Follow us:
  1. Home
  2. News
  3. 2018
  4. September

News in September 2018

Browse by year

2018

Browse by month

Get trending consumer news and recalls

    By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

    Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

    Hackers get access to 50 million Facebook accounts

    The company says it has reset the affected login credentials

    Facebook reports hackers breached its system and gained access to some 50 million login credentials, in effect giving them access to the accounts.
    The breach was uncovered three days ago when it was found that attackers exploited a vulnerability in the platform's "View As" code, a feature that allows users to see what their profile looks like when another person is accessing it.
    "This allowed them to steal Facebook access tokens which they could then use to take over people’s accounts," Facebook said in a security update. "Access tokens are the equivalent of digital keys that keep people logged in to Facebook so they don’t need to re-enter their password every time they use the app."
    The social media giant says its engineers have reset the affected access tokens. Affected users will not have to take any action, except they will have to re-enter their username and password the next time they log in to their account.

    Another 40 million accounts reset as a precaution

    In addition to the 50 million users whose tokens were compromised, another 40 million had their tokens reset as a precaution. Facebook said they had been subject to a “View As” look-up in the last year.
    "As a result, around 90 million people will now have to log back into Facebook, or any of their apps that use Facebook Login," the company said. "After they have logged back in, people will get a notification at the top of their News Feed explaining what happened."
    Meanwhile, Facebook said it is temporarily turning off the "View As" feature while it conducts a security review.
    Facebook said it has not determined whether any of the compromised accounts were misused or if hackers accessed any information.
    The company has been under pressure for much of the year on privacy issues. In March it revealed that a third party firm sold personal information on millions of users to a political marketing firm, in violation of its terms of service.
    Facebook reports hackers breached its system and gained access to some 50 million login credentials, in effect giving them access to the accounts....
    Read lessRead more

    Get trending consumer news and recalls

      By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

      Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

      Google launches new travel tools

      From making airline reservations to destination recommendations, the tech giant hopes to cover every facet of travel

      It’s tough to find a nook or cranny where Google doesn’t have a presence. One of its more quiet in-roads has been the travel sector where it’s built a port..

      Netflix says it won’t remove documentary about chronically ill that participants say led to cyber-bullying

      Participants say that the Netflix series Afflicted is deceptively edited

      Netflix says it will not remove a documentary series that participants say was edited to make them appear crazy. Afflicted, which began streaming in August, chronicles the lives of patients who suffer from rare chronic diseases. Interviews with relatives and psychiatrists in the film suggest that the patients are imagining their symptoms.

      The filmmakers used manipulative editing and ignored medical research to push that narrative forward, according to an open letter signed by the film’s cast, several medical researchers, doctors and celebrities such has Monica Lewinsky, who is now an anti-bullying advocate. The group is asking Netflix to take the series offline.

      The people featured in the film say they were misled about how they would be portrayed and say that they're now being bullied by strangers.

      A Netflix source tells ConsumerAffairs that they have no plans to remove the documentary. In a prepared statement through the Netflix press team, the film’s producer Dan Partland says that the filmmakers were trying to evoke compassion for their subjects.

      He did not address the specific claims that the cast made about manipulative editing. Participants claim, for instance, that they were instructed to repeat interviewers’ questions back to them before answering each question. They say footage was later edited to make it appear as though the words were their own. They also say that the filmmakers personally arranged visits with questionable doctors in some cases. Other doctors depicted speculating about the patients’ conditions never actually treated them, the participants say.

      "Our intention was to give the world a compassionate window into the difficulties of patients and families suffering from elusive and misunderstood illnesses, to humanize their struggle and to show that struggle in all its complexity,” producer Dan Partland said in his statement responding to the controversy.

      Participants said they were told the same thing before filming, but they disagree that the final result was sympathetic.

      “Afflicted was introduced to participants as a series that would ‘compassionately’ represent their experiences with diseases that lack proper diagnostic tools and effective treatments,” the open letter from participants, doctors and celebrities says.

      “But rather than authentically depict these participants’ experiences and the biomedical research that might explain their illnesses, Afflicted used every creative tool and untenable journalistic practice to advance a narrative that suggests these patients’ problems are primarily psychological, a theory that is not supported by the evidence.”

      Netflix says it will not remove a documentary series that participants say was edited to make them appear crazy. Afflicted, which began streaming in August...
      Read lessRead more

      Fall doesn't bring the expected drop in gas prices

      Refinery issues a boost in prices in a handful of states

      At a time when they should be falling, gasoline prices are on the rise. In a move that surprised many industry analysts, prices at the pump made significant moves in several states.

      Normally at this time of year, gasoline prices begin falling because refineries have switched over the cheaper winter-grade fuel blends.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gasoline is $2.87, up two cents from last Friday. It's four cents higher than it was a month ago, at the tail end of the summer driving season.

      The average price of premium gas is $3.41 a gallon, up two cents from last week. The average price of diesel fuel is $3.19, a penny more than last Friday.

      AAA points out the surprising increase in the national average is largely due to sharp price moves in a handful of states. In California, for example, the average price is up five cents in the last week. Prices also shot higher in the Great Lakes region because refinery maintenance reduced available supplies.

      Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, says refinery output is down five percent nationwide but has plunged 12.9 percent in the Midwest in the last week. Jeanette Casselano, a spokesperson for AAA, says rising crude oil prices have emerged as the wild card that could keep gasoline prices abnormally-high heading into the end of the year.

      Fortunately for motorists, oil supplies have increased in the last week, which is putting downward pressure on crude prices. Even so, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported this week that oil inventories are about 75 million barrels less than a year ago. That's resulting in the highest gas prices heading into the fall since 2014.

      The states with the most expensive regular gas

      These states currently have the highest prices for regular gas, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey:

      • Hawaii ($3.80)
      • California ($3.68)
      • Washington ($3.39)
      • Alaska ($3.32)
      • Oregon ($3.26)
      • Idaho ($3.17)
      • Nevada ($3.20)
      • Utah ($3.08)
      • Pennsylvania ($3.04)
      • Connecticut ($3.02)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

      These states currently have the lowest prices for regular gas, the survey found:

      • Alabama ($2.54)
      • Mississippi ($2.55)
      • South Carolina ($2.57)
      • Louisiana ($2.58)
      • Virginia ($2.60)
      • Arkansas ($2.61)
      • Tennessee ($2.61)
      • Texas ($2.62)
      • Missouri ($2.63)
      • North Carolina ($2.69)
      At a time when they should be falling, gasoline prices are on the rise. In a move that surprised many industry analysts, prices at the pump made significan...
      Read lessRead more

      Mercedes Benz recalls S63 AMG 4MATICs and S65 AMGs

      The Active Lane Keeping Assist may not function as expected

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 375 model year 2018 Mercedes Benz S63 AMG 4MATICs and S65 AMGs.

      The software calibration for the Active Lane Keeping Assist may be incorrect, and as a result, the system may not intervene in the event of an unintended lane departure while traveling faster than 65 miles an hour. This could increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will update the multipurpose camera software, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin October 5, 2018.

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

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 375 model year 2018 Mercedes Benz S63 AMG 4MATICs and S65 AMGs.The software calibration for the Active Lane Keep...
      Read lessRead more

      CFMOTO recalls ATVs

      The fuel hose can crack and leak fuel from the vehicle

      CFMOTO Powersports of Plymouth, Minn., is recalling about 5,300 CFORCE all-terrain off-highway vehicles (ATVs).

      The fuel hose can crack and leak fuel from the vehicle, posing a fire hazard.

      No incidents or injuries are reported.

      This recall involves model year 2016-2018 CFORCE 400, model year 2017-2018 CFORCE 500S and model year 2017-2018 CFORCE 500HO ATVs with 400cc to 500cc, 4-cycle engines.

      The “CFMOTO” logo is located on the front and rear grille, and a “CFORCE” decal is on each side of the fuel tank.

      CFMOTO CFORCE vehicles were sold in orange, blue, red and gray.

      The vehicle identification number (VIN) is located under the seat on the top of the right side, top frame rail.

      The ATVs, manufactured in China, were sold at CFMOTO dealers nationwide from November 2015, through July 2018, for between $4,200 and $6,000.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled ATVs and contact a CFMOTO dealer to schedule a free repair. CFMOTO is contacting all registered owners directly.

      Consumers may contact CFMOTO toll-free at (888) 823-6686 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, by email at info@cfmotousa.com or online at www.cfmotousa.com and click on “Customer Care” at the top of the page and then “Vehicle Recall” for more information.

      CFMOTO Powersports of Plymouth, Minn., is recalling about 5,300 CFORCE all-terrain off-highway vehicles (ATVs).The fuel hose can crack and leak fuel fr...
      Read lessRead more

      FDA may ban online e-cigarette sales

      ​The agency is taking steps to crack down on underage use of e-cigarettes

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is reportedly mulling a ban on online sales of e-cigarettes.

      During a panel discussion on vaping hosted by Axios earlier this week, Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the move is “on the table” and is “very clearly something we are now looking at,” CNBC reports.

      Gottlieb said easy access to vaping products has resulted in an “epidemic” of use among teens. The FDA says it will announce its next steps to combat underage use of e-cigarettes in November, when the agency will reveal data on teen vaping and invite public and corporate feedback.

      Trend among youth

      “E-cigs have become an almost ubiquitous ‒ and dangerous ‒ trend among teens," Gottlieb said in a statement earlier this month. "The FDA won't tolerate a whole generation of young people becoming addicted to nicotine as a tradeoff for enabling adults to have unfettered access to these same products."

      Gottlieb said the FDA is also weighing a ban on flavored e-cigarettes, which he says tend to entice youth.

      "One factor we're closely evaluating is the availability of characterizing flavors. We know that the flavors play an important role in driving the youth appeal. And in view of the trends underway, we may take steps to curtail the marketing and selling of flavored products," he said.

      In May, the FDA (joined by the FTC) sent 13 warning letters to companies that advertise e-cigarettes in a way that causes them to “resemble kid-friendly food products, such as juice boxes, candy or cookies."

      This month, the agency sent more than 1,300 warning letters to retailers who were found to have illegally sold JUUL and other e-cigarette products to minors during “an undercover blitz" of both brick-and-mortar and online stores that occurred over the summer.

      "We're in possession of data that shows a disturbingly sharp rise in the number of teens using e-cigarettes in just the last year," Gottlieb said in a statement last week.

      “The numbers of kids now using these products is unacceptable,” he said. “We can’t allow these trends to continue.”

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is reportedly mulling a ban on online sales of e-cigarettes.During a panel discussion on vaping hosted by A...
      Read lessRead more

      Disney says yes to selling its stake in Sky to Comcast

      ​Cable TV as we know it may have seen better days

      It was only last week that Comcast landed UK TV magnate Sky. Now, the Walt Disney Company has agreed to permit 21st Century Fox to sell its stake in Sky -- 39 percent -- to Comcast for roughly $15 billion.

      As ConsumerAffairs readers know, this mega-media wedding dance has been long and fraught with partnership proposals.

      In the end, the bidding war for Sky came down to a fight-to-the-finish between Comcast and Fox. In Fox’s corner, the company had been angling to acquire the remainder of Sky, while Comcast was maneuvering the purchase of Fox. Eventually, Comcast gave up hope on its bid for Fox and redirected all its energies on acquiring Sky.

      "Along with the net proceeds from the divestiture of the RSNs (regional sports networks), the sale of Fox's Sky holdings will substantially reduce the cost of our overall acquisition and allow us to aggressively invest in building and creating high-quality content for our direct-to-consumer platforms to meet the growing demands of viewers," said Robert A. Iger, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, The Walt Disney Company, in a statement.

      Comcast says ‘bring it!’

      Comcast comes into this deal loaded for bear. Over the last 10 years, the company’s stake in news and journalism has become significant.

      It increased its investment in news production by 40 percent with more than $1 billion spent on news production in the last year alone. Its cable footprint covers 39 states and 29 million subscribers. And its content team has a very deep bench including NBC, Telemundo, NBC News, CNBC, MSNBC, NBC Sports, USA Network, E!, Bravo, and Syfy.

      Having Sky on its squad makes Comcast a geographic double threat, allowing it to extend its reach into another 20 million homes in United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Italy and Spain, plus rights for 18 different professional sports from horse racing to soccer. It also lines the company’s pockets with nearly $17 billion in annual revenue.

      Goodbye bundle?

      The great cable channel bundle may have seen better days. It’s a new day, thanks in part to over-the-top media services (OTT) -- content providers that distribute streaming media as a standalone product directly to viewers over the Internet, bypassing traditional means like TV as a distributor of such content -- and broadcasters want their toes in as many content streams as possible.

      Channel bundling was a cable TV darling for nearly 30 years, but cable providers are seeing subscribers drop like flies.

      The reckoning is now officially here. Broadcasting companies know full well that they need to grow their content assortment and widen their global reach to compete with nouveau riche rivals like Netflix -- or sell.

      “You’ve got high prices, big bundles, and broadband,” said Warren Schlichting, group president of Sling TV in comments to Bloomberg News. “At some stage, the consumer is going to revolt.”

      It was only last week that Comcast landed UK TV magnate Sky. Now, the Walt Disney Company has agreed to permit 21st Century Fox to sell its stake in Sky --...
      Read lessRead more

      McDonald's removes artificial preservatives from its burgers

      Artificial flavors and colors have also been banished

      McDonald's says hamburgers served in its U.S. restaurants will not use any artificial preservatives, artificial flavors, or colors. The only exception is the pickle, which customers can skip if they prefer.

      The fast food chain says it's part of its "food journey" and affects all 14,000 U.S. locations. The change affects the McDonald's hamburger, cheeseburger, double cheeseburger, McDouble, Quarter Pounder with Cheese, Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese, and Big Mac.

      “From switching to 100% fresh beef in our quarter-pound burgers, cooked right when ordered, to removing artificial preservatives in our Chicken McNuggets, and committing to cage-free eggs by 2025, we have made significant strides in evolving the quality of our food,” said Chris Kempczinski, McDonald’s USA President.

      “We know quality choices are important to our customers, and this latest positive change to our classic burgers demonstrates our committed journey to leading with the customer and building a better McDonald’s," Kempczinski added.

      It's part of a trend driven by younger consumers, who are often more particular than their older peers about what they eat. Competitors like Panera and Chipotle Mexican Grill, even though they cost more, are valued, in part, for their natural ingredients.

      So far, about two-thirds of McDonald's burgers and sandwiches are free of artificial additives, with the exception of the artificially-preserved pickle. The company said it has removed artificial preservatives from its cheese, Big Mac special sauce, and the hamburger, Quarter Pounder, and Big Mac buns.

      Feeling good about food

      “We understand that now more than ever, people care about their food – where it comes from, what goes into it and how it is prepared – and we are committed to make changes to our menu our guests feel good about,” said Linda VanGosen, McDonald’s vice president of Menu Innovation.

      The move comes as the fast food chain has undergone something of a makeover. It has begun to renovate restaurants and install ordering kiosks that customers may use to avoid standing in line.

      Once ordering, the customer can pay at the kiosk, take a number and have a seat. When it's ready, the food is brought to the table. In most fast food restaurants, the customers stand near the counter waiting for their order to be prepared.

      In August, McDonald's announced it would spend $6 billion to upgrade most of its U.S. restaurants to include the ordering kiosks and take on a more modern look, in keeping with its McCafe branding.

      McDonald's says hamburgers served in its U.S. restaurants will not use any artificial preservatives, artificial flavors, or colors. The only exception is t...
      Read lessRead more

      Amazon makes investment in prefabricated housing startup

      The e-commerce giant has invested in Plant Prefab, a company known for sustainable construction and smart home technology

      On Tuesday, Amazon announced that it made its first investment in Plant Prefab, a startup that creates and builds prefabricated single- and multifamily homes using sustainable materials. 

      On its website, Plant Prefab claims it can build homes faster and with less waste than traditional construction methods.

      To date, the Rialto, California-based firm -- which raised $6.7 million in funding from Amazon’s Alexa Fund and Obvious Ventures -- has installed 26 units in California and Utah and undertaken a multifamily project in Berkeley.

      Paul Bernard, director of the Alexa Fund, said in a statement that Amazon is “thrilled to support” Plant Prefab because the company makes “connected homes more accessible to customers and developers.”

      Using automation

      Plant Prefab is aiming to speed up the process of building a house, as well as drive down costs for consumers, through the use of automation, according to the company’s founder and CEO Steve Glenn.

      “In the housing-crunched major cities like Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, along with areas like Silicon Valley, it takes too much time to build a home from groundbreaking to occupancy, and labor shortages, construction delays and increased construction costs are exacerbating this trend even further -- and making homes increasingly less affordable,” Glenn said in a statement.

      “Building homes in factories addresses these challenges, particularly as we’re able integrate online technology, new building systems, and automation to dramatically reduce the time and cost necessary to design and build high-quality, custom homes.”

      Possibility of integrating Alexa

      Alexa now powers 20,000 voice-activated, smart-home devices made by 3,500 different companies, Bernard noted. Investing in a homebuilding startup could be a way for Amazon to integrate Alexa in the construction of smart homes.

      Earlier this year, Lennar -- the nation’s largest homebuilder -- announced that it had reached a deal with Amazon to pre-install Alexa in all of its new homes.

      “This will be the hallmark of why we buy a new home,” said David Kaiserman, president of Lennar Ventures, said in a statement announcing the partnership. “It’s an important step in the mass adoption of all these technologies.”

      Amazon’s investment in Plant Prefab comes less than a week after it unveiled more than a dozen Alexa-powered smart home devices, including a voice-operated microwave oven and an amplifier that can be controlled by the Alexa voice assistant.

      On Tuesday, Amazon announced that it made its first investment in Plant Prefab, a start-up that creates and builds prefabricated single- and multifamily ho...
      Read lessRead more

      Consumer confidence hits an 18-year high

      Low unemployment and accelerating growth fuels optimism

      Consumers have had a pretty good summer, if the Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index is to be believed. After a big jump in August, the index -- a gauge of how consumers feel about economic issues -- has reached an 18-year high.

      To be precise, the last time consumers felt this good about the economy and their present situation was just before the dot-com crash of 2000. This month the index reached 138.4, up from 134.7 in August.

      “After a considerable improvement in August, consumer confidence increased further in September and hovers at an 18-year high,” said Lynn Franco, Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. “The September reading is not far from the all-time high of 144.7 reached in 2000.”

      Optimistic about the future

      Consumers appear happy with the current conditions, bolstered by a strong economy and robust job growth. The Expectations Index, which measures optimism for the future, surged in September, suggesting consumers expect the positive economic trends to continue.

      "These historically high confidence levels should continue to support healthy consumer spending, and should be welcome news for retailers as they begin gearing up for the holiday season," Franco said.

      What's notable is consumer optimism about the short-term outlook took a leap forward in September, despite growing concerns about trade tensions, brought on by escalating tariffs by the U.S. and its trading partners.

      Strong business outlook

      The percentage of consumers anticipating business conditions will improve over the next six months increased from 24.4 percent to 27.6 percent this month, while those expecting business conditions will worsen declined, from 9.9 percent to 8.0 percent.

      People looking for jobs were also more optimistic. The percentage of consumers expecting more jobs in the months ahead increased from 21.5 percent to 22.5 percent, while those anticipating fewer jobs decreased from 13.2 percent to 11.0 percent.

      Consumers have had a pretty good summer, if the Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index is to be believed. After a big jump in August, the index -- a...
      Read lessRead more

      Honda recalls model year 2017 Acura NSX vehicles

      The center brake light may not function properly

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 793 model year 2017 Acura NSX vehicles.

      Road vibrations may cause the metal screws that secure the printed circuit board for the high mounted center brake light to loosen and contact the circuitry, possibly resulting in the brake light fuse blowing and the brake lights not functioning.

      Brake lights that do not work increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will replace the center high mount brake light, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin November 6, 2018.

      Owners may contact Acura client relations at 1-844-682-2872. Honda's number for this recall is B2B.

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 793 model year 2017 Acura NSX vehicles.Road vibrations may cause the metal screws that secure the printed circuit...
      Read lessRead more

      Global what? The world may be burning, but there’s never been a better time to drill

      ​Production is through the roof. Offshore drilling could make a comeback. And anti-pipeline protesters risk felony charges.

      During the country’s fourth-hottest summer on record, a group of activists headed to the Atchafalaya swamp in Louisiana. They chained themselves to excavators and constructed “sky pod” tents among the trees, part of an attempt to stall construction on yet another crude oil pipeline underway in the United States.

      Energy sources of the future are “not going to be oil,” activist and organizer Cherri Foytlin said by phone in July, making time for an interview before she had to bail some protesters out of jail in New Orleans.

      “Very clearly, we can see that one of the fastest growing industries in the world is renewable energy,” she added, sounding optimistic despite the legacy of influence stacked in the pipeline operator’s favor.

      As weather grows more extreme, over half of Americans and even major oil companies that do business here now say they think that man-made climate change is a real problem that needs to be fixed.

      "We believe climate change is real," Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurden told National Public Radio last year. Shell, like other oil corporations, has made some high-profile investments in renewable energy and is vowing to “prevent a very significant rise in global temperatures.”

      That oil companies want to solve the global warming crisis is a nice message, but it’s not one in line with reality. Across the United States, the fossil fuel industry appears to be betting on a future that is increasingly dependent on oil and gas, regardless of any climate concerns that could get in the way.

      A banner year

      For the fossil fuel industry, 2018 was a year worth celebrating when it came to business in the United States, or in their words, the “year of American Energy.”

      Crude oil production last January reached 10 million barrels a day, shattering a record previously set in 1970. By next year, analysts predict that number will reach 11 million barrels.

      “This would push the U.S. into first place among the world's oil producers,” industry engineer and investor Robert Rapier said in March.

      Natural gas production is on a similar track, estimated to reach record production levels of 81.3 billion feet per day this year. The industry is now eyeing talent in Silicon Valley to help them digitize their land records.

      Going high-tech will create “marginally more profitability at the corporate level,” Kate Richard, the president of Warwick Energy Group, a firm with investments in 5,000 wells across Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Wyoming, tells ConsumerAffairs. “We should be able to be more efficient and make money go further.”

      Meanwhile, offshore drilling is poised for a recovery of its own, thanks to a Trump proposal to overturn the offshore drilling ban enacted in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. According to investor Matthew DiLallo, “recovery in the offshore drilling sector is right around the corner.”

      The news is overwhelmingly positive, as long as industry firms ignore the depressing field of climate research.

      “We are doing worse,” says Henrik Jeppesen, an analyst with Carbon Tracker, a financial think-tank that urges shareholders and investors to consider the threat of climate change. Jeppesen, who heads Carbon Tracker's efforts in North America, compares the fossil fuel industry to a drug dealer that is all-too-happy to feed society’s addiction to oil.

      “As long as oil and gas production and output continue to increase, it is very hard to argue that there will be any decline in emissions, because a barrel of oil and gas eventually will turn into an emission at some point,” he tells ConsumerAffairs.

      An unbalanced system

      No single advocacy group or agency is calculating the entire country’s carbon footprint, but advocacy groups currently track different pieces of the puzzle.

      When the federal government invited even more oil and gas companies to drill on public land in Wyoming in 2014, conservationists hoping to stop the rampant development in a state known for picturesque frontiers knew they needed to act quickly. So they sent a fax.

      The federal government “is approving record numbers of large oil and gas development projects in Wyoming,” said the fax from the WildEarth Guardians, one of half a dozen conservation groups that protested the sale.

      The Wilderness Society, another conservation group, had similar concerns, but a technical problem somewhere along the way delayed the message. Two months later, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sent them a letter saying that their protest fax had arrived 12 minutes late and could not be counted.

      Oil and gas leases on federal land have rapidly picked up in recent years, according to conservation groups that track federal mineral leases. But protesters who want to fight the development must deal with the indignity of a fax machine or post office; the BLM refuses to accept protests via email.

      "It's a really unbalanced system. When the industry wants to nominate parcels for lease they can do it online in a click of a button,” says Juli Slivka, a policy analyst with The Wilderness Society, which tracks oil and gas leases on federal land.

      Since Trump took office, the BLM has since opened up millions more acres for drilling -- while cutting the time available to protesters down by a third. The agency still refuses to accept email from people filing complaints.

      Other battles pitting environmental groups against the federal government tell a similar story of a bureaucracy that miraculously acts quickly when it is in service of the industry. In 2012, the Corps of Engineers introduced a fast-track permitting process for new oil and gas pipelines, allowing projects to be approved at a rate unlike any environmentalists said they had ever seen.

      Emissions worsening

      Companies like Shell have put natural gas at the front and center of their sustainability initiatives. They say that its “clean-burning” properties are a key tool in the fight against global warming. But years of research suggest that methane, a potent greenhouse gas and a component of natural gas, leaks throughout the drilling process, essentially undoing any climate benefits the domestic fracking boom responsible may have brought.

      In June, a study led by the Environmental Defense Fund said that natural gas operators are leaking methane at rates 60 percent higher than current EPA estimates. The leaks occur across the process, from drilling to transmission, according to the research. 

      The industry remains unconvinced.

      On drilling sites, methane leaks are “not a concern that we hear people talk about very much,” says Kate Richard, the president of the investment firm Warwick Energy Group.

      Indeed, the industry doesn’t have much reason for concern. The Trump administration this month announced a new proposal to roll back what methane emission regulations did exist and save the oil and gas industry $75 million in the process. Natural gas companies celebrated the move.

      "By fixing the numerous technical problems with the original rule, EPA will enable industry to continue its four-decade success record of reducing methane emissions,” industry firm Western Energy Alliance's President Kathleen Sgamma told InsideClimate News.

      Meanwhile, back in Louisiana, lawmakers recently enacted a new state law that makes trespassing on pipeline construction sites a felony, part of a nationwide trend intended to tamper environmental protests.

      The law had only been in effect in the state since August 1. But by mid-September, the environmental activists organizing and camping out estimated that at least ten pipeline protesters had been arrested under the measure.

      A separate group of opponents is battling pipeline operator Energy Transfer Partners in court. However, because the litigation isn’t stopping construction, the protesters are acting as human placeholders.

      Whether they will face felony charges for doing so remains an open question. "I hope to God no more felonies," Foytlin said. "But if there is, then they will be righteous ones."

      During the country’s fourth-hottest summer on record, a group of activists headed to the Atchafalaya swamp in Louisiana. They chained themselves to excavat...
      Read lessRead more

      Missouri files motion in duck boat case

      State seeks to block Ripley Entertainment action to move suit to federal court

      Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley has filed a motion opposing a move by Ripley Entertainment and Branson Duck Vehicles to move the suit against them from state to federal court.

      The two companies are defendants in the state's lawsuit in connection with the tragic sinking of a duck boat in Branson, Missouri in July that claimed 17 lives. Hawley responded to a motion by the defendants to dismiss the case in state court and move it to federal court.

      In his motion, Hawley contends the Taney County Circuit Court is the proper venue to hear the case and argued the companies' actions were designed to “hamper and delay the state’s enforcement action” as well as “thwart judicial review of their actions and evade any court order that would bar them from resuming the operation of their deadly enterprise.”

      Charged with violating state consumer laws

      The two companies face charges of violating Missouri's Merchandising Practices Act, the state's primary consumer protection law. Hawley previously filed a motion to bar the companies from operating duck boats in Missouri. He also cited what he said were numerous safety violations in the accident.

      The duck boat sank when it encountered a storm with high winds, producing large waves on the lake. The boat took on water and sank before many of the occupants could get off.

      In the aftermath of the accident, a St. Louis-based private vehicle inspector said he warned the company there were design flaws in the amphibious vehicles that increased their danger of sinking.

      In a 2017 report, Steve Paul of Test Drive Technologies warned the craft's engines and pumps could be prone to failure in rough seas. Normally, the duck boats are operated on calm lakes.

      Harsh language

      In unusually harsh language, Hawley's motion accuses the defendants of "misleading statements, fraudulent concealment, and unfair trade practices in connection with commercial operations." Because the Coast Guard has no regulatory authority over the companies, Hawley says state consumer laws apply.

      “Protecting Missouri consumers is hugely important to this office,” Hawley said. “This tragedy should not have happened—and we must do all that we can to ensure it cannot happen again.”

      The defendants have called Hawley's lawsuit against them "irresponsible." Ripley Entertainment issued a statement in response to the attorney general's motion, saying it was disappointed by Hawley's "inflammatory language.

      Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley has filed a motion opposing a move by Ripley Entertainment and Branson Duck Vehicles to move the suit against them fr...
      Read lessRead more

      New study shows air pollution might be linked to increased dementia risk

      Participants who lived in areas with higher nitrogen oxide levels were 40 percent more likely to be diagnosed with dementia

      A team of London-based researchers recently published a study looking at the effects air pollution has on developing dementia. In the study -- entitled “Are noise and air pollution related to the incidence of dementia? A cohort study in London, England” and published in the British Medical Journal -- the researchers evaluated data from 130,978 adults aged 50-79 in 2004 to see if areas of heavy traffic and noise pollution affect dementia diagnoses.

      According to the research, dementia is the leading cause of death in England and Wales, accounting for 12 percent of registered deaths. Based on the study, the group found a correlation between air pollution across residential London and dementia diagnoses.

      The researchers deemed the relationship to be “unexplained by known confounding factors.”

      The study

      Prior to the study, air pollution was found to be a known cause of respiratory problems, as well as heart disease and stroke. However, the effect it had on cognitive diseases, like dementia, was a previously under researched area.

      The research team looked at anonymous health records from the Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD), which has been collecting data from general practices across London for over 30 years.

      At the start of the study, the participants had not been diagnosed with dementia. Though each participant’s health was monitored for roughly seven years, their removal from the survey was contingent on one of the following:

      • Willing removal from the study

      • Dementia diagnosis

      • Death

      Additionally, the researchers only looked at patients that went to doctors with addresses near the M25 motorway in London. In choosing this specific location, the scientists were able to narrow down just how much exposure to air pollution these participants had, as well as how close they were to high traffic areas. Specifically, the researchers looked at how nitrogen dioxide, fine particulate matter, and ozone affected each of the participants.

      Limitations

      Physicians have yet to pinpoint the exact cause of dementia, and the researchers pointed out in their study that many factors are at play in the final diagnosis.

      Moreover, the observational nature of the study could make the researchers’ findings only applicable to the area in which the study took place. The findings are also limited strictly to the patients observed in this study, thus making the long-term effects -- as well as the overall impact of air pollution on dementia -- still unknown.

      The findings

      Overall, the researchers found that their observational findings lined up with other leading factors of dementia -- namely diabetes and smoking.

      Throughout the course of the study, 2,181 patients (1.7 percent) were diagnosed with dementia.

      However, patients’ location played a rather significant role in their diagnoses. Compared with those who lived in areas in the bottom fifth of nitrogen oxide levels, those who lived in areas with the top fifth of nitrogen oxide levels were 40 percent more likely to be diagnosed with dementia. The results were similar in areas with high levels of fine particulate matter.

      A team of London-based researchers recently published a study looking at the effects air pollution has on developing dementia. In the study -- entitled “Ar...
      Read lessRead more

      Sears CEO floats last ditch effort to keep company alive

      The retailer is told it needs to raise cash and restructure debt

      Sears CEO Eddie Lampert is hopeful the struggling retailer can somehow raise some cash to keep the company's turnaround efforts alive.

      Lampert, who is also the company's largest shareholder, has proposed that Sears Holdings sell additional assets and restructure its debt. In a public filing ESL, Lampert's hedge fund, said the retailer "must act immediately to have sufficient runway to continue its transformation," suggesting the company is running short on time.

      "We continue to believe that it is in the best interests of all stakeholders to accomplish this as a going concern, rather than alternatives that would substantially reduce, if not completely eliminate, value for stakeholders," ESL said.

      Company is considering it

      The Sears Holdings board of directors has acknowledged receiving the proposal, confirming it regards liability management and some real estate transactions as a possible course of action.

      "The Board has directed the company's management and its legal and financial advisors to work closely with ESL, its advisors and the company's other stakeholders to seek to pursue liability management transactions of the nature described in the proposal, subject to advice of the company's legal and financial advisors and approval of any final transaction by the Related Party Transactions Subcommittee of the Board and the full Board," the company said in a statement.

      Lampert's hedge fund underscores the serious nature of the retailer's problem. It warns the company is running out of cash and faces a $134 million payment due October 15 and reserve requirements on October 1.

      The proposal from ESL suggests Sears Holdings sell $3.22 billion in assets, including $1.47 billion in real estate. Part of the deal includes ESL buying the real estate if it hasn't sold after 12 months.

      'No assurances'

      Sears' board said it would consider the proposal but added, "There can be no assurance that any transaction will be consummated or on what terms any transaction may occur."

      The company has closed dozens of stores so far this year and has more targeted for closing by November. However, the emerging consensus on Wall Street is that it won't be enough to stop the flow of red ink.

      Sears Holdings stock fell nearly 9 percent Monday and investment site Seeking Alpha reiterated its sell rating, concluding, "We do not expect the company to be able to emerge from the current situation characterized by: comparable sales decline, unsustainably high operating expenses, and high debt levels."

      Sears CEO Eddie Lampert is hopeful the struggling retailer can somehow raise some cash to keep the company's turnaround efforts alive.Lampert, who is a...
      Read lessRead more

      Nissan recalls model year 2019 INFINITI QX50s

      The passenger-side knee air bag cover may detach during deployment

      Nissan North America is recalling 1,671 model year 2019 INFINITI QX50s.

      In the event of a crash in very cold temperatures, the trim cover may separate unexpectedly from the passenger-side knee air bag module instead of splitting at the trim cover tear seam as designed.

      If the passenger-side knee air bag cover detaches during deployment, the risk of injury can increase.

      What to do

      INFINITI will notify owners, and retailers will replace the passenger-side knee air bag module, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin October 22, 2018.

      Owners may contact INFINITI customer service at 1-800-662-6200.

      Nissan North America is recalling 1,671 model year 2019 INFINITI QX50s.In the event of a crash in very cold temperatures, the trim cover may separate u...
      Read lessRead more

      Junior's Smokehouse Processing Plant recalls beef jerky

      The product may be contaminated with pieces of hard metal

      Junior’s Smokehouse Processing Plant of El Campo, Texas, is recalling approximately 690 pounds of ready-to-eat teriyaki beef jerky.

      The product may be contaminated with extraneous materials -- specifically pieces of hard metal.

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

      The following ready-to-eat teriyaki beef jerky item, produced on August 9, 2018, is being recalled:

      • 4 oz. plastic pouches of “BUC-EE’S HILL COUNTRY BRAND TERIYAKI BEEF JERKY, MADE IN TEXAS FROM SOLID STRIPS OF BEEF, READY TO EAT,” labeled with BEST BY 08-09-2019, and a lot code of 220-272.

      The recalled product, bearing establishment number “EST. 48213” inside the USDA mark of inspection, was shipped to retail locations in Texas.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions about the may contact Scott Chambers at (979) 533-3544.

      Junior’s Smokehouse Processing Plant of El Campo, Texas, is recalling approximately 690 pounds of ready-to-eat teriyaki beef jerky.The product may be c...
      Read lessRead more

      Ticketmaster caught partnering with scalpers, hiding tickets from fans

      Scrutiny of a Bruno Mars show and an undercover investigation appear to show how scalpers and Ticketmaster profit at the expense of fans

      Concert and sporting event tickets could become even more expensive if Ticketmaster gets its way.

      The ticketing behemoth has been accused of using its near-monopoly on the market to form a profitable relationship with scalpers, according to a new report by The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Toronto Star.

      Because Ticketmaster also operates a ticket reselling service, going into business with scalpers allows Ticketmaster to collect numerous, hefty fees on the same ticket.

      Undercover journalists posing as scalpers attended a ticketing industry conference this summer in Las Vegas, where Ticketmaster employees approached them with an odd business opportunity: an invitation to game Ticketmaster’s site without worrying about getting caught.

      Accused of encouraging scalpers

      According to the journalists, Ticketmaster salespeople assured scalpers at the event that they wouldn’t get caught for using bots, false identifies or other tricks to hog ticket sales.  

      "It's not something that we look at or report,” a Ticketmaster representative is quoted as saying.

      It’s not a secret that Ticketmaster has been able to aggressively inflate the cost of concert tickets thanks to its 2010 merger with concert promoter Live Nation and a notorious fee-based model. Some government research suggests that Ticketmaster and Live Nation fees inflate the price of concert tickets by as much as 27 percent.

      Music fans may love to hate Ticketmaster, but they often have no choice but to pay its fees if they want to see a show at one of the hundreds of venues across the country operated by Live Nation.

      Artificially creating higher demand

      Fees now only appear to be telling part of the story behind Ticketmaster’s success.

      An analysis of a Bruno Mars concert in Canada by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation also suggests that Ticketmaster arbitrarily keeps hundreds of seats unavailable and raises prices hours or days after they initially go on sale, part of an attempt to artificially create higher demand.

      As for scalping, it’s not a secret that Ticketmaster has ties to the industry. Ticketmaster for years has operated a resale service of its own in an attempt to compete with firms like StubHub.

      But consumers who buy resold tickets through Ticketmaster may not realize how much higher the fees will be.

      On one ticket, ”Ticketmaster collected $25.75 on a $209.50 ticket on the initial sale,” the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation says. “When the owner posted it for resale for $400 on Ticketmaster, the company stood to collect an additional $76 on the same ticket.”

      In a statement responding to the new reports, Ticketmaster distanced itself from the ticketing business altogether. Taking a page out of the sharing economy playbook, Ticketmaster instead characterized itself as a simple online service that connects people.

      “Ticketmaster is a technology platform that helps artists and teams connect with their fans. We do not own the ticket sold on our platform nor do we have any control over ticket pricing,” the company said.

      Concert and sporting event tickets could become even more expensive if Ticketmaster gets its way. The ticketing behemoth is using its near-monopoly on...
      Read lessRead more

      Government will set airline seat standards

      FAA told to set minimum standards for width of seats and legroom

      Congressional conferees have agreed upon a measure funding the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and it contains a few perks for air travelers.

      The measure funding the agency for the next five years requires the FAA to set minimum standards for the width of seats and for legroom. Currently, airlines can make the configuration of the aircraft cabin as cramped as they like, as long as they meet safety standards.

      The measure would also prohibit airlines from involuntarily bumping passengers after they have already boarded a plane. The bill is a compromise between House and Senate versions of the legislation but still must be passed by both houses of Congress.

      Consumer advocates wanted the legislation to also bar airlines from imposing "unreasonable" fees but that didn't make it into the compromise version.

      Victory for consumers

      The provision requiring the FAA to regulate seat size and leg room is a major victory for consumers, and one that is somewhat unexpected. Back in July, the consumer group Flyer's Rights held out little hope it would be included in the FAA reauthorization bill.

      “We call it torture class,” Paul Hudson, FlyersRights.org’s president, recently told The Telegraph of London. “It has been going on for the last 10 to 15 years, seats have been getting smaller as people get larger. Our view is they have been shrinking seats to get more passengers on a plane to get more revenue. They are also trying to make it so uncomfortable that people will upgrade and pay far higher fares.”

      In fact, the FAA had previously declined to tell airlines how large the seats had to be and how much legroom they should give passengers. Congress, however, appears to be forcing their hand.

      Despite the apparent benefits for consumers in the legislation, the airline industry appears to be happy with it. The trade group Airlines for America urged lawmakers to quickly pass the compromise reauthorization bill, noting it contains a lot of money to support commercial aviation.

      Support from industry

      "The long-term reauthorization is essential for the FAA to advance projects and implement programs that advance our country's status as the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world," said Airlines for America CEO Nicholas Calio.

      He said the bill will give employers, manufacturers, and consumers the certainty required to keep building and investing in the U.S. aviation industry.

      Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said he expects Congressional passage of the bill before FAA funding expires September 30.

      Congressional conferees have agreed upon a measure funding the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and it contains a few perks for air travelers.The...
      Read lessRead more

      Facebook Dating makes its debut

      Privacy concerns won’t go away, but Facebook is doing everything it can to get ahead of any potential issues with the new app

      Facebook has officially entered the dating world, albeit only in Colombia for the time being.

      With one out of every three people dating online and a $1.3 billion online dating market, Facebook -- or any platform for that matter -- would have a tough time not taking advantage of the opportunity.

      That, of course, raises the question: does Facebook want to be all things to all people?

      It may well.

      The social media platform may be drooling over the prospect of gaining more face time with Millennials who reportedly spend more than 10 hours a week using dating apps, not to mention getting back the ex-pats who left when Facebook’s privacy issues reared their ugly head earlier this year.

      The company tries to straddle the fence between benefit for its users and benefit for its bottom line by pointing to research that says social media leads to social change. With scrutiny regarding privacy following Facebook everywhere it goes, a venture into online dating just adds more questionable breadcrumbs on that privacy path.

      Facebook users are hesitant at best. More than half of Facebook users ages 18+ admit they’ve adjusted their privacy settings in the past year, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.

      “Facebook is pretty safe I think, but will a dating app make it sleazy?,” wrote one poster. Another chimed in with, “I am not entirely sure what I expect from this. Only good things… right?”

      How Facebook’s dating app will function

      Inside Facebook’s walls, its employees have purportedly been testing “Facebook Dating” for months. More like e-Harmony and Match.com, but less like Tinder, Facebook Dating is a simple I-like-you-and-you-like-me recipe, but with a couple of added flourishes.

      For one, Facebook dating will allow users to create a separate “dating” profile. For another, the social media kingpin says the mobile version would offer a way for people attending events to make their profile visible in hopes of making a real-time connection.

      If there’s any question that a Facebook dating app raises, it’s how to thwart stalking. Facebook is reportedly testing a dating feature in Colombia designed to curb the stalking element.

      According to reports, the app’s developers have built in mechanisms that require users to tie messages to a piece of content which should cut down on trollers who have nothing more to offer than a cute pickup line, plus the added safety net that keeps users from following others who don’t respond in kind.

      Facebook has officially entered the dating world, albeit only in Colombia for the time being.With one out of every three people dating online and a $1....
      Read lessRead more

      Used car sales are up, but so are sales of luxury models

      Edmunds report shows luxury car sales make up nearly 12 percent of the market

      Rising prices for new cars, and the depreciation hit consumers take when they drive off the lot, are sending more car shoppers to the used car lot.

      The Wall Street Journal reports demand for used cars was unusually heavy over the summer and cites industry analysts who expect that demand to remain strong for the rest of 2018.

      With the average transaction price now around $35,000 for a new vehicle, consumers find they can save about $15,000 by purchasing a three year-old model with low mileage.

      But not everyone is settling for a used car. Automotive publisher Edmunds reports sales of luxury cars may set a record this year.

      Luxury SUVs in demand

      Edmunds says 1.3 million new luxury vehicles were sold through August, making up 11.4 percent of all new vehicle sales. Edmunds credits an expanding lineup of SUVs for fueling the growth. Sales of luxury SUVs accounted for 62 percent of all luxury vehicle sales.

      "Luxury SUVs are a winning strategy all around right now," said Jeremy Acevedo, manager of industry analysis at Edmunds. "Car buyers are willing to consider an SUV in pretty much any form they can get them, and the premium price tags SUVs command make for nice profit engines for automakers."

      But Edmunds analysts also say since all new cars are getting more expensive, it's blurring the line between mainstream and luxury models. The price gap between the two has narrowed from 58 percent to 48 percent in the last 10 years.

      The Edmunds research found consumers who purchase a Jaguar, Porsche, BMW, or Audi usually only consider buying a luxury car. Lincoln, Volvo and Acura shoppers are most likely to consider a mainstream brand as well.

      According to Kelley Blue Book (KBB), the average transaction price for a luxury compact SUV in August was $45,139. But the average cost of a full-size luxury SUV was nearly double, at $87,112.

      Rising prices for new cars, and the depreciation hit consumers take when they drive off the lot, are sending more car shoppers to the used car lot.The...
      Read lessRead more

      New FDA report finds first evidence of ESBL-producing E. coli in U.S. meat

      The researchers tested against 14 antimicrobials and nine beta-lactam agents

      As resistance to antibiotics continues to be a popular topic among scientists and researchers, Daniel Tadesse of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) worked with his colleagues from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the FDA, and Texas Tech University to publish the article “Whole Genome Sequence Analysis of CTX-M Containing Escherichia coli Isolates from Retail Meats and Cattle in the United States.”

      Published in Microbial Drug Resistance -- a peer-reviewed journal by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. publishers -- the researchers’ findings are on the cutting-edge of new findings regarding E. coli in retail meat in the United States.

      “This interesting and well-documented paper by Daniel Tadesse and colleagues provides convincing and alarming evidence of the ‘arrival’ to the dining room table of meat products contaminated by multidrug resistant E. coli,” said Editor-in-Chief Alexander Tomasz, PhD (The Rockefeller University) in a press release. “This paper brings ‘home’ the seriousness of the issue of antimicrobial drug resistance.”

      The study and findings

      The group tested extended spectrum beta lactamase (ESBL) producing E. coli from cattle for food production and retail meat products using whole genome sequencing and antimicrobial sequencing. The National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) was responsible for collecting the ESBL E. coli isolates, which came from ground beef, pork chops, chicken breast, and ground turkey.

      ESBLs are enzymes produced by certain types of bacteria that break down the active ingredients in antibiotics, making them ineffective. While there are currently over 200 ESBLs, the first reported infection involving ESBLs didn’t occur until 1960, so researchers are still learning more about them.

      According to the researchers’ report, since then, the number of infections because of ESBL-resistant bacteria -- including salmonella and E. coli -- has increased exponentially and has become a worldwide issue. Based on reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these bacteria have caused approximately 26,000 infections and 1,700 deaths every year.

      In this study, the researchers tested the ESBLs against 14 antimicrobials and nine beta-lactam agents, and concluded that they all resisted at least three antimicrobials.

      The researchers also found that the meat samples carried CTX-M type ESBL genes. This particular enzyme has been responsible for many patient hospitalizations, and has grown in its commonality across the world. Additionally, the presence of these genes in meat samples could be an indication of even more infections to come.

      Recent E. coli outbreaks

      Considering the recent E. coli outbreaks, the new research findings come at a very opportune time.

      Earlier this month, Publix Super Markets recalled ground beef products made from chuck after finding they were contaminated with E. coli O26. The majority of cases were in Florida and occurred mainly between July 5-25, 2018.

      Back in May, an E. coli outbreak in romaine lettuce affected people in 29 states. Health officials began warning consumers in April when a federal investigation out of a Yuma, Arizona farm that had grown lettuce linked to food poisoning in a prison in Alaska.

      By mid-May, the CDC reported a total of 172 cases of E. coli because of the bad romaine. Seventy-five people were hospitalized because of the infection, and one person died. At the time, the CDC said the number of hospitalizations for E. coli were higher than usual with this particular outbreak.

      As resistance to antibiotics continues to be a popular topic among scientists and researchers, Daniel Tadesse of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wor...
      Read lessRead more

      New tariffs on China take effect today

      $200 billion in Chinese imports will likely cost more

      The latest round of escalating tariffs on Chinese imports took effect today, meaning thousands of products may cost more.

      The Trump administration placed a 10 percent duty on $200 billion in Chinese imports as it tries to obtain trade concessions from the U.S. trading partner. But in nearly every case, the added cost will be passed along to U.S. consumers who purchase the products.

      There are more than 5,700 items on the tariff list. It includes many food products, including seafood. Trout, Pacific salmon, Atlantic and Danube salmon, halibut, sole, and yellowfish tuna are just a few of the seafood items that will cost 10 percent more when purchased in the U.S.

      Some items could make U.S.-produced products more expensive. For example, printed circuit boards are on the tariff list. In 2017, the U.S. imported close to $12 billion worth.

      Pricier computers

      Other computer parts are also the subject of the new tariff. Last year the U.S. spent $3.15 billion on them.

      The U.S. also imports a lot of finished electronic goods from China and many are included in the tariff. For example, desktop computers will carry the 10 percent tariff. The U.S. imported nearly $4.5 billion in desktop computers last year.

      Metal and wooden furniture from China will also cost more, thanks to the tariff. Last year the U.S. imported around $3 billion in wooden furniture and almost $4 billion in metal furniture.

      In a tweet, Trade News Centre reported a number of Apple products, produced in China, are also covered under the new round of tariffs. On the list are the Apple Pencil, mice, trackpads, iPhone case, iPod Hi-Fi, and iPad Smart Case. The iPhone is not subject to the tariff.

      Consumers likely to pay

      Earlier this month, Apple warned that U.S. tariffs could increase the price to consumers of many Apple products, including Airpods and the Apple Watch. Business Insider reports Walmart executives have sent a letter to the U.S. Trade Representative, warning that the escalating tariffs will raise prices for U.S. consumers.

      The latest round of tariffs may have been imposed to bring China to the negotiating table but so far, it isn't working. China today imposed its own tariffs on U.S. imports, and The Wall Street Journal reports Chinese officials have cancelled a meeting to discuss a resumption of trade talks.

      The latest round of escalating tariffs on Chinese imports took effect today, meaning thousands of products may cost more.The Trump administration place...
      Read lessRead more

      New study finds emissions from most European diesel cars greatly exceed testing levels

      ​The issue goes beyond just Volkswagen

      A new MIT study that was recently published in Atmospheric Environment found that 10 major auto manufacturers, aside from Volkswagen, produced diesel cars that create more emissions -- up to 16 times more -- on the road than in the laboratory setting.

      The study focused on vehicles manufactured between 2000 and 2015, and though the emissions levels exceed European limits, they are technically legal under EU law.

      Steven Barrett, the Raymond L. Bisplinghoff Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT, was the lead researcher on the study, and he and his fellow researchers focused on the emission of nitrogen oxides -- which is produced in diesel exhaust.

      “Initially, manufacturers were able to genuinely meet regulations, but more recently it seems they’ve almost tweaked knobs to meet the regulations on paper, even if in reality that’s not reproduced on the road,” Barrett said in a press release. “And that’s not been illegal in Europe.”

      Study details

      The researchers at MIT were focused on the health effects these emissions might have on the public in the future. They found that not only can these emissions affect residents in neighboring countries, but they could potentially cause 2,700 premature deaths across Europe every year.

      From there, the group researched the top ten diesel car manufacturers across Europe whose emissions levels for both in-lab and on-road testing were available. The study looks at: Toyota, Hyundai, Fiat, Ford, General Motors, Volkswagen, Daimler, Peugeot-Citroën, BMW, and Renault.

      Using emissions data from each manufacturer in both lab testing and on-road tests, the researchers calculated the exact amount of excess emissions each automaker’s diesel models produced. Then, looking at the total number of cars sold between 2000 and 2015 in each EU country, the group was able to calculate each specific model’s excess emissions.

      Lastly, to accurately gauge the health risk on future populations, the researchers analyzed epidemiological work of four major groups: adults with lung cancer, ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and stroke.

      Based on the nitrogen oxide emissions, nearly 2,700 in the affected areas will lose at least 10 years off their lives.

      “The solution is to eliminate [nitrogen oxide] all together,” Barrett added. “We know there are human health impacts right down to pre-industrial levels, so there’s no safe level. At this point in time, it’s not that we have to go back to [gasoline]. It’s more that electrification is the answer, and ultimately we do have to have zero emissions in cities.”

      Volkswagen scandal

      This MIT study sheds light on the recent Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal, which has been ongoing for nearly three years now.

      In September 2015, Volkswagen admitted to equipping over 11 million of its diesel vehicles with illegal software to cheat the U.S. emissions tests. Not only has Volkswagen lost billions of dollars along the way, but several top executives have since been indicted.

      To settle the U.S. Justice Department’s criminal and civil charges, the automaker paid out $4.3 billion. The company also paid $1.5 billion in separate civil resolutions, as well as a $2.8 billion criminal penalty.

      The scandal continues to rock the company, as late last month an independent auditor complained he wasn’t getting enough information out of VW. Larry Thompson was appointed by the Justice Department to monitor the carmaker’s efforts to comply with the settlement charges and said that the company was relying too heavily on privacy and attorney/client privilege to withhold any information.

      Most recently, former CEO Martin Winterkorn was accused of being too slow in initially addressing the cheating scandal. Judge Christian Jaede reported that Winterkorn was aware of the breadth of the scandal -- as well as the timing of it -- and dragged his feet on the issue.

      A new MIT study that was recently published in Atmospheric Environment found that 10 major auto manufacturers, aside from Volkswagen, produced diesel cars...
      Read lessRead more

      Twitter bug may have exposed some users’ direct messages

      The company says it found a bug that may have caused private messages to be shared with unauthorized developers

      On Friday, Twitter revealed that it recently discovered a bug that may have caused some users’ direct messages and private tweets to be sent to unauthorized third-party developers.

      The company said the bug has been in effect since May 2017 and was patched only recently. It affected less than 1 percent of users on the platform, which works out to around three million of the site’s 336 million monthly active users.

      Twitter said it found the bug in its Account Activity API, which gives registered developers the ability to build tools to help businesses communicate with customers on Twitter.

      “If you interacted with an account or business on Twitter that relied on a developer using the AAAPI to provide their services, the bug may have caused some of these interactions to be unintentionally sent to another registered developer,” Twitter said in a blog post.

      Affected users will be contacted

      The company tweeted that although it hasn’t found any instance where data was sent to the incorrect party, it can’t rule out the possibility that some users’ may have had their messages accidentally sent to the wrong recipient.

      Direct Messages that could have been exposed were between users and companies that use Twitter for customer service interactions, Twitter said.

      “In some cases this may have included certain Direct Messages or protected Tweets, for example a Direct Message with an airline that had authorized an AAAPI developer,” Twitter said. “Similarly, if your business authorized a developer using the AAAPI to access your account, the bug may have impacted your activity data in error.

      The microblogging platform added that people who were potentially affected by the bug will be contacted directly through an in-app notice and on Twitter’s site.

      Twitter said it has contacted its developer partners to make sure they delete any information they received in error.

      “Our investigation is ongoing. We will continue to provide updates with any relevant information,” Twitter said, adding that it’s “very sorry this happened.”

      Back in May, Twitter disclosed that it had found a glitch that caused user passwords to be stored in plain text. At the time, it advised all of its users to change their passwords.

      On Friday, Twitter revealed that it recently discovered a bug that may have caused some users’ direct messages and private tweets to be sent to unauthorize...
      Read lessRead more

      Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations recalls Firestone and Bridgestone tires

      The tires' steel cords may be exposed

      Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations (BATO) is recalling 2,707 Firestone FS818 tires with date codes 2318-2418, Bridgestone M854 tires with date codes 2418-2518, Bridgestone M860A tires with date code 2518, and Bridgestone M864 tires with date codes 2318-2418, all of size 425/65R22.5.

      The sidewall steel body cords may be exposed, which can cause unexpected rapid air loss during use, increasing the risk of a crash..

      What to do

      BATO will notify owners, and replace the tires with a comparable replacement, free of charge.

      The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact BATO customer service at 1-800-847-3272.

      Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations (BATO) is recalling 2,707 Firestone FS818 tires with date codes 2318-2418, Bridgestone M854 tires with date codes 2418...
      Read lessRead more

      The new iPhones are out. What do you do with your old one?

      Patience may prove a virtue if you’re willing to wait a few months

      Apple paraded out its new iPhone models on Friday. As the clock struck 8am local time around the world, the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and Apple Watch Series 4 went on sale.

      Buying -- and keeping up with -- technology has turned into a pricey game. When Apple released its first iPhone in 2007, the price was $499 for the 4 GB model and $599 for the 8 GB model. Now, customers are looking at nearly double that price if they want to buy the new iPhone XS with 64 GB.

      Granted, the improvements Apple has made -- like fixes for the microphone and battery issues -- along with the bells and whistles it’s added over the years, make keeping up with the Joneses alluring. But, what about that older model iPhone you have? Does it have enough value to trade it in or sell it on the open market?

      It depends.

      ConsumerAffairs researched the values a consumer could expect to get from selling or trading in their old iPhones. If you trade your phone in directly to Apple, the values run from $70 for an iPhone 6 to $525 for the most recent iPhone X.

      But it’s worth doing some shopping, as other online tech buyers might offer more. When ConsumerAffairs checked prices for that same iPhone 6 on certain exchange sites, we found better prices than those that Apple offered, but lower values than Apple was allowing for factory unlocked iPhone 7 models.

      For consumers who are Apple diehards and wouldn’t give an Android phone the time of day, Apple has a program called the “iPhone Upgrade Program” which allows consumers to get a new iPhone every year with AppleCare+ included for as little as $37.41 a month.

      Patience may be a virtue

      MacWorld cautions against buying an iPhone the moment a new model is launched.

      “You might be happy to wait a month or two after the launch and wait for supply to catch up with demand, and for any problems with the new phones to be identified and (hopefully) fixed,” wrote MacWorld’s Karen Haslam.

      “We'd say that it's worth buying a new iPhone within nine months of it launching, but by June/July we'd recommend putting off your purchase until the autumn - unless your current iPhone is broken and won't tide you over for three or four more months. It is our experience that after the event the prices of the current-generation iPhones will drop. And if you're really not bothered about specs, you might be able to pick up an even older iPhone that Apple has discontinued as mobile phone companies discount those models to clear stock.”

      Haslam also reminds consumers that Apple no doubt has a Black Friday promotion up their sleeve. While Apple might not drop prices on its phones, it’s possible the company may offer an additional gift card.

      Thought about repurposing your old phone?

      If you’re insulted by the prices companies are offering for older model smartphones, there are dozens of ways to turn them into something useful.

      If you have Wi-Fi handy, phones can be repurposed into TV remotes, dedicated Skype stations, baby monitors, or even digital cookbooks.

      “In general, it’s a good idea to keep an old smartphone as a backup in case your shiny new model breaks for any reason,” suggests BensBargains, “but you can certainly reuse it elsewhere in your life at the same time.”

      Don’t forget the possible tax deduction

      For consumers who are small business owners or use their phones for business purposes, buying a new phone might provide a tax deduction.

      However, buyers should be aware of a caveat involved in pursuing that option.

      “If people have used their phones for a business and have written off the cost on their taxes, they may be surprised to learn that the trade-in value is now considered taxable income,” wrote Morris Armstrong, an Enrolled Agent licensed by the IRS and tax practitioner, in comments to ConsumerAffairs.

      “If a consumer bought an iPhone for $1,000 and took that amount as a tax deduction, then trades it in against a new model for, say, $400, that $400 is taxable income!”

      Apple paraded out its new iPhone models on Friday. As the clock struck 8am local time around the world, the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and Apple Watch Serie...
      Read lessRead more

      The Weekly Hack: Japanese cryptocurrency exchange loses nearly $60 million worth of coins

      Equifax is facing fines from UK regulators

      A major cryptocurrency exchange in Japan is missing 5,966 Bitcoins after an apparent hacking attack. The theft is equal to roughly $59 million and included $19.6 million worth of coins that belonged to clients, the exchange Zaif confirmed this week in a statement through Tech Bureau Corp, the firm that owns the exchange.

      The firm, in response, said it is selling its shares in Zaif to make up for the lost money. Japan is home to the largest cryptocurrency exchanges in the world. The exchanges are registered through regulators there, but even so, the markets still appear unprepared to handle the numerous security risks of trading virtual coins.

      Newegg

      Anyone who purchased computer parts or other electronics from online retail giant Newegg between August 14 and September 18 should check their credit card statements, according to outside researchers.

      Two security firms found evidence of a code-based credit card skimmer used on Newegg consumers. The researchers said the hackers were likely the same group behind recent attacks on Ticketmaster and British Airways customers.

      However, Newegg has yet to confirm whether or not a breach occurred.

      Equifax is fined

      The credit firm that dropped the ball on online security and unintentionally exposed half of the United States to hackers is now facing fines -- but not here. Regulators in the United Kingdom said this week that Equifax "failed to take appropriate steps" to protect UK consumers. The fine totals £500,000.

      Last year, in the midst of hacking investigations, Equifax initially said that only “limited information” from “certain UK and Canadian residents” was compromised. When pressed, Equifax clarified that 400,000 UK residents were affected by the data breach. The number was then revised to 700,000 residents, and then, finally, 14.5 million records.

      Even so, Equifax maintained that it wasn’t misleading the public with its varying estimates, claiming that the 14 million records accessed in the UK weren’t sensitive enough to affect as many consumers.

      "This information does not change the number of consumers affected or any of the UK figures/statements already provided,” Equifax insisted. Call it Equi-logic.

      A major cryptocurrency exchange in Japan is missing 5,966 Bitcoins after an apparent hacking attack. The theft is equal to roughly $59 million and included...
      Read lessRead more

      Wells Fargo cutting its workforce

      The bank may eliminate up to 26,000 jobs

      Wells Fargo is trimming its ranks as it adapts to the new banking environment in which consumers are performing many traditional banking services for themselves with digital tools.

      The bank has announced plans to reduce its workforce by up to 10 percent in the next three years, eliminating as many as 26,000 jobs. The force reduction will be achieved through layoffs and attrition.

      Company CEO Tim Sloan said the move is designed to making the bank more “customer-focused,” streamlined, and in a better position to achieve long-term success.

      “We are continuing to transform Wells Fargo to deliver what customers want – including innovative, customer-friendly products and services – and evolving our business model to meet those needs in a more streamlined and efficient manner,” Sloan said

      Keeping up with customer preferences

      The CEO said Wells Fargo is simply keeping up with customer preferences, including the demand for more digital self-service capabilities, a trend that is growing throughout the banking industry. Mobile banking tools, allowing customers to deposit checks using their phones, is reducing the need for physical locations, as well as people to staff them.

      Wells Fargo is only two years removed from a major scandal that resulted in the firing of 5,000 employees and the early retirement of its CEO. In 2016 the bank revealed that employees had opened millions of checking and credit card accounts in customers' names without their knowledge.

      That was followed by revelations the bank had sold auto loan customers insurance coverage they didn't need and had wrongly foreclosed on as many as 400 homeowners. The bank has paid well over $3 billion in fines and settlements since 2016. It has also had to fend off a number of class-action lawsuits.

      Two years of progress

      Sloan says the bank has made progress over the last two years to improve customer service and efficiency. These efforts have been reflected in its recent advertising campaign, noting the company has a long history but effectively became a new bank, with a new commitment to customers, in 2018.

      “We are addressing past issues, enhancing our focus on customers, strengthening risk management and controls, simplifying our organization, and improving the team member experience – all in the spirit of building a better Wells Fargo for our customers,” Sloan said.

      Wells Fargo is trimming its ranks as it adapts to the new banking environment in which consumers are performing many traditional banking services for thems...
      Read lessRead more

      Tesla Model 3 receives five-star overall safety rating from NHTSA

      The car earned top marks for front and side impact protection, as well as rollover prevention

      Tesla’s entry-level Model 3 electric sedan has received a five-star crash test safety rating across the board from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

      The rear-wheel drive version of the vehicle earned the agency’s highest rating following several tests. In the first, it was launched against a fixed barrier to simulate a head-on collision at 35 mph. The car successfully protected the front occupants.

      Its side impact protection was tested by way of simulation where it was thrown against a side barrier at 38 mph. The vehicle held up well and was able to protect the front and rear occupants. For the last test, the NHTSA rolled the vehicle over and was again impressed.

      Some of the car’s driver assistance features -- such as forward collision warning, lane departure warning, crash imminent braking, and dynamic brake support -- also tested well, although they were not used during the crash tests.

      In response to the news of the vehicle’s perfect score, CEO Elon Musk tweeted, “@NHTSAgov will post final safety probability stats soon. Model 3 has a shot at being safest car ever tested.”

      Autopilot not evaluated

      While the vehicle fared well in performance tests, the agency didn’t evaluate the automaker’s controversial Autopilot feature.

      The feature, which has been involved in several high-profile crashes, has elicited criticism from consumer groups who argue that Tesla markets the feature in a way that oversells the technology and misleads consumers.

      The NHTSA is still investigating whether Autopilot was to blame for a crash that occurred in May where the driver broke her ankle.

      The agency previously determined that Autopilot was not to blame for a crash that resulted in the death of Joshua Brown, which occurred in July of 2016. However, the National Transportation Safety Board disagreed, arguing that Tesla had not considered the “human element” of its technology.

      Tesla’s previous cars have also earned perfect ratings from the federal agency. In 2017, the Model X SUV received five stars in all categories and subcategories. Back in 2013, the automaker’s Model S earned a rating of 5.4 stars.

      The NHTSA is one of two main institutions that administer crash test ratings in the US. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which is typically more stringent, hasn’t yet published its crash test safety results for the vehicle.

      Tesla’s entry-level Model 3 electric sedan has received a five-star crash test safety rating across the board from the National Highway Traffic Safety Admi...
      Read lessRead more

      Consumers who wear contacts warned of eye infection that can cause blindness

      Researchers say the number of cases has tripled since 2011

      Researchers at University College London and Moorfields Eye Hospital have found that an outbreak of a preventable eye infection common in contact lens wearers -- Acanthamoeba keratitis -- can lead to blindness.

      The researchers’ findings were published today in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, and while anyone can contract the infection, contact lens wearers were found to be at a higher risk. This could be because of poor contact lens upkeep, use of the wrong contact lens solution, or the contact lenses coming in contact with water.

      Acanthamoeba is a microorganism that creates cysts, thus causing the cornea to swell, hurt, and become infected. Long term, the infection can require a cornea replacement to either bring back vision or treat the infection. Those with more serious cases can lose their eyesight completely, which the researchers found happens to a quarter of those affected.

      “This infection is still quite rare, usually affecting 2.5 in 100,000 contact lens users per year in South East England, but is largely preventable,” said the study’s lead author, Professor John Dart, in a press release. “This increase in cases highlights the need for contact lens users to be aware of the risks.”

      “It is absolutely imperative that regulators and those working in the optical sector take the findings seriously, and use the recommendations to take immediate and urgent action on prevention,” said Irene Ekkeshis, a member of the Acanthamoeba Keratitis patient support group in the U.K. “Contact lenses are medical devices and should be supplied with warnings regarding safe use.”

      The study

      Moorfields Eye Hospital was where the researchers focused the study, looking at cases of the infection at the hospital from 1985 through 2016. While there were only eight to 10 cases per year in the early 2000s, that increased dramatically in the last few years to 36-65 cases. Because of high levels of Acanthamoeba found in the water in the United Kingdom, the infection seems to be more prevalent there than in other countries.

      The researchers simultaneously conducted a study focused strictly on contact lens wearers -- 63 with the infection and 213 without -- from 2011-2014. Based on responses to a questionnaire, the researchers found that a number of common habits of contact lens wearers made them three times as likely to contract the infection. Some of the practices included:

      • Showering and face washing while wearing contact lenses

      • Going in pools or hot tubs with contact lenses

      • Not washing/drying hands before putting in or taking out contact lenses

      • Overall poor lens hygiene

      The researchers concluded that not one single risk factor was responsible for this recent outbreak.

      “We now need to share this information as widely as possible with clinicians, contact lens practitioners, and contact lens wearers, a strategy that has proved effective in the past in decreasing the incidence and burden of this severe eye-infection,” said the study’s co-author Dr. Nicole Carnt in the press release.

      Researchers at University College London and Moorfields Eye Hospital have found that an outbreak of a preventable eye infection common in contact lens wear...
      Read lessRead more

      Study finds withdrawal from junk food as painful as drug withdrawal

      But if you can make it through the first week, you should be fine

      The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America's Health recently reported that the adult obesity problem in the U.S. is getting worse. A new study from the University of Michigan may explain why.

      Researchers studied the withdrawal symptoms people go through when they have been consuming large quantities of junk food on a regular basis, then suddenly stop or taper off. The withdrawal, they discovered, is very much like what drug addicts experience.

      Erica Schulte, the study's lead author, says there isn't a lot of research on the topic. She says previous studies have focused on sugar withdrawal among animals. The literature regarding humans, she says, is based only on anecdotal evidence.

      In the study, participants were asked to report what happened to them when they reduced or eliminated highly processed foods. They reported sadness, irritability, fatigue, and cravings that peaked during the first week after they quit eating junk food.

      Good news

      There is good news for consumers who want to kick the Twinkie habit – if you can make it through the first week, it gets a lot better. Nearly all participants who experienced withdrawal symptoms said they began to taper off within five days. That's actually very similar to the timeframe for drug withdrawal symptoms, the study found.

      The addictive qualities of junk food may partially explain why it seems to be so difficult to reduce obesity in the U.S. The annual obesity study, released last week, found that seven states had adult obesity rates of 35 percent or greater in 2017, up from five states the year before.

      Obesity levels vary widely from state to state, with a low of 22.6 percent in Colorado and a high of 38.1 percent in West Virginia.

      The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America's Health recently reported that the adult obesity problem in the U.S. is getting worse. A new stud...
      Read lessRead more

      New brain imaging technique may help doctors more accurately diagnose Alzheimer's

      Researchers are optimistic about the future of the technique

      Researchers from the Clinical Memory Research Unit at Lund University in Sweden recently published an article detailing a new brain imaging technique that would help doctors diagnose Alzheimer’s more accurately.

      In the study, the researchers focused on the spread of two Alzheimer’s-linked proteins throughout the brain -- beta-amyloid and tau. While beta-amyloid can start spreading years before the patient starts showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s, the presence of tau on a brain scan is an indicator that the disease is much further along.

      “It is when tau begins to spread that the neurons start dying and the patient experiences the first problems with the disease,” senior researcher Rik Ossenkoppele said in a press release. “If we scan a patient with memory difficulties and he or she proves to have a lot of tau in the brain, we know with a high degree of certainty that it is a case of Alzheimer’s.”

      The study shows significant promise for the future of Alzheimer’s research. With the right diagnosis, patients can be put on the right track regarding a medication and diet regimen -- two things that have been linked to improved cognitive function for those living with Alzheimer’s.

      The study

      The researchers conducted an international study with over 700 participants, and found their method to be successful in correctly diagnosing Alzheimer’s in 90-95 percent of all cases.

      “The method works very well,” researcher Oskar Hansson said in the press release. “I believe it will be applied clinically all over the world in only a few years.”

      Using a PET scan to determine the level of tau in each patient, the researchers were able to get the most clear and precise image. According to Hansson, the patients received an IV of the tau marker and the PET scan did the rest.

      “If the patient has tau in certain parts of the brain, the marker will detect it,” Hansson said. “The result -- whether Alzheimer tau is present or not -- is very clearly visible on the PET images.”

      The new test proved to be more successful than traditional treatments that are currently used to diagnose Alzheimer’s. Because of the overlap between Alzheimer’s symptoms and those of other conditions, getting an accurate diagnosis can be difficult. The researchers’ tau test showed its effectiveness -- beating out the often used beta-amyloid-PET scan and MRI scans.

      The full study has been published in Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

      Researchers from the Clinical Memory Research Unit at Lund University in Sweden recently published an article detailing a new brain imaging technique that...
      Read lessRead more

      AT&T asks court to uphold original approval of Time Warner merger

      Attorneys for AT&T say the government’s arguments against the merger are ‘both narrow and fragile’

      On Thursday, AT&T asked a federal appeals court to reject a challenge from the Department of Justice (DOJ) appealing its $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner.

      The Justice Department previously argued that the merger would allow AT&T to raise prices and would give the telecom giant an advantage over other distributors.

      On June 12, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ruled that the government failed to prove its case that the merger would not be in the public interest. In its Thursday filling, AT&T said the government “has no plausible basis” to challenge Leon’s ruling.

      AT&T argued that the appeal of the decision was based on “narrow and fragile” claims. It said its acquisition of Time Warner was never shown in court to be harmful to competitors or to consumers.

      Justice Department lobbied to block the merger

      Earlier this summer, the DOJ announced it would appeal the AT&T-Time Warner merger on the grounds that Judge Leon didn't understand how the merger could affect competition and lead to higher prices for customers. The Department said the ruling in favor of AT&T ignored "mainstream economics."

      But AT&T said the Justice Department was unable to demonstrate that the lower court judge who greenlit the merger made a “clear error” when he rejected the government’s case that the acquisition would Increase wholesale prices for distributors and retail rates for consumers.

      “We were pleased to respond to the government’s opening brief and look forward to oral argument,” said David McAtee, AT&T general counsel in a statement.

      "DOJ had to prove, with facts, that the theory fits the relevant industry setting and that proper application of the theory demonstrates a likelihood of substantial competitive harm. DOJ failed in both respects.”

      On Thursday, AT&T; asked a federal appeals court to reject a challenge from the Department of Justice (DOJ) appealing its $85 billion acquisition of Time W...
      Read lessRead more

      Gas prices remarkably stable over the last week

      But the average pump price is still 25 cents higher than 12 months ago

      The average price of gasoline hardly budged over the last seven days according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey.

      Though drivers in some states have seen price fluctuations of three to four cents a gallon, the national average price of regular is $2.85 a gallon, right where it was last Friday.

      The average price of premium gas is the same as last week, $3.37 a gallon. Diesel prices have also remained steady at $3.18.

      The Carolinas saw no spike in gasoline prices as devastation from Hurricane Florence hampered the movement of fuel supplies. Most stations were well-supplied before the storm hit.

      Supply and demand balance

      Oil prices hit $80 a barrel this week but it hasn't affected gasoline prices, at least not yet. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports gasoline demand fell sharply last week, to 9.53 million barrels a day.

      The lower demand was one factor keeping prices stable over the last week since there was less gasoline available. Gasoline stockpiles declined by 1.7 million barrels, according to the EIA. AAA says that suggests supply and demand are in sync, which should keep prices stable into the fall.

      “That balance may tip as more gas stations begin to sell cheaper-to-produce winter blend gasoline – leading the nation’s motorists to likely see pump prices drop in the coming weeks,” AAA said in its latest update.

      The states with the most expensive regular gas

      The following states currently have the most expensive regular gas prices on average, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey.

      • Hawaii ($3.77)
      • California ($3.63)
      • Washington ($3.38)
      • Alaska ($3.33)
      • Oregon ($3.25)
      • Idaho ($3.20)
      • Nevada ($3.20)
      • Utah ($3.11)
      • Pennsylvania ($3.06)
      • Connecticut ($3.03)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

      These states currently have the lowest prices for regular gas, the survey found.

      • Alabama ($2.52)
      • Mississippi ($2.53)
      • Louisiana ($2.57)
      • Arkansas ($2.58)
      • Tennessee ($2.58)
      • South Carolina ($2.58)
      • Texas ($2.59)
      • Missouri ($2.60)
      • Virginia ($2.60)
      • Oklahoma ($2.67)
      The average price of gasoline hardly budged over the last seven days according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey.Though drivers in some states have seen pri...
      Read lessRead more

      Cargill Meat Solutions recalls ground beef

      The products may be contaminated with E. coli O26

      Cargill Meat Solutions of Fort Morgan, Colo., is recalling approximately 132,606 pounds of ground beef.

      The products, made from the chuck portion of the carcass, may be contaminated with Escherichia coli O26.

      An epidemiological investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and state public health and agriculture partners have identified 17 illnesses and one death with illness onset dates ranging from July 5 – 25, 2018.

      The following items, produced and packaged on June 21, 2018, are being recalled:

      • 3-lb. chubs of “OUR CERTIFIED 73/27 FINE GRIND GROUND BEEF” with a USE OR FREEZE BY JUL/11/18 and case code 00228749057646.
      • 3-lb. chubs of “OUR CERTIFIED 73/27 FINE GRIND GROUND BEEF” with a USE OR FREEZE BY JUL/11/18 and case code 00228749002653.
      • 10-lb. chubs of “EXCEL 73/27 FINE GRIND GROUND BEEF” with a Use/Frz. By Jul 11 and case code 00228749089098.
      • 10-lb. chubs of “EXCEL 73/27 FINE GRIND GROUND BEEF” with a Use/Frz. By Jul 11 and case code 90028749002751.
      • 10-lb. chubs of “EXCEL 81/19 FINE GRIND GROUND BEEF” with a Use/Frz. By Jul 11 and case code 90028749003536.
      • 10-lb. chubs of “EXCEL GROUND BEEF 81/19 FINE GRIND” with a Use/Frz. By Jul 11 and case code 00228749003568.
      • 10-lb. chubs of “EXCEL CHUCK GROUND BEEF 81/19 FINE GRIND” with a Use/Frz. By Jul 11 and case code 90028749402773.
      • 20-lb. chubs of “EXCEL 81/19 FINE GRIND GROUND BEEF COMBO” with a Use/Frz. By Jul 11 and case code 90028749073935.
      • 10-lb. chubs of “Sterling Silver CHUCK GROUND BEEF 81/19 FINE GRIND” with a Use/Frz. By Jul 11 and case code 00228749702416.
      • 10-lb. chubs of “CERTIFIED ANGUS BEEF CHUCK GROUND BEEF 81/19 FINE GRIND” with a Use/Frz. By Jul 11 and case code 90028749802405.
      • 10-lb. chubs of “CERTIFIED ANGUS BEEF CHUCK GROUND BEEF 81/19 FINE GRIND” with a Use/Frz. By Jul 11 with case code 00228749802413.
      • 10-lb. chubs of “Fire River Farms CLASSIC GROUND BEEF 81/19 FINE GRIND” with a USE/FREEZE BY: 07/11/2018 with case code 90734730297241.

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 86R” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to retail 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 regarding the recall may call (844) 419-1574.

      Cargill Meat Solutions of Fort Morgan, Colo., is recalling approximately 132,606 pounds of ground beef.The products, made from the chuck portion of the...
      Read lessRead more

      Light exercise reduces severity of stroke in seniors, study finds

      New research suggests physically active people can weather a stroke better than inactive people

      Findings from a new study of more than 900 stroke survivors appear to show that people who engage in regular, low-intensity exercise tend to have milder strokes than people who are physically inactive before a stroke.

      Older adults who participated in light to moderate physical activity were twice as likely as sedentary people to have a mild stroke rather than a severe one. In the study, “light activity” was defined as walking at least four hours a week.

      “There is a growing body of evidence that physical activity may have a protective effect on the brain and our research adds to that evidence,” said lead author Katharina S. Sunnerhagen.

      Study details

      For the study, researchers looked at 925 adults of an average age of 73 who were treated for a stroke at the same hospital. The patients were later asked about their exercise habits prior to the stroke.

      Nearly half of post-stroke seniors (48 percent) said they had been active before the stroke.

      Of 384 patients who engaged in light physical activity, 85 percent (or 330 people) had a mild stroke. By contrast, 73 percent of inactive people were likely to have a mild stroke.

      “Stroke is a major cause of serious disability, so finding ways to prevent stroke or reduce the disability caused by stroke are important,” said Sunnerhagen. “While exercise benefits health in many ways, our research suggests that even simply getting in a small amount of physical activity each week may have a big impact later by possibly reducing the severity of a stroke.”

      Light exercise beneficial

      A limitation of the study was that participants were asked to self-report their level of physical activity before the stroke. The authors said there is a possibility that some patients could have trouble accurately remembering their activity habits since memory can be affected by a stroke.

      “Further research is needed to better understand just how physical activity influences the severity of a stroke,” Sunnerhagen said.

      Still, the authors say there is a large and growing body of research showing that even light exercise can have a range of benefits to the body and brain.

      In an accompanying editorial, Nicole Spartano, a research assistant professor of medicine at Boston University, explained that exercise could make people more resilient to strokes, which occur when the brain’s blood supply is lessened.  

      "Physical activity has a favorable effect on vascular risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus, obesity, lipid profile, and psychosocial factors, each known to affect stroke risk. A growing body of literature also suggests that even among individuals who have stroke, those who led a physically active lifestyle tended to have less severe strokes,” Spartano said.

      “Furthermore, experimental research in animal models supports the value of exercise before and after stroke as a modifier of post-stroke outcome,” she said.

      The study has been published online in the journal Neurology.

      Findings from a new study of more than 900 stroke survivors appear to show that people who engage in regular, low-intensity exercise two to three hours a w...
      Read lessRead more

      Lyft adds ‘Nearby Transit’ feature to its app

      The feature helps guide riders to public transit

      As part of an effort to give riders more options when it comes to first- or last-mile transportation, Lyft has added a new feature called “Nearby Transit” to its mobile app.

      The ride-hailing company has partnered with transit information platform Trafi for the new feature, which is initially only available to customers in Santa Monica, California. Passengers who use the feature can choose between different combinations of Lyft rides and nearby public transit options like buses, scooters, or subways.

      “Building on the launch of Lyft Scooters in Santa Monica this week, it’s another step toward providing effective, equitable, and sustainable transportation to our communities, and towards creating a more seamless and connected transportation network,” the company said in a blog post.

      Shows riders additional transit options

      Lyft cited research showing that nearly a quarter of Lyft passengers (21 percent) already use public transit more frequently because they can count on Lyft to get them through the first or last mile of their trip, when there often isn’t a transit option immediately available.

      “We consistently strive to increase that percentage,” the company said.

      In addition to its partnership with Trafi, Lyft announced that it hired Lilly Shoup to serve as senior director of transportation policy. Shoup will help further the company’s goal of becoming a multi-modal operation and "continue to bring transportation planning and policy best practices to the forefront of Lyft's strategic efforts," Lyft said in a release.

      Showing passengers additional transit options and launching scooters are both key to Lyft’s goal of taking 1 million cars off the road the by end of 2019. In a recent post on Medium, Lyft co-founder John Zimmer said that 250,000 Lyft community members gave up their personal cars in 2017.

      The company announced earlier this year that it has invested millions of dollars in carbon offset programs intended to help it achieve its goal of becoming a completely carbon neutral operation.

      As part of an effort to give riders more options when it comes to first- or last-mile transportation, Lyft has added a new feature called “Nearby Transit”...
      Read lessRead more

      Consumers face another rising cost: interest rates

      After years of being cheap, the cost of money is going up

      Just as consumers are finally increasing their incomes, they face another rising cost. Just about every type of consumer loan is getting more expensive.

      This week, the yield on the Treasury Department's 10-year bond rose above three percent and appears poised to keep climbing. Even if you don't have money invested in bonds, it could affect you if you're buying a home or refinancing.

      That's because mortgage rates are tied to the 10-year note. When its yield goes up, so do mortgage rates. The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) reports the 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate averaged 4.88 percent last week, the highest since 2011.

      That's still low by historical standards, but since the financial crisis a decade ago, mortgage rates have bounced between 3 percent and 4 percent. When the mortgage rate is 5 percent or more -- a normal rate during the housing boom -- consumers face a higher monthly payment for the same house they could have purchased with a 3 percent mortgage.

      Fed keeps hiking

      Unfortunately, that's not the only loan that's becoming more costly. The Federal Reserve continues on its path of gradually raising the federal funds rate -- the rate it charges member banks. Those increases get passed along to consumers who carry a credit card balance.

      The average credit card rate is already at a record high and will go up each time the Fed hikes rates. The credit bureau TransUnion estimates that affects about 92 million consumers who carry credit card balances and will create a financial hardship for 9 million of them.

      Higher car payments

      Auto loans are also influenced by the federal funds rate, as are just about all loans consumers get from a bank. With the Fed's tightening policy, the monthly payment on new and used cars will get more expensive.

      What's it mean for consumers? If you've begun shopping for a house, you might have to lower the price range in which you're looking. If you're selling a home, you might need to be flexible on the price. If you're thinking about buying a new car, it might pay to consider a late model used car.

      And interest rates are likely to move higher before they go down again. The Fed meets next week and is expected to hike its key interest rate for the third time this year.

      Just as consumers are finally increasing their incomes, they face another rising cost. Just about every type of consumer loan is getting more expensive....
      Read lessRead more

      Amazon may open 3,000 cashierless stores by 2021

      The company is reportedly considering expanding its footprint of physical stores

      In the next three years, Amazon could open thousands more cashierless Amazon Go stores, according to a report from Bloomberg.

      The online retailer currently has two of its automated grocery stores in Seattle, where the company is headquartered. Earlier this week, the company opened another location in Chicago. Amazon is also planning to open one in New York.

      Sources with knowledge of the matter told Bloomberg the e-commerce giant is considering opening as many as 3,000 locations by 2021. Launching this many grab-and-go stores would put Amazon in competition with the likes of leading convenience stores such as 7-Eleven, Walgreens, and CVS.

      No lines, no checkouts

      Amazon’s cashier-free stores allow shoppers to move through aisles picking up items such as ready-made snacks, lunches, drinks, frozen dinners, and basic groceries. When shoppers are ready to leave, they can simply walk out without having to wait in a checkout line or pay a cashier.

      The company is able to fulfill its “no lines, no checkouts, no registers” promise by relying on sensors and cameras placed throughout the store. These allow Amazon to track what customers take out of the store and charge customers’ credit cards accordingly.

      Amazon is reportedly planning to have about 10 of its Go stores open by the end of this year and about 50 locations in major metro areas by 2019, according to the report.

      However, the cost of setting up these physical stores is said to be a major hurdle in the company’s aggressive expansion plans. The first Amazon Go in downtown Seattle required more than $1 million in hardware to build.

      Launching thousands of additional locations would help Amazon expand its physical store footprint. The company already has more than more than 350 Whole Foods stores across the country.

      In June, Amazon agreed to buy online drugstore PillPack, which could also help it become a larger force in the pharmacy and healthcare sector.

      In the next three years, Amazon could open thousands more cashierless Amazon Go stores, according to a report from Bloomberg.The online retailer curren...
      Read lessRead more

      Model year 2018 Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX vehicles recalled

      The doors may open in the event of a crash

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 503 model year 2018 Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX vehicles.

      These vehicles' door striker bolts may be shorter than intended, potentially resulting in the doors opening in the event of a crash and increasing risk of injury.

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will replace the door striker bolts, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin October 15, 2018.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 18C06.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 503 model year 2018 Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX vehicles.These vehicles' door striker bolts may be shorter than intended,...
      Read lessRead more

      Future Seafoods recalls Malpeque brand Oysters

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Future Seafoods is recalling Malpeque brand Oysters which may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses are reported in association with the consumption of the recalled product.

      The following product, sold in Quebec and possibly in other provinces or territories, is being recalled:

      Brand

      Product

      Size

      UPC

      Codes

      Future Seafoods Inc. Malpeque Oysters

      Oysters – Std.

      25 count

      None

      Harvest/process date: 09/10/18

      Harvest location: PE9B

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact Future Seafoods at (902) 887-3012.

      Future Seafoods is recalling Malpeque brand Oysters which may be contaminated with Salmonella.No illnesses are reported in association with the consump...
      Read lessRead more

      Belleisle Farms brand cole slaw recalled

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Belleisle Foods is recalling Belleisle Farms brand Cole Slaw.

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      There have been no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of this product.

      The following product, sold in the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Newfoundland & Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, is being recalled:

      Brand NameCommon NameSizeCode(s) on ProductUPC
      Belleisle FarmsCole Slaw227 g18SE250 33383 65260 3

      What to do

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

      Belleisle Foods is recalling Belleisle Farms brand Cole Slaw.The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.There have been no reporte...
      Read lessRead more

      Nissan recalls Muranos, Maximas, Pathfinders and Infiniti QX60s

      Brake fluid may leak onto an internal circuit board

      Nissan North America is recalling 215, 124 model year 2015-2017 Nissan Muranos, model year 2016-2017 Nissan Maximas, model year 2017-2018 Nissan Pathfinders, and model year 2017 Infiniti QX60s.

      The Anti-Lock Brake (ABS) actuator pumps may allow brake fluid to leak onto an internal circuit board.

      When brake fluid has leaked onto the circuit board, the ABS warning lamp will remain illuminated for more than 10 seconds after engine start up.

      If this occurs, owners should park the vehicle outdoors away from other vehicles or structures and not drive it.

      A brake fluid leak on the circuit board may result in an electrical short, increasing the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the serial number on the ABS actuator, replacing it as necessary, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin October 15, 2018.

      Owners may contact Nissan customer service at 1-800-867-7669.

      Nissan North America is recalling 215, 124 model year 2015-2017 Nissan Muranos, model year 2016-2017 Nissan Maximas, model year 2017-2018 Nissan Pathfinder...
      Read lessRead more

      Sleep deprived drivers more likely to get into accidents, study finds

      Researchers say tired drivers are more likely to make mistakes on the road

      A new study conducted on behalf of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows how important it is to be fully rested before taking to the road.

      After examining car accident data, researchers say that drivers who have slept for fewer than seven of the past 24 hours were more likely to be involved in -- or responsible for -- an auto accident. They pointed out that the risk was greatest for drivers who had slept under four hours.

      The findings are a grim reminder in light of government data which shows that 16 percent of fatal auto accidents can be attributed to driver drowsiness.

      Higher risk of accidents, injuries, and death

      To come to their conclusions, the researchers analyzed data provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

      The information showed that drivers who had fewer than four hours of sleep were 15.1 times more likely to be responsible for a car crash. That compares to a factor of 2.9 times for consumers who received four hours of sleep, 1.9 times for those who got five hours of sleep, and 1.3 times for consumers who got six hours of sleep within the last 24 hours, respectively.

      Additionally, the researchers found that drivers who had been driving for three hours or longer without a break were at increased risk of a crash. The same was true for consumers who recently changed their sleep or work schedule.

      “Being awake isn’t the same as being alert. Falling asleep isn’t the only risk,” explains study author Brian Tefft. “Even if they manage to stay awake, sleep-deprived drivers are still at increased risk of making mistakes -- like failing to notice something important, or misjudging a gap in traffic -- which can have tragic consequences.”

      The full study has been published in the journal Sleep.

      A new study conducted on behalf of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows how important it is to be fully rested before taking to the road.After e...
      Read lessRead more

      Customer satisfaction with airports reaches an all-time high

      Self-service kiosks, security check-in improvements, and better food and drink is driving the upswing

      As satisfaction with airlines continues to grow, U.S. airports are also feeling the love. In a newly released J.D. Power airport satisfaction study, fliers gave the five areas studied -- check-in; food, beverage and retail; accessibility; terminal facilities; and baggage claim -- a big thumbs-up.

      All told, overall passenger satisfaction got a 12-point kiss from 2017’s study, garnering a score of 761 (on a 1,000-point scale).

      The winners were Las Vegas McCarran International Airport and Orlando International Airport, which tied for first place in passenger satisfaction among mega airports, followed by Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport and Denver International Airport.

      For other size-tiered airports, John Wayne Airport, Orange County, Dallas Love Field, Portland (Ore.) International Airport, Buffalo Niagara International Airport, Indianapolis International Airport, and Fort Myers/Southwest Florida International all won out as passenger favorites.

      Bringing up the rear in satisfaction were New York’s LaGuardia, Kahului Airport on Maui, and Newark Liberty. However, LaGuardia’s marks are likely to change once its renovation is completed.

      A long time coming

      "North America airports have been doing a tremendous job managing passenger volume, adding amenities, and keeping travelers moving despite some noteworthy challenges, but they will be put to the true test over the next few years," said Michael Taylor, Travel Practice Lead at J.D. Power.

      In comments to ConsumerAffairs, Skift’s Aviation Business Editor Brian Sumers echoed Taylor’s view.

      “For a long time, U.S. airports didn't have much money. They get the bulk of their money from airlines, who pay rent, and from customers, who buy things,” commented Sumers. “After the recession, fewer people were traveling, and airports lost some of their revenue stream. That started changing about seven years ago, as newly healthy airlines started adding more seats into the marketplace, and paying more money in rent. Many airports became flush with cash, and they started using it to fund customer-friendly renovations. A lot of those renovated terminals are finally opening.”

      What fliers like most

      Some of the key findings of the J.D. Power study include:

      • Outsmarting human nature: Despite the continued hand-wringing over paying extra for baggage, the airport experience with check-in/baggage check got the highest marks. J.D. Power reports that metric has been rising consistently since airports began implementing self-service kiosks and bag tagging which, in turn, lowered passenger frustration over waiting for someone else to facilitate that process.

      • Overall satisfaction reaches all-time high: Overall customer satisfaction is at an all-time high, mostly driven by a 17-point uptick in satisfaction with food, beverage and retail, and an 18-point increase in satisfaction with security check.

      • Better airport/TSA communication improves security check satisfaction: Thanks to  improved communication and cooperation between airport and TSA staff, passenger satisfaction with the security process saw an 18-point increase.

      “It's a good time to be hang out at a U.S. airport,” Sumers told ConsumerAffairs. “Many have renovated their terminals and have focused on adding customer-friendly enhancements like new restaurants, lounges, and more comfortable seating. The restaurants are more often local -- rather than national chains -- and they offer more healthy options than before.”

      It’s interesting to note that many of the airports passengers favorited are smoke-free. While smoking policies were in flux a year ago, the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation reports as of April 1, 2018, 30 of the top 35 U.S. airports are 100 percent smoke-free indoors. Airports are also keeping a pretty tight lid on the allowed use of electronic cigarettes, with 23 of the top 35 U.S. airports banning the use of electronic cigarettes indoors.

      As satisfaction with airlines continues to grow, U.S. airports are also feeling the love. In a newly released J.D. Power airport satisfaction study, fliers...
      Read lessRead more

      More homeowners tapping equity to pay bills

      A report shows how far many consumers are stretched

      The U.S. economy continues to grow, but slow wage growth is pushing more consumers to take on debt to keep up.

      A new report from Bankrate shows there is a distinct income divide when it comes to debt, with lower income homeowners often resorting to taking equity out of their homes to make ends meet.

      The report focused on the growing amount of home equity consumers enjoy, but it revealed that not everyone is using it. Higher income homeowners are less likely to take out equity. Among those who are tapping into the value of their homes, consumers in lower income brackets tend to do so to pay current bills.

      In the survey, lower-income households — those earning less than $30,000 a year — were almost twice as likely to view home equity as a means to pay household bills as they next-highest income group. The more money a household earns, the less likely it is to consider using a home equity loan or cash-out refinance to pay bills.

      'Matter of when, not if'

      “With the sorry state of emergency savings and increasing levels of consumer debt in a rising interest rate environment, it’s a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’ more homeowners turn to home equity to fund home improvements and repairs, or consolidate debt,” said Greg McBride, Bankrate's chief financial analyst.

      McBride says the survey shows nearly one in six consumers believes that it's sometimes necessary to tap home equity to pay household bills. He says it shows just how far some households are stretched on a monthly basis.

      Consumers are also going into debt in other areas. An analysis by the Center for Microeconomic Data at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows non-housing debt rose 4.3 percent in the second quarter to $3.86 trillion.

      Rising credit card debt

      Much of the debt is going on high-interest credit cards. A new study by personal finance site WalletHub shows consumers added $29.8 billion in new credit card debt to their accounts in the second quarter of this year, the fourth-largest second quarter increase on record.

      "We also began the year owing more than $1 trillion in credit card debt for the first time ever, after adding a post-Great Recession record of $91.8 billion to our tab in 2017," the report's authors write.

      The research also shows consumers appear to be struggling to pay their rising debt load. The charge-off rate on delinquent credit card accounts reached 3.74 percent in the second quarter, up nearly 2.7 percent year-over-year and the highest point since 2012.

      A companion report shows the Federal Reserve policy of raising the federal funds rate is increasing the debt burden since that key rate influences the interest rate on credit cards. Every time the Fed hikes rates most credit card payments also rise.

      The U.S. economy continues to grow, but slow wage growth is pushing more consumers to take on debt to keep up.A new report from Bankrate shows there is...
      Read lessRead more

      Congress heads off latest shutdown threat

      Lawmakers still have work to do before the Oct. 1 deadline

      The Senate has passed a $712 billion funding bill for the Pentagon, along with new money for the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Once again, lawmakers have avoided a potential government shutdown.

      The measure goes back to the House, where approval is expected. If that happens, Congress is another step closer to passing 12 government funding bills before the start of the new fiscal year on October 1.

      The measure offers something for both Republicans and Democrats. Republicans pushed for an additional $20 billion for the military. Democrats were successful in adding $2 billion for research into Alzheimer's disease and $6.7 billion to deal with the growing health care problems stemming from opioid abuse.

      'Significant step'

      “This is the most significant step we have taken yet,”said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “For the first time in a decade, we are sending a defense spending bill to the President’s desk on time."

      Shelby said passage of the bill marked a milestone of sorts -- both parties actually had to work together and make compromises to advance the legislation. He said both parties fought hard for vital national needs.

      "This conference report contains critical funding for defense and domestic priorities," Shelby said. "It accelerates the rebuilding of America’s military and provides our men and women in uniform with the largest pay increase in nearly a decade. It also increases NIH’s budget by $2 billion and provides critical resources to combat the opioid epidemic. And, it contains no poison pill riders."

      There are still two other spending packages that need Congressional approval before October 1 to avoid a government shutdown. If the other two packages are ratified by both chambers and signed by President Trump, they would add up to nearly 90 percent of the federal government’s annual spending.

      The Senate has passed a $712 billion funding bill for the Pentagon, along with new money for the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease...
      Read lessRead more

      United announces new boarding process to help with overcrowding

      The airline completed 12,000 test runs of the new procedure

      With overcrowded flights comes overcrowded gates, and United Airlines is working to alleviate that issue for its customers.

      Recently, customers have been vocal about the issues at the boarding gates, complaining to United that arriving passengers were greeted at the gate by masses of travelers, while others are spilling out into neighboring hallways.

      “It’s too congested,” said Maria Walter, United Airlines’ managing director of global operations strategy. “It created a lot of angst for our customers.”

      The new system

      This week, United started boarding passengers with a new system, as the company works to keep crowds under control and ensure that flights take off on-time.

      Where there were once five boarding lines, United has reduced that down to just two color-coded lines -- lane one is the blue lane and lane two is the green lane. The airline is urging travelers to wait until their boarding group -- one through five -- is called before making their way to the lanes.

      Additionally, United has altered its pre-boarding routine to smooth things along. Now, United’s Premier 1K and Global Services frequent flyers will join military personnel, passengers with disabilities, and passengers with young children in pre-boarding. This group will board in lane one.

      First-class, business-class, Platinum, and Gold-level frequent flyers will board in group one -- also through lane one. At this time, those in boarding group two will be permitted to line up in lane two.

      Once group one has had their boarding passes scanned, group two will begin the boarding process. Silver-level frequent flyers, United credit card holders, and those who have purchased priority access or boarding privileges will be assigned to group two.

      At this time, groups three through five will not be permitted to enter the boarding area until board group two has left the line. Groups three through five will then be called -- in order -- and will board through lane two. Most Basic Economy passengers will be in boarding group five.

      Keeping crowds under control

      To help with travelers crowding the gate, United is now alerting passengers when boarding begins with a notification on their phones. All travelers will receive the alert once the first boarding pass for that particular flight has been scanned.

      According to Walter, some flights had passengers congregating in the boarding area for over an hour. She also said that travelers are drawn to lines, so what starts out small can grow to quite a crowd rather quickly. “It’s like a magnet,” she said.

      United spent the last year testing this new boarding method on over 12,000 flights around the world, gauging customer feedback along the way. The new boarding system now makes United more similar to both American Airlines and Delta, whereas Southwest’s unassigned seating setup allows passengers to board based on when they check-in or their loyalty status level.

      With overcrowded flights comes overcrowded gates, and United Airlines is working to alleviate that issue for its customers.Recently, customers have bee...
      Read lessRead more

      Instagram rolled out new e-commerce tools to allow users to shop in the app

      The app is making it even easier to buy the looks you see

      Earlier this week, Instagram rolled out new e-commerce tools that allow users to shop directly in the app both through Stories and the Explore page.

      Though the feature has been in the testing stages since June, users around the world will now be able to use it in real time. Brands can add one product sticker per Story, and with one tap, users can get price information and purchase it. On the Explore page, Instagram has cultivated a new shopping channel that will show users brands that they either follow or that Instagram thinks they’ll be interested in.

      Before these new features, shopping on Instagram was a complicated process. Now, the social media app has really streamlined things.

      “Shopping is more than an errand -- it’s also about what you discover along the way,” the company said in a statement. “For many people on Instagram, shopping is an entertaining way to get inspired and connect with new and interesting brands.”

      Other shopping features

      Instagram has rolled out other shopping features on the app in recent years. Brands have been able to tag individual items with their price, thus allowing users to tap on the item and head to the brand’s website for purchase. Instagram recently expanded these offerings to cover countries like the U.K. and Brazil.

      According to Instagram, since the price tag feature launched, over 90 million accounts tap to see tags in shopping posts every month. The push to enter the e-commerce market could lead to new revenue opportunities for Instagram.

      “Instagram is a place where you discover new things, brands, destinations for travel, and furniture,” said Jonah Berger, a marketing and social influence expert at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. “The challenge at the moment is that discovery is happening, but Instagram isn’t necessarily getting credit. They’re trying to make money off of something that’s already happening.”

      Currently, brands don’t have to pay for these shopping tools, though that could change soon, according to a company spokesperson. Instagram could eventually move into a sponsored format.

      Additionally, users are encouraged to shop and buy things based off of their family members, friends, and celebrities they follow on social media, which seems like a promising game plan for the app, according to experts.

      “The whole phenomenon is very promising,” said Anindya Ghose, a professor at NYU Stern’s School of Business. “A number of companies have tried it so far with mixed results. The potential is much higher than what we’ve seen so far.”

      Earlier this week, Instagram rolled out new e-commerce tools that allow users to shop directly in the app both through Stories and the Explore page.Tho...
      Read lessRead more

      Landslides may pose another risk for people in the path of natural gas pipelines

      Shell is going forward with plans to construct a new natural gas pipeline, and even dangerous landslides may not get in the way

      It didn’t take long for a project financed by oil and gas pipeline magnate Energy Transfer Partners and its subsidiary Sunoco to literally blow up.

      The Revolution Pipeline, apparently named to honor its historic location in the state of Pennsylvania, exploded on September 11 a little after 5 a.m. A fire erupted shortly after, forcing dozens of homeowners in nearby Beaver County to evacuate.

      No one was injured, but cars and garages were damaged. And one home 500 feet away from the blast was completely destroyed in the fire.

      Construction on The Revolution was completed in February, and it had only been in operation since September 3. Investigators pointed to landslides in the region as a possible cause of the explosion. Company officials agree with that assessment.

      “An initial site assessment reveals evidence of a landslide in the vicinity of the pipeline,” a Sunoco spokesman told a local newspaper.

      During a time when millions of people in the East Coast face record-breaking precipitation and hundreds of resulting landslides, that message isn’t exactly comforting. State lawmakers in Pennsylvania are now calling for oil and gas pipeline construction to be halted completely.

      But they face an uphill battle. Energy Transfer Partners is currently constructing another pipeline in the state called the Mariner East Pipeline. And Shell, a competitor, has major plans to build a new ethane cracker plant that would require more pipelines.

      “Today’s pipeline explosion in Beaver County was a graphic illustration of my worst fears – and the fears of many local residents – related to the construction of the Mariner East pipeline,” State Rep. Chris Quinn told the Daily Local.

      Plastics plant in the works

      Royal Dutch Shell announced that it would build a plastics plant in Pennsylvania back in 2016. The project, set to be constructed in an abandoned manufacturing plant outside Pittsburgh, was initially hailed as a potential job-creator that could help people in northern Appalachia.

      But producing those plastics requires a new network of pipelines delivering ethane, a flammable mixture of natural gas and petroleum. The Shell Pipeline Company is now trying to win approval to construct a 100-mile ethane pipeline through northern Appalachia for that very purpose.

      The Falcon Ethane Pipeline, as Shell is calling the project, would be constructed through 25 different areas that are prone to landslides, Shell recently acknowledged in a permitting application.

      Environmental Health News is reporting that Shell identified 14 “landslide risk” areas along the route in southwestern Pennsylvania and nine others along the route in Ohio and West Virginia. Several of those “landslide risks” areas are near residential neighborhoods.

      Shell did not respond to the publication’s request for a comment, but researchers quoted said that the findings were troubling.

      "According to our analysis, the blast radius for the Falcon pipeline [in one town] is about 900 feet, so if there were an accident, all those homes are in the impact radius near the landslide area," Kirk Jalbert, a researcher at Arizona State University, told Environmental Health News.

      Local activists in the state have already been protesting and urging Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection to reject permits for the pipeline, pointing to concerns that pipeline leaks may also contaminate local reservoirs.

      The state has told Shell that it needs to provide more environmental impact information in its application, but the project is still under review.

      It didn’t take long for a project financed by oil and gas pipeline magnate Energy Transfer Partners and its subsidiary Sunoco to literally blow up.The...
      Read lessRead more

      Over 2 million middle and high school teens report vaping marijuana

      The report follows a recent crackdown on e-cigarettes by regulators

      Regulators and advocates have long spoken out against the use of e-cigarettes by young teens in middle school and high school. Now, a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the problem may be worse than many may have thought.

      The National Youth Tobacco Survey, which surveys young students in the U.S. in grades 6 through 12, shows that over 2 million young people have used e-cigarettes to vape marijuana. In all, the researchers say that one out of every eleven students have engaged in this activity across the country.

      The CDC researchers say that the findings are dismaying because marijuana use has been associated with negative health effects in young people.

      “The National Academies of Sciences has found cannabis use among youth can adversely affect learning and memory and may impair later academic achievement and education,” they said. “Strategies to reduce cannabis use in e-cigarettes are critical for protecting young people from these potential health risks.”

      Stopping the e-cigarette youth epidemic

      The findings, which were published in JAMA Pediatrics, come shortly after regulators announced a crackdown on selling e-cigarette devices to underage consumers.

      Last week, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it would be taking action against over 1,300 retailers and five major manufacturers for their roles in making e-cigarettes available to young people. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb went so far as to say that youth access to electronic cigarettes had reached “epidemic” levels.

      “We must adjust certain aspects of our comprehensive strategy to stem this clear and present danger. This starts with the actions we’re taking today to crack down on retail sales of e-cigarettes to minors,” he said.

      “While we remain committed to advancing policies that promote the potential of e-cigarettes to help adult smokers move away from combustible cigarettes, that work can’t come at the expense of kids. We cannot allow a whole new generation to become addicted to nicotine,” he concluded.

      Regulators and advocates have long spoken out against the use of e-cigarettes by young teens in middle school and high school. Now, a study conducted by th...
      Read lessRead more

      MoviePass makes a last gasp play at staying afloat

      Great ideas and great prices don’t always produce great profits

      Like they say, desperate people do desperate things. With only $10 million left in MoviePass’ piggybank, the movie subscription service’s parent company -- Helios and Matheson -- is asking its shareholders to weigh in on a plan that could increase the stock by as much as 500 times.

      The company’s proposed one-for-500 reverse stock split sent the shares tumbling out of control on Monday to little more than a penny in value -- a far cry from the stock’s 2018 high of $2,442 in February.

      Helios and Matheson’s proposed plan was outlined in a new document filed Monday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and a vote is set for an October 18 shareholder meeting. A blessing from the shareholders would enable stockholders to swap as many as 500 shares for a single share worth about 500 times as much.

      If all goes according to plan, the stock price could theoretically move from about its current penny’s worth to as much as $10, which should be sufficient to keep the stock trading on the Nasdaq stock exchange. Nasdaq has given Helios and Matheson fair warning that its stock might be delisted because of its low value.

      MoviePass has tried this trick before. In July, it attempted to juice its stock from 8 cents to $21 with a similar move, but stock buyers weren’t biting and the new price fell below $1 in a matter of days, forcing the company to borrow an emergency $5 million to keep things afloat.

      The woebegone saga continues

      It was only a year ago when MoviePass was a darling in the subscription model world. Its $10 a month all-you-can-watch deal may have been a homerun for movie lovers, but it couldn’t be sustained when it came to paying vendors and theatres.

      After its original business model proved itself implausible, the company changed its subscription plans and the movies it made available.

      For the moment, MoviePass offers customers the ability to watch three movies per month for $9.95 with restrictions on the number of titles a moviegoer can watch at any given time.

      It remains to be seen if anyone can pull off a movie subscription model and make it attractive enough for movie lovers to give up being a couch potato with their Netflix or Amazon Prime Video subscriptions. Sinemia, another movie subscription service just announced a $30 a month deal for a movie-a-day at any theatre with no blackouts. The catch there is that to get that rate, a subscriber has to fork over $359.88, a single year’s subscription fee, in advance.

      Like they say, desperate people do desperate things. With only $10 million left in MoviePass’ piggybank, the movie subscription service’s parent company --...
      Read lessRead more

      Ally Bank study suggests cash is no longer king

      ATM use is down and digital payments are climbing

      Consumers continue to turn away from using cash for everyday transactions and are relying more on digital payments, according to a new report from Ally Bank.

      The bank examined a wide-ranging collection of data, from its own ATM withdrawals to recent analysis by CivicScience, the Federal Reserve, and Forrester. The emerging picture is of a consumer who is turning to debit cards, credit cards, and mobile wallets on a more frequent basis.

      In an accompanying survey, three out of every four Ally customers said they primarily use a credit card when purchasing goods and services in stores. Fewer than one in 10 Ally customers indicated that their primary form of payment is cash.

      Declining ATM use

      The study shows the number of Ally customers with a checking account who use an ATM has fallen by an average of 4 percent since 2016. Visits are down from an average of almost 2.6 times per month in August 2016 to a little more than 2.4 times a month in August 2018. The average dollar amount withdrawn per month has also declined.

      "Customers want convenience and a credit or debit card eliminates the guesswork in how much cash might be necessary when running errands, dining out or simply day-to-day expenses like gas, parking or coffee," said Diane Morais, president of Consumer and Commercial Banking Products at Ally Bank.

      Using a rewards credit card, or a debit card that rewards the account holder with interest on checking for making a certain number of transactions, can also benefit a consumer. But it requires the user to keep track of spending that is harder to do than spending cash. When using a cash, a consumer may be more aware of their limits.

      Cash has its benefits

      Even Discover, a credit card company, concedes there are benefits to paying with cash.

      "Tangible currency can be easier to manage," the company says on its website, addressing the     pros and cons of cash and credit. "Some people feel that the act of counting their money and handing it over gives them a better appreciation for their savings and makes them less likely to     overspend."

      But Morais says digital payments make it easier for consumers to track their spending, if they'll take the time to do it.

      "In addition, there is the benefit now being offered by many card issuers of being able to immediately turn a debit card or credit card on or off," she said.

      In the future, ATMs may be gathering more dust. Almost half of Ally customers who participated in the survey said they rarely or never visit an ATM, although it's possible many obtain cash back through retail transactions, such as supermarket purchases.

      A Forrester study also showed ATM use had declined to just a little more than once a month in the past 12 months.

      Consumers continue to turn away from using cash for everyday transactions and are relying more on digital payments, according to a new report from Ally Ban...
      Read lessRead more

      Here are September's top new car deals

      Experts say dealers are eager to move 2018 vehicles

      This month is a pretty good time to buy a new car, according to Kelley Blue Book (KBB). The automotive data company says dealers and manufacturers still have too many 2017 and 2018 models on hand and are willing to deal.

      Incentives for the rest of September include more than $3,500 cash back on purchases and leases for less than $200 a month. KBB has highlighted 10 offers it believes are especially attractive.

      "At the top of this month's list is a sporty compact sedan, the 2017 Ford Focus," said Allyson Harwood, associate editor at KBB. "Strongly influenced by Ford of Europe, Focus offers the kind of driving dynamics American drivers have long envied, and it's currently available at a price that makes it even more appealing. However, deals can be had on many popular 2018 models, and even one new 2019 model-year vehicle."

      KBB also highlights a lease deal on the 2018 Acura ILX. The lease payment on a 36-month lease is just $199, with $2,499 due at signing.

      The 2018 Jeep Compass is third on the list. It lists for more than $25,000 but KBB says it's going for less than $24,000. To sweeten the deal, it comes with up to $3,700 cash back.

      Generous cash back offers

      The Kia Optima comes in fourth this month, selling for around $22,000 and giving buyers up to $3,500 cash back. The 2018 Ford Escape is right behind, going for around $25,000 while giving buyers up to $4,000 cash.

      Toyota is leasing the RAV4 for $229 a month for 36 months. The deal requires a down payment of $1,999.

      The 2018 Chevrolet E    quinox and 2019 Hyundai Voloster both have lease payments under $200. This month you can lease the Equinox for $189 a month for 36 months, but it requires a hefty $4,059 down payment. The Voloster goes for $199 a month with $2,299 down.

      Number nine on the hottest deals list is the 2018 Nissan Rogue, selling for under $25,000 and offering qualified buyers zero percent financing plus $500 cash back.

      Rounding out the list is the 2018 Cadillac ATS. A 27-month lease costs $299 a month with $1,839 down.

      This month is a pretty good time to buy a new car, according to Kelley Blue Book (KBB). The automotive data company says dealers and manufacturers still ha...
      Read lessRead more

      Government approves Cigna-Express Scripts merger

      The deal joins a health insurance provider with a pharmacy benefits manager

      The U.S. Justice Department has flashed a green light for the proposed merger of Cigna and Express Scripts, just six months after the two companies announced plans to join forces.

      Cigna is a health insurance provider. Express Scripts negotiates prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. The two firms have maintained that their merged entity would have greater bargaining power that could lead to lower health care costs.

      “The value that we deliver together will help put our society on a far more sustainable path – one that helps health care professionals close gaps in care and supports our customers along their health journey,” said Cigna CEO David Cordani.

      Tim Wentworth, the CEO of Express Scripts, echoed that sentiment, predicting the merger would help "transform health care."

      Minimum time to win approval

      The merger won approval in a minimum amount of time, with the government acting as soon as the six-month waiting period, mandated by law, expired.

      The companies say completion of the transaction is still subject to certain state regulatory approvals and filings required in connection with the transaction, including clearances from certain departments of insurance, and the satisfaction of all closing conditions. So far, the companies say they have received regulatory approval from 16 states.

      When the two companies announced their merger plans in March, they promised the union would lead to a full suite of medical, behavioral, specialty pharmacy, and other health engagement services to give customers more options when it comes to their healthcare. The companies said the combination would simplify the patient-provider relationship and lead to better outcomes.

      CVS and Aetna still waiting

      The combination of Cigna and Express Scripts may be just the opening wave of an expected consolidation within health care. CVS Health, a retail drug store chain, also has a pending merger proposal with Aetna, a major health insurance provider.

      The CVS-Aetna merger was announced last December with promises from both companies that the consolidation would lower health care costs. At the time, the two companies said they hoped to close the deal in the second half of this year.

      But the Cigna-Express Scripts deal, announced four months later, was the first to win Justice Department antitrust approval. However, a report in the Wall Street Journal quoted Justice Department sources as saying both deals would be approved.

      Both Cigna and Aetna have both experienced rejected merger proposals in recent years, mainly because they were trying to merge with competing insurance providers. The current deals match them with complementary but not competing health care businesses.

      The U.S. Justice Department has flashed a green light for the proposed merger of Cigna and Express Scripts, just six months after the two companies announc...
      Read lessRead more

      Amazon opens its first cashierless store outside of Seattle

      Chicago is home to the new Amazon Go store

      Amazon’s first cashierless store outside of Seattle has officially opened: in Chicago. The store is located at 113 S Franklin St., and unlike two of the other locations, the store will be closed over the weekend.

      Amazon’s other three Amazon Go stores are all in Seattle, and like those, the Chicago store is also open long hours -- 7AM through 8PM -- and has no checkout lines.

      Amazon first announced Amazon Go in 2016, and each store is smaller than a traditional U.S. grocery store; it’s more similar to a convenience store in size. The stores focus on selling products that fit into customers’ busy lifestyles, such as ready-made snacks, lunches, drinks, frozen dinners, and basic groceries.

      Amazon has reportedly been interested in opening another Go store in San Francisco. Not long after the first store opened its doors in January, the company was reportedly looking to expand to six additional storefronts that were expected to open this year.  

      Amazon Go technology

      Amazon’s first Go store opened in Seattle in the beginning of this year, allowing shoppers to freely move through the aisles and pick up items as needed. They then can leave the store when they’re done -- no checkout line and no cashier.

      Amazon places sensors and cameras throughout the store to track what customers are picking up and taking home with them. Their credit cards are then charged accordingly. Customers are required to download the Amazon Go app to their phones and then scan the QR code from the app before leaving the store.

      Similar stores popping up

      Cashier-less stores have become popular in China -- where Amazon isn’t as popular -- though the technology isn’t as advanced as Amazon’s Go stores. Where Amazon relies on image recognition and machine learning, stores in China have been up and running with customers using products’ RFID tags for self-checkout.

      Similarly, tech companies like JD, Tencent, and Alibaba have entered the cashierless store market. In fact, JD has plans for stores to utilize facial recognition, RFID tags, and QR codes in order to eliminate the need for cashiers. JD currently has over 20 stores across China -- and one in Indonesia.

      Amazon’s first cashierless store outside of Seattle has officially opened: in Chicago. The store is located at 113 S Franklin St., and unlike two of the ot...
      Read lessRead more

      FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai says California's net neutrality proposal endangers U.S. consumers

      California Senator Scott Wiener says his state is simply creating a level playing field

      At the beginning of this month, California’s Senate passed SB 822 -- a net neutrality bill that state senators have deemed the “gold standard” of state-level protections. Governor Jerry Brown has until the end of this month to sign the bill into law.

      In the interim, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai called the state’s new policy “illegal” and said it “poses a risk to the rest of the country.”

      However, California Senator and author of the net neutrality bill Scott Wiener said that the new initiatives are “necessary and legal because Chairman Pai abdicated his responsibility to ensure an open internet,” according to a press release.

      “Unlike Pai’s FCC, California isn’t run by the big telecom companies,” Wiener added. “Pai can take whatever potshots at California he wants. The reality is that California is the world’s innovation capital, and like the crony capitalism promoted by the Trump administration, California understands exactly what it takes to foster an open innovation economy with a level playing field.”

      What the bill does

      Under SB 822, internet service providers (ISPs) are prohibited from blocking or throttling lawful traffic. It also doesn’t allow websites to be charged for access to an ISP’s subscribers or for fast lanes to those subscribers.

      The bill also prevents companies like AT&T (which is an ISP and a content provider) from not counting the content and the websites they own against subscribers’ data caps. Moreover, the proposed bill bans ISPs from getting around these protections at the point where data enters their networks and then charging access fees to reach ISP customers.

      To Pai, the bill is allowing “government control of the internet.” He went on to call California’s bill “a radical, anti-consumer internet regulation bill that would impose restrictions even more burdensome than those adopted by the FCC in 2015.”

      Pai said under SB 822, Californians will be prevented from “buying many free-data plans” that “allow consumers to stream video, music, and the like exempt from any data limits.”

      However, Senator Wiener sees it differently. He believes the law would ensure “that we as individuals get to decide where we go on the internet, rather than having internet service providers decide for us.”

      He added that “big telecom companies and cable companies can’t force us to get our information only from favored websites.”

      Wiener also mentioned Pai’s failure to address Verizon’s recent throttling of Santa Clara County firefighters’ wireless network during the fires in California. The firefighters were unable to provide emergency services because Verizon throttled the network until the fire department agreed to upgrade to a more expensive plan.

      Wiener said that Pai's lack of action on the matter speaks volumes and stymies his criticims of California's proposed rules.

      At the beginning of this month, California’s Senate passed SB 822 -- a net neutrality bill that state senators have deemed the “gold standard” of state-lev...
      Read lessRead more

      How to stay safe after a hurricane

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wants residents to know what to do in the wake of a storm

      In the aftermath of a hurricane, it’s more important than ever to keep your family, your pets, and your home safe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wants to ensure the safety of residents affected by the Hurricane Florence and has posted helpful tips for those who were in the storm’s path.

      Whether indoors or outdoors, it’s important to know -- and follow -- the best protocol after a storm.

      Staying safe indoors

      Steering clear of wet electrical devices is the CDC’s first important tip for residents. After a storm, if any wet electrical devices are still plugged in, residents should turn off all power at the main breaker. From there, it’s best to wait for an electrician to evaluate the device before using it again. The CDC has even more information on electrical safety and generators on its website.

      In the same vein, the CDC encourages residents to use flashlights rather than candles. Should candles be absolutely necessary, the CDC warns residents to always stay near lit candles and keep them away from anything that could catch fire. For those with power outages, the CDC has outlined a number of safety options to be aware of until power is restored.

      The CDC also wants to inform residents on how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Gas or coal-burning equipment, including generators, camp stoves, charcoal grills, and pressure washers, create carbon monoxide and can sneak into homes -- often undetected. To prevent this, the CDC suggests the following:

      • Not heating homes with a gas oven;

      • Not running a car inside a garage attached to your home;

      • Not using gas or coal-burning equipment inside the home;

      • Using a battery-operated CO detector anytime a generator is used; and

      • Leaving the premises as soon as possible and calling 911 should the carbon monoxide detector start beeping.

      It’s also important to be aware of damaged buildings after a storm. Hurricanes and other natural disasters often create a lot of internal damage that may be unrecognizable to the naked eye. The CDC urges residents to make sure a building is safe before entering, and to leave right away should there be any strange sounds or shifting noises.

      Staying safe outdoors

      Following a storm, it’s important to be aware of any stray animals or bugs. Flooded areas often attract mosquitos or other bugs that carry diseases, and the CDC encourages people to wear long sleeves, pants, and socks when outdoors, and to always wear bug spray. Any stray or wild animals should be reported to local health departments.

      Those in flooded areas should also stay away from floodwater. Following warning signs about floods/detours is key, and residents shouldn’t try to drive through flooded areas -- the water can be deeper than it looks. Anyone that comes in contact with floodwater is encouraged to wash their hands immediately or use hand-sanitizer, as floodwater typically carries germs.

      Additionally, areas with fallen power lines should be handled with great care. Any fallen lines should be reported to the electric company as soon as possible.

      The CDC Fact Sheet has more information on cleaning up safely following a hurricane.

      In the aftermath of a hurricane, it’s more important than ever to keep your family, your pets, and your home safe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prev...
      Read lessRead more

      Study finds BPA alternatives may carry their own health risks

      Researchers say replacement products could pose similar dangers

      The adverse effects associated with plastic products that contain Bisphenol A (BPA) have been well-documented for decades, going back to a team that first discovered abnormalities in the eggs of animals who were exposed to the plastic ingredient.

      Now, in what may be a fitting discovery, the same team that first discovered this danger says that alternatives to BPA aren’t much safer. The team, hailing from Washington State University, reported feeling “a strange déjà vu experience in our laboratory” when they came to their conclusions.

      The team states that efforts by regulators to provide a BPA alternative have been unsuccessful and pose a danger to consumers.

      “Rapid production of structural variants of BPA and other EDCs circumvents efforts to eliminate dangerous chemicals, exacerbates the regulatory burden of safety assessment, and increases environmental contamination,” they said.

      Damage lasting generations

      The team came to their latest conclusions about BPA alternatives after studying how the products affected mice. After testing several BPA alternatives, the researchers found that these new products negatively affected the reproductive system.

      The team believes that the finding could mean trouble for future generations of consumers whose parents and grandparents were exposed to these products.

      “These findings add to growing evidence of the biological risks posed by this class of chemicals,” the researchers said.

      Unsafe alternatives

      This isn’t the first time that BPA alternatives have been subjected to scrutiny. Studies dating back several years, including one conducted at UCLA, have asserted that these products are not completely risk-free.

      “Exposure to low levels of BPA had a significant impact on the embryos’ development of brain cells that control reproduction, and the genes that control reproduction later in life,” said Nancy Wayne, lead author of the study conducted back in 2016. “We saw many of these same effects with BPS found in BPA-free products. BPS is not harmless.”

      More recently, researchers have cited evidence suggesting that some of BPS products promoted growth of cancer cells. This has led some experts to caution consumers away from consuming foods or drinks that are packaged in products containing BPA or BPS.

      “Currently...regulatory agencies charged with assessing chemical safety cannot keep pace with the introduction of new chemicals,” said the research team from Washington State University. “Further, as replacement bisphenols illustrate, it is easier and more cost effective under current chemical regulations to replace a chemical of concern with structural analogs rather than determine the attributes that make it hazardous.”

      The full study has been published in the journal Current Biology.

      The adverse effects associated with plastic products that contain Bisphenol A (BPA) have been well-documented for decades, going back to a team that first...
      Read lessRead more

      Amazon unfurls its new Storefronts online store

      Featured are products come from more than 20,000 U.S. businesses

      Amazon is debuting a new online store called “Amazon Storefronts” which directs the spotlight toward products from businesses based in the United States.

      Amazon Storefronts will have everything you’d expect from the online shopping mecca. All told, there will be more nearly 20,000 businesses in all 50 U.S. states offering more than a million products from 27 product categories.

      “We’ve created a custom, one-stop shopping experience for customers looking for interesting, innovative and high quality products from American businesses from all across the country,” said Nicholas Denissen, Vice President for Amazon.

      “Amazon first invited businesses to sell on Amazon nearly two decades ago, and today, small and medium-sized businesses are a vital part of Amazon’s large selection and commitment to customers. We’re championing their success with this new store and a national advertising campaign featuring a successful Michigan business selling on Amazon to customers across the U.S. and worldwide.”

      What the consumer will find

      Once inside Amazon Storefronts, customers will find curated American collections from artisans and start-ups, plus a “Storefront of the Week” highlighting the faces and businesses behind the products.

      “Since we started selling on Amazon in October 2016, our sales have nearly doubled. Due to our success, we have been able to hire new team members from our community, including full and part time jobs,” said Holly Rutt, co-founder of Little Flower Soap Co., the U.S. business owner featured in Amazon’s national TV ad pitching Storefronts.

      “We believe that customers like to know the story behind what they’re buying. When there is worry about creating jobs, it’s reassuring for customers to know their purchases are helping sustain jobs in the U.S.”

      American-based, not American-made

      On its face, the initiative might be a tad misleading as to where the products are actually made. While the products need to be sold from a company based in the U.S., Amazon clarified in an email to ConsumerAffairs that “the products do not have to be made in the U.S.”

      The word “fear” doesn’t seem to be in Amazon’s dictionary. From taking on the grocery world with its purchase of Whole Foods to taking on Etsy with Amazon Handmade and the pharmaceutical world with its acquisition of PillPack, the company has displayed incredible moxie, and this move is no different.

      Given that half of everything sold on its main portal comes from small-to-medium sized businesses (SMBs), piggybacking on that metric and the pride of buying American-driven products is a definite plus -- not only for Amazon’s bank account but its persona and its place in the job-creation world, too.

      Amazon estimates that SMBs selling on Amazon have created more than 900,000 jobs globally.

      Amazon is debuting a new online store called “Amazon Storefronts” which directs the spotlight toward products from businesses based in the United States....
      Read lessRead more

      Sears CEO cites pensions as a major financial drain

      The company says online competition isn't the only headwind it's facing

      Sears Holdings' well documented troubles have resulted in dozens of store closings and even concerns about the company's long-term future. But company CEO Eddie Lampert says it's not the business model that's producing the most headwinds -- it's company pensions.

      Writing on the Sears Holdings blog, Lampert maintains that the steps the company has taken in recent years are sound and have produced positive results.

      "We have integrated capabilities that leverage our physical store footprint, our unique service businesses and the Shop Your Way ecosystem to constantly define an integrated retail experience for our members," Lampert writes. "We continue to evolve our Shop Your Way 5-3-2-1 credit card, and our amended deal with our partner, Citi, should only make our efforts stronger."

      Lampert concedes that adapting to the new retail environment, in which consumers continue to shift to online channels, has been a problem. But he says that's been a problem for every other brick and mortar retailer, some of which are actually thriving.

      Gobbling up much-needed resources

      The CEO says Sears Holdings, which operates both Sears and Kmart stores, has the added burden of managing its long-term pension obligations, which he says have gobbled up much-needed resources.

      "In the last five years, we contributed almost $2 billion, and since 2005 we have contributed over $4.5 billion, to fund our pension plans," Lampert writes.

      Pensions have cost more in part, he says, because the Federal Reserve has held interest rates near zero for so long, meaning the company has had to contribute more cash to its pension funds.

      Competitors don't have that burden

      "Had the Company been able to employ those billions of dollars in its operations, we would have been in a better position to compete with other large retail companies, many of which don’t have large pension plans, and thus have not been required to allocate billions of dollars to these liabilities," Lampert said.

      In its latest quarterly earnings report last week, Sears noted that its decline in same-store sales was the smallest in more than three years. At Sears and Kmart stores open for at least 12 months, sales fell 3.9 percent during the second quarter, compared to an 11.9 percent drop in sales in the previous quarter.

      While the company acknowledged the encouraging trend, it said it will continue to identify and close unprofitable stores. So far in 2018 it has either closed or planned to close a total of 99 stores.

      Sears Holdings' well documented troubles have resulted in dozens of store closings and even concerns about the company's long-term future. But company CEO...
      Read lessRead more

      General Motors recalls vehicles with brake pedal issue

      The brake pedal may come loose

      General Motors is recalling 41,468 model year 2015-2016 Chevrolet Silverado 2500s, 3500s, 1500 Crew Cab Special Services, Tahoe Police Pursuit/Special Services, GMC Sierra 2500s, and 3500s vehicles.

      The brake pedal pivot nut may loosen, causing the brake pedal to be loose or inoperative.

      If the brake pedal becomes loose or inoperative, the driver may be unable to stop the vehicle by using the brake pedal.

      Additionally, a loose pedal may also interfere with the accelerator pedal.

      Either condition may increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will add adhesive to the nut and reinstall the nut with increased tightness, free of charge.

      The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at (800) 222-1020, or GMC customer service at (800) 462-8782. GM's number for this recall is 18278.

      General Motors is recalling 41,468 model year 2015-2016 Chevrolet Silverado 2500s, 3500s, 1500 Crew Cab Special Services, Tahoe Police Pursuit/Special Serv...
      Read lessRead more

      Bravo Packing recalls Performance Dog raw pet food

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Bravo Packing of Carneys Point, N.J., is recalling all Performance Dog products, a frozen raw pet food.

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No human or animal illnesses have been reported to date.

      The recalled products come frozen in 2-pound and 5-pound plastic sleeves with the manufacture date code 071418 printed on the boxes that contain the plastic sleeves, but not on the individual plastic sleeves.

      Therefore, if the cardboard box has been discarded, there are no unique identification numbers on the individual sleeves that allow customers to determine that they possess the recalled products.

      What to do

      If customers purchased these product since July 14, 2018, and cannot determine whether it is affected by the recall, they should discard the product

      Consumers with questions may contact Bravo Packing at (856) 299-1044 Monday – Friday from 6:00AM-2:00PM, and on Saturday from 4:00AM-9:00AM EST) or online at www.bravopacking.com.

      Bravo Packing of Carneys Point, N.J., is recalling all Performance Dog products, a frozen raw pet food.The products may be contaminated with Salmonella...
      Read lessRead more

      Ford recalls Convenience charge cords used for electric vehicles

      The cords can overheat and melt

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 49,197 120V Convenience charge cords that were supplied with and sold for use with model year 2013-2015 Ford C-Max Energi & Fusion Energi vehicles, and model year 2012-2015 Ford Focus Electric vehicles.

      Cords with part numbers FM58-10B706-AA, FM58-10B706-AB, FM58-10B706-AC, FM58-10B706-AD, FM58-10B706-AE and FM58-10B706-AF were manufactured without thermistors.

      During vehicle charging, increased resistance in the house's outlet or wiring can cause the cord to overheat and melt, increasing the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will replace the current cord with a new 120V convenience cord with a thermistor, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin September 17, 2018.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 18S24.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 49,197 120V Convenience charge cords that were supplied with and sold for use with model year 2013-2015 Ford C-Max Energi &...
      Read lessRead more

      Ten years after the financial crisis, consumers still carry the scars

      Most say they still haven't recovered financially

      What happened 10 years ago nearly brought down the world's financial system, and a decade later it is still affecting consumers.

      On September 15, 2008 Lehman Brothers, not just an investment bank but a Wall Street institution, filed for bankruptcy. It was heavily invested in mortgage backed securities that were quickly on their way to becoming worthless because of a wave of subprime foreclosures.

      Almost overnight, credit dried up and the economy contracted, throwing millions of people out of work and taking a huge bite out of investment portfolios. Home prices plunged, trapping many homeowners underwater for years.

      Long-term effects

      Something like that can have long-term effects, and a newly released report from Betterment, a financial services company, finds the economic trauma of a decade ago affects everything from consumers' attitudes toward finances and the financial industry to their hopes for a secure financial future.

      "Ten years after the crisis, most consumers remain deeply distrustful of Wall Street and are still working to recover financially," the authors write.

      Oddly, the report finds that millennials who graduated in the midst of the financial crisis have shown a remarkable resilience. This generation is now one of the most optimistic about their financial futures.

      But overall, the hangover from the financial crisis and resulting Great Recession is pretty severe. The Betterment survey shows 15 percent on respondents reporting their employer either stopped supporting or stopped matching 401(k) contributions.

      Twenty-seven percent of consumers either stopped saving for retirement or contributing to their retirement accounts. Fourteen percent still saved but kept their savings only in cash.

      Majority believe they are in worse shape

      Sixty-five percent of the consumers in the Betterment survey said they still have not recovered financially from the economic upheaval that began a decade ago. That sentiment also shows up in a survey by NerdWallet, a personal finance company.

      That survey found 55 percent of consumers feel like they are in worse shape than they were before the financial crisis. Roughly three-quarters of consumers said they have changed their financial habits because of what happened 10 years ago.

      “Most Americans continue to live by the lessons they learned from the financial crisis, even though it began 10 years ago," said Holden Lewis, NerdWallet's markets insights expert. "As a result of the crisis and the Great Recession that followed...many people are cautious about their spending and they avoid debt whenever they can."

      Home values, which plunged after the financial crisis, have regained all of their lost value and more. But a report by Zillow shows the recovery is uneven, occurring mostly in the nation's largest metros.

      The Zillow report shows homes in Las Vegas, which have seen some of the steepest gains in the country over the past year, are still 16 percent below their pre-crash values. Orlando and Chicago home values remain nearly 14 percent below that level.

      What happened 10 years ago nearly brought down the world's financial system, and a decade later it is still affecting consumers.On September 15, 2008 L...
      Read lessRead more

      The Weekly Hack: Cryptocurrency gambling app gets hacked after mocking a competitor for getting hacked

      Researchers say it takes several seconds for hackers to clone a Tesla Model S key fob and drive away

      In case investing in cryptocurrency wasn’t enough of a gamble for you, some app developers are inviting people to literally gamble their Bitcoin and other blockchain earnings away.

      One such app, called EOSBet Dice, lets users bet their EOS cryptocurrency in, you guessed it, a game of dice.

      Several days ago, EOSBet Dice mocked a competitor for suffering a “severe hack today that drained their bankroll.” EOSBet Dice then confidently Tweeted to its own users that they are safe.

      “We have the biggest bankroll, the best developers, and a superior UI. Play on,” the message said.

      That turned out to not be true. Several days later, a hacker targeted EOSBet Dice and made off with $125,000 worth of coins. The theft was reportedly spotted by a Reddit user. The app confirmed in the Reddit thread that it is investigating.

      Tesla cars

      Futuristic cars are skimping on data security, researchers have longed charged, and now one team says that even items as basic as keys are vulnerable.

      Researchers from Belgium say it took them two seconds to clone a key fob belonging to a Tesla Model S. However, the problem isn’t just with Tesla but all keyless ignition systems.

      “Today it’s very easy for us to clone these key fobs in a matter of seconds. We can completely impersonate the key fob and open and drive the vehicle,” one researcher told Wired, which reported that Tesla has already implemented a fix.

      “A corresponding software update for all Model S vehicles allows customers with cars built prior to June to switch to the new key fobs if they wish,” a company spokesman told the magazine.

      In gas-powered cars, meanwhile, keyless entry systems have already been proven to be even more dangerous, particularly in cars that do not have any alarms or other systems in place to warn owners if a car was mistakenly left idling.

      The New York Times reported in May that 28 deaths have been linked to carbon monoxide poisoning from mistakenly leaving a keyless car running in a home garage.

      In case investing in cryptocurrency wasn’t enough of a gamble for you, some app developers are inviting people to literally gamble their Bitcoin and other...
      Read lessRead more

      Verizon Wireless offering free cell service to customers impacted by Hurricane Florence

      The wireless provider has been preparing for the storm

      As Hurricane Florence touches down in the southeastern region of the U.S., Verizon Wireless has been preparing its network for the brunt of the storm.

      The wireless provider has been working to ensure its network stays up and running for its customers, as well as for first responders who rely on the network to respond to emergencies. Prior to the hurricane, Verizon had been sandbagging and topping up backup generators and deploying mobile cell sites.

      Because fewer and fewer people have landlines, wireless networks staying up during storms are more important than ever. It is for this reason that Verizon has tried to stay on top of its game in its prep for Hurricane Florence.

      “I don’t have a magic crystal ball to predict the future,” said Karen Schultz, spokesperson for Verizon. “But I can tell you that we maintained 98 percent reliability during Hurricane Harvey and 90 percent of our network remained up in Florida during Irma.”

      Free service during the storm

      Verizon Wireless will also be offering free calling, texting, and data to customers between September 14 and September 17. The promotion will be available for postpaid and prepaid customers who live in Georgia, Virginia, and North and South Carolina.

      “As we enter the final hours before Hurricane Florence makes landfall, we hope this allows our customers in these areas to worry about one less thing and focus on their safety and security,” said Russ Preite, president of the southeast market for Verizon Wireless. “This is just one way we can help residents as the potentially dangerous storm challenges the Southeast coast.”

      Verizon has also lifted the speed caps on its data service for all first responders in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Maryland, Florida, and Virginia.

      As Hurricane Florence touches down in the southeastern region of the U.S., Verizon Wireless has been preparing its network for the brunt of the storm.T...
      Read lessRead more

      Emergency situation apps come to the rescue during Hurricane Florence

      Whether someone needs help or is in an area where there’s limited cell coverage, there’s an app for that

      As hurricane Florence winds its way up the East coast, technology is at the forefront of helping out those impacted by the storm.

      During ABC’s ‘Good Morning America’ on Friday, Becky Worley weighed in on apps that could benefit families and friends in emergency situations like Florence.

      During her segment, Worley recommended and reviewed the following apps:

      Zello

      Zello is a “walkie-talkie” app that mimics a two-way radio transceiver, allowing users to communicate with family and friends on WiFi or any cellular data service. Zello not only works on smartphones, but tablets and PCs, as well.

      With a network of 120 million users, there’s an excellent chance users will be able to find a local connection easily and quickly. One of Zello’s purported upsides is its reliability with marginal networks.

      “The fact that it works on such a slim cell signal might help in an emergency,” said Worley in her review.

      Crowdsource Rescue

      Crowdsource Rescue describes its platform as “neighbors helping neighbors,” and it’s one of the simplest apps you’ll ever use. There’a red button for “I need to be rescued’ and a green button for “I can help rescue.”

      The app’s interactive map pinpoints where help is needed or helpers are available. To determine whether a boat or a truck is the best rescue vehicle, it shares details of the estimated height of the water, how swiftly the water is moving, and how dangerous the situation is.

      "We have about 950 people who have signed up on our app as of this moment who've said, 'I am a rescuer and I have a boat or I have a truck and I can help,' as well as a number of dispatchers and people who are helping remotely," Matthew Marchetti, co-founder of CrowdSource Rescue, told ABC News. "We expect to be inundated with requests for help in the next 24 hours."

      Marchetti said his team helped some 37,000 people during the three major hurricanes of 2017.

      Nextdoor

      Nextdoor is a social networking-style app of 181,000 communities. As opposed to how Facebook and other social networks run, Nextdoor users are asked to use their real names and physical addresses. User posts aren’t public, either, nor are people defined by “friends” or “groups.”

      “In a crisis, it may be the most hyperlocal source of information,” Worley said.

      As hurricane Florence winds its way up the East coast, technology is at the forefront of helping out those impacted by the storm.During ABC’s ‘Good Mor...
      Read lessRead more

      Target to hire 120,000 seasonal workers for the holidays

      The company will expand the number of employees dedicated to fulfilling online orders

      Last year, Target caught the eyes of many job seekers when it announced that it would be hiring 100,000 temporary workers for the holiday season. This year, the retailer is raising the ante even higher.

      On Thursday, company officials announced that they would be hiring on 120,000 seasonal workers this year, with a large amount of those positions going towards fulfilling online orders. The move will help Target manage what it expects to be a busy holiday season for foot traffic in stores and pick-up and drive-up services.

      Target announced that it will be holding hiring events at its stores around the U.S. from October 12 through October 14.

      Moving in on the toy market

      Target’s decision to increase its workforce during the holidays follows a strong second quarter in which its online sales rose by over 40 percent. CEO Brian Cornell called the bump to online traffic “unprecedented.”

      With the closing of Toys “R” Us, the spike comes at a good time. Company officials say that they’ll be looking to step in and snag as much of the toy market as it can when parents go to shop for their little ones this holiday season -- a plan shared by both Walmart and Amazon.

      “We are investing in categories like toy and baby where we know we have this big opportunity ahead of us,” Cornell told CNBC in August. “We are going to make sure we are taking more than our fair share of that market share.”

      The company plans to fill 7,500 positions at fulfillment and distribution centers, where seasonal workers will help unload and pack up orders. Positions in stores will primarily focus on restocking shelves and helping customers find items.

      Last year, Target caught the eyes of many job seekers when it announced that it would be hiring 100,000 temporary workers for the holiday season. This year...
      Read lessRead more

      Spotify raises offline download limit to 10,000 tracks

      Many users were pleasantly surprised by the change

      Spotify’s previous rules for downloading songs offline left many consumers frustrated because of its strict limitations. Prior to its most recent update, users were restricted to downloading 3,333 songs to play offline across three devices.

      Now, Spotify unveiled its latest update, and without a proper announcement, Spotify nearly tripled its download limit. Users noticed this week that the limit had been raised, and Spotify confirmed the change to Rolling Stone.

      “At Spotify, we’re always working on improving the experience for our users,” a spokesperson said. “We can now confirm that we have increased the number of offline tracks per device -- from 3,333 on three devices to 10,000 tracks per device for up to five devices.”

      The download limit was users’ biggest gripe with the streaming service, as being able to download songs to a computer, phone, or tablet allowed them to listen to music without an internet connection. While users still can’t download an infinite number of songs, the boost should definitely make a difference for listeners.

      Spotify’s previous rules for downloading songs offline left many consumers frustrated because of its strict limitations. Prior to its most recent update, u...
      Read lessRead more

      It was another red ink-filled quarter for Sears and Kmart

      But the decline in same-store sales appears to be slowing

      Sears Holdings, operator of Sears and Kmart stores, continues to lose money as it closes stores, but its latest earnings report holds a sliver of good news.

      The decline in same-store sales in the latest quarter was the smallest in more than three years. At Sears and Kmart stores open for at least 12 months, sales fell 3.9 percent during the second quarter, compared to a 11.9 percent drop in sales in the previous quarter.

      The decline in sales was slightly smaller at Kmart stores than at Sears. The company said its comparable sales grew 3 percent in July and 2.5 percent in August.

      "While we are encouraged by the improved comparable stores sales trend we experienced in the second quarter, and the positive comparable store sales of 3.0 percent and 2.5 percent achieved in the months of July and August, respectively, we have yet to achieve our goal of returning the company to profitability," said CEO Edward S. Lampert. "We continue to close unprofitable stores, and we are hopeful that we can stabilize our store base at a meaningful level in the near future."

      Quarterly loss doubles

      The cost of closing stores weighed heavily on the company's bottom line in the second quarter. The company reported a net loss of $508 million, more than double the net loss of $250 million for the second quarter of 2017.

      "Our goal is to right-size our store footprint to a solid base from which we can operate and grow profitably, while leveraging our online and Shop Your Way platforms," Lampert said.

      The company said it will identify additional opportunities to "streamline operations and reduce expenses" in the second half of the year, suggesting consumers may see additional store closings.

      Sears served notice in January that it was in dire financial straits. It identified 150 unprofitable stores targeted for possible closing. So far, 99 have either closed or are among those that will close by November.

      Other steps to raise cash

      In addition to closing unprofitable stores, the company has also been considering other steps to raise cash. It has been in talks with a hedge fund that has offered to buy Sears Holdings' Kenmore appliance division for $400 million and the home improvement business for $80 million. The company had no comment on the status of those talks.

      Sears said it plans to expand its Sears Auto Center tire installation program with Amazon.com which is now available nationwide. It also said is plans to expand its online marketplace with popular products sold by third parties.

      Sears Holdings, operator of Sears and Kmart stores, continues to lose money as it closes stores, but its latest earnings report holds a sliver of good news...
      Read lessRead more

      Gas prices remain stable in September

      Hurricane Florence’s impact is not expected to be severe

      Motorists found gas prices to be mostly stable over the last seven days as the switch-over to winter-grade gasoline begins.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular is $2.85 a gallon, roughly the same as last week. The average price of premium gasoline is $3.39 a gallon, the same as last Friday. The average price of diesel fuel is $3.18 a gallon, up a penny from last week.

      Hurricane Florence, expected to devastate the Southeast coast, has the potential to cause temporary supply disruptions in that region. But Patrick DeHaan, head of Petroleum Analysis at GasBuddy, doesn't expect that to affect prices at the pump.

      "There's thankfully been no supply disruption, just stations that can't keep up with demand ahead of a hurricane, so there's unlikely to be any gas price response either," DeHaan told ConsumerAffairs. "No refineries are in the path and thus none have shut down, so gas prices should continue their fall in most of the country."

      DeHaan says there's an outside chance of a very small impact on gasoline prices in the Carolinas and Virginia, but any impact shouldn't last long.

      The good news for motorists in all areas of the country is supplies of gasoline are increasing. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports total stockpiles of gasoline rose by 1.3 million barrels last week.

      Along the East Coast, where the impact of Florence may hamper the normal movement of fuel stocks, the amount of fuel on hand is 17.6 million barrels more than at this time last year, when fuel prices were significantly lower.

      The states with the most expensive regular gas

      The following states currently have the most expensive regular gas prices on average, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey.

      • Hawaii ($3.77)

      • California ($3.63)

      • Washington ($3.38)

      • Alaska ($3.32)

      • Idaho ($3.21)

      • Oregon ($3.25)

      • Nevada ($3.17)

      • Utah ($3.14)

      • Pennsylvania ($3.06)

      • Connecticut ($3.04)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

      These states currently have the lowest prices for regular gas, the survey found.

      • Alabama ($2.52)

      • Mississippi ($2.54)

      • Arkansas ($2.57)

      • Louisiana ($2.58)

      • Tennessee ($2.58)

      • South Carolina ($2.59)

      • Texas ($2.60)

      • Missouri ($2.60)

      • Virginia ($2.61)

      • Oklahoma ($2.64)

      Motorists found gas prices to be mostly stable over the last seven days as the switch-over to winter-grade gasoline begins.The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey sh...
      Read lessRead more

      Jimco recalls bistro chairs

      The chair’s seat can break, posing a fall hazard

      Jimco Lamp & Manufacturing Company of Bono, Ark., is recalling about 16,000 bistro chairs.

      The chair’s seat can break, posing a fall hazard.

      The company has received five reports of the bistro chairs breaking, including one report involving a bruised wrist and a cut to the leg.

      This recall involves Jimco Outdoor Folding Bistro Chairs in graywash and teak finishes.

      The chairs, manufactured in Vietnam, were sold at TJ Maxx and Marshalls as individual chairs from January 2018, through June 2018, for about $20, and as part of a set with two chairs and a table at HomeGoods and Sierra Trading Post from January 2018, through June 2018, for about $130.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled chairs and contact the firm for instructions on how to return them for a full refund of the purchase price.

      Consumers may contact Jimco Lamp & Manufacturing Company at (800) 643-0092 from 8 a.m. – 5p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday or online at http://jimcolamp.com/ and click on Recall Information at the bottom of the page.

      Jimco Lamp & Manufacturing Company of Bono, Ark., is recalling about 16,000 bistro chairs.The chair’s seat can break, posing a fall hazard.The comp...
      Read lessRead more

      Braking issue prompts recall of numerous GM vehicles

      Rear brake performance may be reduced, increasing a crash risk

      General Motors is recalling 210,628 model year 2018-2019 Chevrolet Equinox, Impala, Cruze, Volt & Bolt EV vehicles, GMC Terrain vehicles, Buick Lacrosse & Regal vehicles, Cadillac XTS & XTS Professional vehicles and model year 2018 Chevrolet Malibus.

      The rear brake caliper pistons may have an insufficient coating causing gas pockets to form, potentially reducing rear brake performance.

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

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will bleed the vehicle's brake system, free of charge.

      The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Buick customer service at (800) 521-7300, Cadillac customer service at (800) 458-8006, Chevrolet customer service at (800) 222-1020, or GMC customer service at (800) 462-8782. GM's number for this recall is 18279.

      General Motors is recalling 210,628 model year 2018-2019 Chevrolet Equinox, Impala, Cruze, Volt & Bolt EV vehicles, GMC Terrain vehicles, Buick Lacrosse &...
      Read lessRead more

      Congress races to head off a government shutdown

      Both sides of the aisle are working feverishly to find the money necessary to keep the government running

      The U.S. Government is threatening another shutdown and Congress is going through all the government’s coffers looking for the funds to avert it and prevent consumers from suffering any consequences from a closure.

      It’s not like Congress doesn’t have enough on its hands with hurricane Florence, tariffs, vetting a Supreme Court nominee, and a looming mid-term election. But if the Democrats and Republicans can’t find a way to appropriate $1.24 trillion by midnight on September 30, the cupboards will be officially bare. At that point, the options are two: 1) shutter every service and agency short of the ones considered vital; or, 2) trim operations back as far as possible.

      This is the second time in 2018 that the Government may be forced to close down. In all but four of the last 40 years, Congress has passed continuing resolutions (CR) to keep agencies running between budgets.

      In January, Congress was so wrapped up in the tug-of-war over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the funding of President Trump’s border wall that it ran out of time to pass legislation funding operations and agencies sufficiently to keep the doors open.

      The border wall is impeding things again. While that may have little to do with Congress itself, Trump has dared to shut down the country more than seven times in the last six weeks if Congress doesn’t cough up the $5 billion he wants to kickstart the border wall project.

      Pulling out all stops

      With House members only working six more days in September before they go home to campaign for re-election, Republican party leaders are pessimistic about pulling off Trump’s wall wish by the shutdown deadline. They’re doing their best to get the President to calm his urges and wait until the November election when they’ll have more time.

      Nonetheless, Congress is working feverishly -- and cooperatively -- to keep the country afloat. The Senate voted 92-5 on Wednesday to approve a $147 billion package to fund military veterans' programs, the Department of Energy, and the legislative branch. The bill is now in the House’s hands, which is doing its best to drag it across the finish line by the end of the day, Thursday.

      While $147 billion is a nice start, there are still two other spending packages in the wings that Congress needs to approve to avoid a government shutdown. If all three packages are ratified by both chambers and signed by President Trump, they would add up to nearly 90 percent of the federal government’s annual spending.

      The only thing left at that point will be coming up with some form of a financial band-aid for the Department of Homeland Security which is in charge of -- you guessed it -- Trump’s border wall.

      The U.S. Government is threatening another shutdown and Congress is going through all the government’s coffers looking for the funds to avert it and preven...
      Read lessRead more

      Apple unveils newest iPhones and watch

      The Apple Watch moves closer to becoming a medical device

      Apple has introduced three new iPhone models and an updated Apple Watch. It's the watch that's creating the most buzz so far.

      Called the Apple Watch Series 4, the redesigned and re-engineered watch takes another step closer to becoming a medical device. It includes a new accelerometer and gyroscope to detect hard falls, along with an electrical heart rate sensor that has earned a De Novo classification by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

      FDA worked with Apple

      As Apple unveiled the new watch, the FDA released a statement from Commissioner Scott Gottlieb welcoming Apple's entry into the healthcare field, noting the new watch has two apps that consumers may find particularly useful.

      "One app creates an electrocardiogram, similar to traditional electrocardiograms, to detect the presence of atrial fibrillation and regular heart rhythm, while the other app analyzes pulse rate data to identify irregular heart rhythms suggestive of atrial fibrillation and notify the user," Gottlieb said. "The FDA worked closely with the company as they developed and tested these software products, which may help millions of users identify health concerns more quickly."

      The new Apple Watch with GPS alone will be available for pre-order in 26 countries and territories beginning Friday, September 14. The watch with GPS plus cellular will be available to order in 16 countries Friday. Both will be in stores Friday, September 21.

      New iPhones

      Apple has also introduced three new additions to its iPhone line-up -- the iPhone Xs, the iPhone Xs Max, and the iPhone XR. All three phones feature the all-screen design introduced with the iPhone X.

      The phones are different sizes, ranging from 5.8 to 6.5 inches, and all three feature enhanced cameras, processors, and operating systems.

      The iPhone Xs starts at $999, while the iPhone Xs Max starts at $1,099. The iPhone XR starts at $749.

      The iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max will be available for pre-order starting Friday, September 14, with availability beginning Friday, September 21 in more than 30 countries and territories.

      The iPhone X will be available to pre-order beginning Friday, October 19 and in stores beginning Friday, October 26.

      Apple has introduced three new iPhone models and an updated Apple Watch. It's the watch that's creating the most buzz so far.Called the Apple Watch Ser...
      Read lessRead more

      Drug CEO sees 'moral requirement' to raise prices

      An interview draws a rebuke from the head of the Food and Drug Administration

      Jacking up drug prices has often been described as "greed" but probably never as a "moral requirement." Until this week.

      In an interview with the Financial Times, Nirmal Mulye, CEO of a small pharmaceutical company called Nostrum, defended his company's decision to raise the price of nitrofurantoin from $474.75 to $2,392. Nitrofurantoin is a drug that is highly effective at treating lower urinary tract infections.

      Mulye noted that a rival pharmaceutical company had a similar drug and had just increased the price by a similar amount. That's when the executive made the statement that is likely to revive the recent debate over high drug prices.

      “I think it is a moral requirement to make money when you can . . . to sell the product for the highest price,” Mulye told Financial Times.

      Shades of Shkreli

      In a follow-up answer Mulye made clear that his main obligation is not to his customers, the people who purchase the drug, but to his shareholders.

      According to the publication, Mulye defended the actions of Martin Shkreli, founder of Turing Pharmaceuticals, who purchased the rights to an old drug and enraged just about everyone when he unapologetically raised the price from $13 to $750 a pill.

      The Financial Times quotes Mulye as saying "I agree with Martin Shkreli that when he raised the price of his drug he was within his rights because he had to reward his shareholders."

      FDA boss weighs in

      The quote got the attention of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who took to Twitter to register his disapproval.

      "Regarding @FT story today @bydavidcrow; there’s no moral imperative to price gouge and take advantage of patients," he wrote. "FDA will continue to promote competition so speculators and those with no regard to public health consequences can’t take advantage of patients who need medicine."

      With a few weeks to go before the midterm elections, Mulye's comments may have inadvertently revived high drug prices as a political issue. The issue ignited during the 2016 presidential campaign when both candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton harshly criticized drug companies that significantly increased prescription drug prices.

      Trump has kept up the criticism in the White House. In July, he took Pfizer to task after a published report that the company had boosted prices on over 100 drugs.

      However, his policy to curtail price increases, introduced in May, relies mostly on voluntary measures. The Kaiser Health Foundation says presidential tweets directed at drugmakers have so far failed to stem rising prescription drug prices.

      Jacking up drug prices has often been described as "greed" but probably never as a "moral requirement." Until this week.In an interview with the Financ...
      Read lessRead more

      Oil and gas industry will be free to leak methane under Trump proposal

      An Obama-era effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions is once again on the chopping block

      The oil and gas industry has long touted “clean-burning” natural gas as one of its most important weapons in the fight against climate change.

      But a huge domestic fracking boom that yielded a record amount of natural gas in the last decade failed to curb emissions in the United States, and researchers and environmentalist say they know why: methane.

      Though the industry is not keen to admit it, researchers have documented how leaks at fracking sites that emit methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas, could effectively undo any efforts to stop global warming.

      The Trump administration is now predictably going after an Obama-era proposal intended to force the industry to get tougher on methane leaks.

      The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a new rule this week that it says will save the oil and gas industry $75 million each year. The EPA also acknowledged that the changes will cause methane emissions to increase by a minimum of 380,000 tons by 2025.

      During the Obama administration, the EPA said that new regulations targeting methane emissions would reduce pollution by as much as 510,000 tons by 2025. The regulations had only been in effect for a year when Trump took office and tried to undo them; a lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council stopped the earlier effort.

      The public has 60 days to comment on the more recent proposal.

      The oil and gas industry has long touted “clean-burning” natural gas as one of its most important weapons in the fight against climate change.But a hug...
      Read lessRead more

      FEMA uses the Waffle House to determine a hurricane's intensity

      The restaurant aid tracks each storm from start to finish

      With Hurricane Florence barreling towards the east coast, the Waffle House is one of the countless businesses and agencies keeping a pulse on the storm.

      The breakfast chain is open 24 hours a day all year long, and it is known to be open during natural disasters. Because the restaurant has an active storm center monitor, federal officials use the Waffle House as a way to measure the severity of hurricanes, tornadoes, and other local storms after they hit.

      Should a Waffle House close its doors -- or even just limit its menu -- because of weather conditions, federal regulators know that particular area was hit hard. Because of the company’s close watch on natural disasters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) dubbed the term the “Waffle House Index” as a means of determining the effect of a storm on an area.

      “The Waffle House test just doesn’t tell us how quickly a business might rebound -- it also tells how the larger community is faring,” FEMA said in a 2011 blog post. “The sooner restaurants, grocery and corner stores, or banks can reopen, the sooner local economies will start generating revenue again -- signaling a strong recovery for a community.”

      The Waffle House game plan

      In order to remain open during dangerous conditions, Waffle House plans carefully -- and in advance -- for each storm. The restaurant has plenty of contingency plans, and even “jump teams” that involve store managers working shifts for stranded employees.

      Each restaurant also has a “Waffle House storm playbook” with a play-by-play of what to do should the electricity or running water go out mid-storm. FEMA has since developed a color-coded system that is dependent on Waffle House’s status.

      “They are open most of the time,” former FEMA administrator Craig Fugate said in a 2016 interview with NPR. “And that was the index. If a Waffle House is closed because there’s a disaster, it’s bad. We call it red. If they’re open but have a limited menu, that’s yellow. If they’re green, we’re good, keep going. You haven’t found the bad stuff yet.”  

      Waffle House spokesman Pat Warner said Fugate came up with the idea during the 2004 hurricane season.

      “If we are open quickly after a storm, that means the community is coming back and folks are out, we are getting back to that sense of normalcy,” Warner said. “After a storm, they’re really looking to us to be there to help them out because they’re used to us being there the rest of the year.”

      With Hurricane Florence barreling towards the east coast, the Waffle House is one of the countless businesses and agencies keeping a pulse on the storm....
      Read lessRead more

      Mick Mulvaney expresses financial and ‘moral’ concerns over student loan debt

      The CFPB acting director says many students don’t think enough about how they’ll pay their loans back

      Expressing concern over the rising tide of student loan debt is something you might expect from a high-ranking official at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). However, the fact that the sentiment is coming from Mick Mulvaney has some critics raising their eyebrows.

      In a statement to CNBC on Tuesday, Mulvaney said that he holds financial and “moral” concerns that some college students “don’t pay as much attention about paying [their] loan back.”

      “If we teach an entire generation of people that the first major loan they take out, they don’t have to pay back, I’m worried about the long-term impact of that,” Mulvaney said.

      Mulvaney’s track record

      The CFPB has come under massive scrutiny from consumer advocates, worker advocates, and regulators under Mulvaney’s leadership. As a staunch opponent of the agency during his time as a congressman, he often remarked that the CFPB had too much power; he even pushed to have it dismantled during the Obama administration.

      Upon becoming acting director in 2017, Mulvaney asked Congress to reduce the agency’s power -- a move that caught the ire of both regulators and consumer advocates.

      “To summarize Mick Mulvaney’s message to Congress, let’s take away the consumer bureau’s independence and then make it harder for it to do its job,” Mike Litt, consumer campaign director of U.S. PIRG, said at the time.

      Mulvaney’s rough handling of an agency whose primary mission is to protect consumers from predatory business and loan practices is the primary point of contention when considering his statements on student loans -- although many would point out that he puts more of the onus of responsibility for students loans on those taking them out.

      In a recent statement to CNBC, Mulvaney said he would not describe student loans as a brewing crisis, although he did say that some changes are needed.

      Expressing concern over the rising tide of student loan debt is something you might expect from a high-ranking official at the Consumer Financial Protectio...
      Read lessRead more

      New blood test could lead to faster detection of Huntington’s disease

      Researchers say signs were observed before brain scans revealed any problems

      Researchers from the University College of London believe that a new blood test could be the key to detecting the earliest signs of Huntington’s disease.

      In a recent study, the research team found that the test was able to pick up on the earliest internal changes caused by the condition, even before scans revealed any physical changes in the brain. This could pave the way for earlier prevention efforts and greater outcomes for consumers suffering from the disease.

      "Many people who develop Huntington's report subtle signs such as with mood or coordination, in what's called the prodromal stage before any changes can be detected by brain scans,” explained lead author Dr. Ed Wild. “We've found that blood testing could help identify groups of people with very early neurodegeneration to help us run clinical trials of drugs to prevent symptoms."

      Time of incredible advancement

      The study involved 80 participants in all -- 40 who had been diagnosed with Huntington’s, 20 who carried the genetic mutation for the disease but had not been diagnosed, and 20 who were completely healthy.

      After taking various samples from these patients, the researchers tested them for neurodegeneration and other markers of Huntington’s. Using that collected information, the researchers were able to model and predict which stage of disease progression patients were in -- even those with pre-Huntington’s symptoms.

      "We were surprised to find the blood tests could pick up signs even before any evidence of neurodegeneration could be seen in brain scans," said Wild.

      "We are living in a time of incredible advancement in the field of neurodegeneration, and research in Huntington's disease is paving the way towards interventions that can change people's lives. Developing tools to track biological and clinical changes, and identify candidates to participate in clinical trials, is vital for the success of such trials," added study co-author Dr. Filipe Brogueira Rodrigues.

      Further research needed

      While the study findings are very promising, the researchers stress that further work will need to be done before they will be able to implement them in a meaningful way.

      "More research is needed to clarify the clinical potential of this test. We hope it can help to develop the first drugs to slow Huntington's, and if they become available, then hopefully this test could help guide decisions on when to begin treatment," said first author Lauren Byrne.

      The full study has been published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

      Researchers from the University College of London believe that a new blood test could be the key to detecting the earliest signs of Huntington’s disease....
      Read lessRead more

      Despite growing economy, there's little sign of inflation

      But the costs of gasoline and shelter continue to go higher

      The government reports the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 0.2 percent in August, the same as July, suggesting inflation is largely absent from most of the economy. Much of the increase came in the form of more costly housing and energy.

      The Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) energy index rose 1.9 percent, largely due to rising gasoline prices. The cost of shelter rose even more. As we reported Wednesday, consumers paying rent and making mortgage payments are encountering rising costs. The BLS' shelter index jumped 3.0 percent last month.

      Food costs were up last month, but only slightly. The cost of food prepared at home was roughly the same as the month before.

      The CPI excluding both food and energy -- both highly volatile components -- rose only 0.1 percent in August, the smallest monthly increase since April. Consumers faced lower costs last month for apparel, medical care, communication, recreation, and personal care.

      Producer prices fall

      On Wednesday, BLS reported the Producer Price Index (PPI), a measure of costs facing producers and wholesalers, actually went down, falling 0.1 percent. The report shows the index was pulled lower by a decline in the cost of services.

      The PPI is often viewed as an early indicator of future inflation, since higher costs paid by producers are normally passed on to consumers.

      Amid this backdrop of stable prices, consumers' incomes rose slightly last month. The BLS reports real average hourly earnings for all employees increased 0.1 percent from July to August.

      Incomes slowly rise

      The agency attributes the gain to a 0.4-percent increase in average hourly earnings combined with a 0.2-percent increase in the CPI. Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union, says consumers are getting ahead, but just barely.

      "In the race between wage growth and inflation growth, wages edged ahead by a nose, with an annualized gain of 2.9 percent versus 2.7 percent for inflation, so real wage increases are now 0.2 percent, annualized," Frick told ConsumerAffairs. "That's scant comfort for American workers, but with the labor force continuing to tighten and inflation subdued, we may begin to see real wage growth climb to a percentage point or more in the next year, which would be typical - and welcome - for this late stage of an expansion."

      Consumers may be taking home a little more money because they're working harder. The BLS report shows there was a 0.6 percent increase in the average workweek over the last 12 months.

      The government reports the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 0.2 percent in August, the same as July, suggesting inflation is largely absent from most of the...
      Read lessRead more

      GM recalls 1 million vehicles with power steering issue

      Electric power steering assist may operate intermittently

      General Motors is recalling 1,015,918 model year 2015 Chevrolet Silverado 1500s, Tahoes & Suburbans, GMC Sierra 1500s & Yukons, and Cadillac Escalades.

      Electric power steering (EPS) assist may be lost momentarily, followed by a sudden return.

      If EPS assist is lost and then suddenly returns, the driver may have difficulty steering the vehicle, especially at low speeds, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will update the EPS module software, free of charge.

      The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Cadillac customer service at 1-800-458-8006, Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020 and GMC customer service at 1-800-462-8782. GM's number for this recall is 18289.

      General Motors is recalling 1,015,918 model year 2015 Chevrolet Silverado 1500s, Tahoes & Suburbans, GMC Sierra 1500s & Yukons, and Cadillac Escalades....
      Read lessRead more

      CTI Foods recalls ready-to-eat Philly Beef Steak

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      CTI Foods of Owingsville, Ky., is recalling approximately 6,720 pounds of ready-to-eat (RTE) Philly Beef Steak.

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

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

      The following RTE item, produced on Aug. 9, 2018, is being recalled:

      • 672 cardboard cases labeled Classic Sysco having a NET WT of 10 lbs. The cardboard cases contain four 2.5 lb. bags of product. Both the box and the bags are labeled “FULLY COOKED PHILLY BEEF STEAK SLICED Caramel Color Added” with a package code of 4887097.

      The recalled product, bearing establishment number “EST. 19085” inside the USDA mark of inspection, was shipped to a food service warehouse in Hamilton, Ohio, and further distributed to food service locations.

      What to do

      Consumers with questions regarding the recall may contact John Spiller at (817) 869-1153.

      CTI Foods of Owingsville, Ky., is recalling approximately 6,720 pounds of ready-to-eat (RTE) Philly Beef Steak.The product may be contaminated with Lis...
      Read lessRead more

      CDC warns consumers about upcoming flu season

      The agency says consumers should get vaccinated early, before the flu starts spreading

      With autumn just ahead, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging consumers to plan to get their flu vaccination early this year.

      In the wake of last year’s particularly severe flu season, health officials are stressing the importance of getting a flu shot in the hope that the 2018-2019 flu season won’t be as deadly.

      The CDC notes that 180 children died from the flu during last year’s flu season; approximately 4 out of five of those children weren’t vaccinated. The number of people hospitalized with flu symptoms topped 700,000 last season, CNBC reported.

      “Influenza is a potentially serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death,” the CDC said on its website.

      While a flu shot does not make a person completely immune to the flu, a seasonal flu vaccine is the “best way to reduce your risk of getting sick with seasonal flu and spreading it to others,” the CDC said.

      “Vaccination has been shown to have many benefits including reducing the risk of flu illnesses, hospitalizations and even the risk of flu-related death in children,” the agency said

      While last year’s flu vaccine was found to be only around 25 percent effective, this year’s vaccine has been improved to “better match circulating viruses.” The vaccine will be matched to four strains this year, including H3N2 (the dominant strain last year).

      Get vaccinated early

      The CDC recommends that everyone six months and older, especially people at high-risk for flu-related complications, get a yearly flu vaccine “preferably by the end of October.” Those at high-risk include:

      • Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old

      • Adults 65 years of age and older

      • Pregnant women (and women up to two weeks postpartum)

      • Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities

      Those two years or older (and under 49 years old) can receive a nasal spray called FluMist. Last year, the CDC did not recommend it over concerns that it was not as effective as the shot.

      However, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all eligible children receive a flu vaccine injection. The nasal spray vaccine can be used for children who would not otherwise receive the flu shot, the group said.

      “For instance, if a child refuses the flu shot, or if the physician's office runs out of the injected vaccine, the nasal spray would be appropriate,” the AAP said.

      With autumn just ahead, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging consumers to plan to get their flu vaccination early this year.I...
      Read lessRead more

      FCC pauses the clock on T-Mobile-Sprint merger

      The agency says the two companies have changed their merger model

      The proposed merger of T-Mobile and Sprint won't happen anytime soon. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has paused its 180-day consideration period for the proposal to give staff more time to review recently submitted documents.

      In a letter to the two telecom companies, David Lawrence, head of the FCC task force reviewing the merger, noted the FCC only recently received documents that explain the modeling T-Mobile and Sprint are relying on to bolster their case.

      “On September 5, 2018, the applicants submitted a substantially revised network engineering model,” Lawrence said. “Although the applicants had previously provided a network engineering model as backup for certain network claims, you explained that since that time 'the model has been extended,' and that the newly-provided model 'completes' the prior work.”

      Larger and more complex

      Lawrence says the new network engineering model is significantly larger and more complex than the previous submission. He says it appears to incorporate new logic, methodologies, facts, and assumptions, something that can't be reviewed quickly.

      T-Mobile said it appreciates the fact that the FCC is taking additional time to review the proposed merger and says no one should read anything into the delay.

      “The additional review time is common to FCC merger reviews,” the company said in a statement. “We are confident that this transaction is pro-competitive, good for the country and good for American consumers.”

      Previous merger attempts

      Both T-Mobile and Sprint have been takeover targets by other telecom providers in recent years, but government regulators have resisted the deals that would have reduced the “big four” wireless companies to a big three.

      At the end of April, T-Mobile announced a $26 billion deal to acquire Sprint, saying the two smallest wireless companies needed to join forces so they could develop a robust 5G network that can compete with Verizon and AT&T.

      The FCC review mostly centers on technical issues involved in such a union. The Justice Department will later look at the competitive aspects of the proposed deal.

      In May, a group of Democratic lawmakers said they worried a merger would result in higher costs for consumers. Late last month, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) opposed the merger, predicting it would result in the loss of 24,000 retail jobs.

      The proposed merger of T-Mobile and Sprint won't happen anytime soon. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has paused its 180-day consideration peri...
      Read lessRead more

      New study shows where millennials have the most debt

      Student loans hold the top spot for millennials’ debt across the United States

      A new LendingTree study found that the average millennial living in one of the 50 biggest metro area cities in the United States has a median total debt of $23,064.

      “The millennial generation makes up the younger portion of adults, and as they build their careers, families and communities, they’re doing it encumbered by personal debt,” said Kali McFadden, a senior research analyst at LendingTree who led this study.

      Looking at anonymous credit report data from My LendingTree users, the researchers were able to see not only where millennials have the biggest debt obligations (excluding mortgage payments), but also the average debt breakdown of the five main debt types: student, auto, credit cards, personal, and other.

      Key findings

      The 10 cities that have the most millennial debt are:

      • San Antonio (Median balance: $27,122)

      • Pittsburgh (Median balance: $26,403)

      • Austin (Median balance: $26,112)

      • Houston (Median balance: $25,978)

      • Jacksonville (Median balance: $25,947)

      • Dallas (Median balance: $25,939)

      • Washington (Median balance: $25,810)

      • Virginia Beach (Median balance: $25,591)

      • Oklahoma City (Median balance: $25,351)

      • Columbus (Median balance: $25,129)

      The 10 metro cities that have the least millennial debt are:

      • San Diego ($20,751)

      • Miami ($20,715)

      • Louisville ($20,643)

      • Providence ($20,505)

      • Salt Lake City ($20,412)

      • Detroit ($19,978)

      • New York ($19,631)

      • Los Angeles ($19,299)

      • Sacramento ($18,691)

      • San Jose ($18,376)

      Overall, student loans makes up the largest portion of all millennial debt -- accounting for 41 percent of total credit and loan balances. Philadelphia has the highest levels of student debt at 49.1 percent of the average debt burden, and San Jose has the lowest levels of student debt at 24.1 percent. In 35 of the 50 metropolitan cities LendingTree looked at for this study, student loan debt was the largest category.

      Of the other 15 cities, auto loan debt was the biggest culprit, making up 33 percent of millennials’ total average debt. In Riverside, California, auto loan debt accounted for 43 percent of the average millennial debt, while it was only 22 percent for millennials living in New York City.

      Additionally, researchers at LendingTree noted that the cities that had the lowest debt aren’t exactly safe havens of economic prosperity.

      “It’s worth noting that low debt burdens aren’t necessarily a good thing when thinking about the economic vibrancy of a community,” McFadden said. “Some people have lower debt burdens because they don’t have access to credit, for instance, or haven’t gone to college.”

      Tackling debt

      LendingTree offered tips for millennials to try to tackle rising debt -- whether it’s student loans, credit cards, or car loans.

      For those with student debt, LendingTree suggests changing federal student loan repayment plans to reflect individuals’ income, which can make monthly payments more affordable. Additionally, forbearing or deferring payments can put a pause on student loans, while refinancing the loan can help secure a lower interest rate and save money.

      When it comes to car loans, LendingTree suggests making extra payments as a way to pay off the loan faster. Similar to student loans, those with car loan debt can refinance the loan to either a different loan term or a new interest rate -- or both.

      Lastly, for those with credit card woes, a credit card balance transfer is a viable option. Consumers can open a new card with zero percent APR and move the credit card debt to that new zero-interest card. This allows the consumer to catch up on payments while not paying interest for several months. Another option is consolidating credit card debt into a personal loan, as most personal loans have lower interest rates than credit cards.

      A new LendingTree study found that the average millennial living in one of the 50 biggest metro area cities in the United States has a median total debt of...
      Read lessRead more

      Airlines waiving fees before Hurricane Florence

      Major carriers are letting passengers change their travel plans with no additional cost

      Ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence on the East Coast, several airlines have announced that they will waive ticket change fees for customers who need to change their travel plans due to the storm’s predicted path.

      Change fees normally set customers back around $200 plus a difference in fare, CNBC reports. However, Delta, United, Southwest and other big airlines say they will waive change fees or fare differences ahead of the impending storm.

      Carriers said many flights are likely to be affected by the hurricane, which is expected to make landfall at the end of this week as a Category 4 with sustained winds of 130 m.p.h.

      Affected cities

      Southwest Airlines announced in a travel advisory that because of Hurricane Florence, flights going to and from nine airports along the east coast could be canceled, delayed, or diverted. The airline said following airports could be affected by the storm:

      • Baltimore/Washington (BWI)

      • Charleston, SC (CHS)

      • Charlotte, NC (CLT)

      • Greenville-Spartanburg, SC (GSP)

      • Norfolk/Virginia Beach, VA (ORF)

      • Raleigh/Durham, NC (RDU)

      • Richmond, VA (RIC)

      • Washington Dulles International (IAD)

      • Washington, D.C. (Reagan National–DCA)

      Airlines waiving fees

      Southwest said passengers booked into six cities in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia can re-book their flights within 14 days of their original dates with no additional cost.

      Delta says travelers booked to and from airports from Virginia to Georgia won’t be charged change fees. United also announced that it will waive date-change fees and fare differences for travelers booked to or from 16 area airports if they were booked to fly between September 10 and September 16.

      JetBlue announced that it will waive change and cancel fees and fare differences for customers traveling from September 13 to September 15 in five cities in the Southeast.

      As of 11 a.m. ET, 192 flights to, from, and within the U.S. have been cancelled for today; 362 flights for tomorrow have already been canceled due to the storm’s predicted path, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware.

      FlightAware said it expects those numbers to rise significantly over the next 24 hours as the storm approaches and airlines finalize their plans.

      Ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence on the East Coast, several airlines have announced that they will waive ticket change fees for customers who nee...
      Read lessRead more

      Amazon launches Whole Foods delivery in 10 more cities

      ​Prime delivery is now available in 38 cities

      On Wednesday, Amazon announced that it is expanding its Whole Foods grocery delivery service to 10 more cities.

      Prime Now is now available in Charlotte, North Carolina; Las Vegas; Memphis, Tennessee; Nashville, Tennessee; New Orleans; Oklahoma City; Phoenix; Raleigh, North Carolina; Seattle and Tucson, Arizona.

      The addition of ten new cities brings the total number of cities with the service to 38.

      Amazon has also expanded its Whole Foods grocery delivery option to more neighborhoods in three existing markets: New York, L.A. and Dallas/Fort Worth.

      “Prime Now delivery continues to be a hit with our customers and we’re excited to introduce the service in ten new cities plus more areas of New York, Los Angeles and Dallas/Ft. Worth,” said Christina Minardi, Whole Foods Market executive vice president of operations.

      “It’s just another way we’re making it even easier for more customers to enjoy Whole Foods Market’s healthy and organic food,” Minardi said in a statement.

      Shoppers can use www.primenow.com or the Amazon Prime Now App on any smartphone to order groceries. Customers can also use their Echo device to order groceries using the command, “Alexa, shop Whole Foods.”

      The free two-hour delivery service is available every day from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. for Prime members.

      On Wednesday, Amazon announced that it is expanding its Whole Foods grocery delivery service to 10 more cities. Prime Now is now available in Charlotte...
      Read lessRead more

      Google is fighting back against efforts to expand 'right to be forgotten' rules

      The search engine is arguing that applying the rule globally could infringe on people’s right to expression

      In May 2014, the European Court of Justice implemented the “right to be forgotten” rule for internet users, allowing consumers to request that any information about themselves be de-listed from search results.

      Four years later, the ruling has resurfaced as Google finds itself in a battle with France’s data protection agency -- the Commission nationale de l'informatique et des libertés (CNIL). CNIL is arguing that the right to be forgotten rule be expanded to cover more than just the European Union; it says the rule should give users the option to have things de-listed from search engines globally.

      While CNIL acknowledged that Google does delete some search results from Europeans when requested, the main issue is that the results aren’t deleted everywhere. According to CNIL’s complaint, some non-EU versions of Google still displayed the de-listed information.

      A censorship issue

      At a hearing in front of 15 European Union judges, Google was strong in its stance that expanding the right to be forgotten rule would in fact infringe on some users’ freedom of expression.

      Other media outlets -- including Reuters, The New York Times, Buzzfeed, and several nonprofit organizations -- agree with Google’s stance that expanding the current rule would be censorship.

      “This case could see the right to be forgotten threatening global free speech,” said Thomas Hughes, the executive director of the freedom-of-expression group Article 19. “European data regulators should not be allowed to decide what internet users around the world find when they use a search engine.”

      “The [Court of Justice of the European Union] must limit the scope of the right to be forgotten in order to protect the right of internet users around the world to access information online,” Hughes said.

      What’s been removed

      Earlier this year, Google provided an update on its efforts in the last four years since the right to be forgotten rule was put into effect.

      Google reported it made good on requests covering 2.4 million URLs.

      In a February report, Google noted that deciding what to de-list can become problematic, and those that have been deleted thus far comprise only 43.3 percent of requests.

      “Search engines like Google must consider if the information in question is ‘inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive’—and whether there is a public interest in the information remaining available in search results,” said Michee Smith, Google’s product lead on the project.

      In the four years since right to be forgotten was enacted, the main request from consumers is tied to social media and directory services containing personal information. The second highest request is linked to news outlets and government websites.

      In May 2014, the European Court of Justice implemented the “right to be forgotten” rule for internet users, allowing consumers to request that any informat...
      Read lessRead more

      It's increasingly costly to put a roof over your head

      Both buyers and renters are feeling the squeeze

      If you're renting, you're seeing your rent rise at a record pace. If you're buying a home, chances are the mortgage payment is stretching you to the limit.

      That's the takeaway from two new housing reports that underscore the high cost of putting a roof over your head.

      A monthly survey by Yardi Matrix tracks rents in multifamily buildings, such as apartment buildings. In August, the average rent rose by $2 over July, which was already at a record high.

      The average rent in August was $1,412 a month, a 3 percent increase over the last 12 months. Rent rose the most in Orlando, Las Vegas, California's Inland Empire, Phoenix, and Tampa. On a regional basis, metro areas in the South and West occupied the nine top spots in the ranking of fastest-growing rent.

      Rising home prices and interest rates

      The news isn't any better for people purchasing homes. A new report from Zillow says the combination of rising home prices and higher mortgage rates is squeezing more would-be buyers out of the market.

      A monthly mortgage payment for the typical home takes 17.5 percent of the median income, up from 15.4 percent a year earlier. In the least affordable market, San Jose, Calif., the average house payment requires 53.5 percent of the median income, up from an average of 36.1 percent between 1985 and 2000.

      Mortgage rates are rising because the economy is getting stronger. Home prices are rising because there is a shortage of homes for sale.

      Needless to say, the burden isn't shared equally. Mortgage payments are nearly twice as big of a financial drain for the lowest income homebuyers compared with the highest-income buyers.

      Rates are the game-changer

      Zillow Senior Economist Aaron Terrazas says the biggest change has been the interest rate environment. For years, while home prices rose mortgage rates stayed at historic lows. Now that rates are rising, so are mortgage payments.

      "Low mortgage rates have kept first-time homeownership and move-up homes within reach for many Americans, even as home values have soared to new heights," Terrazas said. "While mortgage rates remain low by historic standards, they are creeping upward, eating into what buyers can pay, and in a handful of pricey markets, affordability already looks unnervingly low.”

      The Zillow report also confirms the findings of the Yardi Matrix survey, showing the typical rent now requires an increasing amount of the median income. Although rent affordability remains worse today than it was in the 1980s and 1990s, Zillow says it has gradually improved after peaking in late 2010.

      If you're renting, you're seeing your rent rise at a record pace. If you're buying a home, chances are the mortgage payment is stretching you to the limit....
      Read lessRead more

      There's never been a better time to look for a job

      Government reports job openings are at a record high

      If it seems you're seeing more Help Wanted ads these days, it's not your imagination. There has never been a better time to be looking for a job.

      The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that job openings reached a new high of 6.9 million at the end of July. Economists say the monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) suggests businesses are having difficulty finding the workers they need.

      Until very recently, the tightening labor market hadn't resulted in bigger paycheck. But in August, the BLS reported average hourly incomes rose at a 12-month rate of 2.9, among the strongest since the financial crisis. At some point, wages will have to rise as employers compete for fewer workers.

      Strongest outlook on record

      Amid this tighter labor market, a new report from The Manpower Group shows U.S. Employers plan to add to their staffs in the next three months. It's the strongest average annual outlook in the last decade with more than 19 percent anticipating growth of their payrolls.

      "August marked the 95th month in a row for job growth in the U.S. and we anticipate we'll hit 99 months by the end of the year as the fourth quarter outlook has more good news for American jobseekers and businesses," said Becky Frankiewicz, President of ManpowerGroup North America.

      As the world observes the 10th anniversary of the financial crisis this week, Frankiewicz says the labor market is finally getting back to where it was before Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy and the economy nearly collapsed. While the economy is growing again, Frankiewicz says a lot of change has occurred in the last 10 years.

      Big changes in the last decade

      "Manufacturing is more advanced, retail has gone online, and employers in professional roles need a new combination of digital and soft skills,” she said. “These are not the low-skilled jobs of the past, they are highly skilled technical roles of the future. In this competitive labor market, there is no better time for employers to help people upskill and develop in their careers.”

      According to The Manpower Group's fourth quarter outlook, jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector will grow at the fastest rate – 28 percent. Professional and business services will remain robust with a 25 percent growth rate with transportation and utilities close behind at 24 percent.

      If it seems you're seeing more Help Wanted ads these days, it's not your imagination. There has never been a better time to be looking for a job.The Bu...
      Read lessRead more

      Gravel Ridge Farms recalls Cage Free Eggs

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Gravel Ridge Farms is recalling Cage Free Large Eggs that may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      Reported illnesses have been confirmed at locations using Gravel Ridge Farm Eggs.

      The following product is being recalled:

      ProductSizeUPCuse by

      Gravel Ridge

      Farms
      Large Cage

      Free Eggs

      Single Dozen

      and 2.5

      Dozen Flats

      7-06970-

      38444-6

      7/25/18

      through

      10/3/18

      The recalled product was sold between June 25, 2018, and September 6, 2018, in restaurants and retail stores in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product may return them to the store for a refund or discard them immediately.

      Consumers with questions may call Dustin Smith at (205) 363-1105 Monday – Friday from 8AM – 4PM (CT).

      Gravel Ridge Farms is recalling Cage Free Large Eggs that may be contaminated with Salmonella.Reported illnesses have been confirmed at locations using...
      Read lessRead more

      Volvo recalls model year 2019 XC40s

      The brake pedals may not have been riveted correctly

      Volvo Car USA is recalling 71 model year 2019 Volvo XC40s.

      The brake pedals may not have been riveted correctly, allowing the pedal to move out of position, possibly reducing braking performance.

      Reduced braking performance can increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Volvo has notified owners advising them to stop driving their vehicles. Cars will be inspected on-site or towed to dealers and the brake pedals will be replaced as necessary, free of charge.

      Volvo began contacting their owners on August 23, 2018.

      Owners may contact Volvo customer service at 1-800-458-1552. Volvo's number for this recall is R59899.

      Volvo Car USA is recalling 71 model year 2019 Volvo XC40s.The brake pedals may not have been riveted correctly, allowing the pedal to move out of posit...
      Read lessRead more

      Former Volkswagen boss slow to address emissions cheating scandal, judge says

      Hearings against the German carmaker started today

      According to the judge of the damages case brought by investors against Volkswagen, former CEO Martin Winterkorn was slow to address the company’s emissions cheating scandal.

      Investors are looking for 9.2 billion euros ($10.6 billion) in damages from the suit to make up for the share prices they lost when the scandal became public. The final outcome of the suit will come down to who was privy to information -- and when.

      The scandal broke on September 18, 2015 when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a notice of violation. The investors are accusing Volkswagen of not disclosing this information with them -- specifically how much money was involved.

      Now, Judge Christian Jaede reported that Winterkorn was certainly aware of the breadth of the scandal. According to Jaede, Volkswagen was on the verge of getting banned by United States regulators because of high pollution levels. Following a meeting with VW higher-ups that took place two months prior, Winterkorn dragged his feet on the issue.

      “Anyone acting in good faith would have followed up on this information,” Jaede said. “This appears not to have happened.”

      Winterkorn resigned just days after the scandal broke, though he did say he was unaware of the scandal until Volkswagen officially announced it.

      Push for the truth

      In September 2015, Volkswagen admitted to equipping over 11 million of its diesel vehicles with illegal software to cheat the U.S. emissions tests. The scandal has not only cost the company billions of dollars, but it has also led to the indictment of several top executives.

      In January 2017, Volkswagen settled U.S. Justice Department criminal and civil charges, shelling out $4.3 billion. The company agreed to plead guilty to three criminal felony charges and pay a $2.8 billion criminal penalty. It also paid $1.5 billion in separate civil resolutions.

      All of these penalties are on top of the $15 billion VW agreed to pay owners of Volkswagens, Audis, and Porsches equipped with 2.0-liter TD Clean Diesel engines, and the $1 billion it has agreed to pay consumers with 3.0-liter diesels.

      Volkswagen was charged with -- and plead guilty to:

      • Participating in a conspiracy to defraud the United States and VW’s U.S. customers;

      • Violating the Clean Air Act by lying and misleading the EPA and U.S. customers about whether its cars complied with U.S. emissions standards;

      • Using cheating software to circumvent the U.S. testing process; and

      • Concealing material facts about its cheating from U.S. regulators.

      However, the scandal leaked into 2018 when Audi CEO Rupert Stadler was arrested over “concerns over potential evidence tampering” in the diesel-emissions cheating case. Stadler’s home was raided by authorities one week before the arrest, and he was immediately named a suspect in the investigation.

      Just last month, an independent compliance auditor complained he wasn’t getting enough information out of VW. Larry Thompson, who was appointed by the U.S. Justice Department to monitor Volkswagen’s efforts to comply with the settlement charges, said that the company was relying too heavily on privacy and attorney/client privilege to withhold any information.

      According to the judge of the damages case brought by investors against Volkswagen, former boss Martin Winterkorn was slow to address the company’s emissio...
      Read lessRead more

      Subway’s $5 footlong deal to go away at some franchises

      The chain is making it optional for store owners to run the promotion

      Subway CEO Trevor Haynes has revealed that the company will no longer require franchisees to offer $5 footlong subs on their menu.

      The chain’s $5 footlong promotion, which was first introduced in the early 2000s, disappeared for several years but returned last winter after a flurry of customer complaints.

      However, the discounted subs had become a source of complaints from store owners, Haynes said in an interview with USA Today. Some felt the price was too low to make a profit. To that end, Haynes is making it optional for franchises to run the $5 promotion.

      Helping shops find a “regional value message”

      "How do we help our franchises with more of a regional value message, so they're able to (have) a value proposition that fits with their economic model," Haynes told USA Today. "If you look at California, there's a very different cost of business than in Arkansas."

      Some stores may choose to keep the $5 deal for certain sandwiches or on certain days, while others could scrap the deal and choose to move to other menu items and specials instead. In San Francisco, for example, customers can get a $3.99 6-inch sub. Other locations in California are testing new menu items like paninis.

      "Affordable food is what we've always stood for," Haynes told USA Today. "It's not just about one price point."

      Earlier this year, the chain announced that it would be closing 500 stores as part of a revitalization effort intended to help boost slumping sales. That plan will include an overhaul to Subway’s image.

      Starting next year, franchise owners will be required to update the decor in their store. Subway plans to update its remaining stores -- which number in the tens of thousands -- with a bright, green, vegetable-inspired palate. Stores will also get self-service kiosks, more comfortable seating, and Wi-Fi and USB charging ports.

      Subway CEO Trevor Haynes has revealed that the company will no longer require franchisees to offer $5 footlong subs on their menu. The chain’s $5 footl...
      Read lessRead more

      National Safety Council offers steps to stay safe during Hurricane Florence

      Families are urged to put together an emergency supply kit and develop an emergency plan

      As Hurricane Florence intensifies, the National Safety Council (NSC) is urging those on the East Coast to monitor the storm’s path and heed government warnings.

      Florence is expected to hit the East Coast as a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 130 miles per hour later this week, according to the National Hurricane Center. The Council says those impacted by Tropical Depression Gordon need to be especially aware of potential flash flooding.

      Nearly 60,000 weather events resulted in almost 600 deaths and more than 4,200 injuries, the Council said. Flash floods, tropical storms, and heat waves were the cause of most deaths.

      Ahead of the impending storm, the NSC is urging families to develop emergency plans and safety kits. Emergency plans should include several methods of evacuation and places to shelter, while supply kits should contain the necessary supplies to sustain a family for at least 72 hours.

      Severe weather safety tips

      The Council offers the following tips for staying safe in hurricanes:

      • Board up windows and tie down loose items like patio furniture.

      • Establishing a meeting point for family members in the event that you become separated, and pick one person everyone can contact with their whereabouts.

      • Shelter in sturdy buildings. Avoid isolated sheds or other small structures, open areas, hilltops, the beach, or boats.

      • If you are driving in heavy rain, try to exit the road, stay in the car and turn on the emergency flashers.

      • Don't drive into flooded areas. If flood waters surround your car, abandon the car and go to higher ground.

      • Avoid touching electrical equipment, cords, metal, and water.

      • Listen for sirens, stay away from windows and outside doors, and seek shelter in a bathroom or basement.

      • Stay indoors until authorities say it's safe to go outside.

      To stay safe during flash flooding, the NSC offers the following tips:

      • Know your distance to rivers, streams, and dams.

      • In heavy rain, stay away from underpasses, underground parking garages, and basements.

      • Never walk in water above your ankles -- you could be swept off your feet in as little as 6 inches of rushing water.

      • Shut off the electricity and other utilities.

      As Hurricane Florence intensifies, the National Safety Council (NSC) is urging those on the East Coast to monitor the storm’s path and heed government warn...
      Read lessRead more

      U.S. Bank to offer loan to compete with payday lenders

      Simple Loan can be repaid over three months

      U.S. Bank is introducing a small dollar loan product that it calls Simple Loan. It's designed to help consumers deal with those sudden and unexpected bills.

      Those cash needs often send consumers to payday lenders, where critics say the borrower gets trapped in a never-ending debt cycle. That's because a payday loan has to be repaid in two weeks. If it isn't, the borrower has to take out another payday loan. And then another, paying a fee each time.

      U.S. Bank says Simple Loan is a different animal. They call it transparent and easy-to-understand. But perhaps more importantly, it's an installment loan. The borrower makes payments until the loan is paid off -- the entire balance is not due in two weeks.

      'Powering the potential of customers'

      “As a company, we are all focused on powering the potential of our customers," said Lynn Heitman, executive vice president, U.S. Bank Consumer Banking Sales and Support. "So, every day we work to be there in the moments that matter to them the most.”

      Consumers who have a U.S. Bank checking account can take out a Simple Loan of $100 to $1,000 with no hidden fees. The consumer has three months to pay back the money with three monthly payments.

      The cost is $12 for every $100 borrowed if it's paid with autopay from a U.S. Bank checking account. It's $15 for every $100 if paid manually. The bank has published the complete terms on its website.

      Consumer advocates have been calling for something like this for years. The Pew Charitable Trusts is among the groups welcoming the U.S. Bank move, saying it could mark the beginning of a new era of affordable installment loans from banks.

      "This is the first affordable loan that will be widely available to people who would otherwise turn to payday loans and other harmful options," the group said.

      Seven to eight times cheaper

      By Pew's estimate, the cost of the Simple Loan is seven to eight times less than a payday loan, which is for a much shorter term.

      “Simple Loan is straightforward, transparent and more affordable than many other products in the market. It meets a critical credit need for customers who might otherwise be forced to seek a loan that can carry interest charges of more than several hundred percent,” said Paul Woodruff, executive director, Prosperity Connection, and member, U.S. Bank Community Advisory Committee.

      Woodruff says consumers need access to small-dollar credit. He says the U.S. Bank product is not only filling that need but “providing a pathway for customers to save money and meet their needs.”

      U.S. Bank is introducing a small dollar loan product that it calls Simple Loan. It's designed to help consumers deal with those sudden and unexpected bills...
      Read lessRead more

      Automakers offering September incentives on used cars

      Certified pre-owned vehicles come with extended warranties and low interest financing

      If your head isn't being turned by the arrival of the auto industry's latest models, you might be considering a used car or truck.

      Buying a three year old vehicle gives you most of the technology available on the current models but at a much lower price. And right now, several manufacturers are offering plenty of incentives in their certified pre-owned (CPO) programs.

      Being "certified" means the vehicle has been refurbished and detailed by the manufacturer, not an individual dealer. Not every used car falls into that category.

      Game-changer

      "The comprehensive inspection process, incentives and warranties for certified pre-owned vehicles changes the game for how car shoppers should look for their next vehicle," said Brian Moody, executive editor at Autotrader. "With cars less than a few years old back on the market, you could even end up with a certified pre-owned vehicle that's part of the 2018 model year."

      Moody says there are plenty of great deals for car shoppers looking for a late model used car that is very much like a new car, except for the price. Right now BMW is offering 12 months of comprehensive warranty coverage. Throughout September, it is offering 1.99 percent financing on all certified pre-owned 2015 and 2016 i3 models for up to 24 months.

      Cadillac's certified pre-owned program has a similar offer on three models -- the entry-level ATS, the popular Escalade SUV, and the SRX crossover. But you need to hurry. Through September 13, qualified buyers who select from those models in the CPO program can get 2.9 percent financing for up to 36 months.

      Ford's CPO program gives buyers extra warranty coverage this month. Shoppers get seven years or 100,000 miles of powertrain coverage, in addition to an additional year of comprehensive coverage. On top of that, qualified buyers can finance their vehicles at 1.9 percent for up to 36 months, 2.9 percent for up to 60 months or 3.9 percent for up to 72 months, terms normally available only on new cars.

      1.99 percent for 48 months

      Mercedes-Benz is offering special financing this month on a full range of its models in the CPO program. Qualified buyers can get 1.99 percent interest for up to 48 months on most cars, including the CLA, the C-Class, the E-Class, the GLK, the GLC.

      Nissan's CPO program is offering both financing incentives and an expansion of the warranty coverage. Vehicles in the CPO program come with seven years or 100,000 miles of powertrain coverage from the car's original sale date. Qualified buyers of Altima and Rogue models can finance their purchased at 2.99 percent interest for up to 60 months.

      How much can you save buying a used car instead of a new one? According to Kelley Blue Book, the average transaction price for a new car is around $35,000 while the average price of a used car is just under $20,000.

      If your head isn't being turned by the arrival of the auto industry's latest models, you might be considering a used car or truck.Buying a three year o...
      Read lessRead more

      Polaris recalls Ranger ROVs

      The front lower control arms can separate

      Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 1,000 Ranger recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs).

      The front lower control arms can separate, posing a crash hazard.

      The company has received six reports of lower control arms separating. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves model year 2018 Polaris Ranger 500, Ranger 570, Ranger EV and Ranger EV LI-ION recreational off-highway vehicles.

      The Ranger 500 vehicles were sold in red and green, have “POLARIS” stamped on the front grille, “500” decals on the front fenders, and “Ranger” decals on the rear fenders.

      The Ranger 570 vehicles were sold in two- and four-seat models in green, blue, and camo with “POLARIS” stamped on the front grille, “570” decals on the front fenders, and “Ranger” decals on the rear fenders.

      The Ranger EV vehicles were sold in gray and camo with “POLARIS” stamped on the front grille and “Ranger” decals on the rear fenders.

      The Ranger EV LI-ION vehicles were sold in camo, and have “POLARIS” stamped on the front grille and “Ranger” decals on the rear fenders.

      The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and model number may be found on a label inside the left rear wheel well.

      Model Number

      Model/Color

      R18RMA50B1

      RANGER 500 -

      INMOLD SAGE GREEN

      R18RMA50B4

      RANGER 500 -

      INMOLD SOLAR RED

      R18RMA57B1

      RANGER 570 -

      INMOLD SAGE GREEN

      R18RMA57B9

      RANGER 570 -

      POLARIS PURSUIT CAMO

      R18RMAE4G8

      RANGER EV -

      INMOLD AVALANCHE GRAY

      R18RMAE4G9

      RANGER EV -

      POLARIS PURSUIT CAMO

      R18RMAL4G9

      RANGER EV LI-ION -

      POLARIS PURSUIT CAMO

      R18RME57BV

      RANGER 570 EPS -

      PAINT NAVY BLUE METALLIC

      R18RNA57B1

      RANGER CREW 570-4 -

      INMOLD SAGE GREEN

      R18RNA57B9

      RANGER CREW 570-

      4 POLARIS PUR CAM

      R18RNE57BV

      RANGER CREW 570-

      4 EPS - NAVY BLUE MET

      The ROVs, manufactured in the U.S. and Mexico, were sold at Polaris dealers nationwide from August 2017, through July 2018, for between $9,000 and $12,500.

      What to do

      Owners should immediately stop using the recalled ROVs and contact a Polaris dealer to schedule a free repair. Polaris is contacting all registered owners directly.

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

      Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 1,000 Ranger recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs).The front lower control arms can separate...
      Read lessRead more

      New York Style Sausage recalls raw chorizo sausage

      The product contains sesame seed, which is not declared on the label

      New York Style Sausage Co., of Sunnyvale, Calif., is recalling approximately 371 pounds of raw chorizo sausage.

      The product contains sesame seed, which is not declared on the label.

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

      The following raw, Salvadoran chorizo sausage item, produced on June 8, 2018, is being recalled:

      • 8-oz. cardboard packages containing “Artesana Specialty Sausages CHORIZO SALVADORAN RECIPE ALL NATURAL.” The product is labeled “Keep refrigerated or frozen” and does not bear a use by or sell by date.

      The recalled product, bearing establishment number “EST. 9027” inside the USDA mark of inspection, was sold at farmers markets in California.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Pasquale Bitonti at (408) 745-7675.

      New York Style Sausage Co., of Sunnyvale, Calif., is recalling approximately 371 pounds of raw chorizo sausage.The product contains sesame seed, which...
      Read lessRead more

      Model year 2018-2019 RAM 1500 trucks recalled

      The rear axle assembly could fail causing a loss of drive

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 4,171 model year 2018-2019 RAM 1500 trucks.

      The rear differential may have been insufficiently filled, possibly resulting in its failure.

      Rear axle assembly failure can cause a loss of drive or the rear wheels to lock up, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the rear axle oil level. Rear axles with an insufficient amount of oil will be replaced, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin October 12, 2018.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is U88.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 4,171 model year 2018-2019 RAM 1500 trucks.The rear differential may have been insufficiently filled, possibly resul...
      Read lessRead more

      Alleged Russian hacker extradited to the U.S.

      Officials accuse him of pulling off biggest ever breach of a financial firm

      The operators who defraud American consumers and businesses hardly ever face justice, mainly because they operate offshore.

      But U.S. officials say they have a Russian national in custody who they accuse of carrying out one of the biggest hacks in history.

      Federal officials report that Andrei Tyurin, a Russian who was accused of being a key player in a hack of JPMorgan Chase and other large companies, is now in their hands after he was extradited from the Republic of Georgia.

      U.S. officials charge that Tyurin has been the mastermind behind a number of high-profile cyber attacks against U.S. financial firms while also engaging in credit card fraud and money laundering.

      Single biggest hack

      “Tyurin’s alleged hacking activities were so prolific they lay claim to the largest theft of U.S. customer data from a single financial institution in history, accounting for a staggering 80 million-plus victims," said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman. "As Americans increasingly turn to online banking, theft of online personal information can cause devastating effects on their financial well being, sometimes taking years to recover."

      Berman and other law enforcement officials who have had their sights on Tyurin for years, call his extradition a significant milestone. In most cases, they have been powerless to apprehend people outside the U.S. who are scamming consumers.

      Tyurin appeared in court in Manhattan with his attorney and entered a not guilty plea to charges conspiracy, computer hacking, identity theft, and wire fraud.

      Could cut a deal

      Legal experts say Tyurin may be in a good position to cut a deal with prosecutors since he most likely has a lot of information about others who are involved in international hacking and scams. It's not unreasonable to think his knowledge could be useful to prosecutors who are conducting investigations into a number of different areas, including interference in the 2016 presidential election.

      The case at hand centers on the 2014 JP Morgan hack, which investigators said appeared to center on alleged efforts to manipulate stock prices. JP Morgan security personnel brought these concerns to public attention, fearing they might be part of an intrusion by Russian intelligence agents.

      U.S. officials accuse Tyurin of working with other hackers in a coordinated attack on financial services firms' networks. Officials say they believe the hackers were able to gather sensitive information on more than 100 million people who were the firms' clients.

      Prosecutors allege that stolen information was used in wide-ranging schemes, from stock manipulation to bitcoin money laundering.

      The operators who defraud American consumers and businesses hardly ever face justice, mainly because they operate offshore.But U.S. officials say they...
      Read lessRead more

      AT&T finalizes 5G plan for 2018

      The company has revealed the final five cities that will receive the technology by the end of the year

      At its Spark event in San Francisco on Monday, AT&T revealed that the remaining cities to receive 5G wireless service by the end of 2018 will be Houston, Jacksonville, Louisville, New Orleans, and San Antonio.

      The wireless carrier previously announced that Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Indianapolis, Oklahoma City, Raleigh, and Waco would receive the faster network.

      In its Monday announcement, AT&T also said which cities would receive the service in early 2019. Those cities are Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose. The carrier says it will continue to expand from these 19 cities.

      The company said previously that it’s intentionally targeting a mix of large and mid-size cities.

      “At the dawn of something new”

      5G boasts several major changes, including the ability to move more data with greater speed, the power to connect more devices at the same time, and more responsive access with lower latency. The network will be almost 100 times faster than the current average internet speed.

      AT&T is also exploring millimeter wave 5G, which can deliver high speeds in varying conditions. The company plans to deploy the 5G technology “in pockets of dense areas – where demand on our network is high and extra capacity and coverage is needed most.”

      "We're at the dawn of something new that will define the next decade and generation of connectivity," said Andre Fuetsch, chief technology officer, AT&T Communications, in a statement.

      "Future smart factories and retailers, self-driving cars, untethered virtual and augmented realities, and other yet to be discovered experiences will grow up on tomorrow's 5G networks. Much like 4G introduced the world to the gig economy, mobile 5G will jumpstart the next wave of unforeseen innovation."

      Verizon, meanwhile, has said that it will be deploying 5G strictly in fixed home broadband hardware, starting with four cities: Los Angeles, Sacramento, Indianapolis, and Houston.

      At its Spark event in San Francisco on Monday, AT&T; revealed that the remaining cities to receive 5G wireless service by the end of 2018 will be Houston,...
      Read lessRead more

      American Airlines rolls out free live TV for its passengers

      The switch from seatback entertainment to personal digital devices continues to grow

      Already the only U.S. airline to offer live TV on international flights, American Airlines is rolling out free TV for its domestic passengers.

      The airline announced that it’s flipping the switch on 100 domestic aircraft to start, with plans to keep growing both live TV and high-speed internet to more than 700 of its planes during 2019. The service results from a partnership with DISH, and it will reportedly costAmerican $12.3 billion to modernize its fleet to make the idea a reality.

      “Our customers have told us they want a living room experience in the air -- the ability to watch free entertainment, stream their favorite shows on-demand, charge their phones and stay connected from start to finish during their travels,” said Kurt Stache, American’s Senior Vice President for Marketing, Loyalty & Sales.

      Fliers will be able to access the streams via laptops, smartphones, or tablets and will have 12 live TV channels to choose from. These include:

      • Bravo

      • CBS

      • CNBC

      • CNN

      • Disney Channel

      • ESPN

      • FOX

      • NBC

      • NFL Network

      • Telemundo

      • TNT

      • USA

      The airlines are paying attention

      It’s true that fliers might feel nickel-and-dimed, but the airlines have caught on that the shift to personal digital devices is a chance to offer more for less, be it electric power outlets, Wi-Fi, or on-demand video.

      “American’s vision aligns with internet-user trends that are a reality both on the ground and in the air,” Access Intel’s Woodrow Bellamy III told ConsumerAffairs.

      “Just look at the numbers: Cisco’s latest mobile data traffic forecast, for example, predicts that 78% of global mobile data traffic will be the consumption of video by 2021. That’s a tough metric not to take advantage of.”

      The shape of things to come

      In-flight TV and movie entertainment has been around for a couple of decades -- starting with those neck-craning overhead screen versions to the embedded seatback versions the airlines offer now.

      “Seatback entertainment screens are so 2002,” wrote Skift in its recent airline innovation report. “Airlines should remove them and focus on what their highest-value travelers actually want — fast, reliable Wi-Fi. Passengers who care about quality entertainment can load up their own devices with stuff they actually want to watch. Or they can stream from a server on the plane.”

      Switching from seatback screens to passenger devices will take some time, but the shakeout is in high gear.

      How do other airlines stack up with American’s new offer?

      Southwest is currently offering a free TV promotion, but it has plans to raise that to $5 at some point.

      United has partnered with DIRECTV to offer its coach passengers a package of movies and TV shows ranging in price from $4.99 to $7.00 depending on the length of the flight and when the package is purchased.

      Delta offers free streaming on seatback monitors as well as digital devices that use the Delta Studio app.

      Already the only U.S. airline to offer live TV on international flights, American Airlines is rolling out free TV for its domestic passengers.The airli...
      Read lessRead more

      Tesla offering ‘immediate’ delivery of Model 3 vehicles to increase sales

      Customers willing to take a vehicle that isn’t customized could avoid a long wait time

      ​In an attempt to boost its sales figures before the third quarter comes to a close, Tesla is offering “immediate delivery” of certain rear wheel drive Model 3 vehicles on a “first come, first served basis.”

      During an event at its delivery center in Fremont, California, the electric carmaker started sending out emails to people with day one reservations, Electrek reported.

      “We have a limited number of Model 3 Rear-Wheel Drive vehicles on display that are available for immediate delivery,” Tesla wrote in the email.

      “As a first day reservation holder, you’re invited to take advantage of this opportunity on a first-come, first-served basis. We will be extending this invitation to addition Model 3 reservation holders on Monday, September 10.”

      It’s unknown how many Model 3’s Tesla has available to deliver through this offer.

      With the offer, the company appears to be hoping some reservation holders will take a Model 3 that isn’t configured the way they want if it means they get the EV right away.

      The email was also sent to customers waiting for the $35,000 base model of the Model 3, which isn’t due to hit the market until sometime in 2019. Tesla also seems to be hoping some of these customers will be willing to shell out a little extra if it means they can pick up their new car immediately.

      After the company achieved its goal of manufacturing 5,000 Model 3s in a week by the end of the second quarter, it has been striving to boost its sales figures as part of an effort to achieve sustainable profitability. Tesla has also tested other ways of getting the cars into customers’ hands as fast as possible, such as through a factory-to-consumer delivery system.

      ​In an attempt to boost its sales figures before the third quarter comes to a close, Tesla is offering “immediate delivery” of certain rear wheel drive Mod...
      Read lessRead more

      Consumers received a record number of robocalls last month

      If you own a smartphone, you undoubtedly got a few

      How many robocalls did you receive last month? If you have a mobile phone, it's likely you got a lot.

      YouMail, a call brocker and voicemail app, estimates there were 4.2 billion robocalls received during August, a one-month record. That breaks down to 136.2 million calls a day or 1,576 every second.

      Many of these calls feature the cheery voice of "Ann" informing you that your company has been approved for a loan or that you qualify for cut-rate health insurance. Increasingly, consumers hang up in the first three seconds or don't answer the call from an unfamiliar number at all.

      Ironically, at a time when fewer people use their smartphones to talk to people, a robocall might be the only call you get during a day.

      Obviously, someone thinks placing these calls are worthwhile because they are increasing. According to the YouMail Robocall Index, these annoying interruptions have increased more than 33 percent in the first eight months of 2018.

      Many are pushing scams

      An overwhelming number of these "junk" calls are pushing scams. The cheap robocall technology allows one scammer to hit many more potential victims with less effort needed than in the past, when scammers had to manually dial for their dollars.

      YouMail reports the number of scam-related robocalls increased in August to 1.76 billion, nearly 42 percent of all automated calls received by consumers. So-called "good" robocalls -- alerts and reminders -- actually declined during the month. Now, when your smartphone rings, it's probably prudent to not even answer.

      "As the cost of placing these calls approaches zero for many ruthless robocallers, there is little reason to expect this problem to decline anytime soon," said YouMail CEO Alex Quilici.

      Health insurance scams

      Quilici says the top five scam-related robocalls last month were schemes involving health insurance, interest rates, get rich quick ideas, search listings, and home improvements. He says there has been an explosion in health insurance scams that are just a pretense to collect personal information. No insurance is ever provided.

      YouMail has also seen an increase in easy money scams that require victims to put up an initial investment to "get in on the ground floor."

      Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Commissioner Terrell McSweeny has urged consumers to use some type of call-blocking tool to protect themselves from robocalls. In March, McSweeny told a government forum that there are a growing number of apps that can reduce the number of unwanted and potentially dangerous calls. Many, such as YouMail, are free.

      By the way, while finishing up this article, I received a call from a New Jersey number. It was "Ann," whose recorded voice told me the "good news" that she had a "limited number of enrollments" available in attractive health plans. She just needed some information from me.

      How many robocalls did you receive last month? If you have a mobile phone, it's likely you got a lot.YouMail, a call brocker and voicemail app, estimat...
      Read lessRead more

      SEC suspends trading in two crypto-based securities

      There’s a great deal of confusion around the nature of the financial products

      The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has suspended trading of two crypto-based securities -- Bitcoin Tracker One and Ether Tracker One.

      The regulator said that based on the application materials and trading websites, the securities were characterized as exchange-traded funds (ETFs). However, the SEC cited the products’ issuer in noting that the securities are “non-equity linked certificates;” the regulator has halted trading of the two products until September 20.

      “It appears...that there is a lack of current, consistent, accurate information concerning Bitcoin Tracker One and Ether Tracker One, issued by XBT provider AB, a Swedish company headquartered in Stockholm, resulting in confusion amongst market participants regarding these financial instruments,” the SEC wrote in a statement.

      “The Commission is of the opinion that the public interest and the protection of investors require a suspension of trading in the securities of the above quoted company.”

      Both securities are currently listed on the Stockholm stock exchange as part of Nasdaq’s Nordic markets. The SEC says it is remaining vigilant in its suspension and is warning brokers over complying with the requirements.

      “If any broker or dealer enters any quotation which is in violation of the rule, the Commission will consider the need for prompt enforcement action,” the statement adds.

      Remaining hopeful for an ETF  

      Investors have remained hopeful that the SEC will grant ETF status to a cryptocurrency, but they have been met with nothing but delays and rejections.

      Most recently, the Commission blocked another round of Bitcoin-backed ETFs at the end of last month. The agency was most concerned about prices and the potential for manipulation, as well as fraud the vulnerability of the crypto market.

      Earlier last month, the SEC delayed a ruling on a proposed Bitcoin ETF, ultimately driving the cost of Bitcoin down. Bitcoin fell nearly 10 percent to just under $6,500 -- the lowest level since July 16.

      At the time, an approval from the SEC would’ve undoubtedly raised the value of Bitcoin.

      “A green light for the Bitcoin ETF would fire the starting gun on a race among institutional investors to cash-in on this new product, so the market is rightly frustrated by the delay to decision,” said Matthew Newton, an analyst at the investment platform eToro.

      The agency will not be making a decision until September 30.

      The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has suspended trading of two crypto-based securities -- Bitcoin Tracker One and Ether Tracker One.The regu...
      Read lessRead more

      SEC alleges 10 individuals generated over $27 million from unlawful stock sales

      Florida billionaire Phillip Frost is believed to have played a role in two of three market manipulation schemes

      The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has filed charges against 10 individuals, including Florida billionaire Phillip Frost, for allegedly running a scheme that bilked investors out of $27 million.

      By way of what it calls a series of “classic pump-and-dump schemes,” the SEC alleges that from 2013 to 2018, Frost and nine other investors manipulated the share price of the stock of three unnamed companies for their own gain.

      Frost, who founded pharmaceutical company OPKO Health, allegedly participated in two of these three schemes.

      According to the SEC, the investors engaged in illegal promotional activity without disclosing that they owned a stake. They would then wait for their stock prices to rise and then dump their shares into the inflated market. Unsuspecting retail investors, meanwhile, "were left holding virtually worthless stock," the SEC said.

      Artificially boosted stock price

      “[The group charged] engaged in brazen market manipulation that advanced their financial interests while fleecing innocent investors and undermining the integrity of our securities markets,” said Sanjay Wadhwa, Senior Associate Director in the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, in a statement. “They failed to appreciate, however, the SEC’s resolve to relentlessly pursue and punish participants in microcap fraud schemes.”

      Frost -- who is believed to have a net worth of $2.6 billion, according to Forbes -- earned approximately $1.1 million through his participation in two of the three schemes. However, Frost’s company said in a statement that the SEC did not notify them of their intent to file suit and claimed the complaint contained “serious factual inaccuracies.”

      The SEC said in its release that the group allegedly made more than $27 million from the unlawful stock sales

      “In every scheme ... some combination of [four others charged] and Frost either explicitly or tacitly agreed to buy, hold or sell their shares in coordination with one another, knowing that a pump and dump was in the offing that would allow them all to profit handsomely,“ the SEC alleges.

      The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has filed charges against 10 individuals, including Florida billionaire Phillip Frost, for allegedly runn...
      Read lessRead more

      Ford recalls Ford Edge, Lincoln MKX, Ford Flex, and Lincoln MKT vehicles

      The vehicles' alternator and starter cables may be loose

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 87 model year 2018 Ford Edges, Lincoln MKXs, and model year 2019 Ford Flexes, and Lincoln MKTs.

      The power supply cables at the starter and the alternator may not have been secured properly, possibly resulting in an electrical arc, posing the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the alternator and starter motor power supply cables to verify that they are properly secured, correcting them as necessary, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin September 17, 2018.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 18S25.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 87 model year 2018 Ford Edges, Lincoln MKXs, and model year 2019 Ford Flexes, and Lincoln MKTs.The power supply cables...
      Read lessRead more

      TJX recalls barstools

      The wood joints on the barstool can break, posing a fall hazard.

      The TJX Companies of Framingham, Mass., is recalling about 1,600 swivel barstools sold in the U.S. and Canada.

      The wood joints on the barstool can break, posing a fall hazard.

      The firm has received four reports of barstools breaking, including three reports of minor injuries.

      This recall involves TJX swivel barstools with a beige, blue or gray fabric back and seat, and wooden legs.

      The barstools measure about18 inches wide, 22.8 inches deep and 40.9 inches high.

      One of the following tag numbers is printed on the product hang tag: 081578, 081582, 081586, 081640, 081643, 081651, 081656, 081658, 081660, 527110, 527113 , 527118, 527121, 527126, 527128, 533088, 726376, 726377, 726380, 726386, 726387 and 726393.

      The barstools, manufactured in China, were sold at HomeGoods, Marshalls and T.J. Maxx stores nationwide from September 2017, through December 2017, for between $100 and $130.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled barstools and return them to any Home Goods, Marshalls or T.J. Maxx store for a full refund.

      Consumers may contact HomeGoods at (800) 888-0776 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday or online at www.homegoods.com and click on Customer Service at the bottom of the page.

      The TJX Companies of Framingham, Mass., is recalling about 1,600 swivel barstools sold in the U.S. and Canada.The wood joints on the barstool can break...
      Read lessRead more

      Utah woman who crashed her Model S into fire truck sues, claiming Tesla oversold Autopilot

      The woman says that a Tesla sales rep told her that Autopilot prevents cars from crashing into fixed objects

      Yet another disgruntled Tesla owner is accusing the company of overselling the car’s Autopilot capabilities. Heather Lommatzsch, 29, crashed her Model S into a fire truck that was stopped on the highway last May at approximately 60 mph.

      She later told police that she had been using the car’s Autopilot feature. Police say she admitted that she was not paying much attention to the road.

      “While Tesla’s Autopilot feature indicates that a driver must be attentive at all times, the driver admitted that she was looking at her phone prior to the collision,” the South Jordan Police Department said shortly after the crash.

      “Based upon witness information, the driver of the Tesla did not brake or take any action to avoid the collision,” they added.

      Drivers must stay attentive

      When a Tesla is involved in a crash while Autopilot is engaged, the company’s press team or Elon Musk himself typically issue statements afterward explaining that people who use Autopilot must have their eyes on the road and be ready to take the wheel at all times.

      But following the death of Joshua Brown, the first person to be killed while using Autopilot, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) pointed its finger at Tesla, saying that Brown had relied too much on the technology and that the Autopilot feature should not have been used at all on the highway where he died.

      “This crash is an example of what can happen when automation is introduced ‘because we can’ without adequate consideration of the human element,” the board said at the time.

      Lawsuits mount over Autopilot

      Consumer groups have similarly charged that Tesla's marketing is giving motorists the impression that Autopilot technology is more sophisticated than it really is. Several lawsuits filed by other Tesla owners also charge that Tesla is overselling Autopilot.

      In her lawsuit, Lommatzsch claims that sales reps in Utah told her that the Tesla, once Autopilot is engaged, would “stop on its own in the event of an obstacle being present” in the path of the car.

      In an interview with police, Lommatzsch added that she tried to disengage Autopilot and use the brakes when she saw the firetruck ahead, but that the brakes did not respond.

      “When using Autopilot, drivers are continuously reminded of their responsibility to keep their hands on the wheel and maintain control of the vehicle at all times,” Tesla responded in media statements about the lawsuit.

      “Tesla has always been clear that Autopilot doesn’t make the car impervious to all accidents,” the company added.

      Yet another disgruntled Tesla owner is accusing the company of overselling the car’s Autopilot capabilities. Heather Lommatzsch, 29, crashed her Model S in...
      Read lessRead more

      Annual ranking lists the best U.S. colleges by value

      Harvard and MIT earned top spots on the list

      This week, The Wall Street Journal released its third annual Times Higher Education (THE) College Rankings. For the second year in a row, Harvard University earned top honors.

      The rankings were based on 15 key indicators across four pillars:

      • Outcomes. Measures graduates’ salaries and student debt.

      • Resources. Universities’ spending on instruction and student services.

      • Engagement. Students’ views on teaching and faculty interaction.

      • Environment. The diversity of the campus community.

      Harvard tied with Duke and Yale for the number one spot in the outcomes pillar. Harvard also performed well on the resources pillar.

      The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ascended one spot to second place in this year’s ranking after improving its scores in all four areas. Yale also rose several spots, landing in third place overall -- up from sixth.

      Brown University was new to the list, rising from 11th place last year to seventh this year. The California Institute of Technology jumped two places to fifth. The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) held onto its position as the top public university, coming in 25th place.

      Top ten

      The following colleges earned spots on this year’s Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings top ten list:

      • Harvard University

      • Massachusetts Institute of Technology

      • Yale University

      • Columbia University

      • California Institute of Technology

      • Stanford University

      • Brown University

      • Duke University

      • Princeton University

      • University of Pennsylvania

      While many colleges improved their scores in the areas examined, others dropped down the list. Columbia University fell to fourth place from second; Stanford University came in sixth this year, down from third; the University of Pennsylvania occupies 10th place this year, down from eighth; and Cornell University dropped off the top ten list entirely, slipping one place from last year to 11th.

      This week, The Wall Street Journal released its third annual Times Higher Education (THE) College Rankings. For the second year in a row, Harvard Universit...
      Read lessRead more

      Experts explain Bitcoin's sudden drop

      Bitcoin’s price plummeted more than 10 percent in one day earlier this week

      Earlier this week, Bitcoin experienced a sudden drop in price that ultimately affected other market-wide cryptocurrencies, and experts were unsure about the cause.

      Now, ThinkMarkets chief specialist Naeem Aslam said speculators have only strengthened Bitcoin’s downward trend by overselling it in global markets. Additionally, Bitcoin’s downward trend should come as no surprise, because as Aslam points out, the trajectory has been the same since Bitcoin peaked at $900 billion back in December and then immediately started to decline.

      “Speculators have gone crazy and they are trying to squeeze as much blood out of this trade as they can,” Aslam said. “Bitcoin hasn’t changed what it was since last December, so what is the panic?”

      Aslam also noted that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what happened to cause Bitcoin’s sudden downward trend in recent months. For one thing, he said analysts often look for correlation between specific events and the decline in cryptocurrency, but that isn’t always the case.

      Pointing fingers at Goldman Sachs

      Many were speculating that Goldman Sachs’ decision to delay launching a Bitcoin trade desk was the driving force behind Bitcoin’s price drop.

      The investment bank’s foray into cryptocurrency was shaping up to create great interest and demand from retailers and investors alike. However, once Goldman Sachs decided to push pause on the move, the collective mindset was that Bitcoin plummeted.

      Experts at CoinTelegraph want to ensure consumers that while the Goldman Sachs decision could have contributed to Bitcoin’s price drop, the decision of one corporation is not solely responsible for what happened. Aslam also noted that Goldman Sachs didn’t close the door on a Bitcoin trade desk, but rather just delayed the process for the time being.

      “Goldman has only delayed the process, they still have invested a lot of money and talent in this area,” Aslam said. “Investors must know it is very normal for banks to delay the IPO process if the market conditions are not favorable and over here we are talking about starting something completely new. Goldman has its fingers in many of the areas when it comes to Bitcoin, so stop thinking about it and focus on the price.”

      Furthermore, Bitcoin was already facing a downward slide earlier in the week before the Goldman Sachs decision.

      Consistent market trends

      Mati Greenspan, a senior analyst at eToro -- one of the largest multi-asset trading platforms -- echoed Aslam’s assessment of the cryptocurrency market.

      “Volatility in the crypto markets has picked up over the last few days, but it is still pretty normal for this market,” Greenspan said. “As far as Bitcoin’s price is concerned, the price has been in a rather stable range between $5,000 and $8,000 for the last few months and this hasn’t changed.”

      Rather than looking at specific events for the cause of market trends, Greenspan advised pointing fingers at the lack of demand from traders.

      “Several possible reasons for the drop could be a few bad rumors that are circulating in the press, along with a stronger dollar and weakness in tech stocks,” Greenspan said. “Ultimately though, it’s simply a matter of more supply and less demand in short-term trading.”

      Earlier this week, Bitcoin experienced a sudden drop in price that ultimately affected other market-wide cryptocurrencies, and experts were unsure about th...
      Read lessRead more

      Lyft launches electric scooters in Denver

      The ride-sharing company is taking steps toward becoming a multi-modal operation

      On Thursday, Lyft launched its electric scooter rental service in Denver, and Uber will deploy its own fleet of electric scooters in rival Bird’s hometown of Santa Monica, California on September 17, CNN reported.

      Lyft says it’s interested in rolling out scooters and bikes into other cities as part of CEO John Zimmer’s goal of providing additional transportation options to people en route to and from public transit.

      "Scooters are a way to make daily trips more fun and encourage multimodal commuting," Caroline Samponaro, who leads bike and scooter policy at Lyft, told CNN Money.

      To start, Lyft is making 250 scooters available to customers. That number will eventually grow to 350, with about 100 of those scooters dedicated to what Lyft calls “opportunity zones” -- areas that are underserved by public transportation.

      Lyft says its scooters (which can found through Lyft’s app) cost $1 to unlock and 15 cents for each minute it’s in use. They will only be available to rent between 6AM and 8PM. The company says it will soon begin offering anyone riding its scooters a discount if they start or end their ride near public transit stops.

      Joining the scooter market

      Last month, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said he envisions electric scooters and electric-assist bikes replacing the company's ride-share cars for short distances.

      "During rush hour, it is very inefficient for a one ton hulk of metal to take one person 10 blocks," Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told The Financial Times.

      In July, as part of the company’s ambition to become a multi-modal operation, Lyft acquired Motivate -- the nation’s largest bike-share operator. The same month, Zimmer and co-founder Logan Green detailed their goals for the company in a Medium post.  

      "Lyft Bikes and Scooters will be our most affordable transportation options, and will extend mobility to communities that have historically been underserved," the founders wrote.

      The company’s Denver launch of its electric scooters comes the same week that a 24-year-old man in Dallas was found dead next to a broken Lime electric scooter. Experts say electric scooters, which can reach speeds as high as 20 m.p.h., carry potential safety risks. Riders in Dallas and San Francisco have reportedly broken bones on rides in recent months.

      On Thursday, Lyft launched its electric scooter rental service in Denver, and Uber will deploy its own fleet of electric scooters in rival Bird’s hometown...
      Read lessRead more

      Gas prices still rising despite end to summer driving season

      Relief at the pump may be a week or two away

      The summer driving season may be over, but demand for gasoline is still high, keeping prices at the pump higher than they would normally be.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gasoline is $2.85 a gallon, two cents higher than last week. But that's a penny lower than early August, when millions of consumers were hitting the road for vacations.

      The average price of premium is $3.39 a gallon, a penny higher than last Friday. The average cost of diesel fuel is up two cents in the last week.

      Prices have remained stubbornly high due to unusually high demand for this late in the season. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports demand hit a record high 9.8 million barrels for the week ending August 24.

      However, the EIA reported Thursday that gasoline supplies rose 1.8 million barrels last week, which AAA says should soon provide some relief. Oil prices also retreated this week as supplies increased.

      “With summer in the rearview mirror, demand is expected to significantly drop off in the coming weeks which means motorists can expect to see gas prices steadily decline,” said Jeanette Casselano, AAA spokesperson. “AAA expects the national average to hit $2.70 or less this fall.”

      The states with the most expensive regular gas

      The following states currently have the most expensive regular gas prices on average, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey.

      • Hawaii ($3.78)
      • California ($3.62)
      • Washington ($3.39)
      • Alaska ($3.32)
      • Idaho ($3.23)
      • Oregon ($3.26)
      • Nevada ($3.19)
      • Utah ($3.17)
      • Pennsylvania ($3.06)
      • Connecticut ($3.04)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

      These states currently have the lowest prices for regular gas, the survey found.

      • Alabama ($2.53)
      • Mississippi ($2.54)
      • Arkansas ($2.57)
      • South Carolina ($2.58) 
      • Louisiana ($2.59)
      • Tennessee ($2.59)
      • Virginia ($2.60)
      • Texas ($2.61)
      • Missouri ($2.62)
      • Oklahoma ($2.64)
      The summer driving season may be over, but demand for gasoline is still high, keeping prices at the pump higher than they would normally be.The AAA Fue...
      Read lessRead more

      Urgent care and retail clinic use spikes

      Younger consumers, especially, like the cost and convenience

      Are retail walk-in clinics and urgent care centers the future of healthcare in America? They just might be, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

      The study found visits to these clinics increased by well over 100 percent among consumers with health insurance, during a seven year period from 2008 to 2015. The study found that during the same period hospital emergency rooms saw a 36 percent decrease in patients for low-severity conditions.

      The study's authors suggest consumers are choosing these commercial clinics because they cost less and wait times are shorter.

      The study focused specifically on consumers younger than 65 -- in other words, who were not covered by Medicare -- and who had Aetna health benefit policies. In 2015, the researchers determined there were 103 visits to urgent care centers per 1,000 Aetna policyholders, more than double the number in 2008.

      "Between 2008 and 2015, there were substantial shifts at which venue Americans received acute care for low-acuity conditions," the authors write.

      Consolidation could feed the trend

      That trend could continue with the proposed merger of Aetna with CVS Health, which operates Minute Clinics in many of its retail drugstores. The study found visits to these in-store clinics are also becoming more popular but are much less common, with only six out of 1,000 Aetna policyholders visiting one in 2015.

      But Gerald Anderson, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told ConsumerAffairs last November Aetna policyholders might be required to make greater use of Minute Clinics if the health insurance company merges with the drugstore chain.

      The study's authors conclude that urgent care and retail clinic facilities are getting more use, in part, because consumers who in the past would not have sought medical attention are now taking advantage of their cost and convenience.

      Millennials, especially, seem to prefer urgent care options. A 2015 study by FAIR Health found as many as half the millennials in its survey had used an urgent care facility, citing its convenience.

      Most of these visits take the place of having a primary care physician, which many healthcare professionals say is not advisable. They say patients are more likely to get the correct diagnoses and treatments if they have a primary care provider with whom they have established a relationship.

      Are retail walk-in clinics and urgent care centers the future of healthcare in America? They just might be, according to a new study in the Journal of the...
      Read lessRead more

      Economy added 201,000 jobs in August

      Workers' incomes finally showed some growth

      The U.S. economy added 201,000 jobs in August as the labor market remains tight. The latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests it's getting easier to find employment.

      "The unemployment rate remained at 3.9 percent in August, and the number of unemployed people, at 6.2 million, was little changed," said William Wiatrowski, Acting Commissioner Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Among the unemployed in August, 1.3 million had been searching for work for 27 weeks or longer. These long-term unemployed accounted for 21.5 percent of the total unemployed."

      August's job gains were clustered in sectors that have been on a hiring spree all year. Professional and business services, health care, wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, and mining saw the largest payroll expansions.

      Who's doing the hiring

      Professional and business services added 53,000 jobs in August, bringing the 12-month total to 519,000. The health care sector added 33,000 jobs -- a 301,000 increase since August 2017.

      Wholesale trade added 22,000 jobs while transportation and warehousing added 20,000. Factories actually slightly reduced jobs last month but manufacturing jobs are up 254,000 over the last 12 months.

      Economist Joel Naroff, of Naroff Economic Advisors, notes there were downward revisions for June and July job creation, meaning the three month average is around 185,000. He expects that number to trend slightly lower in the months ahead.

      "The big news is the wage number," Naroff told ConsumerAffairs. "We are finally seeing wage gains pick up and it will likely only get hotter. That makes the Fed’s actions more defensible and further rate hikes inevitable."

      Entering the sweet spot for workers

      Average hourly earnings for all private non-farm employees gained a dime from July to $27.16. But on an annual basis, earnings have grown by 77 cents an hour, a 12-month increase of 2.9 percent. That's the largest since 2009. But Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union, would have liked to have seen an even stronger wage increase.

      "At this point in previous expansions we've seen wages rising at a 3.5 percent or even above a 4 percent rate," Frick said. "However, given that jobs added are still above 200,000, showing many more Americans want to work, and wages have started to increase about the 2.7 percent level, we could be entering that sweet spot for workers that's typical at an expansion's peak."

      The government's jobs numbers came in sharply higher than Thursday's release from ADP and Moody's Analytics. That report showed August's job growth at only 163,000, the weakest number since October.

      The biggest drop off in new hiring was among small businesses with fewer than 50 employees. The strongest hiring was among mid-size firms.

      The U.S. economy added 201,000 jobs in August as the labor market remains tight. The latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests it's gettin...
      Read lessRead more

      Model year 2018 Volkswagen Atlas vehicles recalled

      The airbags may deploy unintentionally, increasing the risk of injury or crash.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 9,685 model year 2018 Atlas vehicles.

      The air conditioning system drain tube may have been twisted during production, causing water to drain into the airbag control module.

      The wet air bag control module may result in an unintentional deployment of the airbags, increasing the risk of injury or crash.

      What to do

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the air conditioning drain tube, and if it is twisted, the drain tube and air bag control module will be replaced, free of charge.

      Some affected vehicles have had their drain tube previously replaced but did not receive a new air bag control module; the airbag control module will be replaced in these vehicles.

      The recall is expected to begin October 14, 2018.

      Owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at (800) 893-5298. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 87F9.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 9,685 model year 2018 Atlas vehicles.The air conditioning system drain tube may have been twisted during produ...
      Read lessRead more

      Just how secure is your online identity?

      A year after the Equifax data breach, surveys show America remains unprepared

      Many consumers are making it too easy for identity thieves, according to a new report from AARP.

      The survey of adults found many don't even take basic steps such as monitoring their online bank accounts, using strong and unique passwords, or setting up a security freeze on their credit reports.

      Only 43 percent of adults were found to have online access to their bank accounts, which allows them to regularly monitor activity. The rest -- 57 percent -- must wait until the monthly statement arrives by mail.

      The older you are, the less likely you are to have online access. The survey found only 37 percent of adults age 50 to 64 and 33 percent of those 65 and older are set up to monitor their bank accounts online.

      Slightly more monitor their credit card accounts online -- but again, the older you are, the less likely you are to be connected electronically.

      Feeling overwhelmed

      “Our survey results indicate that a lot of people may feel overwhelmed, and have just given up,” said AARP’s lead fraud researcher and the report’s co-author, Doug Shadel. “Two-thirds of those surveyed said that given the number of data breaches that have occurred, they think it is inevitable that criminals will be able to exploit their credit at some point."

      This week marks the one year anniversary of the massive Equifax data breach, in which millions of consumers' extensive credit files were compromised. In the wake of this breach, consumers were urged to take advantage of free credit monitoring and place security freezes on their credit reports, a step blocking hackers from setting up bogus accounts.

      In findings similar to those from AARP, NerdWallet reports just 10 percent of consumers have placed a freeze on their credit in the last 12 months. When asked for the reason for not doing so, 47 percent said they don't know how to do it and 34 percent said it was too much trouble.

      Anxiety

      “Anxiety over financial privacy is a justified reaction to data breaches that make the news, but you don’t have to wait until you experience a breach personally to take steps to protect yourself,” said Kimberly Palmer, personal finance expert at NerdWallet. “There’s a range of steps all consumers can take, from being more watchful to freezing their credit, to stay safe.”

      The most powerful tool, says Palmer, is freezing your credit. Starting Sept. 21, she says all three major credit bureaus will offer free credit freezes. You must contact all three credit bureaus separately to freeze and unfreeze credit. You'll find the links to do so below:

      Many consumers are making it too easy for identity thieves, according to a new report from AARP.The survey of adults found many don't even take basic s...
      Read lessRead more

      Two big healthcare mergers appear headed for approval

      The Justice Department is said to be close to okaying CVS-Aetna and Cigna-Express Scripts deals

      More consolidation within the healthcare industry may lie ahead as two proposed mergers appear to be on the fast track for approval.

      The Wall Street Journal reports the Justice Department is getting close to approving the merger of CVS Health and Aetna and the union of Cigna and Express Scripts. The Journal quotes sources who say the deals could be approved within the next few weeks.

      The CVS-Aetna deal was announced late last year, pairing a pharmacy retailer with a major health insurance provider. CVS said the combination would lead to lower drug prices that would be passed on to consumers.

      Possible downside

      But the deal has its share of skeptics who point to a possible downside. Gerald Anderson, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said consumers could end up with fewer choices as the result of the merger.

      "If you have insurance through Aetna most likely you are going to be going to a CVS and one of their Minute Clinics for healthcare," Anderson told ConsumerAffairs last November.

      Earlier this year Cigna, another health insurance provider, announced it would acquire pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts for $67 billion, again promising the merger would lower prescription drug costs.

      Cigna argues the combination of medical claims and pharmacy under one roof has the potential to make the system more efficient whole giving the combined entity more bargaining power when it comes to negotiating drug prices.

      'Accelerates Cigna's enterprise mission'

      “This combination accelerates Cigna’s enterprise mission of improving the health, well-being and sense of security of those we serve, and in turn, expanding the breadth of services for our customers, partners, clients, health plans and communities," David Cordani, Cigna's CEO, said in May when the deal was announced.

      The Justice Department, which is still fighting the court-approved merger of AT&T and Time Warner, apparently has fewer concerns about consolidation in the healthcare industry.

      The Journal reports the Justice Department may require the merging parties in one deal to divest of some assets to avoid antitrust issues.

      It says the CVS-Aetna merger will require spinning off some assets related to Medicare drug coverage. However, it says the Cigna-Express Scripts deal appears headed for approval without any divestiture requirements.

      More consolidation within the healthcare industry may lie ahead as two proposed mergers appear to be on the fast track for approval.The Wall Street Jou...
      Read lessRead more

      Fake check scam is back, targeting a new generation of victims

      Be very leery if someone sends you a big check, then asks for change back

      A decade ago, fake check scams were so common that ConsumerAffairs created an entire category to document them.

      Well, they're back and targeting a new generation of victims. The Better Business Bureau has issued a new report that found the largest group of victims of fake check frauds are consumers in their twenties. Small businesses, lawyers, and banks are not immune from this scheme either.

      Victims are snared when they accept a job, or otherwise enter into some kind of financial relationship with an out of town enterprise. The victim receives a large check with instructions to cash it, then send some of the money back, or to someone else for some purpose.

      The check is usually an excellent forgery and is initially accepted for deposit by the victim's bank. The victim them withdraws some of the money and wires it as instructed.

      Days later, the bank discovers the check is counterfeit and reclaims the withdrawn funds from the victim. But because the victim has wired that money to the fraudster, there is no way to get it back.

      Big increase in complaints

      The BBB report says phony checks were involved in 7 percent of complaints filed with BBB's Scam Tracker. It says the number of complaints received by the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Consumer Sentinel database and the Internet Fraud Complaint Center more than doubled between 2014 and 2017.

      The fraud usually centers around an alleged employment opportunity or a phony sweepstakes. Earlier this year, the FTC warned consumers that scammers were using the promise of a mystery shopper job to launch the fake check scheme.

      Emma Fletcher, with the FTC's Division of Consumer and Business Education, says victims are often recruited to test the money transfer service at a Walmart. They receive a check, are told to deposit it, then wire the cash back to the scammer.

      'Unhappy ending'

      "Fast forward days or weeks to the unhappy ending," Fletcher writes on the FTC blog. "The bank finds out the check you deposited is a fake, which means you’re on the hook for all that money. How does that even happen? Well, banks must make funds from deposited checks available within days, but uncovering a fake check can take weeks."

      Kathy Derrick, of Downers Grove, Ill., is a recent victim. She told Chicago TV station WLS that she lost $2,000 when she responded to a work-at-home job posting on a legitimate website.

      There is a simple way to avoid becoming a victim of this comeback scam. If anyone tells you to cash a large check and send most of it back, you are almost certainly dealing with a scammer. No legitimate enterprise operates that way.

      Just who is behind the fake check scam revival? According to the BBB report, it appears to be Nigeria-based operators -- the same folks who brought you the Nigerian prince scam of the early 2000s.

      A decade ago, fake check scams were so common that ConsumerAffairs created an entire category to document them.Well, they're back and targeting a new g...
      Read lessRead more

      Faulty logic boards causing some iPhone 8 devices to malfunction

      Apple says it will fix affected units for free

      Some iPhone 8 devices are malfunctioning as a result of a manufacturing defect. Apple has acknowledged the problem and issued a recall of iPhone 8 devices sold between September 2017 and March 2018.

      The company said on its website that faulty logic boards are causing “a very small percentage” of iPhones sold during this time frame to unexpectedly restart, freeze the screen, or not turn on at all.

      Consumers experiencing any of these problems can get the logic board in their device fixed for free, as long as the device in question is in original condition (meaning no physical damage, such as a cracked screen).

      Apple said the affected devices were sold in the U.S., Australia, China, India, Japan, Macua, and New Zealand.

      iPhone 8 owners can check to see if their device is affected by entering the unit’s serial code number on the company's website. To find the device's serial number, go into: Settings > General > About > Serial number.

      Some iPhone 8 devices are malfunctioning as a result of a manufacturing defect. Apple has acknowledged the problem and issued a recall of iPhone 8 devices...
      Read lessRead more

      Walgreens to offer Auvi-Q in the midst of EpiPen shortage

      Pharmacies have been unable to fill these important prescriptions

      As the EpiPen shortage rages on, pharmacies have been struggling to fill prescriptions, leaving parents -- and their kids who rely on the lifesaving allergy treatment -- looking for solutions.

      Walgreens is trying to be part of that solution. The pharmacy will now be stocking Auvi-Q -- an alternative that uses epinephrine to treat severe allergic reactions -- as a replacement for the EpiPen. Patients can currently only receive Auvi-Q through the mail, and this marks the first time the drug will be made available in a retail pharmacy.

      “Walgreens pharmacists continue to care for and work with patients and their prescribers to ensure they have access to the epinephrine auto-injectors they need, and we’re pleased to work with Kaleo to help meet the demand for epinephrine auto-injectors across the country,” Walgreens President of Operations Richard Ashworth said in a statement.

      However, Auvi-Q’s price tag might be the only drawback. Two auto-injectors cost $4,500. While private drugmaker Kaleo noted that patients with commercial health insurance -- even those with high deductibles -- can receive Auvi-Q for free, not every insurer covers the drug.

      In an effort to make Auvi-Q more accessible to patients in need, Kaleo will be providing it for free to those whose insurance doesn’t cover it. There is also an assistance program for those who don’t have insurance.

      “We are working with insurance providers to maximize coverage of Auvi-Q for as many patients as possible,” said Phil Rackliffe, general manager of Allergy and Pediatrics at Kaleo.

      The shortage

      The EpiPen shortage began in late May, though the need for the drug has only intensified now that many children are returning to school.

      To help combat the issue, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first generic EpiPen alternative last month, and Teva Pharmaceuticals launched generic versions of the EpiPen and EpiPen Jr.

      “This approval means patients living with severe allergies who require constant access to life-saving epinephrine should have a lower-cost option, as well as another approved product to help protect against potential drug shortages,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

      “We’re applying our full resources to this important launch in the coming months and eager to begin supplying the market,” Teva said in a statement.

      The ongoing shortage issues are linked to supply and manufacturer issues.

      Following Teva’s new generic EpiPen, the FDA announced the extension of expiration dates of certain batches of EpiPens. The agency found that some of the auto-injectors could work four months past the posted expiration date.

      Pfizer, which manufactures EpiPen, said the extensions will work for the 0.3mg dose of EpiPen and its authorized generic versions with expiration dates between April and December 2018. The extension will not work for EpiPen Jr.

      “We are doing everything we can to help mitigate shortages of these products, especially ahead of the back-to-school season,” said Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “We’re hopeful this action will ensure patients have access to this important medication and provide additional peace-of-mind to parents as the agency works with the manufacturer to increase supply.”

      As the EpiPen shortage rages on, pharmacies have been struggling to fill prescriptions, leaving parents -- and their kids who rely on the lifesaving allerg...
      Read lessRead more