detailed surveillance, obtaining high resolution picture and video, peering inside high level windows, and through solid barriers, such as fences, trees, and even walls,” all without being detected, EPIC said.
You may be surprised at what can get your application rejected06/21/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Getting a credit card isn't nearly as hard as getting a mortgage these days, but face it – lenders aren't just handing out plastic to anyone, like they did...
Study highlights importance of exercising as we age
Findings show that seniors who exercise are able to recover more quickly from injury06/21/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Christopher Maynard
As people age, many have a tendency to write off exercise as something meant for younger people. After all, if you’ve made it to your senior years relative...
As people age, many have a tendency to write off exercise as something meant for younger people. After all, if you’ve made it to your senior years relatively intact, then you must have been doing something right.
But a new study shows that regular exercise is still very important as we grow older – especially for seniors who may be at greater risk of injury. Researchers have found a connection between physical exercise and the amount of time it takes for muscles to repair themselves in the elderly. Those who exercised more were able to recover much more quickly and regained more muscle mass compared with those who didn’t.
Pre-conditioning the body
The study, which was conducted in part by researchers from McMaster University in Canada, found that exercise provided a level of pre-conditioning that was very important for older bodies. This is especially important because older people can tend to be more sedentary.
“Exercise pre-conditioning may improve the muscle repair response in older adults to stimuli such as acute periods of atrophy/inactivity and/or damage. . . Exercise-conditioning rescues delayed skeletal muscle regeneration observed in advanced age,” said Dr. Gianni Parise.
The researchers observed these benefits by conducting an experiment on three groups of mice. The groups were made up of old mice who were not exercise-trained, old mice who were exercise-trained, and young mice who were not exercise-trained. After injecting the mice with venom meant to induce muscle injury, the researchers observed the recovery periods for each group.
Faster muscle recovery
The researchers found that the speed of muscle recovery was higher in the group of mice that had been exercise-trained. They posit that the recovery speed was directly linked to the health of muscle satellite cells, which are responsible for healing.
“This is a clean demonstration that the physiological and metabolic benefits of exercise radiate to skeletal muscle satellite cells, the adult stem cells responsible for repair after injury, even in senescent animals. . . Strikingly, even as the contractile elements of muscle tissue wane with age, the capacity of the satellite cells to respond to exercise cues is maintained. This aging-resistant retentive property could be added to the list of features that define adult stem cells,” said Dr. Thoru Pederson.
Doctor Trusted certification program was bogus: FTC
The company behind the program has agreed to pay $603,000 to settle FTC charges06/21/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
The "Doctor Trusted" certification program used to peddle all kinds of products on more than 800 websites was bogus, the Federal Trade Commission charged, ...
The "Doctor Trusted" certification program used to peddle all kinds of products on more than 800 websites was bogus, the Federal Trade Commission charged, and its backers have agreed to pay $603,000 to settle the commission's complaint.
SmartClick Media LLC and its owner Robert Vozdecky, also known as Bill Anderson, also agreed to settle charges that several of their websites, such as betterlivingjournal.org, were deceptively formatted to appear to be independent lifestyle blogs or health-product review sites.
“Consumers should be able to rely on seals and certificates for accurate information on how products are tested and evaluated,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Unfortunately, in this case, they were completely misled by the sellers of the ‘Doctor Trusted’ program.”
Seals were meaningless
According to the FTC’s complaint, the defendants marketed and sold the“Doctor Trusted” seal and certification program to websites that hawked dietary supplements and other supposed health products.
When consumers clicked on the seal, they were shown a pop-up box that displayed the “Doctor Trusted” certificate, which stated that the products on the site were “carefully evaluated by an independent medical doctor who reviewed its medical information, claims, products, terms of service, and policies,” and who deemed them “trustworthy and safe for purchase.”
In fact, said the FTC, the seals and certificates were meaningless. The defendants hired two freelance doctors who superficially reviewed the products on the websites. However, the doctors did not actually evaluate the products, or determine whether the advertising claims for the products were supported, according to the complaint.
The FTC also charged that the defendants operated lifestyle blog and review websites that claimed to offer unbiased advice and information about various medical products, programs, health issues, and scientific breakthroughs. In reality, these sites were advertising vehicles, and the defendants received a commission whenever a consumer clicked on them or bought an advertised product.
The magic number of kids that makes stay-at-home moms the happiest
More kids may not always equal a more frazzled mom, survey finds06/21/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Sarah D. Young
You might assume that one or two would be a more sanity-preserving number of children. But if it’s happiness you’re after, you might want to consider addin...
You might assume that one or two would be a more sanity-preserving number of children. But if it’s happiness you’re after, you might want to consider adding a few more to your brood.
A new study by Redbookmag.com finds that, when it comes to kids, the more you have the happier you’ll be.
In a survey, 558 self-identified stay-at-home moms were asked to rate their level of happiness. Surprisingly, moms of four or more kids were most likely to consider themselves “very” or “extremely” happy.
It may seem counterintuitive, but the finding was true even in lower-than-average income households.
The four-or-more theory begins to make more sense when you consider the fact that, as the writer points out, “managing four or more children will mellow all but the most stubborn of perfectionists.”
The survey also examined other aspects of stay-at-home motherhood, including how many SAHMs work and why they stay at home. It may not surprise you to learn that moms are pretty close to being actual superheroes.
Two-thirds contribute to income
Busy stay-at-home moms do so much more than take care of the kids. The survey found that almost two-thirds of SAHMs contribute to their household income; 25% said they ran a business from home.
And most moms, it seems, would appreciate a little more respect for what they do. Seventy-two percent of SAHMs said society doesn’t understand how much they do. Moms also said they deserved a salary of $50,000.
The survey found that women who choose to stay home do so for the following reasons:
- 36% because they wanted to
- 15% because childcare is too expensive
- 7% because their careers weren't family-friendly
- 6% her partner wanted her to
Telecommuting is in, job sharing is out06/21/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
If you work at a mid-size to large company, benefits likely make up an important part of your compensation package.But in the last 20 years, the items ...
AsthmaCare tracks symptoms and triggers, helping to keep kids out of the emergency room06/21/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Sarah D. Young
Hot and humid summer weather can trigger asthma symptoms, which can quickly turn an afternoon on the playground into an evening in the emergency room. ...
Former executives reportedly under investigation in Germany06/21/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
The fallout from Volkswagen's admitted diesel emissions cheating scandal is increasing in courtrooms around the world.But the latest action doesn't con...
Tech support companies reach $27 million fraud settlement
FTC and Florida accuse firms of scamming consumers nationwide06/21/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
If someone contacts you, claiming they have technical expertise and can see that your computer has problems, look out. If you don't hang up right away, you...
If someone contacts you, claiming they have technical expertise and can see that your computer has problems, look out. If you don't hang up right away, your problems could just be beginning.
The Federal Trade Commission (FCC) and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi have reached a settlement with Vast Tech Support, after charging that the company scammed consumers nationwide out of millions of dollars by selling them phony technical support services.
The settlement stipulates that Vast Tech Support, LLC and OMG Tech Help, LLC, along with their CEO Mark Donohue, may no longer mislead consumers about the nature of the products they sell or market. It also requires they refrain from deceptive telemarketing.
The settlement also bars Vast Tech Support and OMG Tech Helpfrom advertising, promoting, or selling any tech support products or services.
The complaint, filed back in 2014, claims the defendants employed software to trick consumers into believing their computers were infected with malware or had other problems. It's accused of directing consumers to boiler rooms where telemarketers subjected consumers to high pressure sales pitches until they agreed to purchase the unnecessary tech support.
State and federal complaints
Both the FTC and state of Florida charged that the companies had violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule and the FTC Act, along with the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.
Bondi says the Vast Tech Support and OMG Tech Support defendants have agreed to pay more than $27 million in a judgment and will give up all assets to a court-appointed receiver. The receiver will then liquidate assets and dissolve the companies.
Donohue, meanwhile, has consented to a judgment of more than $9 million.
The federal and state complaints allege that Vast Tech Support heavily promoted a registry software product called PC HealthBoost, claiming it could speed up computers and protect against errors and crashes.
Investigators say that once consumers downloaded a free version of the software, a system scan allegedly misled them to believe that their computer had hundreds or thousands of errors in need of repair. In most cases, the computers were error free.
Enter Boost software, another defendant in the case, urged consumers to spend $29.97 to purchase a copy of PC HealthBoost to fix the non-existent errors.
The decline in foreclosures continues
The foreclosure inventory was down sharply06/21/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Global property information provider CoreLogic reports completed foreclosures across the country fell 15.8% in April -- to 37,000 from 43,000 a year earlie...
Global property information provider CoreLogic reports completed foreclosures across the country fell 15.8% in April -- to 37,000 from 43,000 a year earlier. Since the peak of 117,813 in September 2010, completed foreclosures are down 68.9%.
In addition, the foreclosure inventory was down 23.4% from April 2015. Completed foreclosures reflect the total number of homes lost to foreclosure, while the foreclosure inventory represents the number of homes at some stage of the foreclosure process.
Since the financial meltdown began in September 2008, there have been approximately 6.2 million completed foreclosures nationally, and since homeownership rates peaked in the second quarter of 2004, there have been approximately 8.3 million homes lost to foreclosure.
As of this past April, the national foreclosure inventory included approximately 406,000, or 1.1% percent, of all homes with a mortgage. A year earlier, it was 530,000 homes, or 1.4%. The April 2016 foreclosure inventory rate is the lowest for any month since September 2007.
The number of mortgages in serious delinquency -- 90 days or more past due including loans in foreclosure or Real Estate Owned -- dropped 21.6% from April 2015 to April 2016, with 1.1 million mortgages, or 3%, in this category. The April 2016 serious delinquency rate is the lowest since October 2007.
“The recovery in home prices and improved labor market have contributed to the drop in seriously delinquent rates,” said Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic. “Over the 12 months through April, the CoreLogic Home Price Index for the U.S. rose 6.2 % and the labor market gained 2.6 million jobs. We also found that the seriously delinquent rate fell by about three-quarters of a percentage point.”
- On a month-over-month basis, completed foreclosures rose 0.3% to 37,000 in April. 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.
- On a month-over-month basis, the foreclosure inventory was down 3% compared with March 2016.
- The five states with the highest number of completed foreclosures for the 12 months ending in March 2016 were Florida (69,000), Michigan (48,000), Texas (28,000), Georgia (23,000), and California (23,000). These five accounted for about 41% of all completed foreclosures nationally.
- Four states and the District of Columbia had the lowest number of completed foreclosures: The District of Columbia (128), North Dakota (317), West Virginia (482), Alaska (653), and Montana (695).
- Four states and the District of Columbia had the highest foreclosure inventory rate: New Jersey (3.7%), New York (3.2%), Hawaii (2.2%), the District of Columbia (2.1%), and Florida (2%).
- The five states with the lowest foreclosure inventory rate were Alaska (0.3%), Minnesota (0.3%), Utah (0.4%, Arizona (0.4%), and Colorado (0.4%).
Honey Bunchie recalls Gourmet Honey Bars
The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogene06/21/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Honey Bunchie is recalling a limited number of Honey Bunchies Gourmet Honey Bars The product contains sunflower kernels that may be contaminated wi...
Honey Bunchie is recalling a limited number of Honey Bunchies Gourmet Honey Bars
The product contains sunflower kernels that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogene.
The company says it has received no reports of illnesses.
The following product, distributed directly to distributors, retailers and online consumers between August 05, 2015, and March 15, 2016, is being recalled:
What to do
Customers who purchased recalled products are urged not to consume them, but and return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.
Consumers with questions may contact the company at (303) 808-3351 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Asian Jade Customs Brokerage recalls sausage products
The product did not undergo import inspection06/21/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Asian Jade Customs Brokerage of Springfield Gardens, N.Y., is recalling approximately 762 pounds of imported sausage products that were not presented at th...
Asian Jade Customs Brokerage of Springfield Gardens, N.Y., is recalling approximately 762 pounds of imported sausage products that were not presented at the U.S. point of entry for inspection.
There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.
The following heat-treated, shelf-stable, ready-to-eat dried pork sausage items, imported on June 3, 2016, are being recalled:
- 5.29-lb. cases containing 4.23-oz. plastic wrapped packages of “SOKOLOW PORK KABANOS/ KABANOSY FRANCUSKLE.”
The recalled products bear the Polish establishment number PL 30090201 WE, and lists the use by date “18/08/2016” and lot numbers “61391 61411 13,” “61391 61451 29,” or “61391 61411 22” on the back of the package.
The products were produced between May 18 and 20, 2016, in Poland and shipped to a distributor and retail locations in New Jersey and New York.
What to do
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 Cathy Chiu Lam of Asian Jade Customs Brokerage at (718) 995-5030.
Hershey recalls SoFit products
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes06/21/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
The Hershey Company is recalling three products sold under the SoFit brand. The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. T...
The Hershey Company is recalling three products sold under the SoFit brand.
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
There have been no reports of illness to date.
The following products are being recalled:
- SoFit Protein Plus Sunflower Seeds Sea Salt with the following date codes: 72H, 72J, 79P, 82F, 82G, 82K, 82L
- SoFit Protein Plus Pumpkin Seeds Sesame Garlic with the following date codes: 73B, 73C, 81P, 81R
- SoFit Protein Plus Almonds Jalapeno Garlic with the following date codes: 72R, 73A, 79R, 82C, 82D
What to do
Customers who purchased any of the recalled products should not consume them, but destroy them.
Consumers with questions may contact Hershey at 1-800-468-1714 or online at www.askhershey.com.
BMW is recalling vehicles with a front driveshaft universal joint issue
The universal joint could fail, increasing the risk of a crash06/21/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
BMW of North America is recalling 21,493 model year 2011 X5 xDrive 35i, xDrive50i, X5 M, X6 xDrive35i, X6 xDrive50i, and X6 M vehicles manufactured April 5...
BMW of North America is recalling 21,493 model year 2011 X5 xDrive 35i, xDrive50i, X5 M, X6 xDrive35i, X6 xDrive50i, and X6 M vehicles manufactured April 5, 2010, to November 20, 2010; 2011 X5 xDrive35d diesel vehicles manufactured April 7, 2010, to November 20, 2010; and 2011 X6 Active Hybrid vehicles manufactured April 15, 2010, to November 17, 2010.
The recalled vehicles have a front driveshaft universal joint that may not seal out water and debris from getting in and damaging the joint, which could lead to its failure.
If the front universal joint fails, the front wheels would not be driven, affecting vehicle traction. Additionally, continued driving of the vehicle with a broken front universal joint may damage other components. Either condition may increase the risk of a crash.
What to do
BMW will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front driveshaft, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on July 1, 2016.
Owners may contact BMW customer service at 1-800-525-7417.
The warehouse chain has switched its allegiance to Visa cards06/20/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
What's in your wallet? If it's an American Express card and you're on your way to Costco, you may want to turn around and head for Walmart or Target. This ...
Consumer groups say payday lending rule should have no loopholes
Proposed exemptions would continue "business as usual" they charge06/20/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
A group of public interest groups, while generally applauding proposed federal rules to rein in payday lending, say the proposed rules should not be watere...
A group of public interest groups, while generally applauding proposed federal rules to rein in payday lending, say the proposed rules should not be watered down.
After analyzing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) proposed rule to limit payday and car title lending, the groups have issued a detailed critique, saying there are loopholes that would allow some lenders to continue making harmful loans with business as usual.
The groups include the Center for Responsible Lending, the National Consumer Law Center, U.S. PIRG, and others.
Common sense principal
The groups say they are in favor of what they call the CFPB's “common sense principle” that lenders must determine whether a potential borrower has the ability to pay back the loan before agreeing to lend any money.
The purpose is to make sure that once the loan becomes due in two weeks, the borrower doesn't have to take another loan to pay it back.
The groups say that significant change would do three things:
- It will make sure loans are affordable at the outset and do not set borrowers up for failure.
- It will protect consumers in states without payday lending from industry efforts to roll back important interest rate caps.
- It will create a level playing field for payday lenders, online lenders, and banks alike.
Problem with exemptions
So far, so good the groups say. But they have a problem with some exemptions that have been proposed to this standard. They say those exemptions would allow payday and car title lenders to continue making predatory loans that trap consumers in a a cycle of debt.
The groups also cite new CFPB data that they say shows borrowers who get payday loans without proving they have the ability to repay default at high rates. In some cases, they say the default rates were as high as 40%.
“A 40% failure rate for products such as cars, electronics, or others would not be considered safe, and the same is true here,” the groups said in a statement emailed to ConsumerAffairs. “And the default rate is only the tip of the iceberg, leaving out loans that trigger overdraft fees and difficulty meeting other expenses.”
The groups also worry that exemptions approved by a federal agency would undermine the efforts of several states to crack down on predatory lending. There are 14 states, as well as the District of Columbia, where a cap on interest makes payday lending unprofitable.
In short, the groups say there would be no exemptions to the “ability to repay” standard in the final rule. The public can comment on the proposed rule before September 14.
Settlement ends dispute between Zillow and Realtors
Real estate interests and Dow Jones claimed Zillow stole trade secrets06/20/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
Zillow is sort of the Google of real estate. It wasn't long ago that real estate agents and their powerful lobbying organizations had realty listings prett...
Zillow is sort of the Google of real estate. It wasn't long ago that real estate agents and their powerful lobbying organizations had realty listings pretty well locked up. If you were looking for a home, there were few sources of information other than Realtors, as they insist on calling themselves.
Zillow broke the market for real estate information wide open with its Big Data approach, indexing and displaying information on 110 million homes, just as Google made data scattered around the internet accessible to all. Suddenly, you didn't have to submit to the clutches of a real estate salesperson to get an idea of what the market was like in a given area. You could find listings and all kinds of neighborhood data just by firing up your browser.
The National Association of Realtors (NAR) was not too happy about this, as it loosened agents' hold on information. Neither was Dow Jones, publisher of the Wall Street Journal.
That's because Dow Jones in 2014 bought Move.com for $950 million. Besides operating its own site, Move operates the listings site Realtor.com for the NAR, in a cozy little arrangement that combines journalism and home hucksterism.
Zillow, which bought competitor Trulia for $2.5 billion in 2015, broke up the cozy arrangement between real estate agents and the Dow Jones/NAR oligopoly, making it possible for consumers to get unfiltered data. Suddenly they could look at listings on their own, find neighborhood stats on everything from schools to taxes to walkability and even list their own property, all without the intercession of a real estate agent.
Ounce of flesh
Realtors and Dow Jones got a small bit of revenge earlier this month when Zillow agreed to pay $130 million to settle a lawsuit that charged it had stolen trade secrets by hiring executives from Move, which initially claimed damages of $1.8 billion. The court later reduced that to about $1 billion.
The NAR issued a statement saying it was "pleased" with the outcome. Zillow denied wrongdoing and said the settlement would allow it to focus on continued growth and innovation.
"Move will receive the bulk of these funds; it is NAR’s hope that they will invest this money in initiatives that enhance the consumer experience on realtor.com® and benefit our members in support of the Realtor® brand," NAR said, just about exhausting its supply of those little encircled "R" things.
Maybe so, although it will take a lot of work. The Move.com and Realtor.com sites are poor seconds to Zillow, as the illustration above shows.
Ticketmaster issuing free tickets to settle class action lawsuit
The emails to Ticketmaster customers may look like scams so read carefully06/20/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
That email you got from Ticketmaster offering free tickets? Don't delete it -- it's not a scam. The emails went out to millions of Ticketmaster customers a...
That email you got from Ticketmaster offering free tickets? Don't delete it -- it's not a scam. The emails went out to millions of Ticketmaster customers as part of the settlement of a 13-year-old lawsuit.
The settlement affects customers who bought tickets on the Tickermaster site between October 1999 and February 2013 and who paid an "Order processing fee." A class action lawsuit filed in 2003 alleged the fee was "excessive and deceptive."
The company denies wrongdoing but says it settled to avoid further litigation. The settlement includes $45 million worth of tickets, discounts and cash to customers covered by the lawsuit.
Consumers covered by the settlement will get at least one ticket code in their account. The code can be redeemed for two general admission to tickets to "selected events."
Live Nation, Ticketmaster's parent company, will decide which events the vouchers are good for and said they'll be handed out on a first-come, first-served basis.
Live Nation has set up a website with an FAQ that includes more details.
Researchers identify vital genetic pathways for Zika virus
Shutting down these pathways could halt infection in its tracks06/20/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Christopher Maynard
There have been many concerns over the past few months about the emergence of the Zika virus. Many experts have cautioned that the virus, which has been sh...
There have been many concerns over the past few months about the emergence of the Zika virus. Many experts have cautioned that the virus, which has been shown to cause birth defects like microcephaly, could migrate north to the U.S. during the warm summer months.
So, with the clock ticking, researchers have been trying to learn more about it so that it can be stopped. And, fortunately, there may be some good news on that front.
A recent study conducted at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has identified several genetic pathways that is crucial for transmission of Zika virus and other flaviviruses like it. The researchers say that shutting down these pathways would render the virus incapable of moving to other cells, greatly impairing its infection ability.
Determining crucial genes
Narrowing down the number of genetic pathways that the virus could take was the primary hurtle for the researchers, but doing so has allowed them to see which avenues are crucial for Zika virus to survive.
“We wanted to find out if we could identify genes present in the host cells that are absolutely required by the virus for infection. Out of about 19,000 genes that we looked at, we only found nine key genes that the virus relies on for infection or to spread. All of them are associated with an important part of the cell that processes viral particles, which is essential to spreading infection,” said Dr. Michael Diamond, senior author of the study.
Diamond and his colleagues were able to pinpoint these pathways by using a piece of gene editing technology called CRISPR. With this tool, the researchers were able to shut down individual genes and see if they played a primary role in the virus’ survival.
Stopping the domino effect
One problem that the researchers ran into was figuring out the potential side effects of disabling genes. While shutting one down might cease the spread of Zika virus to other cells, it could also come at a cost, including cell death. Fortunately, not all of the genes that were identified carried such a risk.
Of the nine genes that the researchers found, one stood out as a particularly good drug target for future trials. This gene, called SPCS1, not only shuts down the transmission pathway for Zika when it is disabled, but it also does so with no adverse effect to the host’s cells.
Additionally, they found that disabling this gene not only contained infection rates for Zika virus, but for other types of flaviviruses. Researchers found similar results when they tested for dengue, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, and hepatitis C viruses, giving hope that therapies focused on this genetic pathway could be widely beneficial.
“Flaviviruses appear to be uniquely dependent on this particular gene to release the viral particle. In these viruses, this gene sets off a domino effect that is required to assemble and release the viral particle. Without it, the chain reaction doesn’t happen and the virus can’t spread,” said Diamond.
Publishers and Apple paying twice the amount lost by consumers06/20/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
If you're a big reader, watch your mail and check your online e-book accounts closely. Apple and five big publishers are dishing out $400 million to consum...
Five plants that ward off mosquitoes
Make your yard or patio an itch-free zone by incorporating these plants06/20/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Sarah D. Young
Despite not receiving an invitation, mosquitoes are often the first guests to show up to a backyard party or gathering. And they sure have a knack for maki...
Despite not receiving an invitation, mosquitoes are often the first guests to show up to a backyard party or gathering. And they sure have a knack for making other guests feel uncomfortable.
Bug sprays and citronella candles may help make people a less attractive target to mosquitoes, but there are other ways to keep pests at bay. In fact, your entire yard can join the fight against mosquitoes. All you have to do is select the right plants.
Certain plants produce a natural mosquito repellent that works as a defense against deer and other hungry animals. But plants aren’t the only ones who can benefit from this natural repellent. People, too, can see the effects of mosquito-repelling plants.
So, what are some of the most popular mosquito repelling plants?
Natural mosquito deterrents
- Citronella grass. There’s a good reason that citronella is the most commonly used natural ingredient in mosquito repellents -- it works. However, it works even better in plant form. Experts recommend planting citronella in large planters. But if you live in a warmer climate, citronella will do well planted in-ground in a sunny area.
- Lavender. This purple-tipped plant may smell heavenly to humans, but its scent isn’t so pleasant to bugs. Planting lavender near seating areas can help send the message to bugs that they’re not welcome. Lavender also offers another bonus: its leaves can be used to make an all-natural insect spray. Recipe here.
- Marigolds. These sunset-colored beauties use their distinct smell to help stave off insects. Tap into the mosquito-deterring powers of this annual by planting them in containers near bug entry points, such as doorways or windows.
- Catnip. Your cat might adore this easy-to-grow plant, but mosquitoes certainly do not. One study actually found that catnip is 10 times more effective than DEET.
- Horsemint. Also known as Beebalm, horsemint uses its unique odor to mask the usual qualities that attract mosquitoes. This shade-tolerant perennial does best in Midwest and Eastern growing zones and thrives in dry, sandy soil, such as that of coastal areas.
What are the top brands in the world today?
Google, Amazon, & Samsung are the top three; Apple doesn't make the top ten06/20/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
A few years ago, you might have guessed that Apple would be the top brand in the world but today it's Google, followed by Amazon and Samsung, according to ...
A few years ago, you might have guessed that Apple would be the top brand in the world but today it's Google, followed by Amazon and Samsung, according to a report released by IPG Mediabrands during a conference in Cannes, France. Apple doesn't even show up in the top ten.
The study finds Google is the top brand poised to succeed in the future. It was conducted by IPG in partnership with Jonah Berger, Associate Professor, The Wharton School at The University of Pennsylvania.
The complete list of the top 10:
The report queried global consumers about which brands are well-rounded in both traditional metrics and newer influences across social media.
The report then measured these findings through four key dimensions:
- how agilely brands adjust to changing market conditions;
- responsiveness in listening and responding to customers;
- innovation; and
- sociability, assessing how large and engaged a brand's audience is on social media.
"We applied a rigorous and comprehensive methodology that showcases which brands are driving the future," said Berger. "Ultimately, it is not about being relevant today; it’s about being transformative tomorrow.”
Apple came in at 22, which Berger says is largely the result of the tech brand's poor engagement across social media. Apple is not very responsive to its consumers, he said. Uber also fared poorly in this area, coming in at 82.
At its core, the research shows that the world has fundamentally changed, Berger said. Being the largest and oldest brand used to guarantee continued success. Today it requires responding to the four elements listed above.
The report queried more than 10,000 consumers across four global regions in five major markets including the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, China, and India.
Researchers examined 32 hoses from six different retailers06/20/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Sarah D. Young
Could you be watering your lawn with toxic lead and phthalate chemicals? According to new data, the answer may be yes. Researchers at the Ann Arbor-bas...
Many consumers in the dark about blueberries' health benefits
Researchers say blueberry producers need to do a better job of informing consumers06/20/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
It seems not a week goes by without another medical study singing the praises of blueberries. The tiny fruit, rich in antioxidants, is credited with a mult...
It seems not a week goes by without another medical study singing the praises of blueberries. The tiny fruit, rich in antioxidants, is credited with a multitude of health benefits, from slowing the aging process to improving memory and vision.
The problem is, not enough consumers know about it. At least that's the conclusion of a researcher at the University of Florida, who quizzed a wide range of people about their blueberry knowledge.
The researcher team talked to more than 2,000 people in 31 states – mostly on the East Coast and in the Midwest – about their understanding of the health benefits of blueberries. Most had heard that blueberries were effective in warding off cancer and could help lower the risk of heart disease.
But the study also found a knowledge gap among socio-economic groups. In particular, low-income consumers were less aware of blueberry health benefits.
“People being more familiar with blueberries as deterrents for cancer and heart disease may be related to the high general awareness of these two diseases,” said researcher Shuyang Qu. “The fact that cancer and heart diseases are the leading causes of death in America may have led to more personal research related to preventing the diseases, leading to the respondents being exposed to these findings more than other benefits.”
In fact, blueberries have been credited with a wide range of health benefits over the years. Here are a few:
- In 2011 researchers at the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) Comprehensive Cancer Center found that as little as a cup of blueberries a day can help prevent cell damage linked to cancer. The researchers credited the fruit's antioxidants, flavonoids, and other vitamins with helping to prevent cell damage.
- In 2012 a study published in the medical journal Annals of Neurology credited flavonoids contained in blueberries with having the potential to reduce inflammation in the body. The researchers concluded that reduction in inflammation helped prevent cognitive decline in seniors.
- In 2013 a study published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism found that regular long-term wild blueberry diets could help improve or prevent problems associated with the metabolic syndrome, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
- In 2015 several studies linked daily blueberry consumption to reduced blood pressure and arterial stiffness. For good measure, the antioxidants in blueberries are linked to the prevention/delaying of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and the aging process.
A main purpose of the Florida research is to demonstrate to Florida blueberry growers that they could be moving a lot more product if they did a better job of promoting it. For consumers, the takeaway might be that adding blueberries to their diets could carry some long-term health benefits.
Lumber Liquidators to halt sales of Chinese-made laminate flooring
Affected consumers may request a free test kit06/20/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Lumber Liquidators in cooperation with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has agreed to not continue sales of laminate wood flooring that it had...
Lumber Liquidators in cooperation with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has agreed to not continue sales of laminate wood flooring that it had imported from China.
In addition, as part of a recall program that affects consumers who purchased Chinese-made laminate flooring during a three-year period, the company also agreed to continue conducting a comprehensive testing program.
The company has pledged to remedy issues that consumers may face with their Chinese-made laminate flooring if it is emitting elevated levels of formaldehyde.
The announcement is not intended to cause consumers to pull up Chinese-made laminate flooring installed in their homes, CPSC said. Doing that could expose residents to increased formaldehyde levels. Instead, consumers should contact Lumber Liquidators to take part in the testing program.
Lumber Liquidators has tested the air quality in more than 17,000 consumer households and has utilized third-party certified laboratories to conduct further formaldehyde emissions testing for an additional 1,300 consumer floors. However, none of those floors has tested above the remediation guideline.
From 2011 to May 2015, Lumber Liquidators estimates that approximately 614,000 consumers purchased Chinese-made laminate flooring from its shelves. However, the company suspended sales of the products after reports surfaced about dangers connected to formaldehyde. This left the company with around 22 million board feet of flooring they couldn't sell. As part of an agreement with CPSC, any future sale, disposal, or transfer of the product can only take place with the agency's approval.
What to do
Lumber Liquidators will continue its program to test for formaldehyde emissions in consumers’ homes. Consumers who purchased Chinese-made laminate flooring from the company from February 2012 through May 2015 are encouraged to request a free badge kit and screening test.
Lumber Liquidators will contact consumers who have elevated levels of formaldehyde in their homes for more extensive testing of their laminate flooring. Based on these test results, the company has agreed to work with consumers to reduce the formaldehyde emissions levels and improve the indoor air quality of the home.
If those efforts are unsuccessful, the company has pledged to pay for a certified industrial hygienist to examine the home and suggest an additional remedy for the homeowner. The additional remedy would be free to the consumer and could include replacement of the flooring or repairs to the home.
Consumers may contact Lumber Liquidators to request a free testing kit at 800-366-4204 between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. (EST) Monday through Friday, between 9:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. (EST) on Saturday, or between 11:00 a.m. through 7:00 p.m. on Sunday; or online at http://www.lumberliquidators.com/ll/testkit.
Adobe's economic measure differs from the government's
The Digital Price Index show signs of deflation06/20/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
In the same week the U.S. Labor Department released its May Consumer Price Index (CPI), showing a slight rise in prices, Adobe issued its Digital Price Ind...
In the same week the U.S. Labor Department released its May Consumer Price Index (CPI), showing a slight rise in prices, Adobe issued its Digital Price Index (DPI) showing prices are continuing to fall.
Can both be right? They can, because it appears that in this economy there are always some things that cost people more, while some things cost less. Depending on what it is you are buying, you could encounter inflation or deflation.
Adobe's DPI tracks billions of actual online transactions to gather its data. The government's CPI is based on consumer surveys that are designed to approximate sales in each product category.
Adobe says its DPI reveals deflation – prices that are going down, not up – in most of the tracked consumer goods. In May, Adobe found prices for appliances, computers, flights, furniture, sporting goods, TVs, and toys went down in price by as little as 2.8% or as much as 19.7%.
The government's official statistics, the CPI, reported year-over-year deflation between 0.3% and 16.1% for these categories. It also found airfares went up 0.4%.
Tablet prices are falling
Consumer electronics prices went down 1.4%, led by a 3.7% price decline for tablets. Sporting goods prices fell by 0.4%. But it you travel a lot, you likely encountered higher prices. Air travel cost 4.1% more in May than in April and hotel rooms cost 0.7% more.
Adobe looks at other digital data to draw conclusions on other aspects of the economy, and its picture is somewhat different than the one drawn by the government.
For example, the DPI suggests more people are looking for jobs. It draws that conclusion from counting visits to employment search sites. The latest analysis shows an increase from April to May in those job site visits and points to potentially higher unemployment rates than reported.
It also measures the housing market. By tracking two billion visits to real estate marketplace sites in the last year, the DPI found that online searches for housing purchases and rentals have slowed.
The DPI also tracks price movements within categories, breaking it down between high priced items and low priced items. In May, Adobe said most consumer categories saw the biggest price declines among lower priced models.
“This tremendous amount of data reveals further deflation, higher unemployment, and more weakness in the housing market than current reports suggest,” said Adobe VP Mickey Mericle.
That's not necessarily good news. While consumers like low prices, economists worry that deflation shows a lack of demand in the economy, which can signal the onset of a recession.
Gas prices headed lower
The biggest declines are occurring in the Midwest06/20/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Just in time for the official start of summer, gasoline prices are headed lower again. After steadily rising since March, the national average of self-serv...
Just in time for the official start of summer, gasoline prices are headed lower again. After steadily rising since March, the national average of self-serve regular appears to have peaked.
The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey reports that the national average price is $2.33 a gallon, down about four cents from a week ago. Prices are falling even faster in parts of the Midwest.
In fact, the dramatic price declines in Michigan and Ohio may be mostly responsible for pulling the national average price lower. The statewide average price of gasoline in Ohio is down 18 cents in the last seven days. It's 14 cents lower in Michigan.
And prices in the region may go even lower. Over the weekend, Gasbuddy senior petroleum analyst Patrick DeHaaan Tweeted advice to motorists not to fill their tanks just yet.
“ALERT: Motorists in Great Lakes should AVOID filling their tanks completely as #gasprices in MI/IN/OH/WI should fall 10-30c over next 2 wks,” DeHaan wrote.
In truth, prices in the Midwest had raced far ahead of the national average after there were reports of refinery issues in Michigan. Whatever problems there were got quickly resolved, so supply issues did not materialize.
However, AAA notes that before they began their dramatic decline, gasoline prices in the Midwest were rivaling averages typically experienced by drivers on the West Coast.
Oil prices may have peaked, for now
Also putting downward pressure on prices at the pump is a recent decline in crude oil prices. After nudging past $50 a barrel, oil prices were down about 2% last week.
Demand has risen steadily and the huge glut of both oil and gasoline has gotten smaller, but supplies are still plentiful and U.S. production, which has been suspended amid falling prices, can quickly resume.
Gasoline prices are following recent seasonal patterns. After rising at the end of the winter, as refineries perform maintenance and switch over to summer gasoline blends, prices usually begin falling again as the Independence Day holiday approaches. That appears to be what is happening this year as well.
According to the latest from AAA, the cheapest gasoline in the nation can be found in South Carolina, where the statewide average is $2.03 a gallon. The most expensive fuel is still found in California, where the statewide average is $2.85 a gallon.
Innit software creates an interactive cooking experience with no guesswork06/20/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Sarah D. Young
Whirlpool’s new connected ovens may be the non-skilled home cook's recipe for success. The appliance manufacturer recently announced its upcoming line ...
Concrete accents, teak furniture, and bright colors are summer 2016's stand-out trends06/20/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Sarah D. Young
The sights, smells, and sounds of summer are perhaps best enjoyed on a patio or deck. But if your outdoor space is looking lackluster, it may be time to sp...
Great Grains Protein Blend – Honey, Oats & Seeds cereal recalled
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes06/20/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Post Consumer Brands is recalling a limited quantity of its Great Grains Protein Blend – Honey, Oats & Seeds cereal. The products may be contaminat...
Post Consumer Brands is recalling a limited quantity of its Great Grains Protein Blend – Honey, Oats & Seeds cereal.
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
No illnesses have been reported to date
The following items, identified by a “Best when used by” code printed on the top of the box, are being recalled:
The recalled products were sold through retail stores nationwide.
What to do
Customers should not consume these products, but return them to the place of purchase for a refund, or discarded.
Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-800-431-7678, Monday through Friday, 9:00AM – 5:00 PM (ET) or online at www.postconsumerbrands.com/greatgrains.
Creative Snacks expands recall of sunflower seed products
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes06/20/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Creative Snacks of Greensboro, N.C., is expanding its earlier recall of specific lot codes of bulk and packaged sunflower seed products. The produc...
Creative Snacks of Greensboro, N.C., is expanding its earlier recall of specific lot codes of bulk and packaged sunflower seed products.
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes
No illnesses have been reported to date.
The following products, distributed to retailers nationwide and sold in a variety of formats including plastic rigid containers, small re-sealable bags and in bulk, are being recalled:
Best before dates can be found on bottom lower right corner of rigid containers and the back lower right corner of re-sealable snack bags.
What to do
Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them. But return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.
Consumers with questions may contact the company at 336-668-4151 Monday through Friday, 8:00 am to 5:00 pm (EST).
Southeast Toyota Distributors recalls Camry, Highlander, Tundra, Scion FR-S, and tC vehicles
The vehicles may have an incorrect Load Carrying Capacity Modification Label06/20/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Southeast Toyota Distributors (SET) is recalling 2,520 model year 2016 Toyota Camry and Highlander, 2015-2016 Toyota Tundra, Scion FR-S, and tC vehicles....
Southeast Toyota Distributors (SET) is recalling 2,520 model year 2016 Toyota Camry and Highlander, 2015-2016 Toyota Tundra, Scion FR-S, and tC vehicles.
The Load Carrying Capacity Modification Label may not reflect the correct added weight of the installed accessories. As a result, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard number 110, "Tire Selection and Rims for Passenger Cars."
An incorrect label may lead an owner to overload the vehicle, increasing the risk of a crash.
What to do
SET will notify owners, and provide a corrected label for placement over the inaccurate label, free of charge. The recall will begin on July 14, 2016.
Owners may contact SET customer service at 1-866-405-4226.
NoGii recalls Nuts About Berries Paleo Bars
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes06/20/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
NoGii is recalling its Nuts About Berries Paleo Bars. The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes The company says it has ...
NoGii is recalling its Nuts About Berries Paleo Bars.
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes
The company says it has received no reports of illness to date.
The recalled product may have been sold as a single 1.4-oz. (42-g) bar UPC # 856513002259 or in a pack of 9 UPC #856513002273 nationwide through retail stores and numerous online websites. The lot number B.B 03APR17 F3 3375 is located on the back side of the package flap above the nutritional facts.
What to do
Customers who purchased this product should not eat it, but return it to the store where purchased for an exchange or full refund.
Consumers may can contact NoGii at 704-995-4541 between 9 am and 5 pm (EST) for by emailing the company at email@example.com
Chevrolet Sonic, Trax and Spark vehicles recalled
The seatbelt and ignition warning chime may not function properly06/20/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
General Motors is recalling 18,780 model year 2015-2016 Chevrolet Sonic and Trax, and 2013-2015 Spark vehicles equipped with a Bring Your Own Media radio....
General Motors is recalling 18,780 model year 2015-2016 Chevrolet Sonic and Trax, and 2013-2015 Spark vehicles equipped with a Bring Your Own Media radio.
The radios may fail to provide an audible warning chime when the driver fails to fasten the seatbelt or leaves the key in the ignition. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) numbers 208 "Occupant Crash Protection" and 114 "Theft Protection."
Without audible indicators, the driver may not fasten the seatbelt, increasing the risk of injury during a crash.
What to do
GM will notify owners, and dealers will update the radio software, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.
Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 45340.
Bounce USA recalls Apple Cinnamon Protein Punch Energy Balls
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes06/20/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Bounce USA of Bend, Ore., is recalling Bounce Apple Cinnamon Protein Punch Energy Balls (newly named Apple Cinnamon Protein Energy Balls). The prod...
Bounce USA of Bend, Ore., is recalling Bounce Apple Cinnamon Protein Punch Energy Balls (newly named Apple Cinnamon Protein Energy Balls).
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
The company says there are no reports of illnesses to date.
The following products, distributed nationwide through retail stores and on-line through Amazon.com between November 4, 2015, and June 6, 2016, are being recalled:. No other Bounce products are affected:
Product UPC codes are 852949003723 (individual packs) and 852949003730 (12-unit boxes).
What to do
Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but dispose of them.
Consumers with questions may contact the company at 855-441-8966 Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm (PST) or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Travel insurance provides some security in a risky world
Illness, accidents and other emergencies can cost you bigtime if you don't insure properly06/17/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Robbie Miller Kaplan
Two weeks before our cruise to Australia and New Zealand, my husband realized we forgot to purchase travel insurance. We had booked through a new travel ag...
Two weeks before our cruise to Australia and New Zealand, my husband realized we forgot to purchase travel insurance. We had booked through a new travel agent and she had not reminded us. We kept our fingers crossed we would not need to cancel and were relieved to arrive safely in New Zealand.
On the third day of our cruise, a fellow traveler shared that he was frantically packing to leave the ship. On their way to breakfast that morning his wife missed a step, fell, and broke her hip. She would be in a hospital in Tauranga, New Zealand for at least one week. Belatedly we realized we were not safe; we could have a mishap at any time during the trip and all we had was our medical insurance.
We were lucky and so was a friend. She purchased travel insurance for the very first time prior to a vacation in India. She got sick; the hotel called a doctor who accompanied her to the hospital for a CT scan which revealed a life-threatening intestinal blockage. The hospital was in such bad condition my friend chose to fly home to seek emergency surgery.
Her travel insurance paid her medical bills and trip interruption, but would not reimburse the change in airfare. The fine print of the policy stated they would only cover medivac transportation.
Should you buy travel insurance?
Travel agents, tour companies, and cruise-line agents all sell insurance and they will suggest it. Travel insurance is a billion-dollar industry and travel agents and other tour companies get a commission for selling policies. Here are some things to consider:
No matter what you are booking, get a copy of the cancellation policy and read it carefully. Ask questions, ensuring that you fully understand the restrictions.
Do you already have insurance? Check to see if your health, auto, or life insurance or homeowner’s policy gives you coverage. Credit cards are another source of protection. Review and document all your actual coverage.
Evaluate the airfare and the restrictions. Some will allow you to cancel and re-book for a small fee or even refund your miles if you are using your frequent flyer program. If you choose a nonrefundable airfare, accept the risks.
If booking a hotel, check to see how far in advance you can cancel and whether there is a penalty.
When booking a total package, for example -- a guided tour or a river cruise, consider cancellation policies carefully. The trips can be expensive and depending on the cancellation and emergency, you may risk losing a lot of money.
If purchasing travel insurance, consider building in extra days for departure and return; schedules may change and you want to make sure the coverage is in effect for your total trip.
How to purchase insurance
Evaluate all the risk factors when considering travel insurance, including pre-existing conditions. Feel free to get a quote from your travel agent or tour provider and then do some homework.
The website www.travel-insurance-review.toptenreviews.com compares travel insurance carriers for you. Another site, InsureMyTrip.com, provides coverage comparisons based on your trip specifics for over 20 major carriers. You can then choose a carrier and speak directly to a sales agent. With information in hand, you are in a position to make an informed decision.
Traveling these days is loaded with risk. Whether you are willing to forfeit your deposits and payments may well determine whether travel insurance is right for you.
Subscribers may get low quality video without knowing why, researchers caution06/17/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
Nearly all advertising skims over certain unpleasant details, and a study by Northeastern University suggests that T-Mobile's description of Binge On falls...
Gun sales surge, thanks to some new buyers
LGBT community reportedly among new gun owners in wake of Orlando attack06/17/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
In the wake of the horrific massacre at an Orlando gay nightclub, Democrats in the Senate mounted a filibuster to force a vote on gun control legislation....
In the wake of the horrific massacre at an Orlando gay nightclub, Democrats in the Senate mounted a filibuster to force a vote on gun control legislation.
But in something of an irony, a dependable Democratic Party constituency was heading for gun shops to arm themselves. Media reports from around the country suggest gays and lesbians are buying guns and learning to use them in the wake of Sunday's deadly attack.
Fox 31 in Denver interviewed the owner of a gun shop who is among those welcoming new customers. The station also interviewed Mike Smith, who conducts firearms training courses, and who confirmed a sudden surge in gays and lesbians arming themselves.
“I think right now because of what happened, people are looking for answers,” Smith told the station. “You walk into a gun shop and you expect to see people, frankly, who look like me. I think we forget we’re a country of all people, not just people who fit that predetermined mold.”
The Pink Pistols is a LGBT gun rights group that reportedly saw its membership ranks swell from 1,500 to 3,500 since the deadly attack.
The Los Angeles Times reports posters suddenly appeared in West Los Angeles this week, bearing the rainbow flag, a coiled rattlesnake, and the inscription #shootback. The Times says the signs were plastered on electric boxes, light poles, trash cans, and other surfaces throughout the area. It said several appeared near the Abbey Food & Bar, a popular gay lounge.
The Times quoted West Hollywood Councilman John Duran, who is gay, as saying the signs were upsetting and “not the right message for the gay community.”
Meanwhile, guns sales are surging since Sunday's mass shooting, carried out by a gunman who pledged his allegiance to ISIS and allegedly expressed hatred for gays and lesbians. Coincidentally, Smith & Wesson stock surged this week after the gun maker reported impressive earnings for its latest quarter.
According to Yahoo Finance, the stock rose because analysts believe the company, when it gave its forward guidance, was conservative in its estimate of revenue and profit, not taking into account the hordes of new customers heading to gun shops this week.
Philadelphia votes to tax most sweetened beverages
Beverage makers say they'll challenge the tax in court06/17/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Philadelphia has become the first major city to impose a tax on beverages, a measure aimed at raising revenue as much as it is at resolving health issues....
Philadelphia has become the first major city to impose a tax on beverages, a measure aimed at raising revenue as much as it is at resolving health issues.
The council voted 13-4 to impose a 1.5 cents per ounce tax on any sweetened beverage, including diet sodas using no-calorie artificial sweeteners, according to Philly.com. That means a diet drink with no calories would be taxed but a container of milk or 50% fruit juice, which contain calories but no added sweetener, would not be taxed.
The tax also excludes alcoholic beverages, which have their own set of taxes.
The American Beverage Association fought the proposed ordinance and said it unfairly singles out beverages, including those that don't contain calories.
“But most importantly, it is against the law, the association said in a statement. “So we will side with the majority of the people of Philadelphia who oppose this tax and take legal action to stop it.”
$91 million in revenue
Philadelphia's mayor projects the tax will raise about $91 million per year in revenue, which would be used to fund a number of anti-poverty and education programs. The tax goes into effect January 1.
The American Beverage Association said it believes it will prevail in court, and in the court of public opinion.
“The fact remains that these taxes are discriminatory and highly unpopular - not only with Philadelphians, but with all Americans,” the association said. “Similar tax proposals have been rejected 43 times across the country in the past eight years, including twice in Philadelphia.”
It may not have passed a tax, but the San Francisco City Council passed an ordinance requiring warnings on sugary beverages last month. The warning states that “drinking beverages with added sugar contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.”
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg famously imposed a ban on the sale of super-size soft drinks in 2012, only to have a judge overturn his edict a year later.
According to the judge, the regulations were "fraught with arbitrary and capricious consequences," partly because they would have barred restaurants, food carts, delis, theaters and stadiums from selling sugary drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces while supermarkets and convenience stores would not have been affected.
Poor sleep at night leads to worsened moods in teens
One study shows that restricted sleep can lead to increased feelings of nervousness, sadness, and anger in adolescents06/17/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Christopher Maynard
Parents with teenagers know very well that they can be moody at times, but is that grumpy attitude being caused by lack of sleep? Researchers from the Amer...
Parents with teenagers know very well that they can be moody at times, but is that grumpy attitude being caused by lack of sleep? Researchers from the American Academy of Sleep think this might be the case.
In a new study, the researchers found that adolescents who don’t get enough sleep are more susceptible to sudden changes in mood and energy. Specifically, they say that feelings of sadness and anger, along with low energy and sleepiness, are increased when sleep is restricted.
Emotional and mental fatigue
The researchers examined 97 health adolescents between the ages of 14 and 17 for the study. Participants were put on two different sleep cycles in a randomized, counterbalanced order. Five nights of this schedule included restricted sleep of 6.5 hours in bed, while the other five nights included extended sleep, or 10 hours in bed. A two-night “wash-out” period was placed in between each sleeping condition.
Each participant was asked to report on their feelings throughout the study to see what impact sleep had on their mental and emotional state. Specifically, they asked about factors like sadness, anger, nervousness, energy, fatigue, ability to concentrate, and sleepiness each day.
Of these factors, the researchers found that restricted sleep led to more variability in sadness, anger, and sleepiness compared to periods of extended sleep. They also found that a worsened mood due to restricted sleep had a negative impact on the following night’s sleep.
Promoting healthy sleep habits
The researchers believe that these results might explain some of the real problems that adolescents face on a day-to-day basis.
“These results are important because variability in mood and emotional dysregulation can interfere with social, school, and behavioral functioning, and may contribute to the development of more severe psychopathology,” said Dr. Dean Beebe, senior author of the study.
“The promising aspect of this finding is that sleep can be modified and by promoting healthy sleep we could potentially prevent the development and/or maintenance of more serious mental health problems for some teens.”
The study’s abstract has been published in the journal Sleep, but the researchers will be presenting the full study at SLEEP 2016, an annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC (APSS).
Vitamin D -- who needs it? Nearly nobody
Study finds the popular vitamin's benefits aren't measurable for most people06/17/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
Vitamin D is sort of like Mom, apple pie, and so forth. But a new Canadian study finds there's little scientific evidence to back up all the claims made fo...
Vitamin D is sort of like Mom, apple pie, and so forth. But a new Canadian study finds there's little scientific evidence to back up all the claims made for the popular vitamin.
We get vitamin D from the sun, of course, but many people also pop it in the form of tablets as well, thinking it helps with depression, multiple sclerosis, and other maladies.
But according to Michael Allan, director of Evidence Based Medicine at the University of Alberta's Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, much of that belief isn't validated by science.
"Wouldn't it be great if there was a single thing that you or I could do to be healthy that was as simple as taking a vitamin, which seems benign, every day? There is an appeal to it. There is a simplicity to it. But for the average person, they don't need it." says Allan.
Allan is the lead author of a review published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine that examines the evidence for 10 common beliefs about vitamin D. His team wanted to know if it really can reduce falls and fractures, improve depression and mental well-being, prevent rheumatoid arthritis, treat multiple sclerosis, and lessen incidences of cancer and mortality.
The verdict: there's little evidence that supplementation with the vitamin has much of an effect at all. Vitamin D supplementation does seem to have a "minor impact" in reducing falls among the elderly, but that's about it.
"If you were to take a group of people who were at higher risk of breaking a bone -- so had about a 15 percent chance of breaking a bone over the next 10 years -- and treated all of them with a reasonable dose of vitamin D for a decade, you'd prevent a fracture in around one in 50 of them over that time," Allan said.
"Many people would say taking a drug for 10 years to stop one in every 50 fractures is probably not enough to be meaningful. And that's the best vitamin D gets as far as we know now."
Allan says many of the previous studies that claimed benefits for the supplement simply weren't well done. The bottom line, he says, is that while moderate vitamin D supplementation won't cause harm to the average healthy person, it won't heal either.
"The 40 year old person is highly unlikely to benefit from vitamin D," says Allan. "And when I say highly unlikely, I mean it's not measurable in present science."
Physical exercise helps boost memory, study says
New research shows that exercising four hours after learning something new will help you remember it06/17/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Christopher Maynard
Students have come up with a million different strategies for remembering information for an important test or presentation, but new research shows that ma...
Students have come up with a million different strategies for remembering information for an important test or presentation, but new research shows that maybe all they had to do was take a trip to the gym.
In a new study conducted at the Donders Institute at the Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands, researchers found that engaging in physical exercise after learning something new helped participants retain the information. However, the timing of the exercise is important; researchers say that going to the gym four hours after learning something new is the time to shoot for.
“Our results suggest that appropriately timed physical exercise can improve long-term memory and highlight the potential of exercise as an intervention in educational and clinical settings,” they said.
Exercise to remember
Guillén Fernández, who led the study, and his colleagues began the study to see what, if any, benefits physical exercise could have on memory consolidation and long-term memory. They held a 40-minute learning period where they asked 72 participants to memorize 90 picture-location associations.
After this initial period, the researchers split the participants into three groups -- the first group exercised immediately after learning the information; the second group exercised four hours after learning the information; and the third group did not exercise at all.
The exercise was designed to be rigorous, but not completely exhausting. Participants took part in 35 minutes of interval training on a bike and aimed to reach 80% of their maximum heart rate. After the exercise period, participants were excused and asked to come back after 48 hours to be re-tested.
The results of the second testing showed that those who exercised four hours after the first testing were able to better retain the information. In addition to better test scores, the researchers measured brain activities for all participants and found that the delayed exercise group had more precise representations in the hippocampus – the brain area most responsible for memory and learning.
While Fernández and his colleagues cannot pinpoint how or why this group performed better, they believe that it has something to do with chemicals such as dopamine and norepinephrine that are found in the brain. Previous studies have shown that they help with memory consolidation, but they are produced at a higher rate when an individual is exercising.
May saw a slow start to the traditional hiring season06/17/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Teenagers are finding jobs this summer, but not as many as they used to. According to an analysis of the latest government data by outplacement firm Cha...
Mortgage rates at three year low
Despite that, mortgage applications dipped last week06/17/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
From a financial standpoint, this is not a bad time to be taking out a mortgage. Home loan rates have fallen once again and haven't been this low in three...
From a financial standpoint, this is not a bad time to be taking out a mortgage. Home loan rates have fallen once again and haven't been this low in three years.
Bankrate.com's weekly national survey found the 30-year fixed rate mortgage at an average 3.69%, the lowest point since May 2013.
The 30-year fixed on a jumbo is even lower – 3.67%. The average 15-year fixed mortgage is now below 3%, at 2.94%. That's lower than the five and seven year ARMs, which are 3.05% and 3.23% respectively.
Borrowers can thank the bond market for their good fortune. Mortgage rates are keyed to bond yields, and with money from overseas pouring into the U.S. Treasury market lately, bond yields have fallen below 1.6%.
Uncertainty rattles the markets
Bankrate attributes falling yields to investor uncertainty over next week's vote in the UK on whether or not to exit the European Union, the so-called Brexit vote. Yields on long-term German government bonds actually fell into negative territory this week and worldwide, there is now more than $10 trillion in debt with a negative yield.
Thats why so many international investors are moving money into U.S. bonds – the yield may be tiny, but at least they're earning something. The more demand there is for U.S. government bonds, the less interest the Treasury Department has to pay investors.
Mortgage applications dip
Despite the near record low mortgage rates, fewer consumers are taking advantage of them. The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) reported this week that applications fell 2.4% from the previous week, which included an adjustment for the Memorial Day holiday.
MBA separates refinance from purchase loan applications. In the latest week it found purchase applications fell more than those from current homeowners who are refinancing.
At the current average 30-year fixed mortgage rate of 3.69 percent, the monthly principal and interest payment for a $200,000 loan is $919.44.
Ally Bank issues cash back credit card
Provides additional 10% bonus when cash is redeemed in Ally bank account06/17/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Ally Bank has issued a new rewards credit card. The Ally CashBack Credit Card joins the ranks of other cards that reward customers by returning a percentag...
Ally Bank has issued a new rewards credit card. The Ally CashBack Credit Card joins the ranks of other cards that reward customers by returning a percentage of purchases in the form of cash or other perks.
The new card will provide a 2% cash back reward when the card is used for eligible gasoline and grocery purchases. It provides 1% cash back on all other purchases.
However, the new credit card features an additional 10% bonus if cash back rewards are deposited into an Ally Bank non-IRA savings, interest checking, or money market account.
Ally says another feature of the card is the rewards are not capped, as they are with many credit cards, and they never expire, as long as the account remains open and in good standing.
Issuing card a logical move
"As we evaluated options to expand our product offerings, adding a credit card to our portfolio was a logical move since it has been a frequent request of our Ally Bank customers," said Diane Morais, CEO and president of Ally Bank.
Morais is particularly pleased with the 10% reward for deposits in bank accounts, saying it is consistent with the bank's philosophy to help customers maximize savings opportunities.
Ally Bank, formerly GMAC Capital, has been a completely online financial institution since 2010. The bank, headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., has no brick and mortar branches.
The company said it launched this new product after studying consumer preferences in credit cards with a focus on looking at the best way to use rewards. It conducted a survey of customers who use credit cards and found 58% preferred cash back rewards over travel rewards, store promotions, and introductory interest rates or bonus rewards.
The survey also found 80% said they would like to have multiple financial products with the same bank – bank accounts, loans, and credit cards – if they earned rewards for doing so.
"The savviest consumers not only know what cards to pick, but how to maximize their rewards," Morais said. "When stacked against all the credit cards available to consumers, the Ally CashBack Credit Card is a highly competitive product."
The Ally CashBack Credit Card is issued through TD Bank N.A.
New home construction dips in May
Plans for building in the months ahead edged higher06/17/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
A bit of a slowdown last month for the home construction industry.The Commerce Department reports ground-breaking for privately-owned housing dipped 0....
A bit of a slowdown last month for the home construction industry.
The Commerce Department reports ground-breaking for privately-owned housing dipped 0.3% in May to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,164,000. Even with the decline though, the pace of construction is 9.5% ahead of the same month last year.
Housing starts for single-family homes were up 0.3% from April and 10.1% from a year ago to a rate of 764,000. The rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 396,000, up 1.3% from the month before and 10.0% from May 2015.
Looking ahead, building permits for privately-owned housing units rose 0.7% from April but plunged 10.1% from the same month the year before to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,138,000.
Single-family authorizations posted a 2.0% month-over-month decline in May to a rate of 726,000, while permits for units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 381,000 -- up 5.7% from April.
The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.
Taylors Candy recalls Stuckey’s Sunflower Kernels
The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes06/17/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Taylors Candy of Alsip, Ill., is recalling Stuckey’s bags of Sunflower Kernels. The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. ...
Taylors Candy of Alsip, Ill., is recalling Stuckey’s bags of Sunflower Kernels.
The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
No illnesses have been reported to date.
The recalled product comes in a 5.5-oz., peg bag package with a code date of 1 1036 stamped on the front of the bag. It was distributed to retail stores in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
What to do
Customers who purchased the recalled product should not consume it but and either return it to the place of purchase or discard it.
Consumers seeking information may contact the company call at 708- 371-6144 between 8 A.M. and 4 P.M. (CST) Monday through Friday or by email at email@example.com.
Rucker's Wholesale and Service recalls Sunflower Kernels, Sweet & Salty Mix, Cajun Hot Mix
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes06/17/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Rucker’s Wholesale and Service Co. of Bridgeport, Ill., is recalling Sunflower Kernels, Sweet & Salty Mix, and Cajun Hot Mix. The products may be c...
Rucker’s Wholesale and Service Co. of Bridgeport, Ill., is recalling Sunflower Kernels, Sweet & Salty Mix, and Cajun Hot Mix.
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
No illnesses have been reported to date.
The following products, packaged in clear bags with a variety of private labels and pack sizes, and distributed nationwide to retail farm stores and outdoor sporting good stores, are being recalled:
What to do
Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them.
Consumers wishing to receive a refund for unused portions or with questions may contact the company at 618-945-2411 or 800-663-1857, Monday – Friday from 7:30AM – 4:30PM (CST), or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grand Rapids Chair recalls chairs and barstools
The back leg of the chairs can bend and the seat tabs or screws on the seat can loosen06/17/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Grand Rapids Chair Company of Byron Center, Mich., is recalling about 2,300 Sadie Chairs and barstools. The back leg of the chairs can bend and the...
Grand Rapids Chair Company of Byron Center, Mich., is recalling about 2,300 Sadie Chairs and barstools.
The back leg of the chairs can bend and the seat tabs or screws on the seat can loosen. When loose, pinch points between the seat and steel frame are created, posing a risk of injury.
The firm has received three reports of finger injuries including a finger laceration, bruise and fracture.
This recall involves Grand Rapids Chair Company Sadie chairs (model 837) and barstools (model 837S). The model number is printed on the underside of the chair, on the care and use instruction label.
The chairs have a seat height of 18.5” and overall width of 22.5”, and the barstools have a seat height of 30” and overall width of 22.5”. The Sadie chairs have a steel frame of various colors with a wood seat base and seatback. The Sadie barstools have a steel frame of various colors, with a footrest and a wood seat base and seatback.
The chairs and barstools, manufactured in the U.S., were sold exclusively by Grand Rapids Chair sales representatives and distributors, both directly to end users and in the company’s commercial showrooms in Byron Center, Mich., and Chicago, Ill., from June 2014, through January 2016, for between $150 and $200.
What to do
Consumers should immediately stop using these recalled chairs and barstools and contact Grand Rapids Chair Company to schedule a free repair.
Consumers may contact Grand Rapids Chair Company toll-free at (866) 453-4748 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at email@example.com or online at http://grandrapidschair.com/ for more information.
Ford recalls model year 2016 Lincoln MKX vehicles
The child seat tether anchors in the second row center seating position are blocked06/17/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Ford Motor Company is recalling five model year 2016 Lincoln MKX vehicles manufactured September 24, 2015. An incorrect seat back trim cover was in...
Ford Motor Company is recalling five model year 2016 Lincoln MKX vehicles manufactured September 24, 2015.
An incorrect seat back trim cover was installed on the affected vehicles, blocking the child seat tether anchors in the second row center seating position. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard number 225, "Child restraint anchorage systems."
An improperly anchored child seat can increase the risk of injury in a crash.
What to do
Ford will notify owners, and dealers will replace the seat back trim cover and tether cover bezel on the second row, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on June 13, 2016.
Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 16C09.
Fed once again keeps interest rates where they are
Seven years of easy money still hasn't sufficiently stoked the economy06/16/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
What are we to take away from the Federal Reserve's unsurprising decision this week not to raise interest rates?That seven years of easy money at histo...
What are we to take away from the Federal Reserve's unsurprising decision this week not to raise interest rates?
That seven years of easy money at historically low interest rates has done little to spur economic growth.
Interest rate hikes are usually initiated to slow inflation, but inflation has barely moved for years. Falling prices have been a greater fear.
So why did the Fed raise its key interest rate a quarter point back in December and suggest that there could be several more increases this year? That now appears to have been based largely on hope. Policymakers dearly want to “normalize” rates so they will be able to lower them again in case of a financial crisis.
The very real problem, however, is that raising rates amid economic weakness threatens to make the economy even weaker. In its statement, the Fed said it sees signs of strength as well as things that give it pause.
Pluses and minuses
On the plus side, household spending has increased slightly; the housing sector has improved, and exports have made gains. On the minus side, improvement in the job market has slowed; inflation is less than 2%, and low energy prices, while helpful to consumers, have created severe recessionary conditions in parts of the U.S.
“Against this backdrop, the Committee decided to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 1/4 to 1/2%, the Fed statement said. “The stance of monetary policy remains accommodative, thereby supporting further improvement in labor market conditions and a return to 2% inflation.”
Though the statement didn't mention it, Britain's vote next week on whether to leave the European Union – the so-called Brexit vote – was likely another big concern. Should Britain vote to leave, as current polls suggest it will, it could lead to economic uncertainty in Europe and possibly a recession.
The Fed left the door open to rate hikes later this year, but made clear it needs to see more evidence of economic strength – notably, improvement in the job market and inflation of at least 2%.
Flower delivery complaints bloom in the spring
All flower delivery services have occasional problems, but some have more than their share06/16/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
Screengrab from http://www.avasflowers.net/This is prime time for flowers. Between Mother's Day, Father's Day, and all the graduations and spring wed...
This is prime time for flowers. Between Mother's Day, Father's Day, and all the graduations and spring weddings, the petals are flying furiously.
Unfortunately, they don't always land in just the right place, leaving frustrated consumers on both ends of the transaction and causing a big spike in review submissions to ConsumerAffairs, with more than 120 flower-related reviews in just the last three days. Avas Flowers has been on the receiving end of many recent complaints.
"I called Avas Flowers the day before Mother's Day, understanding it might take a little longer," said Sam of Apache Junction, Ariz., in a ConsumerAffairs review. "They were not delivered on Sunday. By 5 pm on Tuesday they still had not received them, so I called Ava's to cancel the order."
But, Sam said, it wasn't that simple. He said he made 27 telephone calls and sent three emails, all requesting that the order be canceled, with no luck.
"Finally on Wednesday, they texted me and said the plant was delivered on Tuesday at 4:30ish. I called mom to verify this and that was the only true thing they told me. Later that week I called to have them go and pick them up, as I wanted a full refund. The idiot on the phone explained 'They had been delivered. You won't get a refund.'"
Not just delivery
Besides delivery problems, consumers are often unhappy with the selection or quality of the flowers.
"I ordered red roses for my dying grandmother. I clearly stated I wanted the red roses and they said yes and they delivered carnations," said Lee of Kailua Kona, Hawaii. "They then argued with me and said they were roses when clearly they were carnations."
Olivia of Ocala, Fla., also had a problem with the selection. "They sent whatever they wanted!!! Not even close to what I purchased for $103.00. They said they were local... THEY ARE NOT!"
Kiki of Waynesville, Ohio, called on a Friday afternooon to get flowers for a Saturday funeral.
"I was called this afternoon (Tuesday) and told that the flowers were not delivered but they could send a nice arrangement to another address. They stated that they miscalculated the distance to the funeral home," Kiki said. "I spent close to an hour trying to speak to someone to get a refund. I was disconnected, or repeatedly sent to a Customer Service Expert who gave me the same story each time. While on hold, a recorded voice told me that Avas is locally owned and operated. Each time I called, I got through to a call center."
Avas, headquartered in Mahwah, N.J., claims to have been in business for 30 years, much of it as a brick-and-mortar floral shop. It now takes orders nationwide, sending them on to local florists for fulfillment.
While all flower delivery services have their problems, especially at busy times of the year, Avas has lately seen the brunt of many reader complaints. As with any vendor, consumers should carefully review Avas' cancellation and refund page before placing an order:
In the unlikely event you are unhappy with your product(s), please notify us within 24 hours of delivery and you may return the arrangement for a refund, request an exchange of products, or receive store credit.
To receive a refund, non-perishable products may be returned unused and in its original state within 7 days of delivery for a full refund of the cost of the item, less any service fees. Hand-delivered floral product or perishable goods may be returned in its original state within 24 hours of delivery and may be subject to a 50% restocking fee of the cost of the product.
To receive an exchange of goods, notify us within 24 hours of the issue with the delivered arrangement and we will pick up and re-deliver another product(s) of equal or greater value at no additional cost to you. We will need to be provided the opportunity to pick up the product(s) you are dissatisfied with prior to processing a redelivery.
If you have a complaint about a delivered product but do not want or cannot provide an opportunity for us to pick up the original delivered arrangement, we will provide you with a courtesy store credit for future use.
Refunds or credits given for orders that have already been delivered or have had an attempted delivery will only be for the partial or full cost of the arrangement(s), less any service, handling, or restocking fees.
That's a lot of conditions and it leaves a lot of room for misunderstandings and bad feelings.
It's not only ConsumerAffairs that has a big collection of negative reviews about Avas. The Better Business Bureau gives Avas an "F" rating, citing a high number of complaints, a high number of unresolved complaints, and delays in responding to some complaints.
Research reveals how overeating leads to even more eating
A study shows that eating too much blocks a hormone that allows a person to feel full06/16/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Christopher Maynard
Losing weight can be difficult for a number of different reasons. If you’re just starting out, it can be difficult to make certain necessary life changes, ...
Losing weight can be difficult for a number of different reasons. If you’re just starting out, it can be difficult to make certain necessary life changes, such as getting more sleep, exercising more, or eating smaller amounts.
Eating less, in particular, may be one of the more challenging adjustments to make because of how easy it might be to comfortably overeat. In fact, one new study has shown that eating too much in one sitting actually makes it easier to keep eating after a certain point.
Researchers have found that when the stomach senses too many calories, a certain hormone that makes you feel full is suppressed, enabling you to eat even more.
Cycle of overeating
The study, which was conducted by researchers at Thomas Jefferson University, actually began due to findings in earlier studies focusing on colon cancer. Researchers observed that uroguanylin, a hormone that sends signals to the brain to convey fullness, was present in non-obese mice, but it disappeared in models that were obese.
To investigate, researchers analyzed mice who were overfed and found that their small intestines stopped producing the hormone after a high number of calories were consumed. The receptors that were meant to receive those signals were still intact, they just weren’t getting any.
The researchers hypothesized that overeating was the cause of the disruption and set out to see if they could manipulate uroguanylin production. They found that when the mice were put on a diet, production of the hormone resumed.
“What’s interesting is that it didn’t matter whether the mice were lean and overfed, or obese and overfed – uroguanylin production stopped in both groups of animals when they got too many calories,” said Dr. Scott Waldman, one of the leaders of the study. “Here, it’s not the obese state that’s causing the problem but rather it’s the calories.”
While the researchers are not yet completely certain what causes uroguanylin to stop being produced, they strongly suspect that it has to do with the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) of cells in the small intestine. The ER produces many of the body’s proteins and hormones, but its function can be disrupted when it is stressed.
As a test, the researchers applied a chemical to the ER to stress it – a replication of what would happen if the mice were overfed. They observed that when the ER was stressed, it stopped producing uroguanylin. When another chemical was applied to de-stress the ER, production of the hormone went back to normal.
Implications for obesity
The researchers believe that this series of experiments show that high calorie consumption can stress the small intestines and cause people to stop feeling full after eating too much. However, what they don’t know is how important uroguanylin is in the grand scheme of obesity.
“Like in cancer, there are many steps on the way to becoming obese that aren’t easily reversed. While the uroguanylin hormone pathway appears to be one of those steps, we don’t yet know whether it’s important early on in the process, or later, and how much of a role it plays. But in combination with other approaches, hormone replacement of uroguanylin may become an important component of therapy to reverse obesity,” said Waldman.
FDA slaps Whole Foods over sanitation concerns
Inspectors found a long list of alleged violations at a processing plant near Boston06/16/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
Prepared foods are all the rage these days, with many consumers paying big bucks to grab take-out dinners at the supermarket. While it can be a time-saver,...
Prepared foods are all the rage these days, with many consumers paying big bucks to grab take-out dinners at the supermarket. While it can be a time-saver, prepared food can also be a health risk if the store doesn't maintain top-notch sanitation practices.
Whole Foods is currently in hot water with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which recently sent a sternly worded letter to the company, citing numerous sanitation issues at a Whole Foods processing plant near Boston.
The letter charges that during inspections in February, the FDA found that Whole Foods "failed to manufacture, package and store foods under conditions and controls necessary to minimize the potential for growth of microorganisms and contamination."
The letter cites a long list of specific complaints, including:
- On February 10, 2016, you were mixing ready to eat pesto pasta directly under an area in the Assembly Room where condensate from ceiling joints was dripping onto the surface below.
- On February 16, 2016, you were storing an uncovered rack of ready to eat mushroom quesadilla in the same area of the Assembly Room where condensate from ceiling joints was dripping onto the surface below.
- On February 10, 2016, your employee transported uncovered ready to eat vegetables through a doorway, from the Veg Prep Room into the Prepared Veg Cooler. A significant amount of condensate had formed above the doorway and was dripping onto the surface below.
- On February 10, 2016, your employee was cutting chives and beets on a work surface directly underneath a leaking condensate drainage pipe in the Veg Prep Room.
The letter gives Whole Foods 15 days to respond in writing with details of what it plans to do to prevent similar problems in the future.
It's the latest in a string of embarrassing incidents for the upscale market chain. Last year, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs charged Whole Foods with "routinely" overcharging customers, leading to a $500,000 fine.
The company has also been struggling to maintain market share as other supermarket chains, including giants Walmart and Kroger continue to expand their selection of organic foods and fresh produce.
Lots of recalls
Whole Foods has also racked up a lengthy list of recalls lately, including:
Maytag raw milk blue cheese, possibly contaminated with listeria;
Asparagus, Pea and Ricotta salad for a mislabeling error;
Pepperoni Pizza that actually contained pork;
Pecorino aged cheese, possibly contaminated with listeria;
Kimchi products that contain allergens not listed on the label;
Korean barbecue sauce that contains allergens not listed on the label; and
Wild mushroom soup that contains allergens not listed on the label.
New dating app matches couples based on shared political views
Matches based on a person's views on important issues06/16/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Sarah D. Young
Differing political views can put a strain on any relationship, but romantic partnerships may struggle the most under the weight of a political divide. ...
Differing political views can put a strain on any relationship, but romantic partnerships may struggle the most under the weight of a political divide.
Heated debates and politics-related tension may leave couples wishing they could have preemptively directed cupid’s arrow to a more politically compatible match. Now, a new dating app may be able to help singles do just that.
CandiDate, a multi-platform app by HelpsGood, can help couples lay the groundwork for a harmonious partnership by ensuring their political beliefs are aligned from the beginning.
The dating app's main goal is to help those looking for love find someone in their area who shares their views on important issues like gun reform, abortion, gay rights, environmental issues, and the economy.
By helping singles choose someone with a compatible belief system rather than an eye-catching profile photo, the app seeks to create couples who are a better match over the long haul.
In addition to helping you find someone whose passions and politics match your own, the app can help you hone your political beliefs. Using questions sourced from Vote Smart, the app will show you which politicians’ voting records are in line with your views.
And ahead of this year's election, the app's release may be well timed.
"We're excited to launch candiDate on mobile devices and online in the midst of this very unique presidential election cycle," Michael Bellavia, CEO of HelpsGood said in a statement. "All around the world, Republicans, Democrats and Independents, Millennials and seniors, are using candiDate to find their own running mate and feel the burn of love."
Small Alzheimer's study produces huge results
Therapy helped patients with early Alzheimer's regain memory function06/16/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Currently there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease (AD), a progressive neurological disease that is ultimately fatal.However, there have been a number ...
Currently there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease (AD), a progressive neurological disease that is ultimately fatal.
However, there have been a number of promising developments in treatment. One of the latest comes from a very small study carried out jointly by the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and the UCLA Easton Laboratories for Neurodegenerative Disease Research.
What's remarkable is the results from quantitative MRI and follow-up testing reveal improvements in 10 patients with the early stage of the disease. The findings are written up in the journal Aging.
Reversing memory loss
The researchers say their work is the first time it has been objectively shown that memory loss can be reversed. What's more, they say the improvement was maintained using a strict program of dietary changes, brain stimulation, physical exercise, sleep optimization, and drug treatments.
“All of these patients had either well-defined mild cognitive impairment (MCI), subjective cognitive impairment (SCI) or had been diagnosed with AD before beginning the program,” said author Dr. Dale Bredesen.
One of the most hopeful results was patients in the study who had to leave their jobs because of their memory loss problems were able to return to work. Those still working but struggling because of their condition saw an improvement in on-the-job performance.
“Follow up testing showed some of the patients going from abnormal to normal,” Bredesen said.
Can't dismiss the results
While it is true that the study sample is extremely small, Bredesen says the results were truly dramatic and cannot be dismissed.
For example, a 66-year old professional entered the study with hippocampal volume, the part of the brain closely associated with memory, only in the 17th percentile for his age. After 10 months undergoing the therapy, follow-up testing showed his hippocampal volume increased to the 75th percentile.
In another instance, researchers say a 69-year old entrepreneur was in the process of shutting down his business when he went on the protocol. After six months, he regained lost mathematical abilities.
What may be particularly noteworthy is nine of the 10 patents carried at least one copy of the APOE4 allele gene, meaning they are at higher risk of developing AD. Bredesen said people should be tested for the gene so they can begin the protocol at an earlier stage, as a preventive measure.
Is this the long-sought magic bullet to finally dispatch Alzheimer's disease once and for all? Bredesen isn't ready to say that.
“The magnitude of improvement in these ten patients is unprecedented, providing additional objective evidence that this programmatic approach to cognitive decline is highly effective,” Bredesen said.
But the fact remains it was a small study and the results need to be replicated on a larger scale, he says. Plans for larger studies are underway.
No evidence coffee causes cancer, WHO finds; hot beverages may, though
Even very hot water is implicated in some cancers, researchers say06/16/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
Here's the good news for coffee drinkers: the World Health Organization (WHO) has concluded it doesn't cause cancer. But the bad news is that very hot beve...
Here's the good news for coffee drinkers: the World Health Organization (WHO) has concluded it doesn't cause cancer. But the bad news is that very hot beverages probaby cause cancer of the esophagus.
“These results suggest that drinking very hot beverages is one probable cause of esophageal cancer and that it is the temperature, rather than the drinks themselves, that appears to be responsible,” said Dr. Christopher Wild, director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a WHO agency.
This is perhaps like saying it's not the fall that kills you but the concrete. But it's an improvement from 25 years ago when the WHO said that coffee was a possible contributor to bladder cancer.
Now the agency says that not only does coffee not contribute to cancer, it may even help reduce the risk of certain cancers, including those of the liver and uterus. The findings are being published today in The Lancet Oncology.
Not too hot
The conclusion that drinking very hot beverages contributes to cancer of the esophagus was based on evidence from epidemiological studies in places such as China, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Turkey, and South America, where tea or maté is traditionally drunk very hot (at about 70 °C), which found that the risk cancer increased with the temperature at which the beverage was drunk.
In experiments involving animals, there was also limited evidence for the carcinogenicity of very hot water.
“Smoking and alcohol drinking are major causes of esophageal cancer, particularly in many high-income countries,” said Wild. “However, the majority of esophageal cancers occur in parts of Asia, South America, and East Africa, where regularly drinking very hot beverages is common and where the reasons for the high incidence of this cancer are not as well understood.”
Esophageal cancer is the eighth most common cause of cancer worldwide and one of the main causes of cancer death, with approximately 400,000 deaths recorded in 2012 (5% of all cancer deaths).
How many of those are related to hot beverages isn't known.
For purposes of the study, “very hot” refers to any beverages consumed at a temperature above 65 °C.
New data reveals two categories where parents of girls spend more06/16/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Sarah D. Young
Hearing the words “It’s a girl” at your 20-week ultrasound may do more than just seal the fate of the nursery wall color; it may determine how much you wil...
For-profit schools' accrediting body may lose federal accreditation
The agency that accredited defunct Corinthian Colleges ignored warning flags, report finds06/16/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
The end may be near for the organization that issues accreditations to for-profit universities. Department of Education staff members who have been investi...
The end may be near for the organization that issues accreditations to for-profit universities. Department of Education staff members who have been investigating the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) have recommended cutting ACICS' federal recognition.
“The staff recommendation is to withdraw recognition, which would mean the agency could not remedy its compliance issues,” the staff report said, charging that the ACICS had ignored warning flags at Corinthian Colleges, allowing billions of dollars of federal aid to flow to the now-defunct schools.
The report follows calls for action from consumer advocates, educators, and state attorneys general, including California's Kamala Harris who earlier this month said the accrediting group's actions hurt thousands of students.
"The predatory scheme devised by executives at Corinthian Colleges, Inc. was unconscionable. And despite enforcement actions by the California Department of Justice and the federal government against Corinthian, ACICS continued to accredit Corinthian, hurting thousands of students in the process,” Harris said. “Students relied on Corinthian’s accreditation status, believing they were obtaining a high quality-education with real job prospects."
The staff report found “extensive and pervasive deficiencies” at ACICS and recommended to the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) that it terminate the organization’s federal recognition.
But the wheels grind slowly in federal agencies, and final action is still likely to be at least 18 months away, a DOE official said. A federal advisory body will discuss the staff report next week and additional reviews will follow.
What happens to students?
ACICS currently accredits 243 institutions, most of them for-profit schools. If the Education Department finally denies recognition to ACICS, those schools will be unaccredited and ineligible for federal aid.
In a blog posting, Matt Lehrich, communications director at DOE, said students at ACICS-accredited schools shouldn't panic.
"The chain of events that plays out next will take – at minimum – more than 18 months. That means that many of the students who already have started at one of these schools will be able to complete their certificates or degrees before there is a chance of anything changing," Lehrich wrote.
"Generally speaking, if you’re near the end of your program or you’re preparing to transfer to another college or university, this news probably won’t interrupt your program."
Lehrich has other advice for students in his blog posting, which you can read here.
Volkswagen announces major shift to electric vehicles
Company plans 30 electric vehicle models within 10 years06/16/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Still coping with the aftermath of its diesel emissions cheating scandal, Volkswagen has announced a major shift in direction – away from diesel and gasoli...
Still coping with the aftermath of its diesel emissions cheating scandal, Volkswagen has announced a major shift in direction – away from diesel and gasoline powered vehicles and toward what it calls “sustainable mobility,” another way of saying electric vehicles.
The company calls the initiative “Together – Strategy 2025.” It has announced plans to introduce more than 30 purely battery-powered electric vehicles over the next 10 years. Eventually, it expects electric vehicles to account for around 25% of its global market.
VW is projecting electric vehicle sales of two to three million units by 2025.
While such a major push into electric vehicles would be a major gamble for most automotive companies firmly tied to the internal combustion engine, VW may see it as less risky. It was badly tarnished by revelations that its on-board software on clean diesel models was programmed to fool emissions test equipment.
One way to recover and improve its image is to transform VW from a company closely associated with diesel power to one more aligned with battery propulsion.
Beyond that, VW CEO Matthias Müller said the company is convinced shifting to electric cars will align Volkswagen with the future of automotive technology. In other words, its just good business.
“This will require us – following the serious setback as a result of the diesel issue – to learn from mistakes made, rectify shortcomings and establish a corporate culture that is open, value-driven and rooted in integrity," Müller said.
Part of the strategic shift also includes development of a mobility solutions business that will develop and acquire new businesses in transportation. Specifically, that initiative is looking at ride sharing and car sharing.
Self-driving car by end of the decade
To achieve goals in that area, Volkswagen said it plans to provide the necessary resources to experiment with autonomous driving and artificial intelligence. The objective to have a competitive self-driving car by the end of the decade.
While other traditional automotive manufacturers have made investments in electric propulsion, perhaps none has done so to the extent VW has laid out. The Volkswagon program will put it in direct competition with the much smaller Tesla, which has a several year head start and produces only battery powered vehicles.
Volkswagen, meanwhile, is still trying to put the diesel emissions cheating scandal behind it. In April the company announced it would fix or buy back up to a half million cars involved in the scandal.
VW has also agreed to establish a fund to address environmental damage caused by the excess emissions emitted by its clean diesel cars.
Builder confidence on the rise again
The outlook is strong for the second half of 201606/16/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Builder confidence is rising again after holding steady for the past four months.The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing M...
Builder confidence is rising again after holding steady for the past four months.
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI), which measures confidence in the market for newly constructed single-family homes, rose two points in June to a level of 60. That's the highest reading since January.
“Builders in many markets across the nation are reporting higher traffic and more committed buyers at their job sites,” said NAHB Chairman Ed Brady. “However, our members are also relating ongoing concerns regarding the shortage of buildable lots and labor and noting pockets of softness in scattered markets.”
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 monthly survey asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as "high to very high," "average" or "low to very low." Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.
All three HMI components posted gains in June. The component gauging current sales conditions rose one point to 64, the index charting sales expectations in the next six months increased five points to 70, and the component measuring buyer traffic climbed three points to 47.
Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the South rose two points to 61 and the West rose one point to 68. The Northeast dropped two points to 39 and the Midwest fell one point to 57.
“Rising home sales, an improving economy and the fact that the HMI gauge measuring future sales expectations is running at an eight-month high are all positive factors indicating that the housing market should continue to move forward in the second half of 2016,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz
Energy costs rose for a third straight month06/16/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Photo (c) mybaitshop - FotoliaThe cost of living crept upward in May, with energy prices moving higher for a third straight month.The Bureau of L...
Auldey Toys recalls Sky Rover toys
The USB charging cords sold with the toy can overheat06/16/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Auldey Toys North America of Quincy, Mass., is recalling about 325,000 Sky Rover toys. The USB charging cords sold with the toy can overheat, posin...
Auldey Toys North America of Quincy, Mass., is recalling about 325,000 Sky Rover toys.
The USB charging cords sold with the toy can overheat, posing fire and burn hazards to consumers.
The firm has received 35 reports of charging cords overheating. No injuries have been reported.
This recall involves yellow USB charging cords sold with Aero Spin and Aero Cruz Sky Rover remote-controlled flying toys. The toy is shaped like ball with two blades on top, wings on the side and measures about 3 ½ inches tall by 5 inches wide. They are operated by a small one-channel remote control unit.
The following item numbers are included in the recall: YW859110-2, YW859110-3, YW859110-5, YW859110-6 or TTYW859110-5. The item number is printed on a white sticker on the toy’s packaging. They were sold in red, orange and citron green. Only yellow USB charging cords are included in this recall.
The toys, manufactured in China, were sold at Walmart and other mass merchandisers and independent toy stores nationwide and online at Amazon.com from January 2015, through January 2016, for between $11 and $15.
What to do
Consumers should immediately stop using the USB cords and contact the firm for instructions on obtaining a free replacement charge cord.
Consumers may contact Auldey Toys toll-free at 844-303-8936 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or online at http://www.AuldeyToys.us and click on “Safety Recall” at the bottom of the page banner for more information.
First Source expands recall of various products containing sunflower kernels
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes06/16/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
First Source of Tonawanda, N.Y., is expanding its earlier recall of various products containing sunflower kernels. The products may be contaminated...
First Source of Tonawanda, N.Y., is expanding its earlier recall of various products containing sunflower kernels.
The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
Two possible illnesses being investigated in connection with this recall.
The following products are being recalled:
- 15 LBS Alpine Valley Fitness Mix with distribution dates between 06/4/15-5/31/16
- 15 LBS Alpine Valley Yogurt Fruit/Nut Mix with distribution dates between 06/4/15-5/31/16
- 15 LBS Alpine Valley Sunshine Cranberry Delight with distribution dates between 06/4/15-5/31/16
- 15 LBS Alpine Valley Oriental Delight with distribution dates between 06/4/15-5/31/16
- Alpine Valley Oriental Snack Mix 4oz with Best By dates between 02/04/16-01/31/17
- Alpine Valley Yogurt Trail Mix 4oz with Best By dates between 02/04/16-01/31/17
- Alpine Tub Roasted & Salted Sunflower Kernels 10.25oz with Best By dates between 06/04/16-05/31/17
- Alpine Tub Roasted & Unsalted Sunflower Kernels 10.25oz with Best By dates between 06/04/16-05/31/17
- Earth Fare Roasted & Salted Sunflower Kernels 16oz with Best By dates between 06/04/16-05/31/17
- Earth Fare Roasted and Unsalted Sunflower Kernels 16oz with Best By dates between 06/04/16-05/31/17
- Flave Beach Retreat Trail Mix 18.5oz with Best By dates between 06/04/16-05/31/17
- Flave Fitness Mix 8oz with Best By dates between 06/04/16-05/31/17
- Flave Hiker’s Haven Trail Mix 21.5 oz with Best By dates between 06/04/16-05/31/17
- Flave Tropical Trail Mix 8oz with Best By dates between 06/04/16-05/31/17
- Flave Oriental Delight Mix 6oz with Best By dates between 06/04/16-05/31/17
- Flave Sunflower Seeds 7.5oz with Best By dates between 06/04/16-05/31/17
- Gonzo 2 Go Sunshine Cranberry Delight 4.5oz with Lot Codes 14152171, 14153551, 14152441 14160402 &
- Gonzo 2 Go Fitness Mix 5oz with Lot Codes 14152171, 14152441, 14153561, 14160292, 14160641, & 14160991
- Foodhold USA Tub Cranberry Almond Trail Mix with Best By dates between 03/04/16-02/28/17
- SSP Fitness Mix Tub 10oz with Lot Codes 14152401 & 14152751
- Stewarts Sunshine Cranberry Delite 5oz with Best By dates between 03/04/16-02/28/17
- Tops square tub Roasted & Unsalted Sunflower Kernels 10.25oz with Best By dates between 06/04/16-05/31/17
- Tops square tub Roasted & Salted Sunflower Kernels 10.25oz with Best By dates between 06/04/16-05/31/17
- Tops square tub Sunshine Cranberry Delite 20oz with Best By dates between 03/04/16-02/28/17
- Wegmans square tub Fitness Mix 12/20oz with Best By dates between 03/04/16-02/28/17
- Wegmans square tub Sunshine Cranberry Delight 12/20oz with Best By dates between 03/04/16-02/28/17
The recalled items were sold in retail stores in Indiana, Louisiana, Massachussetts, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey. New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia. West Virginia and South Carolina between June 4, 2015, and May 31, 2016.
What to do
Customers who purchased any of the recalled items should destroy them.
Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-716- 389-0264, Monday – Friday, 8am - 5pm, (ET).
Rucker's Makin' Batch Candies recalls Dollywood Cajun Mix
The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes06/16/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Rucker’s Makin’ Batch Candies Bridgeport, Ill., is recalling specific batches of Dollywood Cajun Mix. The product may be contaminated with Listeria...
Rucker’s Makin’ Batch Candies Bridgeport, Ill., is recalling specific batches of Dollywood Cajun Mix.
The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
No illnesses have been reported to date.
The recalled product is packaged in 9-oz. clear bag with Dollywood Theme Park label, and the UPC code 4900005033302. The packages with best by codes ranging from January 23 – November 11, 2016 were distributed at Dollywood Theme Park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
What to do
Customers should not consume this product.
Consumers who wish to receive a refund or have questions may contact Rucker’s at 618-945-7778 or 888-622-2639 Mon. – Fri. 8:00 am – 4:00 pm (CST), or by email at email@example.com
Subaru recalls 135k vehicles with airbag inflator issue
The inflators may rupture due to propellant degradation06/16/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James Limbach
Subaru of America is recalling 135,696 model year 2003-2004 Legacy, Outback; 2006-2008 Impreza, Tribeca; 2006 Saab 9-2x; and 2003-2006 Baja vehicles origin...
Subaru of America is recalling 135,696 model year 2003-2004 Legacy, Outback; 2006-2008 Impreza, Tribeca; 2006 Saab 9-2x; and 2003-2006 Baja vehicles originally sold or that have ever been registered in Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, or "Zone B."
These vehicles may be equipped certain air bag inflators assembled as part of the passenger front airbag modules, and used as original equipment or replacement equipment. In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the front air bags, these inflators may rupture due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to absolute humidity and temperature cycling.
An inflator rupture may result in metal fragments striking the vehicle occupants resulting in serious injury or death.
What to do
Subaru will notify their owners. General Motors will notify Saab owners. Dealers will replace the passenger front air bag inflator, free of charge. A notification schedule has not yet been provided.
Owners may contact Subaru customer service at 1-856-488-8500. Subaru's number for this recall is TKB-16.
If you want to help, the City of Orlando has set up a fund06/15/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
The mass murder in Orlando Sunday morning, the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, has once again aroused popular anger, but also touched popular compassi...
AMA calls gun violence a public health crisis, gears up to fight Congress
Congress blocks CDC research into gun violence that kills 30,000 per year06/15/2016ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
The National Rifle Association is a powerful lobbying organization. But it may be outgunned by the American Medical Association, which Tuesday declared gun...
The National Rifle Association is a powerful lobbying organization. But it may be outgunned by the American Medical Association, which Tuesday declared gun violence "a public health crisis" requiring a comprehensive public health solution.
At its annual meeting, just days after the worst mass shooting in American history, the AMA resolved to actively lobby Congress to overturn NRA-backed legislation that for 20 years has blocked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from researching gun violence.
As if on cue, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) launched a talking filibuster on the Senate floor, trying to pressure Republicans into accepting legislation that would deny suspected terrorists from purchasing firearms and require universal background checks.
“I’m going to remain on this floor until we get some signal, some sign ... that we can get a path forward on addressing this epidemic in a meaningful, bipartisan way,” Murphy vowed.
In its resolution, the AMA said it is time for Congress to stop blocking vital research into the causes of gun violence and possible means of reducing it.
"With approximately 30,000 men, women and children dying each year at the barrel of a gun in elementary schools, movie theaters, workplaces, houses of worship and on live television, the United States faces a public health crisis of gun violence," said AMA President Steven J. Stack, M.D. "Even as America faces a crisis unrivaled in any other developed country, the Congress prohibits the CDC from conducting the very research that would help us understand the problems associated with gun violence and determine how to reduce the high rate of firearm-related deaths and injuries."
"An epidemiological analysis of gun violence is vital so physicians and other health providers, law enforcement, and society at large may be able to prevent injury, death and other harms to society resulting from firearms," Stack said.
While the horrific Orlando shooting sparked the latest action, the AMA has numerous, long-standing policies that support increasing the safety of firearms and their use, and reducing and preventing firearm violence.
AMA policy also supports stricter enforcement of present federal and state gun safety legislation, and the imposition of mandated penalties for crimes committed with the use of a firearm, including the illegal possession of a firearm.
CDC research into gun violence has been prohibited since 1996, when then-Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.) intoduced what has come to be called the Dickey Amendment, with heavy lobbying support from the NRA.
The number of gun-related deaths has skyrocketed since then, and there have been endless calls from physicians, scientists, and family members of gun violence victims for the amendment to be repealed.
Even Dickey has said he regrets introducing the amendment. He reversed his policy following the mass shooting at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, saying he was sorry he had served as "the NRA’s point person in Congress."
“I wish we had started the proper research and kept it going all this time,” Dickey told the Huffington Post in a 2015 interview. “I have regrets.”
President Obama tried to have the amendment repealed in 2012 but was blocked by NRA backers in Congress.
Affordable Care Act policies projected to rise in 2017
Kaiser Family Foundation analyzed projected rates in 14 major metros06/15/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
One feature of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is to make health coverage available to all Americans. Another was to keep it affordable.While availabilit...
One feature of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is to make health coverage available to all Americans. Another was to keep it affordable.
While availability is not an issue, affordability may be, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The organization projects benchmark silver plan premiums may increase by 10% next year in 14 major metro areas.
The foundation reached its conclusion after analyzing proposed rate filings in 13 states and Washington, DC. It focused on how premiums for silver plans, the middle of three categories, would change in 2017.
That doesn't mean premiums are going up everywhere – 10% is just the average of the 14 metros. Premiums are projected to go down 13% in Providence, R.I., while the highest projected increase is 18%, in Portland, Ore.
Most consumers pick a silver plan
About two-thirds of consumers with an ACA policy choose a silver plan. However, Kaiser says most of the marketplace customers who receive premium subsidies under ACA could escape the premium hikes if they simply switch to one of their marketplace's lowest cost plans.
In fact, the report's authors say the main takeaway is the importance of shopping around each year during the open enrollment period and making a change if it will save money. The analysis finds that each year there is a significant shift among insurers, and a plan that is lowest in cost one year in a particular marketplace won't be the next.
The savings can add up. The report found in nine of the 14 major metros, at least one coverage provider with one of the two lowest-cost silver plans in 2016 didn't make the cut for the lowest cost plans for 2017.
Need to change plans
“Consumers receiving tax credits in those plans may need to change plans to avoid paying a larger share of their income on premiums,” the authors write.
The report also finds that consumers will likely have fewer choices for 2017. The number of benefit providers in half the 14 metros will remain the same, or even increase. But in the rest, Kaiser projects fewer choices, mainly because of United Health Care's withdrawal from participation.
Kaiser notes that complete 2017 rate information for all metros and states is not yet available and final rates may be different from the projections.
Weight-loss device pumps food out of your stomach
Patients who use the device lose an average of 46 pounds in one year06/15/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
Photo (c) Aspire BariatricsWe all know that the way to lose, or at least control, weight is to eat less. That's easier said than done for most people...
We all know that the way to lose, or at least control, weight is to eat less. That's easier said than done for most people. But a new treatment makes it possible to reverse your food intake ... literally.
It's called the AspireAssist system. It was recently approved by the FDA and is being presented as an alternative to bariatric surgery, which involves putting a band around the stomach to literally make it smaller and thus able to hold less food.
Instead of making your stomach smaller, AspireAssist basically gives food another way out. Here's how it works:
A doctor uses an endoscope to place a thin tube into your stomach. The tube is connected to a small button on the outside. After each meal, you use a handheld device, about the size of a smartphone, that pumps a third of the meal out through a tube and into a nearby toilet. The procedure takes about five to ten minutes and removes the food before it can be absorbed by the stomach.
The manufacturer, Aspire Bariatrics, says that because only a third of the meal is removed, the body still receives the calories that it needs and you still get the full feeling that satisfies your hunger while shedding about a third of the calories that would otherwise be ingested.
AspireAssist is intended for use by adults with a Body Mass Index of 35 to 55 for whom more conservative weight loss therapies haven’t worked. (The Centers for Disease Control considers a BMI of 30 or higher to be “obese”). The company says its studies show patients lost an average of 46 pounds after using the system for a year.
The manufacturer says its device is implanted in a 15-minute outpatient procedure, which is fully reversible and doesn’t alter your internal anatomy. The system is intended for long-term use and is designed to be used in conjunction with diet, exercise counseling, and close medical monitoring.
“With less than 1% of the 25 million Americans with BMIs over 35, availing themselves of bariatric surgery each year, there is clearly a need for a non-surgical weight loss procedure that is effective, safe, and reversible,” says Dr. Christopher Thompsoon of the Harvard Medical School. “AspireAssist therapy satisfies this need and additionally offers a lower cost solution to the healthcare system.”
The device should not be used by people with eating disorders.
Research shows that women with migraines may be 50% more likely to experience a cardiovascular event06/15/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Christopher Maynard
Those who suffer from migraines know the excruciating pain that they can bring, but could they also be indicative of greater health problems? One study, le...
New app Winnie helps parents find kid-friendly locations nearby
Parents can let other parents know in advance if, for instance, a certain spot is good for preschoolers06/15/2016ConsumerAffairsBy Sarah D. Young
With kids home for the summer, parents might soon find themselves drowning in a sea of sentences starting with, “I’m bored.”Indeed, it can be difficult...
With kids home for the summer, parents might soon find themselves drowning in a sea of sentences starting with, “I’m bored.”
Indeed, it can be difficult to conjure up a kid-friendly day without leaving one’s city or town. But a new app called Winnie is here to help with this dilemma.
With Winnie, finding good places to go with your kids is taken a step further than a Google search. The iOS app can help parents find local restaurants, activities, and locations that have been deemed kid-friendly by other parents.
Like Yelp for parents
The app is a social networking tool that allows parents to get feedback from other parents who have taken their kids to a particular spot, such as a museum or playground.
Winnie makes it possible for parents to know, prior to loading up the minivan, the answers to such questions as, “Is there stroller access?”
Users will find recommendations, details, and stories from other parents describing their own family's experience at a certain restaurant, park, or location.
“We are building a platform for all parents -- single parents, transgender parents, families with disabilities, parents on a budget -- so that no one has to go on this journey alone,” said Winnie CEO Sara Mauskopf in a Medium post.
More locations are being added daily to Winnie’s 100,000 locations. Winnie is currently available for iOS, for free, on the app store.