Current Events in February 2019

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2019

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    FTC shuts down work-at-home operation

    The agency warns consumers to be leery of pie-in-the-sky promises

    In today’s digital world, more and more people are working from home and earning a living. That said, there are still plenty of work-at-home schemes that promise big money but deliver nothing.

    The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced a settlement with operators it accused of running one of these scams. The settlement bars the operators from engaging in the marketing of “business opportunities” or in business coaching services.

    “Be very skeptical of promises that you’ll make a lot of money by working from home,” said Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “In this case and many others, we see companies that are just out to take your money, not help you make it.”

    The FTC alleged that two individuals controlling five companies approached consumers with their work-from-home programs that typically cost the consumer $97 upfront. The consumers were told they would make money through the advertising links the operators would place on websites.

    According to the FTC, the consumers who purchased the program quickly learned that the program did not actually supply any advertising links or pay them to perform any work.

    Consumers were enlisted into the program through ads that appeared in spam emails. The emails contained links that sent the recipients to the operators’ “presale” websites which contained bogus reviews that were designed to look like legitimate reporting.

    ‘Significant income with little effort’

    If consumers took the next step and went to one of the sales websites, they were promised significant income with little effort. According to the FTC, these websites showed testimonials including a prominent story about a single mother who had lost her job and then became a millionaire.

    None of it was true, the FTC says. In fact, the people featured on the site were not even real customers.

    The FTC says hundreds of thousands of people fell for the scheme, variously marketed as Online Cash Commission, Excel Cash Flow, and Cash From Home. The haul was characterized as “several million dollars.”

    There is an increasing number of legitimate opportunities to work from home, but almost all involve working as an independent contractor for a real company. In these cases, the company will negotiate the terms with the employee and agree to pay them for the work they do.

    They never ask a work-at-home employee for any kind of upfront fee. If someone tells you that’s how it works, chances are you’re dealing with a work-at-home scam.

    In today’s digital world, more and more people are working from home and earning a living. That said, there are still plenty of work-at-home schemes that p...

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      Consumers could lose more weight with interval training

      The study suggests that high-intensity exercise programs may not be the best option

      At a time when many consumers are prioritizing fitness, a recent study could have many people rethinking their workout plans.

      Not only is it difficult for consumers to commit to a high-intensity workout regimen -- many of which suggest exercising for 60 minutes per day -- but new research suggests that this method may not be the best for those looking to lose weight.

      Instead, researchers found that practicing interval training can make the weight come off faster -- and have consumers spending less time in the gym.

      Getting the most out of a workout

      The researchers analyzed data from over 40 studies that included over 1,100 people to see how interval training and high-intensity workouts affect the body differently.

      Interval training is attractive for many people because it doesn’t require a huge time commitment, but it still provides positive results. For this study, the researchers looked at two of the most common types of interval training: sprint interval training (cycling, jogging, speed walking, or running) and high intensity interval training (HIIT), which includes several different types of exercises.

      In evaluating the studies, the researchers found that both interval training and high-intensity continuous workouts ended with participants losing both weight and body fat; however, participants who engaged in interval training workouts lost an average of nearly 29 percent more weight than those who did not.

      Participants who completed sprint interval training programs lost even more weight than those engaging in HIIT programs or high-intensity continuous workouts.

      Though continuous high-intensity workouts are typically recommended for people looking to lose weight, the researchers do warn consumers of the risks associated with a more rigorous exercise programs.

      “It is important to be aware of the possible risks and caveats associated with higher intensity training,” the researchers wrote. “For example, it might increase the risk of injury and impose higher cardiovascular stress. Adherence should also be examined as higher intensity protocols can result in higher discomfort.”

      The researchers hope that these findings create more options for consumers, but they do note that because the study involves so many different types of interval training, it’s hard to “generally recommend...one particular protocol.”

      Less could be more

      Recent studies have explored how maximizing shorter spurts of exercise can be beneficial to consumers. For example, researchers found that climbing stairs in short spurts can help improve health, while one workout can help the metabolism for up to two days later.

      Both studies provide consumers with more creative ways of incorporating exercise into their routines without trying to squeeze the gym into an already packed day.

      At a time when many consumers are prioritizing fitness, a recent study could have many people rethinking their workout plans.Not only is it difficult f...

      Ford recalls model year 2019 Fusion Energi vehicles

      The vehicles not meet required enhanced level of high voltage access protection

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 2,100 model year 2019 Ford Fusion Energi vehicles.

      The cars do not meet the enhanced level of high voltage access protection required by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards 305.

      This condition could allow contact with an uncovered high voltage fuse through a small gap behind the access panel, potentially increasing the risk of injury.

      Ford has not received any reports of accidents or injuries resulting from this condition.

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners and dealers will install a cover over the high voltage battery electrical center.

      Owners may contact Ford at (866) 436-7332 . Ford's reference number for this recall is 19C05.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 2,100 model year 2019 Ford Fusion Energi vehicles.The cars do not meet the enhanced level of high voltage access protec...

      Model year 2018 Mercedes-Benz C300s and C300 4MATICs recalled

      The headlights may not be adjusted properly

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 2,364 model year 2018 C300s and C300 4MATIC.

      The headlights on these vehicles may not be properly adjusted. As a result, the driver may have reduced visibility, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      MBUSA has notified owners, and dealers will inspect the setting of the headlights and adjust them, as necessary, free of charge.

      An interim letter was mailed to customers to notify them of the issue on February 11, 2019. Owners will receive a second letter when the repair is available.

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

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 2,364 model year 2018 C300s and C300 4MATIC.The headlights on these vehicles may not be properly adjusted. As a...

      Chrysler recalls model year 2019 Jeep Cherokees

      The instrument cluster may fail resulting in a lack of activation of warning chimes

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 52 model year 2019 Jeep Cherokees.

      The instrument cluster may fail resulting in a lack of activation of warning chimes, messages, and gauges.

      A lack of warning chimes, messages, and gauges providing vehicle information to the driver, could increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler has notified owners, and dealers will inspect and, as necessary, replace the instrument cluster, free of charge.

      The recall began February 7, 2019.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is UC4.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 52 model year 2019 Jeep Cherokees.The instrument cluster may fail resulting in a lack of activation of warning chime...

      Southwest Airlines issues ‘state of emergency’ warning after its out-of-service rate for its fleet doubles

      No short-term safety concerns have been voiced, but reports of issues with Southwest’s 737s continue

      Inside of a week’s time, Southwest Airlines has been on quite a rollercoaster ride. First, it raised a toast to news that its employees earned $544 million in profit sharing, then had to stare down a public relations nightmare over 100 cancelled flights, a thousand delayed flights, and reports that the airline told its mechanics that, despite those unexpected groundings, they better show up for work or look elsewhere for a paycheck.

      "The uptick in maintenance items we experienced over the last few days have resulted in a slight increase" in cancellations, a Southwest Airlines spokesperson told CNBC. However, the official held off on providing a breakdown for interruptions caused by either maintenance or Mother Nature.

      Flying or not, Southwest told its mechanics to sit tight. According to a report by the Chicago Business Journal, mechanics were told they’d be assigned overtime. However, officials said they would only honor vacation or shift trade requests that had already been approved.

      The number of Southwest’s cancelled flights numbered more than any other U.S. airline and was double Southwest’s daily average, according to flight-tracking site FlightAware. The airline typically pencils in a max of 20 aircraft removed from service for various and sundry issues on any given day.

      Southwest’s negative experience with its Boeing 737 fleet has been mounting. Less than a year ago, a cracked window caused Southwest Airlines jet to make unscheduled landing and, around the same time, federal safety investigators amped up their examination of the engine of a Southwest Airlines jet that killed a passenger when it exploded in midair.

      How old is too old in airplane years?

      Some may wonder if the life expectancy on Southwest’s fleet is running out. Aviation experts have weighed in on some of the problems that might come about over time.

      "Aircraft lifespan is established by the manufacturer and is usually based on takeoff and landing cycles,” former Federal Aviation Administration official John Petrakis told Smithsonian’s Air & Space magazine. “The fuselage is most susceptible to fatigue, but the wings are too, especially on short hauls where an aircraft goes through pressurization cycles every day."

      In Southwest’s situation, the average age of its 737 fleet is close to 11 years, with some of its models still flying 19 years after their first take-off.

      Comparatively, Southwest isn’t pushing its luck further than any other airline, according to AirSafeNews. American, Delta, and United all count on their fleet to last that long.

      Like an a automobile, if an airplane is well-maintained and follows instructions from the FAA and the manufacturer, its life expectancy can increase.

      “The whole focus is to detect problems before it becomes catastrophic,” Bill de Becker, Chairman of Conklin and de Becker Aviation, told TravelPulse.

      Inside of a week’s time, Southwest Airlines has been on quite a rollercoaster ride. First, it raised a toast to news that its employees earned $544 million...

      NYC mayor disappointed in Amazon’s decision to cancel HQ2 plans

      Bill de Blasio called Amazon’s decision ‘an abuse of corporate power’

      New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio did not hold back when it came to venting his frustrations about Amazon canceling its plans to build a second headquarters in Queens.

      "This is an example of an abuse of corporate power," de Blasio told NBC's Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press” on Sunday. "Amazon just took their ball and went home. And what they did was confirm people's worst fears about corporate America."

      Last week, de Blasio said Amazon “threw away” an opportunity by backing out of the deal.

      "You have to be tough to make it in New York City," he said in a statement. "We gave Amazon the opportunity to be a good neighbor and do business in the greatest city in the world. Instead of working with the community, Amazon threw away that opportunity."

      Amazon reneges on the deal

      De Blasio, a Democrat, had been a huge supporter of the plan to have Amazon’s second headquarters in New York. Last November, he claimed that it would be a boon to locals, including residents of a large public-housing development located near the proposed site.

      But Amazon ultimately decided not to carry out its plan to build HQ2 in New York.

      "After much thought and deliberation, we've decided not to move forward with our plans to build a headquarters for Amazon in Long Island City, Queens," the company wrote in a blog post last week.

      The company said it will not look to replace New York with another city, but it “will proceed as planned in Northern Virginia and Nashville” and will “continue to hire and grow across our 17 corporate offices and tech hubs in the U.S. and Canada,” according to CNN.

      Democrats split

      Although some Democrats are disappointed in Amazon’s decision, others have declared it a victory. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), whose district is near the site where Amazon would have been located, gave her take to NBC.

      “I think it’s incredible. It shows that everyday Americans still have the power to organize and fight for their communities.”

      De Blasio acknowledged the division among progressives on Sunday, but argued that it’s possible for progressives to govern effectively while also creating jobs.

      "I am representing 8.6 million people, and a clear majority of those people believe we need more fairness in our economy. But of course, we need jobs, we need growth, we need revenue,” he said. “Progressives can do both.”

      In an op-ed for the New York Times published Saturday, de Blasio wrote that the deal would have created up to 25,000 jobs. He expressed his dismay that Amazon couldn’t handle even a small amount of public criticism about income inequality.

      “The lesson here is that corporations can’t ignore rising anger over economic inequality anymore,” de Blasio wrote. “We see that anger roiling Silicon Valley, in the rocks hurled at buses carrying tech workers from San Francisco and Oakland to office parks in the suburbs.”

      New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio did not hold back when it came to venting his frustrations about Amazon canceling its plans to build a second headquarte...

      Group FaceTime still not working properly for all users

      Users have noticed a minor bug still affecting the service

      After word began spreading of the presence of an eavesdropping bug on FaceTime, Apple released an update that included a fix. However, Group FaceTime calls are still not working as intended for all iOS users, even under the iOS 12.1.4 update, MacRumors has reported.

      Some users are finding that it’s not possible to switch from a standard FaceTime call to a group video chat because the option to “Add Person” isn’t available. Apple is reportedly aware of the issue but hasn’t provided a timeline for when it will be fixed.

      Until a fix is released, those who run Official Apple Support Twitter accounts have suggested that users start their Group FaceTime sessions with "at least two additional" people.

      The original bug

      Apple was first alerted to the original FaceTime flaw at the end of January. The bug allowed callers to hear and see the person on the other end before they accepted the call.  

      It wasn’t until a few weeks later, when reports of the bug began spreading on social media, that the company addressed the flaw. Apple disabled the feature earlier this month and issued the following statement:

      "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.”

      The iOS 12.1.4 update re-enabled Group FaceTime and fixed a “logic issue” in the service with “improved state management,” according to its release notes.

      “Apple is actively working on iOS 12.2 Beta which has not yet seen the addition of the patch for Group FaceTime, but we'd expect them to address the ongoing bugs in a later 12.2 beta release,” MacRumors said.

      After word began spreading of the presence of an eavesdropping bug on FaceTime, Apple released an update that included a fix. However, Group FaceTime calls...

      Marriott letting guests check to see if they were affected by data breach

      The hotel giant has created an online form for potentially affected guests

      Consumers who stayed at one of Marriott’s Starwood hotels can now check to see if their information was exposed in the massive data breach revealed in November.

      The hotel chain has created an online form that enables guests to see if their data was stolen. Marriott promised to reply to form submissions “as soon as reasonably practicable and consistent with applicable law.”

      Last month, Marriott disclosed that five million unencrypted passport numbers were stolen in the breach of its Starwood hotel reservation system. Unknown parties gained access to the database sometime in 2014, according to the results of an investigation.

      The breach affected accounts that had used Starwood’s guest reservation database between 2014 and September 10, 2018. Starwood-branded hotels include W Hotels, St. Regis, Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, Westin Hotels & Resorts, Element Hotels, Aloft Hotels, The Luxury Collection, Tribute Portfolio, Le Méridien Hotels & Resorts, Four Points by Sheraton, and Design Hotels.

      Marriott said last month that data on “fewer than 383 million unique guests” was leaked in the breach.

      Records that were stolen included, “some combination of name, mailing address, phone number, email address, passport number, Starwood Preferred Guest (‘SPG’) account information, date of birth, gender, arrival and departure information, reservation date, and communication preferences.”

      The online checker Marriott has created asks that users input personal information, including their name, email address, and the last six digits of their passport number.

      “There is a certain irony in having to turn over your own data — not least to a third-party — to be told if you’re a victim of a breach,” TechCrunch noted, adding that guests should use the checker at their own risk.

      Consumers who stayed at one of Marriott’s Starwood hotels can now check to see if their information was exposed in the massive data breach revealed in Nove...

      Subaru and Lexus emerge as top brands for cost of ownership

      Kelley Blue Book rated the top carmakers based on consumers' first five years of ownership

      There are a lot of things to consider when purchasing a new car, and they extend far beyond the cost of acquiring it. Besides the sticker price, there’s the cost of fuel, maintenance, depreciation,  and insurance.

      Some vehicles have lower operational costs than others, and the editors at Kelley Blue Book (KBB) looked at the 2019 models to determine which vehicles have the lowest cost-to-own over the first five years.

      Eric Ibara, director of 5-Year Cost to Own for KBB, says getting a big discount on the sticker price could be costly if you drive away in the wrong vehicle.

      "Our 5-Year Cost to Own information breaks down typical ownership costs, so shoppers can evaluate the out-of-pocket expenses they will incur beyond the initial purchase price,” Ibara said. “Consumers could save money down the road by choosing a vehicle that best fits their needs and their long-term budget."

      Winners in 22 categories

      KBB analyzed all vehicles sold in the U.S. and rated the most cost-effective in 22 different categories:

      • Compact car - Kia Soul

      • Mid-size car - Honda Accord

      • Full-size car - Chevrolet Impala

      • Entry-level luxury car - Acura ILX

      • Luxury car - Lexus GS

      • Sports car - Fiat 124 Spider

      • Hybrid - Toyota Prius C

      • Electric vehicle - Nissan Leaf

      • Subcompact SUV/crossover - Mazda CX-3

      • Compact SUV/crossover - Subaru Crosstrek

      • Mid-size SUV/crossover 2 row - Hyundai Santa Fe

      • Mid-size SUV.crossover 3 row - Mitsubishi Outlander

      • Full-size SUV/crossover - Nissan Armada

      • Luxury subcompact SUV/crossover - Lexus UX

      • Luxury compact SUV/crossover - Lexus NX

      • Luxury mid-size SUV/crossover 2 row - Lexus RX

      • Luxury mid-size SUV/crossover 3 row - Infinity QX60

      • Luxury full-size SUV/crossover - Infinity QX80

      • Off-road SUV/crossover - Jeep Wrangler

      • Mid-size pickup - Toyota Tacoma

      • Full-size pickup - Toyota Tundra

      • Minivan - Honda Odyssey

      "This year, Subaru and Lexus claim the top brand and luxury brand positions,”Ibara said. “Subaru's key advantage is its high residual value, which lowers depreciation costs. Lexus offers consumers luxury vehicles at an affordable price and without expensive repairs down the road."

      This list might also be useful to consumers considering the purchase of a late-model used car since many of operational advantages remain present up to five years.

      There are a lot of things to consider when purchasing a new car, and they extend far beyond the cost of acquiring it. Besides the sticker price, there’s th...

      Housing inventory is growing again, reversing a four-year decline

      Here’s why it might not help most buyers

      The number of homes for sale nationwide increased in January, reversing a trend that began in 2014 and has contributed to steadily rising home prices.

      A new report from real estate marketplace Zillow shows housing inventory grew 1.2 percent last month, compared to January 2018. Theoretically, more homes for sale should balance out the supply and demand equation, which has favored sellers for more than four years.

      But a closer look at the numbers suggests the average home buyer might not benefit from the shift, at least not yet. The Zillow report notes that the biggest increase in housing inventory occurred in five red-hot markets where homes are among the most expensive in the country and out of reach for the average buyer.

      Housing inventory in more modestly priced markets like Pittsburgh and Baltimore continued to fall, with both those cities seeing the number of available homes on the market falling by 10 percent. In fact, property in the entry-level segment of the market -- the so-called “starter homes” -- is still not that easy to find.

      Fewer homes mean higher prices

      Inventory levels are closely tied to price increases. When the market is flooded with a glut of homes for sale, buyers have more negotiating leverage. But the reverse is true when there are fewer homes than people who want to buy them.

      Zillow reports the median-priced home in the U.S. in January cost $225,300, up 7.5 percent year-over-year. Price increases are nearly twice as high in some of the nation’s more modestly priced housing markets like Indianapolis and Atlanta. Even so, Zillow senior economist Aaron Terrazas believes the current trend is encouraging.

      "For four years, it felt like home buyers couldn't catch a break as for-sale inventory became tighter and tighter with each passing month," Terrazas said. "But during the second half of 2018, something shifted. Home buyers aren't out of the woods yet, but there is a glimmer of light on the horizon”

      Hurdles for first-time buyers

      The number of homes on the market is moving higher, albeit at a slow pace. And first-time buyers still face hurdles due to rising prices and mortgage rates that are higher than at this time a year ago. Terrazas concedes that demand still outweighs supply so that the market remains competitive.

      First-time buyers who are still renting are also facing rising costs as the Zillow report shows rents grew on an annual basis for the third straight month. Rents rose in January by  2.1 percent over a year ago to a median of $1,468.

      The number of homes for sale nationwide increased in January, reversing a trend that began in 2014 and has contributed to steadily rising home prices.A...

      Chores around the house contribute to indoor air pollution

      Researchers suggest the toxins produced could rival pollution found in big cities

      Researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder revealed how consumers contribute to air pollution at a household level.

      According to the study, anything from vacuuming to making dinner can create air pollution inside the home. The team points out that a number of personal hygiene and cleaning products also go beyond the four walls of consumers’ homes to negatively contribute to air pollution levels.

      “Homes have never been considered an important source of outdoor air pollution and the moment is right to start exploring that,” said researcher Marina Vance. “We wanted to know: How do basic activities like cooking and cleaning change the chemistry of a house?”

      Discovering where air pollution hides

      To see how regular day-to-day activities are affecting the environment, the researchers monitored the air quality inside the walls of a home on the University of Texas Austin campus.

      Using cameras and sensors, the group analyzed how various chores, including boiling water and cooking an entire Thanksgiving dinner, contributed to air pollution inside the 1,200-square-foot home.

      The researchers found that tasks big and small can lead to levels of indoor air pollution similar to those found in large metropolitan cities. According to Vance, ventilation is key to keeping clean air flowing in homes and preventing the risk of any negative health outcomes.

      “Even the simple act of making toast raised particles levels far higher than expected,” said Vance. “We had to adjust many of the instruments.”

      In addition to chores around the home, previous studies have helped researchers discover how personal hygiene and cleaning products used in the home can increase the spread of toxins and negatively affect air quality.

      “Ozone and fine particulates are monitored by the EPA, but data for airborne toxins like formaldehyde and benzene compounds like alcohol and ketones that originate from the home are very sparse,” said researcher Joost de Gouw. “There was originally skepticism about whether or not these products actually contributed to air pollution in a meaningful way, but no longer.”

      Based on these results, de Gouw is hopeful that future air pollution research will factor in the effects of common household products and everyday household duties.

      “Moving forward, we need to re-focus research efforts on these sources and give them the same attention we have given to fossil fuels,” he said. “The picture that we have in our heads about the atmosphere should now include a house.”

      Clean air is vital

      The list of negative health effects that come from air pollution is seemingly endless. Not only does air pollution kill seven million people around the globe annually, but it’s also sending more and more people to the emergency room with respiratory issues.

      While the effects of air pollution aren’t contingent on age, researchers have taken a special interest in exploring the countless ways children are impacted. Toxins in the air can impede children’s performance in school, and they also affect their likelihood of developing obesity.

      Researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder revealed how consumers contribute to air pollution at a household level.According to the study,...

      Chrysler recalls 1.4 million vehicles with driver's front airbag issue

      Excessive internal pressure may cause the airbag inflator to explode

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 1,413,222 model year 2010 Dodge Ram 3500s, Ram 4500s/5500s, model year 2010-2011 Dodge Dakotas, model year 2010-2014 Dodge Challengers, model year 2010-2015 Dodge Challengers, Chrysler 300s, and model year 2010-2016 Jeep Wranglers.

      Excessive internal pressure may cause the driver's front airbag inflator to explode upon deployment.

      An exploding inflator could cause metal fragments to strike the vehicle occupants, potentially resulting in serious injury or death

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the driver's front airbag inflator, free of charge.

      The recall began February 4, 2019.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is V01.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 1,413,222 model year 2010 Dodge Ram 3500s, Ram 4500s/5500s, model year 2010-2011 Dodge Dakotas, model year 2010-2014 Dod...

      Ford recalls model year 2019 Mustangs and Lincoln Nautilus & Navigators

      The instrument panel cluster assemblies may be blank upon vehicle startup

      Ford is recalling about 4,300 model year 2019 Mustangs and Lincoln Nautilus & Lincoln Navigator vehicles.

      The vehicles' instrument panel cluster assemblies may be blank upon vehicle startup.

      Ford says it has received any reports of accidents or injuries resulting from this condition.

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners and dealers will update the instrument panel cluster software.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's reference number for this recall is 19C03.

      Ford is recalling about 4,300 model year 2019 Mustangs and Lincoln Nautilus & Lincoln Navigator vehicles.The vehicles' instrument panel cluster assembl...