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    The amazing, ever-changing story of the Equifax hack

    From back-pedaling to clarifying to updating, the official story of the Equifax hack has a way of never staying the same

    There's no delicate way to announce that cybercriminals have stolen sensitive information about half of the United States population, but Equifax at least deserves points for trying.

    Equifax, one of “big three” agencies that control the shadowy credit reporting industry, first announced its discovery of an unfortunate “cyber security incident” in early September.

    The incident potentially impacted 143 million consumers, then-chairman and CEO Richard Smith said, adding that the firm “acted immediately to stop the intrusion.” An Equifax-led investigation into the matter would be complete in several weeks, the company said.

    That turned out to be an extremely optimistic assessment. Another eight months passed until, finally, in a May 8 filing to the SEC, Equifax quietly said its investigation into the breach was complete, at least where the hack of government-issued identification is concerned.

    “Through the company’s analysis, Equifax believes it has satisfied applicable requirements to notify consumers and regulators,” the credit reporting behemoth wrote in the filings. “It does not anticipate identifying further impacted consumers.”

    The filing, Equifax seems to hope, will finally bring this dark chapter in its history to a close. Over those previous eight months, the Equifax breach evolved from a “clearly disappointing event” that Equifax said would soon be resolved to an ongoing international scandal and criminal case.

    From a small sale to insider trading

    Though Equifax said it “acted immediately” upon discovering that consumer information was accessed on July 29 of last year, some people questioned why the official announcement about the incident did not arrive until September 7.

    It didn’t take much digging for financial journalists to find a potential answer. Later that day, Bloomberg News was reporting on its discovery that three Equifax executives sold $1.8 million worth of their shares in the company on August 1, one day after Equifax had said the breach was discovered.

    John Gamble, the company’s Chief Financial Officer, sold a reported $946,374 worth of stock. Joseph Loughran, the president of U.S. information solutions, and Rodolfo Ploder, president of workforce solutions, sold a respective half a million and quarter million worth of options.

    In a statement to Bloomberg, an Equifax spokesperson initially described the $1.8 million sale as “a small percentage of their Equifax shares” and added that the executives “had no knowledge that an intrusion had occurred at the time.”

    By November, Equifax had backtracked slightly, saying that it had agreed to launch an investigation into the sale. Luckily for the executives, the Equifax-led investigation found that the suspicious-looking stock dumping was perfectly legal.

    But by March, a former Equifax executive was facing federal insider trading charges -- only this executive was a different one from the three that were cleared in the company investigation.

    Jun Ying, a former information officer, "used confidential information to conclude that his company had suffered a massive data breach” and “dumped his stock before the news went public,” federal prosecutors said.

    It remains unclear why Ying knew about the breach while other executives did not. Equifax says it is cooperating with authorities, explaining to the press in March that "we take corporate governance and compliance very seriously, and will not tolerate violations of our policies.”

    John Gamble, the Chief Financial Officer who sold nearly a $1 million worth of his stock on August 1, remains at the company and is “responsible for all financial functions” at Equifax, according to his Equifax bio.

    Monitoring credit and giving away rights

    One potential way to keep people from panicking or getting angry about their data being stolen is to frame the unpleasant announcement as a chance to get something for free.  

    “Company to Offer Free Identity Theft Protection and Credit File Monitoring to All U.S. Consumers,” the first Equifax press release revealing the breach said in big, bold letters.

    Shortly after, Equifax had its new crediting monitoring website live and ready to go.

    At the unfortunately titled page equifaxsecurity2017.com, users were instructed to enter the last four digits of their social security numbers and their last names. From there, they could find out if they were impacted by the breach and enroll in credit monitoring.

    But some consumers reported being told that their data was impacted, regardless of whether they put in a correct name and matching social security number. And after reading through the terms and conditions, advocacy groups warned that consumers may be walking into a trap. By agreeing to the terms on the website, consumers were agreeing to waive their rights to sue the company, according to a vague arbitration clause included in the fine print.

    The National Consumer Law Center was among the advocacy groups warning consumers that the open-ended language in the clause would prevent consumers from taking Equifax to court.

    “Consumers and media have raised legitimate concerns about the services we offered and the operations of our call center and website,” CEO Rick Smith responded in an editorial in USA Today. “We accept the criticism and are working to address a range of issues.”

    Former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and other prominent Democratic lawmakers pressed Equifax about the arbitration clause. Equifax subsequently agreed to reword the agreement, explaining in the new fine print that the arbitration measure only applied to the credit monitoring service itself, not “the cyber security incident” in question.

    Meanwhile, as that controversy played out, the official Equifax Twitter account continued to urge consumers to visit their security page and sign up for free credit monitoring. It took several weeks for people to notice that Equifax had been sending people to the wrong page.

    Instead of sending consumers to equifaxsecurity2017.com, the Equifax Twitter account instead directed consumers to securityequifax2017.com, a fake phishing site that someone had created for the express purpose of ridiculing Equifax for creating “an easily impersonated domain.”

    Equifax eventually apologized for the confusion, admitted that it had shared the wrong link, and removed the offending posts.

    Credit locking, and more of the same

    Several months later, in February 2018, Equifax rolled out Lock & Alert, a service offering a credit “lock,” marketed as a step below a credit freeze. While locks are not as secure as credit freezes, they are also cheaper and easier to implement.

    In fact, Equifax said that its lock service was completely free. And, responding to the previous criticism about arbitration agreements, Equifax explicitly said that consumers who signed up for Lock & Alert were not agreeing to any arbitration provision.

    “The consumer-empowerment approach that is offered through Lock & Alert is what people have come to expect,” Equifax said in promotional materials.

    Not long after, consumers discovered that the experience of locking one’s credit might not be as empowering as they were led to believe.

    It turned out that consumers who signed up for the service were unknowingly agreeing to let Equifax use their information for marketing purposes, according to advocacy group US PIRG, which reviewed the site’s fine print. And a reporter at NBC News found that the service didn’t work; an error message repeatedly appeared on the screen saying that “we are experiencing technical issues.”

    “I think it's fair to say as with any service we did have some initial operational issues shortly after the launch,” Equifax spokeswoman Nancy Bistritz-Balkan told NBC News. “But our team has been working around the clock to document the issues and address it appropriately.”

    Equifax goes abroad

    Equifax focused its breach investigation on United States consumers, giving only a brief mention to impacted people in Canada in the UK. “Equifax also identified unauthorized access to limited personal information for certain UK and Canadian residents,” is all the firm had to say about the matter in September.

    When people questioned what “limited personal information” for “certain UK and Canadian residents” actually meant, Equifax clarified that 400,000 people in the UK and 100,000 Canadians were affected.

    That might sound like a figure a little too significant to describe as “limited,” but Equifax said that the breach was related to something else, an apparent “process failure,” as the company called it, that occurred a year earlier.

    “This was due to a process failure, corrected in 2016, which led to a limited amount of UK data being stored in the US between 2011 and 2016,” Equifax told the British press.

    Several weeks later, Equifax revised the number yet again. The company announced that 700,000 UK residents would receive notices about their data being hacked.

    An additional 14 million records in the UK were also stolen,  Equifax clarified, but the cases were not considered serious enough to warrant direct notifications to those consumers.

    An Equifax spokesman later offered this explanation about the many discrepancies affecting British Equifax victims to the BBC: "This information does not change the number of consumers affected or any of the UK figures/statements already provided.”

    More people exposed

    In March, Equifax said that an additional 2.4 million consumers in the United States had their information hacked, bringing the original figure of 143 million Americans that Equifax had tallied closer to 145.5 million. Though the announcement seemed like new information, Equifax insisted that it was not.

    “This is not about newly discovered stolen data,” interim CEO Paulino do Rego Barros Jr. said. In what has become a familiar talking point, he said a new analysis of the stolen data had simply provided Equifax more clarity.   

    “It’s about sifting through the previously identified stolen data, analyzing other information in our databases that was not taken by the attackers, and making connections that enabled us to identify additional individuals,” Barros explained.

    Exposed phone numbers and passports

    In February, Equifax submitted a document to the Senate Banking Committee saying that hackers also accessed phone numbers, email addresses, and the expiration dates for credit cards. That appeared to be worse than the “ birth dates, addresses, and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers” and “credit card numbers” that Equifax said had been stolen to the public.

    An Equifax spokesman explained to Wall Street Journal that "in no way did we intend to mislead consumers." Rather, she said that the list given to Congress only reflected “minimal portion” of consumers affected.

    Based on the statements from Equifax, the public seemed to have the impression that their passport data at least was safe.

    “And some data — like passport numbers — were not stolen,” the Associated Press confidently reported in February.

    However, Sen. Elizabeth Warren published an independent report not long after claiming that passport information was, in fact, stolen. Equifax said that the senator’s characterization of what was stolen was not accurate.

    “The easiest way to understand this is that there was a field labeled passports [that was hacked] with no actual data in it,” an Equifax spokeswoman told the New York Post in February.

    But in an SEC filing in early May, Equifax indicated that scanned images of passports were stolen from thousands of consumers who had used the agency’s dispute portal.

    In a statement, Equifax said it hadn’t been trying to hide that information. The passport information that it said wasn’t hacked came from a different data set than the stolen passport data it had discovered more recently.

    “Our response earlier this year regarding passports was related to the data elements contained in the database tables accessed by the attackers,” an Equifax spokeswoman told ConsumerAffairs in a statement.  

    “In response to a request from Congress to provide quantities of each data element impacted, in the interest of completeness, we manually reviewed the images stolen from the dispute portal in order to include the numbers of government-issued identifications contained within those images,” she added.

    No unauthorized activity on core services

    Throughout its repeated “updates” and disclosures about what was hacked, Equifax has maintained that it found “no evidence of unauthorized activity on Equifax’s core consumer or commercial credit reporting databases.”

    What that statement actually means is up for debate. Senators and consumer groups have complained that the definition of “core consumer or commercial credit reporting databases” is overly broad.

    From a consumer standpoint, identity theft crimes possibly related to the hack already seem to be taking place, affecting “core” business at least where victims are concerned.

    Earlier this year, an accountant and several consumers went public with stories about identity thieves collecting government benefits on their behalf. Experts said the crimes could have been made possible thanks to the Equifax hack, as well as vulnerabilities on the social security website itself.

    “While I’m not entirely sure how the thief obtained my personal information, it’s likely that the Equifax data breach...contributed to the identity theft,” accountant Jim Shambo, one such identity theft victim, wrote in a blog post.

    Luckily for Equifax, such scenarios could turn out to be beneficial for the credit reporting agency. Or as Equifax CEO Rick Smith told a conference  in August;  “Fraud is a huge opportunity for us. It is a massive growing business for us.”

    Equifax has not yet returned an inquiry from ConsumerAffairs asking, among other questions, whether there is any truth to the allegations leveled by Warren and others that it has profited off its own breach.

    But, in the grand tradition of Equifax disclosures, Smith also appears to have changed his story and updated his perspective on the matter.  A month after saying fraud was a “huge opportunity” for Equifax, the CEO published an editorial in USA Today clarifying that the Equifax hack had been “humbling” and bad for the company.

    “We are devoting extraordinary resources to make sure this kind of incident doesn’t happen again,” Smith wrote. “We will make changes and continue to strengthen our defenses against cyber crimes.”

    Two weeks after making that promise, Smith suddenly decided to retire. He left with a compensation package worth $90 million.

    There's no delicate way to announce that cybercriminals have stolen sensitive information about half of the United States population, but Equifax at least...
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      Walmart offering employees college tuition for $1 a day

      The retailer says it will subsidize tuition, books, and fees to help workers with the application and enrollment process

      Walmart will start paying for its workers to pursue a college degree, the company announced Wednesday.

      Through its new associate education benefit program, employees will be able to access affordable, high-quality associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in Business or Supply Chain Management. Workers will only need to contribute $1 a day, or the equivalent of about $75 per semester.

      “Just a $1 a day. That’s all associates have to contribute to start earning a college degree,” said Beth Harris, internal communications manager at Walmart, in a blog post. “After that, Walmart takes care of tuition, books, and fees.”

      “That also means there’s no need for a student loan — wiping out the thousands of dollars of debt associated with other degree options. What’s even better: Associates can earn college credit for paid training at Walmart Academies, saving them substantial time and money,” Harris added.

      Three universities

      Degrees will be offered through the University of Florida, Brandman University, and Bellevue University -- nonprofit schools selected for their high graduation rates among working adult learners, as well as their online offerings.

      The program -- which will be made available to all Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club associates who have worked at the chain for at least 90 days -- will be made possible through a partnership with education benefits company Guild Education.

      “Walmart has kicked off what might be the nation’s most scalable approach to creating educational opportunity for America’s workforce, now available to its U.S. associates and their families,” said Rachel Carlson, CEO and co-founder of Guild Education.

      “Walmart is also leading innovation at the intersection of workforce development and higher education by helping associates earn college credit for their on-the-job training,” Carlson said.

      Walmart executives estimate that as many as 68,000 employees (as much as 5 percent of the company’s 1.5 million employees) might sign up for the program in the first five years.

      The retailer, which has been criticized over its treatment of staff, has made several other changes to its business in an effort to retain employees and improve engagement at work. Earlier this year, Walmart raised its starting wage rate for hourly employees to $11. It also expanded maternity and parental leave benefits.

      Walmart will start paying for its workers to pursue a college degree, the company announced Wednesday.Through its new associate education benefit progr...
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      Upcoming meetings and appointments negatively affect productivity, study finds

      Researchers say workers are less likely to accomplish tasks in between scheduled events

      For many consumers, a typical work day can involve several meetings that keep them moving all day long. But is the time in between those appointments being wasted?

      Researchers from Ohio State University say that may be the case. In a recent analysis of several studies, they found that most people do not make full use of free time leading up to a bigger task. As a result, they say that many people feel that this transition period feels shorter and not as revitalizing.

      “We seem to take a mental tax out of our time right before an appointment,” said study co-author Selin Malkoc. “We figure something might come up, we might need some extra time, even when there’s no need to do that. As a result, we do less with the available time.”

      Factoring in preparation time

      The researchers’ conclusions are drawn from several different studies that gauged how much time people thought they needed to prepare for a given task.

      In one case, participants were asked to take part in either a 30-minute or 45-minute study before an appointment that was an hour away. Those who selected 30-minute period were paid a compensatory fee of $2.50, while those who chose the 45-minute period were paid $5.00.

      Despite the 15-30 minute buffer period, the researchers say that the participants were far more likely to choose the 30-minute study period to give themselves extra wiggle room before their other appointment.

      “It was clear they would have plenty of time to finish and have extra time before their next appointment, but they still were more likely to choose the 30-minute study – even when they had clear financial incentive to choose the longer study,” said Malkoc.

      Increased productivity

      In another study involving college students, the researchers found that participants also tended to accomplish more when they didn’t have another task to worry about.

      During the experiment, a researcher told two different groups of students one of the following: (1) that they had a task coming up soon and had about five minutes before they could get started; or (2) that they simply had five minutes of free time to do what they wanted.

      The results showed that the second group tended to complete more tasks during their five-minute period (such as sending a text message, responding to an email, or visiting a social media site) than members in the first group.

      “You don’t feel like you can get as much done when you have a task coming up soon. The time seems shorter,” said Malkoc.

      Smarter way of scheduling work days

      The researchers say their findings could provide insights for companies on how to schedule work days to get the most out of their employees. Malkoc suggests that managers and senior staff stack meetings together to give workers longer, uninterrupted times when they may feel more motivated to tackle bigger projects.

      Additionally, she says that it’s important for companies to recognize how much time during the work day employees have to accomplish tasks and adjust accordingly.

      “We feel that if we have a meeting in two hours, we shouldn’t work on any big projects. So we may spend time just answering emails or doing things that aren’t as productive,” she said. “We seem to overestimate the things that might happen to take up our time, so we don’t get things done.”

      The full study has been published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

      For many consumers, a typical work day can involve several meetings that keep them moving all day long. But is the time in between those appointments being...
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      IKEA recalls SLADDA bicycles

      The bicycle belt can break, posing a fall hazard.

      IKEA Supply of Switzerland is recalling about 5,100 SLADDA bicycles sold in the U.S. and Canada.

      The bicycle belt can break, posing a fall hazard.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported in the U.S.

      This recall involves IKEA 26-inch and 28-inch SLADDA bicycles. The recalled bicycles are a light grey and have an aluminum frame, with IKEA printed at the bottom of the seat tube near the crank.

      Model

      Article Number

      SLADDA 26”

      303.267.28

      SLADDA 28”

      603.267.36

      The article number is printed on a sticker at the bottom of the down tube.

      The bicycles, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at IKEA stores nationwide and online at www.ikea-usa.com from August 2016, through January 2018, for between $400 and $500.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled bicycles and return them to any IKEA store for a full refund.

      Consumers may contact IKEA toll-free at 888-966-4532 anytime or online at www.ikea-usa.com and click on Press Room at the bottom of the page, then on Product Recalls at the top of the page for more information.

      IKEA Supply of Switzerland is recalling about 5,100 SLADDA bicycles sold in the U.S. and Canada.The bicycle belt can break, posing a fall hazard.No...
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      Model year 2018 Hyundai Genesis G80 and Genesis G90 vehicles recalled

      The windshield and rear window may have been installed incorrectly

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 37 model year 2018 Hyundai Genesis G80 and Genesis G90 vehicles.

      The windshield and rear window on these vehicles may have been installed with incorrect primer, potentially reducing the glass bonding strength.

      If the glass bonding strength is reduced over time, the windshield and rear window may detach while the vehicle is being driven, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Hyundai will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front and rear glass, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin June 30, 2018. Owners may contact Hyundai customer service at 1-855-371-9460. Hyundai's number for this recall is 177.

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 37 model year 2018 Hyundai Genesis G80 and Genesis G90 vehicles.The windshield and rear window on these vehicles may...
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      San Francisco subpoenas Uber, Lyft

      The city is seeking evidence on whether the companies are properly classifying employees

      On Tuesday, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera sent subpoenas to Uber and Lyft demanding that the companies provide records of how drivers are classified, as well as records on driver pay and benefits.

      Herrera wants to make sure the ride-hailing companies are honoring a California Supreme Court ruling which requires that companies prove that their drivers are lawfully classified as independent contractors or, if they don’t meet that criteria, are being provided with appropriate benefits, such as minimum wage, sick leave, health care, and paid parental leave.

      "San Francisco's laws help ensure that employers provide a fair day's wage for a fair day's work," Herrera said in a statement. "We are not going to turn a blind eye if companies in San Francisco deny workers their pay and benefits."

      Documentation requested

      The subpoenas seek a complete list of drivers who began or ended at least one ride in San Francisco from 2015 onward, as well as documentation on their hours, wages, health care payments, and other benefits they received. The city is also seeking documentation showing how the companies classify the employment status of those drivers.

      Because Uber and Lyft drivers are classified as independent contractors, the majority don’t get paid time off and have to pay for expenses such as gas and car maintenance. Treating drivers as contractors allows the companies to avoid paying for costs such as benefits, overtime, and insurance.

      However, a decision made last month by the California Supreme Court makes it harder for employers to classify their workers as independent contractors. In order to do so, businesses must now prove that the worker is not under their direct control, does not perform a core function of their business, and engages in “an independently established trade, occupation, or business.”

      A new definition of “employee”

      Herrera says that California is reshaping how the term “employee” is defined, and that regulators will ensure that companies like Uber and Lyft provide eligible workers with necessary benefits.

      “We don’t know whether these ride-hailing companies are breaking the law until they provide the information we seek in these subpoenas. We are going to ensure that these companies comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling and with San Francisco’s laws,” Herrera said.

      “We are going to ensure that these companies pay their drivers what they’ve earned."

      On Tuesday, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera sent subpoenas to Uber and Lyft demanding that the companies provide records of how drivers are clas...
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      Bayer and Monsanto merger wins regulatory approval

      The deal will create the world’s biggest seeds and pesticides maker

      Bayer has won U.S. antitrust approval for its $66 billion takeover of Monsanto on the condition that it sells about $9 billion in agricultural businesses and assets, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.

      The deal, which the companies first announced in September 2016, has already received approval from regulators in the European Union, Russia, and Brazil. The DOJ approval was the last major regulatory hurdle in creating the largest seed and agricultural-chemicals provider in the world.

      The $9 billion divestiture package is the largest in a U.S. merger enforcement case, said Makan Delrahim, head of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.

      Addresses antitrust concerns

      In its original form, the Bayer-Monsanto deal would likely have led to "higher prices, lower quality and fewer choices" for many seed and crop protection products, the DOJ said. It would also have "threatened to stifle the innovation in agricultural technologies that has delivered significant benefits to American farmers and consumers.”

      The revised deal "preserves competition in the sale of these critical agricultural products and protects American farmers and consumers," Delrahim said. “We commend the parties for working with the Antitrust Division to resolve our concerns on behalf of American consumers.”

      Under the proposed settlement, Bayer will sell its canola, soybean, and vegetable seed businesses, as well as its Liberty herbicide business, which competes with Monsanto’s Roundup. The company will also sell its digital farming business, as well as "certain intellectual property and research capabilities, including 'pipeline' R&D projects," according to the Justice Department.

      “Receipt of the DOJ’s approval brings us close to our goal of creating a leading company in agriculture,” Bayer CEO Werner Baumann said in a statement. “We want to help farmers across the world grow more nutritious food in a more sustainable way.”

      Corporate power

      Critics of the merger argue that the deal will place too much power in the hands of one agribusiness giant.

      “The Trump DOJ just waved through a merger that will consolidate the world’s food supply and agriculture industry into fewer hands. I hate to imagine the control Bayer-Monsanto will have over every farmer in the United States,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Ill).

      Bayer has defended the deal by saying Monsanto’s expertise in agriculture and seeds will help to increase agricultural productivity as the world’s population grows.

      "Farmers will benefit from a range of new, superior solutions aimed at helping to advance the next generation of farming and to address some of society's most pressing challenges," the company says on a website advocating for the settlement.

      Bayer has until June 14 to close its purchase of Monsanto. The company has said that it’s confident the deal will go through.

      Bayer has won U.S. antitrust approval for its $66 billion takeover of Monsanto on the condition that it sells about $9 billion in agricultural businesses a...
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      Realtors say home price increases 'not sustainable'

      Home prices are growing much faster than wages, one economist says

      There continues to be warnings about the state of the housing market. The latest warning comes from the real estate industry itself.

      Reacting to another reported rise in home prices in March, Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors (NAR), said the 6.5 percent increase in home prices “is simply not sustainable,” because prices are growing much faster than consumers' income.

      “From the cyclical low point in home prices six years ago, a typical home price has increased by 48 percent, while the average wage rate has grown by only 14%,” Yun said. “Rising interest rates also do not help with affordability.”

      The March price report from S&P/Case Shiller showed the 6.5 percent increase in home prices matched the price increase for February. The hottest real estate markets showed the biggest gains.

      Seattle, Las Vegas, and San Francisco once again reported the highest year-over-year gains among the 20 cities in the survey. In March, Seattle recorded a 13 percent year-over-year price increase, while Las Vegas had a 12.4 percent increase.

      Another housing bubble?

      The rapid increase in home prices has triggered warnings of another housing bubble, like the one that crashed the housing market in late 2008. However, there are important distinctions between the two.

      The early 2000s housing bubble was fueled by extremely relaxed mortgage lending standards, resulting in a huge increase in demand for housing, often from consumers with poor credit who got stuck with subprime mortgages. When millions of these subprime loans went into foreclosure, it triggered a financial crisis as well as a housing crisis.

      Today, the situation is very different. There is strong demand from well-qualified buyers, but a shortage of homes to purchase. This demand and supply imbalance is what is sending home prices skyrocketing.

      Unfortunately, the result could be the same. If home prices not only level off, but actually retreat, it could leave some consumers – who purchased their homes at the very top of the market – owing more than their homes are worth.

      No one is suggesting the result could be as catastrophic as a decade ago, but if you happen to be one of those who pay top dollar for your home, it certainly won't turn out to be a good investment.

      More homebuilding needed

      Yun says the way out of this situation is to increase the supply of homes for sale. The best way to do that, he says, is simply build more homes.

      “Homebuilding will be the key as to how the housing market performs in the upcoming years,” Yun said.

      Weakening demand could also help. If fewer people are competing to purchase homes, there is less upward pressure on home prices. There's evidence that might be happening.

      A new report from real estate brokerage firm Redfin shows its Housing Demand Index dropped 13 percent from March to April for the third consecutive monthly decline. Redfin chief economist Nela Richardson believes the drop in demand is directly tied to lower inventory levels. With fewer homes to choose from, more would-be homebuyers are resigning themselves to renting.

      There continues to be warnings about the state of the housing market. The latest warning comes from the real estate industry itself.Reacting to another...
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      Hormel Foods recalls canned pork and chicken products

      The products may be contaminated with pieces of metal

      Hormel Food of Fremont, Neb., is recalling approximately 228,614 pounds of canned pork and chicken products.

      The products may be contaminated with foreign matter, specifically pieces of metal.

      There have been reports of minor oral injuries associated with consumption of the products.

      The canned pork and chicken products were produced on February 8 through February 10, 2018. The following items, produced February 8 – 10, 2018, are being recalled:

      • 12-oz. metal cans containing “SPAM Classic” with a “Best By” February 2021 date and production codes: F020881, F020882, F020883, F020884, F020885, F020886, F020887, F020888 and F020889.
      • 12-oz. metal cans containing “Hormel Foods Black-Label Luncheon Loaf” with a “Best By” February 2021 date and production codes F02098 and F02108.

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 199N” on the bottom of the can, were shipped throughout the U. S. and to Guam.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Consumer Hormel Foods at (800) 523-4635.

      Hormel Food of Fremont, Neb., is recalling approximately 228,614 pounds of canned pork and chicken products.The products may be contaminated with forei...
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      Model year 2016-2018 Chevrolet Cruze LS vehicles recalled

      The vehicles may leak gasoline following a rear-impact crash and a rollover

      General Motors is recalling 111,966 model year 2016-2018 Chevrolet Cruze LS vehicles, equipped with a gasoline engine and a tire inflator kit instead of a spare tire.

      The vehicles may leak gasoline following a rear-impact crash and a rollover.

      A fuel leak, in the presence of an ignition source, increases the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will install a lock-ring on the fuel tank that will shield the fuel tank vapor pressure sensor from damage in a rear-impact crash, free of charge.

      The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule. Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 18159.

      General Motors is recalling 111,966 model year 2016-2018 Chevrolet Cruze LS vehicles, equipped with a gasoline engine and a tire inflator kit instead of a...
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      Federal agency urges banks to compete with payday lenders

      Office of the Comptroller of the Currency asks banks to make small-dollar installment loans

      The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) has gone on the record to formally urge U.S. banks to begin offering small-dollar installment loans to consumers.

      The OCC did not specifically mention payday loans, but it is clear that its purpose is to provide consumers a “responsible” alternative.

      “Millions of U.S. consumers borrow nearly $90 billion every year in short-term, small dollar loans typically ranging from $300 to $5,000 to make ends meet,” Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting said in a statement. “Consumers should have more choices that are safe and affordable, and banks should be part of that solution.”

      With a typical payday loan, a consumer borrows a few hundred dollars to meet an unexpected expense. The loan is due within two weeks and costs a fee, based on the amount borrowed.

      Critics of the payday loan industry say the majority of borrowers cannot repay the entire loan in just two weeks, and therefore have to take out another loan, paying another fee that often adds up to a triple-digit interest rate.

      Contrasts with CFPB position

      While the current leadership at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has said it intends to unwind the Payday Lending Rule, which would require lenders to make sure the borrower can repay the loan, the OCC is pushing to provide payday loan customers another option.

      In doing so, it's winning praise from the Pew Charitable Trusts, which cites its own research as showing that, given the opportunity, eight in 10 payday loan borrowers would prefer to borrow money from their banks or credit unions.

      "The position outlined by the Comptroller is a welcome step that should help pave the way for banks to offer safe, affordable small-dollar installment loans to the millions of Americans that have been turning to high-cost nonbank lenders,” said Nick Bourke, director of Pew’s consumer finance project.

      Six times cheaper than a payday loan

      Pew said banks should be able to offer an alternative to payday loans by using automated underwriting and origination. It says these small loans can be profitable while charging prices six times lower than average payday loans.

      “If banks begin offering these loans according to strong safety standards, it could boost financial inclusion and be a game-changer for the millions of Americans who use high-cost loans today,” Bourke said.

      Bourke says it's more likely that some banks will begin offering alternatives to payday loans, now that the OCC has given its blessing and removed a lot of the regulatory uncertainty that might have prevented them from entering the market.

      The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) has gone on the record to formally urge U.S. banks to begin offering small-dollar installment loans to...
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      GM recalls vehicles with driver's seat belt issue

      The driver's seat belt pretensioner cable may become fatigued or break

      General Motors is recalling about 23,000 model year 2015-2016 Chevrolet Silverado 1500s, 2500s and 3500s, and Tahoe Police Pursuit and Special-Service vehicles.

      The flexible steel cable connecting the driver's seat belt to the outboard side of the seat may be repeatedly bent over the seat side shield as the driver enters and exits the vehicle causing the cable to fatigue and separate.

      If the pretensioner cable becomes fatigued or breaks, the driver may not be properly restrained in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the pretensioner cable and seat side-shield, free of charge.

      The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 18156.

      General Motors is recalling about 23,000 model year 2015-2016 Chevrolet Silverado 1500s, 2500s and 3500s, and Tahoe Police Pursuit and Special-Service vehi...
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      Merrick Pet Care recalls Good Buddy and Backcountry treats

      The products may contain elevated levels of thyroid hormone

      Merrick Pet Care of Amarillo, Texas, is recalling beef dog treats that may contain elevated levels of a naturally-occurring beef thyroid hormone.

      Dogs consuming high levels of beef thyroid hormone may exhibit increased thirst and urination, weight loss, increased heart rate and restlessness.

      One consumer complained that dog’s health was temporarily affected while eating the recalled product, but improved after discontinuing consumption of the treat.

      The following beef treat products, sold in the U.S. through pet specialty, grocery and online retailers, with limited distribution in Canada, are being recalled:

      ItemUPCBest Before Date Range
      Castor & Pollux Good Buddy Prime Patties Real Beef Recipe 4 oz.7808725108065/1/2017 - 9/1/2019
      Castor & Pollux Good Buddy Sausage Cuts Real Beef Recipe 5 oz.7808725107455/1/2017 - 9/1/2019
      Merrick Backcountry Great Plains Real Beef Jerky 4.5 oz.0228087861605/1/2019 - 9/1/2019
      Merrick Backcountry Great Plains Real Beef Sausage Cuts 5 oz.0228087860475/1/2017 - 9/1/2019
      Merrick Backcountry Great Plains Real Steak Patties 4 oz.0228087860785/1/2017 - 9/1/2019

      The production codes are on the lower back of the treat bag.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products may contact the firm at 800-664-7387 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, by email at customerservice@merrickpetcare.com, or online at www.merrickpetcare.com/customerrelations.

      Merrick Pet Care of Amarillo, Texas, is recalling beef dog treats that may contain elevated levels of a naturally-occurring beef thyroid hormone.Dogs c...
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      Continental Tire recalls Conti Hybrid HS3 tires

      Tire cords may be visible through the innerliner

      Continental Tire the Americas is recalling 655 Conti Hybrid HS3 tires, size 11R22.5 Load Range G, with tire identification numbers (TIN) A33TKWUX and DOT date codes of 0918 through 1118.

      Cords may be visible through the innerliner.

      Tires with visible cords through the innerliner may have a sudden loss of air, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Continental Tire will notify owners, and dealers will replace the tires, free of charge.

      The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

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

      Continental Tire the Americas is recalling 655 Conti Hybrid HS3 tires, size 11R22.5 Load Range G, with tire identification numbers (TIN) A33TKWUX and DOT d...
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      Volkswagen recalls Atlas vehicles

      The fuel tank may leak

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 278 Volkswagen Atlas vehicles.

      The fuel tank may leak fuel due to a manufacturing error. A fuel leak in the presence of an ignition source can increase the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will replace the fuel tank, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin June 15, 2018.

      Owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at 1-800-893-5298. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 20AW.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 278 Volkswagen Atlas vehicles.The fuel tank may leak fuel due to a manufacturing error. A fuel leak in the pre...
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      The Weekly Hack: Nihilist Arby’s account falls victim to teenage hacker demanding $130

      In a week of poetic hacks, Nihilist Arby’s portfolio went dark and a phone-tracking service for cops had its servers broken into

      Nothing matters and Arby’s wants your money, according to the regular, depressing message delivered by the parody Twitter account Nihilist Arby’s. Or, in the Nihilist account’s own words: “Do drugs. Punch a stranger. Make love to your cousin. Enjoy Arby's. Arby's doesn't judge. Arby's doesn't care.”

      Punk bassist and humor-writer Brendan Kelly amassed 345,000 followers with his weekly Tweets parodying Arby’s and life itself. But for a page that regularly reminds fans that they will one day die and nothing is permanent, it’s somewhat poetic that every single Tweet on the Nihilist Arby’s account was recently deleted by a teenager trying to extort Kelly for a grand total of $130.

      Kelly told PR Week on Thursday that he could no longer access his account after hackers logged on and changed his password. He later learned that his account information had been sold on a message board.

      With his entire portfolio offline, Kelly got some unexpected help from the real Arby’s.

      The fast-food chain, which has 827,000 followers on Twitter, offered to contact a Twitter representative to help Kelly get his account back, explaining in an interview with PR Week that people had mistakenly assumed Arby’s was behind the attack.

      "We never want to be a brand that comes in and sends a cease and desist and tears it down because it has such a big fan base,” an Arby’s spokesman said. Twitter reportedly went to work on the case, and the Nihilist Arby’s page now appears to be restored, with the satirical Tweets back online.

      “Did I die? Whatever. it was pretty much the same, honestly,” Nihilist Arby's told fans yesterday.

      It’s not the first time that Nihilist Arby’s has received help from the non-Nihilist one. The chain several years ago surprised Kelly with a delivery of free sandwiches and a therapy puppy.

      Grades and lunch money

      Speaking of teenage hackers, high school students in Michigan were caught hacking the school district's computer system in an attempt to change their grades and give themselves more lunch money.

      In a message to parents, the school district said that its investigation into the matter was still ongoing and that it would be working with forensic data experts to understand the full extent of the hack.

      “Though we encourage our students to take responsible action, sometimes they make choices that do not reflect our guiding principles,” a message reads on the school’s website.

      Law enforcement’s phone-tracking company of choice

      Those who have served time, or have a loved one currently serving time, have probably heard of Securus Technologies, one of the few companies that controls phone communications and sometimes even in-person visitations between inmates and the outside world.

      What Securus does with all that phone data has remained somewhat unclear until recently. It turns out that the company also offers law enforcement a service that allows them to surreptitiously track the location of nearly every cell phone in the country, according to data recently uncovered by the New York Times.

      As Securus now faces a potential Senate investigation for helping police spy on phone locations without a court order, an independent hacker took it upon himself to show just how unstable Securus’ own cybersecurity is.

      The site Motherboard is reporting that a hacker showed them stolen data -- such as usernames, passwords, and internal company files -- that they obtained by breaking into the Securus servers.

      BMWs

      Security researchers recently found flaws in the software of BMWs that could allow hackers to remotely gain access to the automaker’s luxury vehicles.

      The findings by the Keen Research Group come at a time when consumer groups and safety researchers have expressed concerns about the security of the software that powers cars, both self-driving vehicles and normal ones. Experts and the industry itself have repeatedly described modern cars as “computers on wheels,” with Blackberry estimating that more than 100 million lines of code powers the average sedan.

      Researchers at the Keen Research Group studied BMWs, they wrote in their report, because its vehicles are now often “equipped with the new generation of ‘Internet-Connected’ Infotainment systems.”

      “While these components have significantly improved the convenience and performance of customers’ experience, they have also introduced the opportunity for new attacks,” the researchers explain.

      After publishing their technical report describing over a dozen vulnerabilities related to the technology, BMW announced it would use a software “patch” to fix the problem, which was also developed by the Keen Research Group. Consumers are invited to visit the dealership so they can receive the software upgrade.

      Rather than try to hide the findings, BMW announced that it is honoring the Keen Research Group for their work and plans more partnerships in the future.

      "In response to what has become a race between technological progress and new, presently unknown attack scenarios, the BMW Group has launched a comprehensive cybersecurity action plan, which includes tests conducted both internally by the BMW Group and with the help of independent institutions," the company said.

      Nothing matters and Arby’s wants your money, according to the regular, depressing message delivered by the parody Twitter account Nihilist Arby’s. Or, in t...
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      New York City to consider a ban on plastic straws

      The growing issue of plastic pollution has led to the proposed legislation

      On Wednesday, Democratic City Council Rafael Espinal introduced a bill that would ban plastic straws and stirrers in all venues across New York City. Everywhere from coffee shops and bars to restaurants and stadiums would no longer provide customers with plastic straws.

      Plastic pollution has been a growing concern in New York, as well as in other parts of the country, and under Espinal’s legislation, plastic would be replaced with metal. People with disabilities or medical conditions would not be subject to the proposed law, but for all others, breaking the law would result in a $100 fine.

      “One place in Brooklyn reported using 1.5 million straws throughout the year,” Espinal said. “It’s important for New Yorkers to understand that the plastic straw is not a necessity; it’s more of a luxury, and our luxury is causing great harm to other environments.”

      If the law passes, New York would join Malibu, Seattle, and Miami Beach in other states that have already banned plastic straws. Internationally, Vancouver has voted to ban plastic straws, while Scotland and Taiwan aren’t far behind permanent bans. Additionally, New York would become the largest city in the world to ban plastic straws thus far.

      Environmental consequences push the bill

      According to Eco-cycle, Americans use approximately 500 million straws per day - which is roughly 1.6 straws per person per day. On that same note, up to 12 million metric tons of plastic end up in oceans each year.

      The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) supports Espinal’s bill, with Executive Vice President John Calvelli reporting that plastic straws are one of the top ten sources of beach litter. “The sad thing is that probably by 2050 there will be more plastic, by weight, in the ocean, than fish,” he said.

      WCS has created its own campaign -- Give a Sip -- to highlight the environmental damages of disposable straws.

      “Through local field research, policy initiatives, and public outreach, our team seeks to protect and restore threatened species and critical habitats, encourage smart ocean planning to ensure a safe place for wildlife in our busy waters, and build ecological resilience in nearshore and river habitats,” the Give A Sip website reads.

      The Give A Sip campaign reports that 71 percent of seabirds and 30 percent of sea turtles have been found with plastic in their stomachs. In Spain this past April, a dead whale washed onto shore with over over 60 pounds of garbage -- primarily consisting of plastic -- in its body.

      “I’ve become more concerned about single-use plastic, when we have a federal government rolling back any environmental progress that we’ve made in the last eight years,” Espinal said. “It’s important that our cities take the lead. All plastic, whether it be a bag or a straw, is having a detrimental impact on our environment. It’s easy to drink your iced coffee or cocktail at night without a piece of plastic in it.”

      Other attempts to curb plastic

      Straws are the latest piece of plastic legislators are going after in an attempt to reduce pollution; however, efforts have been far more successful abroad than here in the U.S.

      In February, the government of Taiwan announced that it will be banning most single-use plastic items -- such as straws, bags, and cups -- by 2030. Similarly, Scotland announced that it will be banning cotton-tipped plastic ear swabs and straws by 2019. The UK recently banned microbeads -- the small plastic beads commonly found in exfoliants and other body washes.

      Stateside, two Hawaii hotels -- the Modern Honolulu and the Hilton Waikoloa VIllage -- stopped serving guests drinks with plastic straws. The hotels will now be serving drinks straw-less, unless guests request a straw, in which case it will be a paper straw. Portland farm-to-table restaurants have followed suit, as did restaurants in Davis, California.

      Perhaps the biggest name to ban straws as of late is McDonald’s. The fast food giant will start phasing out straws in 1,300 of its U.K. restaurants starting this May and replacing them with paper straws. Moreover, the company will not be handing out straws to every customer; instead workers will keep them behind the counter and give them to customers upon request.

      In regards to banning straws in NYC, Espinal is confident his bill will prove to be beneficial for New Yorkers, unlike Governor Cuomo’s April 2017 proposal to instate a five-cent charge on each plastic bag used by consumers throughout the state.

      “I don’t believe there are any huge obstacles,” Espinal said. “It’s not like plastic bags, where consumers felt it was important for them to carry out their groceries. A straw is not a necessity for most New Yorkers, so I think this is more of a change of thinking.”

      On Wednesday, Democratic City Council Rafael Espinal introduced a bill that would ban plastic straws and stirrers in all venues across New York City. Every...
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      Jury hands Apple a victory over Samsung in patent dispute

      Samsung has been ordered to pay Apple $539 million

      A federal court jury, deliberating in a long-running patent dispute, has ruled that Samsung must write Apple a very large check.

      When he introduced the iPhone in 2007, the late Steve Jobs made a point of saying Apple had been careful to cover its new product with patents. Jobs, the co-founder and CEO of Apple, was reportedly furious when the market was soon flooded with competing smartphones using Google's Android operating system.

      In particular, he accused Samsung of ripping off the iPhone's design and features. The two companies have been in court ever since.

      The California jury determined that Samsung owes Apple $539 million for infringing upon five company patents. Most of the damage award covers three Apple patents for the iPhone design. The rest of the award covers two utility patents.

      Awards damage increases from $399 million

      The verdict came in a retrial that Samsung had lost, which required it to pay Apple $399 million. The jury hearing the most recent case increased the damages.

      “Today’s decision flies in the face of a unanimous Supreme Court ruling in favor of Samsung on the scope of design patent damages,” Samsung said in a statement. “We will consider all options to obtain an outcome that does not hinder creativity and fair competition for all companies and consumers.”

      In that 2016 case, the court ruled that damages from patent infringement should be based on the portion of the device that infringed on the patents, not the profit from the entire device, as Apple had argued.

      But Samsung has not always been victorious over Apple when the two have ended up before the Supreme Court. Last year, the high court declined to hear Samsung's appeal of a 2014 lower court ruling which had found that it infringed on some Apple design patents.

      According to technology publisher CNET, the latest jury verdict cements the importance of smartphone design.

      A federal court jury, deliberating in a long-running patent dispute, has ruled that Samsung must write Apple a very large check.When he introduced the...
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      Average gas price near $3 a gallon for Memorial Day weekend

      It’s the highest level since 2014

      Motorists taking road trips for over the Memorial Day weekend will pay a lot more for gasoline than they did last year.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the average price of gas is nearly $2.97 cents a gallon, 60 cents a gallon more than at this time last year. The national average price of regular gas is up six cents a gallon in the last week and has gained 20 cents in the last month.

      The main reason for the increase has been a surge in the price of oil – the biggest in four years. Oil prices have increased because consumers are driving more and OPEC is producing less.

      Political turmoil in Venezuela has significantly reduced oil production in that petroleum-rich nation. With the U.S. pulling out of the Iran deal, oil traders are bidding up the price of oil on the expectation that less Iranian oil would be available.

      The price of oil exceeded $80 a barrel this week for the first time since 2014, making it more expensive for refiners to produce gasoline.

      $3 a gallon not far away

      “AAA forecasts nearly 37 million travelers will hit the road for the holiday weekend,” said AAA spokesperson Jeanette Casselano. “Trends are indicating that this summer is likely to bring the national average to at least $3/gallon.”

      Today, 14 states report an average of $3 a gallon or more. Outside of the typical West Coast states, Idaho, and Utah, this count includes six Northeast and Midwest states. Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York, Washington, D.C., Illinois and Michigan have crossed that milestone, and, Arizona, New Jersey, and Rhode Island are all within four-cents of hitting the $3 mark.

      Gasbuddy predicts the skyrocketing price of fuel will keep more people at home this weekend, as well as during the summer. In its annual survey, Gasbuddy found only 58 percent said they will take a road trip this summer, a 24 percent decrease from last year. In the survey, 39 percent cited high gas prices as affecting their summer travel decisions, compared to 19 percent in 2017.

      Pain could be temporary

      But there is some good news. The pain at the pump may not last throughout the summer.

      “With refineries now well positioned for the summer months, we may see some relief in mid-June,” said Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy.

      Even so, DeHaan says gas will be the highest since the summer of 2014, with the strong likelihood that the national average price will be well over $3 a gallon before it starts to fall.

      The price of oil has already begun to back off a bit. In something of a surprise, the Energy Information Administration reported this week that U.S. oil stockpiles jumped by 5.7 million barrels. Oil supplies are more than 78 million barrels higher than they were at this time last year.

      Motorists taking road trips for over the Memorial Day weekend will pay a lot more for gasoline than they did last year.The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows...
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      Existing home sales slide in April

      Lack of inventory and rising prices and rates pose headwinds for the market

      Sales of existing homes took a tumble last month, flashing a possible warning sign for the housing market.

      In its monthly report, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) said existing home sales fell 2.5 percent in April from March. Sales are off 14 percent from April 2017, with year-over-year sales declining for two consecutive months.

      Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist, says it's not because people don't want to buy homes, they just can't find homes to buy.

      "The root cause of the underperforming sales activity in much of the country so far this year continues to be the utter lack of available listings on the market to meet the strong demand for buying a home," Yun said.

      Other headwinds

      Would-be buyers are facing other headwinds. Interest rates on mortgages are climbing at the fastest pace in nearly a half century, according to Freddie Mac. The average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is 4.66 percent, up from 4.61 percent last week. A year ago, it was 3.95 percent.

      “While this spring’s sudden rise in mortgage rates are taking up a good chunk of the conversation, it’s the stubbornly low inventory levels in much of the country that are preventing sales from really taking off like they should be,” said Freddie Mac Chief Economist Sam Khater.

      The low inventory of houses for sale not only makes it harder to find a home to purchase, it makes the ones that are available more expensive. Zillow's April Real Estate Market Report shows home values are rising at the fastest rate since just before the housing market crash.

      Median home value rises 8.7 percent

      Over the last 12 months, Zillow says national home values rose 8.7 percent, to a median of $215,600. It's not any cheaper to rent. Zillow reports median rents are up 2.5 percent over the last 12 months, to a median payment of $1,449.

      The NAR report has some good news, however. Total housing inventory at the end of April was up nearly 10 percent, but it was still down 6.3 percent from the end of April 2017. Yun says the multiple factors affecting the market continue to pose trouble for people who want to buy a home.

      "Realtors say the healthy economy and job market are keeping buyers in the market for now even as they face rising mortgage rates,” he said. “However, inventory shortages are even worse than in recent years, and home prices keep climbing above what many home shoppers are able to afford."

      Sales of existing homes took a tumble last month, flashing a possible warning sign for the housing market.In its monthly report, the National Associati...
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      Chrysler recalls 4.8 million vehicles

      A defect could prevent the cruise control system from disengaging

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 4,846,885 model year 2014-2018 Dodge Journeys, Chargers & Durangos, RAM 2500s, 3500s, 3500 Cab Chassis vehicles (more than 10,000lb), 4500 Cab Chassis vehicles & 5500 Cab Chassis vehicles, Jeep Cherokees & Grand Cherokees & Chrysler 300s; model year 2014-2019 RAM 1500s; model year 2015-2018 Dodge Challengers; model year 2015-2017 Chrysler 200s; model year 2016-2018 RAM 3500 Cab Chassis vehicles (less than 10,000 lb); model year 2017-2018 Chrysler Pacificas; and model year 2018 Jeep Wranglers.

      The vehicles are being recalled to address a defect that could prevent the cruise control system from disengaging.

      If, when using cruise control, there is a short circuit within the vehicle's wiring, the driver may not be able to shut off the cruise control either by depressing the brake pedal or manually turning the system off once it has been engaged, resulting in the vehicle maintaining its current speed or possibly accelerating.

      If the vehicle maintains its speed or accelerates despite attempts to deactivate the cruise control, there would be an increased risk of a crash.

      Owners are advised to stop using cruise control until the software update has been performed. In the event that cruise control cannot be disengaged while driving, owners should firmly and steadily apply the brakes and shift the transmission to neutral, placing the vehicle in park once it has stopped.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the software, and perform a software flash on the engine or powertrain control module, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin July 6, 2018.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 4,846,885 model year 2014-2018 Dodge Journeys, Chargers & Durangos, RAM 2500s, 3500s, 3500 Cab Chassis vehicles (more th...
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      Jané recalls U.S. model of Jané Muum strollers

      An infant can pass through the opening between the stroller armrest and seat bottom

      Jané USA, a division of Jané Group of Charlotte, N.C., is recalling about 800 Jané Muum strollers.

      An infant can pass through the opening between the stroller armrest and the seat bottom and his/her head and neck can become entrapped by the armrest, posing entrapment and strangulation hazards.

      Thus, the strollers violate the federal Stroller and Carriage standard.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves the US model of Jané Muum strollers with a black frame, a reclining seat or hammock that is reversible and a hood. An insert is sold with the stroller for smaller babies. There is a basket for storage underneath the stroller seat.

      The recalled strollers were sold in: dark gray and black (S85), light grey and black (S49), blue and black (S46) and green and black (S47).

      “Muum by Jané” is printed on the front bottom frame. “Muum” is printed on the side frame and on the handle.

      “Jané” and “Muum,” “Jané USA LLC,” “Muum US 5399US/S85” or “S47,” “S49,” “S46” are printed on a label on the leg of the stroller.

      The strollers, manufactured in China, were sold at Albee Baby, Baby World, Kidsland, Toys R US, Dainty Baby, USA Baby stores and other stores nationwide and online at Amazon.com and other websites from July 2016, through August 2017, for between $300 and $450.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled strollers and contact Jané for a free repair. The repair consists of a free replacement armrest. Consumers can continue using the recalled strollers if they remove the armrest and harness the child properly until they receive the replacement armrest.

      Consumers may contact Jané toll-free at 844-200-7971 anytime to leave message or from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. (ET) Monday through Thursday for a live operator, by email at info@jane-usa.com or online at www.jane-usa.com and click on MUUM USA MODEL for more information.

      Jané USA, a division of Jané Group of Charlotte, N.C., is recalling about 800 Jané Muum strollers.An infant can pass through the opening between the st...
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      Apple offering $50 credit to consumers who paid for a new iPhone battery last year

      The credit applies to batteries purchased for iPhone 6 models or later

      Apple announced today that it is refunding $50 to consumers who paid for an out-of-warranty battery replacement for an iPhone 6 or later model any time last year.

      The $50 credit is part of Apple’s $29 battery replacement program, which went into effect in December 2017.

      Apple started offering lower-cost battery replacement options to consumers after it confirmed that software updates in older iPhone models had a feature that throttled battery performance in order to prevent unexpected shutdowns. The company faced dozens of lawsuits as a result of the feature.

      Following its admission and apology for its lack of transparency surrounding the issue, Apple said it would slash the price of replacement batteries for iPhone 6 models or later from $79 to $29. Apple later sped up its battery replacement program due to customer complaints.

      Now, Apple says it will reimburse all customers who paid the full $79 to replace an out-of-warranty battery before December 29. The offer applies to customers who had their battery replacement done at an Apple store, Apple Repair Center, or an Apple Authorized Service Provider.

      Eligible consumers will be notified via email before July 27 with details on how to obtain an electronic funds transfer or a credit on the card that was used to pay for the battery replacement.

      Apple announced today that it is refunding $50 to consumers who paid for an out-of-warranty battery replacement for an iPhone 6 or later model any time las...
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      Federal Reserve officials not overly concerned about inflation

      Minutes from the agency’s last meeting suggest a willingness to let prices rise for a while

      Federal Reserve officials say that if inflation rises more than their target, that's not such a bad thing.

      The release of the minutes from the latest Fed meeting, normally of interest only to Wall Street, has implications for consumers as well. The record suggests that the Fed isn't as eager to raise interest rates as most economists thought.

      For years, Fed policymakers have set 2 percent as a desired inflation rate. That would help businesses expand and, theoretically at least, give workers modest wage increases.

      But for years, there was very little inflation in the economy. In fact, in some cases there was deflation, when prices actually went down.

      While that sounds like a good thing, it's not. Think back to the housing crisis, when the price of homes plunged, leaving millions of homeowners owing more than their homes were worth, and you begin to see the dangers of deflation.

      Temporary inflation is okay

      While there are beginning to be signs of inflation in the U.S. economy, Fed officials say that's fine, as long as it's temporary. Oil prices have surged over the last couple of months, for example, but they dropped sharply this week when the government unexpectedly reported a big increase in U.S. oil stockpiles.

      Overall, the minutes reflect the belief among Fed officials that inflation will continue to rise, but that modestly rising prices – even if they exceed the 2 percent target – wouldn't hurt the economy.

      The Fed's major tool for fighting inflation is its key discount interest rate – the rate it charges banks. Raising it tends to slow economic growth. Lowering it tends to speed it up. After being at zero percent for years, the Fed began slowly raising that rate in 2016 as the economy showed signs of improvement.

      If the Fed raises that rate more slowly than expected, consumers won't see some of their interest rates rise as quickly. For example, the discount rate is tied almost directly to adjustable rate loans, auto loans, and credit card rates.

      Currently, the discount rate fluctuates between 1.5 and 1.75 percent. Despite the “dovish” sentiment expressed by the Fed officials, the policymakers appear on track to raise their discount rate again in June. The real question is how many more times they do it in the second half of the year.

      Federal Reserve officials say that if inflation rises more than their target, that's not such a bad thing.The release of the minutes from the latest Fe...
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      Michaels recalls spin art kits

      The kit's battery compartment can overheat, posing fire and burn hazards

      The Michaels Companies of Irving, Texas, is recalling about 110,000 Creatology Spin Art Kits.

      The battery compartment in the spin art kit can overheat, posing fire and burn hazards.

      The firm has received two reports of battery compartments overheating in the spin art kits. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves spin art kits sold under the Michaels private brand Creatology.

      The 34-piece kit includes one battery operated spin art wheel with cover, paint, paint brushes, and paper.

      The recalled art kits are blue and have SKU number 197861 and one of the following UPC codes printed on the barcode  the box.

      Color

      SKU number

      UPC codes

      Blue

      197861

      042409093252, 042409930601, 042409093115, 042409093061, 042409931141, 069545093113, 400100663486

      The spin art kits, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at Michaels stores nationwide and online at www.michaels.com from August 2011, through February 2018, for about $25.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately take the recalled spin art kits away from children, stop using them and return them to any Michaels store for a full refund.

      Consumers may contact Michaels at 800-642-4235 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday or online at www.michaels.com and click on “Product Recalls” at the bottom of the page for more information.

      The Michaels Companies of Irving, Texas, is recalling about 110,000 Creatology Spin Art Kits.The battery compartment in the spin art kit can overheat,...
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      Chrysler recalls model year 2018 vehicles with transmission issue

      An incorrect transmission park lock rod may have been installed

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 71 model year 2018 Dodge Chargers, Durangos & Challengers, Jeep Grand Cherokees & Wranglers, Chrysler 300s, and RAM 1500s.

      An incorrect transmission park lock rod may have been installed in the transmission.

      As a result, the transmission may not shift into 'PARK' and keep the vehicle from moving, increasing the risk of unintended vehicle movement and the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will install the correct park lock rod, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin June 20, 2018.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is U43.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 71 model year 2018 Dodge Chargers, Durangos & Challengers, Jeep Grand Cherokees & Wranglers, Chrysler 300s, and RAM 1500...
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      Sunscreen pills don’t work, FDA warns

      Companies marketing sunscreen pills are ‘misleading consumers and putting people at risk,’ the agency says

      So-called sunscreen-in-a-pill supplements are fake and consumers shouldn’t fall for this scam, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said on Tuesday.

      The FDA issued warning letters to companies marketing pills and capsules that they claim will protect consumers from the harmful effects of the sun.

      The agency specifically called out four products: GliSODin Skin Nutrients’ Advanced Skin Brightening Formula, Napa Valley Bioscience’s Sunsafe Rx, Pharmacy Direct’s Solaricare, and Sunergized LLC’s Sunergetic.

      Federal safety regulators say products like these are giving consumers are false sense of security.

      “There’s no pill or capsule that can replace your sunscreen,” FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. “We’ve found products purporting to provide protection from the sun that aren’t delivering the advertised benefits. Instead they’re misleading consumers, and putting people at risk.”

      Unproven claims

      The FDA accused the four companies it sent letters to of, “illegally marketing pills and capsules labeled as dietary supplements that make unproven drug claims about protecting consumers from the harms that come from sun exposure without meeting the FDA’s standards for safety and effectiveness.”

      The companies were advised to correct all violations associated with their products and to review their websites and packaging to make sure claims don’t violate federal law.  

      “Consumers should be watchful for unscrupulous companies making unproven claims,” said Gottlieb. “When the FDA sees companies taking advantage of people’s desire to protect themselves from the harmful effects of the sun, we’ll step in.”

      The FDA says legitimate sunscreens are made in a wide range of sun protection factor values, or SPF values. They are over-the-counter drugs that come in many forms, including lotions, creams, sticks, and sprays.

      To counter the effects of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, health officials encourage consumers to stick to topical products, such as lotions and sprays. Other protective measures include seeking shade, avoiding the sun from mid-morning to mid-afternoon, and wearing protective clothing.

      So-called sunscreen-in-a-pill supplements are fake and consumers shouldn’t fall for this scam, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said on Tuesday....
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      New York City plans to cut back on marijuana arrests and police aren’t happy

      City officials want to decriminalize certain cases due to minorities being disproportionately targeted

      New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is reportedly asking police to stop arresting people for smoking marijuana in public following an announcement last week that the Manhattan District Attorney’s office will stop prosecuting marijuana possession and smoking cases in criminal court.

      “The dual mission of the Manhattan DA's office is a safer New York and a more equal justice system," Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said last week in a statement explaining the policy change.

      "The ongoing arrest and criminal prosecution of predominantly black and brown New Yorkers for smoking marijuana serves neither of these goals."

      Police unhappy with decision

      The DA was pointing to data showing that non-white New York City residents are far more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession or use in public than whites, despite using marijuana at the same amounts.

      Current laws in Manhattan require people who are caught with marijuana in public to be arrested, fingerprinted, and later appear in court. Under de Blasio’s policy change, people caught with weed would still be ticketed and summoned to appear in court, but they would not be arrested.

      Police are apparently unhappy with the policy changes. On May 18, the official Twitter account of a police union called the Sergeants Benevolent Association published a post complaining about wanting to arrest a man smoking marijuana, but no longer feeling comfortable doing so.

      “Will the NYPD back me? NOT! So I just walked away,” the SBA posted.

      New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is reportedly asking police to stop arresting people for smoking marijuana in public following an announcement last week...
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      Facebook Marketplace expands to offer home services

      Users can find and book highly-rated home service professionals located nearby

      Starting today, consumers can hire home service professionals -- such as house cleaners, plumbers, and contractors -- through Facebook’s mobile Marketplace.

      In a statement about the launch, Bowen Pan, product manager at Facebook, noted that requests for home service recommendations have skyrocketed, totaling “millions of people” since the beginning of 2018.

      For the new service, Facebook said it’s partnering with three existing home service marketplaces: Handy, Home Advisor, and Porch.

      “More people ask for recommendations related to home services on Facebook in the U.S. than any other topic. By partnering with Handy, HomeAdvisor, and Porch, people will now have a place on Marketplace to find the right professional to help with their next home project,” Pan said.

      Finding professionals

      Facebook’s new addition to Marketplace will give users plenty of options when it comes to finding help around the house. The company says users will be able to browse through hundreds of thousands of professionals across the country.

      These professionals can be searched by location and will have ratings, reviews, and credentials. If more than one professional surfaces as a potential match for a project, users can describe the task and use Messenger to send it to multiple professionals at once and judge their responses.

      Amazon offers a similar service, called Amazon Home Services, that lets users browse nearby firms offering home services, including house cleaning, yard work, and construction.

      The new tool is starting to roll out today for iOS and Android and will be available to all U.S. users in the coming weeks.

      Starting today, consumers can hire home service professionals -- such as house cleaners, plumbers, and contractors -- through Facebook’s mobile Marketplace...
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      Inflation warning signs are beginning to appear

      Higher oil prices and economic growth may add up to higher prices for consumers

      Inflation hasn't been a factor in the U.S. economy since the financial crisis, but that could soon change.

      Two indicators – oil prices and freight transportation – suggest the economy is heating up, and that's usually followed by rising prices.

      Oil prices, which have been relatively low since 2014, have surged in the last few weeks. Prices have risen to over $80 a barrel this week, an increase of nearly 48 percent in the last 12 months. UBS, the Swiss investment bank, is warning that the price of oil could go back to $100 a barrel.

      Should that happen, consumers would not only face higher gasoline prices; the price of just about everything would go up. UBS warns that a recession can be triggered when prices rise too quickly.

      "We should take seriously the possibility of an oil price spike, not least because oil spikes preceded five of the last six recessions in the U.S," UBS economist said in a research note.

      Tight shipping market

      Economists often find early signs of inflation in the freight transportation industry. And right now, the trucking industry is flashing a warning.

      DAT, a freight marketplace, matches trucking companies with loads of freight and has been a reliable indicator of supply and demand. Right now, DAT reports the market is extremely tight.

      In the spot market, where vendors look for drivers to move their products, demand has doubled from April 2017 to April 2018. With capacity pressure building in the marketplace, it may only be a matter of time before it will cost more to ship products, which could raise the price of just about everything.

      Inflation watch

      Economist Joel Naroff, of Naroff Economic Advisors, warned of an inflationary threat last December when Congress slashed tax rates, saying it would further stimulate an already growing economy. Today, he hasn't seen solid evidence that firms are raising prices in the face of increased demand or higher energy prices.

      “But backlogs are growing and delivery times are lengthening greatly,” Naroff told ConsumerAffairs. “That is, in effect, a price hike.”

      If the trend continues, consumers might soon see higher prices at the supermarket, as well as when they shop online. Air fares might also rise to cover higher fuel costs.

      Inflation hasn't been a factor in the U.S. economy since the financial crisis, but that could soon change.Two indicators – oil prices and freight trans...
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      Ziyad Brothers Importing recalls Tahini

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Ziyad Brothers Importing is recalling certain lot codes of Ziyad brand Tahini that may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The following product, sold nationwide in 8, 16, and 32-oz and half gallon jars and labeled “Tahini Sesame Paste,” is being recalled:

      Product CodeProduct Description & SizeLot #UPC
      A0071Ziyad Tahini Sesame Paste 1/2 gal Glass Jar35417074265003076
      A0072Ziyad Tahini Sesame Paste 32 oz Glass Jar00318074265001553
      A0073Ziyad Tahini Sesame Paste 16 oz Glass Jar35317074265001560
      35417
      35517
      35617
      A0076Ziyad Tahini Sesame Paste 8 oz Glass Jar34817074265010975
      01218
      S0073Ziyad Tahini Sesame Paste 16 oz Glass Jar34917074265001560

      Lot codes and use by/expiration dates are printed on the white jar cap.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should discontinue using it and return it to the place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions may contact Recall Coordinator Ray Hanania at 708-298-3818.

      Ziyad Brothers Importing is recalling certain lot codes of Ziyad brand Tahini that may be contaminated with Salmonella.No illnesses have been reported...
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      Chrysler recalls model year 2018 Jeep Compass vehicles

      The front lower control arms may be incorrectly welded,

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 2,761 model year 2018 Jeep Compass vehicles.

      The front lower control arms may be incorrectly welded, potentially resulting in a control arm separation, causing a loss of vehicle control and increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and, if necessary, replace the front lower control arms, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin June 20, 2018.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is U42.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 2,761 model year 2018 Jeep Compass vehicles.The front lower control arms may be incorrectly welded, potentially resu...
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      U.S., China agree on outline to end ZTE ban

      The Trump administration may lift the ban on smartphone maker ZTE

      The United States and China have reportedly agreed on a “broad outline” that would end the seven-year ban on ZTE buying American technology, according to the Wall Street Journal.

      Although the details haven’t been ironed out, the agreement would involve major changes to management and potentially heavy fines, sources familiar with the matter told the Journal. If the deal goes through, ZTE’s business would be saved.

      The company said previously that it had halted “major operating activities” as a result of the ban, which prevented it from receiving parts from many of its most crucial U.S.-based suppliers, including Qualcomm.

      Not off the hook

      As part of the agreement, Beijing offered to remove tariffs on billions of dollars of U.S. farm products. However, one of the WSJ’s sources said “the White House was meticulous in affirming that the case is a law enforcement matter and not a bargaining chip in negotiations.”

      White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told CNBC that ZTE is “not going to get off scot-free” and that it still faces fines, as well as “very severe compliance measures, a new board of directors, [and] a new management team.”

      Talk of the tentative deal comes after President Trump announced earlier this month that sanctions against ZTE had cost "too many jobs in China." In a tweet, he pledged to get the company back in business.

      “President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done,” he said.

      Lawmakers express concern

      Trump’s pledge to save the embattled company was previously met with concern from lawmakers in both parties, who argued that overturning the ban could pose a potential security threat.

      "ZTE is a Chinese telecommunications company that has been exhaustively investigated by the U.S. intelligence community, other areas of the government and the U.S. Congress,” said Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Maryland).

      “They're widely suspected of spying for the Chinese government, and we cannot allow them to infiltrate U.S. networks or give them access to the U.S. market while they continue to be beholden to their government," Ruppersberger said.

      Last Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee voted unanimously to accept an amendment to a bill that upheld sanctions against ZTE.

      The United States and China have reportedly agreed on a “broad outline” that would end the seven-year ban on ZTE buying American technology, according to t...
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      Consumers continue to cut the cord

      The use of streaming services has exploded, leading to big subscriber losses for cable providers

      Fed up with the high price of cable, more consumers are switching to video-on-demand streaming services like Netflix and Hulu -- and cable TV providers are feeling the impact in the form of major subscriber losses.

      A new study from entertainment research company Leichtman Research (LRG) finds that cable TV providers have lost 3.4 million subscribers since 2012.

      The biggest pay-TV providers lost about 305,000 customers in the first quarter of 2018. That’s a decrease in cord-cutters compared to the same quarter last year, when the top providers lost about 515,000 subscribers.

      However, LRG's principal analyst Bruce Leichtman says the numbers reflect a continuing trend and that the cord cutting phenomenon is likely to speed up during the summer when many college students are home.

      Satellite TV providers hit hardest

      "The number of pay-TV subscribers for the top providers peaked six years ago. Since 1Q 2012, top providers have lost about 3.4 million total pay-TV subscribers," Leichtman said. "Since the industry’s peak, traditional services have lost about 7.2 million subscribers, while the top publicly reporting Internet-delivered services gained about 3.8 million subscribers."

      First quarter losses in 2018 were biggest for satellite TV providers, who lost 375,000 subscribers in Q1 2018, compared to 285,000 for cable. DirecTV and Dish lost 188,000 and 185,000 traditional satellite customers, respectively.

      AT&T and Dish have each started offering their own streaming video services (DirecTV Now and Sling TV) to cater to consumers’ changing interests. Together, the two companies added 405,000 subscribers in Q1 2018 via their streaming alternatives.

      However, subscriber growth isn’t translating to profit for the two companies, since DirecTV Now is cheap and AT&T offers numerous discounts to existing subscribers. Revenue in AT&T’s video entertainment segment dropped 7.3 percent, while operating income was down 16 percent.

      The cord-cutting phenomenon has had a significant impact on the value of cable company stocks, with multiple companies (including Charter and Comcast) suffering double-digit declines, FierceCable notes.

      “In a span of a few short months, cable has fallen badly out of favor,” Craig Moffett, media analyst with MoffettNathanson Research, wrote in a note to investors this week. “We don’t need to rehash the litany of horribles about video, broadband and M&A here. Suffice it to say that there is no cable company out there that hasn’t been painted with a black brush."

      Fed up with the high price of cable, more consumers are switching to video-on-demand streaming services like Netflix and Hulu -- and cable TV providers are...
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      Hempler Foods Group recalls ready-to-eat pepperoni sticks

      The products contain milk, an allergen not declared on the label

      Hempler Foods Group of Ferndale, Wash., is recalling approximately 8,535 pounds of ready-to-eat pepperoni sticks.

      The products contain milk, an allergen not declared on the label.

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

      The following ready-to-eat pepperoni stick items, produced from April 20 through May 2, 2018, are being recalled:

      • 4 count/case of 2.25-lbs. of “HEMPLER’S FAMILY CLASSIC PEPPERONI, NATURAL SMOKE FLAVORING ADDED” with “PACKED ON” date 04/21/18 and “LOT # 8106.”
      • 4 count/case of 2.25-lbs. of “HEMPLER’S FAMILY CLASSIC PEPPERONI, NATURAL SMOKE FLAVORING ADDED” with “PACKED ON” date 04/26/18 and “LOT # 8113.”
      • 4 count/case of 2.25-lbs. of “HEMPLER’S FAMILY CLASSIC PEPPERONI, NATURAL SMOKE FLAVORING ADDED” with “PACKED ON” date 05/01/18 and “LOT # 8117B.”
      • 4 count/case of 2.25-lbs. of “HEMPLER’S FAMILY CLASSIC PEPPERONI, NATURAL SMOKE FLAVORING ADDED” with “PACKED ON” date 05/02/18 and “LOT # 8117B.”
      • 10 count/case of 9-oz. of “HEMPLER’S FAMILY CLASSIC PEPPERONI, NATURAL SMOKE FLAVORING ADDED” with “USE OR FREEZE BY” date 01/15/19 and “LOT # 8106.”
      • 10 count/case of 9-oz. of “HEMPLER’S FAMILY CLASSIC PEPPERONI, NATURAL SMOKE FLAVORING ADDED” with “USE OR FREEZE BY” date 01/16/19 and “LOT # 8106.”
      • 10 count/case of 9-oz. of “HEMPLER’S FAMILY CLASSIC PEPPERONI, NATURAL SMOKE FLAVORING ADDED” with “USE OR FREEZE BY” date 01/22/19 and “LOT # 8113.”

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 6410” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to distribution centers in California, Oregon, Utah and Washington, and then sent to retail stores.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Arlie Jacobs at (360) 380-6684 or at Arlie.Jacobs@hemplers.com.

      Hempler Foods Group of Ferndale, Wash., is recalling approximately 8,535 pounds of ready-to-eat pepperoni sticks.The products contain milk, an allergen...
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      Mercedes-Benz recalls 4Matics equipped with the Active Curve System

      Oil may foam and leak out of the vent holes in the reservoir cap

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling certain 9,725 model year 2012-2014 ML350 Bluetec 4Matics and ML550 4Matics; model year 2012-2015 ML63 AMG 4Matics and ML350 4Matics; model year 2013-2016 GL350 Bluetec 4Matics, GL550 4Matics and GL63 AMG 4Matics model year 2017 GLS350d 4Matics, GLS450 4Matics, GLS550 4Matics and GLS63 AMG 4Matics; model year 2015 ML400 4Matics; model year 2016 GLE400 4Matics, GLE350 4Matics, GLE63 AMG 4Matics, GLE63S AMG 4Matics, GLE450 4Matic Coupes and GLE63S AMG 4Matic Coupes; model year 2015-2016 GL450 4Matics and model year 2013-2014 GL450 4Matics equipped with the Active Curve System (ACS).

      Under certain driving conditions, if the oil level in the ACS reservoir is below the minimum level, the oil may foam and leak out of the vent holes in the reservoir cap.

      The leaking oil in the presence of an ignition source can increase the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will correct the oil level as necessary and replace the reservoir sealing cap to prevent oil foam from leaking out, free of charge.

      Owners will be notified of the recall with an interim notification in June 2018. A second letter will be mailed when the remedy is available, currently expected to be in August 2018.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at 1-800-367-6372.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling certain 9,725 model year 2012-2014 ML350 Bluetec 4Matics and ML550 4Matics; model year 2012-2015 ML63 AMG 4Matics an...
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      Facebook and Qualcomm partner to deliver high-speed WiFi to cities

      The collaboration may help improve internet speed and reliability in dense urban areas

      Facebook and Qualcomm are teaming up to bring super-fast WiFi to cities across the country for "a fraction of the cost" of fiber, the companies announced Monday

      The partnership will use Facebook’s Terragraph technology to build a multi-node wireless system based on 60GHz technology from Qualcomm, with the ultimate goal of bringing high-speed internet connectivity to dense urban areas.

      The social media giant has been working on Terragraph for several years in an effort to replace fiber broadband with 60GHz millimeter-wave wireless. Facebook first unveiled Terragraph at its annual developer conference back in 2016, touting it as a wireless service that could deliver faster and more reliable coverage in dense urban areas.

      Improved connections and speeds

      The technology was designed to offer a replacement for fiber or cable in homes and businesses. It works by utilizing a large number of antennas, channel bonding, time synchronized nodes, and TDMA protocols -- enhancements that help direct signals around urban obstacles like concrete buildings, serve more users, and reduce costs.

      Qualcomm will integrate its upcoming chipsets with Facebook’s Terragraph technology, enabling manufacturers to build 60 GHz millimeter wave solutions using the unlicensed 60GHz spectrum and provide Fixed Wireless Access (FWA).

      "With Terragraph, our goal is to enable people living in urban areas to access high-quality connectivity that can help create new opportunities and strengthen communities," said Yael Maguire, vice president of connectivity at Facebook.

      Trials slated to begin next year

      The collaboration will hopefully help to reduce congestion in overcrowded urban wireless networks.

      "Our collaboration with Facebook will bring advanced 11ad and pre-11ay technologies to market increasing broadband penetration and enabling operators to reduce their capex [capital expenditure] for last mile access," explained Irvind Ghai, vice president, product management, Qualcomm Atheros, Inc.

      "Terragraph cloud controller and TDMA architecture coupled with Qualcomm Technologies solution's 10 Gbps link rate, low power consumption, and early interference mitigation techniques will help make gigabit connectivity a reality."

      Trials of the new technology are expected to begin in mid-2019. The companies didn’t announce which cities would receive the service first, but Facebook previously suggested that Terragraph would be tested in San Jose.

      Facebook and Qualcomm are teaming up to bring super-fast WiFi to cities across the country for "a fraction of the cost" of fiber, the companies announced M...
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      EU charges Google with 'illegal' behavior

      The tech giant is being accused of skewing search results to its own benefit

      Is Google a monopoly that's gotten too big and powerful and needs regulation? The company, quite naturally, says no -- but some regulators, attorneys, and other tech companies beg to differ.

      In a CBS 60 Minutes report, Margrethe Vestager, the competition commissioner for the European Union (EU), says her office can prove that Google is engaging in illegal, anti-competitive behavior. Google denied the charge but declined CBS's request for an interview.

      “Our responsibility is to deliver the best results possible to our users, not specific placements for sites within our results," Google said in a statement released to the media. "We understand that those sites whose ranking falls will be unhappy and may complain publicly.”

      Part of Vestager's claim hinges on research her team conducted. The researchers looked at 1.7 billion Google search queries and charges the results show Google was manipulating its secret search formulas—or algorithms—to promote its own products and services, while virtually ignoring any competitor.

      "It's very difficult to find the rivals," Vestager told CBS. "Because on average, you'd find them only on page four in your search results."

      Complaint from Yelp

      Yelp co-founder Jeremy Stoppelman told CBS he doubts he could launch his company in today's environment.

      "Because if you provide great content in one of these categories that is lucrative to Google, and seen as potentially threatening, they will snuff you out," he said.

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reportedly acted on some of these complaints in 2011, conducting an investigation into the company's business practices. According to an internal memo leaked to The Wall Street Journal, the agency recommended an antitrust lawsuit against the tech giant, but no action was taken.

      A year ago, the EU fined Google $2.7 billion, charging it deprived some competitors of the opportunity to compete with them.

      Netmarketshare.com measures international search engine traffic. In its latest report, it gives Google nearly 73 percent of the world's search traffic. Baidu, a Chinese search engine, is second with nearly 13 percent. Bing, owned by Microsoft, has less than 8 percent.

      Is Google a monopoly that's gotten too big and powerful and needs regulation? The company, quite naturally, says no -- but some regulators, attorneys, and...
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      Model year 2018 Jeep Cherokees with a 2.4L engine recalled

      The fuel tube may leak fuel into the engine compartment

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 48,990 model year 2018 Jeep Cherokees equipped with a 2.4L engine.

      These vehicles may have a fuel tube that may leak fuel into the engine compartment.

      A fuel leak in the presence of the ignition source can increase the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the fuel tube, replacing it as necessary, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin June 20, 2018.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is U39.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 48,990 model year 2018 Jeep Cherokees equipped with a 2.4L engine.These vehicles may have a fuel tube that may leak...
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      GM recalls Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana vehicles

      Liquid may leak into the driver's power window switch

      General Motors is recalling 207,483 model year 2014-2017 Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana vehicles equipped with power windows.

      Liquid may leak into the driver's power window switch and cause corrosion, resulting in high electrical resistance and increase the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the driver side window switch, free of charge.

      The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule. Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020 or GMC customer service at 1-800-462-8782.

      GM's number for this recall is 18155.

      General Motors is recalling 207,483 model year 2014-2017 Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana vehicles equipped with power windows.Liquid may leak into the...
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      The Weekly Hack: Attackers steal $15 million from Mexico’s central bank

      Chili’s customers who dined at the restaurant are advised to check their credit card statements

      An unknown group of hackers stole the equivalent of $15.3 million from Mexico’s central bank, the Bank of Mexico, the institution admitted on Wednesday.

      The bank assured reporters that no individual accounts were harmed, but the hack raises further questions about the online security of financial institutions worldwide. The hackers had targeted interbank payment systems, or online transfer systems that allow banks to transfer money to each other in real time.

      Meanwhile, people who use Citibanamex, the country’s second largest bank, were unable to withdraw cash from ATMs or conduct transfers this week, but the bank denied that its systems were compromised.

      The Bank of Mexico, meanwhile, said that it switched to a slower, more secure online system after the hack to avoid any more breaches.

      Chili’s

      Brinker International, the restaurant conglomerate that owns Chili's Grill & Bar, says that any customers who dined at the restaurant in March or April may have had their credit card data accessed in a hack.

      Brinker says that credit card or debit card numbers, as well as cardholder names, were stolen in an attack currently under investigation. The restaurant cautions against canceling cards unless users notice suspicious activity, but in the meantime, it is offering free credit monitoring to all affected consumers

      Signal

      Tech experts have recommended that people who are concerned about their cybersecurity or who need to conduct sensitive conversations over the phone should use the messaging app Signal.

      The SMS app boasts fully encrypted messaging, which prevents even seasoned hackers or government officials from cracking the app’s code. But even Signal isn’t perfect.

      Security researchers this week identified a potential vulnerability in the app, in which they said that a malicious attacker could send an unprompted message to a stranger.

      Researchers reported the vulnerability to Signal’s developers, who promptly created a patch to fix the problem.

      An unknown group of hackers stole the equivalent of $15.3 million from Mexico’s central bank, the Bank of Mexico, the institution admitted on Wednesday....
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      House panel rejects Trump administration’s efforts to overturn ZTE ban

      An amendment would keep sanctions against Chinese smartphone maker ZTE

      On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee voted unanimously to accept an amendment to a bill that would uphold sanctions against ZTE.

      The action comes days after President Donald Trump sent out a surprising tweet calling for the Commerce Department to help give ZTE "a way to get back into business, fast.”

      The amendment’s author, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Maryland), said the amendment will stop the Commerce Department from renegotiating sanctions on ZTE.

      “Supporting this amendment will show that the U.S. government stands behind the sanctions that it enacts, and will enforce them. It also further prevents foreign companies beholden to their governments from further infiltrating our U.S. networks,” Ruppersberger said in a statement.

      Banned from receiving essential parts

      Last month, Chinese smartphone maker ZTE was hit with a denial order that prevents it from receiving parts and components from U.S.-based vendors. As a result of the seven-year ban, ZTE recently announced that it had been forced to shut down its “major operating activities.”  

      The ban was handed down after the government determined that ZTE had violated the terms of a 2017 settlement by failing to fire employees involved in illegally shipping U.S. equipment to Iran and North Korea. ZTE said previously that it was working to get the seven-year ban suspended.

      A day after Trump tweeted about his intent to help the company, he followed up with another tweet that said ZTE "buys a big percentage of individual parts from US companies" and that the company is "reflective of the larger trade deal we are negotiating with China and my personal relationship with President Xi."

      Security threat

      Lawmakers from both parties were quick to point out the potential security risks of overturning the seven-year ban. Democrats and Republicans argue that Chinese telecom companies spy on Americans and steal intellectual property.

      "ZTE is a Chinese telecommunications company that has been exhaustively investigated by the U.S. intelligence community, other areas of the government and the U.S. Congress,” Ruppersberger said.

      “They're widely suspected of spying for the Chinese government, and we cannot allow them to infiltrate U.S. networks or give them access to the U.S. market while they continue to be beholden to their government," Ruppersberger said.

      Senator Marco Rubio (R - Fla.) tweeted Monday that the U.S. would be "crazy" to allow ZTE to operate in the U.S. "without tighter restrictions."

      "Any telecomm firm in #China can be forced to act as a tool of Chinese espionage without a court order or other review process," Rubio said.

      Ruppersberger said the amendment will "prevent a foreign company that is beholden to its government – and that ignores embargoes – from infiltrating the devices and networks that are now indispensable to American life.”

      On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee voted unanimously to accept an amendment to a bill that would uphold sanctions against ZTE. The action...
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      Mortgage rates jump as realtors predict even higher home prices

      Thirty-year fixed-rate mortgages are now at a seven-year high

      It isn't getting any easier to buy a home.

      Inventory levels are tight, home prices are rising, and the average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is at a seven-year high, according to Freddie Mac. The rate on the 30-year mortgage, preferred by most homebuyers, rose to 4.61 percent, the highest level since May 2011.

      Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist, says mortgage rates are closely tied to the yield on the 10-year Treasury bond, and when that rate rises, so do mortgage rates.

      “Healthy consumer spending and higher commodity prices spooked the bond markets and led to higher mortgage rates over the past week,” Khater said. “Not only are buyers facing higher borrowing costs, gas prices are currently at four-year highs just as we enter the important peak home sales season.”

      But Khater says the higher mortgage rates don't seem to have dampened demand. In fact, he says it could spur sales since buyers may be worried mortgage rates will go even higher.

      Realtors list challenges for buyers

      The rising cost of financing is just one of the challenges facing homebuyers. In its mid-year forecast, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) predicts buyers will continue to face higher list prices for homes and fewer properties to choose from.

      Sales of existing homes have been slow in recent years because of declining inventories. Fewer people are selling their homes and homebuilding is about half of what it was before the financial crisis.

      In 2016, home sales increased 3.8 percent, but those rates slowed to 1.1 percent last year. NAR projects this year's increase in existing home sales will be a little better, increasing 1.8 percent.

      'Fundamentals remain solid'

      "Overall fundamentals remain solid, driven by a growing economy and steady job creation, which will sustain home sales in 2018 slightly above last year's pace," said NAR's chief economist, Lawrence Yun. "The worsening housing shortage means home prices are primed to rise further this year too, hindering affordability conditions for homebuyers in markets across the country."

      Yun said home sales would be growing at a much faster pace if more homes were available for purchase. Without more supply to fully satisfy demand and alleviate the upward pressure on prices, Yun says contract activity is likely to remain flat and will more or less continue sideways through the end of the year.

      At the end of March, there were 1.67 million existing homes on the market, down 7.2 percent from March 2017. Yun says inventory levels have been falling for the last five years, with the fewest homes for sale in a generation. Unsold housing inventory is at a 3.6 month supply. A normal level is six months or greater.

      It isn't getting any easier to buy a home.Inventory levels are tight, home prices are rising, and the average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is...
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      American Honda recalls ROVs

      The muffler can overheat, posing a fire and burn hazard

      American Honda Motor Company of Torrance, Calif., is recalling about 65,000 Recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs).

      The muffler can overheat, causing the plastic heat shield to melt or catch fire, posing a fire and burn hazard.

      The firm has received 22 reports of the muffler plastic heat shield melting and three reports of muffler plastic heat shield fires. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves all model year 2016 through 2017, and some model year 2018 Honda Pioneer 1000 Vehicles sold in red, blue, green, gray and yellow. The name “HONDA” is on the front, sides and the rear of the vehicle.

      The model name Pioneer 1000 is printed on a label located on both sides of the vehicle, near the rear. The serial number (VIN #) is stamped in the frame at the left rear, below the tilt-up bed/seat.

      The following model numbers and serial number ranges are being recalled:

      MY

      Model

      VIN Start

      2016

      Pioneer 1000 3P

      (SXS10M3*)

      1HFVE04**G4000001

      --- 1HFVE04**G4008403

      2016

      Pioneer 1000 5P

      (SXS10M5*)

      1HFVE04**G4000001

      --- 1HFVE04**G4010507

      2017

      Pioneer 1000 3P

      (SXS10M3*)

      1HFVE04**H4100001

      --- 1HFVE04**H4102101

      2017

      Pioneer 1000 5P

      (SXS10M5*)

      1HFVE04**H4100001

      --- 1HFVE04**H4103000

      2018

      Pioneer 1000 3P

      (SXS10M3*)

      1HFVE04**G4200001

      --- 1HFVE04**G4203360

      2018

      Pioneer 1000 5P

      (SXS10M5*)

      1HFVE04**G4200001

      --- 1HFVE04**G4207379

      Variable character

      The ROVs, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at authorized Honda Powersports dealers nationwide from October 2015, through April 2018, for between $14,000 and $22,000.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled ROVs and contact an authorized Honda Powersports dealer to schedule an appointment for a free inspection and repair. Honda is contacting all known purchasers directly.

      Consumers may contact American Honda toll-free at 866-784-1870 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday or online at http://powersports.honda.com/ and click on “Recall Information” at the bottom of the page for more information.

      American Honda Motor Company of Torrance, Calif., is recalling about 65,000 Recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs).The muffler can overheat, causing...
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      Kent Quality Foods recalls hot dog and sausage products

      The products contain soy, an allergen not declared on the label

      Kent Quality Foods of Grand Rapids, Mich., is recalling approximately 308,430 pounds of ready-to-eat hot dog and sausage products.

      The products contain soy, an allergen not declared on the label.

      The label for the spice mixture used in the production of one of the Beef Polish sausage contained hydrolyzed soy protein as an ingredient. However, the Beef Polish Sausage does not list the soy ingredient on the finish product label.

      Although the Beef Polish sausage product is the only product that is formulated with the spice mix containing the soy ingredient, there are several other ready-to-eat sausage and hot dog products that are implicated in this recall action due to potential cross contamination via shared equipment during the raw and ready-to-eat processing steps.

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

      The complete list of recalled items, produced from September 9, 2017, through April 29, 2018 can be found here.

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 5694” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to distribution and restaurant locations nationwide.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Stephen Soet at (616) 459-4595.

      Kent Quality Foods of Grand Rapids, Mich., is recalling approximately 308,430 pounds of ready-to-eat hot dog and sausage products.The products contain...
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      Mercedes-Benz recalls E300 4Matics, E300s, E43 AMGs and E400s

      The vehicle's headlights could become misaimed

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 42 model year 2017 E300 4Matics, E300s, E43 AMGs and E400s.

      The headlight horizontal adjustment screws on these vehicles may not be properly sealed behind a non-removable sealing cap to keep headlights from being readjusted.

      If the headlight's horizontal aim is altered, a misaimed headlight may lead to an insufficiently illuminated roadway, which may increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will retrofit the sealing caps for the headlights, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin in June 2018.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at 1-800-367-6372.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 42 model year 2017 E300 4Matics, E300s, E43 AMGs and E400s.The headlight horizontal adjustment screws on these v...
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      SEC creates fake cryptocurrency to warn consumers of potential scams

      The agency included and explained many of the most common red flags

      On Wednesday, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) launched a website advertising a fake initial coin offering (ICO), intending to show consumers the dangers of a cryptocurrency scam.

      The agency says that most ICOs tend to be fraudulent, as the digital tokens sold to buyers can often turn out to be worthless. In an effort to save consumers the turmoil of getting caught up in one of these scams, the SEC created “HoweyCoin” under the guise of an ICO that’s partnered with the travel industry.

      The agency peppered the site with typical red flags, such as celebrity endorsements and guaranteed returns on investment. The mockup also features a “white paper” explaining the project in full. The token’s name comes from the Howey test -- the Supreme Court’s way of determining whether certain transactions qualify as investment contracts.

      “The rapid growth of the ‘ICO’ market, and its widespread promotion as a new investment opportunity, has provided fertile ground for bad actors to take advantage of our Main Street investors,” said SEC Chairman Jay Clayton. “We embrace new technologies, but we also want investors to see what fraud looks like, so we built this educational site with many of the classic warning signs of fraud.”

      Red flags explained

      The SEC explains that it doesn’t take much effort for a scammer to create a fake website. Many of these cons share common themes and strategies that are used in other types of scams.

      “Fraudsters can quickly build an attractive website and load it up with convoluted jargon to lure investors into phony deals,” said Owen Donley III, chief counsel of the SEC’s office of investor education and advocacy. “But fraudulent sites also often have red flags that can be dead giveaways, if you know what to look for.”

      For starters, the SEC warns consumers against claims of high, guaranteed returns. HoweyCoin boasts over one percent daily returns with double two percent returns on tier one investors in pre-ICO stage secured purchases. The offering also claims to serve as a guaranteed hedge against inflation and market loss.

      According to the SEC’s website, any kind of investment comes with a risk, and consumers should be wary of any offering that tries to convince investors of extremely high or guaranteed rewards.

      Celebrity endorsements are another warning sign. Consumers tend to be lured in when they see their favorite athlete, actor, or singer promoting anything from sneakers and clothes to the latest cryptocurrency. However, the SEC is adamant that just because an ICO drops a big celebrity name, that doesn’t make the product legitimate.

      “It is never a good idea to make an investment decision just because someone famous says a product or service is a good investment,” the SEC website warns.

      Claims of SEC compliance are also reason to give an offering a second look. HoweyCoin claims to trade on an SEC-compliant market where users can buy and sell for profit. However, this is one of the primary ways to deceive investors; the word “exchange” gives the false impression that investors’ money is being traded based on nationally recognized standards. In reality, the SEC does not regulate any of the platforms most ICOs select.

      Investing with a credit card is another red flag. It’s important for consumers to know that most recognized investment firms don’t allow their customers to use credit cards to buy investments or to fund investment accounts. Therefore, consumers -- and any potential investors -- should be skeptical of any organization asking them or allowing them to use their credit cards for such purchases.

      Lastly, the SEC warns against pump and dump scams. In these scenarios, fraudsters spread false or misleading information to entice customers to buy into an offering to “pump” up the price of the stock and then “dump” shares by selling at the newly inflated price. In time, the good word regarding the stock will die down, the price will fall, and investors lose money.

      Safe investments are possible

      The SEC has yet to approve any public ICO sales, as the agency feels they should comply with certain rules, like giving investors audited financial statements and descriptions of the business and its risks. While cryptocurrency supporters say rules like these go against the purpose of the business models of token-selling, the SEC says operating under the current system is illegal.

      “The fact that our staff could put something together that looks just like an ICO in very little time and with very little resources shows how little you have to put into this to market a token,” Clayton said.

      Crypto advocates have been showing incredible support of the HoweyCoin campaign since the SEC made it public on the last day of Consensus -- one of the biggest conferences for cryptocurrency investors and developers.

      “It’s great that they’re educating investors and not just being paternalistic,” said Trevor Koverko, chief executive of Polymath, a Toronto-based blockchain company. “And it’s creative too, which I wouldn’t have expected.”

      “I am not a fan of overt regulation -- but damn, SEC, this is clever and beneficial to the #crypto market. Point Feds,” wrote Dank Coins on Twitter. “P.S. don’t invest in Howeycoin lol.”

      On Wednesday, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) launched a website advertising a fake initial coin offering (ICO), intending to show consumers t...
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      CEO of Bumble Bee Foods indicted on price-fixing charge

      The Justice Department claims the executive conspired with other tuna companies to set prices

      Federal prosecutors have secured an indictment against Christopher Lischewski, the CEO of Bumble Bee Foods, on one count of price fixing.

      The indictment, returned by a grand jury in San Francisco, claims that Lischewski conspired with others in the industry, from November 2010 to December 2013, to set prices for canned tuna.

      Through his lawyer, Lischewski said he is innocent.

      "When the facts are known and the truth emerges, Mr. Lischewski will be found not guilty, and that vindication will rightfully restore his good name," attorney John Keker said in a statement to the media.

      Lengthy investigation

      Prosecutors began investigating possible price collusion in the canned tuna industry during the Obama administration, focusing on three companies – Bumble Bee, StarKist, and Chicken of the Sea. Former StarKist executive Stephen Hodge entered a guilty plea to a price-fixing charge in 2017.

      In a separate action, retail giant Walmart filed a civil suit last year claiming that the industry illegally set canned tuna prices over a five-year period.

      “The Antitrust Division is committed to prosecuting senior executives who unjustly profit at the expense of their customers,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. “American consumers deserve free enterprise, not fixed prices, so the Department will not tolerate crimes like the one charged in today’s indictment.”

      Defrauding consumers

      FBI Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett said the indictment shows that corporate executives will be held accountable for actions that occur on their watch, especially when they “defraud American families.”

      According to the National Fisheries Institute, U.S. consumers eat about 1 billion pounds of canned and pouched tuna a year. Only coffee and sugar exceed canned tuna in sales per foot of shelf space in grocery stores. In 2007, Americans ate 2.7 pounds of canned tuna per capita.

      The one-count felony indictment claims that Lischewski, through meetings and other forms of communication, carried out a conspiracy by agreeing to fix the prices of packaged seafood.

      The Justice Department says Bumble Bee Foods has already pleaded guilty and been sentenced to pay a criminal fine of at least $25 million as a result of the investigation.

      Federal prosecutors have secured an indictment against Christopher Lischewski, the CEO of Bumble Bee Foods, on one count of price fixing.The indictment...
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      Seattle votes to tax high-grossing companies to help the homeless

      Amazon and Starbucks are fuming after learning of the City Council decision

      On Monday, the Seattle City Council voted unanimously (9-0) to tax the city’s highest grossing companies in an effort to combat homelessness.

      Despite tough negotiations between the City Council and Mayor Jenny Durkan over the weekend, the city will now tax companies who bring in over $20 million in revenue $275 per employee per year. The decision came after Mayor Durkan vetoed an initial $500 per head tax.

      “This was a tough debate,” Mayor Durkan said. “Not just here at City Hall, but all across the city. No one is saying that this will solve everything, but it will make a meaningful difference. The legislation will help us address our homelessness crisis without jeopardizing critical jobs.”

      About three percent of Seattle businesses will be liable to pay the tax, which can end after five years through a city council vote. The city is estimated to make roughly $47 million a year from the tax that will go towards housing and healthcare initiatives for the homeless.

      Amazon and Starbucks fight back

      Despite the positive implications the tax is designed to have, both Amazon and Starbucks -- arguably the two biggest companies in Seattle -- have already voiced their negative feelings. And Amazon has already taken action.

      Upon hearing the tax proposal earlier this month, Amazon decided to halt two major construction projects, and it is currently rethinking plans to move into a different building. The company has its headquarters in Seattle and employs roughly 45,000 people; the tax could cost Amazon over $10 million annually.

      “We are disappointed by today’s city council decision to introduce a tax on jobs,” Amazon Vice President Drew Herdener said in a statement. “While we have resumed construction planning, we remain very apprehensive about the future created by the council’s hostile approach and rhetoric toward larger businesses, which forces us to question our growth here.”

      “The city does not have a revenue problem -- it has a spending efficiency problem,” Herdener continued. “We are highly uncertain whether the city council’s anti-business positions or its spending efficiency will change for the better.”

      Starbucks -- another one of the nearly 300 Seattle businesses that will have to pay the tax -- voiced similar concerns.

      “This city continues to spend without reforming and fail without accountability, while ignoring the plight of hundreds of children sleeping out,” said senior vice president of global affairs John Kelly.

      “If they cannot provide a warm meal and safe bed to a five-year-old, no one believes they will be able to make housing affordable or address opiate addiction. This City pays more attention to the desires of the owners of illegally parked RVs than families seeking emergency shelter.”

      Fighting Seattle’s homelessness

      Despite criticisms from Amazon and Starbucks, officials believe the new tax will help address the city’s severe homelessness problem.

      In 2015, Seattle declared a homelessness state of emergency. Based on a tally from last year, there were over 11,600 homeless people in King County. An investigation discovered that one out of every 16 public school students in Seattle are homeless..

      “We have community members who are dying,” Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda said before the vote. “They are dying on our streets today because there is not enough shelter.”

      By implementing the tax, the city plans to both build housing and provide additional health services. The council approved spending 66 percent of the funds on affordable housing, 32 percent on emergency shelter, trash pickup, raises for service workers and other needs, and two percent on administration.

      “I think it was a job well done and now we have to actually prove to the public that we’re actually investing wisely and strategically,” said Council President Bruce Harrell.

      On Monday, the Seattle City Council voted unanimously (9-0) to tax the city’s highest grossing companies in an effort to combat homelessness.Despite to...
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      Walmart adds Lord and Taylor brands to its website

      The company hopes adding upscale apparel will help it become a ‘fashion destination’ for shoppers

      Walmart has announced that it’s adding high-end items to the fashion section of its website as part of a site upgrade first teased back in April.

      Consumers will soon see two different categories on the fashion section of Walmart’s website: Premium Brands and Walmart’s Everyday Brands.

      The company’s Premium Brands section will include offerings from more than 125 Lord & Taylor brands, including Tommy Bahama, Vince Camuto, Miss Selfridge, and Lucky Brand. A separate tab will house Walmart’s Everyday Brands, which will be “part of Walmart.com’s broader fashion destination.”

      The assortment of Lord & Taylor products available at Walmart.com will include men's, women's, and kids' clothing, as well as shoes, accessories, and jewelry. The range of offerings will be updated “regularly,” the company said.

      “We want each category to feel like you are shopping a specialty store,” said Marc Lore, president and CEO of Walmart's U.S. e-commerce business, adding that similar partnerships with other apparel brands are planned for later this year.

      Competing with Amazon

      Walmart and Lord & Taylor first announced their partnership last November. The Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer said at the time that it wanted to turn its website into a “premium fashion destination.”

      "We see customers on our site searching for higher-end items, and we are expanding our business online to focus on adding specialized and premium shopping experiences, starting with fashion," said Denise Incandela, the head of fashion for Walmart US e-commerce.

      Walmart says the new shopping experience will be rolled out “in the coming weeks.”

      "The new experience is aligned with how customers shop the category, with editorial elements that inspire customers to browse and buy, and has already generated positive customer response,” Incandela said in a statement on Tuesday.

      "The next step is the launch of the Lord & Taylor flagship store, which introduces exciting new premium brands to our customers,” she added.

      Adding new retail brands and products to its website will help Walmart compete with Amazon, which is poised to surpass Walmart to become the number one apparel retailer in the country later this year.

      Walmart has announced that it’s adding high-end items to the fashion section of its website as part of a site upgrade first teased back in April. Consu...
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      Subprime auto loan defaults hit 20-year high in March

      Consumers with poor credit may find it harder to buy a car

      Consumers are defaulting on subprime auto loans at the highest rate in two decades, according to new data released by Fitch Ratings.

      It shows the percentage of subprime auto loans more than 60 days overdue hit 5.8 percent in March, the highest rate since 1996 and higher than during the financial crisis.

      The findings may have broad implications for consumers with poor credit who want to purchase a new or used car.

      One reason car sales have been near record levels over the last few years is the growing use of subprime auto financing. People with a low credit score and spotty credit history are able to purchase a vehicle because lenders compensate for the heightened risk by charging a much higher interest rate.

      Less willing to extend credit

      But a report by Bloomberg News suggests the rising default rate means lenders will be less willing to make these loans. Subprime auto loans are bundled into securities and sold as bonds, but the chance that more of these loans could be bad will likely mean these bonds will be less valuable.

      The same thing happened in the housing market 10 years ago, with catastrophic results. When homeowners defaulted on their subprime loans, it nearly brought down the world's financial system.

      Bloomberg reports that lenders have already increased standards for subprime auto loans and are making fewer of them. Between January and March, subprime auto loan origination plunged by 10 percent.

      Downside of a subprime loan

      While a subprime car loan may mean a consumer with poor credit can buy a vehicle, that's not always to the consumer's benefit. These loans are almost always more costly.

      Since lenders assume a subprime borrower is a higher risk, they charge a higher interest rate than they would give someone with an excellent credit score. According to automotive publisher Edmunds, a typical subprime interest rate on a used car loan is around 16.25 percent, and even higher for a consumer considered “deep subprime.”

      In addition to a higher monthly payment, a subprime loan may carry more processing fees and other costs of securing the loan. The subprime purchaser may also be required to put up a larger down payment.

      The credit score range for subprime auto loans generally extends from 501 to 600, with scores below 680 considered non-prime. The best way to avoid being stuck with a subprime loan is to improve your credit score by paying all of your bills on time and paying down credit card balances.

      Consumers are defaulting on subprime auto loans at the highest rate in two decades, according to new data released by Fitch Ratings.It shows the percen...
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      Tension between spouses could worsen disease symptoms, study finds

      Researchers say those suffering from arthritis or diabetes should focus on the health of their marriage

      Previous studies have found that a happy marriage can lead to greater health benefits for both spouses, but a new study finds that the opposite may also be true.

      Researchers from Penn State examined two groups of older individuals – one with members that suffered from arthritis and another with members that suffered from diabetes – and found that symptoms of either disease worsened when spouses were going through a rough patch. Professor Lynn Martire says that the findings reaffirm how important a healthy marriage can be to overall health.

      "We study chronic illnesses, which usually involve daily symptoms or fluctuations in symptoms. Other studies have looked at the quality of someone's marriage right now. But we wanted to drill down and examine how positive or negative interactions with your spouse affect your health from day to day,” she said.

      "It was exciting that we were able to see this association in two different data sets -- two groups of people with two different diseases. The findings gave us insight into how marriage might affect health, which is important for people dealing with chronic conditions like arthritis or diabetes.”

      A vicious cycle

      The study examined 145 people suffering from osteoarthritis and 129 others suffering from type 2 diabetes. Each person was asked to keep a diary of their mood, symptom severity, and the types of interactions they had with their spouses over the course of several weeks.

      In addition to finding a correlation between symptom severity and interactions between spouses, the researchers say that increased levels of pain in the osteoarthritis group could often lead to even more marriage tension the following day.  

      "This almost starts to suggest a cycle where your marital interactions are more tense, you feel like your symptoms are more severe, and the next day you have more marital tension again," Martire said.

      Focusing on relationships

      The study findings could be very impactful for consumers who suffer from diseases that can worsen over time. The researchers indicate that focusing on healthy relationships could potentially delay disability in osteoarthritis patients and other associated complications in diabetes patients.

      "We usually focus on illness-specific communications, but looking at tension in a marriage isn't tied to the disease, it's not a symptom of the disease itself. It's a measure you can get from any couple. It suggests to me that looking beyond the illness, to improve the overall quality of the relationship might have some impact on health,” Martire said.

      The full study has been published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

      Previous studies have found that a happy marriage can lead to greater health benefits for both spouses, but a new study finds that the opposite may also be...
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      Whole Foods Market recalls Reblochon Cheese

      The product may be contaminated with E. coli O26

      Whole Foods Market is recalling Reblochon Cheese "raw cow cheese" that may be contaminated with E. coli O26.

      There have been no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of this product in Canada, although illnesses have been reported in France.

      The following product is being recalled:

      Brand NameCommon NameSizeCode(s) on ProductUPC
      Whole Foods MarketReblochon Cheese "raw cow cheese"VariableAll "Packed On" dates from March 20, 2018 up to and including May 15, 2018Starts with
      0293524

      The recalled product was been sold at the following Whole Foods Market locations in Ontario:

      • 4771 Yonge Street, North York
      • 301 Cornwall Road, Oakville
      • 951 Bank Street, Ottawa
      • 87 Avenue Road, Toronto

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should not eat it, but discard it or return it to the store where it was purchased.

      Whole Foods Market is recalling Reblochon Cheese "raw cow cheese" that may be contaminated with E. coli O26.There have been no reported illnesses assoc...
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      Honda recalls vehicles with front passenger airbag issue

      The airbag may have been installed incorrectly during replacement

      American Honda Motor Company is recalling 492 model year 2003-2012 Honda Accords and Pilots, model year 2010 Accord Crosstours, model year 2001-2011 Civics, model year 2002-2011 CR-Vs, model year 2003-2004, 2006-2008 and 2011 Elements, model year 2007 and 2009-2013 Fits, model year 2010-2012 Insights, model year 2002-2004 Odysseys, and model year 2012 Ridgelines.

      The front passenger airbag may have been installed incorrectly during replacement.

      An incorrectly installed air bag may deploy improperly in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and, if necessary, replace the passenger frontal air bag module assembly, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin June 1, 2018.

      Owners may contact Honda customer service at 1-888-234-2138. Honda's numbers for this recall are K1P, and M1O.

      American Honda Motor Company is recalling 492 model year 2003-2012 Honda Accords and Pilots, model year 2010 Accord Crosstours, model year 2001-2011 Civics...
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      Volkswagen recalls Tiguan long wheelbase vehicles

      The rear shocks may have poor welds

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling more than 7,000 model year 2018 Tiguan long wheelbase (LWB) vehicles.

      A lower loop of a rear shock absorber may separate from its base due to an incorrect welding process, causing a loss of vehicle control and increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the rear shock absorbers, replacing them as necessary, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin June 25, 2018.

      Owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at 1-800-893-5298. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 42i7.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling more than 7,000 model year 2018 Tiguan long wheelbase (LWB) vehicles.A lower loop of a rear shock absorber may...
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      Tesla vehicle in Autopilot mode crashes into fire truck in Utah

      The accident may raise further concerns about self-driving car technology

      Tesla has been dominating the news cycle as of late -- and for all the wrong reasons.

      In the most recent incident over the weekend, a Utah woman slammed into the back of a local fire department vehicle while her Tesla Model S’ semi-autonomous Autopilot feature was engaged. The 28 year-old driver admitted to looking at her phone before the crash, despite the company’s mandate that customers remain alert while using Autopilot, and not rely on the system entirely.

      While a Tesla spokesperson failed to comment following the accident, the company’s co-founder Elon Musk took to Twitter to note that it was “super messed up” that the latest accident had garnered so much public attention, while accidents involving traditional cars “get almost no coverage.”

      South Jordan police reported the vehicle was going 60 mph when it slammed into the back of a fire truck at a red light. The driver of the Tesla, who was taken to the hospital with a broken foot, has yet to be named, and police reported she did not brake before impact of the crash. The driver of the fire truck was evaluated for whiplash but was not checked into the hospital.

      “What’s actually amazing about this accident is that a Model S hit a fire truck at 60 mph and the driver only broke an ankle,” Musk tweeted. “An impact that speed usually results in severe injury or death.”

      Concern builds over self-driving cars

      As technology continues to advance at a rapid pace and the thought of self-driving cars slowly starts to become a reality, consumers are leery of giving up total control of the wheel.

      A survey done as recently as February found that nearly 60 percent of drivers who currently own a connected car said they wouldn’t buy a self-driving car, even if money wasn’t a factor. (A connected car is one that has safety features such as: Bluetooth connectivity, safety sensors, GPS navigation, remote door locks, WiFi, or voice assistance.)

      Back in March, an Uber in self-driving mode hit and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona. The car had a human safety driver but was in autonomous mode when the accident occurred, and Uber failed to reveal additional details. Following the accident, and much consumer outcry over the safety of autonomous vehicles, Uber and Waymo advocated to have legislation passed that would quickly expand self-driving vehicle testing.

      Another blemish for Tesla

      While consumers nationwide have reason to be on edge when it comes to the fast-growing self-driving car industry, Tesla’s Autopilot feature has been a hot button issue for some time now, despite the company touting it as “the future of driving.”

      Just last week, the NTSB opened an investigation into a case where a fatal Fort Lauderdale crash raised eyebrows, as it was the agency’s fourth active probe into the automaker’s electric vehicles. The 18 year-old driver slammed into a concrete wall, and the vehicle burst into flames, trapping the occupants inside. It was unknown at the time of the accident whether the driver was operating on the Autopilot feature.

      Additionally, the NTSB is also looking into a 2016 accident in which the driver of a Tesla slammed into a tractor trailer and died. This past March, the agency opened an investigation after a Mountain View, California man crashed into a highway barrier and the car burst into flames.

      The NTSB and Tesla have also been at odds as of late after the agency accused the automaker of releasing classified information regarding one of its investigations while it was still going on.

      Looking ahead

      Despite the rocky relationship between Tesla and the NTSB, agency spokesperson Keith Holloway said he’s still uncertain as to whether the agency will open an investigation into the accident.

      Though Tesla -- and the self-driving car industry -- certainly has a red target on its back as of late, Musk is confident that advanced technology and more diligent work will improve his company’s system.

      “It certainly needs to be better and we work to improve it every day, but perfect is the enemy of good,” Musk tweeted. “A system that, on balance, saves lives and reduces injuries should be released.”

      Tesla has been dominating the news cycle as of late -- and for all the wrong reasons.In the most recent incident over the weekend, a Utah woman slammed...
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      Uber ending forced arbitration policy for sexual assault claims

      The company is giving survivors control of how they pursue their claims

      Uber has announced that it will end its use of forced arbitration agreements for claims of sexual misconduct involving employees, riders, and drivers.

      The ride-hailing company is also rolling back the requirement that victims must sign a confidentiality provision preventing them from speaking about the sexual assault or sexual harassment they suffered on the platform.

      In taking these steps, the company says it hopes to bring "transparency, integrity, and accountability" to its process of handling sexual harassment and assault in the workplace and involving riders.

      Uber says it has learned that it’s important to give sexual assault and harassment survivors control of how they pursue their claims.

      “So moving forward, survivors will be free to choose to resolve their individual claims in the venue they prefer: in a mediation where they can choose confidentiality; in arbitration, where they can choose to maintain their privacy while pursuing their case; or in open court,” said Tony West, the company’s chief legal officer.

      “Whatever they decide, they will be free to tell their story wherever and however they see fit,” West wrote in a blog post.

      Righting the ship

      The policy change comes a year after former Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick was ousted as CEO, a move that happened as the company faced accusations of having a workplace culture of sexism and sexual harassment. Uber was also accused of stealing trade secrets and covering up a massive data breach.

      Last August, Dara Khosrowshahi took over for Kalanick and immediately began taking steps to point the company’s “moral compass” in the right direction. Under the new CEO, one of the company’s main goals became doing “the right thing.”

      Uber said it is working toward "maintaining the public's trust, and earning back the respect of customers we've lost through our past actions and behavior,” adding that changing the company “is about more than new products and policies. It requires self-reflection and a willingness to challenge orthodoxies of the past."

      Safety transparency report

      In addition to ending mandatory arbitration for individual claims of sexual assault and harassment and rescinding the requirement that survivors sign a confidentiality provision, Uber said it plans to publish a "safety transparency report." The report will include data on sexual assaults and “other incidents” that occur on the platform.

      "We’re working with experts in the field to develop a taxonomy to categorize the incidents that are reported to us," West concluded. "We hope to open-source this methodology so we can encourage others in the ridesharing, transportation and travel industries, both private and public, to join us in taking this step. We know that a project of this magnitude will take some time, but we pledge to keep you updated along the way."

      Last month, Uber took another step to earn back customers’ trust by announcing that it will start performing criminal background checks on its U.S. drivers each year. The company is also adding a 911 button so riders can call for help in emergencies.

      Uber has announced that it will end its use of forced arbitration agreements for claims of sexual misconduct involving employees, riders, and drivers....
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      Salmonella outbreak tied to eggs has worsened, CDC says

      Millions of eggs have been recalled, with 35 people falling ill

      A salmonella outbreak that prompted the recall of 207 million eggs has worsened, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced. A dozen more people have reported illness in several states since last month, bringing the total number of reported cases to 35.

      At least 11 people have been hospitalized due to complications from the illness, which can cause "serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems," according to the FDA. No deaths have been reported.

      The outbreak is linked to Rose Acre Farms and the company's facility in North Carolina. Affected eggs were distributed to restaurants and grocery stores in Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

      Impacted brands

      The eggs were sold under the brand names Country Daybreak, Coburn Farms, Crystal Farms, Sunshine Farms, and Glenview. Some of the eggs were sold at Food Lion and Walmart under a store brand name, and others were sent to Waffle House restaurants.

      The recalled eggs were distributed between January 11 and April 12. The cartons were stamped with plant number P-1065 and a Julian date range of 011 through 102.

      “Consumers, restaurants, and retailers should not eat, serve, or sell recalled eggs produced by Rose Acre Farms’ Hyde County farm. Throw them away or return them to the place of purchase for a refund,” health officials said.

      A full list of recalled brands can be viewed on the Food and Drug Administration’s website.

      How salmonella spreads

      Salmonella affects the intestinal tract and is usually contracted from contaminated poultry, meat, eggs, and water. Effects of the illness include fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.

      Chickens can pass the bacteria through the egg laying process because eggs leave infected hens through the same passageway as feces. The illness can also silently spread to eggs if the bacteria in an otherwise healthy-looking hen’s ovary or oviduct gets to the egg before the shell forms around it.  

      FDA inspectors said they found “unacceptable rodent activity” at Rose Acre Farms during an inspection in March. The agency also said employees touched dirty equipment and their bodies without washing their hands.

      The conditions allowed "for the harborage, proliferation and spread of filth and pathogens," the FDA said.

      In a statement, Rose Acre Farms said it has "not only corrected deficiencies at the farm" but "also taken steps to ensure the farm meets or exceeds the standards of the FDA and USDA."

      A salmonella outbreak that prompted the recall of 207 million eggs has worsened, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced. A doze...
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      Gas prices continue to rise after U.S. pulls out of Iran deal

      Prices at the pump have risen seven cents in seven days

      That jump in gasoline prices you've noticed in the last week may have more than a little to do with geopolitics.

      AAA reports the national average price of regular gasoline is around $2.88 a gallon, up seven cents in the last seven days and 17 cents higher than a month ago.

      Gasoline is following crude oil sharply higher, and AAA says part of the reason is the White House decision to withdraw from the Iran deal. That means it is renewing sanctions, which include not buying Iranian oil.

      Combination of factors

      Oil prices have risen over the late spring as supplies have gotten tighter and demand has increased. With the possibility of Iranian oil being removed from the world's supply, the price of oil shot up last week, and gasoline prices rose along with it.

      As a result, AAA says 36 states have seen at least a five cents per gallon rise in the price of fuel.

      “The administration’s move, combined with the switchover to summer blend, growing global demand, and shrinking supply, continues to fuel pump prices as we approach the summer driving season,” said Jeanette Casselano, a AAA spokesperson. “AAA predicts that the national average may reach $3 a gallon this summer, especially if crude oil prices continue to increase.”

      The price of premium gas, required for most high-performance cars, is already well past $3 a gallon – which is significantly more expensive than diesel fuel.

      Sticker shock at the gas pump has been most severe for motorists in Ohio, where the average price shot up by 15 cents a gallon. Drivers in Missouri are paying 12 cents a gallon more, and the average gallon of gas rose by 11 cents a gallon in the last week in Kentucky and Minnesota.

      Above $3 in nine states

      The AAA analysis shows motorists in 19 states are now paying above the national average for fuel, with nine states seeing average gas prices above the $3 a gallon mark. According to GasBuddy, gas stations in 25 cities are selling gas for 70 cents a gallon more than at this time last year.

      Consumers with long memories may not think gasoline is that expensive. In the summer of 2014, the average price rose above $3 a gallon, just before OPEC increased production in an unsuccessful effort to drive U.S. shale producers out of business.

      The highest average price for regular gas was $4.11, recorded in July 2008. Analysts think chances of that record being broken anytime soon are slim.

      They point out that U.S. oil production capacity is much larger now than a decade ago. Should oil prices start to rise too quickly, U.S. producers will pump more oil.

      That jump in gasoline prices you've noticed in the last week may have more than a little to do with geopolitics.AAA reports the national average price...
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      Honda recalls Civic Hatchback and Type R vehicles

      Certain airbags may not perform properly

      American Honda Motor Company is recalling 69 model year 2017 Civic Hatchback and Type R vehicles.

      Driver and front passenger seatback pads sold as replacement service parts were made without slit openings for the seat-mounted side airbags.

      In the event of a crash necessitating airbag deployment, the seatback pad would interfere and adversely affect airbag performance.

      Seat-mounted airbags that do not deploy correctly in the event of a crash, increase the risk of injury.

      What to do

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front seatback pads, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin June 1, 2018.

      Owners may contact Honda customer service at 1-888-234-2138. Honda's number for this recall is E1D, U1B, and X1C.

      American Honda Motor Company is recalling 69 model year 2017 Civic Hatchback and Type R vehicles.Driver and front passenger seatback pads sold as repla...
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      Chrysler recalls model year 2004-2007 Jeep Libertys

      The rear suspension lower control arms can fracture

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 239,904 model year 2004-2007 Jeep Libertys.

      The rear suspension lower control arms can fracture due to excessive corrosion, causing a loss of vehicle control.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the rear lower control arms, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin June 20, 2018.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is U38.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 239,904 model year 2004-2007 Jeep Libertys.The rear suspension lower control arms can fracture due to excessive corr...
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      President Trump rolls out policy to reduce drug prices

      Critics say the plan will do little to change the status quo

      President Trump has introduced a policy that he says will bring down prescription drug prices, but a lot of people aren't convinced it will make a difference for consumers.

      Some of those people work on Wall Street.

      Before the president's Friday afternoon speech, in which he introduced a “blueprint” for lowering the prices consumers pay for medicine, drug stocks were mostly lower out of fear that the proposal would severely cut into drug company profit margins.

      'Few immediate actions'

      Once the speech concluded, stocks rallied. Here's how CNBC assessed the new drug price policy:

      “The proposal included few immediate actions the administration would take but none that would bring any massive reforms. Wall Street welcomed the letdown, relieving health-care stocks of the pressure they had been feeling.”

      In the much-anticipated speech, Trump targeted pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), which he called “middlemen who have been getting rich.” In particular, Trump suggested PBMs have used their rebates as a way to negotiate discounts that are not always to the benefit of consumers.

      But the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA), a trade group representing PBMs, pushed back, saying that getting rid of rebates and other price concessions would leave patients and payers at the mercy of drug manufacturer pricing strategies.

      “PBMs have long encouraged manufacturers to offer payers alternative ways to reduce net costs,” the group said in a statement. “Simply put, the easiest way to lower costs would be for drug companies to lower their prices.”

      Consumer groups predict little change

      But consumer groups generally found little in the president's blueprint that would lead to price rollbacks. Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines program, said the president's plan does little to make medicine more affordable.

      “Instead, the swamp of former lobbyists and executives that make up much of the Trump pricing team have designed a plan that pays lip service to reform, but in fact will protect corporations from public anger at unaffordable medicines,” Maybarduk said.

      Maybarduk said the proposal lacks three critical elements that would lead to lower drug prices. He said it should challenge the pharmaceutical industry with full negotiation powers for Medicare, block price spikes, and curb “monopoly abuse.”

      President Trump has introduced a policy that he says will bring down prescription drug prices, but a lot of people aren't convinced it will make a differen...
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      Facebook suspends 200 apps from its platform

      The company says its privacy investigation of thousands of apps is ongoing

      Facebook has suspended 200 apps from its platform amid an investigation into companies that had access to large amounts of data on Facebook users.

      Company CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in late March that Facebook would restrict the amount of data apps have access to while investigating how these apps used the data before the restrictions were enacted.

      Zuckerberg acted in response to the revelation that an app had sold vast amounts of user data to Cambridge Analytica, a political marketing firm. The data was used to target ads in support of Donald Trump's presidential campaign and the campaign in support of Britain leaving the European Union.

      Ime Archibong, vice president of Product Partnerships at Facebook, says “thousands” of apps have been investigated so far, with 200 suspended from the Facebook platform. In a blog posting, Archibong says the suspensions do not mean the apps misused data, only that there are grounds for a further audit.

      “Where we find evidence that these or other apps did misuse data, we will ban them and notify people via this website,” Archibong writes. “It will show people if they or their friends installed an app that misused data before 2015 — just as we did for Cambridge Analytica.”

      Rocked to its core

      The Cambridge Analytica scandal rocked Facebook to its core, resulting in Zuckerberg making numerous apologies and testifying before House and Senate committees. It also focused attention on major technology companies and what they do with users' data.

      Facebook stressed that the app developer who sold data to Cambridge Analytica did not have the right to do so, adding that the move was in violation of Facebook's terms of service agreement. But the social network giant came under criticism for a nearly two-year delay in disclosing to users what had happened.

      Facebook users who took part in the app developer's quiz, entitled “This is Your Digital Life,” gave the app developer access to their Facebook data, and the data belonging to their Facebook friends, most of whom were unaware of that fact.

      Earlier this month Zuckerberg appeared at a developers conference and reaffirmed his company's commitment to privacy. Among the changes Zuckerberg announced was a new tool that allows users to delete any personal information about them that Facebook has collected.

      Facebook has suspended 200 apps from its platform amid an investigation into companies that had access to large amounts of data on Facebook users.Compa...
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      Wireless charging pad for BMW electric vehicles coming soon

      The product will be available to 530e drivers in California as part of a pilot program

      BMW’s wireless inductive charging pad will go into production in July and be available to U.S. consumers -- in addition to being released in Europe -- by the end of the summer, Autoblog has confirmed.

      The wireless charging system will work with many of BMW’s plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, starting with the 5-series 530e iPerformance. Drivers in California will be able to use the system via a pilot program by the end of the summer.

      “It will be a pilot program limited to the 530e in California only,” BMW said. It’s unclear when or if the company plans to make the technology more widely available, which cars will get it, and how much it will cost.

      However, the deployment of the technology represents a significant step. BMW has been working on wireless car charging for several years. The German automaker first unveiled its plans for the system in 2014 as part of a joint effort with Daimler. A version of the technology for the Mercedes S560e sedan is expected to be revealed later this year.

      How it works

      BMW’s floor mat measures about 35 inches long and 31.5 inches wide and 0.8 inches thick. The mat sits on the floor and must be plugged into a 220-volt outlet. Inside the mat is a primary coil that transmits power to a secondary coil located in the underside of the vehicle.

      “An alternating magnetic field is generated between the two coils, through which electricity is transmitted without cables or contacts at a charge rate of up to 3.2kW,” BMW explains. “This form of power supply to the high-voltage battery is extremely convenient for customers and involves a charging time of around 3.5 hours.”

      The 3.5 hours it takes to fully charge the 530e's 9.2kW battery is about 30 minutes longer than using a charging cable.

      To use the charging system, the driver uses the infotainment screen to position the vehicle over the charging pad. Once the vehicle is properly aligned, charging starts automatically as soon as the driver turns off the ignition.

      The mat can work inside or outside and has the ability to automatically turn off if it detects another object is in the way, such as cat or other animal sitting on the pad.

      Right now, at least eight other automakers are working on similar wireless charging systems. A 2014 survey found that the market is expected to buy more than 350,000 inductive units by 2020.

      BMW’s wireless inductive charging pad will go into production in July and be available to U.S. consumers -- in addition to being released in Europe -- by t...
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      Chili's data breach exposes customer credit card information

      The Tex-Mex chain is still unsure how many customers have been affected by the breach

      On Saturday, Chili’s parent company Brinker International announced that its payment systems had been infected with malware, potentially exposing customers’ credit and debit card information.

      The company confirmed that personal data such as social security numbers, birthdates, or federal or state identification numbers are still secure, as Chili’s doesn’t request that information from their customers. However, credit or debit card numbers and cardholder names are at risk, though the incident was limited to only some restaurants.

      In a company news release, Brinker said it believes the timeline of the breach was limited to March-April 2018, but the company is continuing to investigate the scope of the issue.

      “We are working diligently to address this issue and our priority will continue to be doing what is right for our Guests,” Brinker said in the release. “We are committed to sharing additional information on this ongoing investigation with our Guests to learn more.”

      What this means for Chili’s

      News of the data breach adds Chili’s to a long list of retailers that have been impacted by similar issues just this year, including Sears, Whole Foods, Under Armour, and Kmart. The news is particularly bad for Chili’s because the chain has been suffering from a rather significant sales decrease for nearly a decade.

      Additionally, data breaches like this one often result in customers losing trust in brands. A recent KPMG study found that 19 percent of consumers would no longer shop at a retailer that has experienced a breach, while 33 percent would take a long break.

      One positive in these circumstances is Brinker’s near immediate response to the situation. The company’s response came just one day after the breach was discovered, which differs greatly from how Facebook’s recent data breach wasn’t made public until it was discovered by reporters.

      What this means for consumers

      Following the breach, Brinker said it will be working with third-party forensic experts to determine its severity and potential impact. The company stated that it would provide fraud resolution and credit monitoring services for guests, and it will continue to update its website as more information is made available.

      Company officials reiterated that the breach only impacted customers at certain Chili’s locations between March and April and that it was safe for consumers to use debit and credit cards at store locations going forward.

      Consumers who used their cards at Chili’s locations during that time period are urged to closely monitor their accounts for any suspicious activity. In its statement, Brinker recommended that customers contact a credit reporting agency and their bank or credit provider to enable additional protections.

      “We sincerely apologize to those who may have been affected and assure you we are working diligently to resolve this issue,” the company said in a news release.

      On Saturday, Chili’s parent company Brinker International announced that its payment systems had been infected with malware, potentially exposing customers...
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      Tobi Recalls Babynest crib bumpers

      The strings on the crib bumper pose a strangulation hazard to babies

      Tobi USA of Concord, Calif., is recalling about 200 Babynest crib bumpers.

      The strings on the crib bumper exceed a safe length, posing a strangulation hazard to babies.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Babynest crib bumpers used in Babybay bedside sleeper cribs that attach to adult size beds.

      The recalled bumpers measure 60 inches long by 9.5 inches wide and were sold in brown, green, blue, pink, white, gray with white stars, white with gray stars, gray with white polka dots, white with gray polka dots and white with blue stars.

      SKU

      Description

      Recalled Babynest crib bumpers

      167805

      Yellow

      167806

      Brown

      167807

      Green

      167808

      Blue

      167810

      Pink

      167811

      White

      167814

      Gray w/ White Stars

      167815

      White w/ Gray Stars

      167816

      Gray w/ White Polka Dots

      167817

      White w/ Gray Polka Dots

      167820

      White with Blue Stars

      The crib bumpers, manufactured in Germany, were sold exclusively online at www.babybay.us from April 2016, to January 2018, for between $45 and $65

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled crib bumpers and contact Babybay for a full refund. Babybay is contacting all known purchasers directly.

      Consumers may contact Babybay toll-free at 844-692-2292 between 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday, by email at info@babybay.us or online at www.babybay.us and click on Recall Notice for more information.

      Tobi USA of Concord, Calif., is recalling about 200 Babynest crib bumpers.The strings on the crib bumper exceed a safe length, posing a strangulation h...
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      The Weekly Hack: 4Chan trolls spewing racism try to steal votes in high school science competition

      Three black teenagers reached the finals of a NASA competition. Internet hackers decided to go after them

      For this year’s annual high school science competition sponsored by NASA, many people paid attention to one invention in particular: a water filter designed to bring cleaner drinking water to public schools.

      Public health researchers have for years warned that the water from fountains in public schools is contaminated with lead, bromide, and other chemicals corroding from old pipes.

      Mikayla Sharrieff, India Skinner, and Bria Snell, all in the 11th grade at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C, had  engineered a filter designed to detect contaminants in public school water fountains.

      The girls had reached the finals of the NASA competition last month. They were the only black, female group of high school scientists to make the final rounds this year. Winners were to be decided by online voting.

      This apparently caught the attention of 4chan, an online message board that experts warn has attracted increasingly hateful and racist users in recent years. A recent attack in Toronto was linked to a 4chan message board.

      NASA said in a statement that it was ending voting early to prevent people from hacking the vote, showing how even NASA is apparently not immune to online trolls.

      “Some members of the public used social media,” NASA said in a statement, “to attack a particular student team based on their race and encouraged others to disrupt the contest and manipulate the vote.”

      NASA claimed that it closed the competition before the votes were compromised. The winners will be announced later this month.

      But reporters found some evidence suggesting that a voting hack could have already taken place.  An analysis by CNN found several threads on 4chan boards in which users directed each other to an anonymous privacy software to help “hack the voting system” and send votes to a group of boy high school scientists in the competition.

      “...users posted racist insults and urged members to spread the campaign to other 4chan boards,” CNN reported.

      Credit card chips

      Those frustratingly slow readers for credit cards equipped with chips were supposed to be a small price to pay in exchange for safer credit cards. That is, until hackers figured out how to hack the chip readers.

      The Better Business Bureau says that scammers are inserting thin microchips into the chip reader slot, allowing them to steal credit card information.

      Other than catching someone in the act of putting a microchip into the credit card machine, a job that would likely fall on the cashier, there is no easy way to detect that the machines have been hacked.

      “If you insert the card and it’s very tight, that could be a sign,” a Better Business Bureau spokesman told a Fox affiliate, “so make sure that you report it to the merchant.”

      Small businesses

      Major corporations that do not encrypt their data have proven to be vulnerable to hackers again and again. But it turns out that smaller businesses, with fewer resources to protect themselves from a hack, may also be a popular and easier target. Small local businesses in New Jersey make just as ripe targets as big business, the New Jersey Business Journal recently reported.

      Sure enough, hacks targeting local businesses have been reported across the world this week. A salon in the United Kingdom said Friday that it was targeted with ransomware, or a type of malware that shuts down a computer system until owners hand over money.

      In this case, information about all of the salon’s appointments had been deleted. In their place was a message demanding 30,000 pounds and a warning that more records would be deleted if the salon did not comply. The salon was warned by an IT support worker not to hand over the money.

      The city of Atlanta was targeted with a similar type of ransomware attack earlier this year, and lawmakers in the state of Georgia are now mulling over a bill to make “unauthorized computer access “ a crime in the state.

      But a group of so-called ethical hackers, who say they hack for moral and ethical reasons, say that the law would only serve to criminalize their work. To protest the bill, the hackers targeted local restaurants and a church, changing their websites to add clips of pop songs.

      The hackers have threatened to retaliate further if the law passes, a local newspaper reported.

      For this year’s annual high school science competition sponsored by NASA, many people paid attention to one invention in particular: a water filter designe...
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      Smart luggage company that insisted it would overcome airline ban is going out of business

      People who purchased a $400 smart suitcase are out of luck

      Internet-connected “smart” suitcases have been the subject of media hype for several years thanks to press-savvy brands like BlueSmart Luggage, the company that claimed to be the original inventor of smart luggage.

      BlueSmart got off the ground with $2.2 million raised through the crowdfunding site IndieGogo and the promise of a $400 suitcase that had more capabilities than a smartphone.

      Less than a year ago, BlueSmart was featured in the New York Times, with chief executive Tomi Pierucci explaining that they preferred to be called a technology company, not a luggage company.

      “We want to remind you to charge the suitcase the night before your trip,” he said of the company’s suitcases last July. “We want to offer you an Uber when your plane lands. We want to notify your hotel if your flight is delayed.”

      The company reportedly sold at least 65,000 of its luxury bags.

      But the smart luggage industry has been at a crossroads after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) warned shortly before Christmas last year that the lithium-ion batteries that make the technology possible are a major fire hazard.  

      Now, BlueSmart is going out of business, and people who purchased the expensive bags will not be receiving a refund. “The changes in policies announced by several major airlines at the end of last year—the banning of smart luggage with non-removable batteries—put our company in an irreversibly difficult financial and business situation,” BlueSmart explains.

      Safety risk

      BlueSmart recently wrote a letter to customers announcing the “bittersweet news.”

      “This represents a very unfortunate outcome for everyone involved, and we are all very sorry for this unexpected turn of events,” the company says in the note on its website, adding that warranty support is no longer available for its products.

      The luggage is only as smart as its connected app, of which the “service quality will be reduced in the future,” BlueSmart adds.

      Last year, major airlines announced, per FAA regulations, that all “smart” luggage would be banned from getting anywhere near a plane unless the batteries could be removed from the bags. The regulations went into effect in January 2018.

      FAA spokesman Gregory Martin told ConsumerAffairs at the time that the large lithium-ion batteries in smart bags posed an unacceptable safety risk because they were known to be flammable.

      DOT denies company claims

      However, BlueSmart continued insisting to consumers that the smart luggage ban would not apply to their own products. In a statement on their website, BlueSmart said late last year that “we have organized meetings with the world’s leading airlines to make sure that your Bluesmart will be approved.”

      The company added in a statement to ConsumerAffairs last year that “DOT [the Department of Transportation] has already reviewed our products and all the technical documentation. The products passed all the necessary reviews and we are now waiting to get the formal letter of approval.”

      But the FAA denied those claims and countered that there was no special review or exemption underway for BlueSmart.

      While competitors like the company Raden sell bags with removable batteries, allowing consumers to temporarily turn their smart luggage into old-fashioned luggage so that they can bring it on a flight, BlueSmart’s batteries were built into the bags, making removing them without damaging the bag nearly impossible.

      Internet-connected “smart” suitcases have been the subject of media hype for several years thanks to press-savvy brands like BlueSmart Luggage, the company...
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      Cybersecurity firm identifies Chrome extension malware

      Researchers say the extensions were distributed using Facebook

      Researchers at Radware, a cybersecurity firm, have uncovered what they describe as a number of malicious Chrome extensions, which were available for download at the official Chrome Store.

      They say the extensions have been deployed by hackers to steal log-ins, engage in cryptomining, and carry out click fraud campaigns.

      Chrome, the popular browser owned by Google, has an estimated 1 billion users worldwide.

      “This malware campaign is propagating via socially-engineered links on Facebook and is infecting users by abusing a Google Chrome extension – the ‘Nigelify’ application,” the company wrote on its blog.

      The researchers believe the group behind the malware has been active since March and, to date, has infected more than 100,000 users in more than 100 countries.

      Clever group of hackers

      “Facebook malware campaigns are not new,” the researchers said. “Examples of similar operations include facexworm and digimine, but this group appears to have been undetected until now thanks to the campaign consistently changing applications and the use of an evasive mechanism for spreading the malware.”

      The malware sends unsuspecting victims to a fake YouTube page and asks the user to install a Chrome extension to play the video. If the user clicks “add extension,” the action installs the malicious extension, making the device part of the hackers' botnet army.

      To become infected, users must have followed instructions to add extensions to view a YouTube video.

      Users of infected computers are eventually redirected to Facebook, where the malware steals the users' log-in information. So far, the Radware researchers believe the threat only affects Chrome users.

      Denial of service attacks

      Once the infected computer is under control of the hacker group, it can be used to carry out a number of nefarious activities. It can be part of a massive denial of service (DOS) attack on major institutions and websites.

      It can also be used to mine crypto coins, since that process requires significant amounts of processing power. Using hundreds, or even thousands of infected computers, hackers can carry out a remote, but highly profitable, cryptomining operation.

      The researchers say the malware has several ways it can stay persistent on the machine and ensure its activities on Facebook are persistent. If the user tries to open the extensions tab to remove the add-on, the malware closes it and prevents removal.

      Radware says it found a total of seven compromised extensions and says all have been removed from the Chrome store and infected browsers.

      Researchers at Radware, a cybersecurity firm, have uncovered what they describe as a number of malicious Chrome extensions, which were available for downlo...
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      USPS posts $1.3 billion loss in second quarter

      The service cites increased expenses and regulatory hardship as the main contributors

      The United States Postal Service (USPS) has released its earnings report for the second quarter, and things aren’t looking good.

      Despite posting a five percent gain in package volume, the company is reporting a total net loss of $1.3 billion. Revenue was up slightly (1.4 percent) year-over-year, but controllable loss totaled $656 million, up from $12 million from the year before.

      Chief Financial Officer Joseph Corbett cites a number of factors for the increase, including rising expenses and regulatory hurdles.

      “The continued secular decline in First Class mail, rising costs and legislative and regulatory constraints resulted in larger losses this quarter,” he said.

      Millions in expenses and coverage

      In its report, USPS stated that the total operating expenses for its service rose by $1 billion from the second quarter last year, with large increases across several different categories.

      Of the $656 million that the company faced in controllable loss, there were increases of:

      • $236 million for the cost of covering retiree health benefits due to changes in actuarial assumptions;

      • $364 million in compensation expenses due to additional hours worked by employees to keep up with increased shipping demands; and

      • $155 million in additional transportation expenses due to highway contract rate inflation and higher fuel costs.

      “Despite growth in our package business, our financial results reflect systemic trends in the marketplace and the effects of an inflexible, legislatively mandated business model that limits our ability to generate revenue and impose costs upon us that we cannot afford,” said Postmaster General and USPS CEO Megan J. Brennan.

      Not dead yet

      Brennan goes on to say that the Postal Service is not dead yet, despite additional costs and increased competition from online retailers like Amazon. She hopes that regulatory changes can help give the company breathing room to return to profitability.

      “America needs a financially strong Postal Service that can invest in its future and can continue to fulfill the needs of American businesses and consumers,” she said.

      “With continued aggressive management and greater legal authority to respond to changes in our marketplace and to control our costs, the Postal Service can return to financial sustainability.”

      The United States Postal Service (USPS) has released its earnings report for the second quarter, and things aren’t looking good.Despite posting a five...
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      Survey finds consumers are going deeper into debt

      An analysis projects consumers will owe $4 trillion by the end of 2018

      The economy is improving and consumers are spending more money. And a new survey shows they're going deeper into debt to do so.

      LendingTree has released its Consumer Debt Outlook, based on an analysis of Federal Reserve data. It projects that U.S. consumers will owe a total of $4 trillion by the end of 2018. Consumers now owe 26 percent of their income on debt, up from 22 percent eight years ago.

      The report finds a sharp increase in consumer debt beginning in 2013, which is about the time the U.S. economy began to recover from the Great Recession. Today, the percentage of non-housing debt is even higher than it was during the economic boom times of the early 2000s.

      But the LendingTree report highlights a change in the way consumers are borrowing. Auto loan and credit card debt is growing at more than 7 percent per year, while mortgage debt is growing at a more modest 2 percent rate.

      The downside of debt

      Debt is not necessarily toxic, as long as the consumer has a growing income and can afford it. However, rising debt levels can cause greater strain on personal finances. When debt is used to pay for consumables and depreciating assets like cars, it diverts future earnings to pay for today's expenses.

      One bright spot in the report is credit card debt. Revolving credit – which is based primarily on credit cards – fell in March for the second straight month. In fact, non-revolving credit, like college and auto loans, was also down for the month.

      But LendingTree suggests the dip is only temporary. The report's authors point to the longer term trend to predict that total consumer debt will eclipse $4 trillion during this calendar year.

      Not overly concerned

      So far, consumers don't appear overly concerned about taking on additional debt. A recent Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Expectations shows consumers feel fairly confident in their ability to service their debt.

      On average, consumers said there was less than an 11 percent chance they would miss a loan payment, the lowest average since the survey began.

      Meanwhile, LendingTree says credit card delinquency rates remain relatively low, despite recent reports of increases in charge-offs at some credit card issuers.

      The economy is improving and consumers are spending more money. And a new survey shows they're going deeper into debt to do so.LendingTree has released...
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      Starbucks changes its bathroom policy to be open to all

      Anyone can now use the company’s bathrooms, regardless of whether they made a purchase

      Weeks after the arrest of two African American men in Philadelphia, Starbucks has changed its bathroom policy to be open to everyone -- including people who haven’t bought anything.

      Starbucks said it doesn’t want to become a public bathroom, but it hopes the new policy will help employees make the "right decision 100% of the time.”

      “We don't want anyone at Starbucks to feel as if we are not giving access to you to the bathroom because you are less than," Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz said on Thursday at the Atlantic Council. "We want you to be more than."

      Decision follows arrest scandal

      The decision was made after the April 12 arrest of two black men at a Starbucks in Philadelphia. The two childhood friends and business partners were waiting for a business meeting they had scheduled there. One of the men arrested was denied use of a bathroom.

      Starbucks said it previously had a “loose policy” that only customers are allowed to use the bathrooms, but it was ultimately up to each store manager to make the call.

      "We have a — kind of a loose policy [that] you should be able to use the bathroom if you buy something," Schultz said. "And it's really the judgment of the manager. And in this particular case, she asked the gentleman: Are you a customer? And he said, no. And they go into a conversation. And one thing led to another. And she made a terrible decision to call the police."

      “We were absolutely wrong in every way. The policy and the decision (the store manager) made," he said. "It's the company that's responsible."

      The arrest, which quickly went viral, prompted Starbucks to close 8,000 U.S. locations for the afternoon on May 29 to "conduct racial-bias education geared toward preventing discrimination in our stores."

      Not long after the Philadelphia arrests, a video surfaced of another incident in California that had taken place in January. The video shows a black man claiming he was denied access to a bathroom while a white man was given the entry code. Neither man had made a purchase.

      Schultz said the company’s upcoming bias training "will be the largest kind of training of its kind on perhaps one of the most systemic subjects and issues facing our country."

      Weeks after the arrest of two African American men in Philadelphia, Starbucks has changed its bathroom policy to be open to everyone -- including people wh...
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      Wells Fargo ordered to pay over $97 million to California workers

      The bank adds another blemish to its marred record

      Late Tuesday, a federal judge ordered Wells Fargo to pay over $97 million to California mortgage workers who weren’t paid enough for their breaks. The damages, which come after a January ruling that found Wells Fargo in violation of California’s strict labor laws, are nearly four times what the company argued it should owe.

      The ruling applies to those workers - both mortgage consultants and bankers - who worked in California between March 2013 and August 2017.

      “Finally, I feel like justice has been served,” said Jackie Ibarra, a former Wells Fargo employee and the suit’s lead plaintiff. “It’s unfair not to pay us properly when we’re essentially working on commission.” Ibarra worked for Wells Fargo for 10 years.

      However, the company isn’t going down without a fight. Bank representatives say Wells Fargo plans to appeal the ruling.

      “We disagree and believe the court misunderstood our compensation plan and misunderstood the law,” a Wells Fargo spokesperson said.

      Violating the law

      The main accusation in the case involves the company’s inability to properly compensate employees for their break time.

      California law mandates that employees must have a 10-minute paid break for every four hours they’re on the clock, and U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson found Wells Fargo in violation of that regulation.

      While Wells Fargo tried to knock the settlement down to around $24 million -- the hourly rate the employees would be owed for their time on break -- the judge sided with the employees. Judge Anderson said the employees’ break pay should also factor in their commissions, which are rather a significant portion of their income, and noted that the commissions make the hourly wages “essentially irrelevant.”

      Another big blow

      This hefty settlement is one of many hits Wells Fargo has taken as of late. Over the last year and a half alone, the company has been accused of creating over three million fake accounts for customers, charging customers for unnecessary car insurance, and hitting customers with unfair mortgage fees.

      This also isn’t the first time Wells Fargo has been accused of mistreating employees. There have been reports of employees being forced to work overtime without pay. Others were fired after reporting misconduct on the company’s ethics hotline.

      In April, the Department of Labor (DOL) forced the bank to rehire a known whistleblower -- who was fired in 2010 after suspected fraud -- and forced the company to pay him $5.4 million in back pay. In late April, the company was the subject of a government probe following mistreatment of 401(k) retirement accounts.

      Just last week, Wells Fargo reported being under fire with the DOL again after facing both complaints and whistleblower actions. The company cites “adverse employment actions” for raising “misconduct issues,” and the DOL will be opening an investigation.

      Facing scrutiny from lawmakers

      Following the fake-account scandal, Senator Elizabeth Warren, a staunch critic of Wells Fargo, took to Twitter to urge the company to rethink its internal personnel.

      “The federal reserve should remove every Wells Fargo board member who served during this scandal. I don’t know what they’re waiting for,” Warren tweeted.

      This most recent court ruling comes on the heels of Wells Fargo’s latest attempt to restore faith in their customers and stakeholders with a marketing campaign entitled “Re-Established.”

      “Re-Established means recommitting to our customers and team members, reaffirming support of our communities and reinventing how we serve our customers through every interaction in new and improved ways,” said Jamie Moldafsky, Wells Fargo’s chief marketing officer. “It is about holding ourselves to a higher standard and our unwavering commitment to become a better bank.”

      Late Tuesday, a federal judge ordered Wells Fargo to pay over $97 million to California mortgage workers who weren’t paid enough for their breaks. The dama...
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      Apple, Goldman Sachs partnering to develop a new credit card

      The card could launch early next year

      Apple and Goldman Sachs are reportedly working together to develop a new credit card product, which could be introduced as early as next year.

      The card would be branded with Apple Pay, the tech giant’s digital payment service, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people with familiar with the matter.

      The deal would help extend Apple’s payment brand, as well as help the company make money from products other than iPhones and other gadgets.

      The joint venture will also benefit Goldman Sachs by helping the financial institution enter the consumer finance business, which it has been trying to do for some time. Goldman Sachs has been seeking to branch out from investment banking and trading to everyday consumer banking activities, such as deposit-taking and personal loans.

      Apple currently has a credit card with London-based Barclays, which Goldman will replace. The Barclays card offers interest-free financing on Apple product purchases. However, Apple makes only 0.15 percent per transaction. Goldman Sachs could more than double that percentage, according to the Journal.

      The partnership could also include Goldman offering in-store loans to Apple customers for the tech company's products, the report said.

      Apple and Goldman Sachs are reportedly working together to develop a new credit card product, which could be introduced as early as next year. The card...
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      Democrats' bill would severely limit the 'gig economy'

      The proposal would impose stiff requirements to classify workers as independent contractors

      Congressional Democrats have proposed legislation to update labor laws, making it more difficult for companies to classify workers as independent contractors.

      It follows last week's California Supreme Court ruling that tightened standards at the state level when it comes to deciding whether a worker is an employee, who is entitled to benefits and protections under the law.

      Independent contractors proliferated in the aftermath of the Great Recession, when companies laid off millions of workers but then found they still needed some of their services. It led to creation of the so-called “gig economy,” where workers were hired as independent contractors for periodic work.

      As the economy recovered, many of these “gig” workers found themselves working full time but without employee benefits, which saved the employer money.

      Stiff test

      Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) are proposing legislation they say would strengthen the middle class by severely limiting the gig economy, requiring employers to meet a stiff test in their classification of workers.

      The two lawmakers say their goal is “restoring workers' rights to bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions.” The bill has the support of most labor unions.

      “We must no longer tolerate CEOs and managers who intimidate, threaten or fire pro-union workers, who threaten to move plants to China if their workers vote in favor of a union, and who refuse to negotiate a first contract with workers who have voted to join unions,” Sanders said. “If we are serious about reducing income and wealth inequality and rebuilding the middle class, we have got to substantially increase the number of union jobs in this country.”

      Follows California's lead

      The measure would impose many of the same tests for worker classification as set forth last week by the California court. The justices ruled that an employer can only classify a worker as an independent contractor if they are doing work “outside the usual course” of work done by the company.

      The Sanders-Pocan measure would go farther, making it easier to form unions and banning state right-to-work laws that prevent unions from collecting fees from all employees, whether they belong to the union or not.

      At the moment, the measure is simply an idea for the future. Republicans are unenthusiastic, so it would require Democrats gaining control of both houses of Congress this fall, and capturing the White House in 2020, for the bill to become law.

      Congressional Democrats have proposed legislation to update labor laws, making it more difficult for companies to classify workers as independent contracto...
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      Munchkin recalls Waterpede bath toys due to choking hazard

      The product can break apart and expose small internal pieces, posing danger to young children

      Munchkin Inc. is recalling appoximately 72,000 units of its Waterpede bath toy because the product can break apart and expose small pieces that pose a choking hazard to young children.

      Thus far, there has been one report of the toy breaking apart and exposing small beads; however, there have been no injuries reported at this time.

      The products were sold at Babies R Us, Target, and other retailers across the U.S. from September 2015 to January 2018 for between $5 and $7. Consumers are being urged to immediately take the bath toy away from young children and contact Munchkin for a free replacement bath toy of comparable value. 

      Consumers can contact Munchkin for their free replacement by visiting its website and clicking "Help" at the bottom of the screen, followed by clicking on "Recalls." The company can be contacted by phone from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (PST), Monday through Friday, at 877-242-3134.

      Munchkin Inc. is recalling appoximately 72,000 units of its Waterpede bath toy because the product can break apart and expose small pieces that pose a chok...
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      Pinnacle Foods recalls beef products due to possible contamination

      The products may have been exposed to dangerous bacteria

      Pinnacle Foods, Inc. is recalling over 32,000 pounds of its heat-treated, shelf stable beef products due to possible contamination with staphylococcal enterotoxin and clostridial toxin.

      The recall covers:

      • 2.25 oz. glass jars containing “ARMOUR GROUND & FORMED SLICED Dried Beef” with best by dates of JAN-07-21, JAN-08-21, JAN-09-21, JAN-10-21, JAN-11-21, APR-15-21, APR-16-21, APR-17-21, APR-18-21 and APR-19-21 and lot codes 0707011Y11, 0708011Y11, 0709011Y11, 0710011Y11, 0711011Y11, 0715041Y11, 0716041Y11, 0717041Y11, 0718041Y11 and 0719041Y11 .
      • 4.5 oz. glass jars containing “ARMOUR GROUND & FORMED SLICED Dried Beef” with best by dates of JAN-23-21, JAN-24-21, JAN-25-21 and APR-22-21 and lot codes 0723011Y11, 0724011Y11, 0725011Y11 and 0722041YW1.

      The products were shipped across the U.S., with affected products bearing an establishment number of "EST.2AD" inside the USDA mark of inspection. 

      Consumers who have purchased any of the affected products are being asked to dispose of them immediately or return them to the place of purchase. Pinnacle Foods is providing further information for those who call its Customer Care office at (888) 299-7646. 

      Pinnacle Foods, Inc. is recalling over 32,000 pounds of its heat-treated, shelf stable beef products due to possible contamination with staphylococcal ente...
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      Ford recalls 2015-2017 Transit vehicles with tow modules

      Water can enter the module and cause an electrical short

      Ford Motor Company has issued a recall for over 25,000 2015-2017 Ford Transit vehicles that came equipped with a trailer tow module. 

      The company says that water can enter the module and corrode the internal wiring. This can cause problems such as rapidly flashing turn signals and loss of the instrument panel display, which may increase the risk of a crash.

      In worse cases, the problem can cause an electrical short that increases the risk of a fire.

      Ford representatives say they are notifying owners of the recall. The company is also instructing dealers to add a drainage hole to the driver's door stepwell and install a fuse into the vehicle's wiring harness free of charge.

      For more information, consumers can contact Ford's customer service line by calling 1-866-436-7332. Owners can also contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) by visiting the agency's online site at www.safercar.gov or calling its hotline at 1-888-327-4236.

      Ford Motor Company has issued a recall for over 25,000 2015-2017 Ford Transit vehicles that came equipped with a trailer tow module. The company says t...
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      Ford suspends F-150 production due to fire at parts factory

      The automaker is confident the supply interruption will be short

      Consumers planning to buy a new Ford F-150 pick-up truck this year had better hurry to their Ford dealer and be prepared to pay the sticker price.

      A fire at a major parts supplier last week has forced the automaker to suspend production of the F-150, the best-selling truck in America for more than three decades.

      Last year, consumers purchased nearly 900,000 of the trucks, paying an average of $47,000 each. Ford says F-150 sales have been exceptionally strong so far in 2018.

      The major fire occurred May 2 at a large parts plant in a small Michigan town. It halted production of a key part that is also affecting GM, Chrysler-Fiat, and Mercedes, but it appears to have hit Ford hardest.

      'Fluid situation'

      Ford said it is working with its supply base to offset the impact, but it acknowledges the shortage of die-cast components is a big blow.

      “This is a fluid situation, but we are working closely with our supplier partners to do everything we can to limit the impact on our production,” said Joe Hinrichs, executive vice president and president of Global Operations.

      Hinrichs said he thinks the effects will be short-term. He noted that the company has "strong inventories" for its best-selling F-150. According to one Ford analyst, the automaker has about an 84-day supply of trucks on hand.

      “Customers won’t have a problem finding the model they want,” he said.

      But because of the parts interruption, Ford has suspended production of the F-150 and F-Series Super Duty truck at its Louisville, Kentucky plant.

      F-150 competitors

      Depending on how severely the parts shortage affects Ford, competitors may be able to entice truck shoppers with increased incentives. Among the top competitors to the F-150 are GM's Chevrolet Silverado, the GMC Sierra 1500, the Dodge Ram 1500, and the Toyota Tundra.

      Late model Ford F-150s on used car lots may also get some extra attention in the weeks ahead. But until Ford can get its production lines moving again, consumers should be prepared for dealers to be a little less willing to cut a deal.

      Consumers planning to buy a new Ford F-150 pick-up truck this year had better hurry to their Ford dealer and be prepared to pay the sticker price.A fir...
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      CFPB eliminates student loan office

      Consumer advocates accuse the acting director of trying to make the agency less effective

      Since it was established, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has had a division focused on protecting consumers from student loan abuses. It has set rules to protect borrowers and sued lenders that violated those regulations.

      But under the Trump administration, the Office for Students and Young Consumers is now being absorbed by the agency's consumer information unit. John Czwartacki, a spokesman for the agency, told the New York Times the move is a “very modest organizational chart change.”

      But one-time staunch CFPB advocates, who have become vocal critics since Mick Mulvaney has become the acting CFPB director, argue the move is part of a pattern to make the only agency in the federal government solely dedicated to protecting consumers' financial interests less effective in that role.

      “Shuttering the CFPB’s student lending office is an appalling step in a longer march toward the elimination of meaningful American consumer protection law,” said Christopher Peterson, financial services director at Consumer Federation of America (CFA). “This action actively promotes greater profits for a handful of debt collection businesses at the expense of mistakes, neglect, and confusion for millions of student loan borrowers.”

      Total debt reaches $1.5 trillion

      CFA notes that the move comes in the same week that total student loan debt in America reached $1.5 trillion. The student loan division, the group says, has been able to return more than $750 million to student loan borrowers who suffered harm at the hands of predatory lenders.

      Americans for Financial Reform sees political motives behind Mulvaney's moves since taking over as acting director. The group claims Mulvaney is creating a team reporting to him that will "vet previously non-political research."

      "Why is Mick Mulvaney creating a new office on 'costs and benefits' directly under his control, when the CFPB already has a robust research department?” asked Lisa Donner, executive director of Americans for Financial Reform. “What he is really interested in is not serious research, but information that advances the interests of the Wall Street banks and predatory lenders he serves."

      Career officials in the CFPB told the Times that the timing of the move is suspect. They note that the change could threaten a major enforcement case against Navient, the nation's largest student loan servicer.

      You're on your own

      Brianna McGurran, a student loan expert at NerdWallet, says closing the one office specifically focused on students is, at the very least, a symbolic step that tells student loan borrowers that they're on their own.

      "Borrowers may feel confused or even disheartened, but they should know that there are still options if they’re experiencing problems with their loan servicers," McGurran told ConsumerAffairs. "They can reach out to their state attorneys general offices, senators and representatives, state consumer protection offices, and the GI Bill Feedback System for veterans."

      Mulvaney, who as a member of Congress voted to abolish the CFPB, has consistently said the agency has too much power and is unaccountable.

      He has tried to limit the agency's efforts to providing information to consumers, rather than initiating enforcement actions against financial services companies.

      Since it was established, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has had a division focused on protecting consumers from student loan abuses. It h...
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      ZTE halts major business operations

      The company said it is seeking to modify or reverse its seven year ban on importing U.S. parts

      Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE has announced that it has ceased its main business operations as it attempts to figure out how to proceed under the ban preventing it from receiving parts from U.S. suppliers.

      “As a result of the Denial Order, the major operating activities of the company have ceased,” the company wrote in an exchange filing.

      Last month, the U.S. government imposed a seven-year ban forbidding the company from getting parts from U.S.-based suppliers, such as Qualcomm and Dolby. The ban was handed down after ZTE was found to have violated U.S. export restrictions by illegally shipping goods to Iran, lying about it, and then failing to reprimand employees who violated the law.

      Intent on resolving the ban

      ZTE said previously that the ban would “severely impact” its business and likely hurt many U.S. companies. The company said on Sunday that it had submitted a request to the U.S. Commerce Department for the suspension of the ban.

      ZTE now says it is trying to have the ban modified or reversed.

      The company said it has been in touch with the U.S. government “in order to facilitate the modification or reversal of the Denial Order by the U.S. Government and forge a positive outcome in the development of matters.”

      ZTE said in its statement that it has sufficient cash and will adhere to its commercial obligations.

      “As of now, the company maintains sufficient cash and strictly adheres to its commercial obligations subject in compliance with laws and regulations,” the company wrote.

      ZTE sees the next two weeks as crucial to its effort to resolve the situation with the U.S. government. “The company is currently working hard to speedily resolve this impasse,” said an email allegedly sent to Bloomberg senior staff.

      Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE has announced that it has ceased its main business operations as it attempts to figure out how to proceed under the ban...
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      E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce spreads to more states

      Tainted products have sickened 149 people in 29 states so far

      Twenty-eight more people in four states (Florida, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Texas) have been sickened by E. coli-tainted romaine lettuce, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Wednesday.

      That brings the total number of cases to 149. Of the 129 patients the CDC has information on, half have been hospitalized. Seventeen have developed a dangerous form of kidney failure, and one person in California has died. About 65 percent of those sickened are women.

      "This is a higher hospitalization rate than usual for E. coli O157:H7 infections, which is usually around 30 percent," the agency said. "Health officials are working to determine why this strain is causing a higher percentage of hospitalizations."

      Origin of the outbreak

      In April, health officials warned consumers to toss out any romaine lettuce they might have purchased in stores. The advisory came after federal investigators identified one farm in Yuma, Ariz. as having grown lettuce linked to cases of food poisoning in an Alaska prison. Investigators still do not know where that lettuce became contaminated.

      Officials say other area farms could also be affected since many of the E. coli poisoning cases can be traced to chopped lettuce sold in bagged form to restaurants that didn’t come from that Yuma farm.

      The FDA’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation Network says it is currently investigating dozens of other fields as potential sources of the tainted chopped Romaine lettuce.

      Advice to consumers

      The CDC is still advising consumers to avoid eating or buying any romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region.  

      “Product labels often do not identify growing regions; so, do not eat or buy romaine lettuce if you do not know where it was grown,” the agency said in its warning.

      Contaminated lettuce could still be in homes, stores, and restaurants since romaine lettuce has a shelf life of several weeks, the CDC noted, adding that its advice applies to whole heads and hearts of Romaine, chopped romaine, baby romaine, organic romaine, and salads and salad mixes containing romaine lettuce.

      Twenty-eight more people in four states (Florida, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Texas) have been sickened by E. coli-tainted romaine lettuce, the Centers fo...
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      FCC hands down $120 million fine against serial robocaller

      The fine represents the largest forfeiture ever handed down by the agency

      The FCC has handed down a record $120 million fine against Adrian Abramovich for conducting a massive robocall operation that sought to sell timeshares and travel packages.

      Over a three-month period, the FCC says that Abramovich made nearly 100 million spoofed robocalls. The agency stated that the calls were in direct violation of the Caller ID Act, which prohibits the falsification of ID information when it is intended to defraud or harm call recipients.

      In a statement, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said that Abramovich’s actions caused real harm to consumers who were taken in by the spoofed calls.

      “Mr. Abramovich didn’t just have the intent to defraud or cause harm. He actually caused harm. Just ask his victims – a number of who are elderly – who were duped into purchasing travel deals under false pretenses,” Pai said.

      Misleading consumers

      The FCC says that Abramovich duped consumers by using a specific type of robocall strategy called “neighbor spoofing.” In this type of scheme, a scammer alters their caller ID information to make it seem like they are calling from a local number, which can often entice consumers to pick up.

      Additionally, the FCC says that Abramovich spoofed his ID information to make it seem like he was calling from well-known travel and hospitality companies such as Marriott, Expedia, Hilton, and TripAdvisor. Complaints submitted by both consumers and these companies are what led to the record find.

      “Tough enforcement is a key part of the FCC’s robust strategy for combating illegal robocalls, and this Foreiture Order represents a big step forward in our enforcement efforts,” Pai said.

      “This is the largest illegal robocalling scheme that the FCC has investigated to date, and we are appropriately imposing a $120 million forfeiture in response.”

      The FCC has handed down a record $120 million fine against Adrian Abramovich for conducting a massive robocall operation that sought to sell timeshares and...
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      Consumer prices rise less than expected in April

      Besides the jump in gas prices, inflation was tame last month

      Consumer prices rose a less-than-expected 0.2 percent in April, with gasoline, housing, and food contributing most to the increase.

      The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the Consumer Price Index (CPI) at 2.5 percent over the last 12 months, within the target range set by the Federal Reserve.

      Robert Frick, corporate economist with Navy Federal Credit Union, says the core CPI for April -- which strips out food and energy costs -- came in at an even lower 0.1 percent, good news for both consumers and investors.

      "With inflation rising slowly, unemployment still falling at a healthy rate, and the Fed unlikely to hit the breaks from inflation fears, the economy still has plenty of room to run," Frick told ConsumerAffairs.

      Consumers paid more to fill their tanks last month

      For consumers, gasoline was one of the most expensive items in April. Because of the rise in oil prices, which broke $70 a barrel last week, consumers are paying significantly more for fuel than at this time last year. In April, gasoline prices jumped 3.0 percent, even as other energy costs went down.

      Food costs were also higher, rising 0.3 percent. But in April, the cost of dining out actually rose slower than the cost of eating at home.

      The cost of putting a roof over your head also rose in April. The CPI shelter index gained 0.3 percent, followed by price increases for home furnishings, medical care, and personal care.

      Among the categories where prices declined were airfares, new and used cars and trucks, and recreation.

      Wall Street cheered the news because the tame inflation number makes the Fed less likely to aggressively raise its discount rate. That not only helps the stock market, consumers also benefit when they add to their credit card balance, finance a car, or take out an adjustable rate mortgage.

      Consumer prices rose a less-than-expected 0.2 percent in April, with gasoline, housing, and food contributing most to the increase.The Bureau of Labor...
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      Hyundai recalls 2017 Ioniq Hybrid vehicles

      An inner oil seal may leak, increasing the risk of a fire

      Hyundai Motor America has issued a recall for over 10,000 units of its Ioniq Hybrid vehicles.

      The company reports that the Hydraulic Clutch Actuator (HCA) inner oil seal may leak, which could cause oil to accumulate in the cap area and cause an electrical short. These types of shorts can increase the risk of a fire.

      Hyundai representatives will notify vehicle owners of the issue, and dealers will inspect HCA caps and replace the assembly, if necessary, free of charge.

      Consumers can contact the company via its customer service line by calling 1-855-371-9460. Owners can also contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) by visiting the agency's online site at www.safercar.gov or calling 1-888-327-4236.

      Hyundai Motor America has issued a recall for over 10,000 units of its Ioniq Hybrid vehicles.The company reports that the Hydraulic Clutch Actuator (HC...
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      Mercedes-Benz USA recalls smart fortwo cabrio and fortwo coupe vehicles

      The rear insulation mat in the engine compartment may deform, increasing risk of a fire

      Mercedes-Benz USA is recalling over 42,000 2008-2009 smart fortwo cabrio and fortwo coupe vehicles.

      The company says that the rear insulation mat found in the engine compartment can deform, loosen, or deteroriate over time. This can increase the risk of a fire if the mat comes into contact with hot exhaust system components.

      Company representatives will be notifying owners of the issue, and dealers will replace the rear insulation mat free of charge. The recall is expected to start in July.

      Consumers can contact Mercedes-Benz USA customer service for more information by calling 1-800-367-6372. 

      Mercedes-Benz USA is recalling over 42,000 2008-2009 smart fortwo cabrio and fortwo coupe vehicles.The company says that the rear insulation mat found...
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      Democrats hope to force a Senate vote on net neutrality

      Despite the FCC's action, supporters of the policy haven't given up

      They admit it's a longshot, but supporters of net neutrality think there's a chance to salvage the concept that internet service providers (ISP) must treat all content the same.

      Reuters reports Senate Democrats have secured 50 votes to subject the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rollback of net neutrality to the Congressional Review Act, which gives Congress a chance or overturn executive branch regulations.

      With the prolonged absence of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) due to illness, Democrats now think they would prevail on a 50-49 vote.

      Democrats are joined by a handful of large technology companies -- such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Etsy -- that are urging their users to lobby lawmakers. Users are getting a special message from these sites today when they log in, asking that they call their local representatives.

      Narrow window of opportunity

      Net neutrality supporters say a window of opportunity still exists because the FCC has not moved to finalize its new rule that overturns the old rule. It must submit its new rule to the Office of Management and Budget for formal approval.

      Next, the FCC is required to provide a timeline for the changes to take effect. Complicating matters is a move by Washington, and several other states, to draw up their own net neutrality laws.

      Late last month, Fortune reported that some FCC critics suspect the agency is dragging its feet in order to draw up its own net neutrality rules that would favor large ISPs. A revised federal neutrality rule could then arguably supersede rules passed at the state level.

      Victory in the Senate next week might not be enough, however. Backers of the original policy would also have to win in the GOP-controlled House, then persuade President Trump to sign it.

      That's why tech companies are urging users to pressure House members in an effort to convince GOP lawmakers that saving net neutrality might be a very good survival strategy for the fall's midterm elections.

      They admit it's a longshot, but supporters of net neutrality think there's a chance to salvage the concept that internet service providers (ISP) must treat...
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      Equifax filings now admit passport information was stolen

      Hackers made off with information on thousands of passports as part of the massive 2017 breach

      Earlier this year, Senator Elizabeth Warren published a report charging that the Equifax hack was worse than the company initially disclosed, in part because hackers had accessed consumer passport information.

      “Equifax failed to disclose the fact that the hackers gained access to consumers’ passport numbers,” says the report published by Warren’s office in February.

      A passport breach poses obvious identity theft concerns, but it is also a national security risk. Security experts have previously identified passport theft as a terrorism threat.

      At the time, Equifax denied that any passport data was stolen. Instead, the company claimed that hackers were unsuccessful in their attempt to hack passport data.

      “The easiest way to understand this is that there was a field labeled passports [that was hacked] with no actual data in it,” Meredith Griffanti, an Equifax spokeswoman, told the New York Post in February.

      But Equifax is now saying that passport data was stolen from several thousand consumers. The company made the admission in filings it submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in response to an ongoing congressional investigation.

      Hackers steal information on thousands of passports

      The passport breach affected consumers who were trying to challenge information on their credit reports, according to the SEC filings. Equifax directed such consumers to submit complaints to an online dispute portal. The customers were then required by Equifax to submit scans of their ID cards to verify their identity in some cases -- information that was subsequently accessed in the 2017 hack.

      Equifax says in the recent SEC filings that hackers accessed information uploaded to that dispute resolution center and made off with scans of 3,200 passports or passport cards. “As part of the dispute process, some consumers may have uploaded government-issued identifications through the portal,” Equifax explains in the SEC filing.

      Though this particular aspect of the 2017 hack had not previously been disclosed to the public, Equifax says that it has already notified each affected customer individually. The company claims it had no legal duty to disclose the passport information being stolen to the rest of the general public.

      “Because the company directly notified each impacted consumer, the company had not previously analyzed the government-issued identifications contained in the images uploaded in the dispute portal,” the filing says, adding that the “government-issued identifications that were uploaded by consumers to Equifax’s online dispute portal” were “stolen by the attackers.”

      Stolen information and harder repercussions

      Hackers also managed to steal scans of 38,000 driver’s licenses, 12,000 social security cards, and 3,000 forms of other ID from the same online portal.

      Asked about why Equifax appeared to be giving inconsistent answers about whether passport data had been stolen, the company responded that it had been discussing a different aspect of the hack in the earlier answers it gave this year.

      “Our response earlier this year regarding passports was related to the data elements contained in the database tables accessed by the attackers,”  spokeswoman Meredith Griffanti tells ConsumerAffairs via email. “The analysis conducted on the data elements stolen from those tables found that there were no passport numbers within the passport field accessed by the attacker.”

      Warren’s office is continuing to push for harsher repercussions for Equifax. Last month, she and two other lawmakers found that consumers had filed more than 20,000 complaints to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) following the cyber attack.

      Earlier this year, Senator Elizabeth Warren published a report charging that the Equifax hack was worse than the company initially disclosed, in part becau...
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      Congress scraps rule aimed at ending bias in auto lending

      Consumer advocates worry that the move will drive up fees for auto loan candidates

      In a 234 to 175 vote, the House moved to dismantle a 2013 policy that aimed to prevent discrimination in auto lending.

      The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) put forth the policy to prevent auto lenders from charging minorities higher rates for car loans. However, auto lenders have defended the move for years, citing the markups as a “standard practice” that makes car purchases available to more people.

      It shouldn’t be surprising that lawmakers on either side of the aisle disagree on the matter, especially in regards to how the repeal will affect consumers looking for car loans.

      “An ill-advised Obama-era auto-lending rule issued by the CFPB missed the mark on both process and substance,” Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) said in a press release. “This resolution of disapproval provides Congress the opportunity to reverse this overreaching rule to return a sense of stability to the auto marketplace, ultimately providing a path to lower costs for all car purchasers.”

      “This truly repugnant resolution ignores the unacceptable, undeniable truth that consumers’ interests are regularly marked up based on their race or ethnicity - a disgusting practice that continues to run rampant across the country,” countered Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

      The story behind the policy

      The CFPB’s 2013 guidance explained how the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) -- responsible for prohibiting lending based on an individual’s race, religion, sex, or age -- bled into the auto lending industry.

      “The ECOA makes it illegal for a ‘creditor’ to discriminate in any aspect of a credit transaction because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, receipt of income from any public assistance program, or the exercise, in good faith, of a right under the Consumer Credit Protection Act,” the bulletin reads.

      However, both the Senate and the House voted to void this consumer rule under the Congressional Review Act, a law that allows Congress to expunge rules that were created by government agencies.

      Now, consumer advocates worry that destroying anti-discrimination policies will undoubtedly drive up fees for consumers and also put a target on the backs of other consumer protections.

      “Companies will put millions of people into more expensive car loans simply because of the color of their skin,” said Rion Dennis, an advocate of financial overhaul at Americans for Financial Reform.

      “By using the Congressional Review Act to wipe out straightforward regulatory guidance, the congressional majority has also opened the door challenging longstanding efforts to protect workers, consumers, civil rights, the environment, and the economy.”

      The road ahead

      Republicans and Democrats have long disagreed over the CFPB’s mandate, with Republicans claiming that the agency consistently oversteps its bounds. Since President Trump instated Mick Mulvaney to head the bureau in the interim, Mulvaney has worked to scale back much of the department’s activities.

      “By voting to rollback the CFPB’s work, senators have emboldened banks and finance companies to engage in racial discrimination by charging millions of people of color more for a car loan than is justified,” Dennis offered.

      “A loan origination should be as objective as possible, but when you add discretion, you add subjective means that are harder to keep transparent and hold accountable,” said Delvin Davis, lead expert on auto lending at the Center for Responsible Lending, a nonprofit research and advocacy group for consumers.

      Davis encouraged concerned consumers to try to get pre-approved by their bank or credit union for an auto loan prior to entering a car dealership.

      “Once you have that approval, you’re taking that check to the dealership and it can become a good negotiation chip that you can use,” Davis said.

      In a 234 to 175 vote, the House moved to dismantle a 2013 policy that aimed to prevent discrimination in auto lending.The Consumer Financial Protection...
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      Sears partners with Amazon to sell tires

      The ailing department store chain is hoping the move will help business

      Amazon and Sears have teamed up to sell tires, CNBC reports. Consumers can buy any brand of tire via the online retailer’s website and then schedule a time to stop by the closest Sears Auto Center to have them installed.

      News of the partnership comes a year after the retailer was forced to shutter numerous locations that were determined to be unprofitable.

      The tire sales program will begin at 47 locations in 8 cities, but Sears says it plans to “quickly expand” the service to every Auto Center around the country. Sears stock jumped 20 percent on news of the Amazon partnership after having falling more than 70 percent over the last year.

      "Amazon.com customers can expect terrific performance and reliability from DieHard tires and professional installation from Sears Auto Centers," Tom Park, president of Kenmore, Craftsman, and DieHard brands at Sears Holdings, said in a statement. "We're thrilled to expand our assortment of this iconic brand to include passenger tires on Amazon.com."

      Expanding partnership

      Last Summer, Amazon announced that it would begin selling Kenmore home appliances on Amazon, with some integrated with Amazon’s Alexa. In December, Sears announced it would begin selling merchandise from its DieHard brand on Amazon, including car batteries and now tires.

      "Kenmore is now distributed nationally on Amazon with over 250 products and we are exceeding customer service level expectations," Park said.

      The tire service will be made available in the following cities in the coming weeks: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

      Amazon and Sears have teamed up to sell tires, CNBC reports. Consumers can buy any brand of tire via the online retailer’s website and then schedule a time...
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      Study identifies factors for improving quality of life for dementia sufferers

      Maintaining positive relationships and feeling included can help immensely

      Despite a wealth of innovative research over the years, dementia is still a big problem for many people around the world. The condition, which describes a range of impairments to memory and other cognitive abilities, can often become more devastating with age.

      However, a recent research analysis from the University of Exeter has identified several factors that can improve the quality of life of those who suffer from dementia. Professor Linda Clare, a co-author of the work, explains just how important the research is.

      “While many investigations focus on prevention and better treatments, it’s equally vital that we understand how to optimize quality of life for the 50 million people worldwide who have dementia,” she said.

      Improving quality of life

      The analysis focuses on several factors that can improve quality of life for consumers suffering from dementia. They include:

      • Maintaining good relationships with family and friends;
      • Being included and involved in social activities;
      • Being able to manage everyday activities; and
      • Having religious beliefs.

      While these weren’t the only factors contributing to a positive quality of life, the researchers found that they were among the most influential. They also found that establishing a solid groundwork for quality of life in the earliest stages of dementia was very helpful later on.

      “Maintaining a healthy social life and doing things you enjoy is important for everyone’s quality of life,” said Dr. Doug Brown, Chief Policy and Research Officer at the Alzheimer’s Society. “Someone develops dementia every three minutes but too many are facing it alone and feel socially isolated – a factor that researchers pinpoint [as a contributor] to a lower quality of life."

      “We now need a way to put these findings into action to make a difference to people’s lives by supporting relationships, social engagement and everyday functioning, addressing poor physical and mental health, and ensuring high-quality care,” added Clare.

      The full study has been published in the journal Psychological Medicine.

      Despite a wealth of innovative research over the years, dementia is still a big problem for many people around the world. The condition, which describes a...
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      Walmart agrees to buy 77 percent of Flipkart

      ​Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son let the news slip in an earnings presentation

      Walmart has reached a deal to buy Flipkart, the largest e-commerce retailer in India, for $16 billion dollars. The partnership will give Walmart a 77 percent stake in a rapidly growing market which is currently comprised of 1.3 billion people.

      Softbank, one of Flipkart’s biggest investors, held an earnings presentation on Tuesday and let news of the deal slip slightly early.

      “Walmart is purchasing Flipkart,” Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son said during the presentation (speaking in Japanese with translation provided by a SoftBank representative). “Last night there was the official announcement.”

      After being handed a note that said the announcement had not yet been confirmed, the CEO backpedaled a little. “With regards to Flipkart, it’s not officially announced yet. Maybe I should not have mentioned that … Well, I can’t take it out!” he said.

      Announcement confirmed

      Earlier today, Walmart made the official announcement. In a statement, the Arkansas-based company said the partnership represents a “significant opportunity to partner with local leader” in a key growth market.

      The partnership will be supported by Walmart, Tencent, Tiger Global, and Microsoft.

      “India is one of the most attractive retail markets in the world, given its size and growth rate, and our investment is an opportunity to partner with the company that is leading transformation of eCommerce in the market,” said Doug McMillon, Walmart’s president and CEO.

      “As a company, we are transforming globally to meet and exceed the needs of customers and we look forward to working with Flipkart to grow in this critical market. We are also excited to be doing this with Tencent, Tiger Global and Microsoft, which will be key strategic and technology partners.”

      The deal gives Walmart more power over Amazon in its ongoing battle for e-commerce supremacy. As we previously reported, Amazon put in a competing offer to buy Flipkart earlier this month.  

      However, Flipkart’s board reportedly believed regulatory hurdles could ensue in an Amazon-Flipkart deal since Amazon is India’s No. 2 online retailer and Flipkart’s primary competitor.

      The Flipkart-Walmart deal is the largest-ever in e-commerce, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

      Walmart has reached a deal to buy Flipkart, the largest e-commerce retailer in India, for $16 billion dollars. The partnership will give Walmart a 77 perce...
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      Visa policy change credited with speeding dispute resolution

      Merchants have less time to respond when it comes to chargebacks

      When Visa recently introduced changes to its Visa Claims Resolution (VCR) policy, consumers found they were able to resolve credit card charge backs faster and more efficiently, a new report says.

      MyChargeBack, a company assisting consumers in reversing disputed credit card payments, has found the new VCR is making it easier for consumers to recover their money.

      The policy change was introduced last year and standardized procedures and timetables. Alan Tepfer, MyChargeBack's director of client strategies and fund recovery, said Visa's streamlined processes and automation has actually reduced the number of disputed credit card charges.

      "The most significant improvement in the system is that Visa is taking every possible precaution to avoid disputes before they begin and speed them up once they do," Tepfer said. "Card holders now receive more detailed monthly statements, improved attention to customer service, an extra layer of security checks, and quicker approval of chargebacks when they are entitled to them."

      What's a chargeback?

      A chargeback occurs when a consumer makes a credit card purchase, then determines the sale was made under deceptive or false pretenses. If the merchant refuses to offer a refund, the consumer can then go directly to the credit card company and ask that it retrieve the money from the merchant.

      Tepfer says consumers are now seeing a faster response when they request a chargeback. He credits Visa's streamlining of the dispute categories from 22 to four, and reducing the time limit that merchants have to respond, from 45 days to 30 days. In the future, he says that will fall to just 20 days.

      "A major benefit for consumers is that merchants are now required to disprove customer evidence up front," Tepfer said. "Since no additional information is allowed be added afterwards, the merchant now has just a single opportunity to deny the consumer's allegations before Visa reaches its decision regarding the case."

      Disputing a charge

      The flip side of that, of course, is that consumers also have just one opportunity to present their evidence, so it's important to have all your facts straight.

      Creditcards.com advises that a consumer's first step in a dispute is to request a refund from the merchant. If the merchant is not cooperative, call the customer service number on the back of your credit card and tell the representative you want to dispute a charge.

      Different issuers may have different requirements, so follow their specific instructions. Provide any records or evidence to bolster your case.

      Some of the most commonly accepted reasons for a chargeback include not receiving the item you ordered, receiving a substandard product, being incorrectly billed, and being billed for something you didn't order.

      When Visa recently introduced changes to its Visa Claims Resolution (VCR) policy, consumers found they were able to resolve credit card charge backs faster...
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      Uber showcases its flying taxi service concept

      The company is working with five aerospace companies to develop the aircraft

      At its second annual Elevate summit in Los Angeles this week, Uber gave a preview of what it believes air taxis could look like.

      One was an all-electric multi-rotor aircraft that uses stacked rotors to lift off vertically, but it can travel at more than 186 mph because of its airplane-like body. Another aircraft uses eight horizontal rotors to lift off vertically from rooftop sky ports (called “vertiports”).

      "We think cities are going to go vertical in terms of transportation and we want to make that a reality," Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told CBS News.

      Uber revealed that it’s partnering with five aerospace companies -- Embraer, Pipistrel, Karem, Aurora Flight, and Bell -- to develop its flying taxi service, which it plans to start testing in 2020.

      A challenging project

      California-based Karem is the latest aircraft manufacturer to partner with Uber to develop its flying taxis. The company’s design involves light but rigid rotors that can reposition depending on whether the aircraft is taking off or flying.

      Founder Abe Karem, a pioneer in drone technology, said this particular project is challenging, because "almost everything is wrong in helicopters for what you have to do. You have to reinvent it." He said the project is, "maybe slightly easier than nuclear physics but not by much."

      Uber is also partnering with Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences. Aurora said it is focusing on autonomous technology. Uber has said that once a piloted version of the flying taxi is successfully off the ground, self-flying taxis will be the company’s next goal.

      Fort Worth-based Bell (formerly Bell Helicopters) debuted its electric air taxi cabin concept at CES earlier this year. Bell described the interior cabin it designed as a “comfortable, relaxing space” that acclimates the passenger to the qualities of vertical flight.

      Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer is also working with Uber on the project. “This is a great concept but is a big challenge, no question about that," said CEO Paulo Cesar Silva.

      Slovenia-based Pipistrel (now Pipistrel Vertical Solutions) used the Elevate summit to unveil a concept of its aircraft. The aircraft will be able to go longer distances at higher speeds than previous models and will be part of a “family of eVTOL” that includes three other concept aircraft, according to director of research and development Tine Tomazic.

      Uber has also partnered with NASA to develop technology to control air traffic and prevent crashes. The company said it plans to start demonstrations of its flying taxi service in 2020 with pilots in Dubai, Dallas, and Los Angeles.

      At its second annual Elevate summit in Los Angeles this week, Uber gave a preview of what it believes air taxis could look like.One was an all-electric...
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      Fair housing group sues government over discrimination enforcement

      The complaint alleges HUD lacked authorization to suspend tougher housing discrimination rules

      A watchdog against discrimination in housing is suing the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) after the agency suspended an Obama administration housing protection.

      In its complaint, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) claims the Trump administration did not have the authority to suspend a federal requirement for state and local governments to show they were cracking down on housing discrimination in order to continue receiving money from HUD.

      In January, HUD Secretary Ben Carson announced a five-year delay in implementing the “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” rule, put in place by the Obama administration in 2015. Carson admitted to not being a fan of the rule, calling it “social engineering.”

      Reason for the 2015 rule

      The complaint alleges that HUD had never actively enforced a requirement, contained in the 50 year-old Fair Housing Act, requiring HUD to administer its programs in ways that support the aims of the Fair Housing Act, which was to end discrimination in housing.

      “Although this Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) requirement was of great importance to Congress in enacting the Act, for decades, HUD inadequately enforced it,” the group said in its suit.

      “The agency has permitted more than 1,200 grantees—mostly local and state government entities—to collectively accept billions of dollars in federal housing funds annually without requiring them to take meaningful steps to address racial segregation and other fair housing problems that have long plagued their communities.”

      NHFA says that was the rationale behind the Obama administration's 2015 rule, which was meant to force state and local governments to take meaningful steps to address housing segregation within their jurisdictions. By suspending the rule, the group says HUD is going back to a way of operating that has, in many ways, ignored the aims of the Fair Housing Act.

      Why the rule was suspended

      A HUD spokesman declined to comment specifically on the suit, but he referred reporters to the agency's January statement which explained that the rule was being suspended because it wasn't working very well.

      As it observed the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act last month, NHFA issued its 2018 Fair Housing Trends Report, noting that it had processed more than a half million housing discrimination complaints since 1996. It said there were more than 28,000 housing discrimination complaints in 2017 alone.

      “The biggest obstacle to fair housing rights is the federal government’s failure to enforce the law vigorously,” the report concluded.

      A watchdog against discrimination in housing is suing the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) after the agency suspended an Obama administrat...
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      Specialized Bicycle Components recalls specialized bikes with Stout cranks

      The driveside crankarm can disengage and cause riders to crash

      Specialized Bicycle Components, Inc. -- of Morgan Hill, Calif. -- is recalling approximately 1,800 Specialized Fuse Comp and Fatboy SE bicycles with Stout cranks.

      The company says that the driveside crankarm can disengage and cause riders to lose control, increasing the risk of a fall or related injury.

      Products are only subject to recall if "STOUT" is printed on either of the crankarms and the bike comes equipped with a direct-mount chainring manufactured in 2017. Consumers can identify if cranks were manufactured that year by checking the serial code printed on the inside of either crankarm; affected models will start with "17."

      The company asks consumers to stop using the recalled bicycles immediately and contact an Authorized Specialized Retailer for instructions on how to receive a free replacement crankarm. 

      Authorized Specialized Retailer or Specialized Bicycle Components can be reached via a toll-free number by calling 877-808-8154 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (PST), Monday through Friday.

      Consumers can find more information on the recall by sending an email to ridercare@specialized.com or visiting the Specialized Bicycle Components website and clicking on "Safety Notices."

      Specialized Bicycle Components, Inc. -- of Morgan Hill, Calif. -- is recalling approximately 1,800 Specialized Fuse Comp and Fatboy SE bicycles with Stout...
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      Uber autonomous car saw Arizona pedestrian before hitting her, report says

      The software allegedly decided not to take evasive action

      Uber has reportedly concluded that sensors in one of its self-driving cars saw an Arizona pedestrian in the road but failed to take action to avoid hitting her.

      The March accident claimed the life of Elaine Herzberg and triggered a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation into what caused the accident. The Information, a technology publication, cites two people who have been briefed on Uber's own investigation as saying that the sensors saw the pedestrian but didn't recognize her as an object to be avoided.

      The sources say the car's object-avoidance software can be adjusted so that the car will make every effort to avoid hitting a solid object but not swerve to miss a paper bag floating in its path.

      According to The Information, the Uber investigation concluded that the car's sensors saw the pedestrian pushing her bicycle in the roadway, but the on-board computer system “decided it didn't need to react right away.”

      'Top-to-bottom safety review'

      Because investigations are still underway, neither Uber nor the NTSB will comment on the report. However, a spokesman for Uber told TechCrunch that the company has started “a top-to-bottom safety review” of the ride sharing company's self-driving car program.

      How an autonomous vehicle sees objects in the roadway could play a critical role in determining when and if the technology is deemed safe to be fully deployed on U.S. highways. Right now, it's something of a controversial question.

      Last fall, a coalition of safety and consumer groups lined up against bipartisan legislation in Congress to fast-track autonomous car testing on public roads. Joan Claybrook, a former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), said the legislation ignores recent history, including mistakes made by the auto industry.

      "It puts auto and tech companies who basically wrote the bill in the driver's seat in the development and deployment of unproven autonomous vehicles," Claybrook said at the time. "It puts the federal auto safety agency in the back seat in terms of ensuring industry accountability."

      Critical decision-making

      In a November interview with ConsumerAffairs, automotive expert Scot Hall, CEO of Swapalease, expressed doubts that current technology is capable of making choices that drivers are sometimes required to make.

      “What if a self-driving car encounters a dangerous situation where there are two alternatives, and neither of them is good?” Hall asked. “How does the computer make that choice?”

      That's a question not only for technology company engineers, but also policymakers, who must decide when fully autonomous cars are safe to operate on public roadways without any human intervention.

      Uber has reportedly concluded that sensors in one of its self-driving cars saw an Arizona pedestrian in the road but failed to take action to avoid hitting...
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      Feds want two pick-up models off the road now

      Many 2006 Ford Ranger and Mazda B-series still have dangerous Takata airbags

      The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued an urgent appeal to owners of two older pick-up truck models: park them, now.

      The agency says the 2006 Ford Ranger and 2006 Mazda B-series trucks are equipped with dangerous Takata airbags – the subject of a massive recall and blamed for at least 22 deaths worldwide. The airbag inflators have been shown to explode, sending bits of metal flying through the cabin with terrific force.

      Because so many vehicles have these airbags, NHTSA says they aren't being repaired fast enough. The agency is especially concerned about the two older pick-up truck models, saying they should be a priority.

      Three months ago, both Ford and Mazda appealed to owners of the trucks to park them and not drive them again until the airbags are replaced. NHTSA is re-issuing the warning, it says, because too many drivers ignored the first one.

      Number one priority

      “NHTSA’s number one priority is making sure that everyone is safe on our roads,” said NHTSA Deputy Administrator Heidi King. “I cannot stress strongly enough the urgency of this recall – these airbags are dangerous. Every vehicle must be accounted for now.”

      King cites statistics from the manufacturers, showing barely half of the 33,320 affected 2006 Ford Rangers have been repaired, and only 58 percent of the 2,205 impacted Mazda B-Series trucks have been mitigated.

      Both Ford and Mazda have authorized their dealers to tow these vehicles free of charge so consumers can safely obtain the free repair.

      Millions of vehicles equipped with Takata airbags have been recalled since 2016, yet many are still on the nation's highways. In March, a Senate Commerce subcommittee convened a hearing into the slow pace of the recall.

      By the middle of last year, automakers had recalled more than 125 million vehicles worldwide, creating a backlog at many dealers.

      What to do

      To find out if you are driving a vehicle with a dangerous Takata airbag, visit the NHTSA website. Once there, enter your 17-character vehicle identification number (VIN).

      Your search result will show if your car or truck is included in this or any other safety recall. Vehicles scheduled for future recalls will not show up in this search, so it is important that you check regularly, at least twice per year.

      If you find your vehicle does have a recall, call a dealer to schedule the free repair. In the Takata airbag recalls, there are priority groups; parts are only available for certain vehicles starting at certain dates.

      At the moment, NHTSA considers the 2006 Ford Ranger and Mazda B-series to be in that priority category.

      The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued an urgent appeal to owners of two older pick-up truck models: park them, now....
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      NYSE owner reportedly working on Bitcoin trading platform

      The potential platform would allow big investors to buy and hold Bitcoin

      Intercontinental Exchange (or ICE), the owner of the New York Stock Exchange, is considering launching an online Bitcoin trading platform, according to a report by the New York Times.

      The Times cited emails and documents it obtained as well as conversations with four people with knowledge of the confidential project who asked to remain anonymous. If the platform does launch, it would "allow large investors to buy and hold Bitcoin."

      The project is still in development and could end up being aborted due to concerns over Bitcoin’s negative reputation in the finance industry, the report noted. The Times said an ICE spokesperson would not comment on the potential trading platform.

      The move would make ICE the latest Wall Street giant to enter the crypto market. Earlier this month, Goldman Sachs said it will open its own Bitcoin trading operation. In April, the CEO of Nasdaq revealed that the exchange would be open to trading cryptocurrencies in a regulated environment. Other trading firms, including Chicago’s DRW and Jump Trading, have also been trading cryptocurrency.

      Swap contract

      The new operation, “would provide more direct access to Bitcoin by putting the actual tokens in the customer’s account at the end of the trade,” the report explains. The process would be carried out through swaps that deliver Bitcoin to a client’s account.

      “The swap contract is more complicated than an immediate trade of dollars for Bitcoin, even if the end result is still ownership of a certain amount of Bitcoin,” the report said. “But a swap contract allows the trading to come under the regulation of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and to operate clearly under existing laws — something today’s Bitcoin exchanges have struggled to do.”

      If the effort comes to fruition, it could make Bitcoin available to a larger customer base and bring more institutional investors into the cryptocurrency space.

      Intercontinental Exchange (or ICE), the owner of the New York Stock Exchange, is considering launching an online Bitcoin trading platform, according to a r...
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      JetBlue flight makes emergency landing due to cracked cockpit window

      The pilot told passengers that this sort of thing ‘isn’t uncommon’

      A JetBlue flight destined for Tampa, Florida made an emergency landing on Sunday due to a damaged window.

      An outer layer of the cockpit windscreen was damaged, and flight 1052 was diverted to Fort Lauderdale out of “an abundance of caution,” according to JetBlue Corporate Communications.

      “On May 6, JetBlue flight 1052 from San Juan to Tampa diverted to Fort Lauderdale in an abundance of caution following a report of damage to one of the outer layers of the cockpit windscreen. The flight landed safely at approximately 1:00 p.m. local time. Customers were accommodated on another aircraft,” the airline said in a statement.

      Not uncommon

      The cabin did not lose pressurization during the incident, and no passengers were injured. A reporter on board the flight said the pilot informed passengers that this sort of incident “isn’t uncommon”.

      "It happens I won't say frequently, but I've actually had this happen before," a flight attendant said in a video recorded by passenger Michael Paluska, a reporter for a local ABC affiliate. "There's multiple, multiple layers in the windscreen, and it's the outer layer that shattered."

      "We were not in any grave danger,” the flight attendant added.

      The incident comes about three weeks after a Southwest flight experienced mid-air engine failure, resulting in a passenger fatality. The passenger, Jennifer Riordan, was partially sucked out a window that had been knocked out by debris and was later pronounced dead from blunt impact trauma.

      Last week, a Southwest flight bound for Newark also made an unplanned landing in Cleveland because of a broken window. The airline said the cabin maintained pressurization throughout and that the plane landed “uneventfully.”

      A JetBlue flight destined for Tampa, Florida made an emergency landing on Sunday due to a damaged window.An outer layer of the cockpit windscreen was d...
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      Bosch issues recall for Ford and Tesla vehicles over power steering issue

      Exposure to the elements can cause corrosion, which can lead to loss of power steering while driving

      Robert Bosch Automotive Steering has issued a safety recall to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) due to a problem with the aluminum mounting bolts used in its Electric Power Steering (EPS) systems.

      The company says that the bolts may corrode when it exposed to certain outdoor elements, such as road salt. This corrosion may cause the bolts to fracture and the steering deal to detach, which may cause drivers to lose power steering and crash.

      The company submitted a report to allow recalls to move forward based on the decisions of Ford and Tesla.

      What to do

      Bosch says it is working with affected manufacturers and dealers to replace the defective bolts and add a corrosion-preventive sealer, free of charge. 

      Ford owners can contact the automaker's customer service line for more information at 1-866-436-7332; Tesla owners can contact their respective customer service line at 1-877-798-3752.

      Additionally, drivers may also contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for more information at its hotline or website by dialing 1-888-327-4236 or by visiting www.safercar.gov. 

      Robert Bosch Automotive Steering has issued a safety recall to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) due to a problem with the aluminu...
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      GM recalls 2018 Chevrolet Equinox vehicles over improperly tempered glass

      If broken, the glass could fragment into large pieces and cause injury

      General Motors has issued a recall for nearly 400 2018 Chevrolet Equinox vehicles because the front driver and passenger door windows may not be properly tempered. 

      The automaker warns that the improperly tempered glass could potentially break into larger pieces if the windows are broken, increasing the risk of injury to drivers and passengers. 

      What to do

      GM has stated that it will notify owners and dealers of issue so that the glass in affected vehicles can be replaced free of charge. The company expects the recall to officially begin on May 11.

      Owners can contact Chevrolet customer service for more information at 1-800-222-1020. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) can also be reached at its hotline by dialing 1-888-327-4236.

      General Motors has issued a recall for nearly 400 2018 Chevrolet Equinox vehicles because the front driver and passenger door windows may not be properly t...
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      Tesla reportedly shutting out un-vetted contractors

      CEO Elon Musk says outsiders are performing work that company employees should be doing

      Tesla automobiles are arguably among the best in their class, even if they are usually the most expensive.

      Customer satisfaction with the Tesla brand has always been high, ever since the Model S made its debut. But recently, there have been rumblings of discord in the company, that remains a Wall Street darling, mainly because of its CEO, Elon Musk.

      Following Musk's bizarre performance last week on the company's first quarter earnings conference call, which sent Tesla’s stock price plunging, the CEO appears to be launching a purge of contractors, who are supplementing the work of Tesla employees.

      Technology site Electrek has published what it says is a company email sent to staff that it obtained weeks ago. In the message, Musk tells employees that the company will bar contractors and consultants from company buildings, starting today, unless they have at least one Tesla employee vouching for the quality of their work.

      The email

      According to the email, Musk details his complaint with contractors this way:

      “I have been disappointed to discover how many contractor companies are interwoven throughout Tesla. Often, it is like a Russian nesting doll of contractor, subcontractor, sub-subcontractor, etc. before you finally find someone doing actual work."

      "This means a lot of middle-managers [are] adding cost but not doing anything obviously useful. Also, many contracts are essentially open time & materials, not fixed price and duration, which creates an incentive to turn molehills into mountains, as they never want to end the money train.”

      Musk appears to suggest that the company's recent production problems could be tied to farming out work that should be performed by company employees.

      Last month, Tesla announced it was slowing production of its Model 3, a small electric sedan with a starting price tag of $36,000. But the company has had issues meeting the demand.

      Within a week of unveiling the Model 3, Tesla reported receiving 325,000 reservations for the car, with 1,800 a day coming in. Consumers placing orders were required to come up with a $1,000 deposit. The first Model 3 was produced in July 2017 and by the end of that year, the company had delivered fewer than 2,000 units.

      Tired of waiting

      “I placed a $1,000 deposit on a Tesla Model 3 in 2017,” Dennis, of Santa Barbara, Calif., posted at ConsumerAffairs last month. “In February of 2018, I cancelled the deposit online. When I received nothing, I emailed Tesla and have traded emails for the last month. The agent is sympathetic, says it will take a while, but still no refund after a month.”

      On last week's conference call, a clearly irritated Musk took exception to some analysts' probing questions about the company's performance, at one point cutting off what he called “boneheaded and boring questions,” and telling investors not to buy the company's stock if they “don't have the stomach for volatility.”

      Tesla automobiles are arguably among the best in their class, even if they are usually the most expensive.Customer satisfaction with the Tesla brand ha...
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      New calorie-posting rules take effect at chain restaurants and other food providers

      Calorie and other dietary information must be posted on menus and menu boards

      Say good-bye to blissful ignorance. From now on, when you order a slice of pizza at a chain restaurant, you're going to know exactly how many calories you're consuming.

      One of the last remaining rules from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) went into effect Monday, requiring chain restaurants with at least 20 stores to list the calories in each item on the menu and menu board. Some fast food restaurants, such as McDonald's and Subway, have been doing it for years.

      In addition, restaurants will be required to provide additional nutritional information, including fat and sodium content. The rule is one of the few remaining Obama era regulations the Trump administration has allowed to take effect.

      The regulation is aimed at reducing rising obesity levels in the U.S. Policymakers hope that if consumers are armed with information about the food they eat, they will make healthier choices. However, the jury is still out on that.

      Early study

      In 2015, health researchers at Arizona State University conducted a study of consumer responses to menu information at restaurants that had begun to post calorie counts. They wanted to determine how consumers used the information and whether it influenced their food choices.

      What the researchers found was that the more affluent and educated a consumer is, the more likely they are to notice and use the calorie data.

      Overall, they found that approximately 60 percent of participants in their study noticed the calorie menu labels, but only 16 percent reported using the labels to determine food and beverage choices. Customers with higher incomes were twice as likely to notice the calorie labels and three times more likely to use them.

      The new disclosure rules actually extend far beyond restaurants. They also apply to supermarkets that sell prepared food, concession stands at movie theaters, and even vending machines.

      Despite the Arizona State University findings from three years ago, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner (FDA) Scott Gottlieb is optimistic that the new rules will make a difference.

      “We know that many Americans both want and use nutritional information on food package labels to make decisions about what to eat to help improve their health,” Gottlieb said in a statement. “But consumers can’t always access similar information at their favorite restaurant chains.”

      Gottlieb said consumers currently eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home. At the same time, he notes the rates of child and adult obesity in the U.S. are at historic highs.

      “Research, including a recent RAND Corporation study, suggests that people choose menu items with fewer calories when they have access to calorie information and that such information does not affect their satisfaction with the choice they make or their ratings of the restaurant,” Gottlieb said.

      How many calories do you need?

      Government health officials say the average man needs 2,500 calories per day to maintain their weight; the average woman needs 2,000 calories.

      Using McDonald's Calorie Counter, consumers can limit their calorie intake to 440 calories by ordering an Egg McMuffin (300), a small orange juice (140), and black coffee.

      On the other hand, a double quarter-pounder with cheese (740), large fries (570) and a 32 oz. Vanilla triple-thick shake (1,100) literally tips the scales at 2,410 calories.

      Say good-bye to blissful ignorance. From now on, when you order a slice of pizza at a chain restaurant, you're going to know exactly how many calories you'...
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      ZTE has requested an end to its ban on purchasing U.S. technology

      The company has ‘formally submitted’ a request to suspend the seven-year ban

      Chinese electronics maker ZTE said it has submitted a formal request to the US Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) asking it for a reprieve of the order preventing it from doing business with U.S. technology exporters.

      The filing comes roughly a month after the Commerce Department imposed a seven-year export ban on the company after finding that it lied to American officials about reproaching employees who violated U.S. sanctions on North Korea and Iran. The company pleaded guilty to the charges in March last year and was hit with $1.2 billion in fines.

      ZTE previously said that the technology purchase ban threatens its existence and is likely to hurt many U.S. companies.

      “The Denial Order will not only severely impact the survival and development of ZTE, but will also cause damages to all partners of ZTE including a large number of U.S. companies,” ZTE said in a statement last month.

      Stay of the Denial Order

      The company’s filing to the Shenzhen stock exchange on Sunday did not give details of its request, but it did say that it had provided supplemental material at the BIS's request.

      ZTE Chairman Yin Yimin previously called the export ban “unfair and unacceptable” since the company had self-reported the settlement violations to Washington. The company implied that its lack of disciplinary action toward the 35 employees in question wasn’t an intentional act of defiance.

      The company added that, if necessary, it could “take judicial measures to protect the legal rights and interests of our company, our employees and our shareholders.” No litigation against the U.S. has been started at this point.

      The export ban came amid growing trade tensions between the U.S. and China which centered on technology-related intellectual property.

      Chinese electronics maker ZTE said it has submitted a formal request to the US Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) asking it for a...
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      United Airlines apologizes for ’concerning behavior’ from flight attendant

      A passenger claims the employee was 'drunk or stoned'

      United Airlines has once again apologized for an in-flight incident – this time involving a flight attendant, described by at least one passenger as clearly “drunk or stoned.”

      “We are aware of a concerning incident involving a flight attendant serving on our regional service provider Trans States Airlines flight 4689,” United said in a statement released to the media. “As a gesture of goodwill, we have compensated all customers aboard the flight and we apologize for any inconvenience or distress this may have caused.”

      As the airline noted, the incident did not occur aboard a United-branded flight, but rather on its regional carrier, on a flight last last week from Denver to Williston, North Dakota. The story broke after one passenger posted her complaint about the flight attendant on Twitter – a Tweet that has since been deleted.

      'Threatened lives'

      According to KPRC-TV in Houston, which screen-grabbed the Tweet before it was taken down, the passenger complained that the flight attendant's behavior “threatened the lives” of those on board. She said she went to the cockpit to report the behavior and that police were waiting when the plane landed.

      It has been a rough 13 months for United's public relations personnel. In April 2017, a physician aboard a United flight traveling from Detroit to Louisville was dragged off the plane by police after he refused to give up his seat, an incident captured in numerous videos that went viral.

      Since then, the airline has been involved in a number of unfortunate incidents involving pets traveling in both the cabins and cargo holds of United flights. Most recently, a French bulldog puppy died after a flight attendant reportedly required the owner to place the dog's carrier in an overhead bin, rather than leave it under the seat.

      Earlier this month, United announced a new set of policies on transporting pets aimed at promoting their well-being while traveling. In consultation with Humane America, United is banning certain breeds of dogs and cats from the cargo hold, although many smaller animals may still be allowed in the aircraft cabin, as long as their carriers fit under the seat.

      United Airlines has once again apologized for an in-flight incident – this time involving a flight attendant, described by at least one passenger as clearl...
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      Apple acknowledges microphone issue affecting some iPhone 7 models

      The problem affects devices running iOS 11.3 or later

      Apple has acknowledged that some iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus devices running the latest iOS 11.3 software may have microphone issues.

      In a leaked internal document obtained by MacRumors, Apple warns Authorized Service Providers that iOS 11.3 and iOS 11.3.1 have rendered some phones unable to use their microphones during phone calls, preventing users from being heard during calls or FaceTime video chats.

      Affected customers may experience a grayed-out speaker button during calls, the memo said.

      Service providers have been told to ask users to disconnect any Bluetooth headset or other audio accessory connected to their devices to see if that fixes the issue. If the issue persists, service providers should run an audio diagnostic on the device.

      Initiating a repair

      “Affected devices will display a ‘device could not detect dock’ or ‘accessory not supported’ alert in the diagnostic panel, in which case the service provider can initiate a repair for the iPhone,” MacRumors said.

      The memo added that in the event an affected iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus is out of warranty, the service provider can request an exception for this issue. However, it is not clear if the repair will be free.

      There have been several documented cases of Apple users complaining about microphone problems after downloading iOS 11.3 or later, but the issue isn’t widespread. A source told AppleInsider that it's an "extremely rare problem, with a need for repair being rarer still."

      If consumers do encounter this issue, they can schedule specific appointments with Apple Authorized Service Providers via the Contact Apple Support page by following these categories: iPhone > Repairs & Physical Damage > Unable to Hear Through Receiver or Speakers > Built-in Speaker > Bring In For Repair.

      Apple has acknowledged that some iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus devices running the latest iOS 11.3 software may have microphone issues. In a leaked intern...
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      Maya Distribution, LLC recalls Dragon Kratom powders

      The products may be contaminated with salmonella

      Maya Distribution, LLC -- based in South Salt Lake City, Utah -- has issued a voluntary recall of its Dragon Kratom labeled bottles and sealed packages of encapsulated and raw powder product. The company says these kratom products may have been contaminated with salmonella.

      Salmonella is an organism that can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, and fever. However, symptoms such as arterial infections, endocarditis, arthritis, muscle pain, eye irritation, and urinary tract infections can develop in more serious cases; the condition can even be fatal to young children, the elderly, or those with weakened immune systems. 

      The company says the following products are subject to recall:

      NamePackagingContentsUPC
      Dragon Ultra Enhanced Indo ExtractSealed pouch4 500 mg capsules66001000010
      Dragon MalaysianSealed Bottle150 gram powder660010010057
      Dragon MalaysianSealed Pouch20 500 mg capsules660010010033
      Dragon MalaysianSealed Bottle200 500 mg capsules660010010040
      Dragon MalaysianSealed Bottle80 500 mg capsules060010000019
      Dragon MalaysianSealed Bottle40 500 mg capsules060010000018
      Dragon MalaysianSealed Bottle40 500 mg capsules660010010026
      Dragon MalaysianSealed Pouch20 500 mg capsules660010010033
      Dragon Maeng DaSealed Bottle150 gram powder550010010051
      Dragon Maeng DaSealed Bottle60 gram powder550010000021
      Dragon Maeng DaSealed Bottle200 500 mg capsules550010010044
      Dragon Maeng DaSealed Bottle80 500 mg capsules550010010013
      Dragon Maeng DaSealed Bottle40 500 mg capsules550010010020
      Dragon Maeng DaSealed Bottle80 500 mg capsules440010010037
      Dragon BaliSealed Bottle150 gram powder440010010055
      Dragon BaliSealed Bottle60 gram powder440010000025
      Dragon BaliSealed Bottle200 500 mg capsules440010010048
      Dragon BaliSealed Bottle80 500 mg capsules440010010017
      Dragon BaliSealed Bottle40 500 mg capsules440010010024
      Dragon BaliSealed Pouch20 500 mg capsules440010010031

      What to do

      Maya initiated the recall after being notified by the FDA of a positive test for salmonella. It says that it has since located the source of the contaminated product and ceased its production and distribution.

      The affected products were sold to retailers in Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Kansas, Illinois, Idaho, Iowa, and Michigan. The FDA says that one illness related to the recall has been reported thus far, and it urges consumers not to consume affected products.

      Consumers can return affected products to Maya Distribution or to the place of purchase for a full refund. 

      For more information, you can contact Maya Distribution via email at mayavapes@yahoo.com or via phone at (801) 410-4309 from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. MST.

      Maya Distribution, LLC -- based in South Salt Lake City, Utah -- has issued a voluntary recall of its Dragon Kratom labeled bottles and sealed packages of...
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      Badger Botanicals recalls kratom dietary supplements

      The products may have been contaminated with salmonella

      Utah-based Badger Botanicals, LLC is issuing a recall for four varieties of its kratom dietary supplements -- Green Suma, Red Suma, Green Hulu 2, and Red Hulu 2 -- over concerns that the products may have been contaminated with salmonella. 

      Salmonella is an organism that can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, and fever. However, symptoms such as arterial infections, endocarditis, arthritis, muscle pain, eye irritation, and urinary tract infections can develop in more serious cases; the condition can even be fatal to young children, the elderly, or those with weakened immune systems. 

      The affected products were sold directly on the company's website from January 1, 2018 to April 12, 2018 in 250 gram pouches.

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that one potential illness has already been connected to this problem. The agency encourages consumers who have purchased these products to stop using them and return any unused portions. Consumers who display any symptoms of infection are also urged to contact their healthcare adviser immediately.

      For more information, consumers can contact Badger Botanicals, LLC at 1-385-325-0875.

      Utah-based Badger Botanicals, LLC is issuing a recall for four varieties of its kratom dietary supplements -- Green Suma, Red Suma, Green Hulu 2, and Red H...
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