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    How to prepare your dog for the arrival of a new baby

    Set the stage for a harmonious future by teaching your pup how to interact with the baby

    Although opinions on the term pet “parent” may vary, there’s no denying the fact that pet ownership is a big responsibility. In households without children, dogs often get lavished in especially large amounts of love and attention.

    So what’s Fido to think when suddenly a tiny human enters the picture? While he may soon bond with the new addition, your dog may not immediately be thrilled by the presence of a screaming, time-stealing infant.

    Studies show that dogs, like humans, can experience feelings of jealousy and insecurity. For this reason, it can be beneficial to prepare your pup for the arrival of a new baby. The preparation process can begin as soon as you find you’re expecting, but pet owners should continue helping their dog adjust as the baby grows.

    Preparing while pregnant

    Your dog probably has a daily routine. It’s important to start changing that routine to match whatever the dog’s new routine will be once the baby arrives, says Michael Wombacher, a professional dog trainer and author of "Good Dog, Happy Baby."
    How soon should dog owners be implementing these changes? Writing for CNN, Wombacher notes that it “depends on your dog and how deeply embedded into your routine she is.”

    Expectant parents can begin shaking up the routine a month before their due date or the moment the pregnancy test turns positive. What’s important is that the dog not be given any reason to negatively associate the changes with the baby.

    At 8 months old

    Does your dog have soft, tuggable ears or a wagging tail that looks irresistible to grab? By 8 months of age, your baby will probably begin noticing -- and reaching for -- some of the more sensitive body parts on your fur-covered family member.
    During the months leading up to this tactile phase, you can prepare your dog by conditioning him to be used to awkward grabbing and pulling. Wombacher notes that it’s also vital that dogs be given a “safe zone” to retreat to if the baby’s touching becomes too stressful.

    It is during this phase that parents can also teach the family pet not to confuse dog toys with baby toys. The two types of toys may be similar in appearance and in noise-making ability, but Wombacher says dogs can easily learn how to distinguish between what’s theirs and what isn’t.

    How? Simply dab a little Listerine on the baby’s toys and teach your dog that the scent of Listerine equals an "off" command.

    At 14 months old

    When your little one has gone bipedal, you can begin creating opportunities for structured, positive interactions between your child and your dog. This can include games, rudimentary pseudo-training, and more.
    During each of these phases, it’s important to remember that dogs and babies should never be left unattended together. But teaching your pooch how to interact with the newest member of the pack from the beginning can help pave the way for a harmonious and loving future, says Wombacher.
    Although opinions on the term pet “parent” may vary, there’s no denying the fact that pet ownership is a big responsibility. In households without children...
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      Southwest reaffirms its stance on not charging baggage fees

      CEO Gary Kelly spares 'no thought whatsoever on charging bags'

      The airline industry can be a harsh business. In a world where money is king and companies are always looking out for the bottom line, not scraping in revenue from every available source is practically unheard of.

      However, “practically” may be the operative word. Southwest Airlines has been under pressure to generate more revenue. The company is the only one of the largest commercial airliners in the U.S. that doesn’t charge a baggage fee, so the money is there for the taking. But, according to a Los Angeles Times report, CEO Gary Kelly has stated that the company won’t be doing that, at least for now.

      “We have a unique and beloved position in the industry with this approach and we would be foolish to squander it, so no thought whatsoever on charging bags,” Kelly said in a recent quarterly earnings call.

      Southwest woes

      The decision to let bags fly for free is great for consumers, but it potentially costs Southwest millions every year. Last year, the top 13 airline companies raked in $3.8 billion in bag fees, along with another $3 billion in charges that consumers paid for changing or canceling flight reservations – another service that Southwest doesn’t charge for.

      As a result, investors have cranked up the heat on the company to start tapping these revenue streams. Recent earnings reports haven’t been very favorable; last quarter’s earnings were down by nearly $200 million year-over-year, and the recent technology outage in July cost the company dearly. Kelly also cites increased competition as a major factor in the company’s bad fortunes.

      “The fare environment is very competitive and we have seen an increase in competitor seats in our markets that is fairly significant year-over-year,” he said.

      The CEO says that he has plans to bring in more revenue soon, though he remained tight-lipped about what those plans actually involved. “Well, it’s just not ready for prime time. And I’d rather not share with our competitors where we see opportunities for a variety of reasons,” Kelly explained.

      The airline industry can be a harsh business. In a world where money is king and companies are always looking out for the bottom line, not scraping in reve...
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      Hospitals show some improvement in safety

      But an estimated 200,000 Americans still die from medical errors

      When people are seriously ill or injured, they are usually admitted to a hospital. But it turns out that a hospital may not exactly be the safest place to find yourself.

      In the past, hospitals didn't always have access to the latest treatments. Today, most have excellent capabilities, but they don't always have the resources or systems to handle the patient load. This can lead to breakdowns in safety that can result in patient injures and infections.

      According to Leapfrog, which conducts annual hospital reviews, hospital mishaps kill over 200,000 Americans each year, making hospital mistakes the third leading cause of death in the United States.

      Making the grade

      Since not all hospitals are alike and some have much better safety records than others, it might be prudent to consult the data before selecting a hospital. In the latest Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade, which judged 2,633 hospitals and assigned letter grades, 844 earned an "A," 658 earned a "B," 954 earned a "C," 157 earned a "D" and 20 earned an "F."

      That means 57% of hospitals were ranked as either “excellent” or “good,” and only 6% were found to be “poor” or a “failure.” Of course, that's small comfort for patients admitted to that 6% of hospitals.

      Leapfrog found that geography sometimes plays a role, with some states able to attract the best hospital administration and best medical talent. North Carolina is a prime example. It was ranked 19th in spring 2013 for the number of “A” rated hospitals. In the current ranking, it's number five.

      Idaho has moved from number 45 – the the bottom of the list in 2013 – to number two today, one reason that the state has begun to attract more retirees. At the same time, Alaska, Delaware, North Dakota, and Washington, D.C., have no “A” rated hospitals.

      Not equally competent

      "In the fast-changing health care landscape, patients should be aware that hospitals are not all equally competent at protecting them from injuries and infections,” said Leapfrog President and CEO Leah Binder. We believe everyone has the right to know which hospitals are the safest and encourage community members to call on their local hospitals to change, and on their elected officials to spur them to action.”

      You might think with hospital errors causing so many deaths each year, health policymakers would carefully keep track of them. However, they don't. The 200,000 figure is only an estimate.

      As we reported earlier this year, researchers at Johns Hopkins have called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create a category for hospital errors, much as it has for other health threats. The researchers say cancer and heart disease tend to get most of the attention. They say that since "medical errors" isn't an official category, it doesn't get the funding it needs.

      You can find out how hospitals in your area ranked here.

      When people are seriously ill or injured, they are usually admitted to a hospital. But it turns out that a hospital may not exactly be the safest place to...
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      IRS unveils 2017 pension plan limitations

      There's no change in the limit for 401(k) contributions

      An increase is on the way from the Internal Revenue Service pertaining to income ranges and determining eligibility for making deductible contributions to traditional IRAs, contributing to Roth IRAs, and claiming the saver’s credit.

      You can deduct contributions to a traditional IRA if you meet certain conditions. For example, if during the year either you or your spouse was covered by a retirement plan at work, the deduction may be reduced, or phased out, until it is eliminated -- depending on filing status and income. If neither is covered, the phase-outs of the deduction do not apply.

      Next year's phase-out ranges

      • For single taxpayers covered by a workplace retirement plan, the phase-out range is $62,000 to $72,000 -- up from $61,000 to $71,000.
      • For married couples filing jointly, where the spouse making the IRA contribution is covered by a workplace retirement plan, the phase-out range is $99,000 to $119,000, versus $98,000 to $118,000.
      • For an IRA contributor who is not covered by a workplace retirement plan and is married to someone who is covered, the deduction is phased out if the couple’s income is between $186,000 and $196,000 -- up from $184,000 and $194,000.
      • For a married individual filing a separate return who is covered by a workplace retirement plan, the phase-out range is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $0 to $10,000.

      The new income phase-out range for taxpayers making contributions to a Roth IRA is $118,000 to $133,000 for singles and heads of household. This year it was $117,000 to $132,000.

      For married couples filing jointly, the income phase-out range is now $186,000 to $196,000, versus $184,000 to $194,000. The phase-out range for a married individual filing a separate return who makes contributions to a Roth IRA is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $0 to $10,000.

      The income limit for the saver’s credit (also known as the retirement savings contributions credit) for low- and moderate-income workers is $62,000 for married couples filing jointly, up $500; $46,500 for heads of household, up $375; and $31,000 for singles and married individuals filing separately, up $250.

      No change for these limitations

      • The contribution limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan remains at $18,000.
      • The catch-up contribution limit for employees aged 50 and over who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan remains at $6,000.
      • The limit on annual contributions to an IRA is unchanged at $5,500. The additional catch-up contribution limit for individuals aged 50 and over is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $1,000.

      Details are outlined in IRS Notice 2016-62.

      An increase is on the way from the Internal Revenue Service pertaining to income ranges and determining eligibility for making deductible contributions to...
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      Jury awards $70 million in baby powder cancer case

      Plaintiffs charge Johnson & Johnson knew of alleged cancer risk; the company denies it

      Concerns that women were unknowingly placing themselves in danger by using baby powder for feminine hygeine date back to 1971, when gynecological researchers first documented finding talc particles in ovarian tumors.

      Nine years later, in 1982, researchers made the first connection between ovarian cancer and talcum powder, finding in a control group of 215 women with ovarian cancer that ninety-two, or 42.8% of the women with cancer in the study, "regularly used talc either as a dusting powder on the perineum or on sanitary napkins compared with 61 (28.4%) controls."

      Since that landmark study, "dozens more followed confirming the association," says a new study evaluating the possible link, headed by Harvard researcher Dr. Daniel Cramer, who also published the 1982 study. His more recent research, published in May 2016, again associates genital use of talc with an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

      Did companies know of the risk?

      In recent years, lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson over its marketing of baby powder have piled up, with an estimated 1,200 claims pending.

      Plaintiffs like Deborah Giannecchini, who has Stage 4 ovarian cancer, say in court testimony that the company should have warned women not to use the product on their genitals. Instead, however, the company marketed baby powder to adult women, the lawsuits contend.

      One old print advertisement tells "grown-ups" that baby powder will make them feel "cool, smooth and dry."

      On October 27, Giannecchini's lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson ended in her favor, with the jury finding against the company and delivering a whopping $70 million verdict.

      In closing arguments, Giannecchini's attorney reportedly told the jurors that Johnson & Johnson executives had known about the link between talc use and ovarian cancer for years but falsified medical records to cover it up. Cramer, the Harvard researcher, has also testified in lawsuits that he had warned J&J; since 1982 to place a warning label on their baby powder, to no avail. Johnson & Johnson has said they will appeal the verdict.

      Three major verdicts In 2016

      The Giannecchini verdict follows a $72 million verdict a St. Louis jury slammed Johnson & Johnson with last March and a $55 million verdict against Johnson & Johnson that a South Dakota jury made in May. "It was really clear they were hiding something," the foreman of the St. Louis jury told Bloomberg News.

      J&J; denies cancer link

      Johnson & Johnson continues to insist there is no link between the use of talcum powder for feminine hygiene and ovarian cancer.

      Asked why they didn't consider the research dating back to 1971, Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman Carol Goodrich directed ConsumerAffairs to FactsAboutTalc.com, a website created by Johnson & Johnson. "The science is all there on the website," Goodrich said.

      Concerns that women were unknowingly placing themselves in danger by using baby powder for feminine hygeine date back to 1971, when gynecological researche...
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      Zika risk may extend to all adults, not just pregnant women

      Researchers find that certain brain cells found in adults are affected by the disease

      At the beginning of the year, Zika emerged as a top health threat when it gained a foothold in Latin America. Panic ensued as people began to realize that the virus was extremely dangerous to pregnant women and their unborn children, since cases of microcephaly – a previously rare birth defect -- began rising dramatically.

      Since then, scientists and researchers have learned a lot more about the Zika virus and prevention efforts are ongoing. However, a new discovery by researchers from The Rockefeller University and La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology raises concerns that Zika may not only be dangerous to pregnant women – it could be extremely dangerous to everyone.

      Their study using mice models suggests that Zika targets certain adult brain cells related to learning and memory. While the long-term effects are uncertain, it’s possible that the virus could lead to cases of depression or the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

      "This is the first study looking at the effect of Zika infection on the adult brain. . . Based on our findings, getting infected with Zika as an adult may not be as innocuous as people think,” said researcher Joseph Gleeson.

      Progenitor cells

      The researchers believe the cells that are primarily affected by Zika virus are progenitor cells. This class of cells are, in effect, the original stem cells of the brain. When we are developing in the womb, the brain is made up almost entirely of progenitor cells that eventually form neurons that are common in healthy adult brains.

      While researchers believe that fully formed neurons become resistant to Zika virus, the progenitor cells are still susceptible to it; it provides somewhat of an explanation for why unborn children develop birth defects and adults seem unaffected by the disease. However, pockets of progenitor cells remain in adult brains even after they have developed. The researchers say these pockets are closely linked to learning and memory, and that Zika could still negatively impact them.

      "Zika can clearly enter the brain of adults and can wreak havoc. . . But it's a complex disease -- it's catastrophic for early brain development, yet the majority of adults who are infected with Zika rarely show detectable symptoms. Its effect on the adult brain may be more subtle, and now we know what to look for," said professor Sujan Shresta of the La Jolla Institute of Allergy and Immunology.

      Dramatic results

      To test their theory, Gleeson, Shresta, and their colleagues infected mice models with a mimic of the Zika virus and scanned their brain for activity. The scans were meant to light up in sections of the brain that were most affected, and the two areas of the brain where progenitor cells resided did just that.

      "Our results are pretty dramatic -- in the parts of the brain that lit up, it was like a Christmas tree. . . It was very clear that the virus wasn't affecting the whole brain evenly, like people are seeing in the fetus. In the adult, it's only these two populations that are very specific to the stem cells that are affected by virus. These cells are special, and somehow very susceptible to the infection," said Gleeson.

      There is currently not enough far-reaching data to know exactly what could happen to adults affected by the disease, but Gleeson cautions that memory and learning problems are a distinct possibility, as well as conditions like depression and Alzheimer’s. "In more subtle cases, the virus could theoretically impact long-term memory or risk of depression, but tools do not exist to test the long-term effects of Zika on adult stem cell populations,” he said.

      Monitoring the disease

      While the researchers believe that healthy adults should be able to effectively fight the virus, they say that elderly people or those with weakened immune systems could be more at risk than previously thought. They suggest that public health officials be mindful of the study and begin monitoring it on a larger scale.

      "The virus seems to be traveling quite a bit as people move around the world. Given this study, I think the public health enterprise should consider monitoring for Zika infections in all groups, not just pregnant women,” said Gleeson.

      For now, the study will most likely serve as an opening investigation into how Zika affects adult brains. Scientists will have to find out if progenitor cells can recover from the virus’ damage, if there are any lasting biological consequences, and to what degree the adult brain is affected.

      The full study has been published in the journal Cell Stem Cell

      At the beginning of the year, Zika emerged as a top health threat when it gained a foothold in Latin America. Panic ensued as people began to realize that...
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      Privacy groups generally pleased with new broadband rules

      Now they'd like to see the rules expanded to other areas of the internet

      The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has gotten mostly praise from privacy and consumer groups for its new rules giving internet users more control over how their internet service provider (ISP) uses their personal information.

      On one hand, they say the rules are a huge improvement over the status quo. On the other hand, they say the protections could have been more extensive.

      There are three main provisions that give consumers the power to determine whether, and to what extent, their ISP may profit from the information it collects about them.

      What the rules do

      First, consumers must specifically agree, by “opting in,” to allow their sensitive information to be shared with anyone else. The rule specifies what categories of information are considered sensitive. These include your location, financial data, health information, children’s information, social security numbers, web browsing history, app usage history, and the content of communications.

      ISPs would be allowed to use customers' non-sensitive data unless the customer specifically opts out. Non-sensitive information might include email addresses or service tier information.

      ISPs do not need permission to use customer data to bill and collect for services. For consumers, no action is required to block ISPs from profiting from personal information. Consumers must take the step of “opting out” if they want to block ISPs from using non-sensitive information.

      Reaction

      Privacy advocates generally hailed the move. Guarav Laroia, policy counsel for Free Press, said the new rules aren't perfect but make big strides forward.

      “That’s because under any sensible interpretation of the communications laws that govern the FCC, the companies that carry all of our speech online have no business profiting from all the information they gather without our consent,” he said in an email to ConsumerAfffairs. “Today’s rules simply give people more choice when it comes to safeguarding their most private conversations and decisions online.”

      Consumer Watchdog also welcomed the new policy, but said it would like to see these rules extended to cover the rest of the internet.

      "Today's FCC action gives broadband users significant control over their information. It's a major step forward in protecting consumers' privacy," said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog privacy project director. "But the FCC action only covers ISPs.”

      Simpson said the rules should also cover the so-called internet edge providers like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon. He held out the possibility that extension could take place through legislative action.

      Even parts of the industry found things to like in the rules. The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) said the final rules are much better than the FCC's original draft, and praised the agency's “sensitivity” to the concerns of small, mostly rural wireless ISPs.

      But the group said it remains concerned that certain uses of non-sensitive customer information will be subject to opt-in consent.

      The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has gotten mostly praise from privacy and consumer groups for its new rules giving internet users more control...
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      Now it's Soylent food powder that's causing gastric distress

      The company withdrew its snack bars just a few weeks ago

      A few weeks ago, we reported that Soylent was withdrawing its snack bars because they were making people sick. Now the venture-backed start-up is withdrawing its food powder because -- you guessed it -- customers say it's making them sick.

      The company says it doesn't know just what the problem is but suspects -- logically enough -- that there is a common ingredient in both products that's to blame. Soylent premade drinks have, so far, not caused any problems, the company says.

      Soylent, based in Los Angeles, is trying to change how people eat. Forget the all-natural organic stuff, it's going straight for food powder. Just add water and the resulting goop will contain all the "protein, carbohydrates, lipids, and micronutrients that a body needs," according to the company's website

      Or so company founder Rob Reinhardt believes. The twenty-something engineering graduate doesn't have a background in nutrition or biology but he became annoyed at how much trouble it was to prepare food while crashing on projects, so decided to invent his own.

      Popular with programmers

      Soylent, spelled the same as the human-based food featured in the 70s science-fiction film "Soylent Green," is said to be quite popular with Silicon Valley programmers who have trouble turning aside from their coding long enough to wolf down a sandwich. 

      Soylent is a little vague about the exact ingredients, saying merely that its products "use bioengineered algae as a source of lipids and essential omega fatty acids.

      "Produced efficiently in bioreactors, rather than on farmland, these single-celled organisms require far less resources than traditional agriculture," we're told. "Bioreactor" sounds pretty cutting-edge but is basically a fancy term for a vessel in which a chemical process is carried out -- a beaker, for example. 

      Soylent swears it is hot on the trail of whatever is causing the problem and says when it figures it out, it will so advise the Food and Drug Administration, which has so far remained silent on the Soylent issue.

      Upon completing this somewhat snarky article, by the way, the author realized that, while writing it, he had himself nibbled through a Cliff Bar rather than delay publication by taking time for lunch. So far, no ill results. 

      A few weeks ago, we reported that Soylent was withdrawing its snack bars because they were making people sick. Now the venture-backed start-up is withdrawi...
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      How to make sure your child's Halloween costume is safe

      Tips to help parents avoid costume-related health and safety dangers

      For children, picking out a costume is often half the fun of Halloween. But parents have the responsibility of making sure that every element of their child’s costume is safe.

      Not every look-completing accessory or article of clothing your child chooses to don on Halloween may be safe. Before allowing kids to head out for a night of trick-or-treating, parents should know that their child’s costume won’t cause any frightening consequences.

      Face makeup and other popular Halloween accessories can cause irritation and infection, while the fit of the costume itself can also cause problems. To help ensure kids’ safety on Halloween, it can be smart to take the costume for a test run a few days before the big night.

      Using costume caution

      Here’s what parents can do ahead of Halloween to make sure their child’s costume is safe, according to Jill Creighton, MD, Medical Director of Ambulatory Primary Care Pediatrics.
      • Test makeup beforehand. Two to three days before Halloween, parents can test out non-toxic face makeup on their child’s arms to make sure there’s no skin reaction. After the kids are home from trick-or-treating, make sure to wash off all makeup to avoid eye and skin irritation.  
      • Avoid decorative contact lenses. As we reported, decorative contact lenses aren’t always safe or even legal. They can impair vision, cause an infection, and irritate the eye. Creighton recommends not allowing children to wear decorative contact lenses at all.
      • Prevent trip-ups. Costumes and shoes should be checked by parents to make sure they fit properly. Creighton notes that a baggy costume that drags on the ground may cause trips, slips, and falls. Oversized high heels can also cause falls.
      • Choose fire-resistant fabrics. Costumes and accessories should be flame-resistant, just in case your child brushes up against a candle-lit Halloween decoration during the night.
      • Keep kids visible. The U.S. National Safety Council recommends placing reflective tape on costumes and trick-or-treat bags to help other people and motorists see children after the sun has set. Choosing light-colored costumes can also keep kids from blending into the night. 
      For children, picking out a costume is often half the fun of Halloween. But parents have the responsibility of making sure that every element of their chil...
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      How the presidential election is affecting consumers' holiday spending this year

      The National Retail Federation says uncertain consumers are being more cautious

      With November just around the corner, many consumers across the U.S. would normally be shopping up a storm for the upcoming holiday season. While that’s still sort of true this year, a report from the National Retail Federation shows that many are modifying their plans. Why, you might ask? Well, it has something to do with another important event happening in early November.

      According to an NRF flash poll conducted earlier in October, a quarter of consumers said that the upcoming presidential election will impact their spending for the holiday season. Forty-three percent said that they would be more cautious with their spending due to the uncertainty of who will win the race.

      NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay says the campaign season has also forced retailers to delay advertising for holiday deals, which may have affected consumers.

      “Everywhere you turn – whether you’re picking up a newspaper or watching television – political advertisements are taking up ad space that retailers typically use to get holiday shopping on the minds of consumers across the country,” he said.

      However, NRF says that while spending will be down from last year, it will still be at a relatively high level. The association estimates that consumers will spend an average of $935.58 on gifts for others, self-spending, food, flowers, decorations, and greeting cards for the holidays. That’s a decrease of $17 from last year, but it’s the second highest total since 2004.

      “Once the election has passed, we anticipate consumers will pull themselves out of the election doldrums and into the holiday spirit,” said Shay. “Retailers should prepare for a rush of consumers in the weeks following the presidential election as they get more economic and political certainty and are looking to take advantage of promotions and deals that are too good to pass up for their friends, family and even themselves.”

      Self-spending increases

      NRF also predicts that self-spending will increase this holiday season, as consumers try to take advantage of good deals. Poll results indicate that 58% of shoppers plan to buy something for themselves; NRF predicts that consumers will spend an average of $139.61 on these purchases, up 4% from last year.

      “Many shoppers are taking the approach of ‘one for you, two for me’ this holiday season. Retailers are preparing by offering a wide array of merchandise and promotions – items shoppers want to give as great gifts at prices so good they want to buy for themselves too.”

      Spending on others will still eclipse self-spending, though, as the NRF says consumers will spend an average of $588.90 on gifts for family and friends.

      When it comes to where they’ll shop, consumers indicated that they’ll split their time pretty evenly between department stores (57%), online sources (57%), and discount stores (56%). Online shoppers will be looking to take advantage of free shipping as much as possible, though some will pay a little extra by opting for expedited shipping (17%) or same-day delivery (10%). 

      With November just around the corner, many consumers across the U.S. would normally be shopping up a storm for the upcoming holiday season. While that’s st...
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      H-E-B recalls star chairs due to fall hazard

      Weld defects can cause the armrest to detach from the base

      H-E-B is recalling about 650 Brazos Embossed star chairs.

      Weld defects can cause the armrest to detach from base, posing a fall hazard to consumers.

      The company has received one report of the armrest detaching from the base. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Brazos Embossed star chairs that are brown metal with welded construction and an embossed star design on the back of the chair.

      The white hangtag on this item has the following product identification: UPC number 8502430906 and item code number 194781. The chair is 24 inches wide and 33.5 inches high.

      The chairs, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at H-E-B stores in Texas from February 2016, through September 2016, for about $60.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled chair and return it to the store where purchased for a full refund.

      Consumers may contact H-E-B at 800-432-3113 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday or online at www.heb.com and click on “Recalls” for more information.

      H-E-B is recalling about 650 Brazos Embossed star chairs.Weld defects can cause the armrest to detach from base, posing a fall hazard to consumers....
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      Three highly rated airline credit cards

      Consumers who travel a lot might benefit from one of these

      Consumers should be aware by now that there are big advantages to using a rewards credit card, and in particular, a card that rewards certain things.

      For example, most consumers are probably better off with a cash-back credit card, which pays as much as 2% on all purchases or as much as 5% on certain categories.

      But frequent air travelers might profit more from using a card that rewards in miles. We've identified three such cards that are worth a look.

      Capital One VentureOne Reward

      Consumers who carry the Capital One VentureOne Reward Card earn an unlimited 1.25 miles on every purchase, making it easy to rack up miles. As an added bonus, there is no annual fee – a rarity in this class of credit card.

      When you earn 100 miles, you've earned $1 dollar in travel rewards. But the rewards come a lot faster for new cardholders, who get 20,000 bonus miles if they make $1,000 in purchases within the first three months of card activation.

      You can redeem your miles as a statement credit. As added perks, the rewards don't expire and you can carry a balance the first year without paying any interest.

      Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard's Rewards

      Another good choice for frequent travelers is the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard's Rewards Card. You earn two times the miles on all purchases.

      Right off the bat, new cardholders get 50,000 bonus miles if they spend $3,000 in the first 90 days of card activation. That adds up to a $500 travel statement credit.

      The miles don't expire and you get 5% miles back every time you redeem, to use toward the next redemption. There's an $89 annual fee, but it's waived the first year. The card also has a 0% introductory balance transfer rate for 12 months if the transfer is made within the first 45 days.

      Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express

      For consumers who find themselves flying Delta most of the time, the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express might be a good fit. It pays two miles for every dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta, and a mile for every dollar spent on all other eligible purchases.

      New card members earn 30,000 bonus miles if they make $1,000 in purchases within the first three months of card activation and earn an extra $50 statement credit just by making a Delta purchase during that time.

      There are also some air travel-specific perks as well. Card members can check their first bag for free on every Delta flight, saving $100 on a round-trip. They also enjoy jumping to the head of the line with priority boarding.

      There's a $95 annual fee, but it's waived the first year.

      Consumers should be aware by now that there are big advantages to using a rewards credit card, and in particular, a card that rewards certain things.Fo...
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      Skin patch shows promise in treating children's peanut allergies

      The wearable 'Viaskin' patch delivers peanut protein into the skin

      There has been a dramatic increase in the number of children living with a peanut allergy in recent decades. In fact, studies show that the number of kids affected by this major food allergy tripled between 1997 and 2008.

      Currently, there is no cure for food allergies. However, the results of a recent clinical trial showed that a new wearable skin patch may soon be an effective means of treating peanut allergies in children.

      The "Viaskin" patch works by delivering a low dose of peanut protein through the skin. Researchers say training the body to tolerate small doses of the allergen in this way (a treatment method known as epicutaneous immunotherapy) was found to be safe and effective, especially in younger children.

      Protects against peanut exposure

      The one-year trial was conducted by the Consortium of Food Allergy Research (CoFAR) and sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In it, researchers asked volunteers (who ranged in age from 4 to 25) with peanut allergies to wear either a high-dose patch, a low-dose patch, or a placebo patch.

      One year later, the researchers tested the volunteers to see if their peanut tolerance had changed -- and if so, how much. Findings showed that those who had been given the low-dose and high-dose patches experienced similar benefits.

      The treatment was successful for 46% of the low-dose group and 48% of the high-dose group. The greatest improvement was seen in children between the ages of 4 to 11, the authors note.

      "The clinical benefit seen in younger children highlights the promise of this innovative approach to treating peanut allergy," said Daniel Rotrosen, M.D., director of NIAID's Division of Allergy, Immunology and Transplantation (DAIT).

      Easy to use

      In addition to being effective, the patch was found to be easy for kids to use. The wearable patch, which could be applied either to a volunteer’s arm or between their shoulder blades, was used correctly by almost all of the study’s participants.

      "The high adherence to the daily peanut patch regimen suggests that the patch is easy-to-use, convenient and safe," said Marshall Plaut, chief of DAIT's Food Allergy, Atopic Dermatitis and Allergic Mechanisms Section.

      Plaut adds that the study’s promising results “support further investigation of epicutaneous immunotherapy as a novel approach for peanut allergy treatment." Additional studies will be needed before the Viaskin patch can be made commercially available.

      The full study is published online in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

      There has been a dramatic increase in the number of children living with a peanut allergy in recent decades. In fact, studies show that the number of kids...
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      Verizon executive says the company needs more information on the Yahoo data breach

      What they find out could affect how much they pay for their acquisition

      It’s been a little over a month since Yahoo confirmed details of its massive data breach, which compromised information on roughly 500 million user accounts. When the news broke, many people speculated whether it would affect Verizon’s acquisition of the company – a deal that had been struck in July for around $4.8 billion.

      Those rumors began heating up at the beginning of the month when reports suggested that Verizon was pushing for a $1 billion discount because Yahoo had not disclosed information about the breach. And now, only a couple of weeks later, talk will be swirling about what Verizon actually intends to pay.

      According to a report from Reuters, a Verizon executive stated at a tech conference that buying up Yahoo still made good business sense. However, she said that Verizon still needed more information about the breach, which will ultimately affect how much the company plans to pay.

      “I’ve got an obligation to make sure that we protect our shareholders and our investors, so we’re not going to jump off a cliff blindly,” said Marni Walden, president of Product Innovation and New Businesses at Verizon.

      Uncertain future

      As we reported previously, the Yahoo acquisition gives Verizon a lot of advantages. The company acquired AOL back in 2015, and combining it with Yahoo would give the company a strong competitive rival to the likes of Google and Facebook in the digital advertising market.

      At the conference, Walden showed her enthusiasm for the prospective combination, pointing out that the deal could allow Verizon to cater more to brands, since Google and Facebook focus more on social media and search, respectively. “We can help other brands build inside of a very open, friendly marketplace,” she said.

      However, not having all the information on Yahoo’s data breach could be a sticking point. When asked if Verizon could potentially back out of its acquisition deal, Walden was non-committal, simply asking for the next question. Leaving the door open in this way certainly won’t make the folks over at Yahoo sleep any easier.

      It’s been a little over a month since Yahoo confirmed details of its massive data breach, which compromised information on roughly 500 million user account...
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      New car sales drop sharply in October

      For consumers, that can create some bargains

      Consumers continue to flock to new car showrooms, but in fewer numbers this month. With October drawing to a close, industry analysts are predicting sales will be down as much as 6% from October 2015.

      But that doesn't mean the industry is hurting. If you'll recall, last October was a huge month for car dealers, as new car sales set records month after month. Besides, Kelley Blue Book (KBB) notes there were some extenuating circumstances this month – two fewer selling days than last year.

      But KBB analyst Tim Fleming says the preliminary sales numbers show a drop in volume across the entire industry, with dealers and manufacturers having to work harder to close sales.

      "Higher incentives are helping boost sales, but with transaction prices at an all-time high and great consumer demand for SUVs and trucks, which are more profitable, automakers can afford the extra incentives,” Fleming said. Still, discipline with incentives and moderating production will go a long way in preserving residual values in the next few years."

      Edmunds.com, meanwhile, predicts a slightly better industry performance, with October sales down just 5.2%.

      "On the surface, it might look like a slow month for sales, but in fact the industry's performance was much stronger than the raw numbers suggest," said Edmunds.com Senior Analyst Jessica Caldwell.

      What's hot and what's not

      Monthly sales figures can be useful for consumers thinking about a new car purchase because it can show where the bargains are and are not. For example, a make and model that is in demand will have less wiggle room during a negotiation. A model that lags in sales might be purchased at more of a bargain price.

      Going forward, that could make Volkswagen a good buy. Preliminary sales data shows VW continues to lose marketshare in the wake of the 2015 diesel emissions cheating scandal. Its sales this month are expected to be down nearly 10% from last October, the first month after the scandal broke.

      "Upcoming SUV launches, including the redesigned Tiguan and an all-new three-row SUV, will certainly help Volkswagen's car-dominant lineup once they hit the market, and that can't come soon enough for Volkswagen dealers,” Fleming said. Importantly, the Audi and Porsche brands have not been affected by the scandal, as sales for those two brands are up year-over-year."

      Subaru still hot

      While consumers might negotiate an attractive deal on a VW, it might be harder to get a low price on a Subaru, which remains a sales leader. Preliminary numbers show Subaru increased its marketshare from 3.6% to 3.8% this month, even with slightly fewer sales than in October 2015.

      KBB notes Subaru has the fastest-selling inventory, lowest days' supply of vehicles, and the fewest incentives of any major brand.

      Consumers continue to flock to new car showrooms, but in fewer numbers this month. With October drawing to a close, industry analysts are predicting sales...
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      Pending home sales head higher in September

      Sales are now at their fifth highest level over the past year

      Following a drop of 2.5% in August, pending home sales have climbed to their their fifth highest level over the past year.

      The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports that increases in the South and West helped push its Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, up 1.5% in September to 110.0.

      The index has now risen year-over-year for 22 of the last 25 months and is up 2.4% from the same time a year ago.

      “Buyer demand is holding up impressively well this fall with Realtors reporting much stronger foot traffic compared to a year ago,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. "Although depressed inventory levels are keeping home prices elevated in most of the country, steady job gains and growing evidence that wages are finally starting to tick up are encouraging more households to consider buying a home."

      Regional breakdown

      • Pending home sales in the West shot up 4.7% last month to 107.3, and is now 4.0% above a year ago.
      • The index in the South rose 1.9% to a reading of 122.1 and stands 1.7% above where it was in September, 2015.
      • The PHSI fell 1.6% to 96.5 in the Northeast, but is still 7.7% the same time last year.
      • In the Midwest the index slipped 0.2% to 104.6 and is now 1.0% below its level in September 2015.

      Jobless claims

      From the Department of Labor (DOL), there's word that first-time applications for state unemployment benefits fell in the week ending October 22 to a seasonally adjusted 258,000.

      That's down 3,000 from the previous week and marks 86 consecutive weeks of initial claims below 300,000 -- the longest streak since 1970.

      The four-week moving average, considered by many economists to be a more accurate barometer of the labor market, inched up by 1,000 to 253,000.

      The complete report is available on the DOL website.

      Following a drop of 2.5% in August, pending home sales have climbed to their their fifth highest level over th...
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      Toyota recalls model year 2016-2017 Prius vehicles with braking issue

      The foot-operated parking brake system that has a parking brake cable that may disengage

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 91,585 model year 2016-2017 Prius vehicles manufactured August 6, 2015, to October 3, 2016.

      The recalled vehicles are equipped with a foot-operated parking brake system that has a parking brake cable that may disengage.

      If the parking brake cable disengages from the mechanism and the transmission is left in a gear other than 'Park' while the ignition is on and the driver leaves the vehicle, the vehicle may roll unexpectedly, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will install a clip at the parking brake cable end to prevent the cable from disengaging, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin December 11, 2016.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-888-270-9371. Toyota's number for this recall is G01.

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 91,585 model year 2016-2017 Prius vehicles manufactured August 6, 2015, to October 3, 2016.The re...
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      EpiPen rival resuming sales next year

      The Auvi-Q was recalled because of dosage problems that the company says have been resolved

      Mylan NV’s aggressive pricing of its EpiPen emergency injector has brought Congressional investigations, widespread denunciation from consumer and health advocates, and numerous legal challenges.

      What could be worse? Competition. And that's what drugmaker Kaleo Inc. says it will provide early next year when its Auvi-Q injector returns to the marketplace. The Auvi-Q was recalled last year because of potential malfunctions that could deliver the wrong dose of epinephrine, used to counteract the life-threatening anaphylactic shock that allergy sufferers sometimes encounter. 

      “As the inventors of Auvi-Q, my brother and I have dedicated our lives to researching and developing an innovative epinephrine auto-injector that would do for severe allergy sufferers what the AEDs did for cardiac arrest in the community; namely a product that could assist and guide even an untrained user through a life-threatening emergency,” said Evan Edwards, vice president of Kaleo.

      "Affordable access"

      Kaléo said it is working to "ensure that all patients regardless of insurance coverage, have affordable access to Auvi-Q."

      The EpiPen contains about $1 worth of epinephrine, but it costs $600 or more for a package of two in the United States, a huge increase over the $57 the EpiPen went for in 2007. Epinephrine loses potency over time and the device must be replaced annually.

      The problem, of course, is that $600 is a lot of money for most people. While some insurance plans cover some of the cost, depending on the deductible and other factors, consumers can still wind up paying hundreds of dollars for an EpiPen two-pack.

      Auvi-Q was originally marketed by French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi in 2013 but was pulled from the market in October 2015 because of suspected malfunctions that did not result in any known deaths. Sanofi later ended its partnership with Kaleo, which is now relaunching the product.

      Kaleo said that after regaining the rights to Auvi-Q, it "conducted a thorough manufacturing assessment and invested in new technology and quality systems to ensure accurate, reliable and consistent delivery from the product."

      "Industry-first features"

      The Auvi-Q is similar to the EpiPen, in that both are compact epinephrine auto-injectors. Kaleo says its device has a number of industry-first features, including a voice prompt system that guides a user with step-by-step instructions through the delivery process, and a needle that automatically retracts following administration.

      "AUVI-Q is engineered to help patients and their caregivers to confidently administer epinephrine in life-threatening allergic emergencies," the company said. 

      Kaleo's announcement was well received by allergy organizations which have previously expressed frustration over the EpiPen situation.

      “For the millions affected by life-threatening food allergies, an epinephrine auto-injector serves as a lifeline,” said James R. Baker, Jr., MD, CEO and Chief Medical Officer at Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE). “These lifesaving devices must be accessible and affordable, and Americans should have options when it comes to selecting the right auto-injector for their family.”

      “We are very excited about patients once again having a choice in epinephrine auto-injectors,” said Eleanor Garrow-Holding, President and CEO of the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team (FAACT). “Those living with life-threatening allergies deserve innovative products and choices that meet their individual needs."

      Kaleo is a closely held company based in Richmond, Va.

      Mylan NV’s aggressive pricing of its EpiPen emergency injector has brought Congressional investigations, widespread denunciation from consumer and health a...
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      FanDuel, DraftKings, reach settlement with New York

      Both firms pay the state $6 million over marketing practices

      The long and bitter war between the two major daily fantasy sports (DFS) enterprises and the state of New York has reached a peaceful conclusion.

      New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has reached separate $6 million settlements with both companies, which run games where players can win money based on the performance of actual players on their “fantasy” teams.

      Last fall, as DFS games were reaching their height of popularity, Schneiderman sued both DraftKings and FanDuel, claiming both were in violation of New York's gambling laws. The two companies fought the suits, saying they offered games of skill, not chance.

      In the end, the settlement revolves around Schneiderman's charges that both companies engaged in false and deceptive advertising. The complaint alleged both companies misled novice players about their chances of winning, giving “false and misleading” statistics about the odds.

      During the protracted litigation, Schneiderman secured an injunction preventing both companies from offering games to New York residents. Between March and August, the companies were not allowed to accept money from New Yorkers.

      Terms of the settlement

      In agreeing to terms, both DraftKings and FanDuel agreed to change marketing practices, providing clear disclosure of terms and conditions and information about expected performance.

      “Today’s settlements make it clear that no company has a right to deceive New Yorkers for its own profit,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “DraftKings and FanDuel will now be required to operate with greater transparency and disclosure and to permanently end the misrepresentations they made to millions of consumers. These agreements will help ensure that both companies operate, honestly and lawfully in the future.”

      The issue of whether DFS violates New York's gambling laws went away in August, when New York enacted legislation that specifically says DFS is a legal activity. Most other states have enacted similar laws.

      Fantasy sports began as an informal hobby among sports enthusiasts. These informal “leagues” lasted an entire season, with participants getting points each week based on how their players performed in real games.

      DFS made it a professional enterprise, allowing participants to form different teams daily or weekly, winning money if their “team” won. Critics said there was little difference between that and betting on the outcome of a game.

      The long and bitter war between the two major daily fantasy sports (DFS) enterprises and the state of New York has reached a peaceful conclusion.New Yo...
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      How to avoid tricks this Halloween with smart home security features

      Use of security cameras and automatic light controls can help keep your home safe

      Consumers across the U.S. look forward to Halloween every year as a time to relax and have fun with family and friends. However, criminals also look at the holiday as an opportunity to take advantage of unsuspecting residents and empty homes.

      That’s why Shannon Murphy, vice president of sales and marketing for the Electronic Security Association (ESA), says the holiday is a perfect time to take advantage of smart home security features. By using security cameras, automatic lighting controls, and other smart security features, consumers can help ensure the safety of their home while they’re away or the identity of anyone who comes knocking.

      “There was a time when your only way to get a glance at the ghouls and goblins at your door was to look out a small peephole. With an integrated smart home security system, you can simply use your smart phone to identify friend or foe,” said Murphy.

      Tips for Halloween safety

      To help consumers take full advantage of their smart home security systems, Murphy offers the following tips for the coming holiday.

      • Monitor the security camera mounted at your front entrance. Not only can it be used to identify trick or treaters before you open the door, it can be used to monitor activity via your smart phone while you are out enjoying the evening with your family and friends.
      • If you plan to stage a spooky Halloween experience by stationing a family member or friend outdoors to hand out treats – position them in a place that can be easily monitored by a security camera. 
      • Adjust security camera settings to angle at least one camera toward your driveway or the street entrance to your home. This can help detect and even identify tricksters. 
      • As you are pre-planning your trick-or-treat route, pre-program your interior lighting to realistically turn on and off in different rooms and at different times so your house won't look vacant while you are away. If you don't have time, you can use your smart phone to control the lighting while you are out. 
      • Use your smart phone to ensure your security system is armed while you are trick or treating with your children – or at your neighborhood Halloweenparty with friends. You can also use your smart phone to arm your security system if you forgot to do so.

      “A professionally-monitored smart home security system can alert you and the appropriate authorities to unusual activity and potential threats. This is important every day of the year – but provides an added comfort level on holidays such as Halloween,” concludes Murphy.

      Learn more about home security systems 

      Consumers across the U.S. look forward to Halloween every year as a time to relax and have fun with family and friends. However, criminals also look at the...
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      Target unveils holiday shopping strategy

      Survey shows growing backlash against Thanksgiving Day openings

      Retailers are trying to get a leg-up on competitors in the holiday shopping sweepstakes, especially as spending continues to migrate to the internet. Many retail analysts believe Amazon is poised to capture a bigger slice of the pie, which may motivate competitors to offer even more enticing deals.

      Target has taken the wraps off its 2016 holiday strategy, saying it plans to offer new and exclusive inventory in every product category, as well as a wide range of bargains.

      “Target is at our very best during the holidays, and we’re building on last year’s winning formula to make the 2016 holiday season even better,” said Target CEO and Chairman Brian Cornell.

      Cornell said the strategy is built around helping consumers save both time and money, both in stores and online.

      “Most importantly, guests will find truly exceptional value through broad and simple offers timed to maximize savings on the most-shopped merchandise at each point in the season,” he said.

      Introducing the Wondershop

      New this year is Wondershop, sort of shop within a shop that specializes in Christmas decorations. The company has also developed Wonderlist, which it says is a tool to find gifts for family and friends.

      For children, Target says it will feature about 1,000 new items from the recently introduced Cat & Jack line, with price tags under $30. There will be more than 1,800 new or exclusive toys, an increase of about 15% over 2015.

      Preparing for a burst in virtual reality popularity, Target says it will feature newly released VR products, including PlayStation VR and VR One Plus.

      Frowning on Thanksgiving openings

      Target is among the major retailers that have not yet announced plans for Thanksgiving Day. While a large number of stores plan to remain closed the day before Black Friday, Target is among the retailers expected to try to get a jump on holiday spending.

      Shopping site BestBlackFriday.com is out with a survey of consumers that shows an overwhelming number prefer stores to close Thanksgiving Day and give employees the holiday off. Its survey shows only 8.18% of consumers “strongly favor” a store being open Thanksgiving Day, while 37.72% “strongly dislike” the idea.

      “The vast majority of the population does not view the practice of stores dragging their employees and shoppers out of their homes on Turkey Day in a positive light,” the authors write.

      Even so, the site suggests plenty of consumers will shop on Thanksgiving, most likely ordering things online rather than going to stores.

      Retailers are trying to get a leg-up on competitors in the holiday shopping sweepstakes, especially as spending continues to migrate to the internet. Many...
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      Don't get tricked by zombie debt

      There are ways to deal with debt that has come back to life

      Calls from debt collectors are always unpleasant. But when the calls are trying to collect so-called “zombie debt,” they can be downright scary.

      "As the name suggests, zombie debt is debt that you thought was dead, but has come back to life," said Katie Bossler, a GreenPath financial wellness expert.

      To be more precise, zombie debt is money you really don't owe. It may be that you have already paid the debt, but it didn't get recorded. It may be the debt is so old it has passed the statute of limitations and can't be legally collected. Or it could be that the debt never belonged to you, and it's a case of mistaken identity.

      Law gives you rights

      Sadly, the debt collectors who are trying to collect the money are unlikely to be sympathetic to your protests that you don't owe the money. In fairness to them, they've heard it all before. But the law requires them to respect your rights and, if they fail to do so, they can be held accountable. To do that, you need to know your rights.

      Consumer rights in this area are spelled out under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. If you are contacted about a debt you think you do not owe, the law allows you to demand to see written verification of the debt. The debt collector must send that to you within five days after first contacting you.

      This validation notice must include the name of the creditor and instructions on how to proceed if you don't believe you owe the debt.

      If you send the debt collector a letter saying you don’t owe the debt, the collector must stop contacting you. You have to send that letter within 30 days after you receive the validation notice. The only way a collector can legally begin contacting you again is by sending you written verification of the debt, like a copy of a bill for the amount you owe.

      What to do

      If you are contacted about what you think could be zombie debt, consult your records to see if you can prove it has been paid. Pull your credit report to see if it is still being reported to the credit bureaus.

      Demand to see written proof that you owe the debt. If you need a guide for writing the letter to the debt collector, use these samples from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. If it's a real debt but you think it is past the statute of limitations, consult a lawyer or legal aid society on how to respond.

      Even during the Halloween season, there is no reason to be spooked by zombie debt.

      Calls from debt collectors are always unpleasant. But when the calls are trying to collect so-called “zombie debt,” they can be downright scary."As the...
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      Mortgage applications on the decline following slight uptick

      Contract interest rates were mixed

      Following a move -- albeit small -- to higher ground the previous week, mortgage applications posted a decline of 4.1% in the week ending October 21.

      The Mortgage Bankers Association also reports the Refinance Index dropped 2% from the previous week, although the refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 62.7% of total applications from 61.5% a week earlier.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity came in at 4.2% of total applications, the FHA share inched down to 11.1% from 11.3% the week prior, the VA share was 12.2%, and the USDA share of total applications was unchanged at 0.7%.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) dipped two basis points -- from 3.73% to 3.71% -- with points increasing to 0.37 from 0.36 (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) slipped to 3.71% from 3.72%, with points increasing to 0.35 from 0.29 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate remained unchanged from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA rose two basis points to 3.56%, with points decreasing to 0.28 from 0.30 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs went down to 3.01% from 3.03%, with points increasing to 0.28 from 0.27 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs dropped four basis points to 2.93%, with points decreasing to 0.32 from 0.41 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.

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

      Following a move -- albeit small -- to higher ground the previous week, mortgage applications posted a decline of 4.1% in the week ending October 21.Th...
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      Fiddle Diddles recalls car seat strap systems

      Small internal parts can pose a choking hazard to young children

      Fiddle Diddles of Maple Grove, Minn., is recalling about 250 LullaBelay car seat strap systems.

      The carabiners attached to the strap system contain small internal parts that can become dislodged, posing a choking hazard to young children.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Fiddle Diddles LullaBelay adjustable car seat strap system with model number LB1001. The strap system includes two fabric straps, carabiner hardware, a mesh car seat cover and a tote bag. The carabiners are used to hang a car seat from a shopping cart.

      The model number is printed on the gray straps. “Fiddle Diddles” is printed on a fabric label attached to the mesh car seat cover, tote bag and fabric straps.

      The strap system, manufactured in China, was sold online at Amazon.com from November 2015, through June 2016, Fiddlediddles.com from May 2015, through June 2015, and at Zoolikins stores in Arizona from November 2015, through June 2016, for about $40.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the LullaBelay strap system and contact Fiddle Diddles for a free repair kit with three new carabiners. The firm is contacting all known purchasers directly.

      Consumers may contact Fiddle Diddles toll-free at 888-741-2957 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, by email at info@fiddlediddles.com or online at www.fiddlediddles.com and click on “Product Recall” at the bottom of the page for more information.

      Fiddle Diddles of Maple Grove, Minn., is recalling about 250 LullaBelay car seat strap systems.The carabiners attached to the strap system contain smal...
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      Court approves $15 billion VW diesel settlement

      The approval closes another chapter in the 'clean diesel' scandal that shook confidence in automakers

      A federal court judge today approved the $15 billion settlement between Volkswagen and consumers who owned or leased a Volkswagen or Audi 2.0-liter TDI "clean diesel" car. It's the largest consumer class action settlement in U.S. history.

      In most cases the owners of VW and Audi diesel cars fitted with illegal emissions defeat devices will receive between $12,500 and $44,000 each, depending on the model, year, mileage, and trim of the car, as well as where the owner lives.

      The Federal Trade Commission today issued a new consumer blog post, VW Buybacks and Lease Terminations to Begin, which provides background information on the settlement order, along with detailed instructions for affected owners regarding how and where to file a claim, and the claim-processing timetable. It also tells consumers how and where they can pick up their buyback check, specifying that the checks do not have to be used to buy a new Volkswagen.

      “The settlement in its current form is fair, adequate, and reasonable and is in the best interest of Class Members. Benefits under the Settlement shall immediately be made available to Class Members,” Judge Charles R. Breyer said.

      The settlement offers eligible VW owners and lessees the option of a buyback, to have their car fixed, or the option to wait and see what each owner believes is best for their situation.

      Starting today, Volkswagen will begin processing claims so that consumers can participate in the settlement program and receive compensation. The compensation is free of attorneys’ fees and taxes and also takes into account insurance paid for the affected vehicles.

      Buybacks and lease terminations should begin in November. It's not yet known when or if federal and state agencies will approve a modification that brings the cars into compliance with emission standards. The settlement provides that if a modification is not approved by the court and environmental agencies after 12 months, VW must buy back the vehicles. 

      Consumer options

      “This settlement is all about giving the consumer options while ensuring Volkswagen does its part to remedy its harm to the environment as well as fairly compensate those impacted,” said Joe Rice, a South Carolina attorney who was one of the lawyers negotiating the settlement. “Speed was critical in developing these options. ... The faster we are able to help consumers get the assistance they need, the better job we have done on their behalf."

      A resolution must still be reached for consumers who bought or leased a 3.0-liter diesel-powered VW, Audi, or Porsche. 

      The total settlement is $14.7 billion dollars, with $10 billion allocated for consumers and $4.7 billion for environmental restitution.

      More action needed

      While applauding the settlement, some critics said more needs to be done.

      “It is great news that VW diesel owners can now be reimbursed, and that Volkswagen must begin to repair the environmental damage their emissions deception caused," said Center for Auto Safety staff attorney Michael Brooks but he said criminal charges are needed to get industry's attention.

      "Automakers will not change their illegal behavior unless the government pursues significant criminal penalties against executives who take or condone such actions.  We look forward to news of federal criminal charges against the VW executives who participated in this fraud on the American public,” Brooks said.

      Safe Climate Campaign Director Dan Becker said the government "did a good job preventing further harm from VW’s diesel fraud."

      "Most heavily polluting diesels will be removed from the road and cannot be resold unless fixed. Other automakers must learn from this scandal that they dare not disable pollution controls, lie to the government or fleece consumers. Those lessons will be reinforced when the government brings criminal charges against VW officals who perpetrated this fraud,” Becker said.

      A federal court judge today approved the $15 billion settlement between Volkswagen and consumers who owned or leased a Volkswagen or Audi 2.0-liter TDI "cl...
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      Home prices continue to climb

      Portland, Seattle, and Denver led the way

      Home prices continued their gains in August on both an annual and month-to-month basis.

      According to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Indices, the National Home Price Index, which covers all nine U.S. census divisions, was up 5.3% from the same time a year ago.

      The 10-City Composite showed a 4.3% annual gain, while the 20-City Composite reported a year-over-year advance of 5.1%.

      Portland, Seattle, and Denver reported the highest year-over-year increases among the 20 cities over each of the last seven months. Portland posted an 11.7% year-over-year price increase, followed by Seattle at 11.4%, and Denver with an 8.8% increase.

      Ten cities reported greater price increases in the year ending August 2016 than in the year ending July 2016.

      Month-over-month

      Before seasonal adjustment, the National Index was up 0.5% on a a month-over-month basis, with both the 10- and 20-City Composites posting a 0.4% increase.

      The National Index recorded an advance of 0.6% after seasonal adjustment, while both the 10-City Composite and the 20-City Composite reported 0.2% month-over-month increases.

      After seasonal adjustment, 14 cities saw prices rise, two cities were unchanged, and four cities posted declines.

      This isn't the only encouraging housing news. David M. Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices notes that, “Other housing data including sales of existing single family homes, measures of housing affordability, and permits for new construction also point to a reasonably healthy housing market.”

      Home prices continued their gains in August on both an annual and month-to-month basis.According to the S&P; CoreLogic Case-Shiller Indices, the Nation...
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      Proposed AT&T-Time Warner merger likely to face strong opposition

      Public interest, political sectors grow increasingly skeptical of these deals

      Consolidation continues in the media and communications industries, but the latest proposed deal is getting some strong push-back.

      Over the weekend, AT&T confirmed that it wants to buy Time Warner for more than $85 billion. It comes on the heels of Verizon's deal to buy Yahoo and AT&T's own purchase of DirecTV in 2015.

      But Yahoo Finance reports the deal may have a tough time getting a green light from government regulators. It quotes analysts as saying both the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice are likely to put the deal under a microscope to determine how it will affect consumers.

      Matt Wood, policy director at Free Press, says these kinds of deals are almost always better for the combined businesses than for their customers.

      Time to grab your wallet

      "Any time you hear media executives talking about synergies, throwing around the business-babble that always accompanies these rumors, you know it’s time to grab your wallet and hang on tight,” Wood said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “Big mergers like this inevitably mean higher prices for real people, to pay down the money borrowed to finance these deals and compensate top executives.”

      Wall Street, of course, was quick to celebrate the proposed deal, because reducing competition and combining resources is usually good for the bottom line. But Wood says the evidence is clear that it doesn't help consumers. He says AT&T's acquisition of DirecTV was followed by price hikes.

      "It’s a good thing there’s a renewed interest among lawmakers and antitrust enforcers in addressing this merger-mania,” Wood said. “It’s also a good thing we have solid Net Neutrality rules on the books — even though companies like AT&T continue to test those rules in the market, threaten them in Congress, and challenge them in the courts.”

      Bipartisan opposition

      Opposition to the proposed deal also surfaced on the presidential campaign trail. Speaking in Pennsylvania, GOP Presidential nominee Donald Trump denounced the deal in unusually harsh terms, saying “deals like this destroy democracy.” If elected, Trump said his Justice Department would move to quash the merger.

      On the other side of the aisle, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) took to Facebook over the weekend to express his reservations.

      “I'm skeptical of huge media mergers because they can lead to higher costs, fewer choices, and even worse service for consumers,” Franken wrote in a post. “And regulators often agree, like when Comcast unsuccessfully tried to buy Time Warner Cable, a deal that I fiercely opposed.”

      In the coming days, Franken said he will press for further details about the proposed deal and how consumers would be affected.

      Consolidation continues in the media and communications industries, but the latest proposed deal is getting some strong push-back.Over the weekend, AT&...
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      Brookwood Farms recalls pulled pork product

      The product contains soy, an allergen not declared on the label

      Brookwood Farms of Siler City, N.C., is recalling approximately 126,570 pounds of pulled pork product.

      The product contains soy, an allergen not declared on the label.

      There have been no confirmed reports of injury, illness, or adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

      The following fully cooked, pulled pork item, produced between June 12, 2014, and Oct. 21, 2016, is being recalled:

      • 5-lb. plastic bags containing “COOKED PULLED PORK CARNITA STYLE.”

      The recalled product, bearing establishment number “EST. 1740” inside the USDA mark of inspection and code 15006 on the label, was distributed for institutional use nationwide.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but throw it away or return it to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Craig Wood at (919) 663-3612 ext.226. 

      Brookwood Farms of Siler City, N.C., is recalling approximately 126,570 pounds of pulled pork product.The product contains soy, an allergen not declare...
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      Why the internet has gotten so annoying

      Advertising threatens to obscure the web's more useful functions

      Once upon a time – let's say five or 10 years ago – the average internet user could enjoy a wide range of free content on the internet in relative peace.

      Suddenly, there are ads everywhere. Not unobtrusive display ads like you find in newspapers and magazines, but pop-ups that entirely obscure the page, and video ads that start playing as soon as you land on a page.

      If you are trying to read an interesting article, sometimes it is next to impossible because you have to stop every few seconds to try to close an ad, or stop a video from playing.

      Mark Havenner, a vice-president at The Pollack PR Marketing Group in Los Angeles, traces the escalation in annoyance to just two years ago.

      “Pop-ups have been around forever and they've always been disruptive,” Havenner told ConsumerAffairs. “Online advertising has never really worked. We've seen data that suggests disruptive advertising has a negative effect.”

      The Facebook factor

      But around 2014, he says, Facebook began to score spectacular results with “native” advertising. Native advertising blends in with the content of the site you are on. If you are looking at your Facebook timeline, you get video ads mixed in with everything else. The difference is, the content of the ads matches things you are more or less interested in. It's more effective for the advertiser but less obtrusive for the reader.

      Because Facebook has been so successful with that strategy, Havenner says nearly all advertisers are now trying to replicate it, even though it might not be practical for their kind of site.

      “When you're on a news site, that's different than being on Facebook,” Havenner said. “On Facebook you're looking at content. On a news site, you're just reading articles, you're not actively looking for something like a video ad. But advertisers want to catch your attention, so they just start playing them.”

      Not all internet advertising is as infuriating as the ads that interfere with how you are trying to use the web.

      Hulu and YouTube play commercials within videos. Hula commercials come within the content, much like TV commercials would. YouTube plays commercials at the beginning of videos but most of the time you can skip out after a few seconds.

      “That kind of advertising doesn't mess with people,” Havenner said.

      Ad dollars moving online

      Another part of the problem is that a huge transition has taken place in how people consume media. Television viewership is down, with most of those eyes moving to the internet. The advertising dollars have followed and web publications are fighting for them.

      If you want to blame someone for the annoying state of the internet, Havenner suggests blaming the online publications that allow jarring and disruptive advertising. Because of it, he believes these publications are losing readers. If so, does that mean there's hope for the future?

      “I suppose there is,” Havenner said. “If they start losing readership over it. They see the analytics and see that when that ad is displayed people left their site. So I would hope they would make changes.”

      Havenner's advice to fed up consumers is to simply avoid going to sites with obtrusive ads. Eventually, he says, advertisers will get the message.

      Once upon a time – let's say five or 10 years ago – the average internet user could enjoy a wide range of free content on the internet in relative peace....
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      Study suggests fast food calorie posting is probably pointless

      Consumers need to know what calories mean and be motivated to reduce them

      Fast food chains will soon be required to post calorie information on menus but researchers at New York University say that based on the experience of chains that have already taken that step, it won't help. Consumers, they predict, will still make unhealthy food choices.

      They've written up their findings in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing.

      McDonalds, Subway, and many other fast food franchises already put calorie information on their menus. While that's laudable, the researchers say only about 8% of customers are digesting the data and using it to order a healthier meal.

      Study author Andrew Breck says health policies should focus on what is known about effective messaging and behavior change.

      Information by itself is not enough

      “The success of fast-food menu labeling depends on multiple conditions being met, not just the availability of calorie information,” he said.

      The calorie-posting initiative assumes that consumers will make healthy choices if given the right information. But the obesity epidemic should be evidence that we don't always act in our best interests, even when we know better. Most people know that eating too much food, especially too much of the wrong food, will pack on the pounds. Yet we do it anyway.

      The research team says part of the problem is the information about calories simply isn't enough. Consumers need additional information.

      First, they must be aware of the labeling. Everyone looks at the menu but not everyone recognizes those numbers beside the menu item.

      Motivation is required

      Second, the researchers say consumers have to want to eat healthy. Unless they are motivated to do it, they won't.

      Third, they have to know what the calories mean. To many, being told the triple cheeseburger and fries has 1,176 calories might not mean anything unless they know that's about half their recommended daily calories.

      Interestingly, earlier research done at Arizona State University found similar evidence that most consumers didn't benefit from the calorie information. Those who did, it found, were the most affluent and educated consumers -- consumers who knew how many calories they were supposed to consume each day and were motivated to stay within that number.

      This latest study suggests that, until all consumers have a better understanding of calories and have the motivation to eat a healthier diet, they'll probably ignore the soon-to-be-mandated calorie information.

      Fast food chains will soon be required to post calorie information on menus but researchers at New York University say that based on the experience of chai...
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      How to stop yourself from catching a cold

      Tips that can help keep your immune system in tip-top, cold-fighting shape

      Getting sick isn’t cheap. In fact, a recent study by GoBankingRates found that coming down with a few colds per year can end up costing adults around $1,000.

      This number may seem steeper than you'd think, but Dr. Rob Silverman explained that the lost wages, various co-pays, and the cost of prescription and over-the-counter treatments can easily amount to $1,000 in a year.

      While there’s no cure for the common cold, there are ways to protect your body — and by extension, your budget — from being affected by a minor virus.

      In addition to using practical tips, such as refraining from touching contaminated surfaces or shaking hands with a cold-ridden person, there are a few lesser-known ways to keep from catching a cold.

      Sleep well and think positive

      Giving your body and mind ample time to recharge at night can help keep you healthy and cold-free. That’s because a good night’s sleep can boost your body’s immune defense against viruses, experts say. And the more you sleep, the better equipped your body may be to ward off colds.

      In 2009, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that men and women who slept eight hours or more per night were less likely to catch colds. People who slept less than seven hours per night were three times more likely to be affected by the virus to which they were exposed.

      Would you describe yourself as being happy, lively, and calm? If so, you may also be in a better position to fight off viruses. In 2006, the same group of researchers found that cold and flu viruses were more likely to strike people who were anxious, hostile, or depressed compared to people who had a generally positive outlook.

      Take a hot bath or shower

      Been around a person who’s been coughing and sneezing all day? Try soaking in hot water when you get home. According to Clare McHugh, editor-in-chief at Health.com, doing so may knock out a potential cold before it begins.

      "Super HOT baths and showers immediately,” she told Health.com. “My doctor once told me that cold viruses hate heat, and that if you keep your body and especially your chest very warm you will discourage the virus from multiplying."

      Indeed, water can be a powerful defense against viruses. In addition to hot showers, drinking plenty of fluids and making sure to wash your hands throughout the day can help keep cold bugs at bay.

      Banish the booze

      In the interest of staying well, it might be wise to skip the nightcap. The dehydrating effect of alcohol can actually make cold symptoms worse, according to WebMD.

      Not only does alcohol hinder your body’s ability to fight off colds, it may have a negative interaction with any medications you may be taking. Additionally, alcohol can prevent you from getting quality sleep.

      Drinking alcohol before bed can leave you running to the bathroom multiple times per night, which can keep you from slipping into the restorative REM sleep your body needs to stave off viruses.

      Getting plenty of rest is just one of the good health habits that can help prevent germs from turning into a sick day. Being physically active, managing stress, and eating nutritious foods can also boost the power of your immune system.

      Getting sick isn’t cheap. In fact, a recent study by GoBankingRates found that coming down with a few colds per year can end up costing adults around $1,00...
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      Conference Board forecasts continued moderate economic growth

      First-time jobless claims shot higher last week

      The latest economic forecast from The Conference Board suggests continued moderate growth into 2017.

      The Board's Leading Economic Index (LEI) inched up 0.2% in September following a decline of the same magnitude the month before.

      The increase “suggests that the economy should continue expanding at a moderate pace through early 2017.” said Ataman Ozyildirim, Director of Business Cycles and Growth Research at The Conference Board.

      Housing permits, unemployment insurance claims, and the interest rate spread were the main components lifting the index in September.

      Overall, Ozyildirim pointed out, “the strengths among the leading indicators are outweighing modest weaknesses in stock prices and the average workweek.”

      How it works

      The LEI is a composite average of several individual leading indicators. It's constructed to summarize and reveal common turning point patterns in economic data in a clearer and more convincing manner than any individual component -- primarily because it smooths out some of the volatility of individual components.

      The ten components of the LEI include:

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

      Jobless claims

      From the Department of Labor (DOL), word that initial jobless claims surged by 13,000 in the week ending October 15 to a seasonally adjusted 260,000.

      Even with that increase, the claims level has been below 300,000 for the 85th consecutive week, the longest streak since 1970.

      The four-week moving average, which lacks the weekly headcount's volatility and is considered a more accurate gauge of the labor market, came in at 251,750 -- up 2,250 from the previous week.

      The full report is available on the DOL website.

      The latest economic forecast from The Conference Board suggests continued moderate growth into 2017.The Board's Lead...
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      Summer Classics recalls swivel rocking lounge chairs

      The seat bucket of the lounge chairs can break away from the base

      Summer Classics of Pelham, Ala., is recalling about 800 swivel rocking lounge chairs.

      The seat bucket of the lounge chairs can break away from the base while a user is in the chair, posing a fall hazard.

      The firm has received six reports of the lounge chairs breaking. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Summer Classics swivel rocking lounge chairs in the Aire, Belize, Bentley, Charleston, and Skye styles in multiple colors and finishes. The chairs are made for outdoor use and are designed to swivel 360 degrees and rock back and forth.

      All the chair styles, except the Bentley style, come with detachable cushions. An “SC” brass logo is affixed to the back of the chairs.

      The following chairs are being recalled:

      Style

      Color/Finish

      Dimensions

      Aire

      Ancient Earth/Black Walnut

      27”W 27”D 36.25”H

      Belize

      Oyster

      27.25”W 29.5”D 36”H

      Bentley

      Oyster

      29.5”W 31.83”D 35.5”H

      Bentley

      Black Walnut

      29.5”W 31.83”D 35.5”H

      Charleston

      Mahogany

      31”W 36.5”D 37.75”H

      Charleston

      Oyster

      31”W 36.5”D 37.75”H

      Skye

      Black Walnut

      27.25”W 32.5”D 36.75”H

      Skye

      Oyster

      27.25”W 32.5”D 36.75”H

      The chairs, manufactured in China, were sold at Summer Classics stores and other stores nationwide from September 2015, through October 2016, for between $1,100 and $2,400.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled lounge chairs and contact Summer Classics for a full refund. The firm is contacting all known purchasers directly.

      Consumers may contact Summer Classics toll-free at 888-868-4267 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, or online at www.summerclassics.com for more information.

      Summer Classics of Pelham, Ala., is recalling about 800 swivel rocking lounge chairs.The seat bucket of the lounge chairs can break away from the base...
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      Tyson Foods recalls frozen popcorn chicken products

      The products may be contaminated with extraneous materials

      Tyson Foods of New Holland, Pa., is recalling approximately 1,148 pounds of frozen popcorn chicken products.

      The products may be contaminated with extraneous materials, specifically hard plastic.

      There have been no confirmed reports of injury or illness due to consumption of these products

      The following frozen, ready-to-eat, whole grain popcorn chicken items, produced on August 10, 2016, are being recalled:

      • 35 cases of 32.79-lb. “TYSON FULLY COOKED, WHOLE GRAIN GOLDEN CRISPY POPCORN CHICKEN, CHICKEN PATTIE FRITTERS” with a case code of “70368/928” on the upper right hand side of the label, and a lot code of “2236NHL33,” which can be found next to the case code.

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “P-1325” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to a wholesale distributor in Illinois and further distributed to schools and food services in Missouri and Illinois.

      What to do

      Customers have 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 Christina Self at (866) 886-8456. 

      Tyson Foods of New Holland, Pa., is recalling approximately 1,148 pounds of frozen popcorn chicken products.The products may be contaminated with extra...
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      Poor hedge fund performance causing pension concerns

      Issue bubbles into the open in New York

      So far, 2016 has been a tough year for hedge funds, which are huge investment funds that receive money from wealthy individuals and institutions seeking to maximize returns.

      Only lately, those returns haven't been all that impressive, causing money to start flowing out of these funds. By mid-year, some large investors were publicly airing their disgust at hedge funds' “fat fees” and paltry returns.

      While many consumers may believe this is simply a Wall Street issue and doesn't affect them, they could be dead wrong. If they are drawing a pension that is invested in an under-performing, high-fee hedge fund, they could soon be feeling the effects.

      New York agency squabble

      In New York, the issue has bubbled up into public debate with the release of a report by the state Department of Financial Services, which takes the state comptroller's office to task for the way it invests state worker pension funds.

      “Pension fund managers across the country have cut or eliminated exposure to these overpriced and under-performing investments, while the Office of the New York State Comptroller has stood still and spent pension system funds chasing performance that continues to fall far short,” said Maria Vullo, Superintendent of Financial Services. “Just last week, the Comptroller admitted that hedge funds are not delivering the returns to even come close to justifying the sky-high fees that these fund managers have been charging the pension system for years.”

      Vullo expressed frustration, charging hedge fund managers continue to rake in huge fees, regardless of their performance, which she called a “rip-off” at the expense of pensioners.

      Actively traded

      Hedge funds justify their fee structure because they employ experienced traders who actively manage the funds, seeking to get the highest return possible. But Vullo says the state report shows that many of these funds have consistently under-performed so-called “passive” investments, including index funds that have no or low fees.

      “Given the $3.8 billion hole the Comptroller’s hedge fund gamble already has dug for the State pension system, taking away the checkbook may be the only way to safeguard the pensions of state employees, and the pocketbooks of taxpayers on the hook for System deficits,” Vullo said.

      The New York Comptroller's Office, meanwhile, blasted the report from its fellow state agency, calling it “uninformed and unprofessional.” In a statement, the Comptroller's Office said it had been aggressively working to reduce hedge fund investments and limit fees.

      So far, 2016 has been a tough year for hedge funds, which are huge investment funds that receive money from wealthy individuals and institutions seeking to...
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      Google putting together a 'skinny' streaming video bundle

      'Unplugged' will offer network shows that make it easier to dump cable

      In the race to own the streaming video space, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and other services have sort of left Google's YouTube in the dust. Hoping to change that, Google is starting a new cost-conscious TV package, a "skinny" bundle of TV networks.

      Dubbed "Unplugged," the service is apparently meant to appeal to cable cutters who don't want to lose access to major networks and shows. Reports say it will be priced around $25 to $50 a month, which is several times what Netflix and Amazon cost. They don't offer live network shows yet but are rapidly becoming the prime producers of original content.

      Google isn't saying anything about Unplugged, but the Wall Street Journal today reported that CBS is one of the first content providers to sign up, with Disney and 21st Century Fox said to be close behind.

      Unplugged will use YouTube's infrastructure but will be a separate service and won't be covered by the existing YouTube Red subscription. 

      This might bring back memories of Aereo, an audacious start-up that back in 2013 started trying to sell a streaming video service that consisted of local TV channels, also designed as a cable replacement. But because it didn't bother to license the content it was distributing, it was eventually forced to shut down after a series of court challenges.

      In the race to own the streaming video space, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and other services have sort of left Google's YouTube in the dust. Hoping to change th...
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      Sales of existing homes rebound in September

      First-time buyers were a major factor

      After declining a month earlier, sales of previously-owned homes bounced back in September, thanks to the entry into the market of large numbers of first-time buyers.

      According to figures released by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), total existing-home sales -- completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums, and co-ops -- rose 3.2% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.47 million.

      The advance pushed sales to their highest pace since June and 0.6% above a year ago.

      Newbies in the market

      A big reason for the September increase was the entry into the market of first-time buyers, who accounted for 34% of purchasers -- a level not seen in over four years

      "The home search over the past several months for a lot of prospective buyers, and especially for first-time buyers, took longer than usual because of the competition for the minimal amount of homes for sale," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun.

      "Most families and move-up buyers look to close before the new school year starts. Their diminishing presence from the market towards the end of summer created more opportunities for aspiring first-time homeowners to buy last month."

      Prices and supplies

      The median prices for all types of existing homes shot up 5.6% in September to $234,200 -- the 55th consecutive month of year-over-year gains. The median is the point at which half the homes sold for more and half for less.

      Total housing inventory at the end of last month was up 1.5% to 2.04 million existing homes available for sale. Still that inventory level is down 6.8% from a year ago and has now fallen year-over-year for 16 straight months.

      Unsold inventory is at a 4.5-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 4.6 months in August.

      Distressed sales -- foreclosures and short sales -- dropped to a new low of 4% in September, with 3% foreclosures and 1% short sales. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 15% below market value, while short sales were discounted 11%.

      Sales by region

      • Existing-home sales in the Northeast rose 5.7% in September to an annual rate of 740,000 -- the same as a year ago. The median price was $261,600, a year-over-year gain of 2.1%.
      • In the Midwest, sales grew by 3.9% to an annual rate of 1.32 million in September, and are now 2.3% above a year ago. The median price was $184,500, up 5.9% percent from September 2015.
      • Sales in the South in September inched up 0.9% to an annual rate of 2.16 million, but are still 0.9% below the same month last year. The median price in the South was $204,000 -- a gain of 6.6% from last year.
      • The West enjoyed a sales gain of 5.0% to an annual rate of 1.25 million, which is 1.6% above a year ago. The median price surged 8.1% to $345,400.
      After declining a month earlier, sales of previously-owned homes bounced back in September, thanks to the entry into the market of large numbers of first-t...
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      Foreclosures drop sharply in August

      Rates are the lowest in several years

      The nation's foreclosure inventory plunged 29.6% and completed foreclosures were down an even sharper 42.4% from a year earlier, according to the CoreLogic National Foreclosure Report.

      In another way of looking at it, the number of completed foreclosures nationwide posted a year-over-year decline of 27,000 -- to 37,000 in August 2016 -- representing a drop of 69% from the peak of 118,221 in September 2010.

      Foreclosure inventory

      The foreclosure inventory represents the number of homes at some stage of the foreclosure process and completed foreclosures reflect the total number of homes lost to foreclosure.

      Since the financial meltdown began in September 2008, there have been approximately 6.4 million completed foreclosures nationally. Since homeownership rates peaked in the second quarter of 2004, there have been approximately 8.5 million homes lost to foreclosure.

      As of last August, the national foreclosure inventory included approximately 351,000, or 0.9%, of all homes with a mortgage. A year earlier, it was 499,000 homes, or 1.3%.

      The August 2016 foreclosure inventory rate is the lowest it’s been since July 2007.

      “With the foreclosure inventory now under 1% nationally, the need to boost single-family housing stocks through new construction will become more acute in the coming months and years,” said Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO of CoreLogic.

      Mortgage delinquencies

      In addition, CoreLogic reports the number of mortgages in serious delinquency was down 20.6% from August 2015, with 1.1 million mortgages, or 2.8%, being the lowest level since September 2007.

      The decline was broad-based with decreases in serious delinquency in 48 states and the District of Columbia.

      Report highlights

      • On a month-over-month basis, completed foreclosures increased by 7.7% to 37,000 in August from the 34,000 reported for the previous month. 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 August foreclosure inventory was down 3.2% from July.
      • The five states with the highest number of completed foreclosures in the 12 months ending in August were Florida (55,000), Texas (27,000), Ohio (23,000), California (22,000), and Georgia (21,000).These five states account for about 35% of completed foreclosures nationally.
      • Four states and the District of Columbia had the lowest number of completed foreclosures in the 12 months ending in August 2016: the District of Columbia (212), North Dakota (341), West Virginia (469), Alaska (624), and Montana (717).
      • Four states and the District of Columbia had the highest foreclosure inventory rate in August 2016: New Jersey (3.2%), New York (2.9%), Maine (1.8%), Hawaii (1.8%), and the District of Columbia (1.8%).
      • The five states with the lowest foreclosure inventory rate in August 2016 were Colorado, Minnesota, Arizona, Utah, and Michigan -- all at 0.3%.
      The nation's foreclosure inventory plunged 29.6% and completed foreclosures were down an even sharper 42.4% from a year earlier, according to the CoreLogic...
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      Husqvarna recalls lawn mowers

      The engine and blades may continue to operate when they should shut down

      Husqvarna Consumer Outdoor Products of Charlotte, N.C., is recalling about 235,000 lawn mowers sold in the U.S. and Canada.

      The operator presence control bar can malfunction and cause the engine and blades to continue to operate when they should shut off, posing a laceration hazard to the operator.

      The firm has received 53 reports of the engine not shutting off after the operator presence control bar was released. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Husqvarna, Poulan Pro, Jonsered, Craftsman, Yardworks, Murray, and Brute brand walk-behind gas powered lawn mowers with Briggs & Stratton 7.25 HP engines.

      The mowers were sold in red, orange, blue and yellow/black colors and have either four similar-sized wheels or two larger rear wheels and two smaller front wheels, a long handle with an operator presence control bar that is pushed down towards the mower handle to start the engine, a mowing deck, and may have come with or without a collecting bag in the rear.

      The brand names are printed on the mowers, and a Briggs & Stratton logo is printed on the engine shield. The mower model and serial number can be found on the rear of the mowing deck, next to the rear wheel.

      The following model and serial numbers are included in the recall:

      The mowers, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at Lowe’s, Sears and other hardware stores, home centers and equipment dealers nationwide from November 2015, through August 2016, for between $250 and $450.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled lawn mowers and contact Husqvarna or go to http://husqvarna.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/1255/ to determine if their unit needs a free repair.

      Consumers may contact Husqvarna toll-free at 877-257-6921 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at recalls@husqvarna.com or online at http://husqvarna.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/1255/ for more information.

      Brand

      Model Name

      Serial Number Range

      Brute

      961480058

      110115M00001 - 082516M50000

      Craftsman

      10176

      10178

      Husqvarna Consumer Outdoor Products of Charlotte, N.C., is recalling about 235,000 lawn mowers sold in the U.S. and Canada....
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      Nissan recalls Versas with airbag performance issue

      A seam in the fabric section of the side curtain airbags may tear during deployment

      Nissan North America is recalling 1,754 model year 2017 Versas manufactured August 1, 2016, to August 16, 2016.

      A seam in the fabric section of the side curtain airbags may tear during deployment, potentially affecting the performance of the airbag. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 226, "Ejection Mitigation", and number 214, "Side Impact Protection."

      If the side curtain airbags do not deploy as intended there would be an increased risk of injury.

      What to do

      Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will replace the left and right side curtain airbags, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Nissan customer service at 1-800-647-7261.

      Nissan North America is recalling 1,754 model year 2017 Versas manufactured August 1, 2016, to August 16, 2016.A seam in the fabric section of the side...
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      Hyundai recalls Sonatas and Sonata Hybrids with sun roofs

      The sunroof panel may detach during driving

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 62,811 model year 2015-2016 Sonata Hybrids manufactured December 8, 2014, to August 18, 2015, and Sonatas manufactured May 28, 2014, to March 18, 2016, equipped with the panoramic sunroof option.

      Due to a bonding issue with the sunroof wind deflector, the sunroof panel may detach while the vehicle is being driven, become a road hazard and increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Hyundai will notify owners, and dealers will repair the wind deflector anchor plate, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin December 2, 2016.

      Owners may contact Hyundai customer service at 1-800-633-5151. Hyundai's number for this recall is 152.

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 62,811 model year 2015-2016 Sonata Hybrids manufactured December 8, 2014, to August 18, 2015, and Sonatas manufactured M...
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      Consumers to get refunds for delayed airline baggage under new federal rules

      Airlines must also more accurately report on-time arrival rates and other measures

      A new set of regulations passed by the Obama administration will come as welcome news to air travelers who feel they’ve been nickeled and dimed by excessive fees.

      Announced on Wednesday, the new consumer protection rules will guarantee refunds on baggage fees if an airline delays returning luggage after a flight.

      Additionally, airliners will be charged with more accurately reporting on-time arrival rates, the number of bungled wheelchair requests, and the rate of lost or mishandled baggage. The new regulations are meant to fulfill the administration’s promise of imposing tougher consumer protections on the airline industry.

      “The travel community is grateful that the administration continue to shine a light on many of the more frustrating issues that ail the air travel experience in the U.S.” said Roger Dow, chief executive of travel industry trade group U.S. Travel Assn.

      Airline industry pushes back

      The changes are meant to provide travelers with a better sense of how well an airliner operates when it comes to factors like handling baggage and being on time, but the industry says that too many regulations may hurt performance.

      “Efforts designed to re-regulate how airlines distribute their products and services are bad for airline customers, employees, the communities we serve and our overall U.S. economy,” stated Nicholas Calio, president and chief executive of Airlines for America.

      Industry officials point out that airlines are already required by the Department of Transportation to reimburse customers if their bag is lost. Under the new regulations, they would also have to pay customers if luggage is “substantially delayed,” but what the threshold for this term is hasn’t been defined, they say.

      Airlines aren’t the only ones subject to the new rules, though. The regulations also provide provisions for online travel agents, who must disclose to fliers if they have a bias based on financial arrangements for offering flights tied to a certain airline.

      The new reporting provisions of the regulations are meant to take effect on January 1, 2018, with the rest of the rules slated to be enacted 30 days after changes are published in the Federal Register.

      A new set of regulations passed by the Obama administration will come as welcome news to air travelers who feel they’ve been nickeled and dimed by excessiv...
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      Do you save money shopping online?

      It all depends on what you are buying

      Each year more consumers do more of their shopping online. A recent study by UPS found more than half of all shopping now takes place on the web, increasingly from a mobile device. The company's “Pulse of the Online Shopper" study found 51% of purchases made by its respondents were made online.

      “This year’s UPS study revealed that 45% of online shoppers love the thrill of hunting for and finding great deals, and that physical stores continue to play an important role in that experience, Teresa Finley, Chief Marketing Officer at UPS, said at the time.

      You tend to notice this trend most around the holidays. Last year, industry sources reported online retailers enjoyed a 16% jump in holiday sales over the Black Friday-Cyber Monday weekend, while in-store sales dropped as much as 10%.

      Saving money or saving time?

      But it isn't clear whether consumers are buying online to save money or as a matter of convenience. While online retailers make it much easier to comparison shop to find the lowest price, many brick and mortar retailers are quick to match an online price. And unless consumers are taking advantage of a free shipping promotion, getting the purchase sent to them can eat into any savings.

      The simple answer is that buying some things online may save you money, but others might not. If you are making the purchase through a deals site, or using a coupon, your purchase might be well below what you would pay in a brick-and-mortar store.

      But when the online purchase is more about convenience, don't expect to save as much money. Online grocery shopping is well on its way to becoming 12% of all grocery purchases, according to one study.

      Timothy Richards of Arizona State University, who has co-authored a study on the growth of online grocery shopping, says there is less wiggle room for food retailers, which are already dealing with very small margins.

      “People are really concerned about the price of groceries,” Richards said. “But if they think buying everything online is going to mean lower food prices, they have another thing coming.”

      Each year more consumers do more of their shopping online. A recent study by UPS found more than half of all shopping now takes place on the web, increasin...
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      Elder law attorney, radio personality swindled seniors, NJ charges

      At least $1.2 million missing from elderly clients' accounts, the state alleges

      A New Jersey attorney who taught seminars on elder law and hosted a radio show dispensing advice has been arrested on charges that he stole more than $1.2 million from elderly clients.

      The victims in some cases did not have close relatives to guard their interests or suffered from dementia, according to New Jersey Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino.

      Detectives of the Division of Criminal Justice arrested Robert Novy, 65, of Brick, N.J., on charges of first-degree money laundering, second-degree theft by unlawful taking, and second-degree misapplication of entrusted property.

      The Attorney General’s Office obtained a court order freezing over $3.5 million in assets held in various bank accounts of Novy and his law firm and asked a judge to appoint a trustee to oversee the business operations of the law firm.

      $1.2 million

      From 2010 through 2015, Novy allegedly stole more than $1.2 million from four clients. He allegedly laundered most of the funds through his attorney trust accounts and/or attorney business accounts. Other transactions are still being studied, investigators said.

      Novy has conducted seminars on elder law and hosted a bi-monthly radio program “Inside the Law,” which focused on topics of concern to senior citizens.

      “While Novy held himself out as a leading legal advocate for the elderly, we allege that he corruptly used his reputation and his law license to prey on vulnerable seniors, taking control of their finances and stealing more than $1 million from their life savings.” said Porrino. “In his greed, Novy not only betrayed his oath as a lawyer to uphold the law, he betrayed all standards of decency.”

      “When senior citizens hire a lawyer to put their financial affairs in order, they should be able to trust that they will be treated honestly and with respect. Instead, Novy is charged with deviously draining his clients’ estates,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We urge anyone with information about such thefts by Novy to contact our office.”

      Allegations listed

      It is alleged that Novy engaged in the following thefts from clients:

      • $78,000 from an 88-year-old woman who suffered from dementia, billing the woman and her estate a total of $78,000 that was not supported by any invoice or records showing justification.
      • $176,000 from an 85-year-old woman who suffered from Alzheimer’s. Among other things, he allegedly withdrew funds directly from her personal account totaling nearly $60,000, converting them into cashier’s checks and depositing the checks directly into his personal account, prosecutors said.
      • $459,000 from an 87-year-old woman. Among other things, he deposited proceeds totaling roughly $387,000 from two annuities into his attorney trust account, and subsequently transferred those funds into his law firm’s business accounts, Porrino said.
      • $550,000 from another elderly woman. He allegedly transferred nearly $300,000 that he held for her in his attorney trust account into the firm’s business accounts without any invoices or evidence that legal services were provided.
      A New Jersey attorney who taught seminars on elder law and hosted a radio show dispensing advice has been arrested on charges that he stole more than $1.2...
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      Instagram's new feature may help those suffering from mental illness

      Users can send support to individuals who may be having a hard time

      Photos of latte art, adorable animals, and enviable vacations aren’t all users can find on the popular photo-sharing app Instagram.

      Despite Instagram’s ban on hashtags like ‘thinspiration’ or ‘thigh gap’ in 2012, users have continued to post pro-anorexia images. Earlier this year, Wired reported that users simply worked around the ban, changing ‘thinspo’ to ‘thinspooooo’ and ‘thighgap’ to ‘thyghgapp.’

      Now, a new feature on Instagram may help those suffering from eating disorders, depression, and other forms of mental illness. Users who come across a photo which may have been posted by someone in need of help can anonymously flag it.

      Flagging a photo will prompt a message to the user that reads, “Someone saw one of your posts and thinks you might be going through a difficult time. If you need support we’d like to help.” Users who may be struggling will then receive different options to get help.  

      Input from mental health experts

      To create the new feature, Instagram worked with organizations like the National Eating Disorders Association and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

      “We listen to mental health experts when they tell us that outreach from a loved one can make a real difference for those who may be in distress. At the same time, we understand friends and family often want to offer support but don’t know how best to reach out,” Instagram’s Chief Operating Officer Marne Levine told Seventeen.

      Levine explained that the primary goal in putting the new tools into action is to let those suffering from a mental illness know that they are “surrounded by a community that cares” during a time in which the person may desperately need such a reminder.

      Support options

      Approximately 350 million people suffer from depression, according to the World Health Organization. Recent studies have shown that there's an undeniable link between social media use and depression.

      Online sharing can lead to feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and obsessive behavior. On image-driven social media platforms like Instagram and Tumblr, where manicured photos of seemingly perfect lives rack up the most ‘likes’, excessive comparison can often promote negative feelings.

      But with Instagram’s new feature, users will receive support options if they search for banned hashtags or post an image which may be associated with mental illness or self-harm.

      Photos of latte art, adorable animals, and enviable vacations aren’t all users can find on the popular photo-sharing app Instagram. Despite Instagram’s...
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      Millennials' housing market impact may be bigger than expected

      More are trying to buy homes but still face challenges

      Since the housing crash eight years ago, it has been widely assumed that Millennials, who were just coming of age at that time, would be a generation of renters.

      After all, lenders wanted sterling credit scores and ample down payments before agreeing to a mortgage. Many young people did well just to find a job.

      But today, it's Millennials who are driving the housing market. A report by real estate marketplace Zillow shows first-time home buyers, overwhelmingly Millennials, are both buying and selling homes.

      Millennial buyers want what the generations before them wanted: a home that's a good investment and a reflection of their personal tastes. But more than previous generations, Millennials' first instinct in searching for a home is to turn to the internet.

      Using the internet

      “These young adults came of age during a recession, but they are buying their first homes in a high-priced and fast-paced market,” said Zillow chief economist Dr. Svenja Gudell. “They're using every available resource, including online research and real estate professionals, and taking on the challenge with gusto."

      But Millennials' entry into the housing market has been more difficult than previous generations. The Zillow report finds this group remained renters longer than previous generations and 52% of buyers said they considered remaining renters a while longer, in part because of the difficulty in raising a down payment, and then finding a house they liked. Fewer than half said they were able to buy the first house on which they made an offer.

      When they do make an offer on a house, 83% of Millennials say they want to purchase a single-family home. Nearly half end up purchasing a home in the suburbs.

      A different slant

      The National Association of Realtors (NAR) has released research of its own, an annual profile of both buyers and sellers. While the Zillow report is the first to be conducted, the NAR research has been done every year since 1981.

      Its big takeaway is that, despite the changes in the housing market over time, what consumers are looking for has remained essentially the same.

      It differs from the Zillow conclusions in one major area; realtors say the participation of first-time buyers remains “subdued.” NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun says the evidence suggests first-time buyers are struggling against rapidly-rising prices and a dwindling supply of available homes.

      “A strong majority of current renters under the age of 34 say they want to own a home in the future, but their impending rise will be a gradual one and is not likely to increase substantially in the 2016 survey,” Yun said.

      Since the housing crash eight years ago, it has been widely assumed that Millennials, who were just coming of age at that time, would be a generation of re...
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      Mortgage applications inch higher

      Contract interest rates were the highest in several months

      The Mortgage Bankers Association is reporting a slight uptick of 0.6% in new mortgage applications in the week ending October 14. The tally includes an adjustment for the Columbus Day holiday.

      The Refinance Index, on the other hand, dipped 1% from the previous week, with the refinance share of mortgage activity dropping to 61.5% of total applications from 62.4% a week earlier.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity was unchanged at 4.1% of total applications, the FHA share rose to 11.3% from 10.9% the previous week, the VA share was up to 12.8% from 12.0%, and the USDA share of total applications held steady at 0.7%.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) rose five basis points to its highest level since last June -- 3.73% from 3.68% -- with points increasing to 0.36 from 0.35 (including the origination fee) for 80 % loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) jumped from 3.67% to 2.72%, the highest level since June, with points increasing to 0.29 from 0.24 (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 3.54%, with points increasing to 0.30 from 0.23 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs came in at 3.03%, a gain of six basis points to its highest level since June, with points decreasing to 0.27 from 0.34 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs rose to 2.87%, its highest level since last May, with points increasing to 0.41 from 0.28 (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.

      The Mortgage Bankers Association is reporting a slight uptick of 0.6% in new mortgage applications in the week ending October 14. The tally includes an adj...
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      Jeep Wranglers with wiring issue recalled

      The front airbags and seat belt pretensioners may not deploy

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 182,308 model year 2016-2017 Jeep Wranglers manufactured June 16, 2015, to August 14, 2016.

      In certain crash conditions, the front impact sensor wiring may be pulled until it detaches before a signal can be received by the Occupant Restraint Controller (ORC).

      If the ORC module does not receive a signal from the front impact sensor, both front airbags and the seat belt pretensioners will not deploy in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      The remedy for this recall is still under development. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is S76.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 182,308 model year 2016-2017 Jeep Wranglers manufactured June 16, 2015, to August 14, 2016.In certain crash conditio...
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      LF Products recalls barstools

      Screws on the barstools can loosen, posing a fall hazard

      LF Products of Singapore is recalling about 114,200 Sawyer barstools sold in the U.S. and Canada.

      Screws on the barstools can loosen, posing a fall hazard to the user.

      The firm has received 15 reports of loosened hardware resulting in four reports of fall injuries.

      This recall involves LF Products Sawyer swivel barstools sold in black, white, distressed blue, and dark brown. The recalled barstools have a tan cushion and were sold in two heights, 24 inches and 30 inches. “LF Products” is printed on a label affixed to the barstool.

      The barstools, manufactured in Malaysia and Thailand, were sold exclusively at Bed Bath & Beyond stores nationwide and online at bedbathandbeyond.com from May 2012, through March 2016, for between $90 and $110.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately check to ensure that the hardware on their barstools is secure. Consumers with barstools that have loosened screws should download and review the revised assembly instructions at www.bedbathandbeyond.com/sawyerstoolinstructions, and reassemble the barstools.

      Consumers may contact Bed Bath & Beyond at 800-462-3966 anytime or online at www.bedbathandbeyond.com and click on “Product Recall Information” for more information.  

      LF Products of Singapore is recalling about 114,200 Sawyer barstools sold in the U.S. and Canada. Screws on the barstools can loosen, posing a fall haza...
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      Pop-up Halloween stores may be more trick than treat

      Shoppers should consider what they'll do if they need to return an item

      Halloween is now the biggest shopping holiday after Christmas, and that's contributing to a rash of pop-up stores selling costumes, treats, and tricks. But consumer protection officials note that pop-up stores can vanish like ghosts when Halloween is over, leaving customers with no way to return merchandise or redeem store credits.

      “We want consumers to be aware that these 'pop-up' stores come and go in a flash, so shoppers need to be extra careful when making purchases,” said New Jersey Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino. “Know what questions to ask to avoid getting shortchanged.”

      Too often, pop-up stores pack up and clear out of their rented space long before the last piece of Halloween candy has been eaten, said Steve Lee, director of the New Jersey Divison of Consumer Affairs.

      “When it comes to pop-up stores, it’s more important than ever for consumers to inspect merchandise thoroughly and know their rights ahead of time,” Lee said. “When a consumer returns to a store to complain about a defective item and finds the merchant has packed up and left without a trace, there is not much hope of getting a refund.”

      What to do

      Lee offers these tips to avoid a frightening shopping experience:

      Ask store personnel how long they plan to occupy the building. If they can’t give you a clear answer, consider that a major red flag that the store may not be on the up and up.

      Ask how you would be able to contact the store once it leaves, perhaps by website or an alternate address.

      Ask for specific details on returns. What types of merchandise will the store take back? Are unworn costumes returnable after October 31st? Will you get a full refund or store credit? How is store credit redeemable after the shop has closed for the season?

      Fully inspect and try on costumes before leaving the store. Halloween stores are busy places and mix ups occur. Don’t assume that the merchandise inside the box matches what’s on the label.

      Save all your receipts and pay by credit card so you can dispute unsatisfactory purchases through the card’s issuer.

      Halloween is now the biggest shopping holiday after Christmas, and that's contributing to a rash of pop-up stores selling costumes, treats, and tricks. But...
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      Three low-cost home security devices

      Each can help you keep an eye on your home and prevent intruders

      Your home and the people who live there are worth protecting, but it’s likely that you can’t be there every moment to protect your palace.

      Fortunately, there are several low-cost "starter" security systems that can help you keep an eye on your home when you're not there. You can find research on more robust systems in the ConsumerAffairs Best Wireless Security System research report. 

      These motion-sensing home security systems can provide the peace of mind that your home or business is safe and protected from intruders. 

      Barking dog alarm

      Don’t have a dog? Or is your pooch more of a friendly couch potato than a dutiful guard dog? With the Barking Dog Alarm ($70), you don’t have to own a large German Shepherd in order for it to sound like you do.

      The device’s radar technology enables it to detect motion through doors, walls, or windows. Potential intruders may be discouraged from breaking into your home upon hearing the sound of a loud, large breed dog inside. If the intruder persists, the realistic sound of the barking dog will become more frequent and threatening.

      Ring Video Doorbell

      Ring's Video Doorbell security system gives homeowners the ability to see and speak to whoever is at their door. Whether you’re at the office or just upstairs, you’ll be able to see whether the person on the other side of your door is a solicitor, a neighbor, or perhaps an unwanted visitor.

      The system connects to your home’s Wi-Fi and sends you a smartphone notification when someone is at your door. Using Ring’s companion app, homeowners can program the system to send a notification either when the doorbell rings or when motion is detected.

      The standard Ring Video Doorbell is $199. The Pro version, which comes with a few advanced features, will set you back $249.

      Piper

      Like Ring, Piper lets you keep tabs on your home from wherever you are. The Wi-Fi connected system will send you an alert when everyone has left your home, which may serve as your cue to arm the system.

      Mom or dad can see when the kids have arrived home safely, pet owners can check on their pets throughout the day, and business owners can see when their employees come and go.

      Key features of the system include an intruder-deterring siren, a camera with 180-degree views, motion and sound detection, and two-way audio. Piper classic is available for $99. The Piper nv Security Bundle, which comes with three door/window sensors, is $349.

      Your home and the people who live there are worth protecting, but it’s likely that you can’t be there every moment to protect your palace.Fortunately,...
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      Apple will likely win big over Samsung's Note 7 disaster, analyst says

      The expert says Apple will likely gain between 5 and 7 million customers

      Samsung’s Note7 debacle has truly shaken the mobile division of the company, along with its customers’ confidence. While the South Korean company will be scrambling for some time to mitigate the damage, competitors like Apple are likely to enjoy a bit of a boom.

      But how much should the tech company expect to gain from the situation? According to KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, quite a lot. The expert says that Apple will likely gain 5-7 million customers because of Samsung’s phone disaster. Kuo says that many disenchanted Note7 owners will make the leap to the iPhone 7 Plus because of the device’s dual camera, which will be a big drawing point.

      The analyst arrived at the prediction after examining sales of the Note7. Before reports surfaced about their tendency to catch on fire, Samsung’s device was a hot commodity; around 12 million of the devices were originally sold.

      Half may defect

      Kuo says around 50% of those customers are likely to choose an Apple device as a replacement, while the other 50% of customers will consider devices sold by Android manufacturers Huawei and Google, which recently released its new Pixel smartphone.

      While Kuo’s prediction is only an educated guess, real numbers on Apple’s performance confirm that the company has been thriving as of late. The company’s stock has risen in recent weeks due to the Note7 issues, and fourth quarter projections look pretty favorable. Investors will be able to learn more when Apple releases its earnings report on October 25.

      Meanwhile, Kuo predicts that the Note7 failure will only impact Samsung for a couple more months. However, if more of its devices continue to have technical problems, then its image may take a long-term hit. Customer complaints have flooded in over many the company’s other products recently, so it will likely be something the manufacturer will need to be careful of going forward.

      Samsung’s Note7 debacle has truly shaken the mobile division of the company, along with its customers’ confidence. While the South Korean company will be s...
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      Social Security recipients to get tiny benefit hike in 2017

      Rising gasoline prices sent consumer prices higher in September

      It's not much, but monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments will be going up next year.

      The Social Security Administration reports more than 65 million recipients will see a 0.3% increase in their benefits in 2017.

      The more than 60 million Social Security beneficiaries will see the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) starting in January, while increased payments to more than 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin later this year -- on December 30.

      The Social Security Act ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) as determined by the Department of Labor (DOL).

      Some give, some take

      Other adjustments aren't nearly as pleasant.

      Based on the increase in average wages, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will jump to $127,200 from $118,500. That means roughly 12 million workers will pay more because of the increase in the taxable maximum.

      Information about Medicare changes for 2017 have yet to be announced, but some beneficiaries may see their benefit increase or be partially or completely wiped out by increases in Medicare premiums.

      Consumer prices on the rise

      Meanwhile, DOL reports the CPI rose 0.3% last month on a seasonally adjusted basis, due in large part to increases in the costs of gasoline and shelter.

      Gasoline prices soared 5.8%, while housing costs were up 0.4% -- the largest increase since May.

      Food prices, meanwhile, were unchanged for the third consecutive month, with the food at home (grocery store prices) continuing to decline.

      Core inflation

      The price of items less food and energy -- the “core” rate of inflation -- was up 0.1% after rising 0.3% in August. For the 12 months ending in August, core inflation is running at a rate of 2.2%.

      The complete report is available on the DOL website.

      It's not much, but monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments will be going up next year.Th...
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      How to avoid unnecessary bank fees

      NerdWallet study finds just three fees can total $1,000 over a decade

      An analysis by personal finance site NerdWallet found the average consumer with a checking account paid nearly $1,000 in fees over a 10-year period. Most of that could have been avoided, the company says, if customers had chosen the most consumer-friendly bank account.

      Three fees tended to hit consumers the hardest – monthly maintenance fees, ATM and account use fees, and overdraft and nonsufficient funds fees.

      “Checking accounts are the keystone of American personal finance,” said Sean McQuay, credit and banking expert at NerdWallet. “My checking account is the center of my financial life. That’s where all my money goes in and out, so I need to trust my bank.”

      There are ways to avoid these fees. The easiest to avoid is the monthly maintenance fee, which can be $10 to $12 at the nation's largest banks. That's $120 or more a year.

      There is no reason to pay this fee, which is usually placed on a bank's most basic checking account. By doing a little research, you should be able to find a checking account that not only does not charge a monthly fee, but pays you interest on the balance.

      Things you might have to do

      These accounts usually require things on your part – perhaps maintaining a minimum balance, a certain number of debit transactions each month, and a direct deposit. With a little planning, most checking account customers should be able to manage these requirements.

      The second set of fees, ATM fees, can be avoided by only using your bank network's ATMs. But again, having the right kind of checking account can help as well.

      Some rewards checking accounts, offered primarily at credit unions, online banks, and small community banks, offer a set of perks that includes reimbursement of ATM fees. ATM fees can also be avoided by always withdrawing extra cash when making a debit card purchase at the supermarket or some other retail location that allows cash back.

      Do not opt in

      Overdraft fees can be avoided a couple of ways. First, do not “opt in” for overdraft “protection” from your bank. You bank wants to provide this “service” to you, covering any purchase you make with insufficient funds. However, it will charge you an average of $34 for this service, in the form of an overdraft fee.

      That will protect you against overdrafts on debit purchases, but a bounced check will still carry a fee. To avoid bouncing a check, consider keeping your savings in your rewards checking account to pad your balance. Most rewards checking accounts pay a higher interest rate than a passbook savings account. If you do this, however, you'll need to keep careful track of your spending to make sure you don't eat into your savings.

      The NerdWallet analysis shows using the most consumer-friendly checking accounts cost consumers just $31 a year, and that's if they have a couple of overdrafts per year, which can be avoided. If all consumers switched to the best free checking accounts available, they could save a total of more than $7 billion a year.

      An analysis by personal finance site NerdWallet found the average consumer with a checking account paid nearly $1,000 in fees over a 10-year period. Most o...
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      Builder confidence slips in October

      However, sales expectations were on the rise

      The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI), a gauge of builder confidence in the market for newly constructed single-family homes, dipped in October.

      Still, even with a decline of two points to a level of 63, builder confidence stands at its second-highest level of the year.

      NAHB Chairman Ed Brady calls that, “a sign that the housing recovery continues to make solid progress,” but notes that builders in many markets “continue to express concerns about shortages of lots and labor.”

      The builders' view

      The HMI, which is based on a monthly survey, gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as "good," "fair" or "poor."

      The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as "high to very high," "average" or "low to very low." Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

      Two of the three HMI components posted losses in October. The one gauging current sales conditions dropped two points to 69 and the index charting buyer traffic fell one point to 46. On the other hand, the index measuring sales expectations in the next six months rose one point to 72.

      The three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores show the West increased two points to 75 while the Northeast, Midwest, and South each posted one-point gains to 43, 56, and 65, respectively.

      “The October reading represents a mild pullback from a jump in September, and indicates that the housing market continues to make slow and steady gains,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “Moreover, mortgage rates remain low and the HMI index measuring future sales expectations has been over 70 for the past two months. These factors will sustain continued growth in the single-family market in the months ahead.”

      The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI), a gauge of builder confidence in the market for newly constructed...
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      Chimparoo baby carriers recalled

      The carrier's side strap can loosen unexpectedly from the buckle

      L’echarpe Porte-bonheaur Inc., of Canada is recalling about 1,130 Chimparoo baby carriers sold in the U.S. and Canada.

      The carriers’ side strap can loosen unexpectedly from the buckle, posing a fall hazard to the child in the carrier.

      The firm has received one report of a strap loosening unexpectedly from the carrier’s side buckle. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Chimparoo brand Trek baby carriers that allow the user to carry a baby tummy to tummy, on the hip or on the back. The 100% twill fabric carriers were sold in 18 solid, striped and pattern color combinations.

      The carriers attach to the wearer’s body with adjustable straps made of polypropylene webbing and plastic buckles. “Chimparoo” is printed on the upper right hand corner of the carrier. “Trek” is embroidered on the belt.

      The carriers, manufactured in Canada, were sold at children’s boutique stores, such as Granola Babies, of Costa Mesa, Calif., Eat/Sleep/Play, of Summerville, S.C., and Top to Bottom, of Omaha, Neb., and online at www.Amazon.com and www.Chimaparoo.ca from May 2016, through July 2016, for about $170.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled baby carriers and contact Chimparoo for a free replacement buckle for the baby carrier’s side buckle.

      Consumers may contact Chimparoo toll-free at 855-289-5343 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at safety@Chimparoo.com or online at www.Chimparoo.ca/en/recall and click on “Product Recall” at the bottom of the page.  

      L’echarpe Porte-bonheaur Inc., of Canada is recalling about 1,130 Chimparoo baby carriers sold in the U.S. and Canada.The carriers’ side strap can loos...
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      Verizon's PopData looks to give consumers short periods of unlimited data

      Critics argue that the service falls well short of the mark, though

      Consumers have been attempting to manage the data they use on their mobile devices for years, with mixed success. But as technology continues to advance and new media trends take hold, it has gotten more and more difficult to do. Certain services, such as video streaming, can take a big bite out of users’ data if they’re not careful, which can lead to hefty overage charges.

      It is for this reason that many providers have changed or abandoned unlimited data plans, which are potentially less lucrative than raking in exorbitant fees related to data limits. However, Verizon recently announced a new mobile data plan that allows users to buy unlimited data for small chunks of time.

      The plan, called PopData, allows consumers to take advantage of 30- and 60-minute periods of unlimited data, which could be very useful if you need to download a large file or find yourself in an area without Wi-Fi. The company is pricing the 30-minute periods at $2 per extension and the 60-minute periods at $3 per extension, and the total cost of all extensions will be added to each customer’s bill at the end of the month.

      Shortcomings

      While the new plan may seem great at first glance, critics have been quick to point out its shortcomings. First, customers should be aware that PopData is only available while they’re in an LTE network; consumers in an area where Verizon’s 3G network is only available WILL NOT be able to use PopData, so data limits will still apply. The plan is also only available to postpaid subscribers, which means prepaid customers won’t be able to access it.

      Perhaps more worrying is the way that the timer works on the plan. Once a user selects an extension and starts the timer, there is no stopping it. If there are network problems, like slow speeds or bad performance, the timer will continue to tick down anyway.

      For users on less congested networks, this might not be too much of an issue. But for those who might be sharing a network in a city or highly-populated area, having a set time of unlimited data isn’t all that helpful if the network speeds are slow.

      So, before signing up for a block of unlimited data, consumers should be well aware of network conditions and how it might affect their mobile activities. To learn more about PopData, visit the plan’s page here and peruse the FAQ section here.

      Consumers have been attempting to manage the data they use on their mobile devices for years, with mixed success. But as technology continues to advance an...
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      Soylent withdraws its snack bars after reports of ill effects

      Customers say the recently-introduced bars made them sick

      "Soylent Green is made out of people.* They're making our food out of people. Next thing they'll be breeding us like cattle for food. You've gotta tell them." -- Thorn, a character in "Soylent Green"

      Anyone who's seen the 1973 film "Soylent Green" might wonder why a prepared food company would name itself Soylent, but that's what a Bay Area start-up did.

      Soylent makes drinks, food powder, breakfast bars, and snack bars that promise to supply not just nutritients but "macronutrients." Instead, the snack bars, introduced just a few months ago, have been causing macroproblems as customers report the bars made them sick.

      The company has responded by withdrawing the bars while it investigates and is offering refunds to its subscribers. 

      "After hearing from our customers, we immediately began investigating the cause of the issue and whether it was linked to a problem with the Bars. So far we have not yet identified one and this issue does not appear to affect our other drinks and powder," the company said in a statement on its website. 

      Macrofood

      Like several other meal replacement companies, Soylent claims its products are not just snacks but meal replacements -- enough to live on, in other words. Maybe that's why it says they supply "macronutrients." 

      We looked up macronutrients and here's what we found:

      a substance required in relatively large amounts by living organisms, in particular.
      • a type of food (e.g., fat, protein, carbohydrate) required in large amounts in the human diet.
      • a chemical element (e.g., potassium, magnesium, calcium) required in large amounts for plant growth and development.

      So, a macronutrient is something you have to eat a lot of -- like, uh, food. What we guess they're trying to say is that Soylent bars, liquids, and powder aren't just sugar and food coloring but actually the stuff of life, so to speak.

      "Knotty old rope"

      Could be, although the bars are not the only Soylent products that have come in for their share of criticism. Brian Merchant, a reporter for Motherboard, set out to live on the stuff for a month.

      "It was my second day on Soylent and my stomach felt like a coil of knotty old rope. I wasn’t hungry, but something was off. I was tired, light-headed, low-energy, but my heart was racing," Merchant wrote. "I had twenty-eight days left of my month-long all-Soylent diet—I was attempting to live on the full food replacement longer than anyone besides its inventor—and I felt woozy already."

      Soylent is -- what else? -- a venture-backed company started by a 25-year-old, Rob Rhinehart, a software engineer who tried to apply his skills to basically reverse-engineering food.

      The result is a powder that Merchant said "tasted like granular baby formula that was somehow simultaneously sugary and salty. Previous tasters had compared it to semen, which made sense, and so did the nods to cake batter and uncooked oatmeal."

      Could you live on the stuff? Opinions differ, but the consensus seems to be that you could but why would you want to? Eating is, or at least is supposed to be, at least mildly pleasurable and often provides an opportunity for social interaction. Choking down a chalky substance might not be macro enough for many consumers. 

      Anyone who's seen the 1973 film "Soylent Green" might wonder why a prepared food company would name itself Soylent, but that's what a Bay Area start-up did...
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      A warning for open-heart surgery patients

      A device used during surgery may have been contaminated with long-lived bacteria

      Federal health officials have a warning for open-heart surgery patients: a device used during your surgery may have been contaminated with bacteria when it was made, and a dangerous infection can develop long after the surgery.

      The device is a 3-T heater-cooler made by Sorin, now known as LivaNova PLC. It’s used to keep a patient’s blood and organs at a specific temperature during the surgery.

      More than 250,000 heart bypass procedures using heater-cooler devices are performed in the United States every year and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that about 60 percent of them used the devices that have been associated with these infections.

      The CDC said that in hospitals where at least one patient has been infected, the risk of additional infections ranges from 1 in 100 to 1 in 1,000. Patients who had valves or prosthetic products implanted are at higher risk of these infections.

      Symptoms to watch for

      Patients who've had the life-saving surgery don't have to do anything now, other than watch for signs of an infection and seek medical care right away if those symptoms develop.

      The CDC says that patients who have had open heart surgery should seek medical care if they are experiencing symptoms associated with infections, such as night sweats, muscle aches, weight loss, fatigue, or unexplained fever.

      There is no test for the infection, which is caused by a bacteria known as Mycobacterium chimaera. It rarely makes healthy people sick, but the CDC warns that patients who have been exposed to the bacteria through open-heart surgery can develop general and nonspecific symptoms that can often take months to develop. As a result, diagnosis can be missed or delayed, sometimes for years, making these infections more difficult to treat.

      Infections can be diagnosed only through a lab culture, a lengthy process that can take up to two months.

      “It’s important for clinicians and their patients to be aware of this risk so that patients can be evaluated and treated quickly,” says the CDC’s Dr. Michael Bell. “Hospitals should check to see which type of heater-coolers are in use, ensure that they’re maintained according to the latest manufacturer instructions, and alert affected patients and the clinicians who care for them.”

      Patients who have had open-heart surgery and are concerned about symptoms they may be experiencing should contact their healthcare providers.

      Federal health officials have a warning for open-heart surgery patients: a device used during your surgery may have been contaminated with bacteria when it...
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      Why you should do your holiday shopping with a credit card

      The rewards can be significant

      The holiday shopping season is fast approaching and surveys have shown that many consumers have been making purchases since Labor Day.

      So now might be a good time to point out that if you plan to do a lot of end-of-the-year spending, doing it with a rewards credit card might help you save as much money as hitting the stores early on Black Friday.

      In recent years personal finance experts have emphasized rewards credit cards as an easy way to save money. Like any credit card, a rewards card needs to be used responsibly, but if utilized to make purchases you would ordinarily make with a debit card or cash, credit card purchases can put money in your pocket.

      How much varies from card to card, but the folks at Discover have rolled out some special holiday promotions, upping the rewards consumers can earn during the holidays, using the Discover it Card or Discover it for Students. Both cards normally pay 1% on all purchases but also have special quarterly promotions.

      5% bonus

      For example, for the fourth quarter Discover will pay a 5% cashback bonus on purchases at Amazon.com, department stores, and Sam's Club – places where consumers probably do the lion's share of their shopping. The 5% bonus applies to a total purchase amount of $1,500. Above that, any additional spending earns the regular 1% cash back.

      “We try to make sure that we don't make our program complicated,” Maureen Powers, vice-president of rewards for Discover, told ConsumerAffairs. “We don't want customers to have to start planning how they are going to earn their rewards, or having to do math.”

      Added bonus for new customers

      There's an even better payoff for consumers who just recently obtained a Discover it Card, or plan to get one soon.

      “Our card members can earn Cash Back Match,” Powers said. “They are earning all of these rewards, and then at the end of the first 12 months that they have the card, we will double all of those rewards.”

      How much can that add up to? Let's assume you are a new cardholder who ends up spending $1,750 at Amazon, a number of department stores, and Sam's Club. You earn $75 on the first $1,500 and $2.50 on the difference between $1,500 and $1,750. Then, because you qualify for Cash Back Match, the amount is doubled for a total of $155 in cash rewards.

      Powers also says Discover offers price protection, in case you find the item you purchase later at a lower price.

      “What consumers will do is send in the receipt and show where they found a better price, and Discover will refund the difference up to $500, if you do it within 90 days of the purchase,” she said.

      While doing your holiday shopping with cash may keep you from overspending, it doesn't put money in your pocket. But it bears repeating, using a rewards credit card for all your holiday purchases will only put you ahead if you exercise discipline and don't over-spend.

      The holiday shopping season is fast approaching and surveys have shown that many consumers have been making purchases since Labor Day.So now might be a...
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      GITI recalls a quarter-million passenger car replacement tires

      The tires may develop cracks in the lower sidewall

      GITI Tire (USA) is recalling 250,620 imported Primewell Valera Touring II tires, sizes 205/50R17 93V XL, 215/50R17 95V XL, 225/50R17 94V, 225/50R18 95T; 205/65R16 95H, GT Radial Champiro Touring A/S tires, sizes 205/50R17 93V XL, 215/50R17 95V XL, 225/50R17 94V, 205/65R16 95H; and 225/50R18 95T, and Dextero Touring DTR1 tires, sizes 205/50R17 93V XL, 215/50R17 95V XL, 225/50R17 94V, manufactured by PT. Gajah Tunggal TBK in Indonesia.

      The replacement passenger car tires may develop cracks in the lower sidewall, potentially resulting in a loss of air.

      A loss of air pressure may result in sudden tire failure, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      GITI will notify owners, and dealers will replace the affected tires, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in October 2016.

      Owners may contact GITI customer service at 1-877-342-0882.

      GITI Tire (USA) is recalling 250,620 imported Primewell Valera Touring II tires, sizes 205/50R17 93V XL, 215/50R17 95V XL, 225/50R17 94V, 225/50R18 95T; 20...
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      Continental recalls Crosscontact LX20 tires

      The tires could suffer partial or full tread/belt loss

      Continental Tire the Americas is recalling 14,567 Crosscontact LX20 tires, size P275/55R20 111S, manufactured May 3, 2015, to May 9, 2015.

      The tires, sold as replacement tires as well as original equipment on certain General Motors full size trucks and SUVs, may have insufficient adhesion within the belt package, resulting in tread wear, vibration, noise, or bulging areas on the tire.

      The insufficient adhesion can cause partial or full tread/belt loss, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Continental will notify owners, and dealers will replace the tires, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Continental customer service at 1-888-799-2168.

      Continental Tire the Americas is recalling 14,567 Crosscontact LX20 tires, size P275/55R20 111S, manufactured May 3, 2015, to May 9, 2015.The tires, so...
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      U.S. Treasury enacts regulations to stop earnings stripping

      The new rules would make it harder for some corporations to dodge taxes

      One of the main political sticking points for candidates over the years has concerned taxes – more specifically, how to make sure U.S. companies pay their fair share of them.

      Many have called the tax system broken over the years because of how easy it is for a company or corporation to acquire a business overseas and move its tax address. This allows multinational businesses to engage in “earnings stripping,” which is the term that describes a company that pays deductible interest to a parent company or affiliate in another country that has lower taxes. Simply put, it allows a business to avoid paying as much as they should in U.S. taxes.

      But in an interview with CNBC on Thursday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced new regulations that will limit companies’ ability to take part in this kind of “egregious” tax avoidance. The new rules will seek to end earnings stripping and mandate that corporations file documentation on interest deductions on related-party loans.

      “This administration has long called for legislative action to fix our broken tax system. In the absence of Congressional action, it is Treasury’s responsibility to use our authority to protect the tax base from continued erosion,” said Treasury Department Secretary Jacob J. Lew in a statement.

      “We have taken a series of actions to make it harder for large foreign multinational companies to avoid paying U.S. taxes and reduce the incentives for U.S. companies to shift income and operations overseas. Such tax avoidance practices are wrong and should be stopped.”

      Exceptions and exemptions

      The proposed regulations were submitted back in April, and were subject to months of scrutiny from stakeholders before being finalized. As a result, the finalized version allows for several exceptions and exemptions for situations where there is a low risk of earnings stripping.

      Feedback from the public also led to exemptions for foreign subsidiaries of U.S. multinational corporations, transactions between pass-through businesses, cash pools, and limited exemptions for financial institutions and insurance companies that are subject to regulatory oversight for their capital structure.

      The final regulations also include more relaxed documentation requirements than those suggested in April, as well as more exceptions for ordinary course transactions like stock acquisitions associated with employee compensation plans. The regulations will go into effect on January 1, 2018.

      Mixed reviews

      Republicans and Democrats have remained divided on the new regulations. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex) claims the regulations were pushed through too quickly and may damage U.S. workers and the economy. “By rushing the review process – despite the extensive comments received – and finalizing these regulations so quickly, it appears the Obama Administration has ignored the real concerns of people who will be most impacted by these far-reaching rules,” he said.

      On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich) said the new regulations were a step in the right direction towards restoring fairness to the tax system.

      “For years, companies have been inverting and engaging in earnings stripping to unfairly lower their tax bills. In the absence of Republican action on tax reform, Treasury has used its Administrative authority to help bring fairness to the tax system. Today’s regulations from Treasury—which took into account extensive comments from the public and intensive meetings with Republicans and Democrats in Congress—go straight to the core of that fairness issue by strongly limiting a company’s ability to use this tax avoidance strategy, which involves disproportionately leveraging a U.S. company with debt and ‘stripping’ the U.S. tax base through deductible interest payments,” he said.

      One tax expert found both positives and negatives to the new regulations, saying that some necessary steps were taken but that some parts were still worrisome.

      “On the plus side, the documentation rule’s applicability of 1/1/18 and the exception – for the time being at least – for foreign issuers were responsive to comments and were absolutely necessary. . . But the rules’ general response regarding cash pooling will still be highly burdensome where they apply as will the retroactive application of the re-characterization rules,” said Ronald Dabrowski, a principal of KPMG LLP, a Washington National Tax practice.

      So, based on the mixed reviews, consumers may have to wait and see if the new regulations save the tax system or lead to the collapse of the country as we know it. The smart bet may be to expect something in between. Consumers can learn more by visiting the Treasury's fact page here.

      One of the main political sticking points for candidates over the years has concerned taxes – more specifically, how to make sure U.S. companies pay their...
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      Why staying home is better for family happiness than going out

      Families don't always have to play together to stay together, study finds

      Before trekking out to an amusement park or embarking on an exciting adventure with the kids, parents may want to consider the fact that family happiness is often found right at home.

      In a new study, researchers from Baylor University found that family leisure at home can be a “more effective route to happiness” due to the fact that familiar activities are easier for the brain to digest.

      When the brain is busy digesting new information, it can make it more difficult to reap the emotional benefits of quality time together, explained lead author Karen K. Melton, Ph.D., an assistant professor of child and family studies in Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences at Baylor.

      “When the brain is focused on processing new information -- such as taking part in an unfamiliar activity with unfamiliar people in a new location -- less 'brain power' is available to focus on the family relationships.”

      Inside the home

      You might think that any quality time is good quality time, but Melton disagrees. “All family leisure is not equal,” she says, adding that “the best predictor of happiness for families may be spending quality time together in familiar activities inside the home.”

      To reach this conclusion, Baylor researchers asked 1,502 families to answer an online questionnaire regarding the nature of their family’s leisure time together. Questions included, “What activities do you do?” and “How often do you do them?”

      Scores supported the researchers’ initial hypothesis, which stated that families that participated in more leisure with lower levels of recreation would have higher levels of happiness.

      The study’s authors note that these findings are good news for families with limited time, few resources, or both.

      Expressing stress

      Hanging out at home together may also offer families a way to release some steam. Instead of plastering on a happy face while doing activities outside the home, families members can “express stress and conflict as well as pleasure during leisure time” at home, says Melton.

      So what at-home activities pave the way for healthy and happiness-inducing quality time together? Melton says there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but simple, familiar activities are a good place to start.

      "For some families, quality togetherness is having dinner together or playing games; for others, it may be hobbies, videos or TV, music," Melton said. "At the end of the day, what matters is that we are social beings who crave a sense of belonging and connectivity."

      The study has been published in World Leisure Journal.

      Before trekking out to an amusement park or embarking on an exciting adventure with the kids, parents may want to consider the fact that family happiness i...
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      Housing market frustrating for first-time buyers

      Prices continue to go up but the selection keeps going down

      As we head into the end of the year with an economy that remains anemic, one factor economists are closely watching is the housing market.

      After crashing in 2009, housing has recovered nicely, with prices rising nearly to pre-crash levels. But one of the biggest reasons for the price rally, especially lately, is that the supply of homes hasn't kept pace with demand.

      So where does it go from here, and what does it mean for the economy? The latest ValueInsured Housing Confidence Index is not overly encouraging. While home prices are rising, confidence among consumers in the housing market is about the same as it has been all summer.

      “Home prices rose over the summer, putting them out of reach for many renters who also saw their rents rising,” said Joe Melendez, ValueInsured's CEO. “Another factor suppressing housing confidence is the unsettling presidential contest and uncertain future it entails.”

      Put those considerations together with the hangover from the 2009 housing crash and Melendez says many prospective buyers really need a confidence boost.

      The Millennial factor

      Millennials are being a large and powerful block of consumers who are shaping the housing market, and the survey breakdown shows this generation continues to have economic anxiety and uncertainty. They're skeptical and prepared for volatility.

      Sixty percent of Millennials questioned by survey takers worry the housing market has entered a bubble and could face a correction in the next two years. Only 47% of Americans as a whole hold that view. The survey finds that prospective first-time buyers, in particular, are worried about instability in the housing market.

      Indeed, the latest data from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) suggests a slowing housing market going into the end of the year. At the end of September, NAR reported pending home sales – a statistic based on contracts signed but not yet closed – fell in August by 2.4%.

      Fewer homes for sale

      NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun attributes it mostly to fewer available homes for sale. Where there were higher inventories of homes, Yun says, sales were higher. It's just simple math.

      He also has a warning – without an increase in new home construction, the housing recovery could, in fact, stall.

      He notes that housing inventory has shrunk year-over-year for 15 straight months. That has meant homes sold faster and for more money. So it might not be all that surprising that people searching for a home to buy are feeling some angst.

      As we head into the end of the year with an economy that remains anemic, one factor economists are closely watching is the housing market.After crashin...
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      Smart collar can offer you a glimpse into your dog's head

      The Inupathy collar measures your pup's pulse to determine its emotional state

      How is your dog feeling? A quick glance at his tail might offer some clues, but there’s often a lot more going on below the surface.

      Joji Yamaguchi, the biologist behind the creation of a new smart collar called ‘Inupathy,’ believes a dog’s heart rate is the biggest indicator of his current emotional state.

      In an effort to better understand his dog and help other pet owners do the same, Yamaguchi designed a collar which shows -- via different colored lights -- how a dog is feeling at an emotional level.

      “I was always worried about my dog’s nervousness and wanted a way to learn how to make him relaxed,” Yamaguchi told Newsweek. “So I invented a device capable of analyzing the rhythm of a heart beat."

      Gauging dogs’ needs

      Colored LED lights embedded on the collar function as a way of letting pet parents see how their dog is reacting to the world at any given moment.

      If your dog is in a relaxed state, a blue light will appear on the device. If he’s focusing intently on a squirrel in the distance or attempting to master a new trick, the light will glow white to indicate that the dog is concentrating.

      Knowing if a dog is happy, calm, excited, or concentrating can help pet owners understand their dogs’ needs, says Yamaguchi. This deeper understanding, he believes, can strengthen the bond between pet parents and their dogs.

      ‘Mental visualizer’

      Instead of relying on the position of a dog’s tail or other external indicators of emotion, the Inupathy collar lets pet owners see their dog’s internal emotional state.

      What might the collar reveal? In Yamaguchi’s case, the device opened his eyes to the fact that his Corgi preferred to be within close proximity of him.  

      “I’ve learnt that the distance between me and my dog, and whether I’m touching him or not is very important,” Yamaguchi said. “He is also more relaxed with the door of a room closed, rather than opened.”

      He also found that aggression wasn’t always the reason his dog barked at other dogs. He gleaned this insight by comparing his dog’s reaction to cats versus dogs. While barking at cats, the collar lit up red, Yamaguchi told The Next Web. But while barking at dogs, the collar picked up on the fact that the bark was less aggressive.

      How is your dog feeling? A quick glance at his tail might offer some clues, but there’s often a lot more going on below the surface. Joji Yamaguchi, th...
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      FTC closes down skincare promoters offering 'risk-free trials'

      Companies abused the system, cheated consumers, the feds alleged

      The Federal Trade Commission has finished applying an astringent solution to a group of skincare companies that it accused of using deceptive marketing and billing tactics to skin consumers.

      The companies, which sold Auravie, Dellure, LéOR Skincare, and Miracle Face Kit products have agreed to court orders with the FTC or had default orders entered against them.

      “These defendants tricked people into paying for skin care products and abused the credit card system to extend their scheme,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The Commission will continue to attack scams that rely on supposed ‘free trial’ offers and unauthorized credit card charges.”

      "Risk-free trials"

      The agency said the defendants sold their skin creams through false advertisements for “risk-free trials.” According to the FTC, the defendants convinced consumers to provide their credit card information, purportedly to pay nominal shipping fees.

      However, the defendants allegedly used consumers’ credit card information to impose unauthorized recurring monthly charges of up to $97.88 per month for unordered products. The FTC also charged defendants with misrepresenting themselves as accredited by the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

      The total number of defendants eventually reached 33. Most were charged with violating the FTC Act, the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act, and the Electronic Funds Transfer Act.

      Each final order bans the defendants from selling products through a “negative option,” in which the consumer’s silence is interpreted as consent to receive and pay for goods and services. The orders also bar them from future deception and credit card laundering.

      The Federal Trade Commission has finished applying an astringent solution to a group of skincare companies that it accused of using deceptive marketing and...
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      MS researchers hopeful about reversing some effects of the disease

      A currently approved drug shows promise in an international study

      For medical researchers focused on multiple sclerosis (MS), the hope is to move beyond just slowing the progressive and debilitating disease towards actually restoring some lost functions.

      Researchers writing in the medical journal Neurology have reported what appear to be promising results from the use of a drug already in physicians' arsenal.

      They write that the use of the drug alemtuzumab actually reversed some of the nerve damage in MS patients. They note the drug isn't employed very often because it is known to have potentially serious effects.

      Alemtuzumab is normally prescribed to patients in later stages of MS who haven't responded well to other treatments. It is used most often with the most common form of the disease, relapsing-remitting MS, in which symptoms alternate between improving and worsening.

      The study

      In the international study, relapsing-remitting MS patients who did not respond well to at least one other MS drug were treated either with alemtuzumab or interferon. Their level of disability was monitored from the beginning to the end of the study.

      By the end of the two-year monitoring period, 28% of the patients receiving alemtuzumab had regained at least some lost function. They were two times more likely to have shown improvement than the patients receiving interferon.

      “These results are encouraging, but exactly how alemtuzumab may reverse damage, whether it’s through repairing myelin, creating new nerve synapses, greatly reducing inflammation or some other mechanism, is yet to be investigated,” said Dr. Bibiana Bielekova, a member of the research team.

      That, the researchers say, needs to be pursued in follow-up studies. But the study is just the latest to suggest that it might be possible to repair some of the damage caused by MS.

      Earlier research

      As we reported in 2014, animal studies had suggested a drug called anti-LINGO-1, also called BIIB033, may be able to repair the demyelination of the nerves. However, Phase II clinical trials, completed early in the summer, did not achieve the hoped-for results.

      Dr. Alfred Sandrock, executive vice president and chief medical officer at drug maker Biogen, said researchers aren't giving up.

      “Achieving repair of the human central nervous system through remyelination would be a substantial achievement, and while we missed the primary endpoint, the SYNERGY study results suggest evidence of a clinical effect of opicinumab,” he said. “Due to the complex nature of the data set, we continue to analyze the results to inform the design of our next study.”

      For medical researchers focused on multiple sclerosis (MS), the hope is to move beyond just slowing the progressive and debilitating disease towards actual...
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      Honda recalls 2016 Civics to fix parking brake

      The car could roll away if the brake is not properly engaged

      American Honda is recalling about 350,000 Civic Coupes and Sedans from the 2016 model year to update software affecting Electric Parking Brake (EPB) functionality, free of charge.

      No crashes or injuries have been reported related to this issue, which was discovered through warranty claims associated with the illumination of the brake warning light.

      The software for the Vehicle Stability Assist Electronic Control Unit may prevent application of the EPB when it is applied immediately after turning the vehicle ignition off. (This condition will not occur if the EPB is applied before turning off the vehicle ignition.)

      If the EPB cannot be applied, the "BRAKE" warning indicator in the instrument panel will blink for 15 seconds to alert the driver. Additionally, if the EPB does not properly set and a parking gear is not selected by the driver, the vehicle may roll away, increasing the risk of a crash.

      Honda is announcing this recall to encourage each owner of an affected vehicle to take it to an authorized dealer for repair as soon as they receive notification of this recall from Honda. Mailed notification to customers will begin in early November 2016.

      Additionally, owners of these vehicles can determine if their vehicles require repair now by going to www.recalls.honda.com or by calling (888) 234-2138.

      American Honda is recalling about 350,000 Civic Coupes and Sedans from the 2016 model year to update software affecting Electric Parking Brake (EPB) functi...
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      Samsung reeling in aftermath of fires in Galaxy Note 7 phones and other products

      Consumers seething over the company's business-as-usual response to fires

      Samsung is feeling the heat from its disastrous handling of the fire-prone Galaxy Note 7 smartphones. Critics are comparing the bungled response to the Note 7 crisis to Samsung's handling of a rash of washing machine fires in Australia a few years ago.

      Samsung recalled 150,000 Australian washing machines in April 2013 after a series of house fires were blamed on the machines. But first it tried to get consumers to use tape and a plastic bag to solve the problem, a solution that only increased consumer outrage and was itself blamed for several more fires.

      Consumers in the U.S. have also reported fires in their Samsung washers, as we reported a few weeks ago, but so far no recall has been issued. Federal safety officials, however, warned consumers that the machines could shake themselves to pieces and cause injuries or damage.

      Repercussions from the Note7 debacle are rippling through all corners of Samsung's business. A report today says that an expected deal with FCA (formerly Chrysler) has been delayed while Samsung, South Korea's largest company, tries to work its way through the aftermath of the smartphone recall and subsequent market withdrawal.

      FCA and Samsung had been reported to be close to a deal involving electronic components for the company's Chrysler, Jeep, Fiat, and other auto brands.

      The fallout from the Galaxy fires threatens to tarnish Samsung's other consumer products, which have experienced their own problems with unexpected fires and, more significantly, with a response that is best described as business as usual.

      We heard from Lyn of Palm Harbor, Fla., about the red-hot charger that came with her Samsung tablet.

      "Charger got so hot we had to use gloves to remove it from the wall. Went to the AT&T store ... where we purchased it, they told us we would have to contact AT&T corporate to get a replacement. Called corporate and we were told to contact the manufacturer," Lyn said. "We did and were informed that they would not replace charger. The warranty only covered the device. If you can't charge it you can"t use the device!!! Stay away from Samsung products. No Samsung, No FIRES."

      Microwaves

      Samsung microwaves have for years generated red-hot consumer complaints about fires, most recently from Bill of Palm Harbor, Fla.

      "Bought new Samsung microwave (me21h706mqs) and after one week it caught on fire at the plastic piece in rear corner. Lucky we were at microwave watching or whole house could have caught on fire. Huge plastic smoke and horrible smell," Bill said in a ConsumerAffairs review a few days ago. Bill called Samsung and after calling three different numbers got little satisfaction.

      "Samsung was not impressed their unit caught fire and really did not care. Said they would send tech in 2-3 days. ... Basically they hung up on me after I requested someone come out on Monday to remove."

      Tracy of Winston-Salem, N.C., said she was boiling pasta when her microwave caught fire.

      "I wasn't even using the inside of the microwave at the time. I was using the exhaust fan for I was boiling pasta on the stovetop. Flames all in the microwave, I had to use the fire extinguisher. I am so glad I was home when this happened! My model number ME18H704SFS."

      By-the-book

      A common theme in many of the microwave fire complaints submitted by ConsumerAffairs readers is the by-the-book response from Samsung's customer service representatives.

      "Purchased Samsung Microwave Model Number ME18H704SFG on 07-03-2016 from HHgregg. They delivered the Microwave on Saturday 07-09-2016. Used the Microwave Saturday and Sunday. Monday morning 07-11-2016 my wife screamed 'FIRE' so I ran to the Kitchen where the Microwave door was open and a flame about 4-5 inches long was jetting out ... I got the Fire Extinguisher and put it out then unplugged it," said Joey of Sicklerville, N.J.

      Joey said he called Samsung and "spoke to a lady there who gave me a transaction number and said a product specialist would call me back within 4 hours." The return call didn't happen, Joey said, but eventually a service call was scheduled for several days later. Like other owners of burned microwaves, Joey said he didn't want service, he wanted a new microwave.

       "I told her I did not want them to attempt to repair this unit and give it back to me. She said the service person would not take the unit but would take photos and send to Samsung where they would determine if it could be repaired. I told her I would not let that unit back into my home. She said if you refuse the service then you will be left with a broken microwave," Joey said.

      Ovens & ranges

      You expect a range to get hot but, ideally, the heat is confined to the oven and cooking surfaces. That's not always the case with Samsung ovens and ranges, consumers say.

      "Our two year old Samsung NE58F9500SS began sending strong fumes of burning plastic upon oven preheat," said Nancy of Midlothian, Va. "Repeated email and phone contact with customer service about this fire hazard was a test of patience. Each contact told us to wait 24 more hours and we would be contacted by someone. Days passed. No oven. No stove. Wires attached to the back of the oven, melted. Plastic on the terminal block melted. This is DANGEROUS and deserves immediate attention," Nancy said. "We paid $1,533.35 for this poor workmanship and poor service."

      Remi of Piscataway, N.J., wasn't as lucky as Nancy.

      "I opened the broiler to place a tray inside and flames shot out of it and singed face and hair. The fire department, EMT and PSEG responded to the incident. The oven was tagged 'defective' and the gas line was shut off," Remi said. "I have been in constant communication with Samsung regarding the oven. I inquired about being compensated for food due to the 'loss of use' and was told that they do not provide compensation."

      "Last week, I was advised that they would swap out the oven. I advised them that before I would commit to this resolution, I was like to know the cause of the fire. I was informed that this information could not be released to me," Remi said. "As a consumer who purchased this item, was injured by it and could have received extensive damage to my house, I believe that I should be informed of the cause and/defect of the unit."

      Dinner was interrupted at Sheila's home in Albany, Ga. "Yesterday in the middle of preparing dinner, the range shot fire with a loud explosion. Samsung does not stand behind their products and you would think that a new stove that we paid $900.00 for would last longer than 2 1/2 years," she said.

      Refrigerators

      We haven't seen many reports of Samsung refrigerators actually igniting, but many consumers have complained of conditions that they thought were fire hazards.

      "After 4 years of owning a French door Samsung refrigerator (RF267AARS/XAA), the coils started freezing up. I called out a Samsung repair service and they discovered that the evaporator coils had melted my liner and it is not repairable. It was so badly burnt inside that I am surprised it did not catch fire," said Jerri of Dripping Springs, Texas.

      "When I contacted Samsung customer service about this hazard, I was put on hold for 30 minutes and then told that they could only refund me a partial credit for the refrigerator. When I asked if there have been similar problems with other refrigerators, they could not tell me," Jerri said.

      Donald of North Kingstown, R.I., found singed components in his freezer compartment.

      "After removing the cover in the freezer that covers the coils I found a lot of burnt areas and cracks in the freezer compartment. Also the defrost sensor was also burnt," he said. "I replaced the sensor and also took pictures of the freezer compartment showing the burnt areas and areas where the compartment was bubbling up from heat. This frig is a fire hazard."

      Not everyone is so lucky. 

      "Caused damage throughout house," said a consumer in Australia who asked to remain anonymous. "Had temporary accommodation for a year. Everything lost. Fire brigade recognised incident as a fridge fire. Fortunately happened when house was empty overnight. Samsung deny all liability and claim a waste bin must have caught fire in front of the fridge!"

      Dishwashers

      Aurelia of Wentzville, Mo., didn't have a fire in her Samsung dishwasher but was afraid that she was about to. She said numerous repair visits failed to resolve a water leak. After the last repair, "we ran a load [and] after 40+ minutes we got the LC* warning light."

      "This indicated water to electric leak, it's recommended to shut off circuit to the unit to prevent further damage or fire.," Aurelia said. After all the attempts to repair her dishwasher, she said she expects to be told she is out of warranty and on her own.

      Samsung has denied the incidents are linked and has said its warranty and repair services are adequate to handle the problems. Whether that is sufficient to reassure consumers is the question the company must now face.

      Fire mars the back of a consumer's Samsung microwave.Samsung is feeling the heat from its disastrous handling of the fire-prone Galaxy Note 7 smartph...
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      Why not getting your flu shot could cost you

      Consumers spent roughly $9 billion last year in medical costs from not being vaccinated

      No one likes getting sick, but it seems that many Americans are loathe to go out and get a vaccination when flu season comes around. Unfortunately, it might not just be hurting their health, though.

      A new collaborative report shows that U.S. consumers spent $5.8 billion on medical costs related to the influenza virus. But monetary problems don’t stop there. In all, Americans spent roughly $9 billion in 2015 on treating diseases that can be avoided by vaccination.

      All of this begs the question, what do consumers have against vaccines?

      Economic repercussions

      The debate over vaccinations became very polarizing and high-profile in recent years after a scientific study stated that they may be linked to autism. The study was later debunked and the findings were retracted, but the notion has stuck with consumers ever since.

      While the debate over whether or not a parent should vaccinate their child continues to rage, many adults have stopped getting vaccinations as well. Reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the majority of U.S. adults avoided getting their flu shot last year, and the study’s authors believe that this hesitance could have major economic repercussions.

      “Vaccines save thousands of lives in the United States every year, but many adults remain unvaccinated. Low rates of vaccine uptake lead to costs to individuals and society in terms of death and disabilities, which are avoidable, and they create economic losses from doctor visits, hospitalizations, and lost income,” they said.

      Addressing the issue

      The researchers admit that increasing the rate of vaccination won’t entirely erase the amount of money lost by consumers. In fact, they even go far as to say that vaccines are not always a 100% guarantee of good health. However, they say that opening the public’s eyes to this growing problem should encourage consumers and lawmakers to look at the problem critically so that it can be addressed.

      “By highlighting the tremendous financial burden that unvaccinated individuals place on the economy and the health system, we hope that our estimate will spur creative policy solutions,” they said.

      The full study has been published in Health Affairs.

      No one likes getting sick, but it seems that many Americans are loathe to go out and get a vaccination when flu sea...
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      Cheapair.com expands flights to Cuba

      Site now offers 36 routes to 10 Cuban destinations

      With the thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations, it's easier now for Americans to visit the island nation, and there are even more ways to get there.

      CheapAir.com reports it has expanded the number of flights on its site between the U.S. and Cuba. It says it now offers 36 routes from 11 U.S. cities to 10 Cuban destinations, adding over 280 weekly flights that have been approved by the Department of Transportation.

      Americans can fly to Cuba on eight major airlines – JetBlue, American Airlines, United, Delta, Alaska, Spirit, Frontier, and Silver Airways. In addition, CheapAir users may also access a Miami-Havana flight on Public Charters, operated by Havana Air.

      Direct flights

      Currently, there are direct flights to Cuba from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Charlotte, Newark, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and Atlanta, to destinations that now include Havana, Santa Clara, Camaguey, Holguin, Cienfuegos, Vardero, Cayo Largo del Sur, Manzanillo de Cuba, Santiago de Cuba, and Cayo Coco.

      In the future, CheapAir said it will have direct flights from Orlando, Tampa Bay, and Minneapolis.

      “Last year, when the rule changes for travel to Cuba opened up a historic opportunity, we jumped on it,” said Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com. “We haven’t had enough inventory to accommodate the demand, so we’re thrilled to have all these new flights. We’ll continue to offer more ways to travel to Cuba than any other site on the internet.”

      Even though the U.S. And Cuba have re-established diplomatic relations, it doesn't mean Americans can travel to that country for any reason. Tourist travel is still outlawed.

      Only 12 reasons you can visit

      However, the U.S. Embassy in Havana says there are 12 categories of travel that are permissible. They include:

      • Family visits
      • Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
      • Journalistic activity
      • Professional research and professional meetings
      • Educational activities
      • Religious activities
      • Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
      • Support for the Cuban people
      • Humanitarian projects
      • Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
      • Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials
      • Certain authorized export transactions.
      With the thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations, it's easier now for Americans to visit the island nation, and there are even more ways to get there.CheapAir.com...
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      Feds charge 'tech support' pop-up ads were phony

      Scam artists hijacked consumers' computers, charged hundreds of dollars for unnecessary repairs

      Tech support scams keep popping up, just like the pop-up ads that are often used to rope in unsuspecting victims. In the latest case, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has charged a group calling itself Global Access Technical Support with deceiving consumers.

      The defendants allegedly used deceptive pop-up ads to scare thousands of consumers into paying hundreds of dollars each for unnecessary technical support services.

      The ads led consumers to think there was something wrong with their computer and, secondly, that the pop-ups originated from Microsoft, Apple, or other reputable technology companies.

      The ads often included loud alarms or recorded messages warning of the apparent dire threat to consumers’ computers and “hijacked” consumers’ browsers, leaving consumers unable to navigate around the ads or close them. The ads prompted consumers to contact a toll-free number.

      Call center

      According to the complaint, once consumers called the toll-free number, they were connected to a call center in India and pitched by telemarketers who claimed to be affiliated with or certified by a major technology company.

      Consumers were told that in order to diagnose the problem, they must provide the telemarketer remote access to their computer. The telemarketers then showed consumers otherwise innocuous screens and directories on their computers, deceiving them into believing they were evidence of problems that require technical support services to repair.

      The complaint alleges that the telemarketers pressured consumers to spend anywhere from $200 to $400 for repair services that could take hours to complete and which were at best useless, and in some cases could actually harm consumers’ computers.

      The FTC’s complaint alleges that the defendants violated the FTC Act. The defendants are Global Access Technical Support, LLC (also doing business as Global S Connect, Yubdata Tech and Technolive); Global sMind LLC (also doing business as Global S Connect); Source Pundit LLC (also doing business as OneSource Tech Support); Helios Digital Media LLC; VGlobal ITES Pvt. Ltd.; Rajiv Chhatwal; Rupinder Kaur; and Neeraj Dubey.

      Tech support scams keep popping up, just like the pop-up ads that are often used to rope in unsuspecting victims. In the latest case, the Federal Trade Com...
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      Holiday sales expected to grow by 3.6% this year

      All told, the NRF expects consumers to spend $655.8 billion this holiday season

      As we continue to march through October, consumers across the country are gearing up for the coming holiday season. In fact, many have already begun shopping for end-of-the-year events, and the National Retail Federation (NRF) believes that this will be a big year for retailers.

      The organization made a prediction earlier this month that sales -- excluding those made in the automotive, gas, and restaurant spheres -- would be 3.6% higher in November and December than they were last year, accounting for $655.8 billion in spending. That mark would beat the current 10-year average of 2.5% growth, and would even put sales above the current 7-year growth average of 3.4%, the period of time since economic recovery began in 2009.

      “All of the fundamentals are in a good place, giving strength to consumers and leading us to believe that this will be a very positive holiday season. . . This year hasn’t been perfect, starting with a long summer and unseasonably warm fall, but our forecast reflects the very realistic steady momentum of the economy and industry expectations,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay.

      If the prediction proves to be true, it would be a continuance of positive growth for the economy during the holiday season; in 2015, sales increased by 3.2% over the previous year. Over the course of this year, consumers seemed more willing to pay down purchases with credit, which is a positive sign for future sales figures.

      “Consumers have seen steady job and income gains throughout the year, resulting in continued confidence and the greater use of credit, which bodes well for spending throughout the holiday season,” said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz. However, he notes that both global and domestic political uncertainty, along with unseasonably warm weather, could still negatively impact consumer confidence going forward.

      In addition to a positive sales forecast, the NRF is predicting that seasonal employment will also stay on track in 2016. The organization believes retailers will hire between 640,000 and 690,000 workers this holiday season, in line with the 675,300 employees hired last year. Recent reports that Amazon will hire 120,000 holiday workers may pad those numbers even more.

      As we continue to march through October, consumers across the country are gearing up for the coming holiday season. In fact, many have already begun shoppi...
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      Feds back off from immediate criminalization of kratom

      The agency has given the public until December 1 to file comments

      The combined power of the U.S. Congress and social media has prompted the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to rethink its proposal to criminalize the use of kratom, a coffee-like plant that some believe could help stem the opioid epidemic.

      More than 50 members of the House and Senate wrote letters in recent weeks, criticizing DEA for its sudden and unilateral move to reclassify kratom as a “Schedule I” substance, putting it in the same category as heroin. That would subject people in possession of the plant to severe criminal penalties.

      Kratom does, in fact, have some of the same effects on the brain as opioid drugs, which is why it is used by some as a natural pain reliever. The plant, which is native to Southeast Asia, can be purchased online and inserted into capsules or brewed as a tea. Some grind the leaves into a powder and mix it into a drink.

      Some health policymakers have said the plant could prove useful as a way to prevent opioid addiction and overdose deaths. Two of the lawmakers signing the letters to DEA are doctors.

      Waiting for public comment

      According to a preliminary document posted online, the DEA has now agreed to wait to get more input from the public before taking any action, a move that surprised but delighted kratom advocates.

      The move is "shocking," according to John Hudak, a drug policy analyst at the Brookings Institution, who told The Washington Post the DEA action is out of character.

      "The DEA is not one to second-guess itself, no matter what the facts are," he told the newspaper.

      In explaining its action, the DEA said it had received “numerous comments” from the public since it published its notice of action on kratom. Before rendering a final decision, the agency said it will also receive a scientific and medical evaluation of the drug from the Food and Drug Administration.

      The public will have until December 1 to submit comments to the DEA through the Federal Docket Management System.

      The combined power of the U.S. Congress and social media has prompted the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to rethink its proposal to criminalize the...
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      WHO urges countries to reduce consumption of sugary drinks

      The organization suggests placing a tax on certain certain drinks in order to lower obesity rates

      As a general rule, consumers don’t much appreciate being told what they should or shouldn’t be eating or drinking. As such, regulation in the food and beverage industry is often met with resistance. One recent example can be seen in a lawsuit submitted by the beverage industry, along with residents and businesses in the Philadelphia area, who want to stop the city from imposing a soda tax.

      However, regulators and health agencies applaud such efforts and believe that they should be implemented more often. Now, a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) is pushing for countries around the world to follow Philadelphia lawmakers’ example and impose taxes on sugary beverages. The organization believes that doing so would go a long way towards reducing health risks like type 2 diabetes and obesity.

      “Consumption of free sugars, including products like sugary drinks, is a major factor in the global increase of people suffering from obesity and diabetes. . . If governments tax products like sugary drinks, they can reduce suffering and save lives. They can also cut healthcare costs and increase revenues to invest in health services,” said Dr. Douglas Bettcher, director of WHO’s Department for the Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs).

      Health crises

      WHO’s report was released on World Obesity Day to draw attention to how much the condition is affecting consumers around the globe. According to the report, the prevalence of obesity more than doubled worldwide between 1980 and 2014, with roughly 39% of adults over the age of 18 fitting that description by the end of the period.

      Further, the report states that childhood obesity has become a very real problem; an estimated 42 million children under the age of 5 were diagnosed as being obese in 2015, up 11 million over a 15-year period. Those living with diabetes also went up from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million by 2014, and 1.5 million deaths were attributable to the disease in 2012 alone.

      These disturbing upward trends are the primary reason why WHO is pushing for the reduction of free sugars in food and drink products. The organization points out that any added sugar is actually unnecessary.

      “Nutritionally, people don’t need any sugar in their diet. WHO recommends that if people do consume free sugars, they keep their intake below 10% of their total energy needs, and reduce it to less than 5% for additional health benefits. This is equivalent to less than a single serving (at least 250 ml) of commonly consumed sugary drinks per day,” said Dr. Francesco Branca, Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development.

      Fiscal recommendations

      The fiscal changes that WHO recommends countries undertake come from a meeting of global experts that took place in mid-2015. The recommendations primarily focus on giving incentives for healthier alternatives and curbing excess sugar consumption. They include:

      • Subsidies for fresh fruits and vegetables that reduce prices by 10-30%, which could increase fruit and vegetable consumption.
      • Taxation of certain foods and drinks, particularly those high in saturated fats, trans fat, free sugars, and/or salt, which could reduce their level of consumption.
      • Excise taxes that apply a specific amount of tax on a (1) given quantity or volume of a product, (2) a particular ingredient, or (3) a certain percentage of the retail price.
      • Generation of public support for the taxes by putting the earned revenue towards improving health systems.

      Thus far, many countries have already taken steps to curb the amount of sugar in its foods and beverages. Mexico has implemented an excise tax on non-alcoholic beverages with added sugar; Hungary has placed a tax on packaged products with high levels of sugar, salt, and caffeine; and countries like South Africa, the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, and the Philippines have announced intentions to impose taxes on sugary drinks.

      As a general rule, consumers don’t much appreciate being told what they should or shouldn’t be eating or drinking. As such, regulation in the food and beve...
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      High-protein diet doesn't help prevent type 2 diabetes, study finds

      Obese postmenopausal women got more benefit from a diet that included more moderate amounts of protein

      A lot of people go out of their way to eat extra protein. Dieters, in particular, think that eating more protein helps them stave off hunger and prevent the loss of muscle tissue that often comes with weight loss.

      But is this really a good idea? In a study of 34 postmenopausal women with obesity, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that eating too much protein eliminates an important health benefit of weight loss -- improvement in insulin sensitivity, which is critical to lowering diabetes risk.

      "We found that women who lost weight eating a high-protein diet didn't experience any improvements in insulin sensitivity," said principal investigator Bettina Mittendorfer, PhD, a professor of medicine. "However, women who lost weight while eating less protein were significantly more sensitive to insulin at the conclusion of the study. That's important because in many overweight and obese people, insulin does not effectively control blood-sugar levels, and eventually the result is type 2 diabetes."

      A good marker

      In fact, the researchers say, insulin sensitivity is a good marker of metabolic health, one that typically improves with weight loss. In their study, the women who lost weight while consuming less protein experienced a 25 to 30 percent improvement in their sensitivity to insulin.

      Many dieters think that consuming extra protein can help preserve lean tissue -- muscle, in other words -- allowing them to lose fat without losing muscle. But Mittendorfer's findings don't support that belief.

      "When you lose weight, about two-thirds of it tends to be fat tissue, and the other third is lean tissue," Mittendorfer said. "The women who ate more protein did tend to lose a little bit less lean tissue, but the total difference was only about a pound. We question whether there's a significant clinical benefit to such a small difference."

      While the difference in muscle mass loss was slight, the same wasn't true of metabolism. The women who ate the recommended amount of protein saw big benefits in metabolism, led by a 25 to 30 percent improvement in their insulin sensitivity. That can lower the risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The women on the high-protein diet, meanwhile, did not experience those improvements.

      "Very big effects"

      "Changing the protein content has very big effects," Mittendorfer said. "It's not that the metabolic benefits of weight loss were diminished -- they were completely abolished in women who consumed high-protein diets, even though they lost the same, substantial amounts of weight as women who ate the diet that was lower in protein."

      The study included 34 obese women 50 to 65 years old. Although all were obese, none had diabetes at the time of the study. They were placed in three groups for the 28-week study -- a control group, a group that ate the recommended date allowance of protein, and a third group that ate more protein.

      It's still not clear why insulin sensitivity didn't improve in the high-protein group, and Mittendorfer said it's not known whether the same results would occur in men or in women already diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. She plans to continue researching the subject.

      The findings became available Oct. 11 in the journal Cell Reports.

      A lot of people go out of their way to eat extra protein. Dieters, in particular, think that eating more protein helps them stave off hunger and prevent th...
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      Sprint announces initiative to provide low-income students with free wireless devices and service

      The 1Million Project will help close the digital divide and give students equal opportunity to succeed

      The educational system has been greatly enhanced through technology in recent years. While smartboards, interactive maps, and a plethora of online tools have benefited students in the classroom, having access to something as basic as the internet outside of school also lends a huge advantage.

      Unfortunately, not all students are able to go online outside of school. Children of families that can’t afford expensive smartphones or other internet-connected devices can often lag behind, which contributes to ever-widening educational and opportunity gaps. But a new announcement from Sprint may go a long way towards evening the playing field.

      The company announced today that it will be giving away one million internet-connected devices and providing four years of internet access to low-income high school students across the U.S. It marks the largest corporate initiative to bridge the digital divide and close the “Homework Gap," according to the company.

      “Education is the foundation for our society to prosper, and the internet is an incredibly powerful tool for learning. But it’s a huge problem in America that we have 5 million households with children that lack internet connections. Those kids have a huge disadvantage and we are failing them. All of us at Sprint are committed to changing this by providing 1 million students in need with free devices and free wireless connections,” said Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure.

      Equal opportunity to succeed

      Sprint’s new initiative, called the 1Million Project, may go a long way towards giving low-income children an equal opportunity to succeed. A report from the Pew Research Center found that students who come from low-income families are four times more likely than middle- and upper-income students to have no access to broadband internet. This is a big problem, since the report also found that 70% of teachers are assigning homework that requires some kind of web access.

      Not having access to the internet also tends to lower parent engagement in their children’s education. Teachers often choose to correspond with parents via email these days, and online grading systems make it possible for parents with an internet access to keep tabs on how their child is doing in class. Not having those connections can result in parents who are simply out of the loop.

      And when it comes time for a student to graduate, not having internet access could hamper future prospects. Applicants often have to apply for jobs online, and students wishing to learn more about scholarship opportunities and college applications will find the information on the internet.

      Providing devices

      In order to accomplish its goal, Sprint will be partnering with various non-profit agencies and manufacturers to provide free devices. Students may choose to receive a smartphone, laptop, tablet, or hotspot device, along with 3GB of high-speed LTE data per month.

      For students who go over the 3GB limit, unlimited data at 2G speeds will be available. Students who choose a smartphone will be able to use it as a hotspot and can use the device for unlimited domestic calls and texts while on the Sprint network.

      Funding for the initiative will come from donations from device manufacturers and through special events, donation drives, and other events hosted by Sprint and the Sprint Foundation. A pilot program is planned for launch in January of 2017.

      The educational system has been greatly enhanced through technology in recent years. While smartboards, interactive maps, and a plethora of online tools ha...
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      Experian reports many organizations still open to cyber attack

      Many have developed plans but fewer have updated them

      As a consumer, you trust your personal information to countless businesses and organizations.

      You trust your doctor to keep your health records private, your mortgage company to protect your financial information, and your bank to secure your money from cyber attack.

      However, a new report from Experian Data Breach Resolution presents a mixed picture on whether that trust is misplaced.

      On one hand, the report found the number of organizations that have prepared a plan to deal with and prevent data breaches rose from 61% in 2013 to 86% this year. But it also found only 38% have fixed procedures and timelines for reviews and updates.

      In fact, 29% of organizations haven't conducted a review or update since the plan was put in place.

      No substitute for being prepared

      "When it comes to managing a data breach, having a response plan is simply not the same as being prepared," said Michael Bruemmer, vice president at Experian Data Breach Resolution.

      Bruemmer said it seems some organizations are simply “checking the box” when it comes to cyber security. He says developing a plan is only the first step in an ongoing process that unfortunately, must evolve to keep current with threats.

      Of all the threats out there, ransomware appears to be growing fastest, posing the greatest risk to organizations. Successful hackers who are able to find the weakest link in a corporate network can encrypt all files on the network, making them inaccessible until a ransom is paid.

      725 breaches so far this year

      The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) keeps a running count of reported data breaches in the U.S. As of early October, it had counted 725 successful breaches, with nearly half involving health care records.

      These records, which usually include extensive personal history, including Social Security numbers, make it easy for hackers to steal identities.

      The Experian report is not all bad news. For example, it shows 58% of organizations have increased their level of preparedness. But Bruemmer says that number needs to be higher to ensure the safety of U.S. consumers.

      "Investing in breach preparedness is like planning for a natural disaster,” he said. “You hope it will never happen, but just in case, you invest time and resources in a response plan so your company can survive the storm."  

      As a consumer, you trust your personal information to countless businesses and organizations.You trust your doctor to keep your health records private,...
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      Anthem won't pay for new muscular dystrophy drug

      It says the new drug is still 'investigational' even though it's approved by the FDA

      There is only one drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which generally strikes children between 3 and 5 years of age and severely limits their life expectancy.

      Patient advocacy groups fought for FDA approval of the new drug, Exondys51, even though an FDA advisory panel advised against it.

      But now, according to an Rx411 report, Anthem is refusing to cover the drug, saying it is “considered investigational and not medically necessary.” A statement on the insurer’s website says it’s uncertain whether Exondys51 has a “clinically meaningful benefit.”

      To support this, it points to the FDA’s label indications, which include a statement that a clinical benefit has not been established and continued approval is contingent on continued clinical trials. 

      Though research data has shown that that Exondys51 has increased production of the dystrophin gene in Duchenne MD patients, which should result in improved motor function in those patients, that improvement has not yet been shown in a clinical trial.

      $300,000 a year

      Drugmaker Sarepta Therapeutics will now be required to conduct a clinical trial to confirm that the drug does actually improve those functions.  If that trial fails to verify that clinical benefit, says the FDA, it may start proceedings to withdraw its approval of the drug.

      Besides being the only drug approved in the U.S. to treat Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Exondys51 is wildly expensive -- currently priced at around $300,000 a year.

      Whether other insurance companies will cover the drug appears to be a mixed bag. Some, including Cigna and UnitedHealth Group, have said they will. Blue Cross Blue Shield is reported to be doing the same. A spokesman for Aetna says they plan to review things further before they make a coverage decision.

      There is only one drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which generally strikes children between 3 and 5...
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      Can real doctors match online diagnosis?

      Human physicians beat computers 72-34 percent in a Harvard Medical School study

      Have a headache, indigestion, or a weird-looking mole? You can head to any number of websites to input your symptoms and get a list of potential diagnoses, which nearly always include cancer, diabetes, heart failure, and other dire-sounding conditions.

      After all, computers are more powerful than ever and the alogrithms that run online platforms are written by really smart web developers, so they're surely just as good as -- maybe even better than -- something your dumb old doctor would come up with.

      True or false?

      According to a study led by researchers at Harvard Medical School, the answer is "false." The findings, published today in JAMA Internal Medicine, show that physicians' performance is vastly superior and that doctors make a correct diagnosis more than twice as often as 23 commonly used symptom-checker apps.

      It's believe to be the first direct comparison between human-made and computer-based diagnoses.

      The problem of diagnostic errors is a thorny one, with doctors failing to recognize a disease in a timely manner roughly 10 to 15 percent of the time. Over the last few decades, computerized checklists and other digital failsafes have been developed to reduce medication errors, streamline infection-prevention protocols, and generally provide what might be termed a second set of eyes and ears.

      The researchers wanted to find out if digital diagnosis could reduce diagnostic errors. So, they signed up 234 internal medicine physicians and asked them to evaluate 45 clinical cases, coming up with the most likely diagnosis and two additional possible diagnoses.

      Doctors 72, computer 34

      The physicians outperformed the symptom-checker apps, listing the correct diagnosis first 72 percent of the time, compared with 34 percent of the time for the digital platforms. Eighty-four percent of clinicians listed the correct diagnosis in the top three possibilities, compared with 51 percent for the digital symptom-checkers.

      The difference between physician and computer performance was most dramatic in more severe and less common conditions. It was smaller for less acute and more common illnesses.

      "While the computer programs were clearly inferior to physicians in terms of diagnostic accuracy, it will be critical to study future generations of computer programs that may be more accurate," said senior investigator Ateev Mehrotra, an associate professor of health care policy at HMS.

      While they outperformed the machines, the human physicians still made errors in about 15 percent of the cases, leading the researchers to say that developing better algorithms to be used in conjunction with human decision-making could further reduce errors.

      "Clinical diagnosis is currently as much art as it is science, but there is great promise for technology to help augment clinical diagnoses," Mehrotra said. "That is the true value proposition of these tools."

      Have a headache, indigestion, or a weird-looking mole? You can head to any number of websites to input your symptoms and get a list of potential diagnoses,...
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      What is kratom and why does the government want to criminalize it?

      The DEA believes the coffee-like herb could add to the opioid health crisis

      Dozens of members of Congress from both sides of the aisle reacted with alarm last month when the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) published its intent to classify a natural coffee-like herb called kratom as a “schedule I substance.”

      To put the move in context, other Schedule I substances include heroin and LSD. Needless to say, its DEA's most restrictive classification, and would present users with potential criminal charges.

      At the moment the classification, which could have gone into effect September 30, has been put on hold. The status is uncertain, however, since DEA has made no public comment.

      The herb, which is widely sold on the internet in a form that can be inserted into capsules, is valued for its pain-relieving properties – undoubtedly the principal reason the DEA wants to place it in the company of other controlled substances.

      Similarity to opioids

      Kratom's two main active chemicals affect the brain much like the ingredients in oxycodone and morphine do. The DEA is concerned the herb could increase the public health crisis caused by opioid addiction.

      In two separate letters to the DEA and Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the bi-partisan lawmakers question, not only the re-classification, but the haste in which the DEA sought to impose it.

      The letter from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Orin Hatch (R-UT), and nine other senators charged the use of emergency authority to ban a natural substance is unprecedented. The DEA, it said, should be required to make its case for the Schedule I classification.

      "Congress has established a specific set of review protocols for scheduling decisions that will create significant disruption in the marketplace that allows for the full engagement of consumers, researchers, health professionals, law enforcement officials, and other stakeholders,” the lawmakers wrote. “Given the long reported history of Kratom use, coupled with the public's sentiment that it is a safe alternative to prescription opioids, we believe using the regular review process would provide for a much-needed discussion among all stakeholders.”

      Kratom advocates

      Among kratom supporters are some who work with drug addiction, who helped rally support against the ban. Jag Davies, director of communications strategy at the Drug Policy Alliance, said people who believe kratom is a useful alternative to opioids should keep the pressure on.

      “If the DEA gets its way, more people who struggle with addiction will be criminalized,” Davies said in a statement.

      Kratom is produced from a plant that grows in Southeast Asia, where it has been used for medical purposes for generations.

      Dozens of members of Congress from both sides of the aisle reacted with alarm last month when the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) published its intent to cla...
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      EpiPen reaches lightning-quick settlement with Justice Department

      The auto-injector's manufacturer agrees to pay $465 million after an 'investigation' of less than two weeks

      Some would say that Mylan Pharmaceuticals has been slow to satisfy consumer calls for price rollbacks on the EpiPen auto-injector. But Mylan wasted no time reaching a settlement over the issue of whether it had overcharged Medicaid for the emergency allergy treatment.

      Late Friday, Mylan announced that it had agreed to pay a $465 million fine to the U.S. Justice Department, barely two weeks after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) had charged that the drugmaker wrongly classified the epinephrine pen as a generic drug, thus avoiding the hefty rebates that are attached to branded drugs.

      "The terms of the settlement do not provide for any finding of wrongdoing on the part of Mylan Inc. or any of its affiliated entities or personnel," the company said in a press release.

      But it's not likely the lightning-quick settlement will silence Mylan's critics.

      “It's hard to say with a straight face that you did nothing wrong when your company has to repay nearly half a billion dollars," said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. "With investigations now being initiated by Congress and others, this may be the beginning of Mylan's problems -- not the end. Our constituents are still paying far more than they should be for this critical medication.”

      Mylan Moms

      In California, supporters of a proposition that would limit drug price increases scheduled a news conference for Monday to demand additional action against Mylan.

      "Mothers whose children rely on the EpiPen in case of a life-threatening allergic reaction will join consumer advocates to condemn the deceptive drug industry advertising against Proposition 61, and call on voters to pass the initiative to stop drug company price-gouging and save lives," said an announcement from Consumer Watchdog.

      "These Mylan Moms will speak of hardships caused by the rising cost of the EpiPen – which has gone up 500% to $608 in the last decade. Mylan’s EpiPen costs just dollars to make but earns the company more than $1 billion a year," the non-profit advocacy group said.

      Kangaroo court?

      The settlement with the Justice Department came less than two weeks after three U.S. senators -- Richard Blumenthal (D) of Connecticut, Charles Grassley (R) of Iowa, and Amy Klobuchar (D) of Minnesota -- called on the Justice Department to investigate the CMS's allegations.

      It's rare for an investigation and negotiated settlement to be arrived at in such record time and it should be noted that, although Mylan announced the settlement Friday afternoon, the Justice Department had not done so as of Saturday.

      As was widely noted when the EpiPen pricing scandal erupted, Mylan CEO Heather Bresch is the daughter of Sen. Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia. The rapid settlement is likely to renew speculation that the company is being handled with kid gloves.

      “I am glad the Department of Justice pursued this so quickly, since the misclassification was an outrage,” Sen. Klobuchar said in a statement. “At the same time, this must be the tip of the iceberg. If other drugs are misclassified, and surely EpiPen isn’t the only one, the public deserves to know it, the taxpayers need to get their money back, and the process needs to be changed to stop this from happening again.” 

      Some would say that Mylan Pharmaceuticals has been slow to satisfy consumer calls for price rollbacks on the EpiPen autoinjector. But Mylan wasted no time...
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      Shoppers increasingly turning first to Amazon, study finds

      Forget about stores, Amazon is even nudging out search engines

      For awhile there, retailers were worried about "showrooming." They feared that consumers would come to their stores to examine merchandise and then buy it online instead of simply picking it up at the store.

      Showrooming is certainly commonplace these days, but it's often because so few stores are actually able to sell the items consumers are looking for. There may be a single item on display but it's increasingly difficult to be able to make an actual purchase.

      I was reminded of this the other day when I stopped into the neighborhood Lowe's to pick up a battery-powered hedge trimmer. The vast garden department had a shelf full of trimmers, ranging from simple plug-in models to the large gas-powered variety favored by professionals.

      I found one that looked suitable, hefted it around a bit, and decided it would be fine. But in the section where the boxed units were stored, the model I wanted was nowhere to be found. Looking closely, I discovered there were no battery-powered units at all, only a few plug-in types and only two gas-powered models.

      "We don't have it"

      "If it's not there, we don't have it," a friendly Lowe's employee shrugged. I bought $10 worth of mulch, went home and ordered $200 worth of hedge trimmer, battery, and charger from Amazon.

      It was just a few weeks earlier in another Lowe's that I went in search of an outdoor lighting transformer to replace one that had mysteriously died. Again, a yawning vacuum greeted me -- no transformers in stock.

      "It's because of Home Depot," a clerk sniffed. "They don't have any in stock so they send their customers over here and buy up all of ours. You might as well just order it from Amazon."

      Best Buy is also becoming a de facto Amazon showroom. When my laptop went toes-up on a recent trip, I dashed over to the nearest Best Buy to pick up a Chromebook to tide me over. I was in luck -- the store had the new HP model I had been admiring.

      "This is great, I'll take one of these," I told the salesman, who looked skeptically at me.

      "Sir, I can't sell you that one. It's the only one we have. We might get some more next Thursday, maybe," he said. "If you really need it in a hurry, you could just order it from Amazon."

      Even furniture is becoming an online-only item. I found an entertainment cabinet, again at Best Buy, while helping a friend move only to be told it was the only one in stock.

      "I could special-order it for you but the expedited shipping would cost more than it's worth," the salesman said. "You could just order it from Amazon and save a lot of money." (Target, which actually stocks merchandise in some of its stores, turned out to have a nearly identical item).

      Online gas?

      I expect someday to pull into a gas station and be advised to just order a tank online. We all understand that inventory is expensive and consumer buying habits difficult to predict, but at some point consumers may give up even trying to shop in stores if the out-of-stock trend continues.

      The situation is much the same in the online world -- Amazon, like a giant piranha -- is devouring everything in sight. A new study finds Amazon is even nudging out search engines as the go-to spot for consumers.

      The BloomReach research, conducted by Survata, found that 55 percent of consumers start their product searches on Amazon -- up from 44 percent just a year ago. That compares to 28 percent who first look for products using search engines and 16 percent who start their digital shopping excursions on a specific retailer’s website.

      The survey of 2,000 consumers and 400 marketing and sales representatives found an interesting fear lurking beneath consumers' Amazon infatuation -- nearly one in five said they were concerned about Amazon's growing dominance of the retail field.

      That fear is more explicit among retail professionals. Forty percent said they fear losing their job because of a competitor's dominance. Those whose main competitor is Amazon were twice as worried -- 80 percent fear losing their jobs because of Amazon.

      The fast-approaching holiday shopping season is not likely to improve matters. UPS and FedEx are staffing up for what's expected to be the biggest online buying spree ever. Everybody else? Perhaps the news that Mall of America won't bother to open on Thanksgiving Day this year pretty much says it all. 

      Instead of leaping up from the table and dashing over to the mall, we can all just leap up from the table and grab our laptops.

      For awhile there, retailers were worried about "showrooming." They feared that consumers would come to their stores to examine merchandise and then buy it...
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      Verizon seeks a $1 billion discount on its Yahoo acquisition

      The data company's massive data breach has put a strain on negotiations

      When we first reported details about Yahoo’s massive data breach, which compromised user data on 500 million accounts, we mentioned how the timing of the disaster might negatively affect the acquisition deal it established with Verizon.

      The telecommunications giant snatched up the struggling data company in July for $4.8 billion. However, since the breach happened in 2014 and it wasn’t properly communicated, that gives Verizon some leverage to re-negotiate a price or back out of the deal entirely.

      Now, a new report from the New York Post says that Verizon is pushing for a $1 billion discount off the deal. It seems that news of the breach, along with allegations that Yahoo scanned emails for terrorist signals for a government agency, has put a strain on the negotiations.

      “In the last day we’ve heard that [AOL boss] Tim [Armstrong] is getting cold feet. He’s pretty upset about the lack of disclosure and he’s saying, ‘Can we get out of this or can we reduce the price?’” said a source close to Verizon.

      Yahoo pushes back

      Asking for a discount simply makes good business sense, since the scandal and any financial consequences diminishes Yahoo value. On top of the discount, sources say that Verizon is putting aside $1 billion in reserve to deal with any fallout from the breach. It’s a move that former Yahoo CEO Ross Levinsohn detailed to CNBC on Wednesday.

      “If I’m sitting at Verizon right now . . . just from a business standpoint, I’d probably reserve a bunch of money against the deal or go back to Yahoo and ask for a discount,” he said.

      At the same time, however, Yahoo is pushing back against the suggestion. The company has balked at the prospect of a discount, saying that Verizon should honor the established deal and that it has no legal avenue to change the terms at this point. Yahoo’s board is set to meet in two weeks to address the issue, but discussions will continue up to that point.

      “Tim was out there this week laying the law down and [Yahoo CEO] Marissa [Mayer] is trying to protect shareholders. . . Tim knows how to be fair, while Verizon is pushing him, he can bridge the gap,” said a source close to the situation.

      Incentive for a deal

      On Verizon’s end, the breach comes at an inopportune time for its other business prospects. The company acquired AOL nearly a year and a half ago for $4.4 billion and had hoped to combine it with its Yahoo acquisition to create a competitive rival to Google and Facebook in the digital advertising market.

      Estimates suggest that the combination will reach 1 billion consumers if it closes in the first quarter, and that number could grow to 2 billion by 2020. Wanting to get the Yahoo acquisition put together may provide incentive for Armstrong to hammer out a deal quickly, but at this point the going may be slow and nothing is set in stone.

      “They’re being cautious because they don’t know what they’re going to find,” one source said.

      When we first reported details about Yahoo’s massive data breach, which compromised user data on 500 million accounts, we mentioned how the timing of the d...
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      Zillow sees biggest rent increases in the West

      After already steep climbs, Seattle renters could face another 7% rise

      Home prices have risen the fastest in the major Western U.S. markets, so it shouldn't come as a shock that rents in these metros are rising as well. The latest report from real estate marketplace Zillow suggests there's no relief in sight for some of these Western renters.

      Rents are up generally because more consumers are renting instead of buying. That increases competition for apartments and condos and single-family homes on the rental market.

      In the West, there's another contributing factor – high-paying tech jobs. As competition increases for the limited number of rental properties, landlords know there are plenty of people with good jobs who can pay a higher rent.

      Up 7% in Seattle

      Zillow predicts that rents will go up the most in Seattle and Portland over the next 12 months. While rents have begun to level off in some U.S. markets, renters in Seattle could see rents rise 7%, while Portland renters should brace for a 6% increase.

      On the other hand, the rise in rents should slow in the red-hot tech markets of San Francisco and San Jose, where the cost of renting a home is projected to rise about 4% – still more than twice the rate of inflation.

      It's not just the West where renters need to hold onto their wallets. Rents are generally rising in markets that have seen the most home price appreciation, and that includes Denver, Miami, and Cincinnati, the only Midwestern market to make the Zillow list of fastest growing rental markets.

      High demand, low supply

      Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell says high rent growth in these markets is being driven by high demand and low supply.

      "We have more renters today than in the past and most newly formed households are renter households,” she said. “This taken together with a lack of new rental construction at less expensive price points has been a recipe for rising rents.”

      But the news is not all bleak. Gudell says she expects rents in the hottest markets to begin to slow by the middle of next year.

      “Instead of the 10% rental appreciation we've been seeing in some places, expect growth more along the lines of 4% to 7%,” she said. “This is still high, but will hopefully give renters some relief."

      If you have a good job and get regular raises, you might be able to scrape by. But U.S. Census data shows half of all renters, and 83% of those with incomes less than $20,000, pay more than 30% of their incomes for rent.

      Home prices have risen the fastest in the major Western U.S. markets, so it shouldn't come as a shock that rents in these metros are rising as well. The la...
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      VW recalls Golf, Golf SportWagen, GTI, Audi A3 sedans and A3 Cabriolets

      Fuel may flow into the evaporative emissions system

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 110,042 model year 2015-2016 Volkswagen Golf, Golf SportWagen, GTI, Audi A3 sedan and A3 Cabriolet vehicles.

      A problem with the suction pump inside the fuel tank may allow fuel to flow into the evaporative emissions (EVAP) system.

      As fuel accumulates in the EVAP system, it may leak out through the charcoal canister filter element. A fuel leak in the presence of an ignition source increases the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will replace the suction pump, free of charge. Parts are not currently available. An interim notice will be sent to owners by early November and a second notice will be sent when parts are available.

      Volkswagen owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at 1-800-893-5298, Audi owners may contact Audi customer service at 1-800-253-2834. Volkswagen's numbers for this recall are 20Y6 and 20Y5.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 110,042 model year 2015-2016 Volkswagen Golf, Golf SportWagen, GTI, Audi A3 sedan and A3 Cabriolet vehicles.A...
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      Volkswagen recalls Audi Q5s and Q7s

      The fuel cap flange on the affected vehicles may crack

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 143,214 model year 2009-2012 Audi Q5s, and 2007-2012 Audi Q7s equipped with gasoline engines.

      The fuel cap flange on the affected vehicles may crack, allowing fuel to leak.

      A fuel leak in the presence of an ignition source increases the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      Audi will notify owners, and dealers will clean the pump flange and install a butyl rubber band to protect the pump, free of charge. Parts are not currently available. Interim notices will sent in early November 2016. A second notice will be sent when parts are available.

      Owners may contact Audi customer service at 1-800-253-2834. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 20W9.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 143,214 model year 2009-2012 Audi Q5s, and 2007-2012 Audi Q7s equipped with gasoline engines.The fuel cap flan...
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      Fresh Express recalls American Salad

      The product may contain egg, milk, wheat and anchovy, allergens not declared on the label

      Fresh Express is recalling of 480 cases of 11-oz. Fresh Express American Salad with a Product Code of G264A12A and Use-By Date of October 5.

      The product may contain egg, milk, wheat and anchovy, allergens not declared on the label.

      No illnesses are reported.

      The following product is being recalled:

      BRANDPRODUCT NAMESIZEUPCPRODUCTION CODEBEST IF USED BY DATEPOSSIBLE DISTRIBUTION STATES
      Fresh ExpressAmerican Salad11 oz.0 71279 241005G264A127A05-OctAL, FL, GA, NC, SC, TN

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should discard it.

      A refund is available at the place of purchase or by contacting Fresh Express toll-free at (800) 242-5472 from 8 a.m. – 7 p.m. (ET).

      Fresh Express is recalling of 480 cases of 11-oz. Fresh Express American Salad with a Product Code of G264A12A and Use-By Date of October 5.The product...
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      Traffic deaths surging but officials have a 'zero fatalities' plan for 2046

      If you can stay alive for 30 more years, your government sees a bright future for you

      Traffic fatalities continue to grow at an unusual clip, but safety regulators say they have a "zero fatalities" plan that they think will eliminate traffic fatalities completely. The catch? It won't happen until 2046.

      Lately, of course, there has been much discussion -- call it hype if you must -- about how autonomous cars will virtually eliminate accidents, most of which are caused by human error. This assumes that everything works perfectly and that the "blue screen of death" remains a metaphor and not a reality.

      Whatever happens in 2046, the situation today is bad and seems to be deteriorating. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said Wednesday that traffic deaths rose 10.4% in the first half of this year, a sharp increase on top of a last year's big increase, which was the largest since 1966 and seemed to take safety experts largely by surprise.

      NHTSA chief Mark Rosekind calls it "an immediate crisis" while holding out the "zero fatalities" plan for the future.

      To put some raw numbers against the percentages, more than 17,700 people died in traffic accidents in the first half of this year, far outpacing the 3.3% increase in miles traveled.

      Is it even worse?

      In fact, NHTSA may be under-counting actual fatalities, safety advocates say. 

      "NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) is supposed to be a census of fatal motor vehicle crashes but it is not," Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety, said in a recent letter to Rosekind. "The National Safety Council historically comes up with 2,000 more motor vehicle deaths each year."

      Why the difference? Ditlow says it's partly because NHTSA doesn't count certain off-roadway crashes or deaths that occur beyond 30 days after the crash.

      It was only recently that NHTSA bgan counting all of the traffic fatalities that were caused by drowning. "Until August 10, 2011, NHTSA insisted there were only 3 to 5 drowning deaths each year but was then forced to admit that there were actually 384 deaths each year on average," Ditlow said.

      Why so many?

      How can there be so many fatalities with all the new safety gear on cars? Well, the good news is that the absolute number of traffic deaths is down from a decade or so ago. In the first half of 2006, ten years ago, there were 20,500 fatalities despite there being fewer miles being driven.

      But what concerns safety officials and consumer groups today is that deaths have been moving up sharply the last year or two despite all the airbags, backup cameras and electronic stability control.

      The most commonly heard theory is that drivers are distracted by all the new gadgets in their cars -- smartphones, GPS, screwball entertainment consoles, and even self-driving features. There have, after all, already been cases of drivers being killed when their cars crashed while in self-driving mode. 

      Drunken driving has traditionally been cited as a major factor in crashes, with distraction running a close second. 

      Not much mentioned in official circles is the increased speed and congestion on the nation's highways, and the daredevil driving that seems to be encouraged by today's zippier, fun-to-drive cars. Drivers on Interstate 95 and the New Jersey Turnpike routinely cruise along at 90 while swerving in and out, tailgating and playing virtual bumper tag.

      It's not uncommon today to see traffic accidents in which cars are completely destroyed, leaving only scattered debris that looks more like an airplane crash than a traffic accident. Crashes at 90 miles per hour are simply not survivable in most cases, no matter how much safety equipment is latched onto cars.

      This line of thinking is more prevalent at the local and state level, where officials are perhaps closer to the day-to-day carnage than their Washington counterparts.

      At a recent Transportation Department conference, mayors suggested that, along with all the technological gee-whiz solutions, it might be worthwhile to partner with the Justice Department to boost enforcement of traffic laws and stiffen penalties. Insurance companies could also be encouraged to reward drivers who take safe-driving refresher courses, the local officials said.

      As a group, younger drivers continue to have the highest risk of dying, even though they tend to drive less than their elders. Because of inexperience, distractions, and perhaps a dose of adolescent bravado, teens are involved in three times as many accidents as drivers over the age of 20.

      Traffic fatalities continue to grow at an unusual clip, but safety regulators say they have a "zero fatalities" plan that they think will eliminate traffic...
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      What's the oldest age that any human can expect to live to?

      Researchers believe 125 is the longest any human could live, regardless of future advances

      Back in August, we reported on a study which showed that consumers’ expectations for old age determined how long they wanted to live. In general, those who had a positive outlook on old age wanted to live longer, while those who viewed it negatively wanted to pass away at a younger age.

      Advances in science and medicine have certainly benefitted consumers who want to prolong their lives for as long as possible. The current life expectancy for children born in 2016 is 79, compared to only 47 for those born in the year 1900. However, while lifespans are expected to continue to increase for some time, researchers say that we have already touched its upper limit.

      "Demographers as well as biologists have contended there is no reason to think that the ongoing increase in maximum lifespan will end soon," said Dr. Jan Vijg, senior author of a study conducted at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "But our data strongly suggest that it has already been attained and that this happened in the 1990s."

      125-year maximum

      The researchers came to their conclusions after analyzing data on the maximum reported age of death. After taking certain outliers into account, Vijg and his colleagues put the current average maximum human lifespan at 115 years. Based on this information, they posit that the absolute maximum for human lifespan is 125 years.

      The researchers believe that efforts to curb health problems should continue to boost the current average lifespan, but eventually these advances will hit a ceiling due to genetic restrictions. However, they do address the possibility that future therapies could prove them wrong.

      "Further progress against infectious and chronic diseases may continue boosting average life expectancy, but not maximum lifespan," said Dr. Vijg. "While it's conceivable that therapeutic breakthroughs might extend human longevity beyond the limits we've calculated, such advances would need to overwhelm the many genetic variants that appear to collectively determine the human lifespan.”

      Improving healthspan

      But does longevity of life really count for much if health isn’t maintained for its duration? Scientists are constantly striving to come up with advances that improve quality of life throughout old age, but a natural part of reaching an advanced age is the breakdown of internal systems. Accounting for every problem is a big task that may be unattainable.

      For that reason, the researchers believe that the medical and scientific communities should focus on increasing the number of years that we can remain healthy and active. “Perhaps resources now being spent to increase lifespan should instead go to lengthening healthspan -- the duration of old age spent in good health,” concluded Vigj.

      The full study has been published in the journal Nature.

      Back in August, we reported on a study which showed that consumers’ expectations for old age determined how long they wanted to live. In general, those who...
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      Researchers: exploding e-cigarettes more common than you think

      Doctors urge greater monitoring of design and manufacturing process

      When e-cigarettes were introduced a few years ago, they were presented as a safer alternative to cigarettes. They delivered the same nicotine but not the tars and some other contaminants present in tobacco.

      What might have gotten lost in the discussion, however, is another safety issue. Users are putting an electronic device in their mouths. And just as we have seen with other electronic devices, like smartphones, they sometimes explode.

      Researchers at the University of North Carolina's (UNC) Tobacco Prevention and Evaluation Program decided to focus solely on e-cigarette safety rather than any other adverse health effects they might have.

      They said that in the first half of this year, doctors at the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals treated 10 inpatients with severe burns and facial fractures. The injuries, they say, all came from e-cigarette explosions.

      Serious injury

      According to their study, most of the injuries required surgery, and one patient lost his eye when an e-cigarette exploded while he puffed on it.

      Clare Meernik, lead author of an editorial published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), says the UNC burn center's experience is not an outlier.

      “We think these explosions are happening to a greater extent than the current medical literature suggests,” she said.

      Other safety officials have recognized a threat. E-cigarettes have been banned from airline luggage, for fear they could ignite a fire while the plane is airborne.

      The BMJ editorial says there should be better monitoring of e-cigarette-related injuries, as well as better oversight of the manufacturing process.

      Dr. Felicia Williams, of the UNC School of Medicine, says victims of an exploding e-cigarette suffer from flame burns, but also from exposure to chemicals. She's concerned most emergency rooms, where victims tend to first be treated, are unaware of the severe nature of the burns.

      No way to track

      Currently, the researchers say there isn't a system in the U.S. health care system to track these injuries. Most cases are gleaned from media reports. They point to a 2015 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that more than nine million people in the U.S. are using e-cigarettes as a reason to increase the focus on safety.

      “We believe the FDA should immediately develop safety standards that all manufacturers must comply with, Williams said. We know that some explosions are related to battery issues, but other mechanisms may also be involved.”

      Improved safety standards, she says, would reduce the number of severe burns and other injuries. Since the FDA now has the authority to regulate e-cigarettes, the researchers say that authority should extend to the design and manufacture of these devices.

      When e-cigarettes were introduced a few years ago, they were presented as a safer alternative to cigarettes. They delivered the same nicotine but not the t...
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      Lawmakers say Mylan misclassified EpiPens as a generic, costing taxpayers

      Reports suggest that U.S. government health plans spent over $1 billion on the devices

      Additional details have been made public in the EpiPen pricing saga. Quoting statistics released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Reuters reports that U.S. government health plans spent over $1 billion on Mylan NV’s EpiPen emergency allergic reaction treatment between 2011 and 2015, which may have been excessive due to a misclassification that allowed the company to pay less on rebates.

      Mislabeling the devices could mean big trouble for Mylan, which is under scrutiny from federal officials for raising the price of the live-saving device from an inflation-adjusted $109 to over $600 in the course of nine years. Lawmakers are currently trying to determine what kind of impact Mylan’s pricing practices had on government-funded health programs.

      EpiPen misclassified

      Based on the CMS figures, some lawmakers have already alleged that Mylan underpaid rebates to state Medicaid programs. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn) has stated that Mylan misclassified the EpiPen as a generic drug instead of a branded drug.

      The difference in classification may account for millions of dollars; the rebate on a generic is 13%, while a branded drug has a minimum rebate of 23.1%. The CMS calculates that Medicaid plans spent $797 million on EpiPens during the five-year period between 2011 and 2015, or $960 million before rebates. The Medicare Part D program, which is intended to be used by the elderly, spent $335 million before rebates. At this time, CMS has stated that it cannot determine how much money the government may be owed for EpiPens.

      It will likely be difficult for Mylan to say it didn’t know about the improper classification. In its letter to Sen. Klobuchar, CMS stated that it reached out to Mylan and other members of the industry on the matter many times.

      “CMS has, on multiple occasions, provided guidance to the industry and Mylan on the proper classification of drugs and has expressly told Mylan that the product is incorrectly classified,” the agency said.

      Mylan's response

      Mylan has responded to the allegations from CMS and Klobuchar, saying that it has complied with the existing rules for classifying its products. It points out that the classification for Medicaid rebates on the EpiPen were created in 1997, before it took ownership of the devices.

      However, Klobuchar and other lawmakers are adamant about knowing how much extra money was paid by taxpayers and whether or not the classification problem is systemic.

      In a statement, Klobuchar asks for “clear answers on how dep this misclassification goes, how much it has cost taxpayers across the country, how many other drugs may be misclassified, and how we get that money back.” Mylan has declined to comment further on the situation until the CMS process has concluded. 

      Additional details have been made public in the EpiPen pricing saga. Quoting statistics released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), R...
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      Don't put off holiday travel plans

      Planning ahead saves both money and headaches

      Traveling over the holidays? If you haven't already, now is the time to make your plans.

      Booking airfare is always like rolling the dice. When you do it can make a big difference, especially if you are booking for high demand dates around the end of the year holidays.

      Booking both too early and too late can cost you extra money. Knowing where the schedule sweetspot is can land you a deal.

      According to CheapAir.com, you're now bumping up against the price increase threshold for Thanksgiving travel. If you've waited until now to book, your fare could cost you an average of $38 more than if you made your reservation in September. If you wait until next month, you could pay $52 more, if last year is any guide.

      As for Christmas and New Year, you have a little more time, but not much. The numbers crunchers at CheapAir say booking end of the year holiday travel in October costs only $15 more than if you booked last month. Wait until next month and it will cost an estimated $50 more.

      CheapAir maintains a page with the latest data on how holiday airfares are trending. Booking today for Thanksgiving travel yields an average fare of $428. That compares to $410 last week and $328 in September.

      Emotional cost

      Of course, the cost of holiday travel isn't just financial. It can take a toll on your nerves as well. To help keep your sanity, the Travel Channel recommends doing some research to determine whether you need to travel by air or whether a road trip could be an option. If a family is traveling, a road trip is likely to be a lot less expensive.

      If you do decide to travel by air, make sure you understand the airline's restriction on carry-on luggage before you arrive at the airport. And don't forget to take baggage fees into consideration when you are considering costs.

      Finally, consider downloading a couple of smartphone apps that can provide valuable information. The Travel Channel recommends Flight Status for air travelers and Gasbuddy for road warriors.

      Traveling over the holidays? If you haven't already, now is the time to make your plans.Booking airfare is always like rolling the dice. When you do it...
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      Office Depot recalls Winsley chairs

      The chair can tip over when the user is leaning back

      Office Depot of Boca Raton, Fla, is recalling about 129,000 Winsley Mid-Back chairs.

      The chair can tip over when leaning back, posing a fall hazard.

      No incidents or injuries are reported.

      This recall involves Winsley Mid-Back Chairs (Office Depot item #388262 for black or #907932 for white or the OfficeMax item #25100033 for black or #25100649 for white) sold on or before August 2016.

      The chairs, manufactured in China, were sold at Office Depot and OfficeMax stores nationwide and online at officedepot.com from August 2015, through August 2016, for about $150.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled chair and contact Office Depot to receive a free repair kit.

      Consumers may contact Office Depot at 800-949-9974 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, or online at www.officedepot.com and click on Recall Notices at the bottom of the page for more information. 

      Office Depot of Boca Raton, Fla, is recalling about 129,000 Winsley Mid-Back chairs.The chair can tip over when leaning back, posing a fall hazard....
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      Model year 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokees recalled

      The rear tow hook bracket or tow eye bracket may be loose

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 21 model year 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokees manufactured August 8, 2016, through August 16, 2016.

      The rear tow hook bracket or tow eye bracket may be loose, which could allow the bracket to detach from the vehicle while being it is being driven -- possibly becoming a road hazard.

      If the bracket detaches during a vehicle recovery, there may be a loss of control of the towed vehicle. Either scenario increases the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will confirm both tow hook bracket bolts are properly tightened, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on November 6, 2016.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is S73.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 21 model year 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokees manufactured August 8, 2016, through August 16, 2016.The rear tow hook brack...
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      Mall of America acts to preserve the sanctity of Black Friday

      Translation: the giant mall will close on Thanksgiving Day for the first time ever

      Thanksgiving is perhaps the biggest American holiday. It originated on these shores and remains unique to the U.S. The Mall of America is America's biggest shopping mall and in recent years, the two have co-existed, with shoppers jumping up from the dinner table to start their holiday shopping.

      But not this year. The giant Minnesota mall announced today that it will be closed on Thanksgiving Day for the first time ever. The mall's 520 stores can open if they want to but few are expected to do so.

      Mall management says it simply wants to give employees a day off and get the holiday shopping emphasis where it belongs -- on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

      “We’ve been talking about this for months, looking at the numbers, looking at the pros and the cons,” said Jill Renslow, the mall’s senior vice president of marketing and business development, according to a report in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “We’re excited to give this day back to our employees so they can celebrate with their families.”

      "Special magic"

      Renslow also hopes the move will "bring that special magic back to Black Friday" and noted that the mall will throw open its doors at 5 a.m. on Black Friday, welcoming shoppers perhaps still somewhat besotted with family, food, and friends.

      Critics have warned that Thanksgiving has been in danger of becoming little more than an elaborate luncheon that kicks off Black Friday, as stores great and small began opening for at least part of the traditional holiday in recent years.

      For their part, retailers have complained that the extra hours have not generated appreciably more revenue but have simply spread it out over a greater time period while increasing labor, utility, and advertising expense.

      That apparently mirrors Renslow's thinking. 

      “By closing on Thanksgiving, we’re confident we’ll still get those strong numbers throughout the Black Friday weekend.” she said, according to the Start-Tribune.

      Thanksgiving is perhaps the biggest American holiday. It originated on these shores and remains unique to the U.S. The Mall of America is America's biggest...
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      Joint pain supplement Supple agrees to dial back its claims

      A husband-wife team took in $150 million with their modern-day medicine show, feds allege

      To hear the infomercials and social media pitches tell it, a glucosamine and chondroitin supplement called Supple is the answer to arthritis and fibromyalgia pain. Why, it's scientifically proven effective, the ads and posts exclaim. 

      But the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) took a more rigid view. “Companies need solid scientific evidence to back up the health claims they make,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Consumers should not have to take it on faith that products claiming to provide pain relief will live up to their billing.”

      The FTC alleged that Wisconsin-based Supple, LLC and its principals, CEO Peter Apatow and his ex-wife Dr. Monita Poudyal, put on a modern medicine show presentation. Their infomercials featured Poudyal acting as medica show hostess and Apatow acting as her supposed guest. 

      Together, they portrayed Supple as a powerful all-natural drink that provides complete and long-lasting relief from joint pain; treats or relieves chronic or severe pain, including pain caused by all forms of arthritis and fibromyalgia; provides pain relief comparable to drugs or surgery; repairs cartilage; rebuilds joints and entire joint structures; and restores mobility and joint function to consumers with severe mobility restrictions.

      A sales bonanza

      It was great while it lasted. The FTC's complaint says the couple took in more than $150 million from sales of the supplement, which costs about $70 for a 24-day supply.

      The FTC's complaint charged that the claims are false or not adequately substantiated. In addition, the FTC alleged that the defendants falsely claimed that Supple is clinically proven to eliminate joint pain.

      The complaint also alleges that defendant Poudyal made unsubstantiated “expert endorsement” claims for the product, and falsely represented herself as an independent, impartial medical expert. The complaint further charges that the defendants failed to adequately disclose that Poudyal was married to Apatow during the time she was promoting the product.

      In a settlement agreed to by the defendants, they are required to have scientific evidence to back up any future claims they make about pain relief, disease treatment, and health benefits, and are barred from misrepresenting the results of any scientific study. It also prohibits them from deceptively representing that Supple’s endorsers are independent and objective when those endorsers have a close personal or financial stake in the company’s product sales.

      The settlement includes a $150 million judgment, most of which has been suspended based on the financial condition of Supple and Apatow.

      To hear the infomercials and social media pitches tell it, a glucosamine and chondroitin supplement called Supple is the answer to arthritis and fibromyalg...
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      CDC updates interim pre-pregnancy guidelines in light of new Zika information

      Following the agency's guidelines can help prevent sexual transmission of the disease

      Medical experts and researchers have been scrambling to come up with strategies to deal with the Zika virus threat. While a vaccine for the disease has not been created yet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has listed several ways that consumers can keep themselves safe.

      The prevention strategies have been available for the public for some time now, but a recent release by agency has updated some of the suggestions to reflect the latest information that has been collected. The new guidelines state:

      • Women and men who are planning to become pregnant in the near future should consider avoiding nonessential travel to areas with active Zika virus transmission.
      • The amount of time to wait to attempt conception for couples in which the man has had possible Zika exposure but no Zika symptoms has increased from at least 8 weeks (previous guidance) to at least 6 months after last possible exposure (updated guidance).
      • The amount of time to use a condom to protect against transmission of Zika virus infection or not have sex for men with possible Zika exposure but without symptoms has increased from at least 8 weeks to at least 6 months after last possible exposure.

      Zika virus information

      The Zika virus is a condition that can affect anyone, but it can often fly under the radar. The initial symptoms are similar to those with a cold or flu, including fever, rash, joint and muscle pain, conjunctivitis, and headache. It can often be undiagnosed because some people have such mild symptoms.

      However, Zika can be especially dangerous to women who are pregnant or looking to become pregnant, since the disease is known to cause microcephaly, a severe fetal brain defect. Other fetal complications include eye defects, hearing deficits, and impaired growth. In rare cases, consumers inflicted with the virus may develop Guilain-Barré syndrome, which can lead to paralysis.

      Zika is spread primarily through bites from infected mosquitoes in the Aedes species, but it can also be spread through sexual transmission. Previous guidelines suggested by the CDC ask women who are looking to become pregnant to wait at least 8 weeks before trying to conceive if they have been exposed to the virus. Proper use of condoms can also reduce the risk of sexual transmission.

      The CDC advises those living in active Zika transmission areas who are looking to become pregnant to visit their healthcare provider so they can learn the risks and create a feasible pregnancy plan. The agency releases weekly reports that can be found here, and additional information about Zika can be found here.

      Medical experts and researchers have been scrambling to come up with strategies to deal with the Zika virus threat. While a vaccine for the disease has not...
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      Prepaid cards get new federal protections

      Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issues new rule to cover all prepaid cards

      The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)  has issued a new rule covering prepaid debit cards, providing a series of new consumer protections. The rule goes into effect October 1, 2017.

      Consumers often use these cards instead of bank accounts. Money can be directly loaded on the cards, which can be used to make purchases or pay bills. The problem for consumers has been the fees associated with the cards and the lack of transparency for some of them.

      That's because not all of these cards are the same. The cards have their distinct set of features, functions, and fees. Right now, it can be hard to compare cards because each card displays fee information differently.

      The CFPB says the new rule will require clear, upfront information about fees so consumers will more easily shop for the best deal.

      Reins in overdraft fees

      The rule also tightly regulates overdraft fees connected to prepaid cards, which Nick Bourke, director of consumer finance at the Pew Charitable Trusts, is one of the most important features.

      “The CFPB’s rule on prepaid cards is a big win for consumers,” Bourke said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “First and foremost, it keeps the cards free from overdraft penalties, which aligns with consumers’ preferences.”

      Bourke points to research that shows many consumers turn to prepaid cards to control spending and to avoid overdraft fees.

      “Moving forward, we strongly encourage the bureau to rein in these harmful fees for checking accounts, the most widely used financial product in the U.S.,” he said.

      Growing use

      The use of prepaid cards has rapidly grown since the financial crisis, when many consumers joined the “unbanked” population. But Pew researchers say the cards are also widely used by people who also have bank accounts.

      Use of prepaid cards rose more than 50% from 2012 to 2014, driven primarily by increased adoption among consumers with bank accounts, with approximately 23 million U.S. adults regularly using prepaid cards, according to Pew data.

      Pew found that 72% of unbanked consumers and 45% of those with bank accounts say they use prepaid cards to avoid overdraft fees. A huge majority – 86% – prefer to have a transaction declined for insufficient funds than pay a $35 overdraft fee.

      The rule also provides new features to make sure prepaid cards are safer to use at retail point-of-purchase locations and online. Currently, if an unauthorized person accesses a prepaid cardholder's account, the level of protection depends on the issuer. Under the new rule, there will be universal protections for all cards in case they are lost or stolen.

      The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)  has issued a new rule covering prepaid debit cards, providing a series of new consumer protections. The ru...
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      U.S. home prices continue to climb

      The outlook for the year ahead remains positive

      Once again, the price of U.S. homes as gauged by CoreLogic was on the rise.

      The property information provider says it's Home Price Index (HPI) posted a year-over-year advance of 6.2% in August and, on a month-over-month basis, was up 1.1%.

      “Housing values continue to rise briskly on stronger fundamental and investor-fueled demand, as well as lack of adequate supply,” said CoreLogic President and CEO Anand Nallathambi. “This continued price appreciation is contributing to a growing affordability crisis in many markets around the country.”

      Looking ahead

      The CoreLogic HPI Forecast indicates prices will rise 5.3% from August 2016 to August 2017, and by 0.4% from August to September.

      “Home prices are now just 6% below the nominal peak reached in April 2006,” according to Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic. “With prices forecasted to increase by 5% over the next year, prices will be back to their peak level in 2017.”

      Once again, the price of U.S. homes as gauged by CoreLogic was on the rise.The property information provider says it's Home Price Index (HPI) posted a...
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      Mortgage applications rebound following two declines

      Contract interest rates headed lower

      Mortgage applications have posted a solid gain after falling for two weeks in a row, rising 2.9% during the week ending September 30.

      The Mortgage Bankers Association also reports the Refinance Index jumped 5% from the previous week, taking the refinance share of mortgage activity to 63.8% of total applications from 62.7% the week before.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity rose to 4.5% of total applications, the FHA share dropped to 10.0% from 10.2%, the VA share of total applications fell to 11.4%, and the USDA share of total applications increased to 0.7% from 0.6% a week earlier.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) fell four basis points -- from 3.66% to 3.62% -- the lowest level since July 2016, with points decreasing to 0.32 from 0.33 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) dipped to 3.60% from 3.64%, with points decreasing to 0.25 from 0.28 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA decreased by two basis points to 3.50%, with points falling to 0.16 from 0.21 (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 to 2.93% from 2.95%, with points decreasing to 0.32 from 0.38 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs was unchanged at 2.92%, with points increasing to 0.44 from 0.40 (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.

      Mortgage applications have posted a solid gain after falling for two weeks in a row, rising 2.9% during the week ending September 30.The Mortgage Banke...
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      Facebook rolls out Marketplace, its answer to Craigslist

      Since Facebook requires real names, Marketplace may reduce the creep factor of online buying and selling

      People have been buying and selling things on Facebook for quite awhile, even though there has been no official way to do so. So, says Facebook, it's only logical it should create a space specifically designed as a marketplace.

      It's called -- what else? -- Marketplace and is available on the iOS and Android Facebook apps. Facebook's Mary Ku describes it as "a convenient destination to discover, buy and sell items with people in your community."

      Ku, Facebook's director of product management, says you enter the marketplace by tapping on the icon in the bottom right corner of the Facebook app on your smartphone.

      Marketplace opens with photos of items that people near you have listed for sale. To find something specific, search at the top and filter your results by location, category, or price.

      Kind of like ...

      If this sounds a lot like Craigslist, that's because it is. Craigslist has been around since the dawn of internet time and continues to thrive, despite an appearance critics call drab bordering on ugly and fans call minimalist and functional.

      While many others have tried unsuccessfully to dislodge, or at least nudge, Craigslist, Facebook may have a better chance. With its huge active user base of one billion souls, many of them seemingly glued to their screens all day long, Facebook would appear to have better odds than its predecessors.

      Selling or buying on Facebook may also eliminate some of the "creep factor" that has come to infest Craigslist, since Facebook users are required to use their real identity. Many consumers shy away from Craiglist, not wishing to deal with anonymous buyers and sellers.

      Marketplace may not be visible on your phone just yet, but Facebook says it will be rolling out to everyone over 18 years old in the U.S., U.K., Australia, and New Zealand over the next few days, with more countries to come.

      It will also be available on the desktop version of Facebook in the coming months, Ku said.

      People have been buying and selling things on Facebook for quite awhile, even though there has been no official way to do so. So, says Facebook, it's only...
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      How homes of former smokers could be hazardous to your health

      Researchers found that tobacco pollutants remain in the home for at least six months after a smoker has quit

      Although giving up on smoking is a crucial first step towards improving a person’s health, a new study shows that health hazards from the habit persist long after the last pack has been thrown out.

      Researchers from San Diego State University have found that the smokers’ homes remain polluted by thirdhand smoke (THS) for at least six months after they have quit. THS is made up of minute tobacco particles that penetrate various surfaces in the home – like carpets, upholstery, pillows, blankets, clothes, wallpaper, and ceiling tiles.

      “We tend to see smoke in the air and then it’s out of sight out of mind. But it leaves compounds in indoor environments that can do harm to our bodies, especially children, and sometimes we cannot see or smell it,” said lead author George E. Matt.

      Pollutants stick around

      The researchers came to their conclusions after conducting a six-month study on tobacco smoke pollutants found in the homes of 90 former smokers. They measured home surfaces, dust, and the fingers of the former smokers for THS pollutants at five different intervals to see if levels went down over time.

      The data showed that levels of nicotine had a significant short-term reduction on household surfaces and on participants’ fingers, but levels found in dust did not change much over the six-month period. Urine tests also revealed that urinary cotinine levels, which measure exposure to tobacco, were still detectable at the study's conclusion. 

      This suggests that residents were still being exposed to tobacco pollution long after they quit, which could have long-term negative impacts on their health.

      The researchers say that further study will be needed to fully understand the consequences of continued THS exposure. More work will also need to be done to figure out how to remove THS from the home so that it doesn’t become a health issue.

      The full study has been published in the journal Tobacco Control.

      Although giving up on smoking is a crucial first step towards improving a person’s health, a new study shows that health hazards from the habit persist lon...
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      An IIHS top safety award for the Mercedes-Benz C-Class

      The midsize luxury car aced the battery of tests

      And the winner is...

      The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ( IIHS) has bestowed its TOP SAFETY PICK+ award on the 2016 Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

      The award came as the midsize luxury car earned good ratings in all five of the Institute's crashworthiness evaluations -- small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraints.

      The vehicle also has a standard front crash prevention system that earns an advanced rating. An additional, optional system boosts the car's front crash prevention rating to superior.

      The C-Class was redesigned for 2015, but IIHS only recently evaluated it for crashworthiness. The car's structure held up well in the challenging small overlap test with maximum intrusion into the occupant compartment of just 4 inches. The earlier generation of the C-Class had intrusion of 20 inches at the footrest and earned a marginal rating.

      The roof strength test also yielded notable results. The C-Class was found to have a strength-to-weight ratio of 7, among the highest ever registered. A ratio of 4 or higher is required for a good rating. Roof strength is important for protection in a rollover crash.

      To qualify for 2016 TOP SAFETY PICK+, a vehicle must earn good ratings in the five IIHS crashworthiness tests and an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention.

      And the winner is... The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ( IIHS) has bestowed its TOP SAFETY PICK+ award on the 2016 Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Th...
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      Should you cancel your fraudulent Wells Fargo credit card?

      Doing so will probably lower your credit score, at least for a while

      What if you are one of the two million Wells Fargo customers who recently discovered that the bank opened a fraudulent bank or credit card account in your name?

      If so, you're probably angry, since you didn't ask for the card. So you'll show them – you'll close the account.

      But not so fast. Closing a credit card account, even one opened in your name without your permission, can negatively impact your credit score. So you might not want to act until you are able to figure out what the damage will be.

      Diane Moogalian, Vice President, Customer Operations at Equifax, one of the three main credit agencies, says closing a credit card account that has no balance will reduce the amount of credit at your disposal. Often, she says, that can be a mark against you.

      “Lenders and creditors want to see that a consumer is able to make a financial commitment and honor it – over time," Moogalian told ConsumerAffairs. “In other words, that ability to show responsibility can take time, and sometimes keeping an account open can be a good thing.”

      But if you don't want the credit card, you will probably suffer less of a hit by closing it if the card has a low credit limit. Chances are, most of the fraudulent accounts have low credit limits. By closing it, you aren't reducing your credit availability that much.

      Is it costing you money?

      Moogalian says a consumer may also want to consider closing an account that has no balance if that account is costing money. The trade off between spending unnecessary money and having your credit score go down temporarily should go in favor of not spending money needlessly.

      How much will closing a credit card account affect your credit score? It depends on how much credit you have, how much you've used, and how good your credit is.

      If you have a total credit limit of $20,000 on all your cards but only have balances totaling $4,000, you have a low credit utilization rate and closing an account that reduces your limit by only $1,000 or so won't make a lot of difference, especially if you already have a pretty good credit score.

      And if you do have a good credit score, the hit you take for closing your Wells Fargo account should be fairly small and short-lived. By continuing to pay all your bills on time and not opening new credit lines for a while, your score should quickly recover.

      What if you are one of the two million Wells Fargo customers who recently discovered that the bank opened a fraudulent bank or credit card account in your...
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      Report: Google eyes a Twitter acquisition

      Google's attempts to build a social network of its own have never quite measured up

      Legend has it that Twitter has for years been a twinkle in the eyes of Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and now Bloomberg reports that Google parent Alphabet has hired Lazard Ltd. to evaluate a possible acquisition.

      Lazard served as the financial adviser for Google’s $625 million takeover of software developer Apigee in September. The deal is expected to close by year’s end.

      Rumors of a Google takeover of Twitter have been around since at least 2009. It's seen as a natural fit for both companies and for advertisers who already advertise on both sites to reach their target audiences.

      For Google, Twitter would perhaps finally supply what Google has been unable to conjure up on its own -- a successful presence in the social space. Google+ never quite took off, and microblogging site Buzz faded quickly after its 2010 launch. Meanwhile, Twitter has continued to ramp up its user base despite problems figuring out how to majorly monetize it, so to speak.

      What the benefits are for everyday consumers isn't quite as clear, but there's no immediately obvious downside.

      There could be privacy implications if the sites' user lists were merged after an acquisition, but does anyone really expect privacy in a social network setting?

      Legend has it that Twitter has for years been a twinkle in the eyes of Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and now Bloomberg reports that Google...
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      Trump Foundation isn't properly registered, New York charges

      'A fraud upon the people of the state of New York,' attorney general charges

      As if income tax questions and tiffs with Venezuelan beauty queens weren't enough, Donald Trump is on the wrong side of a stinging rebuke from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

      Schneiderman's office wrote the Trump Foundation Friday ordering it to stop soliciting contributions in New York State, saying it had never filed the required forms. 

      The letter, technically a "Notice of Violation," states that the Trump Foundation “is in violation of section 172 of Article 7-A New York's Executive Law, which requires charitable organizations that solicit contributions in New York State to register with the Charities Bureau and to provide annual financial reports and annual audited financial statements,” Schneiderman's office said today.

      The notice directs the Trump Foundation to “immediately cease soliciting contributions or engaging in other fundraising activities in New York” and “to provide the [AG's] Charities Bureau with the information specified in Section 172 within fifteen (15) days” of receiving the notice. 

      “The failure immediately to discontinue solicitation and to file information and [the required] reports shall be deemed a fraud upon the people of the state of New York,” said James Shaheen, chief of the Charities Bureau.

      Ultimately, the Trump Foundation could be required to return money it has raised illegally. 

      The legitimacy of Trump's foundation has been the subject of much speculation after critical press reports. The New York Times reported last month that Trump's foundation does show up on many states charity registers, and the Washington Post reported the foundation had not registered in New York.

      Schneiderman successfully sued Trump in 2014, charging he was personally liable for running Trump University without a license. Schneiderman accused Trump of defrauding students of $40 million. 

      As if income tax questions and tiffs with Venezuelan beauty queens weren't enough, Donald Trump is on the wrong side of a stinging rebuke from New York Att...
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      App tracks Zika by enlisting the help of 'citizen scientists'

      Once a week, Kidenga has users report mosquito activity in their area

      Want to help public health investigators come up with new ways to fight the Zika virus? Now you can, with Kidenga -- a free app for iOS and Android devices.

      The "community-based disease detection system" asks users to report their symptoms as well as mosquito activity in their area. In doing so, citizens may be able to help health experts better track and detect Zika outbreaks.

      In addition to tracking “day-biting mosquito populations within a community,” the app keeps users current on confirmed cases of Zika within their community. Kidenga also provides important information on preventing mosquito-borne diseases.  

      ‘Early alert is critical’

      Kacey Ernst, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the College of Public Health, said the app’s use of ZIP codes may help experts zero in on areas that “appear to have an uptick of suspicious symptoms," which may hint at cases of dengue, chikungunya, and Zika.

      “This early alert is critical to reduce or prevent further spread of the virus," Ernst said in a statement.

      Apps like Kidenga and other tools for self-reporting could be especially vital, as not everyone will see a physician if their symptoms are mild. People may be more likely to report symptoms if it can be done on their smartphone.

      "Click a button that says everyone is healthy and say whether or not you noticed mosquitoes in your area, and you're done." Ernst told News4 Tuscon.

      Arizona, Florida, Texas

      Currently, researchers are focused on having the app used in states with high populations of Aedes mosquitoes, such as Arizona, Florida, and Texas. Controlling populations of Aedes aegypti in states like these, where the climate is humid and subtropical, is no easy task.

      Ernst says reducing transmission risk "requires buy-in ranging from grassroots community initiatives to government-operated programs," adding that the app may help. "With more information, we hope that more people will join the fight to control these mosquitoes."

      The app was developed by researchers from the University of Arizona’s Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.

      Symptoms of Zika 

      The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, red eyes, and joint pain, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Headaches and muscle pain may also occur, although some individuals may not exhibit any symptoms. 

      If you have symptoms or visited an area with Zika, you are encouraged to see your doctor. It is especially important to do so if you are pregnant, as the Zika virus can cause severe birth defects. 

      Want to help public health investigators come up with new ways to fight the Zika virus? Now you can, with Kidenga -- a free app for iOS and Android devices...
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      Homeopathic teething products may harm infants, FDA says

      What parents can do to ease their baby's teething pain

      There’s nothing more heartbreaking than seeing your child in pain, and most parents would do just about anything to take away the pain of teething.

      From massaging their gums to offering them a fridge-chilled spoon to chew on, there are numerous ways to relieve the pain of cutting teeth. But there’s one thing parents should avoid doing.

      According to the FDA, parents should refrain from using homeopathic teething tablets and gels. In a statement, the agency warns that these remedies may pose a risk to infants and children.

      May cause seizures

      In 2010, the agency released a safety alert about homeopathic teething tablets (specifically, Hyland’s Teething Tablets). Now, the FDA is analyzing health issues reported since then.

      “Consumers should seek medical care immediately if their child experiences seizures, difficulty breathing, lethargy, excessive sleepiness, muscle weakness, skin flushing, constipation, difficulty urinating, or agitation after using homeopathic teething tablets or gels,” the FDA said.

      The agency notes that homeopathic teething tablets and gels have not been approved by the FDA. Furthermore, the products have not been shown to yield any proven health benefits.

      Natural teething tips

      The pain of teething can be managed in other ways, says Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

      Instead of obtaining a prescription or seeking out an over-the-counter remedy, Woodcock says parents and caregivers should “seek advice from their health care professional for safe alternatives."

      Additionally, there are many natural home remedies that can be helpful throughout the process of teething. Here are a few ideas:

      • Chilled washcloth. A clean, wet washcloth can be put in the fridge and left to chill. Inflamed gums may become a little less angry as babies chew on the cold cloth.
      • Teething jewelry. Grabbing mom’s jewelry is a favorite pastime of most babies. Teething babies can gum away on jewelry by companies such as Smart Mom Jewelry. The FDA-approved silicone the jewelry is made of is free of phthalates, BPA, PVA, latex, and lead.
      • Distraction. Give your baby some temporary relief from their discomfort by employing distractions, such as a game of peekaboo or a warm bath.
      • Chilled teether. Purchase a solid or liquid-filled teething ring, then place it in the fridge for 15 to 20 minutes. Like chilled washcloths and spoons, these toys can help soothe your baby’s aching gums.
      • Carrot. A full-sized carrot, when washed and peeled, can act as a teething tool. If you don't have a carrot on hand, try freezing a banana and letting your baby gnaw on it.  
      There’s nothing more heartbreaking than seeing your child in pain, and most parents would do just about anything to take away the pain of teething.From...
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      IIHS TOP SAFETY PICK+ award goes to the 2017 Kia Sedona

      Optional automatic braking technology made the difference

      The addition of optional automatic braking technology has qualified the 2017 Kia Sedona for the highest award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

      Like earlier models, the minivan earned good ratings across the board in IIHS crashworthiness evaluations. The addition of autobrake boosts its front crash prevention rating from basic to superior.

      In IIHS track tests at 12 mph and 25 mph, a Sedona equipped with the new front crash prevention system avoided collisions. The system also includes a forward collision warning component that meets National Highway Traffic Safety Administration criteria.

      To qualify for 2016 TOP SAFETY PICK+, a vehicle must earn good ratings in the small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraint tests.

      It also must earn an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention.

      The addition of optional automatic braking technology has qualified the 2017 Kia Sedona for the highest award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safe...
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      BMW recalls various xdrive vehicles

      The driver's front airbag inflator may have been improperly welded

      BMW of North America is recalling 3,606 certain model year 2015 BMW X3 sDrive28i, X3 xDrive28i, X3 xDrive35i, X3 xDrive28d, X4 xDrive28i and X4 xDrive35i vehicles; and model year 2014-2015 X5 xDrive35i, X5 sDrive35i, X5 xDrive50i, and 2014 X5 xDrive35d vehicles.

      The vehicles have a driver's front airbag inflator that may have been improperly welded.

      In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the driver's front airbag, the inflator housing could separate from the base plate and result in metal striking vehicle occupants, potentially resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will replace the driver's front airbag, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin November 11, 2016.

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

      BMW of North America is recalling 3,606 certain model year 2015 BMW X3 sDrive28i, X3 xDrive28i, X3 xDrive35i, X3 xDrive28d, X4 xDrive28i and X4 xDrive35i v...
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