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Current Events in August 2018

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    Chrysler recalls 1.1 million RAM pickup trucks

    The tailgate could unlatch and open while the vehicle is being driven

    Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 1,149,237 model year 2015-2017 RAM 1500, 2500 and 3500 pickup trucks equipped with a power locking tailgate and either a 5-foot, 7-inch or 6-foot, 4-inch bed.

    The tailgate actuator limiter tab may fracture and cause the tailgate to unlatch and open while while the vehicle is being driven

    If the tailgate latch releases and the tailgate opens while the vehicle is moving cargo could fall out, creating a road hazard and increasing the risk of a crash.

    What to do

    Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will repair the vehicle, free of charge.

    The recall is expected to begin September 14, 2018.

    Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is U74.

    Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 1,149,237 model year 2015-2017 RAM 1500, 2500 and 3500 pickup trucks equipped with a power locking tailgate and either a...

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      Home service alarm systems a major source of 2017 consumer complaints

      An annual survey shows automobile transactions are still the biggest source of gripes

      Deceptive tactics to sell home security systems emerged as a major area of consumer complaints last year, according to the Consumer Federation of America (CFA).

      Each year, CFA surveys state and local consumer agencies to find out what consumers are complaining about. Last year, there was a big increase in complaints about companies selling home alarm systems, ranging from misleading information to scare tactics.

      The survey found a case where a company sent a letter to new homeowners that appeared to come from the county government. It warned that their neighborhood was deemed to be unsafe because of “the opioid crisis,” and offered “free” alarm systems as part of a county-wide program.

      Of course, as is the case with many "free" offers, the systems turned out not to be free. The survey also identified cases where companies marketing an alarm system claimed the product was used by police officers who lived in the area.

      Other complaints

      Other alarm system complaints involved failure to provide customers with copies of their agreements and failing to notify them of their cancellation rights. There were also instances where consumers who already had an alarm system were told their company had been sold and they needed to change where they sent the payment. It resulted in many consumers being double-billed.

      “Alarm systems are supposed to protect consumers, but consumers need better protection from rogue alarm companies and salespeople who try to take advantage of them,” said Susan Grant, CFA's director of Consumer Protection and Privacy.

      Grant says companies marketing home security and alarm systems should be required to make clear disclosures and be barred from making misleading and unsubstantiated claims.

      Top 10 complaint categories

      Broken down into broad categories, CFA ranks the top consumer complaints this way:

      1. New and used car transactions

      2. Problems with home improvement contractors

      3. Complaints about retail stores

      4. Credit repair and debt relief schemes

      5. Complaints about landlords

      6. Misrepresentation of services offered

      7. Disputes with telephone and internet providers

      8. Misleading health claims and medical billing disputes

      9. Defective household goods

      10. Abusive sales practices by internet and door-to-door solicitors

      The survey also uncovered several consumer horror stories. They include a report of a Louisiana consumer whose car was in the repair shop for over a year. When she finally investigated why it was taking so long, she discovered the mechanic was selling parts from her car, instead of finding parts to repair it.

      Deceptive tactics to sell home security systems emerged as a major area of consumer complaints last year, according to the Consumer Federation of America (...

      BMC recalls Timemachine 01 bicycles

      Insufficient space between the front wheel and downtube poses a fall hazard

      BMC USA of San Diego, Calif., is recalling about 430 Timemachine 01 bicycles.

      Variations in tire dimension, tire pressure, head set play and ride load, can result in insufficient space between the front wheel and downtube, posing a fall hazard.

      The firm has received four reports of fall incidents in the U.S., including one report of a broken finger.

      This recall involves all model year 2017 and 2018 Timemachine 01 bicycles and model year 2018 Timemachine 01 framesets.

      The product is a road bike for triathlons and time trials. BMC is printed on the downtube.

      Timemachine 01 is printed in glossy black letters on the flat black top tube.

      The bikes were sold in red, yellow and black.

      Model Year

      Model Description

      2018

         Timemachine 01 ONE

      2018

         Timemachine 01 TWO

      2018

         Timemachine 01 THREE

      2018

         Timemachine 01 Frameset

      2017

         Timemachine 01 Red e-tap

      2017

         Timemachine 01 Ultegra Di2

      The bicycles, manufactured in Taiwan, were sold at authorized BMC bicycle dealers nationwide from September 2016, through June 2018, for between $7,000 and $13,000.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop riding the recalled bikes and contact their local BMC authorized dealer for a free inspection and, if needed, a free replacement fork.

      Until the replacement forks are available in September/October 2018, the firm is providing consumers with a free 23C replacement tire, if needed, to ensure adequate clearance.

      Consumers may contact BMC toll-free at (888) 262-7755 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday, by email at timemachine01_us@bmc-switzerland.com or online at https://www.bmc-switzerland.com and click on the recall on the home page for more information.

      BMC USA of San Diego, Calif., is recalling about 430 Timemachine 01 bicycles.Variations in tire dimension, tire pressure, head set play and ride load,...

      Facebook and Instagram now shows users how many minutes they use the apps

      The feature will be rolled out in the coming weeks

      Both Facebook and Instagram will be rolling out a new feature in the U.S. in the coming weeks that will allow users to track how much time they’ve spent on the apps.

      Users will be able to access minute-by-minute breakdowns of just how long they’ve been scrolling each day and in the last week by checking on “digital well-being screen time management dashboards.”

      Additionally, users will have the option to set daily minute limits on the app, at which point the user will get a notification if they’ve exceeded the time limit they’ve set. However, going over the self-imposed timer won’t prevent users from continuing to scroll through the app.

      “We’re building tools that will help the IG community know more about the time they spend on Instagram -- any time should be positive and intentional,” said Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom. “Understanding how time online impacts people is important, and it’s the responsibility of all companies to be honest about this. We want to be part of the solution. I take that responsibility seriously.”

      “It’s really important for people who use Instagram and Facebook that the time they spend with us is time well spent,” added Ameet Ranadive, Instagram’s Product Director of Well-Being. “There may be some trade-off with other metrics for the company and that’s a trade-off we’re willing to live with, because in the longer term, we think this is important to the community and we’re willing to invest in it.”

      Smartphone addiction

      This isn’t the first instance of a company allowing users to see just how much time they’re spending on their phones or on a certain platform. Apple recently unveiled new software that will allow users to monitor their iPhone use.

      “We need to have tools and data to allow us to understand how we consume digital media,” said former Apple executive Tony Faddell. “We need to get finer grain language and start to understand that an iPhone is just a refrigerator, it’s not the addiction.”

      The decision came after Apple received a great deal of backlash from investors regarding the addictive quality of its devices.

      “According to [an] APA survey, 94 percent of parents have taken some action to manage their child’s technology use, but it is both unrealistic and a poor long-term business strategy to ask parents to fight this battle alone,” the shareholders wrote. “Imagine the goodwill Apple can generate with parents by partnering with them in this effort and with the next generation of customers by offering their parents more options to protect their health and well-being.”

      Similarly, lawmakers are pushing for legislation for more research on technology’s impact kids. The bill -- entitled the Children and Media Research Advancement Act -- would spend $95 million that would include long-term studies over the next five years.

      “What we feed the minds of children is as important as what we feed their bodies,” said Michael Rich, associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. “We need to understand it as best we can. We need to use data to project forward what can create the healthiest and safest environment in which we are raising kids and interacting with each other.”

      Both Facebook and Instagram will be rolling out a new feature in the U.S. in the coming weeks that will allow users to track how much time they’ve spent on...

      Waymo will begin experimenting with self-driving taxi prices

      The company has kept costs under wraps thus far

      Though Waymo has yet to reveal what it would charge consumers to ride in a self-driving taxi, Google’s self-driving car unit began testing trip fares with riders in preparation for its official launch in Phoenix.

      While Waymo insists these figures are nothing more than placeholders, the early findings show that they line up with the likes of Uber and Lyft.

      “All rides are free for volunteers, but the Waymo app recently started to show hypothetical prices,” reports Bloomberg. “A view of the app by Bloomberg News offers the first indication of Waymo’s early experiments with pricing. A ride to Kayla’s nearby school shows up as $5, for example, while a long 11.3-mile trip lists a cost of $19.15. That’s similar to the cost of a ride from Uber Technologies Inc. or Lyft Inc., and cheaper than a local taxi.”

      However, a spokesperson also emphasized to Bloomberg that the prices were just placeholders, as the company continues to get feedback from early riders and “does not reflect the various pricing models under consideration.”

      The move does signify that Waymo is inching closer to launching its self-driving car operation. The company is believed to be launching its for-profit taxi service with a fleet of hundreds of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans. The company will be testing vehicles in Phoenix, San Francisco and the Bay area, Detroit, Atlanta, and Kirkland, Washington.

      Waymo and public transit

      In an effort to connect workers and residents to mass transit, Waymo also announced a new partnership with Phoenix’s regional public transportation agency. In working with the Valley Metro Regional Public Transportation Authority, Waymo hopes to “explore mobility solutions that use self-driving technology to better connect travelers with the city’s existing buses and light rail.”

      Starting this month, Waymo will start offering employees in the Valley Metro area rides to and from public transportation. Ride-hailing services will also be available to Valley Metro RideChoice travelers, which “negotiates deals with taxi companies and subsidizes rates to cover groups traditionally underserved by public transit,” according to The Verge.

      “This will form the basis of joint research to evaluate the adoption of Waymo technology, its impact, and its long-term potential to enable greater access to public transit,” the company said.

      Though Waymo has yet to reveal what it would charge consumers to ride in a self-driving taxi, Google’s self-driving car unit began testing trip fares with...

      Kroger mulls over decision to stop taking Visa credit cards

      The retailer says the cost of ‘swipe fees’ has gotten out of hand

      Taking a shot directly across the credit card industry’s bow, Kroger’s California subsidiary Foods Co will no longer accept Visa as a form of payment.

      Effective August 14, 2018, the Visa payment option will vanish from 26 Foods Co stores and fuel centers. It’s a strong first punch from the chain in retail’s continuing weariness over the estimated $90 billion paid in swipe fees every year.

      “Our customers consistently tell us that one of the most important factors in choosing Foods Co as their supermarket of choice is our low prices,” wrote Bryan Kaltenbach, president of Foods Co, in a news release.

      “We realize this will be a change for some customers, but we believe this change will benefit all our customers by allowing our Foods Co stores to continue to offer the things our customers value most, including our low prices, fresh produce and services more than payment type.”

      Kroger CIO Chris Hjelm said in an interview with Bloomberg News that Food Co’s parent company might follow in its footsteps.

      “It’s pretty clear we need to move down this path, and if we have to expand that beyond Foods Co, we’re prepared to take that step,” Hjelm said. “When the amount retailers pay in card fees gets out of alignment, as we believe it is now, we don’t believe we have a choice but to use whatever mechanism possible to get it back in alignment.”

      Foods Co customers will still have plenty of available payment options at retail locations, including Visa debit cards, SNAP, MasterCard, American Express, Discover credit cards, and, naturally, cash and checks.

      The cost of doing business?

      The National Retail Federation (NRF) reports that swipe fees are often cited by retailers as the second or third highest cost behind wages and health benefits. Industry profits barely get over the 2 percent mark, and the added expense of credit card costs are usually passed on to consumers in the price they pay for goods.

      By the NRF’s estimate, the typical household is quietly charged with hundreds of dollars in additional expenses per year thanks to price markups retailers use to offset swipe fees.

      Swipe fees average around 2 percent but can be double that for premium rewards cards. VISA and MasterCard establish the fee structure, and participating banks issuing the cards agree to charge the same.

      In a statement to ConsumerAffairs, R.K. Hammer -- Chairman and CEO of the credit card advisory firm Payment Industry Consultants -- said that Kroger's decision is likely more of a challenge to Visa over its swipe fees.

      "Eliminating the largest payment brand in the world may not be something that Kroger’s shoppers will at all appreciate. I suspect that the 'test' being done in one tiny network of Kroger’s affiliates is designed to get Visa’s attention, and perhaps restructure a more acceptable, lower swipe fee. Maybe it will work. Maybe it will backfire. Time will tell," he said.

      Is this legal?

      Kroger is not the first retailer to try and bring a credit card company to its knees. In 2013, merchants in New York challenged the constitutionality of a state law forbidding merchants from imposing a surcharge on any customer who pays with a credit card.

      And, just last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that American Express' credit card rules for merchants, and the fees that it charges, do not violate antitrust laws.

      The grocery giant’s volley comes on the heels of Walmart's move to jettison Synchrony Financial after the two couldn't agree to terms. Amazon is also said to be in talks with JPMorgan Chase, Capital One, and other banks and financial firms about creating a “checking-account-like” product for its customers, a move that could save the company $250 million.

      Despite all the pushback against the credit card industry, Visa seems undaunted. Last year, Visa reportedly offered thousands of dollars to small merchants if they agreed to stop taking cash.

      The credit card company called its path a "journey to cashless,” sermonizing that “At Visa, we believe you can be everywhere you want to be, and that it should be easy to pay and be paid in more ways than ever – whether it’s a phone, card, wearable or other device.”

      Taking a shot directly across the credit card industry’s bow, Kroger’s California subsidiary Foods Co will no longer accept Visa as a form of payment.E...

      BMW steps up EV efforts with new production plant

      The luxury automaker picked Hungary as the location for its new $1.2 billion production plant

      BMW announced this week that it will build a new production plant near Debrecen, Hungary.

      The German automaker said it will spend approximately $1.2. billion to build the plant, which will be capable of producing up to 150,000 vehicles annually and will create over 1,000 new jobs.

      The new plant’s creation is part of a larger push by the company to add electric vehicle production capacity to all of its manufacturing plants. The company plans to be able to produce gas-powered cars, plug-in hybrids, and all-electric vehicles on the same production line.

      “In the future, every BMW Group plant in Europe will be equipped to produce electrified as well as conventional vehicles,” said Oliver Zipse, BMW AG Board Member for Production, in a statement.

      “Our new plant in Hungary will also be able to manufacture both combustion and electrified BMW models – all on a single production line. It will bring greater capacity to our worldwide production network. When production commences, the plant will set new standards in flexibility, digitalisation and productivity.”

      BMW said it chose Debrecen as the setting for its new production plant “for its very good infrastructure, suitable logistics connections and proximity to the established supplier network.”

      “The qualified personnel in the local area were another key advantage,” the company said. “Besides the team at the plant itself, numerous jobs will be created with suppliers and service providers, both within the grounds of the new facility and across the local region.”

      Construction on the new plant is slated to begin the second half of 2019, the automaker said.

      BMW announced this week that it will build a new production plant near Debrecen, Hungary.The German automaker said it will spend approximately $1.2. bi...

      Feds issue health alert for some salads and wraps

      The products were sold at Kroger, Trader Joe's, and Walgreens

      Federal Safety inspectors are warning consumers not to eat beef, pork, and poultry salad and wrap products distributed by Caito Foods, of Indianapolis, Ind.

      The products are sold at Trader Joe's, Kroger, and Walgreens. The U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) says the products may be contaminated with Cyclospora, a foodborne parasite.

      The issue stems from a previous lettuce recall. Caito Foods said its lettuce supplier, Fresh Express, reported that the chopped romaine that is used to make some of their salads and wraps had been recalled.

      FSIS said it is concerned that consumers may have already purchased some of these products, and that the Cyclospora incubation period poses a risk to these consumers.

      “These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase,” FSIS said in a statement. “Caito Foods LLC and FSIS are working together to remove the products from commerce.”

      The products were made over a three day period, July 15 to July 18. They bear “Best By,” “Enjoy by,” Best if Sold By” or “Sell By” dates ranging from July 18 through July 23, 2018.

      FSIS has published the complete list of products, product labels, the UPC code numbers and other identifying information.

      Link to McDonald's salads

      Cyclospora is the same bacteria that was found in McDonald's salads, blamed for sickening at least 163 people in 10 states. In mid July, the fast food chain pulled salads at 3,000 restaurants in 14 states in a precautionary move.

      The company said it is in the process of switching to a different lettuce-mix supplier. McDonald's also got its lettuce from Fresh Express, Caito Foods' lettuce supplier.

      According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Cyclospora infects the small intestine and usually causes watery diarrhea, with frequent, sometimes explosive, bowel movements.

      Other symptoms can include loss of appetite, weight loss, stomach cramps or pain, bloating, increased gas, nausea, and fatigue. Other symptoms are similar to influenza.

      FSIS says the incubation period for Cyclospora ranges from two to 14 days, which would include the dates of July 25 through August 6. Because of that, it says illnesses might not have been reported yet due to the time it takes between when a person becomes ill and when the illness is reported.

      Federal Safety inspectors are warning consumers not to eat beef, pork, and poultry salad and wrap products distributed by Caito Foods, of Indianapolis, Ind...

      Tesla whistleblower sues for defamation

      Martin Tripp claim's CEO's public charges against him are untrue

      Former Tesla engineer Martin Tripp has filed a $1 million defamation lawsuit against Tesla and its CEO Elon Musk over Musks public accusations against Tripp.

      Tesla has also sued Tripp, accusing the former employee at the company's Gigafactory of sabotage and theft of company documents. Tripp has denied those charges.

      The dust up began when Tripp emerged as the source for a series of articles by Business Insider, claiming widespread waste and potential safety issues at Tesla's Nevada factory. Besides filing the lawsuit, Tripp is also speaking with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), seeking status as a whistleblower.

      The Business Insider articles came at a sensitive time for the automaker, as it was struggling to meet Model 3 production goals. The allegations from Tripp seemed to suggest reasons for the company's problems.

      Allegations of sabotage

      Musk responded with a company-wide email in mid June, alleging a former employee had carried out sabotage against the firm, and later in a series of Tweets, alleged the employee, Martin Tripp, acted out of revenge for not receiving a promotion.

      In his defamation suit, Tripp alleges the public comments aren't true and have even posed a threat to his personal safety.

      In a statement to The Verge, Tripp's attorney Robert Mitchell called the allegations “bewildering,” as well as defamatory. Tripp is seeking $1 million plus punitive damages.

      Tesla has not commented on the suit but it reports earnings and hosts a conference call later today.

      Former Tesla engineer Martin Tripp has filed a $1 million defamation lawsuit against Tesla and its CEO Elon Musk over Musks public accusations against Trip...

      Fed keeps interest rates at current level

      But the rate that influences mortgages crosses a key threshold

      The Federal Reserve Open Market Committee concluded its regular meeting today, saying it was keeping the federal funds interest rate at its present level, between 1.75 percent and 2 percent.

      The Fed has been raising the rate about three times a year since late 2016 after a decade of keeping it near zero percent. As the economy has recovered, the Fed has said it wants to “normalize” rates so they can be lowered again in the event of another recession.

      In its statement following its meeting, the Fed said all indications show the labor market has continued to strengthen and economic activity has been rising at a strong rate. Other positives include strong increases in household spending and business investment.

      Inflation remains near 2 percent

      “On a 12-month basis, both overall inflation and inflation for items other than food and energy remain near 2 percent. Indicators of longer-term inflation expectations are little changed, on balance,” the Fed said in a statement.

      A hike to the discount rate was not expected. Nonetheless, it is good news for consumers carrying credit card balances. Credit card rates usually move in tandem with the discount rate, as do banks' prime rates.

      Meanwhile, mortgage rates may be moving higher, and it has nothing to do with the Federal Reserve. Mortgage rates are closely tied to the yield on the Treasury's 10-year bond, which rose to 3 percent today for the first time since June.

      The yield rose when a report showed private payrolls increased more than expected last month. In digesting that news, bond traders pushed yields higher on the belief that the economy is heating up, raising the prospect of higher inflation.

      The Federal Reserve Open Market Committee concluded its regular meeting today, saying it was keeping the federal funds interest rate at its present level,...

      Loblaw recalls $10 Chicken Fries

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Loblaw Companies Limited is recalling $10 Chicken Fries that may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      Seven cases of Salmonella Enteritidis illness have been reported in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. No deaths have been reported.

      The following product, sold throughout Canada, is being recalled:

      Brand NameCommon NameSizeCode(s) on ProductUPC
      None

      $10 Chicken

      Fries

      1.81 kg

      2019

      MR 23

      0

      60249

      01411

      4

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact Loblaw customer relations at (888) 495-5111 or by email at customerservice@loblaws.ca.

      Loblaw Companies Limited is recalling $10 Chicken Fries that may be contaminated with Salmonella.Seven cases of Salmonella Enteritidis illness have bee...

      Lipari Foods recalls Premo brand & Fresh Grab Turkey & Swiss submarine sandwiches

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Lipari Foods is recalling Premo brand and Fresh Grab turkey and Swiss submarine sandwiches produced and packaged by JLM.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

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

      The following products were produced on July 17, 2018, are being recalled:

      BrandProduct#Wtex.Lot #UPC

      Premo

      Brand

      Turkey

      &

      Swiss

      Sub

      915

      537

      4/6

      OZ

      08/

      06/

      18

      1720

      1807

      61251

      0001

      042

      Fresh

      Grab

      Turkey

      &

      Swiss

      Sub

      251

      694

      18/6

      OZ

      08/

      06/

      18

      1720

      1807

      61251

      0001

      042

      The recalled products were distributed starting July 19, 2018, to food service and retail stores throughout Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

      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 may call (800) 729- 3354, 8:15 am – 4:30 pm (EST) Monday through Friday.

      Lipari Foods is recalling Premo brand and Fresh Grab turkey and Swiss submarine sandwiches produced and packaged by JLM.The products may be contaminate...