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      Walmart rolls out free two-day shipping with no membership

      The days of paying for shipping may be quickly passing

      Before long, paying for shipping when you order something online will be unthinkable.

      During the holiday shopping season, nearly all retailers waive shipping charges for purchases over a certain amount. Amazon.com's Prime account, which costs $99 per year, provides free two-day shipping all year round.

      Walmart, which countered Prime with its own two-day shipping program for half the cost, has now upped the ante, saying it will provide free two-day shipping on more than two million items with no membership fee.

      If the item you purchase is not among the two million covered by the new program, Walmart says it will provide free shipping if the order totals $35, down from $50. Items shipped for pick-up at stores have no price threshold.

      Fighting back against Amazon

      As Amazon has continued to dominate the online retail space, Walmart has fought hard to maintain its position as the nation's largest retailer. In August it acquired Jet.com, another online retailer, to shore up it's ecommerce offerings.

      Jet.com was co-founded by Marc Lore, who sold his previous company – Diapers.com – to Amazon in 2010. Jet.com officially launched in 2015, promising consumers lower prices in exchange for longer delivery times.

      Lore is now president and CEO of Walmart U.S. eCommerce, and he says the new free two-day shipping program gives Walmart a powerful weapon.

      “Two-day free shipping is the first of many moves we will be making to enhance the customer experience and accelerate growth,” he said.

      What's covered

      The free two-day shipping will cover items like household products, including diapers, pet products, and food. It will also cover cleaning supplies, grooming products, and top-selling toys and electronics.

      Walmart said some consumers who had signed up and paid the $49 for the Shipping Pass service would get refunds.

      For consumers, it may be the clearest signal yet that the day is fast approaching when they will never be asked to pay for shipping. At least, that's where Lore thinks things are going.

      “In today's world of e-commerce, two-day free shipping is table stakes," he said on a conference call with analysts and reporters. "It no longer makes sense to charge for it.”

      Before long, paying for shipping when you order something online will be unthinkable.During the holiday shopping season, nearly all retailers waive shi...
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      Hyundai recalls model year 2017 Elantras and Sonatas

      The driver's front airbag may not inflate properly

      Hyundai Motor Company is recalling 110 model year 2017 Hyundai Elantras manufactured April 15, 2016, to September 13, 2016, and Sonatas manufactured May 27, 2016 to September 16, 2016.

      The end seal for the driver's front airbag inflator may not have been properly installed, possibly resulting in reduced inflation of the front airbag in the event of a crash.

      What to do

      Hyundai will notify owners, and dealers will replace the driver's frontal air bag module, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin February 13, 2017.

      Owners may contact Hyundai customer service at 1-855-371-9460. Hyundai's number for this recall is 156.

      Hyundai Motor Company is recalling 110 model year 2017 Hyundai Elantras manufactured April 15, 2016, to September 13, 2016, and Sonatas manufactured May 27...
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      Southwest Airlines claims no interest in adding a Basic Economy fare

      CEO Gary Kelly says introducing one would be a 'huge mistake'

      It used to be that airliners strove to out-do each other in providing amenities to passengers. But in an ironic twist, many carriers have begun taking away flight perks to lower the ticket price.

      No-frills fares has been a growing trend in the airline industry. Delta was the first to hop on board with the idea when it revealed its Basic Economy fare, which lowered ticket prices in exchange for no seat assignments and ineligibility for complimentary upgrades and same-day travel changes. United and American Airlines followed suit – doling out extra low fares while also restricting overhead bin space and carry-on baggage.

      However, not every airline thinks the practice is a good idea. In a meeting with investors, CEO Gary Kelly said that Southwest Airlines would not be creating a Basic Economy fare because it would cause confusion.

      “There is a huge value in offering all of our customers – 100% of them – a great product. We like to say at Southwest, there is no second class,” Kelly stated, according to USA Today. Additionally, Kelly stated that offering a Basic Economy fare would go against the company’s identity and represent a “huge mistake.”

      “Any time we contemplate offering customers a choice, we debate that heavily because complexity drives confusion and clouds the brand. What you have at Southwest is a very strong brand position in customers’ minds that we stand for friendliness, reliability and low fares. The whole free bags and no change fees becomes a very powerful component out of all that. So we don’t feel like we need [Basic Economy],” he explained.

      In a bit of jab to his competitors, Kelly went on to say that other airliners’ focus on “elite” packages only serves to push other travelers away, something that Southwest doesn’t support. “Every other competitor, they lavish attention on elite customers and ignore the rest. That is our biggest opportunity because we don’t ignore anybody,” he said.

      It used to be that airliners strove to out-do each other in providing amenities to passengers. But in an ironic twist, many carriers have begun taking away...
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      Delta still coping with weekend computer glitch

      Airline says it might have to cancel more flights today

      Another computer glitch hit Delta Airlines over the weekend, the second in five months. But after numerous cancellations and delays, Delta says it's getting back to normal. Still, travelers could continue to feel the effects.

      At 7:00 a.m. today, Delta issued a statement reporting that it is operating most of its flight schedule as it continues to recover from the systems crash that threw its schedule into turmoil Sunday. Delta said it had to cancel about 170 flights Sunday and might have to cancel more than 110 today.

      “I want to apologize to all of our customers who have been impacted by this frustrating situation,” said Delta CEO Ed Bastian, in a statement. “This type of disruption is not acceptable to the Delta family, which prides itself on reliability and customer service. I also want to thank our employees who are working tirelessly to accommodate our customers.”

      Not happy

      Consumers who were inconvenienced were understandably irked. Bill, of Naples, Fla., posted a review to ConsumerAffairs as he sat aboard an aircraft, complaining that the airline was doing nothing to make a bad situation better.

      "We have been sitting in a line of 60 grounded planes on the runway at ATL for nearly 2 hours (so far) and in addition to receiving no information, the flight attendants are RESTING," Bill wrote in a post. "The other First Class passengers are a bit confused by this non-customer service behavior of the flight attendant staff. It is bad enough that Delta have an obviously unstable and/insecure computer system; but, the service is becoming terrible."

      The airline said its major IT systems went down at 6:30 p.m. Sunday. By midnight, Delta said things were returning to normal.

      Check the schedule

      Customers flying Delta today should check the airline's website or the Fly Delta app. Delta said it has waived the change fee for customers who were scheduled to fly yesterday and today.

      For air travelers, coping with airline computer glitches has become an almost regular occurrence. Just days ago, a computer glitch hit the United Airlines system. The impact was shorter-lived. The system was restored in about an hour.

      In August, both Delta and Southwest suffered technical breakdowns within days of one another. In the Southwest outage, the airline was forced to cancel 2,300 flights, stranding passengers all over the country.

      Delta's August outage forced it to cancel more than 1,250 flights.

      Another computer glitch hit Delta Airlines over the weekend, the second in five months. But after numerous cancellations and delays, Delta says it's gettin...
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      PayPal and Amazon in discussions over payment partnership

      The move would allow Amazon customers to use their PayPal accounts to buy products

      Back in 2015, PayPal split away from eBay in an effort to focus on its electronic transactions business. Since then, the company has vigorously pursued agreements with other companies and institutions to increase the number of people who use its service.

      In February of 2015, the U.S. Treasury said that it would start accepting payments via PayPal at its Pay.gov site, giving consumers more options on how they can pay fines, penalties, or loan repayments. Even more recently, the company teamed up with MasterCard to offer consumers more tap-and-pay options.

      Now, it looks like the online payment company is looking to strike a deal with Amazon. Bloomberg reports that the two companies are discussing the possibility of letting consumers pay for Amazon purchases by using their PayPal accounts. While a verified plan has not been announced, officials say the deal is very possible.

      “We’re closing in on 200 million users on our platform right now. At that scale, it’s hard for any retailer to think about not accepting PayPal,” said CEO Dan Schulman.

      Potential deal

      The potential deal could be pretty attractive to Amazon users who are leery of submitting their credit card information to buy products. In a best-case scenario, the move would allow for more sales on Amazon’s end and create more point-of-sale presence for PayPal.

      However, while consumers would enjoy more freedom, some may question whether the deal is actually necessary for Amazon. Back in April, the company announced its own PayPal-like program that would allow customers to use their Amazon accounts to pay for products sold by associated merchants.

      However, as Schulman pointed out, the 197 million active users on PayPal may be hard to ignore, despite Amazon’s desire to control payments on its own. Thus far, Amazon has declined to comment on the matter.

      Back in 2015, PayPal split away from eBay in an effort to focus on its electronic transactions business. Since then, the company has vigorously pursued agr...
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      Model year 2017 Mercedes-Benz Metris Vans recalled

      The passenger front airbag may not vent properly

      Daimler Vans USA (DVUSA) is recalling 22 model year 2017 Mercedes-Benz Metris Vans manufactured September 9, 2016, to September 28, 2016.

      The passenger airbag may have been manufactured with an incorrect Tether Activation Unit (TAU). As a result, in the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the passenger front airbag, the air bag may not vent properly.

      An improperly vented airbag may not protect the front passenger as expected, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      DVUSA will notify owners, and authorized Mercedes-Benz Sprinter dealers will replace the front passenger airbag, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 8, 2017. Owners may contact DVUSA customer service at 1-877-762-8267.

      Daimler Vans USA (DVUSA) is recalling 22 model year 2017 Mercedes-Benz Metris Vans manufactured September 9, 2016, to September 28, 2016.The passenger...
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      Mumps outbreak in Washington spreads to 278 people

      Residents are urged to immunize against the disease and be careful of close contact with others

      The Washington State Department of Health has issued a warning about a mumps outbreak in several counties. State health officials are urging Washington residents to immunize themselves and take other precautions against the disease to stop it from spreading further.

      Incidents of the disease began popping up in October, and there are currently 278 confirmed cases in five counties. They include King County (160), Spokane County (80), Pierce County (34), Snohomish (3), and Yakima County (1).

      What to do

      Mumps is a viral disease that can be passed from person to person. It usually starts with a fever that can last a few days, with symptoms including headache, muscle aches, tiredness, and loss of appetite. Swollen salivary glands are a trademark of the disease and can surface after the initial sickness period.

      Residents are being asked to be especially careful about close contact in order to reign in the disease. Officials say to avoid kissing, hugging, and other close contact with anyone who is suspected to have the mumps. If you suspect you have the mumps, you are urged to stay home and contact your healthcare provider, the local healthcare department, or the Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588.

      Those who are healthy should consider receiving an MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella viruses. If you’re unsure if you've received the vaccine before, or know you haven’t, you can call your healthcare provider to schedule an immunization and blood test.

      To learn more about the mumps and receive more information, visit the Department of Health’s page here.

      The Washington State Department of Health has issued a warning about a mumps outbreak in several counties. State health officials are urging Washington res...
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      10 lessons for communities trying to control payday lending

      Researchers studied how communities have been successful and offer some advice

      Some states have tough usury laws that keep payday lenders from setting up shop. States that cap interest rates at 30% have found that payday lenders, who may charge 400% or more, will stay away.

      But in the absence of state regulations, local communities often find it is up to them to control these storefront operations that researchers at the University of Utah and University of New Mexico contend "often strip wealth from society’s most economically vulnerable individuals and communities.

      In fact, the researchers say these storefronts outnumber all McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbucks, and Walgreens stores combined. After studying how Silicon Valley in Northern California, Greater Metropolitan Dallas in Texas, and Greater Salt Lake City in Utah handled the issue, the researchers have issued a report with 10 lessons for other communities who want to reduce or control payday loan activity within their jurisdictions.

      10 Lessons

      Lesson 1: Form a strong, broad-based community organization and draw up operating rules.

      Lesson 2: Tell a story. Don't get caught up in abstractions like “500 percent interest” or “debt traps,” but let actual borrowers tell how payday loans affected their lives and present that message to the community.

      Lesson 3: Learn to operate on a shoestring budget. It can be done.

      Lesson 4: When enlisting allies, don't overlook faith leaders. They are usually motivated and can be very effective.

      Lesson 5: Develop a strong media strategy, both for local media and using social media and other web-based platforms.

      Lesson 6: Enlist someone in elected office to run interference for you in political and government affairs.

      Lesson 7: When local government bodies are considering proposals dealing with payday lending, meet with them well in advance of any vote and present your case. Arguments should be tailored to what matters most to the individual policymakers.

      • Lesson 8: Remember that the industry will oppose your efforts and is well-funded. Be prepared for the pushback.

      • Lesson 9: If you are successful in passing an ordinance, help other municipalities do the same.

      • Lesson 10: Try to translate your success on the local level to similar efforts on the state and national level.

      Some communities have learned these lessons well. The Lubbock, Texas City Council is reportedly close to passing a payday lending ordinance.

      There is very little federal regulation of payday lenders, though the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has moved in that direction in recent months, proposing new rules amid strong political and industry opposition.

      Some states have tough usury laws that keep payday lenders from setting up shop. States that cap interest rates at 30% have found that payday lenders, who...
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      Economy: Home prices, jobless claims on the rise

      House prices posted a year-over-year gain of more than 6%

      Home prices across the U.S. edged up 0.5% from October to November rose in November, and posted a year-over-year advance of 6.1%.

      At the same time, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) revised its monthly House Price Index (HPI) downward to show a gain of 0.3% instead of the 0.4% increase initially reported.

      Regional breakdown

      For the nine census divisions, monthly price changes ranged from -0.2% in the South Atlantic division to +1.5% in the Pacific division.

      The 12-month changes were all positive, ranging from +4.7% in the Middle Atlantic division to +7.7% in the Pacific division.

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

      The complete report may be found on the FHFA website.

      Jobless claims

      An increase last week in the number of people filing first-time applications for state unemployment benefits.

      The Department of Labor (DOL) reports initial jobless claims rose by 22,000 in the week ending January 21 to a seasonally adjusted 259,000. The previous week's level was revised up by 3,000 to 237,000.

      The four-week moving average was down by 2,000 from the previous week to 245,500 -- the lowest level since November 3, 1973, when it was 244,000.

      The four-week moving average, due to its relative lack of volatility, is considered a more accurate gauge of the labor market.

      The full report is available on the DOL website.

      Home prices across the U.S. edged up 0.5% from October to November rose in November, and posted a year-over-year advance...
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      Atlas Meat recalls pork products

      The products may contain MSG, which is not declared on the label

      Atlas Meat Company of Fort Collins, Colo., is recalling approximately 2,579 pounds of pork sausage products.

      The products may contain monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is not declared on the label.

      There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

      The following items, from October 12, 2016, through January 23, 2017, are being recalled:

      • 0.80 to 1.5-lb. vacuum-sealed or butcher paper wrapped packages containing “Atlas Meat Pork Breakfast Ssg.”
      • 0.80 to 1.5-lb. vacuum-sealed or butcher paper wrapped packages containing “Atlas Meat Pork Italian ssg.”

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 40306” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were sold directly to consumers at the firm’s Fort Collins, Colo., location and shipped to retail locations in Colorado and Wyoming.

      What to do

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Juan Meza at (970) 224-9210.

      Atlas Meat Company of Fort Collins, Colo., is recalling approximately 2,579 pounds of pork sausage products.The products may contain monosodium glutama...
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      Researchers find new therapeutic target for treating glioblastoma

      They hope that future treatment methods will help combat these lethal brain tumors

      There aren’t many options for consumers who have glioblastoma. These lethal brain tumors are connected to the lowest survival rates after recurrence, at 5% for a five-year period. For the last decade or so, patients have been treated through a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. However, this only extends life for an average of four to six months after tumor recurrence, and there is currently no existing therapy that has been shown to be effective after tumors return.

      But now scientists believe there is a way to fight glioblastoma and improve survival outcomes. Researchers at the Peter O’Donnel Jr. Brain Institute and Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center say that targeting a brain protein that drives tumor growth may allow for future treatment of all forms of the disease.

      "These findings change our fundamental understanding of the molecular basis of glioblastoma, and how to treat it," said co-senior author Dr. Robert Bachoo. "We may have identified a set of critical genes we can target with drugs that are shared across nearly all glioblastomas."

      Finding a new therapeutic target

      During their studies, the researchers found that certain master proteins in the brain – called neurodevelopmental transcription factors -- are what ultimately drive glioblastoma growth. These proteins are responsible for the activity of hundreds of genes during brain development, but when they don’t do their job then the resulting mutations can cause tumor formation.

      Bachoo explains that these gene mutations in the brain initially allow tumors to grow, but the disease becomes beyond control after a certain point.

      "Our work shows that the gene mutations which the pharmaceutical industry and clinicians have been focusing on are essential only for starting tumor growth. Once the tumor has advanced to the stage where patients seek treatment, these mutations are no longer required for continued tumor growth; they are in effect redundant," he said.

      This new idea counters previous theories by the medical community, which long thought that glioblastoma growth was driven by brain proteins called receptor tyrosine kinase. It also explains why drugs used to inhibit these proteins were ineffective at stopping tumor growth.

      Solution still out of reach

      Though a solution may be years away, the researchers have suggested using a chemotherapy drug called mithramycin, which has been out of clinical use for years because it can cause liver toxicity in some patients. They conclude that finding a safer and more effective treatment for brain tumor patients will take time, but having a target for treatment is encouraging.

      "Our discovery has the potential for the development of a new therapy that may increase survival time for glioblastoma patients,” said Dr. Ralf Kittler.

      The full study has been published in Cell Reports.

      There aren’t many options for consumers who have glioblastoma. These lethal brain tumors are connected to the lowest survival rates after recurrence, at 5%...
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      Florida and feds tag team debt settlement companies

      The settlement puts three companies out of business

      The state of Florida and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have reached a settlement with the operator of several debt settlement companies after filing a lawsuit last year.

      The state and federal governments teamed up to bring charges against Chastity Valdes and the companies she controlled, Consumer Assistance LLC, Consumer Assistance Project Corp. and Palermo Global LLC.

      The charges specifically accused the companies of targeting consumers with student loan debt with illegal debt relief offers.

      The suit claimed the companies took up-front fees in return for their promised debt relief and credit repair services. They allegedly promised victims they could reduce the amount of their student loans and repair their credit.

      Tough loan to get out of

      Student loans, of course, are among the most binding of debts and can't even be discharged in bankruptcy.

      Among the laws the defendants were accused of violating are the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, the FTC Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and the Credit Repair Organizations Act.

      The settlement essentially puts the companies out of business. Under the terms of the agreement, they cannot sell debt relief and credit repair services, and can't even make any material claims about any products or services.

      They are also prohibited from misrepresenting endorsements, making money from consumers’ personal information, and being careless in the disposal of personal information.

      They would also be required to cough up $2.3 million in damages, if they had it. Since they don't, they have to turn over all of their assets to Florida and federal authorities. If it turns out they weren't being truthful about the amount of the assets, the full $2.3 million judgment will be imposed.

      Avoiding debt settlement pitches

      Debt settlement schemes most commonly target people with large amounts of credit card debt, usually making it sound like it's easy to get credit card companies to agree to accept a fraction of what is owed.

      That's hardly the way it works. When a consumer stops making payments, as advised by a debt settlement company, he or she is besieged by debt collectors. In the process, the consumer's credit score craters.

      The FTC doesn't say you should never try to settle your debt, but it does say you need to be very, very careful. And you should always avoid doing business with a debt settlement firm that charges an upfront fee, which is illegal.

      Remember, you can talk to your credit card company yourself, and will probably have better luck than a debt settlement company will.

      Learn more about what the FTC advises on debt settlement here.

      The state of Florida and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have reached a settlement with the operator of several debt settlement companies after filing a...
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      Land Rover recalls Range Rovers with passenger front airbag inflator issue

      The airbag inflator may rupture, resulting in injury or death

      Jaguar Land Rover North America is recalling a total of 8,769 vehicles with a passenger front airbag inflator issue.

      Included are model year 2012 Land Rover Range Rovers originally sold, or ever registered, in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands (Saipan) and the U.S. Virgin Islands, or "Zone A."

      Additionally, unless included in "Zone A," Land Rover is recalling model year 2009 Land Rover Range Rover vehicles, originally sold, or ever registered, in Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, or "Zone B."

      Further, Land Rover is recalling model year 2007-2008 Land Rover Range Rover vehicles originally sold, or ever registered in Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

      The vehicles are equipped with airbag inflators assembled as part of the passenger front airbag modules, and used as original equipment or replacement equipment.

      In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the front airbags, these inflators may rupture due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to absolute humidity and temperature cycling.

      An inflator rupture may result in metal fragments striking the vehicle occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      Land Rover will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front passenger air bag assemblies, free of charge. Parts are not currently available. Owners will be sent an interim notification around March 3, 2017. A second notice will be mailed when remedy parts are available.

      Owners may contact Land Rover customer service at 1-800-637-6837. Land Rover's number for this recall is P082.

      Jaguar Land Rover North America is recalling a total of 8,769 vehicles with a passenger front airbag inflator issue.Included are model year 2012 Land R...
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      Mitsubishi recalls i-MiEV vehicles

      The airbag inflator may rupture, resulting in injury or death

      Mitsubishi Motors North America (MMNA) is recalling 1,964 model year 2012 and 2014 i-MiEV vehicles.

      The vehicles are equipped with airbag inflators assembled as part of the passenger front airbag modules used as original equipment or replacement equipment.

      In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the front air bags, these inflators may rupture due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to absolute humidity and temperature cycling.

      An inflator rupture may result in metal fragments striking the vehicle occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      MMNA will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front passenger air bag inflator, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact MMNA customer service at 1-888-648-7820. MMNA's number for this recall is SR-17-001.

      Mitsubishi Motors North America (MMNA) is recalling 1,964 model year 2012 and 2014 i-MiEV vehicles.The vehicles are equipped with airbag inflators asse...
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      BMW recalls various vehicles with passenger front airbag inflator issue

      The airbag inflator may rupture, resulting in injury or death

      BMW of North America is recalling a total of 48,380 vehicles with a passenger front airbag inflator issue.

      Te recall includes model year 2012 X5 xDrive30i, X5 xDrive35i, X5 xDrive48i, X5 xDrive50i, X5 M, X6 xDrive35i, X6 xDrive50i, and X6 M vehicles originally sold, or ever registered, in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands (Saipan), and the U.S. Virgin Islands, or "Zone A."

      Additionally, unless included in "Zone A,", BMW is recalling certain 2009 X5 xDrive30i, X5 xDrive35i, X5 xDrive48i, X5 xDrive50i, and X5 M vehicles, 2008-2009 X6 xDrive 35i, X6 xDrive50i, X6 M, and 2009 X5 xDrive35d vehicles originally sold, or ever registered, in Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, or "Zone B."

      Further, unless included in "Zone A" or "Zone B," BMW is recalling certain 2007-2008 X5 xDrive30i, X5 xDrive35i, X5 xDrive48i, X5 xDrive50i and X5 M vehicles, and 2008 X6 xDrive35i, X6 xDrive50i, and X6 M vehicles originally sold, or ever registered in the states of Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

      The vehicles are equipped with airbag inflators assembled as part of the passenger front airbag modules used as original equipment or replacement equipment.

      In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the front airbags, these inflators may rupture due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to high absolute humidity and temperature cycling.

      An inflator rupture may result in metal fragments striking the vehicle occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front passenger airbag inflator or airbag module, free of charge. Interim letters informing owners that parts are not yet available are expected to be mailed March 1, 2017. Owners will receive a second notice when remedy parts become available.

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

      BMW of North America is recalling a total of 48,380 vehicles with a passenger front airbag inflator issue.Te recall includes model year 2012 X5 xDrive3...
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      United Airlines flights grounded by computer glitch

      Stranded travelers took to the internet to complain during the one-hour delay

      Airline companies have come to rely on computer systems in order to keep things running smoothly, but a lot can go wrong when those systems break down. Consumers may remember the technical glitches that affected Southwest Airlines and Delta Airlines last year, which led to thousands of canceled flights and millions in lost revenue.

      Now, another airline company has been plagued by its own technical problem. According to a Reuters report, United Airlines was forced to ground all of its domestic flights for around an hour last night due to an “IT issue.” The company announced the ground halt in a tweet at 9:06 EST and apologized for the inconvenience.

      However, stranded fliers lashed out at the company both online and in person. “This has been the worst customer service experience and worst flying service ever experienced in 30+ years,” one traveler said. The airliner offered to waive change fees and provide travel waivers to affected passengers, but the damage had been done. After about an hour, the company announced that it had lifted the ground stop and resumed flights.

      The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said that no international flights were stopped by the computer glitch but was unsure of how many domestic flights had been affected.

      What’s also uncertain is how much the ground halt will end up costing United. The reparations paid to travelers, the loss of business, and the potential drop in unit prices could certainly add up. Experts estimated that Southwest lost between $54 million and $82 million as a result of its computer glitch in July, so the losses might not necessarily be chump change.

      Airline companies have come to rely on computer systems in order to keep things running smoothly, but a lot can go wrong when those systems break down. Con...
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      DISH Network hit with telemarketing violations

      Jury holds company responsible for dealer's robocalls

      A jury in Greenboro, N.C., has awarded plaintiffs with a $20.5 million verdict against DISH Network. The class action case stems from alleged violations of the Do Not Call law.

      The jury found that DISH was liable for more than 51,000 telemarketer calls placed by a DISH dealer to consumers who had placed their numbers on the national Do Not Call list. In the end, the jury said DISH was responsible for the violations and awarded the plaintiffs $400 per violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

      "This case has always been about enforcing the Do Not Call law and protecting people from nuisance telemarketing calls," said Dr. Thomas Krakauer, the class representative. "I am thrilled with the jury's verdict, and thrilled we were able to win this enforcement action."

      'Corporate shell game'

      Attorney Brian Glasser, part of the team representing the plaintiffs, said the case was won on the strength of the DISH witnesses. He argued in court that the satellite TV provider's order entry retailer program amounted to a "corporate shell game," allowing the company to sign up new customers through illegal telemarketing practices but avoid legal responsibility.

      "We believe this is the first and only jury trial for a certified class of consumers alleging Do Not Call violations," said attorney John Barrett, another of the plaintiffs' lawyers. "This was a strength-in-numbers case, one we could only bring as a class action, where we tried 51,000 claims in a single, five-day trial. We're particularly pleased with the message this verdict sends about the importance of the Do Not Call laws, the most popular consumer protection law in U.S. history."

      Telephone Consumer Protection Act

      The Telephone Consumer Protection Act was passed by Congress in 1991. It primarily restricts telemarketing and the use of robocallers. In 2003, it was updated to include a Do Not Call registry where consumers may register phone numbers that telemarketers may not legally call.

      There are exceptions, however. In the case of a business, if you have had contact with the company as a recent customer, or requested information, the company is allowed to call you for a limited time afterward.

      Charities, pollsters, and political organizations are also exempt. That's why consumers need to be on guard against a telemarketer who begins by conducting a survey but evolves into a sales pitch.

      If you are on the Do Not Call list and receive a pitch for a some kind of product or service, most likely it is a scam, operating from outside the U.S. and beyond the reach of the law.

      A jury in Greenboro, N.C., has awarded plaintiffs with a $20.5 million verdict against DISH Network. The class action case stems from alleged violations of...
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      Ford recalls various vehicles with passenger front airbag inflator issue

      The airbag inflator may rupture, resulting in injury or death

      Ford Motor Company is recalling a total of 654,695 vehicles with an airbag inflator issue.

      Included are model year 2012 Ford Fusions and Mustangs and Lincoln Zephyrs and MKZs originally sold, or ever registered, in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands (Saipan), and the U.S. Virgin Islands, or "Zone A."

      Additionally, unless included in "Zone A,” Ford is recalling certain 2009 Ford Rangers, Edges, Fusions and Mustangs, Lincoln MKXs, MKZs and Zephyrs and Mercury Milans originally sold, or ever registered, in Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, or "Zone B."

      Additionally, unless included in "Zone A" or "Zone B," Ford is recalling certain 2007-2008 Ford Rangers, Edges and Lincoln MKXs, 2006-2008 Ford Fusions, Mercury Milans, Lincoln Zephyrs and MKZs, 2005-2008 Ford Mustangs and 2005-2006 Ford GTs originally sold, or ever registered, in Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

      These vehicles are equipped with airbag inflators assembled as part of the passenger front airbag modules used as original equipment or replacement equipment.

      In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the passenger front airbag, these inflators may rupture due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to absolute humidity and temperature cycling.

      An inflator rupture may result in metal fragments striking the vehicle occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will replace the passenger front airbag inflator, free of charge. Interim letters informing owners of the recall and that parts are not yet available are expected to begin February 27, 2017. Owners will receive a second notice when remedy parts become available.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 17S01.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling a total of 654,695 vehicles with an airbag inflator issue.Included are model year 2012 Ford Fusions and Mustangs and Li...
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      Daimler Vans USA recalls vehicles with passenger front airbag inflator issue

      The airbag inflator may rupture, resulting in injury or death

      Daimler Vans USA (DVUSA) is recalling a total of 11,279 vehicles with an airbag inflator issue.

      Included are model year 2012 Freightliner 2500 and 3500 Sprinter and Mercedes-Benz 2500 and 3500 Sprinter vehicles originally sold, or ever registered, in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands (Saipan), and the U.S. Virgin Islands, or "Zone A."

      Additionally, DVUSA is recalling certain 2009 Dodge 2500 and 3500 Sprinter and Freightliner 2500 and 3500 Sprinter vehicles originally sold, or ever registered, in Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, or "Zone B."

      These vehicles are equipped with airbag inflators assembled as part of the passenger front airbag modules, and used as original equipment or replacement equipment.

      In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the front airbags, these inflators may rupture due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to absolute humidity and temperature cycling.

      An inflator rupture may result in metal fragments striking the vehicle occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      DVUSA will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front passenger airbag module, free of charge. Interim letters informing owners about the recall and telling them that parts are not yet available are expected to be mailed in February 2017. Owners will receive a second notice when remedy parts become available.

      Owners may contact DVUSA customer service at 1-877-762-8267.

      Daimler Vans USA (DVUSA) is recalling a total of 11,279 vehicles with an airbag inflator issue.Included are model year 2012 Freightliner 2500 and 3500...
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      Mazda recalls various vehicles with airbag inflator issue

      The airbag inflator may rupture, resulting in injury or death

      Mazda North America Operations is recalling a total of 8,018 vehicles with airbag inflator issues.

      Included are model year 2009 RX-8 vehicles originally sold, or ever registered, in Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, or "Zone B."

      Additionally, unless included in "Zone B,” Mazda is recalling model year 2005-2006 MPV and 2005-2008 RX-8 vehicles originally sold, or ever registered in Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

      These vehicles are equipped with certain air bag inflators assembled as part of the passenger front airbag modules used as original equipment or replacement equipment.

      In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the passenger frontal airbag, these inflators may rupture due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to absolute humidity and temperature cycling.

      An inflator rupture may result in metal fragments striking the vehicle occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      Mazda will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front passenger side air bag inflator, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin March 7, 2017.

      Owners may contact Mazda customer service at 1-800-222-5500. Mazda's number for this recall is 0617A.

      Mazda North America Operations is recalling a total of 8,018 vehicles with airbag inflator issues.Included are model year 2009 RX-8 vehicles originally...
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      Trump Administration: Day One

      No more promises, a new administration begins. What happens next?

      Start the clock. It's Day One of the Donald J. Trump Administration. As the oath of office was recited on a typically dreary Washington morning -- rain, clouds, fog -- Republicans for the first time in years had control of the White House and both houses of Congress.

      Eight years ago, Barack Obama was inaugurated on a promise of hope. Today, Trump has promised change -- more jobs, less regulation, a more assertive foreign policy.

      It's the "less regulation" part that may get tricky for consumers. In campaign remarks and tweets, Trump and his allies have taken aim at a number of regulations that are supposed to be consumer protection measures but that are fervently disliked by the corporations whose activities they sometimes inhibit. 

      A few prime examples include:

      The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Trump himself has not said much about this, but lobbyists for car dealers, payday lenders, and other financial service providers have vowed to gut the agency.

      Created early in the Obama Administration, the CFPB has sued a long list of companies that it says gouged and mistreated consumers, including Wells Fargo, major student loan companies, and car dealers.

      The CFPB is unique among agencies in that it has a single director who cannot be removed except under extreme circumstances. More common are commissions like the Federal Trade and Federal Communications Commissions, which have several commissioners who are appointed by the president and serve more or less at his pleasure. If they can't eliminate the entire agency, critics would like to decapitate it and remove its hard-charging director, Richard Cordray.

      • Effect on consumers: Higher interest rates and fees, fewer protections regarding disclosures, a return to the free-wheeling days that preceded the Financial Crisis.

      Among Trump's likely early financial  targets are new rules affecting the multitrillion-dollar retirement-savings industry. The new "fiduciary" rules require financial advisors to act with their client's best interests in mind, rather than putting their own sales goals first. The rules are set to take effect in about six months unless Trump can short-circuit them.

      • Effect on consumers: Fewer protections against overly enthusiastic sales of annuities, mutual funds, and other financial products, possibly leading to higher fees and lower returns.

      The Federal Communications Commission. Trump has expressed disdain for the "net neutrality" rules championed by outgoing FCC Chairman Charles Wheeler and adopted last year at the urging of the Obama White House. Trump's appointee to chair the FCC is likely to repeal them.

      • Effect on consumers: Repealing the rules could allow broadband carriers to favor their programs and services over those of their internet competitors. 

      The FCC, along with other federal agencies, is also weighing the proposed $85 billion merger of AT&T; and Time Warner, a deal Trump has promised to block.

      • Effect on consumers: Hard to say. Most may not notice.

      The Environmental Protection Agency. For a guy from Queens, Trump sure does like coal. He has pledged to roll back restrictions on mining and burning coal to generate electricity. He has also pledged to trash most other climate-change provisions enacted during the second half of the Obama Administration.

      • Effect on consumers: A reversal in the trend towards clean energy, which itself produces many high-paying jobs. More pollution, adverse health effects. 

      Automakers are hoping Trump will ease up on mileage standards, although last-minute moves by the Obamaites have locked in tough goals that won't be easy to undo.

      • Effect on consumers: Allowing less efficient cars and trucks would cost consumers at the pump and might not save them much when buying or leasing a car. 

      Automobile Safety. Trump hasn't said much about this, but the federal government has played an increasingly active role in policing the safety of cars and other vehicles. Most recently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stepped up safety recalls and imposed heavy fines on manufacturers while also developing new rules for self-driving cars.

      Trump's Transportation Secretary-designate Elaine Chao hasn't said much about this either, preferring to talk about "infrastructure," which in Washington terms means the concrete and asphalt lobby.

      • Effect on consumers: Better bridges and highways would be nice but smart self-driving cars could get more miles out of existing infrastructure, many experts think.

      Healthcare.  Perhaps Trump's signature pledge is the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. This is already underway but isn't likely to happen as fast as some might hope, mostly because no one quite knows what to do with the millions of people who rely on it for their health insurance.

      • Effect on consumers: Uncertainty bordering on financial ruin for those unlucky enough to contract a serious illness or disability. Lack of health insurance also inhibits entrepreneurs, who are reluctant to quit their day job to start a new business and leave their families unprotected.

      On the other hand, Trump may actually come up with something better. He recently proclaimed that "everyone" should be covered. If he finds a way to do that, even Obama has said he would support it.

      Trump has also said drug prices are too high and has vowed to do something about it. He hasn't said just what it will be.

      • Effect on consumers: Lower drug prices are an urgent necessity, especially for seniors and those with chronic conditions and orphan diseases. Anything Trump can do in this department will be a plus. 

      Day Two

      To be quite honest, this story is just your typical Washington thumb-sucker, something that fills up space on a day when nothing much is really happening beyond ceremonies, speechifying, and arm-waving.

      Donald Trump's election, we're told, was partly a reaction against just such drivel so in the interests of public service and self-preservation we'll stop here and wait for Day Two to dawn. 

      That's when things should really start to happen. Maybe. 

      Start the clock. It's Day One of the Donald J. Trump Administration. As the oath o...
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      Skin cancer cream linked to dog deaths

      Even tiny amounts of the cream can kill dogs, FDA says

      A skin cream used to treat cancer in people has been linked to five dog deaths, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The agency is warning pet owners who have this drug -- known as 5% Fluorouracil cream USP (or 5-FU) -- to use care while storing and using the topical medication.

      The skin cancer cream is dangerous to pets in even the smallest amounts, the FDA warns. In one recent case, two dogs died after having simply punctured a tube of fluorouracil. Shortly thereafter, they began vomiting and having seizures. Twelve hours later, the pets died, reports NBC News.

      Cats also at risk

      Fluorouracil is a topical chemotherapy drug used to treat precancerous sun-damaged skin as well as some basal cell skin cancers, according to the American Cancer Society. It is also sold under the names Carac, Effudex, and Fluoroplex.

      Although no reports of cats suffering adverse events after being exposed to the medication have surfaced, the FDA says felines are also likely to be extremely sensitive to the drug. While cats may be unlikely to sink their teeth into a tube of the medication, they can be poisoned in other ways.

      For instance, if you apply the cream and then touch your cat, the cat may ingest the medication when grooming itself.

      What to do

      Pet owners who use Fluorouracil cream should take the following measures to keep pets safe:

      • Store fluorouracil and all other medications where pets can't get to them.

      • Safely discard or clean any cloth or applicator that may contain medication. Don't leave any residue of medication on hands, clothing, carpeting or furniture.

      • If your pet is exposed to fluorouracil, contact a veterinarian immediately. If a pet shows signs of medication exposure such as vomiting, seizing, or other illness, seek immediate veterinary care and be sure to provide the details of the exposure.

      A skin cream used to treat cancer in people has been linked to five dog deaths, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The agency is warning p...
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      Toyota recalls a half million vehicles with airbag inflator issue

      The airbag inflator may rupture, resulting in injury or death

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling a total of 543,326 vehicles with airbag inflator issues.

      The recall includes model year 2012 Toyota 4Runner, Corolla, Corolla Matrix, Sienna, Yaris, Scion xB, Lexus ES350, GX460, IS-F, IS250, IS350, IS250C, IS350C, and Lexus LFA vehicles originally sold, or ever registered, in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands (Saipan), and the U.S. Virgin Islands, or "Zone A."

      Additionally, unless included in "Zone A," Toyota is recalling model year 2009 Toyota Corolla, Corolla Matrix, Yaris, Yaris HB, Scion xB, Pontiac Vibe, Lexus, ES350, IS250, IS350, and IS-F vehicles originally sold, or ever registered, in Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, or "Zone B."

      Further, unless included in "Zone A" or "Zone B," Toyota is recalling model year 2006-2008 Lexus IS250 and IS350, 2007-2008 Lexus ES350, Toyota Yaris, Yaris HB, and 2008 Lexus IS-F and Scion xB vehicles originally sold, or ever registered in Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

      These vehicles are equipped with air bag inflators assembled as part of the passenger front airbag modules used as original equipment or replacement equipment.

      In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the passenger front airbag, these inflators may rupture due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to absolute humidity and temperature cycling.

      An inflator rupture may result in metal fragments striking the vehicle occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      Toyota will notify the Toyota, Scion and Lexus owners. General Motors will contact the Pontiac owners. Depending on the model, dealers will replace the passenger front airbag inflator or the airbag assembly, free of charge.

      Interim letters informing owners that parts are not yet available are expected to begin January 30, 2017. Owners will receive a second notice when remedy parts become available.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331, or Pontiac customer service at 1-800-762-2737. Toyota's numbers for interim notification for this campaign are G1P (Toyota Zone A), G1R (Toyota Zone B), H1A (Toyota Zone C), G2G (Lexus Zone A), G2H (Lexus Zone B) and H2A (Lexus Zone C). Toyota's numbers for final remedy for this campaign are G0P (Toyota Zone A), G0R (Toyota Zone B), H0A (Toyota Zone C), GLG (Lexus Zone A), GLH (Lexus Zone B) and HLA (Lexus Zone C).

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling a total of 543,326 vehicles with airbag inflator issues.The recall includes model year 2012 Toyot...
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      McLaren recalls model year 2012 MP4-12C vehicles

      The vehicle's airbag inflator may rupture

      McLaren Automotive Incorporated is recalling 359 model year 2012 MP4-12C vehicles originally sold, or ever registered, in the states of Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands (Saipan), and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

      These vehicles are equipped with certain airbag inflators assembled as part of the passenger front airbag modules used as original equipment or replacement equipment.

      In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the front airbags, these inflators may rupture due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to absolute humidity and temperature cycling.

      An inflator rupture may result in metal fragments striking the vehicle occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      McLaren will notify owners, and dealers will replace the air bag inflators, free of charge. Remedy parts are not currently available. McLaren will send a letter to the affected owners to notify them of the recall and will mail a follow up letter when remedy parts are available.

      Owners may contact McLaren customer service at 1-646-8916.

      McLaren Automotive Incorporated is recalling 359 model year 2012 MP4-12C vehicles originally sold, or ever registered, in the states of Alabama, California...
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      Honda recalls Goldwing motorcycles

      The motorcycle's airbag inflator may rupture

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling a total of 882 Goldwing motorcycles.

      Included are model year 2006-2009 and 2012 Honda GL1800 (Goldwing) motorcycles originally sold, or ever registered, in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands (Saipan), and the U.S. Virgin Islands, or "Zone A."

      Additionally, if not included in "Zone A," Honda is recalling certain 2006-2009 Honda GL1800 (Goldwing) motorcycles originally sold, or ever registered, in Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, or "Zone B."

      Additionally, if not included in Zone A or Zone B above, Honda is recalling certain 2006-2008 Honda GL1800 (Goldwing) motorcycles originally sold, or ever registered, in the states of Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

      These vehicles are equipped with airbag inflators assembled as part of the air bag modules used as original equipment or replacement equipment. In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the front airbags, these inflators may rupture due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to absolute humidity and temperature cycling.

      An inflator rupture may result in metal fragments striking the operator resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will replace the air bag module, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin January 24, 2017.

      Owners may contact Honda Motorcycle Customer Support at 1-866-784-1870. Honda's number for this recall is KE5.

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling a total of 882 Goldwing motorcycles.Included are model year 2006-2009 and 2012 Honda GL1800 (Goldwing) motorcycle...
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      Out-of-network doctors' bills can be breathtaking

      Researchers say anesthesiologists mark up services six times over what Medicare pays

      Right now, the biggest controversy in the healthcare field is the price of prescription medications. Politicians from Elizabeth Warren to Donald Trump have blasted them as being too high.

      What often escapes notice is the cost of seeing an out-of-network specialist, but researchers at Johns Hopkins, writing in JAMA, say privately-insured consumers are often blindsided with huge bills from these providers.

      When you choose a provider, you likely do a little research, especially making sure the provider accepts your health insurance. When you see internists, family doctors, or psychiatrists, you have some choice in the matter and have a way to control costs.

      But the Hopkins medical and business school researchers, who looked at cases where patients were treated by out-of-network providers, found a huge difference in costs.

      Emergency situations

      In many cases, patients have no choice in the matter because the situation is an emergency. They don't have time to find an in-network provider.

      In those cases, the researchers found the average anesthesiologist charged six times what Medicare pays. An emergency room doctor charged four times more.

      As the study points out, these charges don't just affect the uninsured, but also the well-covered when they see physicians out of their insurer’s network. Yes, you probably expect to pay more if you have to go out-of-network, but the researchers say patients are often shocked at how much more it costs.

      “The doctors with the highest markups are often the ones that patients don’t actually choose,” said Gerard F. Anderson, PhD, a professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School and the study's lead author.

      Bill shock

      What happens, he says, is two months later the patient gets a bill from a doctor he or she never really met. In nearly every case, he says, the price is outrageous.

      While the numbers are based on a national average, the researchers note that distinct geographic variations exist. For example, doctors in Wisconsin have almost twice the markup of doctors in neighboring Michigan. The largest mark-ups were for anesthesiologists.

      What's especially infuriating, the researchers say, is when patients deliberately select a hospital and physician that are in their insurance network, only to learn after-the-fact that one or more of the doctors was out-of-network and outrageously expensive.

      What's the remedy? The researchers say Congress should require physicians to disclose their network status to each patient before delivering the service. It would also improve transparency, they say, if doctors were required to post out-of-network prices.

      Right now, the biggest controversy in the healthcare field is the price of prescription medications. Politicians from Elizabeth Warren to Donald Trump have...
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      Do you suffer from 'masked hypertension?'

      Researchers say one in eight Americans suffer from the condition

      Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is called "the silent killer." Elevated blood pressure can eventually lead to heart attack and stroke, and millions of people with hypertension don't know it.

      There is very effective medication to control blood pressure -- and a healthy lifestyle also helps -- but first you have to know that your blood pressure is too high.

      As we first reported back in early December, doctors have begun to worry about what they call "masked hypertension." A patient goes to the doctor and his blood pressure reading is a perfectly acceptable 129/82.

      But then he goes about his daily life -- going to work, picking up the kids, cleaning out the garage, and while he's doing all that his blood pressure might be an unhealthy 147/96. He doesn't know, of course, because he doesn't have a blood pressure cuff at home to measure it.

      Numbers are alarming

      Researchers at Stony Brook and Columbia universities have studied this phenomenon by attaching 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure monitors to subjects in their study. They now say that not only is the condition real, the numbers associated with it are alarming.

      They found 12.3% of people display a normal blood pressure reading in the clinic, are not taking blood pressure lowering medicines, have never had a heart attack or stroke, but have high blood pressure during their daily activities. This amounts to about one in eight adults over age 21 -- approximately 17.1 million people in the U.S.

      Lead investigator Joseph Schwartz of Stony Brook says the study is breaking new ground in estimating the size of the problem. He says it could lead to new guidelines to help identify patients with high blood pressure and improve hypertension preventive methods.

      What to do

      Until then, it is helpful to know the hypertension risk factors. People over age 50 are at risk of developing hypertension. So are those who are overweight or obese, or have a sedentary lifestyle with little physical exercise.

      Diet can also be a big risk factor. Eating unhealthy foods, especially those high in sodium, can increase the risk for hypertension. African-Americans are at a higher risk than other races.

      If you think you might fall into one of those risk categories, consider investing in a home blood pressure monitoring cuff and learn how to properly use it.

      Measuring your blood pressure two or three times a week, at different times of the day, might let you know if you are suffering from "masked hypertension," even though your readings at the doctor's office look just fine.

      Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is called "the silent killer." Elevated blood pressure can eventually lead to heart attack and stroke, and millions o...
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      Depression can be just as bad for heart health as smoking or obesity, researchers say

      A long-term study found that 15% of cardiovascular deaths were attributed to the condition

      Maintaining a healthy heart is vital to having good overall health, but there are many issues that can get in the way. Being obese or smoking, for example, can stress the heart and lead to cardiovascular problems, but a new study shows that there is another condition that can be just as harmful.

      Researchers from Helmholtz Zentrum München, along with colleagues from the Technical University of Munich and the German Center for Cardiovascular Disease, have found that depression poses just as great a risk to heart health. Further, they believe that finding how it interacts with other risk factors is of paramount importance.

      “There is little doubt that depression is a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases,” said group leader Karl-Heinz Ladwig. “The question now is: What is the relationship between depression and other risk factors like tobacco smoke, high cholesterol levels, obesity or hypertension – how big a role does each factor play?”

      Comparable risk factor

      For the purposes of the study, Ladwig and his colleagues analyzed data from nearly 3,500 male patients between the ages of 45 and 74 for a total of 10 years. During that time, they tracked how depression impacted four other major risk factors for cardiovascular health.

      The results indicated that depression led to the development of a fatal cardiovascular disease just as often as elevated cholesterol levels or obesity. The only risk factors that had a greater association were high blood pressure and smoking. Across the entire sample, the researchers say 15% of cardiovascular deaths could be attributed to depression.

      “That is comparable to the other risk factors, such as hypercholesterolemia, obesity and smoking,” said Ladwig, pointing out that other risk factors caused between 8.4% and 21.4% of cardiovascular deaths.

      The researchers believe that their work may have large implications on how the medical community evaluates depression as a condition. They point out that the findings indicate that the disorder has a “medium effect size within the range of major, non-congenital risk for factors for cardiovascular diseases.”

      Ladwig says diagnostic investigation of co-morbid depression should become an industry standard, especially for high-risk patients.

      The full study has been published in Atherosclerosis.

      Maintaining a healthy heart is vital to having good overall health, but there are many issues that can get in the way. Being obese or smoking, for example,...
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      Florida becomes the last state to settle with Western Sky

      The online lender and its affiliates are barred from doing business in the state

      Florida officials have announced coordinated settlements with online lenders Western Sky Financial, LLC, CashCall, Inc., WS Funding, LLC, and Delbert Services Corporation.

      Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Office of Financial Regulation Commissioner Drew Breakspear had charged the companies with running an online lending scheme.

      Coincidentally, there is a Florida class action settlement pending in U.S District Court for the Southern District of Florida, resolving charges that the lenders offered, serviced, and collected on Western Sky loans to Florida borrowers with illegal interest rates of more than 18%.

      Assuming the court takes final action, officials say some Florida consumers stand to share more than $11 million.

      “Lending schemes harm consumers seeking financial assistance, and with these settlements, Florida borrowers will now be better protected from such business practices,” Bondi said. “Thanks to a great partnership with the Office of Financial Regulation, Floridians will receive millions in restitution.”

      14,000 consumers to get compensation

      Bondi says the settlements are expected to provide payments for approximately 14,000 Florida consumers. To be eligible for a payout under the settlement, consumers must have borrowed from the lenders and paid back the principal plus 18% interest. Bondi says eligible borrowers will be officially notified when details are worked out.

      At the same time, Western Sky and its affiliates are barred from collecting more than $15 million in outstanding loans made to Florida consumers.

      Back in September a federal court ruled in a case involving the federal government and 16 states, that CashCall's business model did not provide an exemption from fair lending laws. The case was joined by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which had challenged CashCall's use of the “tribal model” to make and collect on loans in states that limit interest rates.

      Western Sky stopped accepting loan applications in 2013 after tangling in court with a number of states. But CashCall continued to automatically withdraw payments from customers' accounts even though the loans were voided as a result of the state probes, according to an American Banker report.

      Western Sky initially claimed immunity from state interest rate caps through its affiliation with the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe.

      Florida officials have announced coordinated settlements with online lenders Western Sky Financial, LLC, CashCall, Inc., WS Funding, LLC, and Delbert Servi...
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      Why most of us still stand a good chance of getting hacked

      Survey finds many consumers still use incredibly weak passwords

      In recent years hackers have shifted their primary aim from individual consumers to large retailers and corporate networks because it offers more bang for the buck.

      It's a good thing too, because most of us individual consumers are sitting ducks.

      Make no mistake, hackers still launch attacks on individuals. It's one way they harness millions of individual zombie computers to carry out their various nefarious deeds. And Keeper Security, a cyber security firm, says consumers make it easy for them by using pathetically-easy passwords.

      In its blog, the company said it reviewed the passwords that leaked to the internet from data breaches in 2016, looking for the year's most common passwords. Incredibly, it found nearly 17% of consumers are still using “123456” as a password. That was number one. Believe it or not, the eighth most-common password in 2016 was “password.”

      Main takeaways

      Keeper Security says the main takeaways from its analysis include the fact that the list of most-used passwords hasn't changed much over the years. In other words, we haven't gotten very creative.

      “While it’s important for users to be aware of risks, a sizable minority are never going to take the time or effort to protect themselves,” the company writes. “IT administrators and website operators must do the job for them.”

      Long passwords are best, but four of the top 10 passwords on Keeper Security's list, and seven of the top 15, are six characters or shorter. Those passwords are no match for hackers' state-of-the-art tools that can break those flimsy passwords in seconds.

      Less random than you think

      Some consumers may think they're well ahead of the hackers by using passwords like “1q2w3e4r.” When you look at the sequence of numbers and letters it may appear random, but it's not. If you'll glance at a qwerty keyboard, you'll quickly see the combination is assembled by moving diagonally to the right from the number row to the top letter row. It's little more inventive than “123456.”

      The company says email providers should be doing a better job of using their services for spam delivery, and the way to do that is by enforcing tougher password rules.

      “We can criticize all we want about the chronic failure of users to employ strong passwords. After all, it’s in the user’s best interests to do so,” the company writes. “But the bigger responsibility lies with website owners who fail to enforce the most basic password complexity policies. It isn’t hard to do, but the list makes it clear that many still don’t bother.”

      Keeper Security said it had no trouble finding passwords published on the internet. It says there were at least 10 million of them, the result of 2016's data breaches.

      In recent years hackers have shifted their primary aim from individual consumers to large retailers and corporate networks because it offers more bang for...
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      Travel industry hopes Trump doesn't upset fast-growing Cuban tourism

      Trump has said he may scrap normalization unless the U.S. gets a 'better deal'

      As the Trump Administration prepares for take-off, American businesses are cautiously optimistic that the fabled real estate developer will pursue business-friendly policies. But some business sectors are more optimistic than others.

      Airlines and the travel industry in general, for example, are hoping that Trump's tirades against Mexico, Cuba, and other nations don't restrict travel to those countries.

      Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly expressed concern at an event in Tampa about travel to Cuba, a fast-growing market for Southwest and other carriers.

      "Those flights have high demand both from the U.S. and from Cuba and obviously we're hopeful that we can continue to operate them," Kelly said, according to a report in the Tampa Bay Times.  "If the government, for other reasons decides that that's not possible obviously we'll obey the law but we're hoping that's not the case."

      Southwest is one of several U.S. airlines to begin flying to Cuba under relaxed policies implemented by the Obama Administration, flying a Havana-Tampa route for the last month. Trump has indicated he may take a harsher approach to relations with the island nation, as well as other Central and South American countries that are on Southwest's radar.

      Kelly noted that while Southwest remains a primarily domestic carrier, it has been adding flights to Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean through a new five-gate international terminal it's building at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

      Changed course

      Trump was uncharacteristically silent last week when the Obama White House reversed the decades-old "west foot/dry foot" policy that allowed any Cuban who managed to make it to U.S. shores to remain here legally, although he had said last year that the policy was "not fair."

      Although the decision was sudden, there was general agreement that either Congress or Trump would have revoked the special treatment that Cuban refugees have long enjoyed.

      Despite the continuing wrangling over Cuban immigration and trade policy, tourism to the long-isolated country is booming, with a record 4 million visitors last year. With new cruise and airline routes now operating, Cuban tourism officials are expecting at least 100,000 more visitors this year.

      That could, of course, all change in a tweet. Trump has warned he may scrap the whole Cuba normalization process started by Obama in December 2014 unless the U.S. gets a "better deal." 

      As the Trump Administration prepares for take-off, American businesses are cautiously optimistic that...
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      If Trump wants to fast-track oil and gas pipelines, he can thank Obama

      The Obama administration issued quick permits for massive oil and gas projects

      Luc Novovitch remembers being taken by surprise when he learned that a new, 148-mile natural gas pipeline was coming to the Texas county where he had served on the Commissioner’s Court, whether locals wanted it or not.

      Brewster County is a rural west Texas county, the population hovering around 9,000, that is popular among tourists for its scenic views and relative short drive to the Big Bend National Park. The desolate region had no massive natural gas pipelines until last year, when Energy Transfer Partners began constructing the Trans-Pecos Pipeline. 

      As locals learned in 2015, swaths of land in Brewster County fall in the path of the Trans-Pecos Pipeline project. The pipeline, according to operator Energy Transfer Partners, is expected to deliver 1.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day to Mexico. Originating in Texas’ northern Pecos County, the pipeline makes its way through Central West Texas before finally terminating at the United States-Mexico border.

      "The Trans-Pecos pipeline will provide new market outlets for domestically produced clean-burning natural gas, thereby encouraging continued production in the U.S. energy sector," Energy Transfer Partners says on their promotional website.

      A done deal

      By the time Energy Transfer Partners executive Rick Smith made a presentation to the Brewster County Commissioner’s Court about the project in April 2015, Novovitch remembers it was all but a done deal. 

      “I tried to bring the attention of the feds about what was going on, and it didn't really help,” Novovitch, who is no longer on the Brewster County Commissioners Court, now tells ConsumerAffairs. 

      With incoming President-elect Donald Trump expected to dismantle whatever environmental protections he can come January 20, environmentalists are concerned about what health and ecological dangers the new administration may bring.

      But if Donald Trump’s agenda includes fast-tracking as many oil and gas pipelines as possible, he can thank the Obama administration. Regulations that President Barack Obama used his executive authority to enact in 2012 have allowed for expedited reviews of oil and gas pipeline projects, setting what environmentalists warn is a dangerous precedent. 

      Obama counters Republican attacks with faster pipeline permits 

      In March 2012, as Republicans accused Obama of dragging his feet on approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline amid objections from environmentalists, the president took a trip to Cushing, Oklahoma. It was there, in the heart of oil country, that companies like Keystone XL’s Transcanada aimed to build more pipelines to transport all of the oil and gas produced by the domestic fracking boom.

      “We are drilling all over the place. Right now that's not the challenge. That's not the problem. The problem in a place like Cushing is that we’re actually producing so much oil and gas, in places like North Dakota and Colorado, that we don’t have enough pipeline capacity to transport all of it where it needed to go," Obama told the crowd.

      At that time, Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum, calling for, as his memo described it, “Expedited Review of Pipeline Projects from Cushing to Port Arthur and Other Domestic Pipeline Infrastructure Projects.” The executive order sounds innocent enough, calling for public government agencies to “coordinate and expedite their reviews, consultations, and other processes as necessary" so as to create "a more efficient domestic pipeline system for the transportation of crude oil."

      But people and groups that have attempted to challenge pipeline projects describe the order as little more than a gift to the oil and gas industry. “It is downright foolhardy to cut corners on safety reviews for permitting the southern segment of the Keystone XL pipeline,” National Resources Defense Council’s program officer Susan Casey-Lefkowitz warned in a blog post, shortly after Obama enacted the expedited review process. 

      At the same time, the United States Army Corps of Engineers began giving the green light to oil and gas pipeline projects that pass waterways under a quick process called Nationwide Permit 12.

      “While the Corps’ use of NWP [Nationwide Permit] 12 is not new,” wrote a coalition of nearly two dozen environmental groups in a recent legal objection, “it is only since 2012 that the Corps began using NWP 12 to approve massive pipeline projects." 

      “To the best of our knowledge, prior to 2012, the Corps had never before used NWP 12 to permit hundreds or thousands of water crossings to approve a major pipeline project," the environmental groups added.

      Complicated permitting breaks massive pipeline projects into small parts

      The trick behind expedited permitting reviews is that they break up what should be one single regulatory action, evaluating the environmental impacts of a massive pipeline project as a whole, into piecemeal parts, according to Coyne Gibson, a volunteer with the Big Bend Conservation Alliance. Gibson and the alliance have been trying to fight the Trans-Pecos pipeline in the courts.  

      The Trans Pecos pipeline, Gibson explains, is expected to make 135 water crossings. “They claim that each of those in isolation has no significant impact," Gibson tells ConsumerAffairs. But regulators did not examine the bigger pictire, Gibson says, evaluating the impact of a natural gas pipeline making 135 waterway crossings as a whole. 

      Federal energy commissioners give green light

      Soon after Trans-Pecos made its presence known in Brewster County, locals like former County Commissioner Novovitch learned how limited federal involvement would be. Even though the pipeline crosses into Mexico, it flows only through one state in the United States. Federal regulators therefore classify the project as an “intrastate” pipeline.

      As an intrastate project, the pipeline is subject to limited federal review, as feds claim most of that burden falls onto the state of Texas. In fact, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission determined that only one small section of the 148-mile pipeline--just over 1,000 feet--should be subject to federal review, because that is the one section crossing the Texas border into Mexico. Otherwise, the feds and pipeline operator alike say it is merely an intrastate project. 

      "From [the Texas border town of] Presidio, magically it becomes international, so they have to apply for a presidential permit, just for this section,” Novovitch tells Consumer Affairs.”This is ridiculous. It’s an artifice. I kept asking FERC to consider the cumulative impacts.”

      The calls from Novovitch and other pipeline opponents to federal regulators were not heeded. “We have determined that if constructed in accordance with its application and supplements,” the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission wrote about the Trans-Pecos Pipeline January 2016, “approval of this proposal would not constitute a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” FERC officially granted the company its presidential permit in May 2016.

      Pipes dot the hills of the Big Bend region, but much of the project is already buried. The Trans-Pecos Pipeline, according to Energy Transfer Partners, is expected to be in service by March 2017.

      Luc Novovitch remembers being taken by surprise when he learned that a new, 148-mile natural gas pipeline was coming to the Texas county where he had serve...
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      Consumers still punishing Wells Fargo

      Earnings report shows big drop in new bank and credit card accounts

      When federal regulators discovered last fall that Wells Fargo had been creating credit card and checking accounts for its customers without their permission, simply to boost its fees, regulators punished the bank with millions of dollars in fines.

      But it turns out consumers have also been punishing the bank.

      When Wells Fargo reported its earnings for the latest quarter and full year, it disclosed that new credit card accounts plunged 43% year-over-year and dropped 7% from the previous month.

      As for bank accounts, new checking accounts plunged 40% from December 2015. However, they were up slightly from November.

      But that bit of good news was overshadowed by the revelation that some current Wells Fargo checking account customers simply stopped using their accounts without closing them. Between November and December, active checking account customers fell by 100,000.

      5,300 bank employees fired

      Back in September, Wells Fargo reached a settlement with federal agencies and the City of Los Angeles over revelations it had opened millions of accounts without customers' knowledge or permission. In settling with government agencies, Wells Fargo announced that it had fired 5,300 employees and changed sales practices to end incentives to open new accounts.

      Regulators charged that, not only was it fraudulent to move money and open accounts without a customer's permission, the customer also incurred fees in the process, costing him or her money.

      In the earnings report Friday, Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan said the bank is working to regain the trust of consumers, employees and other key stakeholders.

      “I am pleased with the progress we have made in customer remediation, the ongoing review of sales practices across the company and fulfilling our regulatory requirements for sales practices matters,” Sloan said. “As planned, we launched our new retail bank compensation program this month, which is based on building lifelong relationships with our customers.”

      It should be noted that not everyone is punishing Wells Fargo. Even after reporting its earnings, which fell short of analysts' estimates, the company's stock rose on Wall Street. CNBC reported investors are looking past the bad news and are convinced the bank's profits will still rise in the future.

      When federal regulators discovered last fall that Wells Fargo had been creating credit card and checking accounts for its customers without their permissio...
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      Why rural living can be hazardous to your health

      A CDC report finds rural residents are more likely to die from five preventable causes

      A popular perception of rural life is it is healthier. There is less crime, less stress, and generally a slower pace of life.

      But when it comes to the five most preventable causes of death, a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that the risk of death in rural areas is significantly greater than in the city.

      In 2014 the CDC says there were 25,000 deaths in rural areas from heart disease, 19,000 from cancer, 12,000 from unintentional injuries, 11,000 from chronic lower respiratory disease, and 4,000 from stroke.

      On a percentage basis, there were fewer deaths in urban areas from these same causes.

      Striking gap in health

      "This new study shows there is a striking gap in health between rural and urban Americans," said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden. "To close this gap, we are working to better understand and address the health threats that put rural Americans at increased risk of early death."

      The report's authors point to several demographic, environmental, economic, and social factors that might put the 46 million rural Americans at higher risk of death. Rural consumers tend to be older and sicker than people living in cities. They are more likely to smoke, have high blood pressure, and to be obese.

      When quizzed, rural consumers report less physical activity and are less likely to use seatbelts. They are also more likely to be poor and have less access to healthcare and health insurance.

      Fewer healthcare resources

      In fact, the best health care facilities tend to be in high population areas. Because of a smaller patient population, rural hospitals tend to be smaller and have fewer resources than their urban counterparts. Rural counties also tend to have fewer emergency service resources, meaning someone suffering an accident or heart attack may take longer to get to a medical facility.

      Working with other federal agencies, the CDC says there are steps that should be taken in rural communities to improve health services. They include screening patients for high blood pressure and providing treatment for those at risk.

      The agency also urges steps to increase cancer screening, education, and detection, while also providing more smoking cessation programs and encouraging healthy lifestyles, such as daily exercise and healthy diets.

      Opioid addiction and overdose has also become a growing problem in rural areas, growing faster there than in cities. The CDC urges healthcare providers to follow the agency's guideline when prescribing these drugs for chronic pain.

      A popular perception of rural life is it is healthier. There is less crime, less stress, and generally a slower pace of life.But when it comes to the f...
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      Holiday sales increase by 4% in 2016

      Experts point to an improving economy as the main cause

      Holiday retail sales in November and December showed strong gains in 2016. The National Retail Federation (NRF) says sales increased year-over-year by 4% to $658.3 billion, mostly due to a strengthening economy.

      Additionally, non-store sales surged during the latter part of last year to $122.9 billion, which is up 12.6% from 2015. The increases eclipse previous NRF predictions of a 3.6% increase during the holidays, and experts say that it only shows that the economy is picking up steam.

      “These numbers show that the nation’s slow-but-steady economic recovery is picking up speed and that consumers feel good about the future. Retail mirrors the economy. And while there might have been some bumps in the road for individual companies, the retail industry overall had a solid holiday season and retailers will work to sustain this in the year ahead,” said NRF CEO and President Matthew Shay.

      Online sales flourish

      While the numbers look good for overall holiday retail, Shay points out that online and non-store sales continued to improve over sales at brick-and-mortar locations, going up by 12.6%. However, he adds that it doesn’t matter much to the retailer if consumers are buying online or at store locations – as long as the money keeps rolling in.

      “There has been a lot of talk about online versus in-store retail in the past few months, but that comes from people who don’t realize that online and retail today are the same thing,” Shay said.

      “In the new distributed commerce world that allows consumers to buy any product, anytime, anywhere, it really doesn’t matter whether a customer shops in a company’s store or on its website or mobile app. It’s all retail. Today’s retailers sell to shoppers any way they want to buy.”

      Economic improvements

      NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz points out that hourly earnings were up year-over-year in 2016, while job gains were strong and unemployment stayed relatively low. All of this, combined with strong economic indicators, led to strong retail sales over the holiday season.

      “The economy was clearly stronger in the fall and consumers were more active during the holiday season than they had been earlier in the year,” Kleinhenz said. “Economic indicators were up, retailers offered great deals, confidence improved and all of that empowered consumers to spend more.”

      Holiday retail sales in November and December showed strong gains in 2016. The National Retail Federation (NRF) says sales increased year-over-year by 4% t...
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      Arctic Cat recalls snowmobiles

      The fuel tank can crack and leak fuel

      Arctic Cat of Thief River Falls, Minn., is recalling about 20,700 snowmobiles.

      The fuel tank can crack and fuel can leak into the engine compartment, posing a fire hazard.

      The company has received reports of 918 incidents, including six reports of fires, with the snowmobiles. No injuries have been reported.

      The recall involves model year 2007, 2008, and 2009 Arctic Cat snowmobiles, including F models, Jaguar and Jaguar Z1 1100 models, Bearcat Z1 XT models, T500 and T570 models, TZ1 and TZ1 Turbo models, and Z1 1100 and Z1 1100 Turbo models.

      These snowmobiles were produced in a variety of color combinations. “Arctic Cat” is printed on the sides of the vehicle and on the back snow-flap area. The model name is on the side of the vehicle. The model number is printed in the owner’s manual.

      The snowmobiles, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at Arctic Cat dealerships nationwide from June 2006, through December 2016, for between $11,500 and $14,300.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled snowmobiles and contact an Arctic Cat snowmobile dealer to schedule a free repair. Registered owners have been notified by mail.

      Consumers may contact Arctic Cat at 800-279-6851 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday or online at https://www.arcticcat.com/customer-care/ then “Product Recall” and then “List of Safety Bulletins” for more information.

      Arctic Cat of Thief River Falls, Minn., is recalling about 20,700 snowmobiles.The fuel tank can crack and fuel can leak into the engine compartment, po...
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      EPA says Fiat Chrysler cheated on emissions tests

      Pickups with 3.0-liter engines had deceptive software, agency charges

      Just one day after Volkswagen was hit with $4 billion in new fines and criminal charges for cheating on emissions tests, Fiat Chrysler is facing similar accusations, the Washington Post is reporting today

      The Environmental Protection Agency is alleging that Fiat Chrysler used deceptive software that enabled some of its diesel trucks to pass emissions tests even though they emitted more than the legally allowed amount of pollution on the road.

      The company says it's "disappointed" and is hoping the Trump Administration will look more kindly on the matter. 

      "FCA US intends to work with the incoming administration to present its case and resolve this matter fairly and equitably and to assure the EPA and FCA US customers that the company’s diesel-powered vehicles meet all applicable regulatory requirements," the company said in a prepared statement.

      FCA said its trucks are "equipped with state-of-the-art emission control systems hardware, including selective catalytic reduction (SCR)" and said that, "Every auto manufacturer must employ various strategies to control tailpipe emissions in order to balance EPA’s regulatory requirements for low nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions and requirements for engine durability and performance, safety and fuel efficiency. FCA US believes that its emission control systems meet the applicable requirements."

      But some consumer and environmental groups are calling for stiff penalties and a criminal investigaiton. 

      "Fiat Chrysler should be fined with maximum penalties for the excess pollution their vehicles have emitted," said Mike Litt, Consumer Advocate at U.S. PIRG in an email to ConsumerAffairs. "If this software turns out to be a defeat device, Fiat Chrysler must make it up to customers for their falsely marketed “EcoDiesel” engines. Making consumers whole would mean buying back their vehicles at full purchase price. There would also need to be criminal investigations."

      The models involved are the 2014 to 2016 model year Dodge Ram 1500 pickup trucks and Jeep Grand Cherokees with 3.0-liter diesel engines. The allegations affect roughly 104,000 vehicles, EPA officials said.

      The allegations are similar to the charges in a November 2016 class action lawsuit that alleged that Fiat Chrysler and diesel engine manufacturer Cummins Inc. deceived consumers and regulators by concealing the high levels of diesel emissions produced by 2500 and 3500 Dodge RAM diesel trucks. “We’re pleased to see the EPA hot on the trail following our class-action lawsuit that called out Fiat Chrysler and Bosch for what we believe to be outright emissions fraud, akin to VW’s Dieselgate scandal,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman, who filed the class action.

      "Fraud and concealment"

      “The sheer level of fraud and concealment between Chrysler and Cummins is unconscionable, and we believe we have uncovered a deeply entrenched scheme,” said Berman. “Chrysler and Cummins spent years lying through their teeth and making empty promises to deliver the cleanest trucks on the market – lip service to deceptively dominate what they saw as a profitable market.”

      The lawsuit charges that the companies intentionally misled truck buyers about the emission levels of the trucks, knowingly profiting from the allegedly dirty diesels and fraudulently getting emissions credits from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that it then used to produce more high-polluting vehicles.

      According to the complaint, the affected Cummins diesel engines conceal true emissions output, causing the catalytic converter to wear out more quickly, resulting in the vehicle burning fuel at a higher rate, and often requiring customers to replace the converter after the warranty has expired at a cost of approximately $3,000-$5,000

      The EPA investigation so far looks similar to the early stages of the probe into Volkswagen's dirty diesel scandal, which has cost the company at least $20 billion so far and led to the indictment of seven executives.

      In its statement, FCA said it has tried to satisfy regulators that its system meets federal standards and insisted its control systems are not "defeat devices."

      "FCA US has spent months providing voluminous information in response to requests from EPA  and other governmental authorities and has sought to explain its emissions control technology to EPA representatives.  FCA US has proposed a number of actions to address EPA’s concerns, including developing extensive software changes to our emissions control strategies that could be implemented in these vehicles immediately to further improve emissions performance," the company said. 

      “Bosch and Fiat Chrysler took full advantage of consumers’ wishes to make a conscious, ecofriendly purchasing decision by vigorously marketing its EcoDiesel line as ‘clean diesel,’ as a means to charge premium prices – more than $4,700 more,” Berman said. 

      In its EcoDiesel advertising, FCA specifically targets consumers “who want to drive an efficient, environmentally-friendly truck without sacrificing capability or performance.” It also claims the RAM 1500 was “the NAFTA market’s first and only light-duty pickup powered by clean diesel technology.”

      Just one day after Volkswagen was hit with $4 billion in new fines and criminal charges for cheating on emissions tests, Fiat Chrysler is facing similar ac...
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      Amazon vows to create 100,000 U.S.-based jobs by mid-2018

      After earlier criticisms, CEO Jeff Bezos says President-elect Trump's plan to create jobs could pay huge dividends

      One of the primary campaign points for President-elect Donald Trump was creating jobs and keeping businesses in the U.S. Many companies caught the new Commander in Chief’s ire while he was on the campaign trail, but a scuffle between Trump and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was notable.

      The president-elect accused Bezos in a May interview of buying the Washington Post in order to influence the political landscape. Later on, Bezos fired shots at the businessman, saying that Trump’s behavior “erodes democracy around the edges.”

      Nevertheless, it seems that Amazon will be doing just what Trump wants in the coming years by creating more U.S.-based jobs. The retailer announced on Thursday that it has a plan to create over 100,000 full-time jobs in the U.S. by mid-2018, according to the Wall Street Journal.

      Expanding and creating jobs

      Amazon says that many of the new jobs will be located in Texas, Florida, California, New Jersey, and other areas where it is creating additional warehouses. During the third quarter of 2016, Amazon built another two dozen warehouses, bringing the total global number up to 150.

      Additionally, the company brought on around 120,000 seasonal workers during the holidays in the U.S., many of which are staying on to fill expanded positions, the company said. Other than warehouse staff, Amazon says it will also be filling positions in engineer and software development.

      “Innovation is one of our guiding principles at Amazon, and it’s created hundreds of thousands of American jobs,” said Bezos.

      Change of tune

      In a bit of reversal, Bezos has also shown some support for Trump and his plan for creating jobs after meeting with him in December. During the meeting, which featured a number of Silicon Valley executives, Trump promised to work with tech companies to create fair-trade deals and help foster innovation.

      “[Trump’s plan] would create a huge number of jobs across the whole country, in all sectors, not just tech—agriculture, infrastructure, manufacturing—everywhere,” said Bezos in a statement.

      One of the primary campaign points for President-elect Donald Trump was creating jobs and keeping businesses in the U.S. Many companies caught the new Comm...
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      How only exercising on the weekend can still impart huge health benefits

      Researchers say infrequent exercisers and 'weekend warriors' still have lower risk of death

      For many consumers, everyday life seems too busy and non-stop to even think about going to the gym or exercising. But a new study finds that those who take only a few hours every week – even just on the weekends – can enjoy huge health benefits.

      Researchers from the University of Sydney analyzed survey data for over 63,000 people and found that all-cause mortality was 30% lower for active adults when compared to inactive adults. Further, they say that consumers who only take time on the weekend to exercise, dubbed “weekend warriors,” had an equivalent reduction in risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.

      "It is very encouraging news that being physically active on just one or two occasions per week is associated with a lower risk of death, even among people who do some activity but don't quite meet recommended exercise levels," said senior author Emmanuel Stamatakis.

      “Weekend warriors”

      World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines suggest that adults participate in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise every week; however, the researchers found that participants didn’t always have to reach those goals in order to reduce health risks.

      While the results are good news for infrequent exercisers or gym members who can only go on the weekends, Stamatakis and his colleagues say more research will need to be done in order to “determine how frequency, intensity, and duration of activity might best be combined to achieve health benefits.”

      However, they say that consumers should always exceed physical activity recommendations if they can. Doing so, they say, is the best way to protect ourselves from a multitude of diseases and health conditions.

      The full study has been published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

      For many consumers, everyday life seems too busy and non-stop to even think about going to the gym or exercising. But a new study finds that those who take...
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      Toyota Highlander earns top IIHS award

      The vehicle's front crash prevention system earned a superior rating

      A superior-rated front crash prevention system and acceptable-rated headlights have earned the 2017 Toyota Highlander the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) top award.

      Unlike most TOP SAFETY PICK+ winners, which only meet the front crash prevention and headlight criteria when they are equipped with optional features, the Highlander qualifies for the award with standard equipment.

      In IIHS track tests of the 2017 system, the midsize SUV avoided a collision in the 12 mph test. In the 25 mph test, it avoided a collision in 4 out of 5 runs and slowed 21 mph the fifth time.

      The new standard front crash prevention system also includes a forward collision warning component that meets criteria set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

      To qualify for 2017 TOP SAFETY PICK+, a vehicle must earn good ratings in the five IIHS crashworthiness tests -- small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraints -- as well as an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention and an acceptable or good headlight rating.

      A superior-rated front crash prevention system and acceptable-rated headlights have earned the 2017 Toyota Highlander the Insurance Institute for Highway S...
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      FHA reducing mortgage insurance rates this year

      Government says falling foreclosures make reduction possible

      The cost of things usually go up, not down, but the U.S. government's Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is reducing the yearly premiums for mortgage insurance by 25 basis points for most new mortgages closing on or after January 27.

      When borrowers take out an FHA loan, they can borrow up to 96.5% of the home's purchase price. For any loan in which the borrower puts up less than 20% of the money, the borrower is required to purchase mortgage insurance.

      Since the government is guaranteeing the loan, the mortgage insurance reimburses the government in the event of default. The mortgage insurance premium is added onto the borrower's monthly payment.

      Saving $500 a year

      That money goes into FHA's Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund (MMIF), which has grown in value by $44 billion since 2012. U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro says that increase means type mortgage insurance premium will go down by $500 in 2017, lowering the typical FHA house payment by more than $41 a month.

      Castro says 2016 marked the fourth straight year that the mortgage insurance fund significantly increased in value, largely because there have been far fewer FHA loan defaults since the housing market crash of 2008.

      "The reduction in the premium is a result of our industry's and FHA's shared commitment to quality underwriting, and consumers will benefit as [a] result,” David Stevens, President & CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association, said in a statement. “Reducing the cost of FHA loans benefits borrowers, but other changes to reduce uncertainty for lenders would be required to truly invigorate the FHA program.”

      Castro said the decision to lower mortgage insurance premiums was made possible by the fact that current borrowers are doing a good job of managing their loans.

      Passing on the savings

      “After four straight years of growth and with sufficient reserves on hand to meet future claims, it’s time for FHA to pass along some modest savings to working families,” Castro said. “This is a fiscally responsible measure to price our mortgage insurance in a way that protects our insurance fund while preserving the dream of homeownership for credit-qualified borrowers.”

      HUD officials say they carefully weighed the risks of lowering premiums and concluded the fund's value is more than adequate to reimburse the government in the event of default.

      There have been significantly fewer foreclosures in recent years since mortgage lenders raised lending standards. Unlike the lower standards in place during the early 2000s housing bubble, borrowers must document income and employment and have higher credit scores.

      Since the housing meltdown, Castro says FHA raised mortgage insurance premiums several times to increase the size of the MMIF. While it increased the health of the fund, he says it also significantly increased the cost of credit to qualified borrowers.

      Now that the cost of mortgage insurance is coming down, National Association of Realtors (NAR) President William E. Brown says more consumers will be able to qualify for an FHA loan.

      “This is a question of simple math,” Brown said. “Every time we cut the cost of mortgage insurance it means more borrowers meet the debt-to-income ratio required to purchase a home.”

      The cost of things usually go up, not down, but the U.S. government's Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is reducing the yearly premiums for mortgage ins...
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      Toyota recalls model year 2017 Toyota 86 vehicles

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

      Toyota Motor Company is recalling 94 model year 2017 Toyota 86 vehicles manufactured July 1, 2016 through August 11, 2016 equipped with an automatic transmission and ignition key.

      Vehicles with a push-to-start button or manual transmission are not affected.

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

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

      What to do

      Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the ignition key/transmission interlock wiring connections, correcting them as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in January 2017.

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

      Toyota Motor Company is recalling 94 model year 2017 Toyota 86 vehicles manufactured July 1, 2016 through August 11, 2016 equipped with an automatic transm...
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      Route 11 recalls sour cream & chive flavored potato chips

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Route 11 Potato Chips is recalling its Sour Cream & Chive Potato Chips in 2-oz. and 6-oz bags, produced with best by dates from February 2 – June 10, 2017.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      There have been no reported illnesses associated with this product to date.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should return it to the store where purchased it for a full refund.

      Route 11 Potato Chips is recalling its Sour Cream & Chive Potato Chips in 2-oz. and 6-oz bags, produced with best by dates from February 2 – June 10, 2017....
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      Ford recalls F-250 and F-350 Super Duty trucks

      The fuel tank strap may separate from the frame

      Ford Motor Company recalling 7,105 model year 2017 F-250 and F-350 Super Duty trucks manufactured August 10, 2016, to September 17, 2016.

      The frame reinforcement bracket may not have been attached to the front fuel tank strap, allowing the fuel tank strap to separate from the frame.

      A fuel tank strap that separates and allows the fuel tank to contact the ground may cause a fuel leak, increasing the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and, if necessary, install the reinforcement bracket, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin February 6, 2017.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 16S45.

      Ford Motor Company recalling 7,105 model year 2017 F-250 and F-350 Super Duty trucks manufactured August 10, 2016, to September 17, 2016.The frame rein...
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      Toshiba expands recall of laptop computer battery packs

      The lithium-ion battery packs can overheat

      Toshiba America Information Systems of Irvine, Calif., is expanding its March 2016 recall of Panasonic battery packs used in Toshiba laptop computers by about 83,000.

      Some 91,000 units were recalled in March 2016. In addition, 10,000 were sold in Canada and 5,000 in Mexico.

      The lithium-ion battery packs can overheat, posing burn and fire hazards to consumers.

      The firm has received five reports of the battery pack overheating and melting, including one additional report since the first recall announcement. No injuries have been reported.

      This expanded recall involves Panasonic lithium-ion battery packs installed in 41 models of Toshiba Satellite laptops, including the Satellite models affected by the March 2016 recall.

      Toshiba has expanded the number of battery packs to include those sold between June 2011 and November 2016. The battery packs also were sold separately and installed by Toshiba as part of a repair. Battery packs included in this recall have part numbers that begin with G71C (G71C*******). Part numbers are printed on the battery pack.

      A complete list of battery pack part numbers included in this recall can be found at http://go.toshiba.com/battery.

      Battery packs previously identified as not affected by the March 2016 recall are included in this expanded announcement.

      The batteries, manufactured in China, were sold at Office Depot, Staples and other electronics stores nationwide, and online at Toshibadirect.com and other websites from June 2011, through November 2016, for between $500 and $1,000 for the laptop and between $70 and $130 for the battery pack.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately go to the firm’s website and click on the battery pack utility link in the first shadowed box on the page.

      Consumers also can perform a manual check using the laptop and battery pack’s model, part and serial numbers. If it is part of the recall, consumers should power off the laptop, remove the battery and follow the instructions to obtain a free replacement battery pack.

      Until a replacement battery pack is received, consumers should use the laptop by plugging into AC power only.

      Consumers may contact Toshiba toll-free at 866-224-1346 any day between 5 a.m. and 11 p.m. (PT), online at http://go.toshiba.com/battery or at www.us.toshiba.com and click on “Consumer Notices” under the Support heading at the bottom of the page.

      Toshiba America Information Systems of Irvine, Calif., is expanding its March 2016 recall of Panasonic battery packs used in Toshiba laptop computers by ab...
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      Feds & NY challenge Prevagen, which claims to improve memory in seniors

      "Clear-cut fraud, from the label on the bottle to the ads," NY attorney general argues

      The Federal Trade Commission and New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman have sued dietary supplement maker Quincy Bioscience, LLC, charging that it deceptively markets the widely-sold supplement Prevagen by falsely claiming that it improves memory, despite lacking reliable scientific evidence.

      “The marketing for Prevagen is a clear-cut fraud, from the label on the bottle to the ads airing across the country,” said Schneiderman. “It’s particularly unacceptable that this company has targeted vulnerable citizens like seniors in its advertising for a product that costs more than a week’s groceries, but provides none of the health benefits that it claims. Quincy Bioscience must be held accountable for deliberately misleading consumers across the country.”

      Quincy Bioscience said it "vehemently disagrees" with the allegations and said the case was "another example of government overreach and regulators extinguishing innovation by imposing arbitrary new rules on small businesses like ours."

      “Prevagen is safe. Neither the FTC nor the New York Attorney General has alleged that Prevagen can cause or has caused harm to anyone. And hundreds of thousands people tell us it works and improves their lives," the company's statement said. 

      Prevagen, which can cost up to $69 per bottle, is sold at major retailers and pharmacies across the country, including CVS, Walgreens, Rite-Aid, the Vitamin Shoppe, and Amazon. Sales of Prevagen in the United States from 2007 through mid-2015, minus refunds, totaled $165 million.

      "Clearer thinking"

      In its advertising and product labeling, Quincy Bioscience claims that Prevagen is “clinically shown” to support “clearer thinking” and to “improve memory within 90 days” – yet, the primary support Quincy Bioscience has for these claims is a single study that failed to show a statistically significant improvement in the treatment group over the placebo group on any of the cognitive measures used, Schneiderman said.

      Quincy Bioscience developed and marketed Prevagen on the theory that its active ingredient, apoaequorin, a dietary protein, enters the human brain to supplement proteins that are lost during the natural aging process. Yet the complaint charges that Quincy Bioscience lacks any studies showing that this orally-administered protein can cross the human blood brain barrier, and in fact, Quincy’s own studies show that the protein is rapidly digested in the stomach and broken down into amino acids like any other dietary protein.

      “The marketers of Prevagen preyed on the fears of older consumers experiencing age-related memory loss,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Yet despite the defendants’ claims, there is no scientific proof that use of the product will improve memory or provide any other cognitive benefit.”

      In its statement, which was not attributed to any specific individual, Quincy insisted its product works as claimed.

      “Quincy has amassed a large body of evidence that Prevagen improves memory and supports healthy brain function. This evidence includes preclinical rat studies, canine studies, human clinical studies, and, most importantly, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled human clinical testing. This type of testing has long been acknowledged by both the FTC and the FDA to be the ‘gold standard’ for scientific evidence.

      The lawsit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and seeks a ban on further false claims about Prevagen, restitution for consumers, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, and civil penalties for violations of state law. 

      The Federal Trade Commission and New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman have sued dietary supplement maker Quincy Bioscience, LLC, charging that it...
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      Heartburn medicine in pregnancy linked to increased risk of asthma in children

      Researchers say the potential link is worth studying in greater depth

      Heartburn is just one of the many symptoms you can you expect when you’re expecting. During pregnancy, acidic digestive acids tend to splash back up as a result of hormonal changes and pressure on the stomach from a growing uterus.

      Nearly half of expectant mothers experience the uncomfortable, chest-focused burning sensation throughout their pregnancy. Heartburn medication may ease the discomfort, but could it have a negative effect on a womb’s occupant?

      New research suggests that children born to mothers who take heartburn medication during pregnancy may have a greater risk of developing asthma. The potential association was uncovered following a review of eight previous studies involving more than 1.3 million children.

      One third more likely

      Experts say the link isn’t conclusive, and moms-to-be should continue using heartburn medicines as recommended by their doctors. Further research will help determine whether the pills affect the health of children or if the association is caused by a separate, linked factor.

      Nevertheless, researchers found that children born to mothers who had been prescribed acid-suppressing drugs during pregnancy were at least one third more likely to have visited a doctor for symptoms of asthma. 

      “We don’t yet know if the heartburn medication itself is contributing to the development of asthma in children, or if there is common factor we haven’t discovered yet that causes both heartburn in pregnant women and asthma in their children,” said Dr. Samantha Walker, Director of Policy and Research at Asthma UK.

      Jean Golding, an emeritus professor of pediatric epidemiology at the University of Bristol, says the heartburn itself, not the drugs used to treat it, may be the most important association. Other experts say obesity in the expectant mother could play a key role. 

      More research needed

      Acid-blocking drugs called H2-receptor antagonists and proton pump inhibitors have been considered safe to use in pregnancy because they do not affect the development of the baby. 

      However, previous studies suggested that these drugs may impact the immune system of an unborn baby, leading to an increased risk of allergies. Subsequent studies to investigate the link were inconclusive, the researchers noted.

      The new study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, was led by the Universities of Edinburgh and Tampere in Finland. The investigators stress that the research is still at an early stage.

      “Expectant mums should continue to take any medication they need under the guidance of their doctor or nurse,” Walker said, adding that the study "points us towards something that needs further investigation which is why we need to see more research carried out into the causes of asthma.”

      Heartburn is just one of the many symptoms you can you expect when you’re expecting. During pregnancy, acidic digestive acids tend to splash back up as a r...
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      Technology competes with style and performance at Detroit Auto Show

      Automakers offer fresh takes on popular models

      The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), more commonly called the Detroit Auto Show, is underway with manufacturers vying for attention for their new concept cars.

      Forbes reports crossovers from Audi and Infinity have gotten a lot of the early attention, but that important changes have also been announced for the Toyota Camry, BMW 5-Series and Lexus LS.

      New technology will also be on display, from in-car comfort and convenience to the latest in driver-assist features. In fact, the marriage of cars and technology has become so important that the automotive press showed up at last week's Consumer Electronics Show and the technology press is well-represented this week in Detroit.

      “We expect to see new technology debuted at the show and, importantly, existing technology more widely offered,” said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at AutoTrader. “That’s what consumers are most interested in – in-car technology.”

      Technology rates higher than brand with consumers

      Krebs said Autotrader's recent Tech Impact Study demonstrated the right technology is more important to consumers than ever. For a growing number of buyers, she said technology is more important than brand.”

      With SUVs and crossovers proving to be popular with consumers, it's no surprise carmakers have brought plenty examples to the show. GM has a number of redesigned SUVs for the 2018 model-year. The 2018 Chevrolet Traverse features more traditional SUV styling while providing the requisite comfortable, high-tech interior.

      “Last year’s introduction of the Chrysler Pacifica breathed new life into the minivan segment,” Krebs said. “Honda ups the ante with the remake of the always-popular Odyssey.”

      Electric cars may have lately fallen out of favor with falling gasoline prices, but automakers are betting that won't last. GM says the new Chevy Bolt offers a breakthrough in EV technology, extending the range without running up the price.

      The new Genesis G90 from Hyundai is also turning heads. It offers traditional luxury features at a significantly lower sticker price. Volvo is also getting some attention with its S90. It is said to combine luxury with enhancements in its infotainment system.

      The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), more commonly called the Detroit Auto Show, is underway with manufacturers vying for attention for thei...
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      iPhone introduced 10 years ago today

      Device arguably changed how humans interact

      “Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone,” Apple co-founder Steve Jobs said on January 9, 2007.

      In a presentation to the Apple faithful, Jobs proceeded to introduce a new mobile phone that not only turned an industry upside down, but changed how human beings interact with one another.

      In the 10 years since Apple's introduction of the iPhone, smartphones have been used less for talking and more for communicating on social media, buying things online, getting directions and watching TV. In other words, they have become computers in our pockets. Chances are, you're reading this on one.

      It was a vision that Jobs, who died of cancer in 2011, laid out in the presentation below.

      Exclusive to AT&T

      Apple partnered with AT&T in the development of the iPhone and for several years, AT&T was the exclusive carrier for the device.

      In his presentation Jobs mentioned that Apple had patented its revolutionary design, expressing confidence that the smartphone future belonged to Apple. But after Google's Android operating system appeared and was adopted by many electronics manufacturers, a protracted legal battle ensued. In the end, Apple found that it had to share the smartphone space.

      According to Statista, there are approximately 215 million smartphone users in the U.S., with the number estimated to reach 222.9 million this year. The number of users worldwide is projected to reach 2 billion by the end of this year.

      “Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone,” Apple co-founder Steve Jobs said on January 9, 2007.In a presentation to the Apple faithful, Jobs procee...
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      TreeHouse Foods amends “best by” dates in mac & cheese recall

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      TreeHouse Foods is amending the “best by” dates used in its December 2016, recall of macaroni and cheese cup products.

      The products contain cheddar cheese seasoning that may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      There have been no confirmed illnesses to date.

      The following list contains the products being recalled with their amended “best by” dates:

      DescriptionUPCBest By Date
      Big Win Original Macaroni & Cheese Dinner001 182 258 40310/24/2017
      10/25/2017
      Cheese Club Express Mac Macaroni & Cheese
      Dinner
      004 149 817 16710/20/2017
      10/21/2017
      10/22/2017
      10/23/2017
      10/28/2017
      10/29/2017
      10/31/2017
      11/1/2017
      11/2/2017
      11/3/2017
      11/4/2017
      11/10/2017
      11/11/2017
      11/16/2017
      11/17/2017
      11/18/2017
      11/21/2017
      11/22/2017
      11/23/2017
      11/28/2017
      Great Value Macaroni & Cheese Original Cups007 874 208 24910/18/2017
      10/19/2017
      10/21/2017
      10/22/2017
      10/26/2017
      10/27/2017
      10/28/2017
      11/3/2017
      11/6/2017
      11/7/2017
      11/17/2017
      11/18/2017
      11/19/2017
      11/20/2017
      11/21/2017
      11/22/2017

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should dispose of or return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may call 1-800-756-5781, Monday – Friday, 7:00 a.m.– 6:00 p.m. (CST).

      TreeHouse Foods is amending the “best by” dates used in its December 2016, recall of macaroni and cheese cup products.The products contain cheddar chee...
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      5 habits of financially fit consumers: #5, Saving and investing

      Personal finance experts offer tips for starting a savings program

      If you adopt the habits of financially fit consumers – checking your credit report, analyzing your budget, setting goals and managing debt, chances are you're going to find you have money left over at the end of each month.

      That, after all, is the objective. So, what does the financially fit consumer do with that left over money?

      Paul Golden, spokesman for the National Endowment for Financial Education, says it's important to understand the difference between saving and investing. Interest rate changes, inflation and economic turbulence are factors to be considered.

      “Talk to a Certified Financial Planner, who can make investment recommendations based on your specific life and financial situation,” Golden told ConsumerAffairs. “Interview several candidates before selecting a financial advisor and make sure you know how he or she is paid.”

      Golden says some financial planners work for flat fees, while others take a percentage of your portfolio or earn a commission for selling certain products.

      Sometimes it's hard to get started

      That's very much in Michelle Perry Higgins' wheelhouse. Higgins is Principal and Financial Planner of California Financial Advisors, in San Ramon, Calif. She often hears consumers say it's hard to save because they live paycheck-to-paycheck. In that case, she advises to start small.

      “I call it the 1% rule, she said. “Start saving 1% of your income into your employer retirement plan and 1% into your emergency reserve. Then, try to increase each bucket another percent every year.”

      To prevent backsliding, she recommends making savings to these accounts a non-discretionary systematic withdrawal.

      “Beginning is always the hardest part and the 1% savings is typically not missed and easily achievable for families on a tight budget,” Higgens said.

      Pay yourself first

      Diane Moogalian, Vice President, Customer Care, Equifax, agrees with that approach. She suggests consumers pay themselves first.

      “It’s a simple concept, but with today’s life conveniences at our fingertips, it’s one that’s often overlooked,” Moogalian said. “Think about how much some of the little things we like to call 'coffee and conveniences' may add up – a daily cup of coffee that you pay for may add up. Make sure that you pay yourself first and contribute to your savings account.”

      Bruce McClary, Vice-president of Communications for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, also recommends starting small with a savings program, saying the goal has to be reasonable.

      “Sometimes that means starting very small, like setting aside all the spare change you get in a month,” McClary said. “At the end of the month, count it and calculate a 10% increase for the next month. That becomes your new savings goal in the month ahead.”

      At the same time, he says consumers should be looking for ways to trim their budget here and there.

      “For motivation, create a reward for reaching a milestone after six months or a year,” he said. “Treat yourself with a portion of what you saved, but be sure to leave most of it alone so it can continue to grow over time.”

      Once you become a financially-fit consumer, McClary says you'll be surprised at how much you will be able to put into savings each month. Setting aside 20% or more of income, he says, is not unusual.

      If you adopt the habits of financially fit consumers – checking your credit report, analyzing your budget, setting goals and managing debt, chances are you...
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      Winter weather tips for dog owners

      Six ways to protect your pooch when the temperature drops

      When temperatures are freezing, you’re likely to take a few extra precautions before heading outdoors. Among them: grabbing a coat and making sure your extremities are protected against the elements.

      Pets require special care in freezing temperatures, too. This time of year, pet parents are reminded that fur coats don’t offer all the protection pets need -- pets feel the bitter cold as easily as humans.

      To keep pets warm and safe in winter, experts recommend reducing outdoor activities. What else can pet owners can do to protect their pets during severe weather? Here are a few tips from experts.

      Winter weather pet safety

      The ASPCA notes that exposure to winter’s dry, cold air, and chilly sleet and snow can cause chapped paws, and itchy, flaking skin. Pet parents can reduce these discomforts and prevent other cold weather dangers from affecting pets by taking the following advice:

      • Forgo pet haircuts. Because longer coats give dogs more insulation, the ASPCA advises against shaving your dog in the winter. If you have a short-haired pup, consider having him sport a winter coat or sweater with a high collar or turtleneck in cold weather.
      • Wipe down your pet. Make sure to wipe down your pet’s belly, legs, and paws. Paws caked with snow, salt, and ice-melting chemicals can irritate and even harm your pet if licked or swallowed. If possible, apply petroleum jelly or another paw protectant to your pet’s paws before venturing out for a winter walk.  
      • Give extra food and water. Pets tend to burn a little more energy in the winter trying to stay warm. For this reason, experts recommend feeding your pet a little extra during winter months. Additionally, make sure your pet has access to plenty of clean, fresh water -- dry winter weather can be particularly dehydrating.
      • Reduce baths. Baths can strip your dog of important essential oils, so fully bathe your pooch as little as possible during cold weather. If a bath is necessary, use a moisturizing shampoo and/or rinse. Just hoping to de-stink your dog? Consider using dry shampoo.
      • Provide a warm place to sleep. Keep your dog comfortable and toasty at night by setting up a warm place to sleep. A pet bed with a blanket or pillow will work, as long as it’s off the floor and away from drafts.  
      • Keep an eye on pets. Many pets get disoriented and lost in winter, so be sure to keep your pet on a leash when outside. Finally, remember that if it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for them -- let dogs and cats come inside when it’s very cold outside.
      When temperatures are freezing, you’re likely to take a few extra precautions before heading outdoors. Among them: grabbing a coat and making sure your ext...
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      Lawsuit: Sugary sodas no laughing matter

      Coca-Cola commercials downplay health risks, the suit charges

      Sugar is no joke, says a lawsuit that accuses the Coca-Cola Company and the American Beverage Association of downplaying the health risks of sugary soda.

      The suit, filed by the nonprofit Praxis Project, takes issue with commercials that claim even small amounts of exercise -- like laughing for 75 seconds -- can negate the effects of the sugar in a 12-ounce can of regular Coke. The Praxis suit says the commercials are deceptive. 

      “From the 1950s until the late 1990s, the tobacco industry engaged in an elaborate campaign of disinformation to cast doubt on the science connecting cigarettes to lung cancer and other diseases,” said Maia C. Kats, litigation director of the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, which is providing legal counsel to Praxis.  “Today the soda industry is engaged in its own campaign of disinformation to cast doubt on the science connecting sugar-sweetened beverages to obesity, and obesity-related diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease."

      Kats said the lawsuit "seeks to stop Coke and the ABA from deceiving the public on the science linking obesity and related diseases to regular consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.”  

      Praxis describes itself as "a movement support intermediary committed to capacity building for social change." CSPI is a longtime crusader for safer food and beverages.

      As an example, the groups cite a YouTube commercial (below), “Be OK,” as “spreading misinformation” by suggesting that “exercise, even small amounts like laughing or bowling, can offset the harmful effects of drinking soda.”

      "Happy calories"

      The video notes that the “140 happy calories” in a 12-ounce can of regular Coke can be spent on “extra happy activities” such as 25 minutes of dog walking, 10 minutes of dancing, or 75 seconds of laughing out loud. 

      The complaint also cites numerous alleged examples of Coca-Cola and ABA officials making false and deceptive statements about sugar-sweetened drinks.  For example:

      • Coca-Cola’s senior vice president, Katie Bayne, claims that “[t]here is no scientific evidence that connects sugary beverages to obesity.” 
      • “Coca-Cola is an excellent complement to the habits of a healthy life,” said former Coca-Cola chairman and CEO Douglas Ivester. 
      • “There is no unique link between soda consumption and obesity,” claims a post on the ABA’s website.
      • “Simply put, it is wrong to say beverages cause disease,” the ABA stated in another release. 
      • Coke’s incoming CEO, James Quincey, equated sugar-sweetened beverages to any other calories, dismissing their unique contribution to the obesity epidemic by asserting such beverages contribute only two percent of calories overall.

      Coca-Cola called the suit “legally and factually meritless.” In a prepared statement, the company said: “We take our consumers and their health very seriously and have been on a journey to become a more credible and helpful partner in helping consumers manage their sugar consumption."

      The suit was filed in a California federal court Wednesday. 

      Screenshot from a Coca-Cola commercialSugar is no joke, says a lawsuit that accuses the Coca-Cola Company and the American Beverage Association of do...
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      5 habits of financially fit consumers: #4, Managing debt

      Personal finance experts offer tips for handling credit cards and other debt

      There is one habit that all financially fit consumers have in common. They have a knack for managing debt.

      This is especially important when it comes to using credit cards.

      “Financially fit people use credit cards only when they have the ability to responsibly manage their debt,” Bruce McClary, Vice-president of Communication for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, told ConsumerAffairs. “Debt is usually handled in a way where payments are well above the minimum amount due in order to avoid a lengthy and costly repayment cycle.”

      Paul Golden, spokesman for the National Endowment for Financial Education, says it's usually not a good idea to carry a balance on your credit cards from month to month.

      “However, a good way to identify if you are in a safe or danger zone with debt is to look at your overall amount owed compared to your income,” Goldman said. “You should keep your debt at less than 20% of your income for credit cards, student loans, and car loans. In determining your credit score, your total amount owed relative to how much credit you have available accounts for 30% of your overall score.

      Not all debt is bad

      Diane Moogalian, Vice President of Customer Care at Equifax, says not all debt should be viewed as bad.

      “For example, a mortgage – where you’re building equity – is often seen as good debt,” Moogalian said. “In addition, student loan debt, where a consumer is receiving a college education, may be interpreted as good debt.”

      But she cautions that student loans can easily become “bad debt” if a borrower loses track of how much he or she owes, or doesn’t have a reasonable plan in place to pay it back.

      As for credit cards, she says financially fit consumers understand the difference between a “want” and a “need.” They have a budget and they stick to it.

      “I have never met a type of debt that I liked,” said Michelle Perry Higgins, Principal and Financial Planner of the California Financial Advisors.

      When debt can increase your income

      However, she concedes there are some cases where acquiring debt can actually increase your income and your net worth over time.

      “Loans that pay for a college education are one of these 'good debts,'” she said. “Credit cards are examples of not so good debt if you fail to pay off the balance monthly and get hit with a whopping interest rate charge.”

      In general, financially fit consumers use credit cards to their advantage. They pay off the balance each month to avoid paying any interest on their charges. Higgins says they also use rewards credit cards that earn miles or cash back. That way, the credit card company pays you, instead of the other way around.

      There is one habit that all financially fit consumers have in common. They have a knack for managing debt.This is especially important when it comes to...
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      Polaris recalls Sportsman 570 ATVs

      The vehicle may present a fire hazard

      Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 9,900 Sportsman 570 all-terrain vehicles that may present a fire hazard.

      The company has received 35 reports of damaged fuel rails and leaks. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves model year 2014 through 2016 Sportsman 570 Touring and X2 model ATVs and model year 2017 Sportsman 570 6x6 model ATVs. The recalled ATVs have one or two seats with four or six tires. “Sportsman” and the model type are printed on the side of the steering column and “Polaris” is printed near the front grill. The ATVs were sold in several colors.

      The vehicle identification numbers (VIN) are printed on the front or rear frame near the back tire. 

      The following vehicles are being recalled:

      Polaris 2014 - 2017 Sportsman 570 Touring, 6x6, X2

      Model Year

      Model Number

      Model

      Price

      2014

      A14DH57AA

      SPORTSMAN TOURING 570 EFI SAGE GREEN

       $           7,700.00

      2014

      A14DH57AJ

      SPORTSMAN TOURING 570 EFI BRIGHT WHITE

       $           7,700.00

      2015

      A15SDA57AA

      SPORTSMAN TOURING 570 SAGE GREEN

       $           7,800.00

      2015

      A15SDE57AJ

      SPORTSMAN TOURING 570 EPS BRIGHT WHITE

       $           8,700.00

      2015

      A15SJE57AS

      SPORTSMAN TOURING 570 SP SUNSET RED

       $           9,400.00

      2015

      A15SJE57AV

      SPORTSMAN TOURING 570 SP BLUE FIRE

       $           9,400.00

      2015

      A15SWE57AA

      SPORTSMAN X2 570 EPS SAGE GREEN

       $           9,700.00

      2015

      A15SWE57AD

      SPORTSMAN X2 570 EPS INDY RED

       $           9,700.00

      2016

      A16SDA57A1

      SPORTSMAN TOURING 570 SAGE GREEN

       $           7,800.00

      2016

      A16SDE57A2

      SPORTSMAN TOURING 570 EPS BRIGHT WHITE

       $           8,700.00

      2016

      A16SJE57AB

      SPORTSMAN TOURING 570 SP BLUE FIRE

       $           9,400.00

      2016

      A16SWE57A1

      SPORTSMAN X2 570 EPS SAGE GREEN

       $           9,700.00

      2016

      A16SWE57A7

      SPORTSMAN X2 570 EPS INDY RED

       $           9,700.00

      2017

      A17S6E57A1

      SPORTSMAN 6X6 570 EPS SAGE GREEN

       $         11,000.00

      The ATVs, manufactured in the U.S. and Mexico, were sold at Polaris dealers nationwide from May 2013, through December 2016, for between $7,700 and $11,000.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled ATVs and contact Polaris to schedule a free repair. Polaris is contacting all known purchasers directly.

      Consumers may contact Polaris at 800-765-2747 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday or online at www.polaris.com and click on “Off-Road Safety Recalls” at the bottom of the page for more information.

      Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 9,900 Sportsman 570 all-terrain vehicles that may present a fire hazard.The company has receive...
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      Model year 2016 Buick Envisions recalled

      The master cylinder brake lines may crack and leak brake fluid

      General Motors is recalling 327 model year 2016 Buick Envisions manufactured January 19, 2016, to March 18, 2016.

      The master cylinder brake lines may crack and leak brake fluid, which could reduce braking performance and increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the master cylinder brake lines, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Buick customer service at 1-800-521-7300. GM's number for this recall is 16169.

      General Motors is recalling 327 model year 2016 Buick Envisions manufactured January 19, 2016, to March 18, 2016.The master cylinder brake lines may cr...
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      Researchers develop a way for consumers to burn excess fat

      The solution would take place at the cellular level, but more research is needed

      Consumers looking to lose weight may have spent countless hours in a sweltering gym trying to burn away excess fat. But is there an easier way to melt away the pounds that isn’t so labor-intensive and time consuming?

      Perhaps not yet, but scientists at the University of Bonn believe that they have a potential answer. Dr. Alexander Pfeifer and his fellow researchers have been researching how to burn away fat for years, and a recent study using mice shows that making changes at the cellular level could make it possible.

      The process involves converting unwanted white fat cells into brown slimming cells that consume energy. The difference between the cells is that the latter is packed with much more mitochondria, the so-called “power stations” of the cell. These extra reserves of mitochondria take white fat cells and use them to produce thermal energy, effectively burning them away.

      During the study, the researchers converted white fat cells into brown slimming cells in mice and found that the subjects lost a significant amount of weight after the process was completed. Additionally, they found that combining this process with certain active ingredients reduced the number of white fat cells and increased the number of brown slimming cells, which accelerated the fat burning process. This gives some hope that this kind of therapy could be used to combat obesity and obesity-related health conditions, such as joint problems, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.

      Problems to work out

      While the findings are encouraging, Pfeifer and his team say that there are some complications that need to be worked out with the process, specifically when used with obese subjects.

      Currently, the use of the certain active ingredients kicks fat burning into overdrive, but certain types of fat have proven to be more resistant due to inflammation. Specifically, the researchers noted that subcutaneous fat – the kind found closest to the surface of the skin – was affected normally by the therapy, but deeper-lying abdominal fat was more problematic.

      The researchers found that subjects with this deeper-lying fat had much more inflammation than those who didn’t, and that inflammation effectively shuts down and blocks the pathways that the therapy uses to turn white fat cells into brown fat cells. Additionally, the risk of this kind of inflammation is already high because it promotes cardiovascular diseases, which makes the problem twice as bad, the researchers said.

      While a concrete solution has not yet materialized, researcher and lead author Abhishek Sanyal believes that halting the abdominal fat’s inflammatory response while simultaneously administering the therapy’s active ingredients could be a good starting point for tests.

      The full study has been published in Cell Reports.

      Consumers looking to lose weight may have spent countless hours in a sweltering gym trying to burn away excess fat. But is there an easier way to melt away...
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      Finding a new job a top New Years resolution

      CareerBuilder survey finds slightly more workers are planning a move than last year

      The beginning of a new year often signals a fresh start, so it might not be surprising that a new survey has found a lot of Americans expect to be working somewhere else by the time 2018 rolls around.

      Jobs site CareerBuilder.com found 22% of people with jobs plan to find a new one during the next 12 months, a slight increase over last year. Younger workers in the survey were more likely to be planning a move.

      "Whether it's unemployed people trying to find their way back to the workforce or those who are currently employed attempting an upgrade to greener pastures, a new year makes many people set their sights on job hunting," said Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer for CareerBuilder.

      The takeaway for employers, says Haefner, is to stay in touch with the contentment level of key employees. She even suggests polling employees periodically to learn more about their goals and motivations and how they want to be treated.

      Other resolutions for 2017

      When asked about other goals for the coming year, 49% of employees said they want to save more of their money. Thirty-eight percent said they want to be less stressed and 20% plan to ask for a raise.

      As for what employees should be resolving for 2017, Haefner suggests growing your network. Expand the usual roster of groups and try to grow your professional network even wider.

      Brand-building is also big. Haefner suggests presenting a clear message of who you are and what attributes you bring to the table.

      Don't neglect social media. Follow companies you like and engage with them at every opportunity. Consider writing a blog showcasing your career interests and expertise and make sure there are no embarrassing photos from yesteryear floating around on the internet that could come back to haunt you.

      As for your chances of landing a new job in 2017, CareerBuilder says it will reveal some data on that later this week in its annual Jobs Forecast.  

      The beginning of a new year often signals a fresh start, so it might not be surprising that a new survey has found a lot of Americans expect to be working...
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      5 habits of financially fit consumers: #2, Budget analysis

      Personal finance experts say an income and spending blueprint is a vital document

      Consumers who have their financial lives well in hand do a lot of simple things right, something the rest of us might emulate in the coming year.

      Besides reviewing their credit report on a regular basis, they also review their budget. They measure income against expenses and plan for the future.

      Author and financial planner Michelle Perry Higgins, principal of California Financial Advisors in San Ramon, Calif., says before you can do a budget analysis, however, you need a budget procedure that works for you.

      “First, pick a method to track your income and outflow. Whether it is an Excel spreadsheet, a financial website, or an app on your phone, you need to have a means of tracking where your money is going,” she told ConsumerAffairs.

      Higgins says you also need expense categories that make sense to you and set a limit for how much you want to spend in each category. Finally, keep track every penny that you spend.

      Know where you've been

      Bruce McClary, Vice President of Communications for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, says accurate tracking is important because it is easier to understand where you need to go if you have a better sense of where you have already been.

      McClary recommends tracking all of your spending for at least a month to see if it reflects your budget goals.

      “The second step is to review all sources of income, focusing on what you have left after payroll deductions like taxes and insurance,” he said. “Then you will want to review your debts, including balances and monthly payments. Once you have all of that information, you can see how much of your income is being allocated to each budget category including personal savings. If you have leftover money, you can determine how best to apply it toward debt repayment or savings.”

      And financially fit consumers don't just do this one time. Diane Moogalian, Vice-president of Customer Care at Equifax, says it should be part of a monthly routine.

      “If you analyze your budget at the start of a New Year, make changes, and set your budget, reviewing it once a month can be a helpful way to ensure you’re staying on track with the goals you set at the start of the year,” Moogalian said. “It may also be easier to course correct during the course of one month, versus waiting until you’re off track for several months at a time. Catching up is never an easy thing to do!”

      Credit cards deserve extra attention

      Paul Golden, spokesman for the National Endowment for Financial Education, says one area of budget analysis that may require special attention is credit card debt. He says credit card spending is either one of two things – it's a convenient substitute for cash, to be paid when the bill comes, or it's spending money you don't really have.

      “Financially fit consumers understand the basics before using credit cards: knowing your spending habits – how will you use the card and will you be able to pay it off each month, what the interest rate is and how it is calculated, what are the fees and expenses associated with the card, and how the incentive program works,” Golden told ConsumerAffairs.

      But if you are using a credit card to pay for things you don't have the money to pay for, you are simply digging a credit hole that could take years to get out of.

      Financially fit consumers don't use credit cards that way, and neither should you.

      Consumers who have their financial lives well in hand do a lot of simple things right, something the rest of us might emulate in the coming year.Beside...
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      Parents' weight may affect child development, study finds

      Children of obese moms more likely to experience delays in fine motor skill development

      Toddlers born to obese parents may be more likely to experience developmental delays, a new study suggests.

      Researchers from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development found that maternal obesity is often associated with a delay in fine motor skill development. Paternal obesity was also found to have a unique influence on kids' development.

      Children of obese mothers were more likely to fail tests of fine motor skills by age 3, but whether the child’s mother, father, or both parents were obese affected which specific developmental problems that surfaced.

      While mothers’ obesity was linked with a delay in achieving fine-motor skills, fathers’ obesity was associated with delays in achieving personal and social skills. When both parents were extremely obese, kids were more likely to fail tests of problem solving ability.

      Dad’s weight matters

      One in 5 pregnant women in the U.S. is overweight or obese. Previous studies have focused on the mothers’ pre- and post-pregnancy weight, but study author Edwina Yeung, Ph.D. says the new study suggests that dad’s weight also has an influence on child development.

      A series of tests, beginning when kids were 4 months old, showed that kids with obese mothers were 70% more likely to fail tests of fine motor skill by age 3 compared to children of normal weight mothers.

      Findings also revealed that children of obese fathers were 75% more likely to fail a test designed to gauge personal-social skills, such as how well they were able to relate to and interact with others. Kids with two obese parents were nearly three times more likely to fail the test’s problem solving section by age 3.

      Possible reason for association

      Dr. Yeung, an investigator in NICHD’s Division of Intramural Population Health Research, says it's not yet known why parental obesity may increase a child’s risk for developmental delay.

      Animal studies could help to explain the link, at least in the case of maternal obesity. Yeung and her co-authors cite previous research indicating that an animal’s obesity during pregnancy may promote inflammation, which could affect the fetal brain.

      The link between paternal obesity and child development is similarly hazy, however some studies suggest that obesity could affect the expression of genes in sperm.

      More research needed

      Yeung and her colleagues say more studies are needed to confirm the link between parental obesity and developmental delays. Once a link is confirmed, the authors say doctors could begin taking parental weight into account when screening young children for delays.

      Obese parents shouldn’t necessarily be consumed with concern over this study, says Dr. Ian Miller, a pediatric neurologist and director of neuroinformatics at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami.

      "Children of obese parents are not doomed to have developmental problems," Miller told HealthDay, noting that any medical condition that affects the brain can cause developmental problems. He believes that every child who may have a developmental problem should be screened and given help, regardless of his or her parents’ weight.

      The study has been published online in the journal Pediatrics.

      Toddlers born to obese parents may be more likely to experience developmental delays, a new study suggests.Researchers from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver...
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      Why Zika may not pose large-scale problems developed countries

      Researchers say that socioeconomic conditions may curb the chances of an epidemic

      Since early last year, worries over the spread of the Zika virus have continued to mount. The virus, which has been shown to cause birth defects in pregnant women, first gained a foothold in Latin America and has since spread to areas across the U.S.

      While locally transmitted cases of Zika have been concentrated in the South, in areas like Florida and Texas, new research from Entomological Society of America suggests that the risk of a large-scale outbreak is lower than many believe. While the climate around the U.S. is conducive for mosquitoes – which carry the virus – to thrive, researchers say that socioeconomic factors give the U.S. and other developed countries an advantage.

      "It seems clear that the main factors keeping outbreaks of these diseases from occurring today are socioeconomic such as lifestyle, housing infrastructure, and good sanitation. While such conditions are maintained, it seems unlikely that large scale local transmission will occur, especially in northern states," the authors of the study said.

      Socioeconomic problem

      In their paper, the researchers point out that diseases transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, such as Zika, yellow fever, dengue, and chikungunya, occur primarily in developing countries with low socioeconomic conditions.

      While the diseases have been known to travel to other areas like the U.S., they say that certain factors like the absence of air conditioning, lack of screen windows, and prevalence of water shortages are main contributors to outbreaks of these diseases.

      While this is good news for most Americans, the authors say that there are other factors that can increase risk for developed countries. One of them, which we previously discussed after the disaster of Hurricane Matthew, is how natural disasters could increase infection rates.

      "If the isolation between humans and Ae. aegypti mosquitoes in the U.S. is primarily caused by lifestyle and living infrastructure associated to socioeconomic conditions, these could be threatened by massive natural disasters, or any other event that disrupts current infrastructure," they write.

      Problematic on small scale

      Additionally, the researchers say globalization could affect infection rates in developed countries. Travelers who visit areas with high infection rates can often bring the disease back home with them, which could cause health crises in small regions.

      "The growing interconnection of our global society makes global public health-related issues, such as sanitation and the lack of a continuous supply of running water in developing countries, an important concern to developed countries, as these developing countries may serve as a source of imported cases of disease," they said.

      For these reasons, the researchers think it more likely that Zika will not be a problem on an epidemic level, but one can pose problems on a local, small-scale level in affected communities. The full study has been published in the Journal of Medical Entomology

      Since early last year, worries over the spread of the Zika virus have continued to mount. The virus, which has been shown to cause birth defects in pregnan...
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