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      Apple under investigation for how it handled iPhone slow-down update

      The DOJ and SEC are looking into possible securities laws violations

      The U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating how Apple handled communications regarding the software update that slowed down older iPhone models, Bloomberg reports.

      The report indicates that the investigation is still in the early stages, but the government is starting to look into whether Apple violated securities laws in how it informed consumers about the update that slowed down aging iPhones.

      Earlier this month, Apple apologized for the way it handled the update and announced that a new update was on the way.

      This Spring, users can download iOS 11.3 and switch off the functionality that slows down iPhones as their batteries degrade. However, Apple doesn’t recommend doing so since it can cause unexpected shutdowns.

      Apple responds

      In response to the investigation, Apple told Axios:

      "About a year ago, we delivered a software update that improves power management during peak workloads to avoid unexpected shutdowns on certain iPhones with older batteries. We know that iPhones have become an important part of the daily lives of our customers and our intention was to improve the customer experience.”

      Apple said its actions -- which included dropping the cost of out-of-warranty battery replacements from $79 to $29 and developing a new feature to show battery health -- “were taken to further assist our customers and help extend the life of their iPhones.”

      The company reiterated that it would never do anything to intentionally shorten the life of a user’s Apple product or “degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades.”

      “Our goal has always been to create products that our customers love. Making iPhones last as long as possible is an important part of that.”

      “We have received questions from some government agencies and we are responding to them,”  Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller told The Washington Post in a statement

      Government officials including Sen. John Thune (R - S. Dak.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, have also asked Apple to provide more information on the processor slowdown issue.

      The U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating how Apple handled communications regarding the software update...

      Homeownership rate rose in fourth quarter

      Millennials bucked the trend of rising prices and declining inventory

      A government report shows that despite rising prices and declining available homes, Americans are finding ways to purchase a home of their own.

      The Census Bureau reports the percentage of Americans who own a home rose to 64.2 percent in the fourth quarter of last year from 63.7 percent a year earlier. It's the first rise in more than a decade.

      The report also shows that millennials, for the most part, are driving the home-buying trend. To do so, they have faced rising rents as they have saved for down payments, encountered rapidly rising prices in many markets, and found fewer and fewer entry-level homes to choose from.

      The Census Bureau report shows the homeownership rate among households in the under age 35 group rose to 36 percent in the final three months of last year, up more than one percent year-over-year.

      Sense of urgency

      In its analysis of the housing market, real estate marketplace realtor.com says there is continued strong demand for houses, with the declining number of available homes perhaps creating a sense of urgency, especially among first-time buyers.

      "The macro-factors that have defined real estate in recent years – strong demand and weak supply – continue to set the tone for the industry," said senior economist Joe Kirchner.

      Data compiled by realtor.com suggests millennial homeownership might have been significantly higher in the last quarter if not for tight inventory supplies. This generation is advancing in careers and starting families, life events that often lead to putting down roots.

      But in many markets, there is a notable decline in starter homes on the market. New construction tends to focus on mid to upper tier price points, which carry higher profit margins for builders.

      "Builders will need to focus more on homes geared for moderate incomes, partner with the government on initiatives to transform distressed urban neighborhoods, and overcome labor shortages through a combination of workforce development training and pressure to ease artificial restrictions on the supply of labor," Kirchner said.

      Questions about 2018

      Real estate professions admit there are plenty of question marks for the housing market in 2018. While demand should remain robust for the limited number of available homes, they note that changes in the tax law -- limiting some of the tax advantages to homeownership -- could be a wild card.

      "The new tax law that caps the mortgage interest deduction and the deductibility of state and local taxes can be expected to impact the upper-end market in 2018 – precisely how and the extent of which remain to be seen," Kirchner said.

      A government report shows that despite rising prices and declining available homes, Americans are finding ways to purchase a home of their own.The Cens...

      Land Rover Range Rovers with airbag inflator issue recalled

      The passenger front airbag inflators could explode

      Jaguar Land Rover North America is recalling 2,583 of the following vehicles:

      Model year 2010 Land Rover Range Rovers 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."

      Model year 2009 Land Rover Range Rovers 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 or "Zone C."

      The 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 passenger front airbag, the inflators may explode due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to absolute humidity and temperature cycling.

      An inflator explosion may result in sharp metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      Land Rover will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front passenger airbag assembly, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 28, 2018.

      Owners may contact Land Rover customer service at 1-800-637-6837. Land Rover's number for this recall is P083.

      Jaguar Land Rover North America is recalling 2,583 of the following vehicles:Model year 2010 Land Rover Range Rovers originally sold or ever registered...

      Model year 2018 Ford Expeditions and Lincoln Navigators recalled

      The second row power windows may not reverse

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 361 model year 2018 Ford Expeditions and Lincoln Navigators.

      The second row window control modules may intermittently stop the movement of the power window.

      If something, such as a finger, is pinched by the window glass, the stopped window control module may prevent the window from automatically reversing.

      If the window does not automatically reverse when an obstruction is found, it can increase the risk of injury.

      As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 118, "Power-Operated Window Systems."

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the second row window electronic control modules, and replace them as necessary based on their build date codes, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 5, 2018.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 18C01.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 361 model year 2018 Ford Expeditions and Lincoln Navigators.The second row window control modules may intermittently st...

      Perdue Foods recalls chicken fritters

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

      Perdue Foods of Monterey, Tenn., is recalling approximately 530 pounds of chicken fritters.

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

      There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of this product.

      The ready-to-cook chicken breast tenderloin fritters were inadvertently labeled with the Homestyle Chicken Tender Fritter label. The fritters contain egg whites and the Homestyle Chicken Tender Fritters do not.

      The following ready-to-cook item, produced on December 6, 2017, is being recalled:

      • 10-lb. boxes containing two 5 lb. plastic bags with the box labeled “CHEF REDI HOMESTYLE CHICKEN TENDER FRITTER, RTC – LARGE” with the case code of 7374.

      The recalled product, bearing establishment number “P-11507” inside the USDA mark of inspection, was shipped to food service locations in Florida, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact Perdue consumer relations, at 1-877-727-3447. 

      Perdue Foods of Monterey, Tenn., is recalling approximately 530 pounds of chicken fritters.The product contains eggs, an allergen not declared on the l...

      Mazda recalls model year 2009 B-Series trucks

      The passenger front airbag inflator may explode

      Mazda North American Operations is recalling 84 model year 2009 B-Series trucks 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 airbag, the inflators may explode due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to absolute humidity and temperature cycling.

      An inflator explosion may result in sharp metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      Mazda will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front passenger airbag inflator with an alternate inflator, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin March 9, 2018.

      Owners may contact Mazda customer service at 1-800-222-5500. Mazda's number for this recall is 2118A.

      Mazda North American Operations is recalling 84 model year 2009 B-Series trucks ever registered in the states of Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa...

      Health experts urge Facebook to discontinue ‘Messenger Kids’

      Children under 13 aren’t ready for social media accounts, experts say

      A group of 100 child development experts and advocates has published an open letter urging Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to shut down the site’s new messaging app aimed at kids.

      Back in December, Facebook launched the free Messenger Kids app, touting it as a safe way for kids under 13 to chat with family members and parent-approved friends.

      Since parents are given control of their child’s account, Facebook asserted that Messenger Kids would be filling a “need for a messaging app that lets kids connect with people they love but also has the level of control parents want.”  

      But health experts argue that younger kids aren’t ready to have their own social media accounts and say the app should be pulled.

      Targeting younger children

      Led by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the group of experts and advocates includes psychiatrists, pediatricians, educators, parenting organizations, and the children’s music singer Raffi Cavoukian.

      "Messenger Kids is not responding to a need - it is creating one," the letter states. "It appeals primarily to children who otherwise would not have their own social media accounts," the letter reads. Another passage criticized Facebook for "targeting younger children with a new product."

      The group says children under 13 aren’t old enough to navigate the complexities of online relationships or protect their own privacy.

      “They also do not have a fully developed understanding of privacy, including what’s appropriate to share with others and who has access to their conversations, pictures, and videos,” the letter continued.

      ‘Gateway drug’

      When the app was launched, Facebook said there were “no ads” or paid content downloads inside the app. It also assured parents that their “child’s information isn’t used for ads.”

      In defense of the app, Facebook released a statement emphasizing that parents are “always in control” of their child’s activity.

      "We worked to create Messenger Kids with an advisory committee of parenting and developmental experts, as well as with families themselves and in partnership with National PTA. We continue to be focused on making Messenger Kids the best experience it can be for families," said Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of safety, in a statement to the Washington Post.

      However, the company has been accused of using Messenger Kids as a ‘gateway drug’ to get kids hooked on social media at a younger age, making them more likely to use their service when they become teenagers and can be subjected to ad-targeting.  

      Health effects of technology

      The group says it’s “particularly irresponsible” of Facebook to launch an app geared towards preschoolers when there is growing concern about how social media use affects children’s development.

      “Already, adolescents report difficulty moderating their own social media use,” they write. “Messenger Kids will exacerbate this problem, as the anticipation of friends’ responses will be a powerful incentive for children to check – and stay on – a phone or tablet.

      “[T]he app’s overall impact on families and society is likely to be negative, normalizing social media use among young children and creating peer pressure for kids to sign up for their first account,” they said.

      “Raising children in our new digital age is difficult enough,” they added. “We ask that you do not use Facebook’s enormous reach and influence to make it even harder. Please make a strong statement that Facebook is committed to the wellbeing of children and society by pulling the plug on Messenger Kids.”

      Earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg vowed to try to make users “happier” in 2018 by making certain changes to the site. Shutting down Messenger Kids would be a highly positive move, the group of experts contend.

      “Doing better is leaving younger children alone and allowing them to develop without the pressures that come with social media use,” they said.

      A group of 100 child development experts and advocates has published an open letter urging Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to shut down the site’s new messagi...

      Facebook wants to show users more local news

      A new update will highlight more news from local sources

      Facebook announced Monday that it’s going to put more local news in users’ news feeds as part of an ongoing campaign to make users “happier.”

      “Starting today, we’re going to show more stories from news sources in your local town or city,” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO and cofounder, wrote in a post announcing the change. “If you follow a local publisher or if someone shares a local story, it may show up higher in News Feed.”

      The push to promote local news in users’ feeds marks the third major change to the site’s News Feed this month.

      ‘Fixing’ Facebook

      Facebook has drawn criticism in the past year over allegations that it enabled fake news, foreign election meddling, and filter bubbles. Zuckerberg says he’s made “fixing” the site’s problems his personal goal for 2018.

      Earlier this month, the company announced that it would de-emphasize commercial content in order to show more content from friends. Facebook also says it is trying to prioritize news from sources that users deem “trustworthy.”

      In order to promote local content, Facebook said in a blog post that it will "identify local publishers as those whose links are clicked on by readers in a tight geographic area. If a story is from a publisher in your area, and you either follow the publisher's Page or your friend shares a story from that outlet, it might show up higher in News Feed.”

      The company added that “large local publishers will benefit, as well as publishers that focus on niche topics like local sports, arts, and human-interest stories.”

      “That said, small news outlets may benefit from this change more than other outlets because they tend to have a concentrated readership in one location,” the post continued.

      Facebook has also been testing a new section that connects people to local news and events in their community, called Today In (currently available in six U.S. cities).

      Last week, Google also begun testing a platform for hyperlocal news.

      Facebook announced Monday that it’s going to put more local news in users’ news feeds as part of an ongoing campaign to make users “happier.”“Starting...

      ExxonMobil announces another $35 billion U.S. investment

      The company is the latest to pledge that it will put tax savings to work

      Exxon Mobil is the latest large company to announce plans to put its corporate tax savings to work in ways that could benefit consumers.

      Since the end of last year, several firms -- including AT&T and Home Depot -- have announced bonuses for all employees, citing the savings from the corporate tax rate drop from 35 percent to 21 percent.

      ExxonMobil has announced plans to spend an additional $35 billion -- in excess of the $15 billion previously announced -- on U.S. investments over the next five years. Company CEO Darren Woods says the investments will come out of company profits as well as the tax savings.

      Woods predicted the lower tax rate would spur additional investment as other firms realize savings, helping to boost U.S. economic growth.

      'More jobs and economic expansion'

      "These positive developments will mean more jobs and economic expansion across the United States in a myriad of industries," Woods wrote in a corporate blog post. "And it will complement the substantial capital spending in the United States that ExxonMobil has teed up in the coming years.”

      Specifically, Woods said ExxonMobil would invest billions of dollars in Permian Basin oil production in West Texas and New Mexico, enlarge current operations, update infrastructure, and build new manufacturing sites.

      "This will create thousands of jobs, strengthen the U.S. economy and enhance energy security," Woods said.

      More stable gasoline prices

      Increasing U.S. oil production may also keep world oil supplies plentiful, which could ultimately lead to stable gasoline prices.

      Last week, the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) put pressure on the insurance industry to lower customers' rates in light of the changes to the corporate tax rate. The consumer group said insurance rates are based, in part, to account for company profits.

      Because those profits will increase due to a lower tax rate, CFA says the law mandates that insurance rates go down to reflect increased profitability.

      Until insurance rates are adjusted lowered, the group says policyholders are being overcharged for insurance coverage.

      Exxon Mobil is the latest large company to announce plans to put its corporate tax savings to work in ways that could benefit consumers.Since the end o...

      Model year 2017 Chrysler Pacificas recalled

      A software issue could cause the engine to stall

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 153,859 model year 2017 Chrysler Pacificas equipped with a 3.6l engine.

      The engine control software may become out of sync with the crankshaft position sensor, possibly resulting in an engine stall increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will update the engine control software, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin March 2, 2018.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is U01.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 153,859 model year 2017 Chrysler Pacificas equipped with a 3.6l engine.The engine control software may become out of...

      Trump team considering nationwide 5G network

      The move would be designed to help protect the nation’s wireless system from cyber threats

      National security officials working in President Donald Trump’s administration are reportedly considering building an ultrafast, nationwide 5G network within the next three years. Officials say the move would protect the country’s wireless systems from Chinese spying and economic threats.

      Details of the plans were unveiled in a memo and PowerPoint presentation created by a senior National Security Council official and reported by Axios. The documents obtained by Axios argue that a centralized 5G system would be easier to protect from cyber threats.

      “China has achieved a dominant position in the manufacture and operation of network infrastructure,” the PowerPoint presentation -- titled ‘Secure 5G: The Eisenhower National Highway System for the Information Age’-- states. “China is the dominant malicious actor in the Information Domain.”

      Unprecedented

      The memo called the nationalization of 5G the “first great leap” into the information age.

      “It is a change more like the invention of the Gutenberg Press than the move from 3G to 4G,” the memo said. “5G will transform industries by ushering in exponentially expanded system capacity, higher data rates, lower latency, higher reliability, and lower power consumption.”

      The documents suggest two options for how a centralized nationwide 5G network would be built and paid for.

      The first (and quickest) way for the plan to be adopted in the U.S. would be to have the government pay for and build a network itself. The second (which could take longer and cost more, the memo argues) would be to have wireless providers build their own 5G networks that compete with one another.

      Government control of 5G infrastructure would be unprecedented, since the industry is historically controlled by private operators. Axios noted that AT&T and Verizon have both announced plans to deploy 5G networks to customers. AT&T began rolling out 5G service at the start of the year.

      Although the plan calls for 5G networks to be rolled out within a three-year timeframe, experts told Axios that it will likely take as long as a decade to be fully implemented.

      FCC opposes

      Earlier today, FCC chair Ajit Pai opposed the Trump Administration’s plan to allow the government to control the nation’s 5G network.

      “I oppose any proposal for the federal government to build and operate a nationwide 5G network. The main lesson to draw from the wireless sector's development over the past three decades — including American leadership in 4G — is that the market, not government, is best positioned to drive innovation and investment,” he said in a statement.

      “What government can and should do is to push spectrum into the commercial marketplace and set rules that encourage the private sector to develop and deploy next-generation infrastructure,” Pai continued. “Any federal effort to construct a nationalized 5G network would be a costly and counterproductive distraction from the policies we need to help the United States win the 5G future.”

      National security officials working in President Donald Trump’s administration are reportedly considering building an ultrafast, nationwide 5G network with...

      VTech recalls Lights & Lullabies Travel mobiles

      The clamp attaching the mobile to the crib rail can break

      VTech Electronics North America of Arlington Heights, Ill., is recalling about 42,000 Lights & Lullabies Travel mobiles sold in the U.S. and Canada.

      The clamp attaching the mobile to the crib rail can break causing the mobile to fall, posing an injury hazard to an infant in the crib.

      The company has received six reports of the clamp cracking. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves VTech Lights & Lullabies Travel mobiles sold in blue and pink. The model numbers are 80-503000 (blue) and 80-503050 (pink). The pink mobile was sold exclusively at Amazon.com.

      The mobile has a white and pink or white and blue plastic arm that clamps onto the side of a crib, three star attachments that hang from the top, and a music button that plays music, nature sounds and nursery rhymes.

      The mobile measures 5 inches wide by 15.8 inches tall. The model numbers are printed on the battery compartment door.

      The mobiles, manufactured in China, were sold at Kmart, Walmart and online at Amazon.com and zulily.com from February 2017, through November 2017, for about $25.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled mobiles and contact Vtech for a full refund or a replacement product.

      Consumers may contact VTech at 800-521-2010 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, online at www.vtechkids.com and click on Support for more information or register online at https://www.vtechkids.com/support/support_form.  

      VTech Electronics North America of Arlington Heights, Ill., is recalling about 42,000 Lights & Lullabies Travel mobiles sold in the U.S. and Canada.The...

      Model year 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawks recalled

      The fuel line may separate.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 1,242 model year 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawks equipped with a 6.2L Supercharged Engine.

      The fuel line may separate causing an engine stall, increasing the risk of a crash.

      In addition, a fuel line separation increases the risk of an engine compartment fire and injury.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and, as necessary, replace the fuel line, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin March 2, 2018.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is U02.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 1,242 model year 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawks equipped with a 6.2L Supercharged Engine.The fuel line may sepa...

      Volkswagen recalls various Audis with airbag inflator issue

      The airbag inflator could explode, causing injuries or deaths

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 10,166 of the following vehicles:

      • Model year 2010-2011 Audi A6 Avant, A6 Sedan and S6 Sedan vehicles, 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."
      • Model year 2009 Audi A4 Cabriolet and S4 Cabriolet vehicles, and model year 2009-2011 Audi A6 Avant, A6 Sedan and S6 Sedan vehicles 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 or "Zone C."

      The 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 passenger front air bag, these inflators may explode due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to absolute humidity and temperature cycling.

      An inflator explosion may result in sharp metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      Audi will notify owners, and dealers will replace the passenger front air bag inflator, free of charge. Audi will send an interim owner notification on or before March 03, 2018. When parts to perform the recall repair become available, Audi will notify owners, and dealers will replace the passenger frontal air bag inflator, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin in June 2018.

      Owners may contact Audi customer service at 1-800-253-2834.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 10,166 of the following vehicles: Model year 2010-2011 Audi A6 Avant, A6 Sedan and S6 Sedan vehicles, ever r...

      Panera Bread recalls cream cheese products

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Panera Bread is recalling all 2-oz. and 8-oz. cream cheese products sold in its U.S. bakery-cafes.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported.

      The following varieties of cream cheese in 2-oz. and 8-oz. containers with an expiration date on or before 4/2/18 are being recalled:

      • Plain Cream Cheese
      • Reduced-Fat Plain Cream Cheese,
      • Reduced-Fat Chive & Onion Cream Cheese
      • Reduced-Fat Honey Walnut Cream Cheese
      • Reduced-Fat Wild Blueberry Cream Cheese.

      What to do

      Consumers who purchased the recalled products should discard them immediately and contact Panera Bread customer service at 1-855-6-PANERA, Monday through Sunday, 5:00 AM – 10:00 PM. CST, or online at Panera.custhelp.com for a full refund.

      Panera Bread is recalling all 2-oz. and 8-oz. cream cheese products sold in its U.S. bakery-cafes.The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocy...

      American Airlines warns of higher fares

      Here's how travelers can help offset rising ticket prices

      As it reported better than expected earnings this week, American Airlines told investors it would likely raise fares to offset higher fuel costs.

      American CEO Doug Parker said jet fuel costs rose more than 20 percent last year, to $5 billion.

      "Fares are too low for oil prices this high," Parker told airline industry analysts. "Over time, you'll see adjustments. It takes time."

      Consumers with long memories may recall that American and most other airlines instituted fees for checked bags and other once complimentary perks after 2008 to compensate for rising fuel costs. However, they didn't drop the fees once fuel prices began to go down in 2015.

      Advantages for retirees

      If the trend is gradually rising airfares in 2018, consumers will have to work harder to find bargain fares. CheapOAir.com (an Accredited Partner), a budget airfare marketplace, says retirees may be best equipped to handle the new air travel economy because they usually have more flexibility in their plans.

      Avoiding a destination's busiest season is the best way to find a bargain. By doing some research in advance, you can potentially save a lot of money by knowing when the airlines, hotels, and rental car companies are most in need of business.

      In 2017, the company says international destinations most popular with seniors and retirees saw the biggest differential in airfare between the slowest and busiest times.

      Consumers who traveled from the U.S. to China in September instead of June saved an average of 37 percent on airfare. Those who traveled to Spain last February instead of last June shaved 36% off their fares.

      Going to Australia in August, when winter is ending in the Southern Hemisphere, saved 29 percent over those who traveled in December, when summer was just beginning down under.

      A travel credit card helps

      Signing up for a good travel credit card is another way to make airfare more affordable by taking advantage of the different types of perks they might offer. The co-branded CheapOair (an Accredited Partner) credit card by Synchrony Financial offers customers access to an enhanced loyalty program and includes a special financing offer to help manage the cost of travel.

      The Capital One Venture Card provides a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases within three months from the account's opening. That's equal to $500 in travel.

      The Chase Ink Business Preferred Card carries 80,000 bonus points if you spend $5,000 on purchases during the first three months of account activity. That's worth $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

      CheapOAir (an Accredited Partner) advises consumers to carefully research fares before booking. The company says airlines now charge extra for everything from checked luggage to seat selection. In most cases, you'll find those charges in the fine print, not in the base fare.

      As it reported better than expected earnings this week, American Airlines told investors it would likely raise fares to offset higher fuel costs.Americ...

      Google gets into hyperlocal news business

      Google is rolling out ‘Bulletin,’ a publishing platform that allows anyone to publish local news stories

      Will unpaid Google “contributors” replace professional beat reporters? Google is rolling out a publishing platform that encourages anyone to publish a hyperlocal news story. The tech giant says that its new application Bulletin will allow “for contributing hyperlocal stories about your community, for your community, right from your phone.”

      “If you are comfortable taking photos or sending messages, you can create a Bulletin story!” Google says.

      Of course, the ease of web publishing and social media already makes it easy for anyone to contribute stories about their community right from their phone. But Bulletin, which is currently being tested in Nashville and Oakland, is specifically targeted to the local journalism market.

      Competing with local news outlets?

      At the application’s launch in Nashville, attended by a Slate reporter, Google reps described Bulletin as a website that would let people publish news stories “instantly to the web without having to do any setup.”

      It’s unclear whether such a platform would help or hinder local newspapers. Experts in the media industry have long described an unhealthy, codependent relationship between newspapers and tech giants

      “The web was once thought to be a cure-all for media industries' growth problems,” Bloomberg’s technology columnist Shira Ovide wrote several years ago.  “Media's shift to the internet has meant bigger audiences, yes, but the piles of advertising money have shrunk or are barely growing.”

      Facebook has also recently announced measures to highlight local news with a feature called “Today In.” At the same time, the platform is reformulating its news feed in a manner that may draw less traffic to newspapers and digital media.

      In October, Facebook removed professional news organizations from the main news feed in six countries. Instead, only personal posts and paid advertisements are featured in the main feeds, a move that journalists in the countries affected described as “Orwellian.”

      Will unpaid Google “contributors” replace professional beat reporters? Google is rolling out a publishing platform that encourages anyone to publish a hype...

      T-Mobile, AT&T offer free data, calls, and texting for consumers going to the Winter Olympics

      Travelers visiting South Korea between February and March can take advantage of the deals

      Consumers traveling to South Korea for the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics will get free high-speed data and unlimited calls to the U.S, as well as free texting.

      T-mobile says its customers can enjoy these rewards for free from February 7 through March 20 if they will be traveling anywhere in South Korea during that time. All they have to do is use their plan.

      “The Winter Games are full of unforgettable moments, and now, T-Mobile customers in South Korea can snap, tweet, and share those big moments without worrying about bill shock when they get back home,” said John Legere, president and CEO of T-Mobile.

      Free and unlimited data and calling will become available the moment Un-carrier subscribers step foot in South Korea, he added.

      “While the carriers’ travel plans confuse, restrict and gouge customers, Un-carrier customers can simply enjoy the games in South Korea – with zero hassles or extra fees,” the company said.

      T-Mobile also wants to help its customers communicate with friends and family as they make their way from the U.S. to South Korea. Free texting throughout flights as well as a free hour of smartphone Wi-Fi will be available to those traveling to see the Winter Games, thanks to T-mobile’s partnership with Gogo.

      AT&T has also announced that it will give customers access to free International Day Passes for the time they are in South Korea for the 2018 Winter Games, which will give them unlimited talk and text. However, AT&T customers will have to sign up for the pass ahead of time.

      To sign up, click this link and follow the steps to add the feature to your plan.

      Consumers traveling to South Korea for the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics will get free high-speed data and unlimited calls to the U.S, as well as free texting....

      VTech recalls infant rattles

      The ears on the elephant rattles can break off, posing a choking hazard

      VTech Electronics North America of Arlington Heights, Ill, is recalling about 280,000 Shake & Sing Elephant rattles.

      The ears on the elephant rattles can break off, posing a choking hazard to young children.

      The firm has received five reports of the ears breaking off of the rattle. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Vtech Shake and Sing Elephant rattle with model number 80-184800.

      The rattle has a purple elephant with yellow and blue ears at one end and a black and white plastic teething ring at the other end. VTech is stamped on the elephant.

      The rattle is about seven inches long and the number 1848 is printed on the back of the rattle adjacent to the battery door, and sings when a button is switched on.

      The rattles, manufactured in China, were sold at Walmart, Kmart, Meijer, Mills Fleet Farm, Seventh Avenue, and online at Amazon.com and zulily.com from November 2015, through November 2017, for about $8.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled rattles and contact VTech for a full refund or credit for a replacement product.

      Consumers may contact VTech at 800-521-2010 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday or online at www.vtechkids.com and click on Support for more information or at https://www.vtechkids.com/support/support_form

      VTech Electronics North America of Arlington Heights, Ill, is recalling about 280,000 Shake & Sing Elephant rattles.The ears on the elephant rattles ca...

      Hyundai recalls Azeras and Sonatas

      Water may enter the anti-lock brake module

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 87,854 model year 2006-2011 Hyundai Azeras and model year 2006 Hyundai Sonatas.

      Water may enter the Anti-lock Brake (ABS) Module and result in an electrical short, which could cause an engine compartment fire, even when the car is turned off, increasing the risk of an injury.

      What to do

      Hyundai will notify owners, and dealers will install a relay in the vehicle's main junction box to prevent the risk of an ABS short-circuit while the car is turned off, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 23, 2018.

      Owners may call Hyundai at 1-800-633-5151. Hyundai's number for this recall is 172.

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 87,854 model year 2006-2011 Hyundai Azeras and model year 2006 Hyundai Sonatas.Water may enter the Anti-lock Brake (...

      Subaru Legacys, Foresters, Tribecas, WRXs, Outbacks and Imprezas recalled

      The passenger front airbag inflator may explode

      Subaru of America is recalling 64,179 model year 2009-2013 Legacys, Foresters, Tribecas, WRXs and Outbacks, and model year 2009-2011 Imprezas 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.

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

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

      An explosion of an inflator within the passenger front airbag module may result in sharp metal fragments striking the front seat passenger, driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      Subaru will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front passenger airbag inflator, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 9, 2018.

      Owners may contact Subaru customer service at 1-800-782-2783. Subaru's number for this recall is TKA-18.

      Subaru of America is recalling 64,179 model year 2009-2013 Legacys, Foresters, Tribecas, WRXs and Outbacks, and model year 2009-2011 Imprezas sold, or ever...

      Google tool will let users mute 'reminders' about products they browsed online

      The tech giant is rolling out another ad-blocking feature, but it only works on companies that partner with Google

      Google is rolling out a new ad-blocking feature that allows people to mute so-called “reminder” advertisements, the company announced in a blog post today.

      In the coming months, Google says it plans to expand the tool to YouTube, Gmail, and Search. The tool only works on advertisers that partner with Google.

      The feature is just the latest in many popular ad-blocking tools that Google has introduced since 2012. The technology has caused a rift between consumers who want an ad-free experience and people who make a living posting content online, such as paid YouTube posters.

      The YouTube star Felix Kjellberg, also known as PewDiePie, in 2015 described ad-blocking technology as “devastating” to newcomers in the industry.

      The reminder ads are labeled as such because they literally remind consumers about a product  they had been browsing earlier---say, a pair of shoes that a shopper looked at online but opted not to buy, as the example that Google gives.

      In recent years, reminder ads have also come under the scrutiny of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The agency determined that reminder ads should not be used on drugs that come with severe boxed warnings about its side effects because ““a reminder ad does not contain risk information about the drug,” nor do they “discuss the condition treated or how well the drug works.”

      Google is rolling out a new ad-blocking feature that allows people to mute so-called “reminder” advertisements, the company announced in a blog post today....

      Target beginning same-day delivery in Florida

      Partnership with Shipt will eventually be nationwide

      Target has announced it will team with Shipt to provide same-day delivery of select groceries, consumer electronics, and other products in Florida.

      The service will begin February 1 in Tampa and South Florida. A week later, it will begin in Daytona Beach, Fort Myers, Gainesville, Gulf Shores, Jacksonville, Naples, Sarasota, Orlando, Space Coast, St. Augustine, Tallahassee, and Treasure Coast.

      Target says the new service will cover more than 6.3 million households in the state, with delivery as quickly as within one hour if requested.

      “The addition of Target stores to Shipt’s online marketplace across Florida allows us to deliver on our promise to offer quality products at great prices by making Target’s wide assortment available to our dedicated members,” said Shipt CEO Bill Smith.

      “Florida’s growing community of Shipt members continues to be loyal and enthusiastic about the service, and we look forward to expanding throughout the state with our newest retail partner, Target.”

      Target acquiring Shipt

      Target announced last month it is acquiring Shipt for $550 million in cash. At the time, it made clear that the combination would be a key element of the retailer's expansion of delivery capability, helping it to compete with Amazon and Walmart.

      Target said the acquisition of Shipt would help it increase its digital fulfillment efforts by bringing same-day delivery services to approximately half of Target stores by early 2018. The company said it expects the service will be available at the majority of its stores, in all major markets, before the 2018 holiday shopping season.

      In this beginning phase, Target said deliveries will be limited to the products in the Florida test market. By the end of next year, it said it expects same-day delivery will include all major product categories at Target.

      Top priority

      “Same-day delivery was at the top of our list when we were thinking about ways to make shopping at Target even easier,” said John Mulligan, Target's executive vice president and chief operating officer. “Shipt’s personalized, customer-focused approach fits perfectly with our commitment to deliver a convenient, exceptional experience and we’re excited to begin offering same day service in Florida.”

      Shipt hires shoppers to pick up items ordered by its members, who pay a $99 per year membership fee. It currently operates in 72 U.S. markets.

      Amazon offers same day delivery to Prime members on orders of $35 or more. Walmart offers same day pick-up on grocery orders.

      Target has announced it will team with Shipt to provide same-day delivery of select groceries, consumer electronics, and other products in Florida.The...

      McLaren recalls model year 2013 MP4-12Cs

      The front passenger airbag inflator may explode

      McLaren Automotive Incorporated is recalling 231 model year 2013 MP4-12Cs 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.

      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, the inflators may explode due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to absolute humidity and temperature cycling.

      An inflator explosion may result in sharp metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      McLaren will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front passenger airbag inflator, free of charge.

      The recall was expected to begin January 22, 2018.

      Owners may contact McLaren customer service at 1-646-429-8916.

      McLaren Automotive Incorporated is recalling 231 model year 2013 MP4-12Cs ever registered in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Miss...

      Jaguar Land Rover North America recalls 8,480 model year 2010-2012 Land Rover Range Rovers

      The passenger front airbag inflators could explode

      Jaguar Land Rover North America is recalling 8,480 of the following vehicles:

      • Model year 2011-2012 Land Rover Range Rovers, 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."
      • Model year 2010-2012 Land Rover Range Rovers, 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 or "Zone C."

      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 passenger frontal air bag, the inflators may explode due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to absolute humidity and temperature cycling.

      An inflator explosion may result in sharp metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      Land Rover will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front passenger air bag assembly, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 28, 2018.

      Owners may contact Land Rover customer service at 1-800-637-6837. Land Rover's number for this recall is P084.

      Jaguar Land Rover North America is recalling 8,480 of the following vehicles: Model year 2011-2012 Land Rover Range Rovers, originally sold, or ever...

      Model year 2009-2010 Tribecas, Imprezas, Foresters, WRXs, Legacys and Outbacks recalled

      The passenger front airbag inflator may explode

      Subaru of America is recalling 93,209 model year 2009-2010 Tribecas, Imprezas, Foresters, WRXs, Legacys and Outbacks 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.

      The 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 passenger front airbag, these inflators may explode due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to absolute humidity and temperature cycling.

      An explosion of an inflator may result in sharp metal fragments striking the front seat passenger, driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      Subaru will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front passenger air bag inflator, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 9, 2018.

      Owners may contact Subaru customer service at 1-800-782-2783. Subaru's number for this recall is TKB-18.

      Subaru of America is recalling 93,209 model year 2009-2010 Tribecas, Imprezas, Foresters, WRXs, Legacys and Outbacks sold, or ever registered, in Arizona,...

      Google adds audiobooks to its Play Store

      There’s no subscription required, and Google Assistant integration adds some new functionality

      Google has announced that it will sell audiobooks on its Play Store. With Google Assistant integration, consumers can have titles read out to them simply by saying, “Ok Google, read my book.”

      The introduction of Audiobooks puts Google in a position to compete with its rival Amazon, whose Audible service offers audiobooks and other spoken-word media.

      Google isn’t offering a monthly subscription option for the service. Users simply buy the title they want, similar to the way Apple allows customers to purchase iBooks without a subscription.

      No subscription

      Although Amazon-owned Audible offers single title purchases, it heavily promotes a monthly subscription option that includes one free download and 30 percent off future purchases.

      "On Google Play, you can buy a single audiobook at an affordable price, with no commitments. You can also get a free preview of the book to make sure you're hooked on to the story and enjoy listening to the narrator's voice," Google said in a statement.

      Google Assistant integration enables users to do other things while they listen to their audiobook, such as obtain basic information about the book or set a sleep timer for falling asleep at night.

      To set a timer for bedtime reading, listeners can say, “Ok Google, stop playing in 20 minutes.” Users can also sync their place across multiple devices, making it possible to pick up where they left off in the car the next morning or continue listening on another device.

      Discounts

      For now, Google Assistant integration with audiobooks is only available on Android phones, not iPhones. Google says it’s “coming soon to the Assistant on Android Auto in the US.”

      Audiobooks are generally priced between $7 and $15, but Google is offering discounts on many audiobook titles at launch of the new service. Additionally, consumers can get 50 percent off their first audiobook purchase.

      Audiobooks on Google Play have been rolled out in 45 countries and in nine languages and can be enjoyed on Android, iOS, Chromecast, Android Wear, Android Auto, or on the web.

      Google has announced that it will sell audiobooks on its Play Store. With Google Assistant integration, consumers can have titles read out to them simply b...

      Moving to a new home? A 'hybrid move' could save you money

      But you need to be prepared to do a lot of the work yourself

      Just as Uber has disrupted the taxi business and Airbnb disrupted the hotel industry, HireAHelper is hoping to disrupt the moving business.

      The U.S. Census Bureau estimates about one in nine people change residences in a typical year. In most cases, that requires hiring a moving company to load all household items, drive them to the new residence, and unload.

      HireAHelper has pioneered what it calls the hybrid move, in between a do-it-yourself move and hiring professional movers. The company says it's perfect for the practical and budget-minded because it is both convenient and affordable.

      Independent service providers

      "We're an online marketplace where you can find, compare, and book an independent service provider that will simply load or unload your moving truck," HireAHelper moving expert Mike Glanz told ConsumerAffairs. "The site has 1,000 service providers in all 50 states."

      Under the system, the consumer rents the truck and the service provider personnel loads it. The consumer then drives the truck to the new residence where another service provider crew shows up and unloads the truck.

      It's like a do-it-yourself move, except instead of trying to convince your friends to help, screened professionals do the heavy lifting.

      "We also detail the business credentials for each service provider and provide unfiltered customer reviews that can help people find hourly movers that are right for them," Glanz said. "With straightforward hourly rates and no hidden fees, comparison shopping is made easy."

      What if you can't drive a truck?

      But not everyone would even consider a do-it-yourself move because they might not feel comfortable driving a truck. In those cases, Glanz says there are options.

      Consumers “can arrange to have a portable storage container delivered and picked up using a company like PODS," he said. "Once a portable storage container has been reserved, then they can hire hourly moving labor to come load and unload it for them."

      The main appeal of a hybrid move is to save money. According to Glanz, when moving a three bedroom house 100 miles, a hybrid move would save consumers approximately 50 percent if they rent and drive the truck themselves.

      Avoids moving scams

      Even using the portable storage container option, Glanz estimates a consumer could save 30 percent over using a traditional moving company. And he says a hybrid move avoids some of the most common moving scams.

      “The U.S. Government reports that 36 million people move every year, and one in 10 will report that their moving company is holding their furniture 'hostage' for suddenly higher service fees," Glanz said. "It's one of the most common scams in the moving industry."

      With a hybrid move, Glanz says the consumer remains in control of their belongings at all times.

      As we reported earlier this month, the American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA) has warned that scammers pretending to be professional movers victimize thousands of consumers each year. The AMSA says spotting an illegitimate mover can sometimes be difficult since some fraud artists choose names similar to those of established companies in order to piggyback on their reputation.

      Just as Uber has disrupted the taxi business and Airbnb disrupted the hotel industry, HireAHelper is hoping to disrupt the moving business.The U.S. Cen...

      Home sales slowed in December

      Number of available homes hit a record low

      Sales of existing homes dropped 3.6 percent in December, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

      But Realtors are quick to point out the steep decline wasn't necessarily because people didn't want to buy houses. It was mainly because there were fewer available homes to purchase.

      The inventory of homes at the end of December was down a staggering 11.4 percent, with only 1.48 million homes on the market. The inventory of unsold properties was at a 3.2-month supply, a record low.

      "The drop we saw in December home sales is not surprising after the spikes we’ve seen over the last two months," Joseph Kirchner, senior economist at realtor.com, told ConsumerAffairs.

      "Many unsuccessful summer buyers stayed in the market well into the fall, which led to higher October and November sales. Unfortunately, the fall frenzy didn’t leave much for December buyers, which is what you’re seeing in today’s numbers. You can’t buy a home if there’s nothing to buy."

      Despite the drop in December home sales, sales for 2017 were up 1.1 percent. Of the homes that did sell in December, 32 percent went to first-time buyers, up from 29 percent in November. But the shortage of homes also pushed prices higher, which could pose affordability issues for those hoping to enter the housing market.

      Home prices continue to rise

      The December median home sale price was $246,800, up 5.8 percent from December 2016. It was the the 70th straight month the housing market has shown year-over-year gains.

      Looking ahead, NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun sees positives and negatives.

      “Rising wages and the expanding economy should lay the foundation for 2018 being the turning point towards an uptick in sales to first-time buyers,” said Yun. “However, if inventory conditions fail to improve, higher mortgage rates and prices will further eat into affordability and prevent many renters from becoming homeowners.”

      With more competition for the smaller number of available homes, listings sold quickly last month. The NAR report shows a listing remained on the market an average of 40 days in December, the same as November and nearly two weeks less than a year ago.

      Forty-four percent of homes sold in December were on the market for less than a month.

      Sales of existing homes dropped 3.6 percent in December, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR).But Realtors are quick to point out th...

      Subaru recalls Tribecas, Imprezas, Foresters, WRXs, Legacys and Outbacks

      The passenger front air bag inflator may explode

      Subaru of America is recalling 72,150 model year 2009 Tribecas, Imprezas, Foresters, WRXs, Legacys and Outbacks 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 used as original equipment or replacement equipment.

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

      An explosion of an inflator may result in sharp metal fragments striking the front seat passenger, driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      Subaru will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front passenger airbag inflators, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 9, 2018.

      Owners may contact Subaru customer service at 1-800-782-2783. Subaru's number for this recall is TKC-18.

      Subaru of America is recalling 72,150 model year 2009 Tribecas, Imprezas, Foresters, WRXs, Legacys and Outbacks sold, or ever registered, in Alaska, Colora...

      Mazda recalls model year 2009, 2010 RX-8s

      The passenger front airbag inflator could explode

      Mazda North American Operations is recalling 607 of the following vehicles:

      • Model year 2010 Mazda RX-8s 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."
      • Model year 2009 RX-8s 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 or "Zone C."

      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 passenger front airbag, these inflators may explode due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to absolute humidity and temperature cycling.

      An inflator explosion may result in sharp metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      Mazda will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front passenger air bag inflator with an alternate one, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin March 9, 2018.

      Owners may contact Mazda customer service at 1-800-222-5500. Mazda's number for this recall is 2018A.

      Mazda North American Operations is recalling 607 of the following vehicles: Model year 2010 Mazda RX-8s sold, or ever registered, in Arizona, Arkansa...

      Snapchat launches feature that lets users share stories outside the app

      By enabling story-sharing, the company hopes to encourage others to use the app

      Snapchat has rolled out a new feature that lets users share Snapchat Stories with people who aren’t on the platform.

      The addition of this new feature, part of a major redesign announced late last year, makes it possible for anyone -- not just those who use the app -- to see public stories on Snapchat’s redesigned Discover tab.

      To share content, users tap and hold tiles in Discover. From there, Snapchatters can tap “share story” and decide to send the content via text message, email, Twitter, or copy the link.

      For now, three different types of stories -- Official Stories, Our Stories, and Search Stories -- are currently available to share outside the platform. Our Stories and Search Stories will be viewable outside the app for 30 days, while Official Stories will disappear after 24 hours.

      Sharing content

      Snapchat’s parent company, Snap Inc., says the new feature was introduced partly in the hope of showing non-Snapchat users what the app can do. Each link includes a "Download Snapchat" button that encourages those who view the story and aren't on the app to try it out for themselves.

      The company’s third quarter results revealed that its global daily active users was lower than what analysts had predicted (178 million). Attracting more eyes to the content within the app is one way to grow its user base.

      The new feature will be available immediately to any iOS and Android Snapchat user running the redesigned Snapchat app.

      Snapchat has rolled out a new feature that lets users share Snapchat Stories with people who aren’t on the platform.The addition of this new feature, p...

      Airbag inflator issue prompts massive Mercedes-Benz recall

      The passenger front airbag inflators could explode

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 132,167 of the following vehicles:

      • Model year 2013 C250s, C250 Coupes, C350 Coupe 4Matics, C300 4Matics, C350s, C350 Coupse, C63 AMGs, C63 Coupes, E350 Cabrios, E350 Coupes, E550 Cabrios, E350 Coupe 4Matics, E550 Coupes, GLK350 4Matics, GLK250 Bluetec 4Matics, GLK350s, SLS Coupes, SLS AMG GT Coupes, and SLS Roadsters 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."
      • Model year 2010 C300s, C300 4Matics, C63 AMGs, E350 Coupes, E550 Coupes, GLK350s, and GLK350 4Matics 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."
      • Model year 2009 C300s, C300 4Matics, C63 AMGs, and C350s 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 or "Zone C."

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

      An inflator explosion may result in sharp metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will replace the passenger frontal air bag module, free of charge.

      Parts are currently not available.

      Owners will be sent an interim notification starting in February 2018. A second notice will be mailed when remedy parts are available.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at 1-877-496-3691.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 132,167 of the following vehicles: Model year 2013 C250s, C250 Coupes, C350 Coupe 4Matics, C300 4Matics, C350s...

      Mazda6s, CX-7s, and CX-9s recalled

      The passenger front airbag inflators could explode

      Mazda North American Operations is recalling 70,227 of the following vehicles:

      • Model year 2013 Mazda6s and CX-9s 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."
      • Model year 2010 Mazda6, CX-7 and CX-9 vehicles 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."
      • Model year 2009 Mazda6, CX-7, and CX-9 vehicles 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 or "Zone C."

      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 passenger frontal air bag, these inflators may explode due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to absolute humidity and temperature cycling.

      An inflator explosion may result in sharp metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      Mazda will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front passenger air bag inflator with an alternate inflator, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin March 9, 2018.

      Owners may contact Mazda customer service at 1-800-222-5500. Mazda's number for this recall is 1317F.

      Mazda North American Operations is recalling 70,227 of the following vehicles: Model year 2013 Mazda6s and CX-9s sold, or ever registered in Alabama,...

      Toyota recalls model year 2010-2012 Yaris vehicles

      The passenger front airbag inflators could explode

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 14,585 model year 2010-2012 Yaris vehicles 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, " and “Zone C,” consisting 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 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 passenger frontal air bag, these inflators may explode due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to absolute humidity and temperature cycling.

      An inflator explosion may result in sharp metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will replace the passenger frontal air bag assemblies, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin by March 10, 2018.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331. Toyota's numbers for this recall are G0R (Zone B), and H0A (Zone C). 

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 14,585 model year 2010-2012 Yaris vehicles ever registered in Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, District o...

      Senate votes to end government shutdown

      Passing the bill will fund the government another three weeks

      The Senate has voted to approve a short-term spending resolution, effectively ending a government shutdown that began at midnight Friday.

      The measure, which funds the government through February 8, now goes back to the House where passage is expected.

      The vote means that tens of thousands of federal workers furloughed when the government's spending authority ran out can now go back to work. National parks and government agencies will also reopen.

      Democrats had refused to support new spending legislation unless it contained a provision to address the status of the children of illegal immigrants. The stalemate was apparently broken after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (D-KY.) agreed to bring the immigration issue to the Senate floor separately.

      House ready to act

      While the Senate vote is only half the hurdle to reopening the government, House Speaker Paul Ryan has signaled his chamber's readiness to give its approval. Appearing on Fox News Monday morning, Ryan predicted speedy action.

      “What we're saying is, open the government and then we'll get back to the negotiations [that] were already underway that they blew up when they shut the government down,” Ryan said.

      The financial markets had been growing anxious at the prospect of an extended government shutdown but rallied slightly when word leaked out that there were enough Senate votes to end the impasse. Mark Hamrick, Bankrate.com's senior economic analyst, says the short duration of the shutdown should have little economic impact.

      "Still, it is closely watched by the Federal Reserve which has a policy-setting meeting looming in just a matter of days," Hamrick told ConsumerAffairs. "The Fed was not expected to boost rates at this meeting and so that doesn’t change."

      When the government's spending authority expires because Congress can't agree on an authorization bill, a partisan issue usually lies at the core. In this case, it was the legal status of millions of people whose parents brought them to the U.S. illegally.

      The bill passed by the Senate and heading to the House would only fund the government for three more weeks. At that time, Congress will have to pass another spending bill and hope that no new partisan issues arise in the meantime.

      The Senate has voted to approve a short-term spending resolution, effectively ending a government shutdown that began at midnight Friday.The measure, w...

      Twitter to notify users exposed to alleged Russian propaganda

      The company will contact nearly 700,000 users who followed, retweeted, or liked content from suspicious accounts

      Twitter announced on Friday that it will be sending notices to nearly 678,000 of its users who either followed, retweeted, or liked content from an alleged Russian propaganda service in the weeks leading up to the 2016 presidential election.

      In a company blog post, Twitter said that notifying affected users is part of its continuing effort to update both congressional committees and the public about possible Russian interference that occurred on its platform.

      “Since we presented our findings to Congress last fall, we have updated our analysis and continue to look for patterns and signals in data,” the company said. “Today, we are sharing an update on several aspects of that ongoing work, as well as steps we are taking to continue to make progress against potential manipulation of our platform.”

      Propaganda efforts

      In its update, Twitter says that it has identified and suspended over 1,000 additional accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA) – a Russian government-linked organization that has been accused of interfering in the 2016 election through propaganda efforts.

      In all, Twitter says it found over 13,000 IRA-linked user accounts and 50,000 automated accounts that posted election-related content during the election period. While those numbers only represented a fraction of Twitter’s total users during the time period, officials admit that any manipulation is unacceptable.

      “Any such activity represents a challenge to democratic societies everywhere, and we’re committed to continuing to work on this important issue,” the company said.

      Improving for future elections

      Since the accounts have already been taken down, consumers won’t necessarily be able to see which piece of content they engaged with if contacted by Twitter. However, the company says that it is making “significant improvements” to detect and prevent this type of activity on its platform.

      For future elections, the company says it will be verifying major candidates, offices, and national party accounts to protect against impersonation. It has also pledged to monitor trends and spikes around content related to 2018 elections to root out potential manipulation.

      “Even as we continue to learn from the events of the 2016 U.S. election, we are taking steps every day to improve the security of our platform and stay one step ahead of those who would abuse it,” the company said.

      Twitter announced on Friday that it will be sending notices to nearly 678,000 of its users who either followed, retweeted, or liked content from an alleged...

      Ford recalling in excess of 327k vehicles with airbag inflator issue

      The vehicle's airbag inflator could explode, causing injuries or deaths

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 327,796 of the following vehicles:

      • Model year 2013 Mustangs sold, or ever registered in the states of 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."
      • Model year 2010 Ford Edges, Fusions, Mustangs and Rangers; Lincoln MKXs and Zephyr/MKZs; and Mercury Milans ever registered in the states of 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."
      • Model year 2009 Ford Edges, Fusions, Mustangs and Rangers; Lincoln MKXs and Zephyr/MKZs; and Mercury Milans 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 or "Zone C."

      The recalled vehicles are equipped with airbag inflators assembled as part of the passenger front airbag modules, used as original equipment or replacement equipment (such as after a vehicle crash necessitating replacement of the original airbags), that may explode due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to high absolute humidity, temperature and temperature cycling.

      An inflator explosion may result in sharp metal fragments striking the driver or other 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.

      The recall is expected to begin February 19, 2018.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 18S01.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 327,796 of the following vehicles: Model year 2013 Mustangs sold, or ever registered in the states of Alabama, Califo...

      BMW recalls X5 and X6 series vehicles

      The passenger front airbag inflators could explode

      BMW of North America is recalling 41,808 of the following vehicles:

      Model year 2007-2013 X5 xDrive30i, X5 xDrive35i, X5 xDrive48i, X5 xDrive50i, X5 M; 2009-2010 X5 xDrive35d vehicles; and 2009-2013 X6 xDrive35i, X6 xDrive50i, and X6 M vehicles 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."

      Model year 2007-2010 X5 xDrive30i, X5 xDrive35i, X5 xDrive48i, X5 xDrive50i, X5 M, X5 xDrive35d, X6 xDrive35i, X6 xDrive50i and X6M vehicles 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."

      Model year 2007-2009 X5 xDrive30i, X5 xdrive35i, X5 xDrive48i, X5 xDrive50i, X5 M, X5 xDrive35d, X6 xDrive35i, X6 xDrive50i and X6M vehicles 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 or "Zone C."

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

      An inflator explosion may result in sharp metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will replace the passenger front air bag module, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin March 1, 2018. Owners may contact BMW customer service at 1-800-525-7417.

      BMW of North America is recalling 41,808 of the following vehicles:Model year 2007-2013 X5 xDrive30i, X5 xDrive35i, X5 xDrive48i, X5 xDrive50i, X5 M; 2...

      Honda recalls Acura RLs, and Honda Elements & Ridgelines

      The vehicle's airbag inflator could explode, causing injuries or deaths

      American Honda Motor is recalling 24,945 of the following vehicles:

      Model year 2010-2012 Acura RLs, 2010 and Honda Elements & 2010-2013 Honda Ridgelines 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."

      Model year 2010 Acura RLs, and 2010-2011 Honda Elements & Honda Ridgelines 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."

      Mode year 2009 Acura RLs and Honda Elements, and Honda Ridgelines 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 or "Zone C" if not included in zones A or B above.

      The vehicles are equipped with certain airbag air bag inflators assembled as part of the front airbag modules, and used as original equipment or replacement equipment (such as after a vehicle crash necessitating replacement of the original airbags), may explode due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to higher absolute humidity, temperature and temperature cycling.

      An inflator explosion may result in sharp metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will replace the passenger frontal air bag inflator, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 12, 2018.

      Owners may contact Honda customer service at 1-888-234-2138. Honda's numbers for this recall are U0H, and G0I.

      American Honda Motor is recalling 24,945 of the following vehicles:Model year 2010-2012 Acura RLs, 2010 and Honda Elements & 2010-2013 Honda Ridgelines...

      Democrats and Republicans at odds as government shutdown looms

      Both parties blame each other

      A government shutdown at midnight Friday appears more likely, even after the House Thursday night approved a spending bill to keep it operating.

      A government shutdown would furlough thousands of federal workers and affect consumers in many ways.

      The hang-up is in the Senate, where Democrats say they have the votes to block it. Democratic leaders are demanding any measure to keep the government open also extend the DACA program, addressing the status of children of people who entered the U.S. illegally.

      The measure needs 60 votes to pass the Senate, meaning backers would need all 51 Republicans and nine Democrats. At this point, Capitol Hill vote-counters say Republican leaders don't even have all the GOP votes secured.

      Finger-pointing

      With a government shutdown just hours away, both sides are pointing fingers at one another. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) points out the spending resolution contains things both sides support, including an extension of the CHIP health care program for children.

      "There is nothing – nothing – in such a continuing resolution that my Democratic friends actually oppose," McConnell said in a statement.

      Senate Democratic Whip Richard Durbin of Illinois expressed the position of his party, declaring that the status of immigrants who have lived in the U.S. since childhood shouldn't be delayed. Durbin is among a small group of Democratic and Republican senators meeting today in an effort to reach a compromise.

      The measure passed by the House Thursday night extends funding for government operations for another four weeks.

      A government shutdown at midnight Friday appears more likely, even after the House Thursday night approved a spending bill to keep it operating.A gover...

      Instagram launches new ‘last active’ feature

      Here’s how to disable the new feature if you’d rather not have your activity status known

      On Thursday, Instagram rolled out a new default feature that allows people you follow or have direct messaged to see when you last used the service.

      In Direct Messages, under a person's username, you can now see when they were last active with a message like "Active Now" or "Active 2h ago."

      Your online status is visible to people you follow or have previously shared a private message with; general followers can’t see when you were last on Instagram.

      Activity status sharing is already found on other apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. However, if you’d rather not have your online status available on Instagram, it can be disabled via the settings menu.

      Disabling the feature

      To turn off the feature that allows people you’ve previously interacted with to see when you were last online, go into “Edit Profile,” find “Show Activity Status,” and toggle off the new feature.

      If you disable the feature, you won’t be able to see the activity status of others either.

      On Thursday, Instagram rolled out a new default feature that allows people you follow or have direct messaged to see when you last used the service.In...

      More than 600k Toyotas with airbag inflator issue recalled

      The airbag inflator could explode, causing injuries or deaths

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 601,259 of the following vehicles:

      • Model year 2013 Scion xBs; Toyota Corollas, Corolla Matrixes, Siennaa, 4Runners, Lexus IS250s, IS350s, IS250Cs, IS350Cs, IS-Fs, and GX460s sold, 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."
      • Model year 2010 Scion xBs, Toyota Corollas, Corolla Matrixes, Yarises, 4Runners, Lexus IS250s, IS350s, IS250Cs, IS350Cs, ES350s, IS-Fs, GX460s, and Pontiac Vibes sold, 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."
      • Model year 2009 Scion xBs, Toyota Corollas, Corolla Matrixes, Yarises, Lexus IS250s, IS350s, ES350s, IS-Fs, and Pontiac Vibes 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 or "Zone C."

      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 passenger frontal air bag, these inflators may explode due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to absolute humidity

      An inflator explosion may result in sharp metal fragments striking the driver or other 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 vehicle model, dealers will replace the front passenger air bag inflator, or replace the air bag assembly.

      The recall is expected to begin January 24, 2018.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331, or Pontiac customer service at 1-800-762-2737. Toyota's numbers for this recall are "Zone A" Toyota: G0P, Lexus: GLG; "Zone B" Toyota: G0R, Lexus GLH; "Zone C" Toyota: H0A, and Lexus: HLA.

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 601,259 of the following vehicles: Model year 2013 Scion xBs; Toyota Corollas, Corolla Matrixes...

      Tesla recalls model year 2013 Model S vehicles

      The vehicle's airbag inflator could explode, causing injuries or deaths

      Tesla is recalling 17,846 model year 2013 Model S vehicles 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 passenger front airbag, these inflators may explode due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to absolute humidity and temperature cycling.

      An inflator explosion may result in sharp metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      Tesla will notify owners, and Tesla service centers will replace the passenger front airbag modules, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin in early March 2018.

      Owners may contact Tesla customer service at 1-877-798-3752. Tesla's number for this recall is SB-18-20-001.

      Tesla is recalling 17,846 model year 2013 Model S vehicles equipped with certain airbag inflators assembled as part of the passenger front airbag modules u...

      Honda recalls Honda GL1800 Gold Wing motorcycles

      The airbag inflator could explode, causing injuries or deaths

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 960 model year 2009-2010 and 2012-2016 Honda GL1800 Gold Wing motorcycles.

      The motorcycles have air bag inflators assembled as part of the air bag module that may explode due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to lower absolute humidity, temperature and temperature cycling.

      An inflator explosion may result in sharp metal fragments striking the rider 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 manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule. Owners may contact Honda Motorcycle Customer Support at 1-866-784-1870. Honda's number for this recall is KJ1.

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 960 model year 2009-2010 and 2012-2016 Honda GL1800 Gold Wing motorcycles.The motorcycles have air bag inflators...

      Chip makers find patches for Meltdown and Spectre not so simple

      Intel says patch causes newer machines to unexpectedly reboot

      The process of patching computer processors vulnerable to Meltdown and Spectre threats is encountering a few bumps in the road.

      Intel previously said that its patch against these threats is causing computers using its older chips to occasionally reboot. It now says the patch is having a similar effect on newer processors.

      "We have now issued firmware updates for 90 percent of Intel CPUs introduced in the past five years, but we have more work to do," Intel vice president Navin Shenoy wrote in a company blog post. "While the firmware updates are effective at mitigating exposure to the security issues, customers have reported more frequent reboots on firmware updated systems."

      Shenoy says Intel engineers have also found unexpected reboots occur in devices powered by later chips and configurations, including Ivy Bridge-, Sandy Bridge-, Skylake-, and Kaby Lake-based platforms.

      "We have reproduced these issues internally and are making progress toward identifying the root cause," Shenoy wrote. "In parallel, we will be providing beta microcode to vendors for validation by next week."

      'Making progress'

      Shenoy also provided an update on how the patch is affecting performance, noting that results will differ based on workloads. As a typical example, Intel tested a system simulating a brokerage firm’s customer-broker-stock exchange interaction and found it slowed the system by four percent.

      Intel disclosed the security vulnerability earlier this month but disputed initial reports that the patch slowed chip performance by 30 percent.

      The malware could, under the right circumstances, allow a hacker to gain access to protected kernel memory areas – a key component of all operating systems that stores information and carries out computer tasks.

      Computer experts warned that could give an intruder access to all kinds of sensitive information including passwords, log-in information, or cached files. Savvy hackers could even abuse the kernel to make machines more vulnerable to other types of malicious bugs or malware.

      Computer chips from other manufacturers are also vulnerable to the Meltdown and Spectre threats. On January 9, Microsoft suspended a Windows update for AMD-powered machines after it heard from consumers who said their PC went into "an unbootable state" following the update.

      Today, Microsoft announced it has resumed Windows updates for AMD machines.

      The process of patching computer processors vulnerable to Meltdown and Spectre threats is encountering a few bumps in the road.Intel previously said th...

      Airbag inflator issue prompts Nissan recall of Versa models

      The airbag inflator could explode, causing injuries or deaths

      Nissan North America is recalling 52,614 of the following vehicles:

      • Model year 2009-2012 Versa Hatchback, and 2011 Versa Sedan vehicles ever registered in the states of 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."
      • Model year 2010 Versa Hatchback, and Versa Sedan vehicles ever registered in the states of 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."
      • Model year 2009 Versa Hatchback and Versa Sedan vehicles 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 or "Zone C."

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

      An inflator explosion may result in sharp metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will replace the passenger frontal air bag inflator, free of charge.

      The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule. Owners may contact Nissan customer service at 1-800-647-7261.

      Nissan North America is recalling 52,614 of the following vehicles: Model year 2009-2012 Versa Hatchback, and 2011 Versa Sedan vehicles ever register...

      Model year 2013 Ferrrari Californias, 458 Italias, 458 Spiders, FFs, and F12 Berlinettas recalled

      The airbag inflator could explode, causing injuries or deaths

      Ferrari North America is recalling 1,073 model year 2013 Californias, 458 Italias, 458 Spiders, FFs, and F12 Berlinettas 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.

      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 airbag deployment, these inflators may explode due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to absolute humidity and temperature cycling.

      An inflator explosion may result in sharp metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      Ferrari will notify owners, and dealers will replace the passenger frontal air bag assembly, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin March 9, 2018.

      Owners may contact Ferrari customer service at 1-866-551-2828. Ferrari's number for this recall is 63.

      Ferrari North America is recalling 1,073 model year 2013 Californias, 458 Italias, 458 Spiders, FFs, and F12 Berlinettas sold, or ever registered in Alabam...

      Communication hinders savings success for many couples, survey suggests

      New data shows most couples don’t carve out time to talk about money on a daily or weekly basis

      Fewer than one in 10 couples (9 percent) have regular, planned meetings to discuss their finances, according to a new survey by John Hancock’s Twine, a new savings and investing app.

      A majority of couples (70 percent) say they talk about money only sporadically and during casual conversation, while 11 percent do it over text or email. But financial experts say that’s not enough.

      Regular discussions are critical to keeping a couple’s financial life on the right track, says Steve Dorval, head of advice and innovation at John Hancock -- especially for couples that pool their money.

      Avoiding financial conversations

      The survey of 1,000 adults in long-term relationships revealed that 74 percent of couples share a checking account and 68 percent share a savings account; 68 percent said they share one or more credit cards with their partner.

      However, nearly one-third of those surveyed admitted they have feelings of anxiety, confusion, or fear when it comes to saving with their partner.

      Communication was a major barrier to collaborative saving for most couples, with 57 percent of participants noting they tend to avoid bringing it up.

      While a majority of respondents say they talk to their partner about financial goals, the findings suggested that couples’ lack of regular, predetermined financial discussions may be hurting their chances of working towards and achieving their goals.

      "These findings highlight a key issue for consumers navigating their finances: saving and managing money can be difficult and confusing," Dorval said.

      Saving strategies

      “Discussing life goals regularly is a great way for couples to get on the same page regarding their finances,” Dorval told ConsumerAffairs. “Life goals are milestones couples hope to reach before retirement (e.g., planning a wedding, buying a house, going on a dream vacation).”

      “When couples have a clear understanding of their shared and individual goals, they can back up into a plan for saving for them, together,” he said. “​In addition, figuring out how you want to combine your finances -- if at all -- is critical.”

      Here are a few tips that can help couples set and reach their financial goals, according to the team at Twine.

      • Set a goal. Pick a goal to achieve in the next one, five, 10, or even 20 years and figure out how much to save monthly.

      • Establish a timeline. Once you have communicated with your partner about your shared and individual goals, establish a timeline for when you want to accomplish them. Doing so will help you figure out how much to save monthly.

      • Create an automatic savings plan. Committing yourself to an automatic savings plan allows you to set it and forget it, says Dorval. Make sure that your goal and savings plan takes into consideration a monthly budget of your expenses.

      • Save small amounts. Saving in smaller, consistent amounts is often more successful and is more predictable.

      • Use technology. Using technology or downloading a mobile app can help couples set goals and keep moving in the right financial direction. Of the 38 percent of survey respondents who said they used an app or technology to manage or save their money, more than three-quarters (84 percent) said it has helped them in some way (either by saving more money, saving faster, or forcing saving behaviors.)

      Fewer than one in 10 couples (9 percent) have regular, planned meetings to discuss their finances, according to a new survey by John Hancock’s Twine, a new...

      CVS adopting new beauty product image standards

      Any retouching will have to be clearly identified

      CVS Pharmacy has announced new standards for the marketing of beauty products sold in its stores and online by pledging to identify any images that have been altered.

      At the same time, the company is introducing what it calls the "CVS Beauty Mark," a watermark that will identify images that have not not been "materially altered." That's defined as changing or enhancing a person's shape, size, proportion, skin, eye color, wrinkles, or any other individual characteristics.

      The company said it will work with suppliers and brand partners to set up an accountability system to make sure the new standards are met.

      Long history in glamour photography

      Retouched images have a long history in glamour photography. In recent years, critics have charged that enhancing photographs of models and celebrities creates an unrealistic ideal of beauty, especially among impressionable adolescent girls.

      In a 2015 video produced by SheKnowsMedia (below), young girls talk about how they and their friends deal with beauty standards established in the media.

      Support from girls' organization

      At least one organization representing girls has embraced the CVS initiative. Judy Vredenburgh, CEO of Girls Inc., praised CVS for celebrating beauty in all of its forms.

      "Allowing diversity and natural beauty to shine will have an immensely positive impact on girls and women everywhere," she said.

      CVS says its move has two purposes. It wants to promote transparency around beauty images and allow consumers to easily recognize when a marketing image has been altered and when it hasn't. It also wants to promote the idea that beauty can come in many different forms.

      The CVS Beauty Mark will begin appearing on CVS Pharmacy-produced beauty imagery later this year, with the objective of all images in the beauty sections of CVS Pharmacy stores being fully transparent by the end of 2020.

      "As a woman, mother and president of a retail business whose customers predominantly are women, I realize we have a responsibility to think about the messages we send to the customers we reach each day," said Helena Foulkes, President of CVS Pharmacy.

      Foulkes says the connection between the portrayal of unrealistic body images and negative health effects, especially in girls and young women, has been shown in a number of studies. She says CVS wants all of its messages to reflect the purpose of promoting good health.

      The decision is the latest pro-consumer response that CVS has taken. Last April, the company announced it would remove “chemicals of consumer concern” from nearly 600 CVS beauty products by 2019.

      CVS Pharmacy has announced new standards for the marketing of beauty products sold in its stores and online by pledging to identify any images that have be...

      Travelers at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport possibly exposed to measles

      Health officials say a traveler with a confirmed case of measles was at the airport on January 10

      Public health officials say a passenger arriving on an international flight to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport last Wednesday, January 10 may have exposed some people in the airport to measles.  

      A passenger with a confirmed case of measles landed at the international terminal (Terminal 5) on Wednesday morning and departed on a domestic flight from Terminal 1, according to a statement from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

      “People who were at O’Hare between 6:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. could have been exposed” to the passenger’s highly contagious disease, the statement said.

      Vaccinated people not at high risk

      The Department of Health confirmed that an unidentified passenger that flew into the airport from another country tested positive for the disease. The traveler was in multiple terminals of the airport before boarding a second flight from Chicago to Little Rock, AR, WTVG reports.

      Health officials stress that there is no current risk of a public outbreak. Individuals most at risk are those who were also in the airport during that time and have not been vaccinated.

      “Most people have been vaccinated routinely in childhood and are not at high risk...of most concern are people who have not been vaccinated,’’ the statement said.

      Symptoms

      Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus, according to health officials. The virus is easily spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Measles can cause serious complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis (swelling of the brain).

      Symptoms include a rash that starts on the face and neck, a high fever, runny nose, cough, and red, watery eyes. The rash generally appears about 14 days after exposure, but symptoms could come on as late as January 31 if you were exposed to the passenger’s virus on January 10.

      People who think they may have been exposed are advised to contact their health care provider right away. Be sure to call first and arrange for an exam to be done in a place where others will not be exposed so you don’t infect anyone else.

      Public health officials say a passenger arriving on an international flight to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport last Wednesday, January 10 may have exposed some pe...

      Hom/Ade Foods recalls frozen biscuits

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Hom/Ade Foods is recalling Mary B’s brand biscuits that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      There has been no illness to date associated with these products.

      The following products, with “Best If Used By” dates BEFORE September 23, 2018, and with the letter “M” immediately after the date, are being recalled:

      UPC #DESCRIPTION#

      20593

      00007

      MARY B’S JUMBO

      BUTTERMILK BISCUITS 35OZ

      10 /

      3.5OZ

      20593

      00015

      MARY B’S BUTTERMILK

      BISCUITS 26.4OZ

      12 /

      2.2OZ

      20593

      00018

      MARY B’S SOUTHERNMADE

      BISCUITS 26.4OZ

      12 /

      2.2OZ

      20593

      00020

      MARY B’S BUTTERMILK VALUE

      PACK BISCUITS 44OZ

      20 /

      2.2OZ

      2059

      300021

      MARY B’S SOUTHERNMADE

      VALUE PACK BISCUITS 44OZ

      20 /

      2.2OZ

      20593

      00022

      MARY B’s BUTTERMILK

      TEA BISCUITS 24OZ

      24

      / 1OZ

      20593

      00023

      MARY B’S BUTTERTASTE

      VALUE PACK BISCUITS 44OZ

      20

      / 2.2OZ

      20593

      00028

      MARY B’S THIN BUTTERMILK

      BISCUITS 28.6OZ

      22 /

      1.3OZ

      20593

      00033

      MARY B’S BUTTERMILK

      FAMILY PACK BISCUITS 60OZ

      30 /

      2OZ

      2059

      300034

      MARY B’S SOUTHERNMADE

      FAMILY PACK BISCUITS 60OZ

      30

      / 2OZ

      205930

      0035

      MARY B’S BUTTERTASTE FAMILY

      PACK BISCUITS 60OZ

      30 /

      2OZ

      20593

      83000

      MARY B’S BUTTERMILK 0

      TRANS FAT 220CT BULK BISCUITS

      220

      / 2.2OZ

      205938

      3004

      MARY B’S BUTTERMILK

      BISCUITS 220CT BULK BISCUITS

      220 /

      2.2OZ

      20593

      87000

      MARY B’S MADE WITH

      WHOLE GRAIN 220CT BULK BISCUITS

      220 /

      2.2OZ

      305932

      0583

      MARY B’S 3.5 OZ JUMBO

      BUTTERMILK 144CT BULK

      BISCUITS

      144 /

      3.5OZ

      The code may be found on the back of the bag, lower right corner.

      The recalled products were sold in retail stores in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may call Hom/Ade Foods at 1-855-562-7773, Monday – Friday, from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. (CT).

      Hom/Ade Foods is recalling Mary B’s brand biscuits that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.There has been no illness to date associated wi...

      Facebook to de-emphasize commercial content in news feeds

      Social media giant wants users to be happier

      To a large extent, Facebook controls what users see on their news feed, and the social media company says users will soon see more posts relating to family and friends and fewer posts by commercial interests.

      Currently, users might see news articles and videos posted by publishers, with content relating to the users' interests. In the weeks ahead, Facebook will begin emphasizing content that comes from users' family and friends.

      Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says the change is designed to make users feel “happier” and more connected to the people with whom they have relationships.

      In a Facebook post, Zuckerberg writes that feedback from users indicates that posts from businesses, brands, and media are crowding out more personal content.

      "Balance has shifted"

      “It's easy to understand how we got here,” Zuckerberg wrote. “Video and other public content have exploded on Facebook in the past couple of years. Since there's more public content than posts from your friends and family, the balance of what's in News Feed has shifted away from the most important thing Facebook can do -- help us connect with each other.”

      For businesses, Facebook has become a major marketing platform and many are using it as a low-cost way to reach tens of millions of potential customers. Publishers whose posts show up in news feeds register significant increases in internet traffic, which can be monetized.

      Zuckerberg says Facebook is just trying to make its users happier, pointing to research that he says shows connecting with friends and family leads to good results.

      “We can feel more connected and less lonely, and that correlates with long term measures of happiness and health,” he wrote. “On the other hand, passively reading articles or watching videos -- even if they're entertaining or informative -- may not be as good.”

      Unhappy users

      A check of ConsumerAffairs reviews shows some Facebook users have issues that go beyond simply reading articles or watching videos. The social media site sometimes turns into a place where users hurl insults at one another over political and social issues.

      “In the past, I have lodged complaints about inappropriate posts and have had people attack me and was told repeatedly that the content doesn't violate their policies. However, when I defended myself, I was immediately put in jail, supposedly for 24 hours, which has now stretched for 48+ hours,” Melissa, of Culleoka, Tenn., wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post.

      “I am sick and tired of seeing neo-nazi, evangelical, hate-filled posts that are deemed ‘acceptable,’ but me defending myself is offensive.”

      In fact, recent reviews of Facebook reveal a significant number of users who either feel they are being harassed by others on the site or have been punished by Facebook for something they posted.

      Zuckerberg's announcement of a policy change may or may not make these users happier, but he says he hopes the company's changes will make time spent on the site more valuable for most users.

      “And if we do the right thing, I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term too,” he concluded.

      To a large extent, Facebook controls what users see on their news feed, and the social media company says users will soon see more posts relating to family...

      Ford recalls model year 2006 Rangers

      The driver and passenger side front airbag inflators could explode

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 2,700 model year 2006 Rangers.

      Upon deployment of the driver side and passenger side front airbags, excessive internal pressure may cause the inflators to explode with sharp metal fragments striking the vehicle occupants, potentially resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners instructing them to not drive their vehicles, and dealers will replace the inflators with alternate inflators, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 16, 2018.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 18S02.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 2,700 model year 2006 Rangers. Upon deployment of the front airbags, excessive internal pressure may cause the inflators to...

      Model year 2018 Nissan Versa Notes recalled

      A component of the side airbag curtain inflator may detach during deployment

      Nissan North America is recalling 111 model year 2018 Nissan Versa Notes.

      During deployment of the side curtain airbag, a component of the air bag inflator may detach.

      These vehicles, therefore, fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) number 214, "Side Impact Protection," and 226, "Ejection Mitigation."

      If the component detaches during deployment, it may enter the passenger compartment and be a projectile within the vehicle cabin, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will replace the side curtain air bags, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 8, 2018.

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

      Nissan North America is recalling 111 model year 2018 Nissan Versa Notes.During deployment of the side curtain airbag, a component of the air bag infla...

      Fieldbrook Foods expands cream bars recall

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Fieldbrook Foods Corporation is expanding its earlier recall to include all orange cream bars and chocolate coated vanilla ice cream bars produced in 2017 its Hoyer 1 Line at its Dunkirk, N.Y., plant (plant code 362677).

      Also being recalled are 28,751 cases of Raspberry Cream Bars that were included with Orange Cream Bars in ALDI seasonal split-case purchases. 

      The split-cases were shipped between March and August 2017.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem.

      The recalled orange cream bars, chocolate coated vanilla ice cream bars, and variety packs that include chocolate coated vanilla ice cream bars were sold by the following merchants under the indicated brands:

      MerchantBrandMerchantBrand
      AcmeLucerneRalphsKroger
      ALDISundae Shoppe

      Safeway (DC/DE/FL

      /MD/VA)

      Lucerne
      Amigo(Puerto Rico Only)Great ValueSave-A-LotWorld’s Fair
      Bi LoSouthern HomeShawsLucerne
      BJ'sWellsley FarmsShopritePolar Express
      DemoulasMarket BasketShopriteShoprite
      DillonKrogerSmart & FinalFirst Street
      Dollar TreeParty TreatSmithsKroger
      Econo (Puerto Rico Only)EconoStarLucerne
      Food 4 LessKrogerStaterStater
      Fred MeyerKrogerStop N ShopAhold symbol
      FrysKrogerTopsTops
      GiantAhold symbolVariousFood Club
      Giant EagleGiant EagleVariousStoneridge
      HarveysSouthern HomeVariousHagan
      JewelLucerneVariousGreens
      King SoopersKrogerVariousHood
      KrogerKrogerVariousStoneridge
      MeijerPurple CowWalmart (Puerto Rico Only)Great Value
      Price ChopperPICWeisWeis
      Price RitePrice RiteWinn DixieWinn Dixie

      The recalled products have a production date of January 1, 2017, to December 31, 2017, and a “best by” date of January 1, 2018, to December 31, 2018.

      The Hood and Kemps products may show a “best by” date of July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1 800/333-0805 x2270.

      Fieldbrook Foods Corporation is expanding its earlier recall to include all orange cream bars and chocolate coated vanilla ice cream bars produced in 2017...

      Mercedes-Benz recalls AMG GT Roadsters

      The passenger front airbag may malfunction

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 10 model year 2017 AMG GTs & AMG GT-C Roadsters, and 2018 AMG GT-S & GT Roadsters equipped with AMG Performance Seats.

      The passenger occupant classification system (OCS) might not function properly, possibly causing the passenger front airbag to be incorrectly deactivated or incorrectly activated in the event of a crash.

      A passenger airbag that is incorrectly activated or deactivated in the event of a crash increases the risk of injury.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will update the OCS software, and if necessary, replace the passenger seat cushion, free of charge.

      Owners will be notified of the recall in January 2018 and receive a second letter when the parts become available, currently expected to be in February 2018.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at 1-877-496-3691.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 10 model year 2017 AMG GTs & AMG GT-C Roadsters, and 2018 AMG GT-S & GT Roadsters equipped with AMG Performance Seat...

      Survey finds consumers are confident about their finances

      Economist says tight labor market may be lifting spirits

      Two-thirds of consumers expressed optimism about their personal finances to start 2018 in a survey conducted by LendingTree, an online loan marketplace.

      Nearly half the consumers in the survey said 2017 was better for them financially than the previous year, with at least one-third saying they got a pay raise last year. Twenty-four percent said they were able to add to their savings last year.

      Consumers under age 35 appear to be the most optimistic. A full 79 percent of this age group said they expect their finances to improve this year. In contrast, only 55 percent of those older than 50 expressed confidence that their finances would improve in 2018.

      Rising home prices and a booming stock market could be contributing to the sunny outlook, but economist Joel Naroff, of Naroff Economic Advisors, points to a tightening labor market, where job security has improved.

      Easier to get a job

      "The labor market is good for almost anyone who can pass a drug and background test," Naroff told ConsumerAffairs. "Some people may have to relocate to get jobs, but they are out there. Most businesses, no matter what their size, are having significant problems finding qualified workers to fill openings."

      Not only does that improve the prospects of finding a job, it helps people who already have one. Businesses realize it is important to retain good employees. Naroff expects that trend to continue in the months ahead.

      "The tax cuts will accelerate economic growth, raising labor demand and making it more likely that less qualified workers will be hired," he said. "In other words, the economy is too strong for the labor markets, but that is why things are good for workers."

      With a tight labor market, wages could also rise -- another benefit for consumers. At the same time, rising wages could increase inflation, making most things more expensive. So far, at least, inflation has been tame, perhaps another reason for consumer optimism.

      Worries about credit card debt

      There is one area of the economy that Naroff sees as cause for concern. Credit card debt hit a record level in November, with December's spending yet to be accounted for.

      Evidence suggests households appear to be funding spending out of savings. Naroff says that's the result of growing consumer confidence that might not be justified.

      "Household budgets seem to be stretched. That said, people use credit cards for just about everything, so saying we are at record highs is not that much of a surprise," he said. "It is the record highs coupled with the low and declining savings rate that has me concerned."

      In the LendingTree survey, that's also the biggest source of consumer concern. Only 16 percent reported progress in reducing credit card debt last year.

      Forty-three percent of consumers expressed concern about unexpected expenses and 34 percent said they sometimes worried about making ends meet. Those two factors often result in more expenses going on credit cards instead of being paid for with cash.

      Two-thirds of consumers expressed optimism about their personal finances to start 2018 in a survey conducted by LendingTree, an online loan marketplace....

      Skip Hop recalls convertible high chairs

      The front legs can detach from the seat

      Skip Hop of New York is recalling about 9,900 Tuo convertible high chairs sold in the U.S and Canada.

      The front legs can detach from the seat, posing fall and injury hazards to children.

      The company has received 13 reports of the legs of the high chairs detaching, resulting in two reports of bruises to children.

      This recall involves the charcoal colored Tuo convertible high chair, which can be converted into a toddler chair.

      The style numbers are 304200 and 304200CN with a date code found on the back of the chair as follows: HH102016, HH11/2016, HH3/2017 and HH4/2017.

      The high chairs have a reversible seat pad, removable tray, 5-point harness, beechwood footrest and legs

      The high chairs, manufactured in China, were sold at Babies ”R” Us, Buy Buy Baby, Target, Kohls, Dillards and other children specialty stores nationwide and online at Amazon.com and Skiphop.com from December 2016, through September 2017, for about $160.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled high chairs and contact Skip Hop for a free replacement.

      Consumers may contact Skip Hop toll-free at 888-282-4674 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, or online at www.skiphop.com and click on “Product Recalls” for more information.

      Skip Hop of New York is recalling about 9,900 Tuo convertible high chairs sold in the U.S and Canada.The front legs can detach from the seat, posing fa...

      Fieldbrook Foods recalls of Orange Cream Bars

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Fieldbrook Foods Corporation of Dunkirk, N.Y., is recalling 20 cases of the Tops brand of Orange Cream Bars and 320 cases of the Meijer Purple Cow brand Orange Cream Bars.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem.

      The recalled Top’s Orange Cream Bars, which come in a 12-ct retail box with a production date of December 18, 2017, and a “best by” date of December 18, 2018, were sold in Tops retail stores in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts.

      The recalled Purple Cow Orange Cream Bars, which come in a 12-ct retail box with a production date of November 30, 2017, and a “best by” date of November 30, 2018, were sold in Meijer retail stores in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin. 

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should discard it immediately or return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1 800 333-0805, x2270.

      Fieldbrook Foods Corporation of Dunkirk, N.Y., is recalling 20 cases of the Tops brand of Orange Cream Bars and 320 cases of the Meijer Purple Cow brand Or...

      Crescent City Meats recalls Tasso Cajun Spicy Ham

      The product may be underprocessed

      Crescent City Meats of Metairie, La., is recalling approximately 430 pounds of Ready-to-Eat (RTE) Tasso Cajun Spicy Ham which may be underprocessed.

      The the following item, produced on November 9, December 18, and December 20, 2017, is being recalled:

      • 5-lb vacuum packs that were shipped in 10-lb. cases with the product labeled “TASSO CAJUN SPICY HAM READY TO EAT” containing lot codes 1631317, 1635517, and 1635217 or 35217.

      The recalled product, bearing establishment number “Est. 13244” inside the USDA mark of inspection, was distributed for institutional use in the New Orleans metropolitan area.

      What to do

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Gerard B. Hanford at (504) 737-0570.

      Crescent City Meats of Metairie, La., is recalling approximately 430 pounds of Ready-to-Eat (RTE) Tasso Cajun Spicy Ham which may be underprocessed.The...

      Mercedes-Benz recalls GLC vehicles with possible illumination issue

      The vehicles' headlights may be misadjusted

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 8,134 model year 2016-2017 GLC300s, GLC300 4MATICs and GLC43 4MATICs.

      The vehicles may have misadjusted headlights, possibly resulting in the low beam headlights insufficiently illuminating the roadway.

      As such, they fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 108, "Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment."

      An insufficiently illuminated roadway may increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the headlamp adjustment, adjusting it as necessary, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin in January 2018.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at 1-877-496-36

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 8,134 model year 2016-2017 GLC300s, GLC300 4MATICs and GLC43 4MATICs.The vehicles may have misadjusted headlight...

      Gasoline prices remain stable despite rising oil prices

      Analysts say refiners have been unusually busy

      Oil prices have started 2018 hitting their highest levels since 2014. The price of West Texas Intermediate crude is hovering between $63 and $64 a barrel.

      Normally, gasoline prices follow the price of crude higher, but that hasn't happened so far. The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the average price of regular gasoline is $2.49 a gallon, up only a penny in the last week.

      Patrick DeHaan, Head of Petroleum Analysis at GasBuddy, says real geopolitical concerns have boosted oil prices, along with data showing oil supplies continue to fall. Normally, he says that would cause gas prices to go up.

      "The irony here is that part of the reason for oil inventories declining has been the incredible refinery utilization rates," DeHaan told ConsumerAffairs. “They're churning out products at levels unheard of for winter."

      In fact, the normal seasonal trend is to reduce production of gasoline, and in recent years that has pushed prices higher during the winter months. DeHaan says refiners are buying more oil -- boosting the price of crude -- but turning that oil into gasoline. With ample supplies of gasoline, prices consumers pay at the pump are remaining stable.

      Surging gasoline inventories

      "Oil prices may rise, but since gasoline's relationship to oil isn't direct, it may not be completely mirrored at the pump, given that gasoline inventories have been surging," DeHaan said.

      AAA reports plentiful supplies have brought down retail gasoline prices in a handful of states over the last week. Regular gas is 10 cents a gallon cheaper in Indiana, seven cents cheaper in Ohio, and six cents cheaper in Michigan.

      “On average, gas prices are 12 cents more expensive than a year ago. However, on the week, consumer demand for gasoline decreased. If this continues, gas prices will decrease in the weeks ahead,” said AAA spokesperson Jeanette Casselano.

      That doesn't mean motorists won't encounter some price volatility. Across the Great Lakes and Central states, prices have increased as much as six cents and gone down as much as three cents in the last week.

      Oil prices have started 2018 hitting their highest levels since 2014. The price of West Texas Intermediate crude is hovering between $63 and $64 a barrel....

      Toyota expands Takata airbag recall

      The airbag inflator could rupture during deployment

      Toyota Motor North America is expanding its recall of vehicles with Takata front passenger airbag inflators.

      The recalled vehicles are equipped with a particular type of Takata inflator in which a safety defect may arise in the front passenger airbag inflators in the involved vehicles due to inflator propellant degradation occurring after prolonged exposure to high absolute humidity, high temperatures, and high temperature cycling.

      This may result in an inflator rupture when the airbag deploys.

      Based on the latest information from Takata, the expansion involves approximately 601,300 additional vehicles in the U.S.

      The following models are included:

      • 2009 – 2010 and 2013 Model Year Scion xB
      • 2009 ‐ 2010 and 2013 Model Year Toyota Corolla
      • 2009 – 2010 and 2013 Model Year Toyota Corolla Matrix
      • 2009 – 2010 Model Year Toyota Yaris
      • 2010 and 2013 Model Year Toyota 4Runner
      • 2013 Model Year Toyota Sienna
      • 2009 – 2010 and 2013 Model Year Lexus IS250/350
      • 2010 and 2013 Model Year Lexus IS250C/350C
      • 2009 – 2010 and 2013 Model Year Lexus IS‐F
      • 2009 – 2010 Model Year Lexus ES350
      • 2010 and 2013 Model Year Lexus GX460

      What to do

      Toyota will contact all known owners of the recalled vehicles by first class mail by early March.

      Toyota and Lexus dealers will replace either the front passenger air bag inflator or the front passenger air bag assembly at no cost to customers.

      Owners with questions may contact Toyota customer service at 1‐800‐331‐4331, or Lexus customer service at 1‐800‐255‐3987.

      Toyota Motor North America is expanding its recall of vehicles with Takata front passenger airbag inflators.The recalled vehicles are equipped with a p...

      Mercedes-Benz recalls model year 2016-2017 GLE 550e 4MATICs

      The tire pressure label on the B-pillar contains incorrect information

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 64 model year 2016-2017 Mercedes GLE 550e 4MATICs.

      The tire pressure label on the B-pillar lists incorrect seating capacity and front and rear tire dimension information.

      As a result, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FVMSS) number 101, "Tire Selection and Rims."

      Applying incorrectly sized tires to the vehicle will affect the speedometer reading, which can increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the tire pressure label, replacing it, as necessary, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin in January 2018.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at 1-877-496-3691.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 64 model year 2016-2017 Mercedes GLE 550e 4MATICs.The tire pressure label on the B-pillar lists incorrect seatin...

      Mercedes-Benz model year 2018 AMG GT vehicles recalled

      There may be slack in the seat belts

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 1,263 model year 2018 Mercedes-Benz AMG GT, AMG GT R, AMG GT C and AMG GT S vehicles.

      The seat belts may bind within the guidance loops possibly causing slack in the seat belts.

      If the seat belt binds, slack may develop through occupant movement which may lead to increased personal injury in the event of a crash.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will reconfigure the seat belt guides, free of charge.

      Owners will be notified of the recall in January 2018 and will receive a second letter when the parts become available, currently expected to be in February 2018.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at 1-877-496-3691.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 1,263 model year 2018 Mercedes-Benz AMG GT, AMG GT R, AMG GT C and AMG GT S vehicles.The seat belts may bind wit...

      SureFit recalls riding lawn mower blade spindle shafts

      The blade spindle shaft can break

      MTD Products of Cleveland, Ohio, is recalling about 975 SureFit blade spindle shaft/assemblies sold in the U.S. and Canada.

      The blade spindle shaft can break during lawn mowing and the broken blade pieces can become projectiles. This poses a risk of an impact injury to bystanders or damage to property.

      The company has received one report of blade spindle shaft breaking. No injuries or property damage have been reported.

      This recall involves the SureFit blade spindle shaft/assembly with model numbers 504-00341 and 504-00346.

      SureFit          

      504-00341 Blade Spindle Assembly

      Numbers Affected:

      504-00346 Blade Spindle Shaft

      The products were sold separately as replacement blade spindle shafts/assemblies in the aftermarket for John Deere riding lawn mowers.

      The blade spindle shaft/assemblies, manufactured in China, were sold at Ball Equipment, Dixie Sales, Mar Brothers and other lawn and garden stores nationwide from January 2017, through September 2017, for about $58 for the assembly and $20 for the shaft.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using riding lawn mowers with SureFit blade spindle shaft and/or assemblies and contact SureFit for instructions on receiving a free replacement blade spindle shaft. The firm is contacting all known purchasers directly.

      Consumers may contact SureFit toll-free at 855-971-2299 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, Saturday and Sunday between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. or online at www.mtdproducts.com and click on Product Recall at the bottom of the page for more information.

      MTD Products of Cleveland, Ohio, is recalling about 975 SureFit blade spindle shaft/assemblies sold in the U.S. and Canada.The blade spindle shaft can...

      Apple promises more parental controls amid addiction concerns

      Shareholders say Apple should do more to help parents manage access to smartphones

      In an open letter sent earlier this week, two major Apple shareholders urged the company to do more to restrict the use of smartphones and tablets by children over concerns that the devices are too addictive.

      "There is a growing body of evidence that, for at least some of the most frequent young users, this may be having unintentional negative consequences" on their health, said Jana Partners LLC and California State Teachers' Retirement System (Calstrs).

      The "growing societal unease" over children’s overuse of smartphones is "at some point likely to impact even Apple," the letter warned.

      More robust parental controls

      Apple responded by saying that it plans to roll out new features to help parents manage their children’s use of its smartphones.

      "Apple has always looked out for kids, and we work hard to create powerful products that inspire, entertain, and educate children while also helping parents protect them online," an Apple representative said in a statement late Monday.

      Devices made by the tech giant already include parental controls that allow parents to manage which apps and content their children can and cannot use. But the two shareholders say current parental control settings offer an “all or nothing” approach that should be improved upon.

      In its response statement, Apple vowed to improve existing iOS parental controls in future updates.

      "We have new features and enhancements planned for the future, to add functionality and make these tools even more robust,” the company added.

      Addiction concerns

      The open letter to Apple comes amidst growing concern over children’s overuse of smartphones, which experts say can even carry the hallmarks and health repercussions of addiction.

      The letter cites several key studies that link inappropriate or prolonged smartphone use to multiple adverse effects on children and teens.

      Addressing this issue now would enhance the value of Apple in the long-term for all shareholders, the two large shareholders contend.

      “We think deeply about how our products are used and the impact they have on users and the people around them,” Apple told The Wall Street Journal. “We take this responsibility very seriously and we are committed to meeting and exceeding our customers’ expectations, especially when it comes to protecting kids.

      In an open letter sent earlier this week, two major Apple shareholders urged the company to do more to restrict the use of smartphones and tablets by child...

      CES displays new IoT security solutions

      Companies introduce products to make your smart devices more secure

      The Consumer Electronics Show, now referred to simply as CES, is an annual display of the latest gadgets technology companies have to offer.

      In many cases, the products on display are simply concepts and won't be available as consumer products for months, or even years. This year, artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous vehicles are taking center stage.

      But some companies are also lifting the wraps off new products ready to hit the market and designed to address current problems, such as the security of the growing number of smart devices found in the average U.S. home.

      These devices, from printers to garage door openers, all connect to the internet with unique IP addresses and can be vulnerable to hackers. At least three new products being introduced this week in Las Vegas are designed to address those risks.

      Protecting internet-connected devices

      Bitdefender, a cybersecurity firm, is using CES to demonstrate its latest smart home security solutions. The product is Bitdefender BOX 2, which the company says adds another layer of security to internet-connected devices.

      Bitdefender BOX 2 plugs into a home's router and protects all the things connected to it from online threats.

      D-Link and McAfee have teamed up to produce the D-Link AC2600 Wi-Fi Router, described as an “all-in-one solution that automatically increases security for devices on the home network."

      The companies say it addresses the increased need for online security when so many things in the home connect to the internet and can be exploited by hackers for a number of uses. In 2016, hackers planted malware on millions of poorly-protected smart devices to launch massive denial of service attacks against major websites.

      The new product combines D-Link's dual-band 802.11ac router with MU-MIMO technology, McAfee’s Secure Home Platform that automatically protects all devices connected to the network, and Intel's Home Wi-Fi Chipset WAV500 Series, providing Wi-Fi connectivity to connected devices at the same time.

      "As the number of connected devices in homes increases, consumers are increasingly concerned about online security threats," Anny Wei, D-Link CEO said in an interview. "We've teamed up with McAfee and Intel to address these concerns with a powerful, easy to manage, all-in-one solution."

      Wei cites a report from research firm Gartner, which estimates there will be 20 billion connected IoT devices by 2020 -- devices that require protection.

      New generation of sensors

      Vayyar Imaging, meanwhile, has introduced a new generation of sensors for the connected home. The technology combines multiple capabilities to cover an entire apartment in all lighting conditions, emphasizing the preservation of privacy.

      The company produced this video to explain how it works:

      The company says there are no cameras, no need to wear any kind of device, or to interact with the product in any way.

      Because of that, it says the product protects privacy while determining if a person has fallen by measuring activity levels and monitoring the perimeter of the house to provide intruder alerts.

      The Consumer Electronics Show, now referred to simply as CES, is an annual display of the latest gadgets technology...

      Credit card debt hits record high in November

      Federal Reserve report shows balances eclipsed those from 2008

      New data from the Federal Reserve reveals consumers' credit card balances hit a new record high in November.

      On one hand it signals a more confident consumer, but on the other it could be a warning of trouble ahead if consumers put more on their plastic than they can repay.

      The Fed report shows that consumer revolving credit -- mostly credit cards -- hit 1.023 trillion in November, an increase of $11.2 billion. The previous record was $1.021 trillion in April 2008, just months before the financial crisis.

      'Wake-up call'

      "This record should serve as a wake-up call to American consumers to make 2018 the year they get their credit card debt under control," Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com, said in an email to ConsumerAffairs.

      A bigger credit card balance usually means it will take longer to get out of debt, but the monthly payment can also go up. Credit card companies set the minimum payment based on the amount of the balance.

      At the same time, the interest rate on credit cards is at a near record level, and Schultz expects it to continue going up this year as the Fed continues a policy of gradually raising a key interest rate. Schultz worries than consumers may be getting over-extended.

      "Simply put, there's only so much credit card debt Americans can absorb without it causing real problems," he said. "Right now, delinquencies are still fairly low, but they're climbing."

      Because of low unemployment and gradually rising wages, more consumers may feel they are in a position to take on more debt. But Schultz cautions credit card debt is among the most expensive.

      "A mix of increased card debt and higher interest rates means that climb will probably accelerate in 2018," Schultz said. "That could mean big trouble for many Americans."

      December balances could be higher

      The November numbers from the Fed include some holiday spending numbers but not what consumers put on their credit cards leading up to Christmas. Retailers reported a surge of last minute shopping in December, so it's possible the debt total for the entire year will be significantly higher than the record established in November.

      A December survey by COUNTRY Financial showed consumers admitted to going over their holiday spending budgets, with 31 percent saying they expected to go into debt to pay for the holidays.

      Paying down that debt will require a plan and some financial discipline. Bruce McClary, vice president for communications at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, says consumers trying to reduce their debt must take a hard look at their spending habits.

      "There's almost an infinite list of options for cost-cutting, it's just a matter of how much time and effort you want to put into finding those opportunities to save," McClary said.

      Schultz notes that reducing the interest rate on credit card debt to zero percent can be a big help. You can do that by applying for a balance transfer card that offers an introductory period of zero percent interest. During the entire introductory period, 100 percent of the payment goes to reduce the balance.

      You can learn more about balance transfer cards here.

      New data from the Federal Reserve reveals consumers' credit card balances hit a new record high in November.On one hand it signals a more confident con...

      HP recalls Notebook computer and mobile workstations batteries

      The lithium-ion batteries can overheat

      HP of Palo Alto, Calif., is recalling about 52,600 lithium-ion batteries for HP notebook computers and mobile workstations sold in the U.S and Canada.

      The batteries can overheat, posing fire and burn hazards.

      The company has received eight reports of battery packs overheating, melting, or charring, including three reports of property damage totaling $4,500 with one report of a minor injury involving a first degree burn to the hand.

      This recall involves lithium-ion batteries for HP Notebook computers and mobile workstations.

      The batteries were shipped with or sold as accessories for HP ProBooks (64x G2 and G3 series, 65x G2 and G3 series), HPx360 310 G2, HP Envy m6, HP Pavilion x360, HP 11, HP ZBook (17 G3, 17 G4, and Studio G3) Mobile Workstations.

      They were also sold as accessories or replacement batteries for the HP ZBook Studio G4 mobile workstation or for any of the products listed above.

      The batteries, manufactured in China, were sold separately at Best Buy and other stores and authorized dealers nationwide and online at www.Amazon.com, www.hp.com and other websites for between $50 and $90.

      They also were shipped in notebook computers and mobile workstations sold from December 2015, through December 2017, for between $300 and $4,000.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately visit www.HP.com/go/batteryprogram2018 to see if their battery is included in the recall, and for instructions on how to enable “Battery Safety Mode” if their battery is included in the recall.

      The website provides consumers instructions on how to initiate the validation utility to check their battery and what to download if their battery is included in the recall.

      These batteries are not customer-replaceable. HP will provide free battery replacement services by an authorized technician.

      Consumers may contact HP toll-free at 888-202-4320 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday or online at www.HP.com/go/batteryprogram2018 or www.hp.com and click “Recalls” for more information.

      HP of Palo Alto, Calif., is recalling about 52,600 lithium-ion batteries for HP notebook computers and mobile workstations sold in the U.S and Canada.T...

      Model year 2017 Mercedes G550 & G550 4x4 Squared vehicles recalled

      The vehicle may require increased braking effort

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 432 model year 2017 Mercedes G550 & G550 4x4 Squared vehicles.

      The vacuum hose for the brake booster may collapse resulting in increased braking effort, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will replace the vacuum hose, as necessary, free of charge. Parts are not currently available.

      Owners will be notified of the recall in January 2018 and receive a second letter when the parts become available, currently expected to be in March 2018.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at 1-877-496-3691.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 432 model year 2017 Mercedes G550 & G550 4x4 Squared vehicles.The vacuum hose for the brake booster may collapse...

      Chain retailers, restaurants want relaxed rules on group health insurance

      Who benefits from cheaper healthcare plans and a more flexible definition of 'employer?'

      In the Affordable Care Act’s early days, chain stores and restaurants predicted chaos. The CEO of Carl's. Jr. famously claimed that millions of part-time service industry jobs were getting cut.

      Restaurants across the country tacked on an “Obamacare” surcharge, and a leaked memo from Forever 21 detailed plans to reduce employee hours to 29.5 a week -- just low enough to avoid the 30-hour full-time designation as laid out by the Affordable Care Act.

      Retailers and restaurant owners have been some of the loudest voices complaining about Obamacare, or in particular the law’s mandate that employers provide full-time workers with health insurance. They are now embracing a Trump proposal that would dramatically change the way that employer-sponsored group health insurance is provided.

      The Department of Labor is taking comments on a rule that would allow small business owners, people in different states, and sole individuals to form their own “associations” to obtain group coverage across state lines, essentially changing the definition of “employer” that has been in effect since the 1970s.

      These plans would likely be cheaper and less comprehensive than typical employer-sponsored group coverage and attract younger people with less healthcare needs, experts say.

      “Empowering” small employers

      The DOL issued the proposal last week in response to an Executive Order that Trump had signed in October, which asked the agency to provide Americans with insurance options that are “exempt from the onerous and expensive insurance mandates” stipulated by Obamacare.

      The Trump administration is framing its proposed new rules on group health plans as a solution to making healthcare more affordable for the estimated 28 million Americans who remain uninsured.

      The National Restaurant Association and the National Retail Federation, the trade groups representing many of the nation’s chain stores, are among the few business associations that are lobbying in support of the  measure.

      Relaxing the definition of what qualifies as a group “would empower small employers,” according to the The National Retail Federation.

      Fewer consumer protections

      However, that claim doesn’t pass the muster with either independent proponents of affordable health care or with the actual health insurance industry.  

      So-called association health plans or multiple employer welfare arrangements, as they are called, “would not be subject to state patient protections” argues America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the health insurance industry’s lobbying group.

      The insurance industry says that these plans would offer fewer consumer protections and destabilize the market by taking healthy people out of the individual Affordable Care Act risk pool.

      Such plans, in the individual states where they are already legal, are also prone to fraud and abuse at the hands of unscrupulous insurance agents, research from independent think-tanks such as the Commonwealth Fund has found.

      “Insolvencies by self-insured MEWAs have left thousands of Americans with millions of dollars in unpaid medical bills,” the nonprofit wrote in 2004.

      In a statement, an AHIP spokesman tells ConsumerAffairs that “we are concerned that the changes proposed would lead to higher prices and weaker consumer protections in the small group and individual markets, where nearly 40 million Americans get their coverage.”

      A race to the bottom

      Physicians who want to expand access to affordable healthcare are also doubtful that the latest Trump healthcare proposal will actually do that.

      Dr. Adam Gaffney, a pulmonologist and who advocates for a single-payer healthcare system on his blog The Progressive Physician, says that association health plans may seem temptingly cheap. But he predicts that such plans will promote a race to the bottom in terms of quality.

      "You can always make insurance more affordable by making insurance worse. Plans that have less coverage are going to be less expensive,” he tells ConsumerAffairs. “But you're not really bringing down healthcare costs” in a meaningful way.

      So why even bother rolling out a healthcare reform that is prone to fraud and not particularly popular with the health insurance industry? Gaffney compares the issue to Trump’s efforts to reverse Obamacare’s birth control-mandate and individual mandate.

      "I think this is part of the larger Trump agenda to sort of dismantle some of the protections of the Affordable Care Act in a way that could have detrimental effects,” he said.

      In the Affordable Care Act’s early days, chain stores and restaurants predicted chaos. The CEO of Carl's. Jr. famously claimed that millions of part-time s...

      HealthPostures recalls IntimateRider chairs and RiderMate benches

      The stitching on the cloth cover can loosen, posing a fall hazard

      HealthPostures of Prior Lake, Minn., is recalling about 100 IntimateRider chairs and RiderMate benches.

      The stitching on the cloth cover can loosen, posing fall and injury hazards.

      The firm has received one report of failed stitching causing a person to fall, resulting in an ankle injury.

      This recall involves the IntimateRider chair and the RiderMate bench which are designed for the specialty mobility market, including persons with disabilities.

      The chair and bench have a steel frame and come with a black cloth covering that fits over them., and fold for storage.

      The chair part number is (P/N7100), and the bench part number is (P/N 7150). The numbers can be found on the white label located on the frame.

      The chairs and benches, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at The Veterans Administration in Richmond, Va.; Milwaukee, Wis.; St. Louis, Mo.; and online at Indemedical.com, Vidacura.com, Access to Recreation.com, Sportaid.com, The Access Store.com, Austin Wheelchair Co.com and intimaterider.com from September 2017, through November 2017, for about $365 for the chair and $159 for the bench.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled chairs and benches and contact HealthPostures for a free replacement cover and instructions on installing the replacement cover. Health Postures is contacting consumers directly.

      Consumers may contact HealthPostures at 800-277-1841 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, online at www.intimaterider.com, or email customerService@HealthPostures.com.

      HealthPostures of Prior Lake, Minn., is recalling about 100 IntimateRider chairs and RiderMate benches.The stitching on the cloth cover can loosen, pos...

      Evershing International recalls frozen shredded coconut

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Evershing International Trading Company is recalling Coconut Tree Brand Frozen Shredded Coconut (Item number 331223, UPC 05216-44081).

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The recalled product, packaged in 16-oz. plastic bags and limited to Lot SE07A1, was sold in Ohio, Massachusetts, Washington, California, Oklahoma, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Florida, and Texas.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product from January 3, 2017, through January 3, 2018, should return it to place of purchase for full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at (408) 975-9660 Monday to Saturday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

      Evershing International Trading Company is recalling Coconut Tree Brand Frozen Shredded Coconut (Item number 331223, UPC 05216-44081).The product may b...

      Mercedes-Benz recalls vehicles with rear passenger door issue

      The rear passenger door on the driver side may indicate it is locked, when it may not be

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 8,700 model year 2017 GLE400 4Matics; GLE350 4Matics; GLE350s; GLE550e 4Matics; GLE43 AMG 4Matics; GLE63 AMG 4Matics; GLS450, GLE63S 4Matics; GLS63 4Matics; S550e, S600, andS63 AMG 4Matics; S65 AMGs; S550s; Mercedes-Maybach S600s; Mercedes-Maybach S550 4Matics; GLE43 AMG 4Matic Coupes; GLE63S 4Matic Coupes; model year 2017-2018 GLS550 4Matics; S550 4Matics; model year 2018 S450s; and S63 AMG 4Matics.

      The rear passenger door on the driver side may indicate it is locked, when it may not be.

      As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 206, "Door Locks and Door Retention Components."

      If the door appears to be locked, it may be unintentionally opened, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the left rear door lock, replacing it as necessary, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin in January 2017.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at 1-877-496-3691.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 8,700 model year 2017 GLE400 4Matics; GLE350 4Matics; GLE350s; GLE550e 4Matics; GLE43 AMG 4Matics; GLE63 AMG 4Matics...

      Ford recalls model year 2018 Mustangs

      The vehicle may roll away in certain circumstances after it has been exited

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 2,100 model year 2018 Mustangs equipped with an automatic transmission and a 12.4" digital instrument cluster.

      If the ignition is turned off when the transmission is not in PARK, the instrument cluster may not illuminate the PRNDL gear position display and the operator may not receive the "Key in Ignition" chime when the driver's door is opened.

      Therefore, these vehicles fails to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 102, "Transmission Shift Lever Sequence/Starter Interlock/Transmission Braking Effect," and number 114, "Theft Protection."

      Without a visual or audible warning to the driver that the vehicle is in PARK, the vehicle may roll away after it has been exited if the parking brake has not been applied, increasing the risk of injury or a crash.

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will update the instrument cluster software, as necessary, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 5, 2018.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 17C21.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 2,100 model year 2018 Mustangs equipped with an automatic transmission and a 12.4" digital instrument cluster.If the ig...

      Toyota recalls vehicles with incorrect load carrying capacity labels

      The operator may overload the vehicle, increasing the risk of a crash

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 649 model year 2017-2018 Toyota 4Runners and Tundras, 2018 Toyota Highlanders, RAV4s and Lexus GX460s, and 2017 Toyota Siennas and Tacomas.

      The vehicles may have incorrect load carrying capacity labels, thus failing to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 110, "Tire Selection and Rims."

      An incorrect load information label can result in the operator overloading the vehicle and increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Toyota will notify owners and provide them with corrected labels, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 15, 2018.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331. Toyota's numbers for this recall are H0Z for Toyota vehicles, and HLF for Lexus vehicles.

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 649 model year 2017-2018 Toyota 4Runners and Tundras, 2018 Toyota Highlanders, RAV4s and Lexus GX460s...

      Forever 21 confirms 2017 data breach

      Payment cards may have been compromised at some stores

      Retailer Forever 21 has confirmed a payment card data breach it first raised as a possibility in mid-November.

      The company said it received a report from a third party in mid-October suggesting there could have been unauthorized access to payment card data at certain stores. The investigation revealed that encryption technology, installed on point-of-sale (POS) devices in 2015, was not always activated at some stores.

      Investigators then discovered signs of unauthorized network access and installation of malware on some POS devices. The malware searched for payment card data as it moved through the POS device.

      No consistent pattern

      Complicating the investigation is the fact that the encryption was not turned off in all stores; it was off for only a few days to several weeks in some stores; and it was off most of the time in other stores.

      "Each Forever 21 store has multiple POS devices, and in most instances only one or a few of the POS devices were involved," the company said in a statement. In nearly all cases, potentially compromised transactions occurred between March and October 2017.

      Mark Cline, a vice president at Netsurion, a provider of managed security services for multi-location businesses, says there are important lessons to learn here for both consumers and retailers.

      “With its endless POS endpoints, the retail industry has always been a desirable target for cybercriminals," he told ConsumerAffairs. "They know that if they can introduce malware into POS networks, they can make a decent amount of cash by selling credit card numbers on the dark web. With their millions of customers, large retailers, like Forever 21, have typically been the hardest hit."

      The costs for companies can be enormous. Cline says a retailer pays on average $172 per stolen record in "clean-up costs."

      The challenge for retailers is to stay ahead of the hackers. Cline suggests companies first run a vulnerability scan on their internal networks and then update all operating system and software upgrades and patches immediately.

      Consumers inconvenienced

      The cost for consumers is mostly in convenience. If promptly reported, consumer liability for fraudulent use of a credit card is limited to $50, and in many cases there is no loss.

      If debit card information is stolen, risks may be greater. Policies protecting consumers in these cases tend to vary bank to bank. Needless to say, a thief with a consumer's complete debit card information could clean out the account very quickly.

      Consumers using a payment card at a POS terminal are safer paying with a credit card than a debit card. Paying with cash is safer still.

      Forever 21 operates more than 815 stores in 57 countries with retailers in the United States and overseas. The company did not provide the number of its stores that may have been affected by the data breach.

      Retailer Forever 21 has confirmed a payment card data breach it first raised as a possibility in mid-November.The company said it received a report fro...

      Rocky Mountain Bicycles recalls mountain bikes

      The brakes can fail, posing a crash hazard

      Rocky Mountain Bicycles of Canada is recalling 3,100 mountain bicycles sold in the U.S. and Canada.

      The brake cable housing was not secured properly during manufacturing, which can cause brake failure, posing a crash hazard to the rider.

      No incidents or injuries are reported.

      This recall involves all model year 2018 Altitude, Instinct and Pipeline mountain bicycles.

      The carbon fiber and aluminum bicycles were sold in different colors, with the model name printed on a sticker on the top tube of the bicycles. Rocky Mountain is printed on the down tube, and the Rocky Mountain logo is printed on the headbadge on the headtube. The specified platform family is also printed on the rear triangle of the bicycle at the seatstay.

      The bicycles, manufactured in Taiwan and Canada, were sold at Rocky Mountain bicycle dealers nationwide from June 2017, through November 2017, for between $2,600 and $7,300.

      What to do

      Consumers should stop using the recalled bicycles immediately and contact an authorized Rocky Mountain dealer for free inspection and free repair.

      Consumers may contact Rocky Mountain at 866-522-2803 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at info@bikes.com or online at www.bikes.com and click on Safety/Recall at the bottom of the page.

      Rocky Mountain Bicycles of Canada is recalling 3,100 mountain bicycles sold in the U.S. and Canada.The brake cable housing was not secured properly dur...

      T. Marzetti recalls various brands of frozen biscuit dough

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      T. Marzetti Company is recalling various brands of frozen biscuit dough sold in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported in connection with the recalled items.

      All “Best By” dates of the following products are being recalled:

      Item # 
      Full UPC
      DescriptionCount per pkg

      07880

      02640

      SOUTHERN HOME 20 OLD

      FASHIONED BUTTERMILK

      STYLE BISCUITS

      20 ct

      11161

      03754

      SHUR FINE OLD FASIONED

      SOUTHERN STYLE BISCUITS

      12 ct

      11161

      03755

      SHUR FINE OLD FASIONED

      BUTTERMILK BISCUITS

      12 ct

      112250

      3092

      VALU TIME SOUTHERN

      STYLE BISCUITS

      20 ct

      112250

      8421

      VALU TIME BUTTERMILK

      STYLE BISCUITS

      20 ct

      35826

      04815

      FOOD LION HOMESTYLE

      BUTTERMILK BISCUITS

      12 ct

      368000

      4683

      FOOD CLUB SOUTHERN

      STYLE BISCUITS

      12 ct

      36800

      07549

      FOOD CLUB BUTTERMILK

      BISCUITS

      12 ct

      382591

      1726

      SE GROCERS

      BUTTERMILK BISCUITS

      12 ct

      382591

      1892

      SE GROCERS SOUTHERN

      STYLE BISCUITS

      20 ct

      412907

      5433

      PIGGLY WIGGLY

      BUTTERMILK BISCUITS

      20 ct

      412907

      5434

      PIGGLY WIGGLY

      HOMESTYLE BISCUITS

      20 ct

      416430

      0718

      LOWES FOODS

      BUTTERMILK BISCUITS

      20 ct

      416430

      0719

      LOWES FOODS

      SOUTHERN STYLE BISCUITS

      20 ct

      519333

      3968

      PREMIUM PICK 5

      BUTTERMILK BISCUITS

      20 ct

      714522

      0434

      MORNING FRESH

      FARMS BUTTERMILK

      BISCUITS

      12 ct

      722920

      0025

      MARSHALLS OLD

      FASHIONED SOUTHERN

      STYLE BISCUITS

      12 ct

      86854

      02591

      LAURA LYNN SOUTHERN

      STYLE BISCUITS

      12 ct

      86854

      04014

      LAURA LYNN

      BUTTERMILK BISCUITS

      12 ct

      86854

      04894

      LAURA LYNN 20CT

      BUTTERMILK BISCUIT

      20 ct

      882670

      3140

      SOUTHERN  HOME

      SOUTHERN STYLE  BISCUITS

      12 ct

      882670

      3141

      SOUTHERN HOME 20CT

      SOUTHERN STYLE BISCUITS

      20 ct

      882670

      3152

      SOUTHERN HOME

      BUTTERMILK BISCUITS

      12 ct

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but destroy them or return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-866-837-2758 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. (ET).

      T. Marzetti Company is recalling various brands of frozen biscuit dough sold in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Pe...

      2017 was the safest year ever for air travel

      Expert says safety has been improving for two decades

      Air travel might not have been any more pleasant last year, but it was commercial aviation's safest year ever, according to data from the Aviation Safety Network (ASN).

      The group recorded just 10 fatal accidents and 79 deaths in 2017 involving airliners, with none occurring in the U.S. In 2016, there were 16 accidents costing 303 lives.

      Last year's accidents all involved cargo planes or smaller, propeller-driven passenger aircraft. No jetliners were lost.

      While President Trump was quick to link what he called his "strict" approach to commercial aviation to improved safety, one expert credits a number of factors that have made the skies safer over the last two decades.

      "I think continuous learning from accidents and sharing knowledge and improvements worldwide contributed over the years to safety, and still contributes," ASN President Harro Ranter told ConsumerAffairs.

      Changing aviation culture

      Ranter says aviation culture has changed over the last two decades to emphasize safety. For example, he points to policy changes that have encouraged pilots to anonymously report any safety issues they may encounter, even mistakes they made themselves, without having to fear sanctions.

      "Airlines and authorities analyze those reports and can take action to make the operation of the airline safer, or even take valuable safety lessons for everyone in the industry," Ranter said.

      The U.S. has been at the forefront of improved flight safety. Since November 12, 2001, when American Airlines flight 571 crashed on takeoff in a Queens, N.Y. neighborhood, there have been no major passenger jet crashes among U.S.-chartered airlines.

      During that time there were fatal crashes involving commuter aircraft in Charlotte, N.C., Lexington, Ky., and Clarence, N.Y. In 2013, an Asiana Airlines jet crash landed at San Francisco International Airport, killing two passengers.

      Global airlines are catching up

      Most recently, the world's air safety record has improved. Ranter credits international industry organizations like ICAO, IATA, and EASA in Europe.

      "ICAO has audited every member state to see how well they have implemented all international standards and recommended practices," Ranter said. "It gives countries a clear insight into how they're doing and where they should do better."

      IATA does the same by only allowing airlines to become a member after they pass a safety audit that must be renewed.

      Along with better training, more sophisticated equipment has made flying jet aircraft safer. Data is constantly collected and analyzed -- mostly for more efficient operations -- but Ranter says the analysis provides information the airlines use to create policies that promote safety.

      Air travel might not have been any more pleasant last year, but it was commercial aviation's safest year ever, according to data from the Aviation Safety N...

      Model year 2018 Alfa Romeo Giulias and Stelvios recalled

      The braking system may contain contaminated brake fluid

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 307 model year 2018 Alfa Romeo Giulias and Stelvios.

      The braking system may have been filled with contaminated brake fluid, possibly damaging the system and affecting its performance.

      A reduction in braking performance can increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Alfa Romeo will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the braking system, replacing it as necessary, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 8, 2018.

      Owners may contact Alfa Romeo customer service at 1-844-253-2872. Chrysler's number for this recall is T84.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 307 model year 2018 Alfa Romeo Giulias and Stelvios.The braking system may have been filled with contaminated brake...

      Volkswagen recalls model year 2018 Audi A5 Coupes

      The head curtain air bag assemblies that may not unfold properly

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 8,037 model year 2018 Audi A5 Coupes.

      The recalled vehicles were built with head curtain air bag assemblies that may not unfold properly.

      Thus, they fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 226, "Ejection Mitigation."

      If the air bag does not deploy properly in a crash occupants have an increased risk of injury.

      What to do

      Audi will notify owners, and dealers will modify the head curtain air bags so that they deploy properly, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 31, 2018.

      Owners may contact Audi customer service at 11-800-253-2834. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 69T7.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 8,037 model year 2018 Audi A5 Coupes.The recalled vehicles were built with head curtain air bag assemblies tha...

      Chrysler recalls model year 2005 Dodge Dakota pickup trucks

      The heated driver and passenger seats may develop hot spots

      Fiat Chrysler Automobiles US LLC (Chrysler) is recalling 16,900 model year 2005 Dodge Dakota pickup trucks equipped with heated seats.

      These driver and passenger seats may develop hot spots that can result in the seat cushion or seat back having burn holes.

      The hot spots and burn holes can injure the seat occupant and increase the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners and dealers will update the seat heating system control features, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 8, 2018.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is T80.

      Fiat Chrysler Automobiles US LLC (Chrysler) is recalling 16,900 model year 2005 Dodge Dakota pickup trucks equipped with heated seats.These driver and...

      Brompton folding bicycles recalled

      The bicycle’s bottom bracket can break during use

      Brompton Bicycle of Brooklyn, N.Y., is recalling about 9,700 Folding Brompton bicycles sold in the U.S, and Canada.

      The bicycle’s bottom bracket can break during use, posing a fall hazard.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Folding Brompton bicycles with “Brompton” printed on the bicycle’s frame.

      Only bicycles with serial numbers 1403284144 to 1705150001 (manufactured from April 2014 through May 2017) are included in the recall. The serial number is printed on a curved plate or sticker, applied to the rear of the seat tube.

      If the barcode sticker on the bike is faded or rubbed off, submit the six digit frame number stamped into the metal plate behind the bottom bracket and seat tube via email to support@brompton.com to receive the correlating serial number.

      The bicycles, manufactured in Great Britain, were sold at specialty bicycle stores and Brompton dealers nationwide from April 2014, through September 2017, for between $1,200 and $3,000

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled bicycles and contact an authorized Brompton dealer for free installation of a new bottom bracket cartridge.

      Consumers may contact Brompton at 800-578-6785 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday or online at www.brompton.com and click on Voluntary recall for more information.

      Brompton Bicycle of Brooklyn, N.Y., is recalling about 9,700 Folding Brompton bicycles sold in the U.S, and Canada.The bicycle’s bottom bracket can bre...