Current Events in February 2019

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    Target to expand its loyalty program

    The program features personalized perks for consumers

    Following a successful trial in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Target is expanding the availability of its new Target Circle loyalty program.

    Beginning February 19, the retailer’s loyalty program will be available to consumers in Charlotte, Denver, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Phoenix.

    Target’s new loyalty initiative offers perks for shoppers based on their shopping behaviors, as well as opportunities to give back to the community. Shoppers can choose which local nonprofits Target should donate towards. Customers also earn 1 percent on all purchases to redeem later.

    In addition to customized rewards based on shopping behavior, shoppers get a reward on their birthday. Shoppers signed up for the program also get free next-day delivery via Target’s Restock service and 50 percent off a one-year membership to Target's same-day delivery service Shipt.

    “A Target Run is much more than checking items off your list— it’s about discovery, inspiration and an effortlessly joyful shopping experience. And we’re out to make that experience even more rewarding with Target Circle, offering guests more benefits and attracting new shoppers,” said Rick Gomez, evp/chief marketing officer, Target.

    “We’re building deeper relationships with guests and serving up the most personalized way to shop Target yet, all while encouraging everyone to choose Target again and again.”

    Consumers in the six test markets can sign up for the free program at Target.com/circle, by downloading the Target app, or by providing their phone number at checkout.

    Following a successful trial in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Target is expanding the availability of its new Target Circle loyalty program. Beginning Fe...

    Almost 40 percent of young kids use too much toothpaste when they brush

    Care is necessary when dealing with fluoride, experts say

    Many young children are using more toothpaste than recommended by dentists, according to a recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

    Using too much toothpaste can be harmful to kids’ health as it can lead to children ingesting too much fluoride while their teeth are developing, the CDC says.

    “Fluoride use is one of the main factors responsible for the decline in prevalence and severity of dental caries and cavities (tooth decay) in the United States,” the agency wrote.

    After evaluating the brushing habits of about 5,000 children ages 3 to 15, the CDC found that about 60 percent of children and teens aged 3 to 15 used a half or full load of toothpaste. Among kids in the 3 to 6 age range, about 12 percent used a smear, 49.2 percent used a pea-size amount, 20.6 percent used a half load, and 17.8 percent used a full load.

    "The findings suggest that children and adolescents are engaging in appropriate daily preventive dental health practices," the authors said. "However, implementation of recommendations is not optimal."

    Preventing overuse of toothpaste

    Children younger than 3 should use an amount of toothpaste that is the size of a grain of rice, and kids ages 3 to 6 should use no more than a pea-size amount, the CDC stated.

    Increasing to a “pea-sized” amount is best put off until this time frame because “by which time the swallowing reflex has developed sufficiently to prevent inadvertent ingestion,” the study authors explained.

    "Ingestion of too much fluoride while teeth are developing can result in visibly detectable changes in enamel structure such as discolouration and pitting (dental fluorosis),” the researchers said.

    The CDC survey also found that most children (nearly 80 percent) began brushing after 1 year. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that a smear of fluoride toothpaste is used as soon as baby teeth erupt, from about six months on.

    Many young children are using more toothpaste than recommended by dentists, according to a recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Pr...

    Survey shows couples going overboard on Valentine’s Day spending

    A poll finds both men and women spend more than their partner expects

    Just like Christmas, Valentine’s Day is fast becoming a holiday on which consumers spend too much money and sometimes go into debt.

    A new survey from LendingTree found that couples plan to spend an increasing amount of money, often a lot more than their significant others expect them to. Men tend to be the biggest spenders, typically shelling out almost two and a half times what their significant others expect on what was once a fairly minor holiday.

    The survey found that men plan to spend an average of $95 dollars on Valentine’s Day, more than double the $41 women plan to spend. Compare that to what men and women expect their partner to spend -- no more than $39.

    If you are early into a romance you are more likely to spend the most money. For example, couples who are engaged both plan to spend an average of $92. People who are just dating plan to spend around $88. If you’re married, the spending level drops to $57.

    Financial obligations tend to reduce Valentine’s Day spending. Consumers who have car loans, mortgages, or substantial credit card debt plan to spend well under the averages.

    Young love spends the most

    Generation Z is most in the Valentine’s spirit, with expectations to spend an average of $113. On the other hand, one out of three baby boomers said they would be upset if their partner spent too much money.

    Here’s a tip: your partner probably does not want the extravagant gift you’re planning. What 32 percent of consumers say they want is a nice meal at a restaurant. Twenty-nine percent would be happy with a card.

    Women are more likely to prefer a dinner out or flowers or candy. Men, on the other hand, would like a dinner at home or maybe a night out at the movies.

    Making your mate happy on Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to put you in debt. Esquire magazine notes that most couples’ first date is most likely a movie. It suggests buying her a poster from the first movie you saw together and a copy of the soundtrack.

    For guys, the website Askmen.com has a number of low-cost suggestions, including the Amazon Dot smart speaker, giving him someone else to talk to besides you.

    Just like Christmas, Valentine’s Day is fast becoming a holiday on which consumers spend too much money and sometimes go into debt.A new survey from Le...

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      Aerobic exercise found to lead to faster concussion recovery for young athletes

      Participants in a study were prescribed an exercise regimen following a head injury

      Head injuries are rather common for children who play contact sports. When a concussion occurs, it’s common for medical professionals to advise parents to have their children lie low and recover.

      Now, researchers from the University of Buffalo have found that patients who were supervised during an exercise regimen recovered four days faster, on average, than those who weren’t exercising.

      “This research provides the strongest evidence yet that a prescribed, individualized aerobic exercise program that keeps the heart rate below the point where symptoms worsen is the best way to treat concussion in adolescents,” said Dr. John J. Leddy.

      Getting kids moving

      The researchers had over 100 participants between the ages of 13 and 18 involved in the study. All of the participants had sustained a sports-related concussion in the previous 10 days; half of the group was prescribed a personalized aerobic exercise routine, while the other half performed stretching exercises.

      For the participants chosen to exercise following their concussions, the researchers tested them using the Buffalo Concussion Treadmill Test to determine how intensely they should be working out. The test has participants walk on a treadmill, gradually increasing the incline, and as concussion symptoms begin to worsen, the researchers record their heart rates.

      According to Dr. Leddy, the researchers “prescribed 80 percent of that threshold so each patient’s exercise ‘dose’ was individually tailored.” The participants were evaluated on a weekly basis and spent 20 minutes each day exercising, after which they’d report on any symptoms.

      At the end of the study, the researchers found that those who were working out after their injuries -- by either walking on a treadmill, walking indoors our outdoors, or riding a stationary bike -- recovered in just under two weeks. However, the group that was stretching after their concussions took an average of 17 days to recover.

      The researchers were pleased with these results, as the sooner children can recover, the sooner they can go back to their routines, including regular schoolwork and sports practices.

      “Until now, nothing has been proven in any way effective for treating concussion,” said researcher Barry S. Willer, PhD. “This is the best evidence so far that treatment works.”

      “Telling a teenager to go home and basically do nothing is depressing,” he continued. “It can actually increase their physical and psychological symptoms, and we see that particularly among girls. But with our approach, you’re saying, sure, you can return to school and you should start doing these exercises. Their chins are up, Mom and Dad are happy, and so is the student.”

      The researchers hope that their study becomes recognized more widely so more children can get the care they need and recover as soon as possible.

      “The results of this study suggest that we must build greater capacity within our healthcare systems to allow patients access to multidisciplinary concussion programs and clinics that have the medical expertise to carry out early targeted rehabilitation of acute concussion,” said Dr. Michael J. Ellis.

      Finding what works

      Research has shown that concussion symptoms can last up to three times longer in younger children than in teens and adults, which makes finding the right treatment option even more important.

      Late last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines for treating childhood concussions, which emphasize that all children react and recover differently. The agency stressed that each concussion should be handled on a case-by-case basis.

      Not long after, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its own concussion guidelines with the goal of making the treatment protocol easier to follow and ensuring children get the proper treatment.

      “A cookie-cutter treatment approach does not work, because no two concussions are alike,” said Dr. Mark Halstead. “Although we have these recommendations, physicians and families need to evaluate each child or teen with a concussion on an individual basis.”

      Head injuries are rather common for children who play contact sports. When a concussion occurs, it’s common for medical professionals to advise parents to...

      Red chili ingredient in Hello Fresh brand and Chefs Plate brand meal kits recalled

      The ingredient may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Hello Fresh Canada is recalling the red chili ingredient included in Hello Fresh brand and Chefs Plate brand meal kits.

      The red chili ingredient in the kits may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      There have been no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of these products.

      The following items, sold in the Canadian provinces of Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Quebec, are being recalled:

      Brand NameCommon NameSizeCode(s) on ProductUPC
      Hello FreshRed chili

      1 (included

      in the 902

      g kit)

      Included in Hello Fresh brand Coconut Dal meal kit coded as 
      Best Before 19 JA 29
      WK19041920
      2P
      None
      Hello FreshRed chili

      1 (included

      in the 1804

      g kit)

      Included in Hello Fresh brand Coconut Dal meal kit coded as 
      Best Before 19 JA 29
      WK19041920
      4P
      None
      Chefs PlateRed chili1 (included in the 856 g kit)Included in Chefs Plate brand Beef Chow Mein meal kit coded as January 19, 2019 (A2)None
      Chefs PlateRed chili1 (included in the 856 g kit)Included in Chefs Plate brand Beef Chow Mein meal kit coded as January 22, 2019 (A2)None
      Chefs PlateRed chili1 (included in the 1712 g kit)Included in Chefs Plate brand Beef Chow Mein meal kit coded as January 19, 2019 (A4)None
      Chefs PlateRed chili1 (included in the 1712 g kit)Included in Chefs Plate brand Beef Chow Mein meal kit coded as January 22, 2019 (A4)None

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but discard them or return them to the store where they were purchased.

      Consumers with questions may contact Hello Fresh Canada at (855) 272-7002 or by email at foodsafety@hellofresh.ca.

      Hello Fresh Canada is recalling the red chili ingredient included in Hello Fresh brand and Chefs Plate brand meal kits.The red chili ingredient in the...

      Sears’ unsecured creditors to voice concerns at bankruptcy court

      Creditors say CEO Eddie Lampert’s bid to acquire the company shouldn’t be approved

      On Monday, Sears’ unsecured creditors will head to U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York to voice their objections to CEO Eddie Lampert’s $5.2 billion buyout bid.

      Earlier this month, Lampert made a last-minute bid to salvage the 126-year-old chain and keep 425 stores open through his ESL hedge fund. However, over the last few weeks, those owed money by Sears who are unprotected by collateral have accused Lampert of using a range of shady tactics over the years, including "stealing assets" and "years of misconduct.”

      “The tortured story of Sears reads like a Shakespearean tragedy, playing out over five acts,” the unsecured lenders said in a complaint filed one week after Lampert made his winning bid. The creditors’ committee argued that the bid shouldn’t be approved because Lampert’s control gave him "undue influence to siphon value" on favorable terms.

      A hearing regarding the matter is expected to take place on February 4 and February 6, during which time Judge Robert Drain will hear these objections and decide the fate of the company.

      Drain has previously “shown a propensity for pushing Lampert and Sears to draft a deal that would save jobs, having twice granted the parties more time in order to craft a resolution when it seemed like they had reached a breaking point,” according to CNBC.

      Saving jobs

      In a filing last week, Lampert accused Sears’ unsecured creditors of engaging in efforts intended to “poison the well” against ESL with "page after page of its pleadings with smears and false narratives that are completely irrelevant" to his potential Sears’ takeover.

      Lampert and his legal team emphasized that the proposed acquisition will save 45,000 jobs. However, creditors argue that Lampert’s motivation to save the company may not be entirely pure.

      Opponents of the proposed deal say it’s "nothing but the final fulfillment of a years long scheme to rob Sears and its creditors of assets and employees of jobs while lining Lampert's and ESL's own pockets."

      Lampert noted in court documents that ESL is committing more than $300 million in cash to fund the offer, including buying out other senior debt holders, and at least $193 million in credit.

      "ESL therefore has much to lose if [its] go forward business plan is not successful," the documents stated.

      A spokesperson for ESL said the company is confident Sears Holdings can be salvaged under the bid.

      “Subject to its approval by the court, our going concern proposal will deliver a total consideration in excess of $5.2 billion and save tens of thousands of jobs,” the spokesman said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “It will also fund certain severance costs incurred by Sears during bankruptcy and reinstate severance benefits for eligible employees in a new company.”

      On Monday, Sears’ unsecured creditors will head to U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York to voice their objections to CEO Eddie Lampe...

      Super Bowl ratings hit record 10-year low

      Reporters in New Orleans said that a street party for people boycotting the NFL was more fun than the game

      Average viewership for Super Bowl XLIII dipped below 100 million, marking the first time since 2009 that ratings were that low.

      Nielsen said yesterday’s game scored a 44.9 household rating, a five percent decrease from last year and the lowest score since the 2009 game.

      The New England Patriots’ 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams also made for the lowest-scoring game in Super Bowl history, and it was widely described by football fans as one of the most boring games they had ever seen. But that may not have been the only factor.

      Amid allegations of racism, unfair calls, and other problems plaguing the NFL, people across the country called for a Super Bowl boycott this year. In New Orleans, Saints fans and others even organized a massive street party to give boycotters alternate entertainment to the big game. Reporters on the scene said the festival was more fun than the actual game.

      Average viewership for Super Bowl XLIII dipped below 100 million, marking the first time since 2009 that ratings were that low.Nielsen said yesterday’s...

      Crypto exchange can’t repay customers due to sudden death of founder

      ‘They’ve left us completely in the dark,’ customer said

      Canadian crypto exchange QuadrigaCX can’t repay $190 million in client holdings because its founder died late last year with the only password that would allow access to the funds, Coindesk reported.

      Jennifer Robertson, the widow of the platform’s founder Gerald Cotten, said that QuadrigaCX has filed for creditor protection because it can’t access the substantial funds stored in “cold storage” -- only a “minimal amount of coins” stored in a “hot wallet” used for transfers.

      The exchange reportedly owes its customers roughly $250 million CAD ($190 million USD) in both cryptocurrency and fiat.

      "Quadriga's inventory of cryptocurrency has become unavailable and some of it may be lost," Robertson wrote after her husband died suddenly of complications from Crohn's disease in December. Cotten held “sole responsibility for handling the funds and coins,” she added.

      Robertson said she does not have a password or recovery key to Cotten’s laptop. Technical consultants have not been able to access the exchange’s cold wallets since the founder’s death.

      “A tough lesson learned”

      In the filings obtained by Coindesk, Robertson wrote that the exchange “urgently needs a stay of proceedings which will allow Quadriga and its contractors additional time to find whatever stores of cryptocurrency may be available and also to negotiate the bank drafts available to Quadriga.”

      Calgary customer Elvis Cavalic, who bought a few hundred dollars of Bitcoin using Quadriga's platform, told CBC that he couldn’t withdraw $15,000 from his account.

      "This is a tough lesson learned. I would probably avoid [cryptocurrency] in the future," Cavalic said. "They've left us completely in the dark. I'm kind of preparing for the worst."

      The exchange's new directors voted to "temporarily pause" the exchange on January 26, according to Robertson.

      Canadian crypto exchange QuadrigaCX can’t repay $190 million in client holdings because its founder died late last year with the only password that would a...

      Bud Light uses the Super Bowl to start a conversation about corn syrup

      Corn growers aren’t happy, and neither is Bud Light’s competitors

      What would Super Bowl commercials be without a little controversy?

      Anheuser Busch set off the Twitterverse with its commercial promoting the fact that Bud Light contains no corn syrup while the ingredient is part of beers made by the MillerCoors.

      While that might not seem offensive to many consumers and viewers of last night’s game between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams, the folks who grow corn didn’t like it one bit.

      “America’s corn farmers are disappointed in you,” the American Corn Growers Association (ACGA) said in a tweet directed at Bud Light. “Our office is right down the road! We would love to discuss with you the many benefits of corn!”

      The tweet then went on to thank Miller and Coors for supporting the corn industry, thereby making the commercial’s point. In case you missed it, the commercial is below.

      Implies that corn syrup isn’t good

      In the commercial, Anheuser Busch never explains why its Bud Light product is better because it doesn’t use corn syrup, but it implies that’s the case.

      Corn syrup is a sweetener used in place of sugar in a wide range of processed foods and beverages, but there is a difference between regular corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is also widely used in processed foods and beverages. The two are often confused.

      Dr. Mike Roussell, who writes a nutritional blog, says HFCS is made up of approximately 45 percent glucose and 55 percent fructose. Plain corn syrup is simply glucose, “the most basic sugar molecule.”

      Recent studies have suggested HFCS’s high caloric content may play a role in the obesity epidemic, something the beverage industry has pushed back against with research of its own.

      A study published on a National Institutes of Health website says the consumption of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) increased more than 1000 percent between 1970 and 1990, far exceeding the changes in consumption of any other food group.

      “HFCS now represents greater than 40 percent of caloric sweeteners added to foods and beverages and is the sole caloric sweetener in soft drinks in the United States,” the authors wrote.

      While MillerCoors took to Twitter last night to point out that none of its products contain HFCS, it  claimed “a number” of Anheuser Busch products do. It also claimed that Miller light has fewer calories and carbs than Bud Light.

      What would Super Bowl commercials be without a little controversy?Anheuser Busch set off the Twitterverse with its commercial promoting the fact that B...

      Homeschooled children found to be missing exercise goals

      Organized sports and activities aren’t enough to keep kids active

      Many parents work hard to ensure that their children are exercising regularly and moving as often as possible. Now, researchers from Rice University conducted a study which showed that homeschooled children -- despite being enrolled in physical activities -- aren’t getting enough exercise.

      “We assumed -- and I think parents largely do as well -- that children enrolled in an organized sport or physical activity are getting the activity they need to maintain good body composition, cardiorespiratory fitness, and muscular development,” said Laura Kabiri, a sports medicine lecturer at Rice University.

      “We found that is not the case. Just checking the box and enrolling them in an activity doesn’t necessarily mean they’re meeting the requirements they need to stay healthy.”

      Not moving enough

      The researchers analyzed data from 100 homeschooled children between the ages of 10 and 17. To determine how much physical activity children need, the group cited the World Health Organization, which states that children should be engaging in around an hour of aerobic activity every day.

      The participants’ parents responded to a survey regarding their children’s enrollment in physical activities, and then the children were required to complete a physical fitness test. The researchers found that 80 percent of participants were involved in organized sports, though they spent an average of five hours per week at practices.

      Overall, participants that played sports were not found to be more physically fit than those who didn’t play organized sports, and though children were enrolled in an organized sport, it didn’t mean that they were getting the recommended amount of exercise each day.

      This fact troubled the researchers, as general homeschooling curriculum doesn’t require that children engage in physical activity. To help combat this issue, Kabiri recommends that parents schedule time throughout the day for children to run around and get active in addition to whatever time is spent at sports practice.

      “Parents know that if they attend activities and don’t see their kids breathing and sweating hard, then they’re not getting enough exercise,” Kabiri said. “So there should be more opportunities for unstructured activity. Get your kids outside and let them run around and play with the neighborhood kids and ride their bikes.”

      Increasing activity

      Though this study focuses on children who are homeschooled, previous studies have shown how all children need to be moving more. Near the end of last year, two studies revealed how few children are actually moving enough each day.

      Researchers from the University of Exeter found that just one in three children are hitting their daily activity targets, while a global study revealed that children’s activity levels are on the decline and have hit “crisis levels.”

      In a study that spanned nearly 50 countries, children’s activity levels gave 75 percent of the countries failing grades.

      “Global trends, including excessive screen time, are contributing to a generation of inactive children and putting them on a dangerous path,” said researcher Mark Tremblay. “We have a collective responsibility to change this because inactive children are at risk for adverse physical, mental, social, and cognitive health problems.”

      Many parents work hard to ensure that their children are exercising regularly and moving as often as possible. Now, researchers from Rice University conduc...

      Babies develop better attention skills if they hear more than one language at home

      A recent study shows the advantages to growing up in a bilingual household

      For parents of young infants, managing attention can be a difficult task, especially when the children are too young to start speaking.

      Now, researchers from York University in Canada found that infants exposed to more than one language at home showed stronger attention skills than infants who heard just one language at home.

      “By studying infants -- a population that does not yet speak any language -- we discovered that the real difference between monolingual and bilingual individuals later in life is not in the language itself, but rather, in the attention system used to focus on language,” said researcher Ellen Bialystok.

      “This study tells us that from the very earliest stage of development, the networks that are the basis for developing attention are forming differently in infants who are being raised in a bilingual environment. Why is that important? It’s because attention is the basis for all cognition.”

      Gauging infants’ attention

      Half of the infants involved in the study came from bilingual households and the other half came from single-language households. The researchers measured the participants’ eye movements over the course of two different studies to determine their attention levels.

      Both of the studies began the same way: the babies were lying down in a crib and were shown images that appeared from different areas of the screen.

      In the first study, the researchers established a pattern with the way the images appeared on the screen that the infants would be able to follow with their eyes. However, the researchers got rid of the expected pattern for the second study as a means of testing the infants’ attention skills.

      The researchers found that the children from bilingual homes were more likely to learn the new rules and anticipate what direction the images would come from..

      “Infants only know which way to look if they can discriminate between the two pictures that appear in the center,” said researcher Scott Adler. “They will eventually anticipate the picture appearing on the right, for example, by making an eye movement even before that picture appears on the right. What we found was that infants who were raised in bilingual environments were able to do this better after the rule is switched than those raised in a monolingual environment.”

      The researchers were particularly impressed with these findings because they show the advanced cognitive functioning and attention skills of infants who are pre-speech.

      “What is so groundbreaking about these results, is that they look at infants who are not bilingual yet and who are only hearing the bilingual environment,” said Adler “This is what’s having the impact on cognitive performance.”

      For parents of young infants, managing attention can be a difficult task, especially when the children are too young to start speaking.Now, researchers...

      New car sales fall in January

      But the average transaction price is still going up

      Fewer consumers purchased new cars in January, but those who did paid a significantly higher price than a year ago.

      Analysts are quick to point out that there were a lot of factors working against America’s car dealers last month. There was a government shutdown for most of the month, with 800,000 federal employees thinking about how to make ends meet, not taking on new debt.

      Even before the polar vortex descended on the Midwest late in the month, the weather was colder and snowier than normal in wide areas of the country.

      Toyota saw its sales drop 6.6 percent from January 2018 while Mazda’s sales cratered to the tune of 19.7 percent. Honda and Fiat Chrysler managed small increases in sales for the month.

      “January proved to be weaker than anticipated for Fiat Chrysler, up only 2 percent,” Michelle Krebs, executive analyst at Autotrader, told ConsumerAffairs in an email. “In contrast to previous months when Jeep was the champ, Ram saved the day in January with pickup sales up 19 percent. The redesigned Ram 1500 pickup, which had lower incentives than its prime competitors, has been winning critical acclaim and awards, including the North American Truck of the Year presented at the Detroit auto show in January.”

      Generous incentives

      Krebs said the Dodge Journey also had a big month, helped by generous incentives of up to $10,750 on some models. But she said there was a limit to consumers’ interest in cash back.

      “Hefty incentives didn’t help much for vehicles like the Chrysler 300 and aged Jeep Grand Cherokee, which offered incentives of up to $6,750, and the Jeep Renegade, which had up to $4,750 on the hood,” Krebs said. “Similarly, Fiat sales were down despite incentives of more than $6,000 a vehicle on some models.”

      There are no January sales numbers for GM and Ford. Both U.S. automakers have adopted policies on reporting sales only on a quarterly basis.

      Consumers spent more in January

      Despite lower sales car dealers were able to move more expensive vehicles. Kelley Blue Book (KBB) estimates the average transaction price for a car or truck in January was $37,149, up 4.2 percent from the previous January. No doubt truck sales helped push the average higher.

      KBB analysts also point out that strong sales of Tesla cars -- which can go for $100,000 or more -- helped boost transaction prices. Consumers also purchased more full-size pickup trucks, which tend to be a lot more expensive than a typical sedan.

      Fewer consumers purchased new cars in January, but those who did paid a significantly higher price than a year ago.Analysts are quick to point out that...

      Democrats float plan to increase Social Security benefits

      The measure would raise the payroll tax to pay for it

      After years of worrying about Social Security’s long-term solvency, Democrats in Congress have advanced a plan to increase benefits for the retirement program.

      Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced a bill, the Social Security 2100 Act, that would increase the Social Security monthly payment by about 2 percent. The reasoning behind the measure is seniors’ increased use of medical services. It would also increase the monthly payment for people who didn’t earn that much while they were working.

      To make the increase go farther, the measure would reduce taxes on Social Security benefits so that retirees could keep more of their pension. To pay for the increase, Democrats propose raising the payroll tax rate to 14.8 percent over the next 24 years. Currently, the rate is 12.4 percent. It would also subject earnings over $400,000 a year to the tax.

      The last time Congress raised the payroll tax was 1983 when a bipartisan commission of lawmakers agreed on a plan to shore up the retirement system which was in danger of becoming insolvent.

      With the changes, the system collected more money than it paid out for more than two decades but Congress spent the surplus on other things. Now that Social Security is paying out more than it takes in, Congress is having to borrow the money to make the payments.

      ‘Come together’

      “Social Security has not had any significant adjustments made since 1983 when Tip O’Neill was Speaker and Ronald Reagan was President,” said Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), a key member of the House Ways and Means Committee and one of the bill’s 200 sponsors. “It’s time for Congress and the President to come together again, just like Speaker O’Neill and President Reagan did to make this a reality.”

      Despite the partisan gridlock in Washington, Larson thinks there’s a reasonable chance the bill could become law. He points out that candidate Donald Trump was the only Republican during the 2016 Presidential campaign who declared he would not cut Social Security.

      “The time to expand Social Security is now,” Larson said. “Let’s create an actual solution for millions of Americans and get something done.”

      Republicans aren’t ruling it out. Andrew Biggs, who served as a deputy commissioner of Social Security in the George W. Bush administration, found some things to praise about the Democrats’ bill, telling the New York Times it would keep the system solvent for the foreseeable future.

      After years of worrying about Social Security’s long-term solvency, Democrats in Congress have advanced a plan to increase benefits for the retirement prog...

      Bipartisan group of lawmakers sets its sights on ending robocalls

      The bill calls for a task force of heavy hitters from six different agencies

      A bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives are binding together to try and take down the spam call industry once and for all.

      Charlie Crist (D-FL), Garret Graves (R-LA), Matt Cartwright (D-PA), and Walter Jones (R-NC) have introduced the Spam Calls Task Force Act, which will develop an interagency task force focused on the robocall problem.

      "Night and day, Americans are being inundated by spam calls. It's more than an annoyance – it's an invasion of privacy being used to deceive and take advantage of unsuspecting victims," said Rep. Crist.  "Working together across the aisle and across agencies, we can better protect the people from this predatory practice."

      While the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been unsuccessful by itself in curbing robocalls, the bill cuts that agency some slack and puts it together with the Attorney General’s office to assemble the task force.

      The dream team the bill’s authors have their designs on are the Department of Commerce, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, Federal Trade Commission, and Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection.

      The task force’s to-do list looks like this:

      • Determine if any federal laws, regulations, or policies inhibit the enforcement of section of the Telephone Consumer Protections Act that prohibits spam/scam calls;

      • Identify existing and potential policies and programs that encourage and improve coordination among departments, agencies, and states;

      • Identify existing and potential international policies and programs;

      • Consider if additional resources would be helpful;

      • Consider if formal agreements between states and the federal government and/or foreign governments would be helpful; and

      • Consider if increased criminal penalties or fines would serve as an increased deterrent.

      Unlike the typical snail’s pace seen on Capitol Hill, this team won’t be allowed to drag its feet. The bill specifies that the task force only has nine months to complete its research and present an action plan.

      One can only hope

      If Crist and company pull this off, the millions of consumers plagued by the robocall nightmare might just throw them a parade.

      Data from YouMail showed that a record-breaking 47.8 billion robocalls were made in the U.S. in 2018 -- that’s 17 million more than 2017. Health and insurance scams led the list with 5.1 billion calls made.

      Sadly, the recent government shutdown meant that the government’s Do Not Call List was also on pause, creating a field day for robocallers. YouMail recorded one robocaller trying to use the government shutdown to peddle the IRS scam.

      "This intrusive practice is an invasion of privacy. Our citizens should be able to answer their phones expecting a loved one or an acquaintance, not a spam caller. This bill is the first step in finding a solution to this growing problem," commented Rep. Jones.

      A bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives are binding together to try and take down the spam call industry once and for all.Charlie Crist (D-FL), Garr...

      Apple to issue fix for FaceTime bug next week

      The company said it’s ‘committed to improving the process by which we receive and escalate’ reports of bugs

      Apple has apologized for the FaceTime privacy vulnerability that became public news on Monday after having been discovered by a user and reported to the company more than a week prior.

      The bug allowed callers to hear the person on the other line before they agreed to accept the call. If the recipient tried to block the call or turn off the device, their video camera would automatically begin recording. That video would then be sent back to the caller.

      Apple disabled group FaceTime as a temporary fix, but only after reports of the bug had been shared widely in the media. The company had originally become aware of the flaw more than a week before it became public.

      More permanent fix to come

      On Friday, Apple said it will roll out a fixed version of the group calling feature next week.

      “We have fixed the Group FaceTime security bug on Apple’s servers and we will issue a software update to re-enable the feature for users next week," the company said in a statement.

      The tech giant credited the family of a 14-year-old boy who helped discover the flaw and report it to Apple.

      "We thank the Thompson family for reporting the bug. We sincerely apologize to our customers who were affected and all who were concerned about this security issue. We appreciate everyone’s patience as we complete this process,” Apple said.

      Slow response to the issue

      Earlier this week, New York state Attorney General Letitia James announced that her office would be opening an investigation on the bug -- specifically, Apple’s lag time in informing consumers of the flaw.

      “We’re launching an investigation into Apple’s failure to warn consumers about the FaceTime privacy breach & their slow response to addressing the issue,” James said. “New Yorkers shouldn't have to choose between their private communications & their privacy rights.”

      In its Friday statement, Apple attempted to win back consumers’ trust by saying that it’s “committed to improving the process by which we receive and escalate these reports.”

      "We want to assure our customers that as soon as our engineering team became aware of the details necessary to reproduce the bug, they quickly disabled Group FaceTime and began work on the fix," the company said. “We take the security of our products extremely seriously and we are committed to continuing to earn the trust Apple customers place in us.”

      Apple has apologized for the FaceTime privacy vulnerability that became public news on Monday after having been discovered by a user and reported to the co...

      Uber integrating public transportation options in its app

      The company is aiming to become a ‘one-stop shop for transportation’

      As part of its effort to offer a growing lineup of transportation options, Uber is adding real-time bus and train information on its app courtesy of transit data firm Moovit.

      The integration of public transit information within the app will first be rolled out to Uber riders in Denver, Colorado -- with more cities to follow if the initial program is successful.

      The company says its goal is to discourage riders from using their personal vehicles. Uber previously announced that it’s adding bikes and scooters as transportation options in an effort to become a multimodal operation.

      The addition of public transportation information will be followed up in a few weeks with the ability to purchase train tickets in the Uber app under a new partnership with mobile ticketing company Masabi.

      “Many times, it can be faster or cheaper to take public transportation than any other form of travel, and we want to give our riders a seamless way to access that option right from our app,” David Reich, head of transit at Uber, said in a statement.

      On-demand transportation data

      Riders will see the new feature after entering their destination. “Transit” will be displayed next to other available transportation options in their city.

      Once the option is selected, users will be able to view available transit routes that will get them to their destination, “along with real-time departure and arrival times, and receive walking directions to/from the transit stations,” Reich explained.

      In addition to providing users with additional transportation options on their journey, the move to add public transit information could also result in users leaning on the Uber app more.

      “We don’t want people to jump between different apps, which sometimes have different information than others,” Reich told the Verge.

      Uber CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, announced last year that his goal is to steer the company toward becoming an “urban mobility platform” with transportation modes including ride-hailing, car rentals, public transportation, and more.

      As part of its effort to offer a growing lineup of transportation options, Uber is adding real-time bus and train information on its app courtesy of transi...