Current Events in February 2019

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    Model year 2010-2011 Chevrolet Malibus recalled

    The driver front airbag inflator may explode due to being overpressurized

    General Motors is recalling 1,145 model year 2010-2011 Chevrolet Malibus.

    In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the driver front airbag, the airbag inflator may explode due to being overpressurized.

    If the inflator explodes, sharp metal fragments may strike the driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

    What to do

    GM has notified owners, and dealers will replace the front driver airbag module, free of charge.

    Interim notices informing owners of the safety risk were mailed February 8, 2019. Owners will receive a second notice when the remedy becomes available, which is expected to be in late March 2019.

    Owners may contact GM customer service at 800) 522-9559.

    GM's number for this recall is N182206630.

    General Motors is recalling 1,145 model year 2010-2011 Chevrolet Malibus.In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the driver front airbag, t...

    The Weekly Hack: Hackers used one marine’s stolen info to steal cars and get surgery

    A hacker is advertising the sale of 620 million log-ins obtained from WhitePages, Coffee Meets Bagel, MyFitnessPal, and other services

    One missing wallet proved to be especially valuable to skilled identity thieves.

    A marine named Brandon Reagin for years has faced accusations that he was stealing cars and then undergoing surgery without paying for it. He traces the bizarre accusations back to 2004, when he lost his wallet. The wallet thief used the information to somehow obtain Reagin’s healthcare data.

    Ever since then, Reagin says that he regularly has to make phone calls to creditors and hospitals to get the unpaid hospital bills taken off his credit report.

    "It worked until the next billing cycle," he told CBS.

    Though the identity thief is now in prison, "that hospital may still have his information, his blood type under my name at that hospital," Regain added.

    Hacker sells millions of log-ins

    A single hacker has access to over 620 million usernames and passwords from 16 different services and is trying to sell them on the Dark Web.

    The British Newspaper The Register discovered the sale on Dream Market, an online market part of a Dark Web network called Tor. For less than $20,000 in Bitcoin, the hacker offered the consumer login information belonging to the following services:

    • Dubsmash (162 million)

    • MyFitnessPal (151 million)

    • MyHeritage (92 million)

    • ShareThis (41 million)

    • HauteLook (28 million)

    • Animoto (25 million)

    • EyeEm (22 million)

    • 8fit (20 million)

    • Whitepages (18 million)

    • Fotolog (16 million)

    • 500px (15 million)

    • Armor Games (11 million)

    • BookMate (8 million)

    • CoffeeMeetsBagel (6 million)

    • Artsy (1 million)

    • DataCamp (700,000)

    The services either have already warned consumers about data breaches in recent years or months, or confirmed to the newspaper that their data had been hacked recently.

    Coffee Meets Bagel, a dating app, had to make the unfortunate announcement to its users on Valentine’s Day.

    “As a reminder, we never store any financial information or passwords,” the service told users.

    The seller told The Register that one person already purchased the records for Dubsmash, a video messaging app where users can lipsync over music videos and film clips.

    Security Experts say that login information is valuable to identify thieves because buyers can potentially re-use the same passwords for numerous apps -- yet another reason to use different passwords for all of your different accounts.

    One missing wallet proved to be especially valuable to skilled identity thieves.A marine named Brandon Reagin for years has faced accusations that he w...

    Federal government falsely claimed that Tesla’s Autopilot cuts crashes, researcher says

    For years, Tesla and regulators claimed that Autopilot makes roads safer. A new report suggests that the opposite is true.

    In 2016, a man named Albert Scaglione crashed and rolled over his Tesla Model X on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. He survived and told police afterward that he had been engaging Autopilot at the time.

    Tesla quickly stepped in to dispute what Scaglione told police. On Twitter, Elon Musk asserted that not only had Scalione not been using Autopilot, but that the “crash would not have occurred if it was on.”

    For years, Tesla has offered such assertions about the safety of Autopilot, even in the wake of three fatalities that occurred after the drivers had allegedly engaged Autopilot.

    Tesla was bolstered by regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which announced two years ago that crash rates for Tesla cars dropped by 40 percent after Autopilot was introduced.

    But a new report by an independent researcher suggests that the agency fudged those numbers. 

    Faulty data

    R.A. Whitfield is a statisiton and the director of Quality Control Systems, a safety firm that researches car defects. Whitfield submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to NHTSA two years ago, asking for the raw data behind NHTSA’s assertion that Autopilot reduces crash rates so dramatically.

    But the agency initially refused to hand the data over. “They said very explicitly that they did it with fear of doing substantial competitive harm to Tesla,” Whitfield tells ConsumerAffairs.

    Quality Control Systems finally obtained the data two years later by filing a FOIA lawsuit to compel the federal government to release the data.

    According to Whitfield’s resulting analysis, NHTSA used faulty methodology to claim that Autopilot makes roads safer. In fact, the numbers suggest that Autopilot actually increased crash rates by 59 percent.

    “The importance of this research goes well beyond the specific issues addressed in our statistical analyses,” the Quality Control Systems report says, arguing that the findings call the safety of the entire self-driving car industry into question.

    Standing by previous claims

    NHTSA didn’t dispute Whitfield’s findings. The agency told the Los Angeles Times that regulators are “reviewing the report released by Quality Control Systems Corp. with interest and will provide comment as appropriate.”

    In a statement to the paper, Tesla stood by its safety claims, writing that the data “shows that drivers using Autopilot were significantly less likely to be involved in an accident than those driving without using Autopilot.”

    In 2016, a man named Albert Scaglione crashed and rolled over his Tesla Model X on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. He survived and told police afterward that he...

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      Amazon pulls its plans for a second headquarters in New York

      The question of where next looms for the digital empire

      “Start spreading the news, we’re leaving today. We want no part of it -- New York, New York!”

      Amazon is deep-sixing its plans to build a new headquarters (HQ2) in Sinatra’s old New York. The company says it’s had enough of the Big Apple’s pushback.

      "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," Amazon said in a statement. “For Amazon, the commitment to build a new headquarters requires positive, collaborative relationships with state and local elected officials who will be supportive over the long-term.”

      A road paved with good intentions?

      The short version is that, despite its best efforts to make New York one of its two new East Coast HQs and create 25,000 new in-city jobs, Amazon wasn’t feeling any love from New York politicians or workers.

      As an example, Amazon’s New York’s Long Island warehouse workers moved to unionize in late 2018 amid complaints of being overworked and underpaid.

      “Ever since they opened, management has forced everyone at the warehouse to work 12-hour shifts for five or six days a week,” said warehouse employee Rashad Long in a press conference employees held to voice their dissatisfaction.

      As you can imagine, Amazon took an opposite stance, claiming its “pioneering spirit,” wages as high as $23 an hour, and “world class benefits” was an employment package workers would have a tough time finding just anywhere.

      New York calls out Amazon

      New York’s City Hall thinks Amazon might be calling foul on the wrong team. Some have suggested that the online retail giant has been somewhat unappreciative of the $3 billion tax incentive New York gave it as part of its relocation incentives package.

      "You have to be tough to make it in New York City. We gave Amazon the opportunity to be a good neighbor and do business in the greatest city in the world," New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted out on Thursday. "Instead of working with the community, Amazon threw away that opportunity."

      Carolyn Maloney, a New York congresswoman, was skeptical from the start, and her spin took a decidedly sour turn upon hearing Amazon’s announcement.

      “Disappointed that NYC won’t be home to 25K+ new jobs from HQ2 & that LIC (Long Island City) will lose out on infrastructure improvements that would have accompanied this project. This is not the Valentine that NY needed,” Maloney tweeted.

      “The deal could have been improved. There were legitimate concerns raised and aspects that I wanted changed. I was ready to work for those changes. But now, we won’t have a chance to do that and we are out 25K+ new jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in new investments.”

      Where next?

      Amazon says it has no plans to "reopen the HQ2 search at this time." Rather than roll the dice before the dust on the New York brush-off settles, the company says it “will proceed as planned in Northern Virginia and Nashville, and we will continue to hire and grow across our 17 corporate offices and tech hubs in the U.S. and Canada.”

      However, the company isn’t completely bailing out of New York -- simply out of its new Long Island City headquarters.

      “We love New York, its incomparable dynamism, people, and culture -- and particularly the community of Long Island City, where we have gotten to know so many optimistic, forward-leaning community leaders, small business owners, and residents. There are currently over 5,000 Amazon employees in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Staten Island, and we plan to continue growing these teams.”

      “Start spreading the news, we’re leaving today. We want no part of it -- New York, New York!”Amazon is deep-sixing its plans to build a new headquarter...

      Relationship success could hinge on commitment readiness

      Researchers suggest there are several factors that contribute to feeling ready for commitment

      In the wake of Valentine’s Day, many coupled-up consumers are taking stock of their relationships, and a new study may have them thinking about the future.

      According to researchers, the success -- or failure -- of a relationship is greatly affected by both partners’ readiness to commit to one another.

      “Feeling ready leads to better relational outcomes and well-being,” said researcher Chris Agnew. “When a person feels more ready, this tends to amplify the effect of psychological commitment on relationship maintenance and stability.”

      Feeling ready

      The researchers used a number of studies and independent responses from consumers in relationships to gauge how readiness affects the success of relationships.

      In the first study, over 400 adults were asked to respond to a survey based on their relationships so the researchers could gauge stability and each partner’s investment in their commitment. Another study involved over 200 college-aged students who were coupled up, all of whom were asked similar questions about their relationships. The researchers then followed up with them five months and seven months later to see if they stayed together and how the relationships were doing since the initial analysis.

      The researchers found that in both cases, those who reported feelings of “readiness” during the survey were in healthier, more stable relationships, while the inverse was also true.

      The researchers determined that those who felt ready to be committed were 25 percent less likely to break up with their partners than those who weren’t ready. However, despite how confident participants were in their partners, if the timing wasn’t right, the relationships ultimately failed.

      The researchers note that there are many factors that could play a role in participants’ feelings of relationship readiness, all of which should be taken into consideration when consumers are thinking about starting a new relationship.

      “People’s life history, relationship history, and personal preferences all play a role,” Agnew said. “One’s culture also transmits messages that may signal that one is more or less ready to commit.”

      Things to consider

      While many consumers turn to interest-specific dating apps to meet new love interests, those who are already in relationships have a lot to think about -- particularly where financial matters are concerned.

      Not only is financial compatibility a large indicator of relational compatibility, but nearly half of consumers reported that they would end a relationship over spending concerns. Forty-six percent of couples surveyed said they would end a relationship if their partner spent money irresponsibly.

      "It's probably not a great idea to ask for someone's financial history on the first date," said credit card analyst Mike Cetera. "However, it's better to know if a potential partner has a history of bad financial decisions before the relationship goes too far, especially if you plan on making large purchases together or sharing bank accounts."

      In the wake of Valentine’s Day, many coupled-up consumers are taking stock of their relationships, and a new study may have them thinking about the future....

      Payless reportedly preparing for bankruptcy, store closures

      Payless will join other retailers that have been forced to file for bankruptcy amid declining sales

      Payless ShoeSource is reportedly planning to close all of its U.S. stores after filing for bankruptcy for the second time.

      The retailer had filed for bankruptcy once before, in April of 2017. Although Payless was able to halve its debt, its efforts to find a buyer in the wake of the filing have so far proved unsuccessful. The company is set to close all of its 2,300 stores in North America after it files for bankruptcy later this month.

      An unnamed source told Reuters that there’s still a “small chance” the retailer could find a buyer after it files for bankruptcy. But “in the meantime, the company is preparing to run going-out-of-business sales at its shops in the next week,” the source said.

      String of retail bankruptcies

      Payless will join other brick-and-mortar retailers that have been forced to fold in recent years under the weight of debt.

      Toys “R” Us, Sears, Gymboree, Things Remembered, and other once-popular retailers have all been forced to close their doors as a result of declining sales and changing consumer preferences.

      With the trend showing no sign of stopping, some retailers have changed their business plan in an attempt to stimulate growth.

      Sears chairman and former CEO Eddie Lampert, who ended up purchasing the struggling company through his hedge fund, said recently that future Sears and Kmart stores will be smaller than they were in the past.

      J.C. Penney has said that it will stop selling appliances as part of a larger home department reorganization, and Toys “R” Us announced recently that it’s operating under a new name.

      Changing retail market

      Although the retail apocalypse has been primarily consumer driven, research conducted last November suggested that consumers aren’t ready to replace brick-and-mortar stores with online commerce.

      University of Arizona researcher Sabrina Helm found that most consumers would be concerned about the social implications of abandoning physical stores.

      “The majority said this would be terrible,” said Helm. “There’s a sense that brick-and-mortar stores are part of the social fabric of our society. If they disappear, many are concerned about the economy and what this will do for jobs and revenue for communities.”

      Helm noted that consumers and retailers will each play an important role in determining how the retail landscape will look going forward.

      “[Consumers] have more impact on how companies make decisions than they’ve ever had, and consumers also perceive themselves to have that power,” she said. “It’s up to retailers to increase consumer preference again for brick-and-mortar shopping and keeping people in the store starts with the basics.”

      Payless ShoeSource is reportedly planning to close all of its U.S. stores after filing for bankruptcy for the second time.The retailer had filed for ba...

      Flu vaccine about 47 percent effective this season

      Health officials say this flu season is milder than last, possibly due to the increased effectiveness of the 2018-2019 flu vaccine

      This season’s flu vaccine is protecting about half of those who received it, federal health officials reported Thursday.

      At 47 percent effectiveness, this year’s flu vaccine is significantly more effective than the 2017-2018 vaccine, which offered just 25 percent effectiveness against the predominant flu strain that season.

      This year’s vaccine offers 47 percent effectiveness against all circulating strains, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said. Its effectiveness is even higher among children between the ages of 6 months old and 17 years old, at 61 percent.

      Low-severity season

      As of February 2, 28 children have died due to complications from the flu this season, the CDC said. Last year at this time, that figure was 63.

      About 9,600 to 15,900 deaths occured between October 1 and February 2. Up to 186,000 were hospitalized, and up to 7.2 million flu medical visits occurred during that time frame. The agency has classified this as a “low-severity influenza season,” as it hasn’t claimed nearly as many lives as last year’s strains.

      Close to 50 million people caught the flu and 80,000 died during the 2017-2018 flu season. Officials said it was one of the most severe flu seasons on record.

      "Early estimates indicate that influenza vaccines have reduced the risk of medically attended influenza-related illness by almost half (47%) in vaccinated people so far this season," the CDC said.

      However, the researchers noted that "end-of-season vaccine effectiveness estimates could change as additional patient data becomes available or if a change in circulating viruses occurs later in the season.”

      Flu shot still recommended

      The agency reported that influenza activity since December has "increased overall and remained elevated" throughout early February. In light of this information, officials still encourage people to receive a flu shot.

      "CDC recommends that health care providers continue to administer influenza vaccine because influenza activity is ongoing and the vaccine can still prevent illness, hospitalization and death associated with currently circulating influenza viruses, or influenza viruses that might circulate later in the season," the report says.

      This season’s flu vaccine is protecting about half of those who received it, federal health officials reported Thursday.At 47 percent effectiveness, th...

      Trump to sign compromise spending bill to avert government shutdown

      The president will declare an emergency to secure funds for a border wall

      President Trump says he will sign the latest government appropriations bill, heading off another government shutdown that could have begun today.

      Trump said he will sign the legislation even though it contains less than the amount of money he requested for construction of a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. But Trump has made clear he will find the additional funds elsewhere in the budget.

      “President Trump will sign the government funding bill, and as he has stated before, he will also take other executive action -- including a national emergency -- to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border," said press secretary Sarah Sanders. "The president is once again delivering on his promise to build the wall, protect the border, and secure our great country.”

      The measure funding the government and averting a government shutdown passed the Senate by a wide margin. It has yet to come up in the House, which is now controlled by Democrats who have said they do not favor any funding for a border wall.

      Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), speaking on the Senate floor, announced that the president would sign the compromise funding bill. At the same time, he also announced Trump would declare a state of emergency to complete funding for the border wall and that he would support the president in that effort.

      Central campaign promise

      During his successful presidential campaign, Trump made building a wall along the southern border a major issue, pledging to slow illegal immigration. Democrats, from the start, have been adamantly opposed to a wall.

      Congressional Democrats have said they will use all their options to prevent Trump from using a state of emergency to secure funds to build a border wall. However, at this point it’s not clear what they can do to stop him.

      Even some in the president’s own party are uncomfortable with a presidential declaration of emergency to bypass Congress on this issue.

      “I don’t believe that the National Emergencies Act contemplates a President unilaterally reallocating billions of dollars, already designated for specific purposes, outside of the normal appropriations process,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.) said in a statement. The National Emergencies Act was intended to apply to major natural disasters or catastrophic events, such as the attacks on our country on 9/11.

      The president has broad powers to declare an emergency and take appropriate action. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has issued a public warning to Trump, saying a Democratic president might declare an emergency in the future to fulfill a policy objective strongly opposed by Republicans.

      President Trump says he will sign the latest government appropriations bill, heading off another government shutdown that could have begun today.Trump...

      Retail sales dropped sharply in December

      Maybe consumers aren’t doing as well as surveys suggest

      Even though it was the climax to the holiday season, consumers stayed away from shopping malls and even spent less online in December. Retail sales suffered their biggest one-month decline since 2009, when the country was just a year removed from the financial crisis.

      The Commerce Department report, delayed more than a month by the government shutdown, showed December retail sales declined 1.2 percent from December 2017. And it doesn’t appear that consumers did all their holiday shopping a month earlier. Sales for November were revised downward, showing a modest 0.1 percent increase over 2017.

      Online shopping took a big hit in December, declining 3.9 percent. But some of that online shopping may have shifted to November, which saw sales increase 2.8 percent.

      What does it mean?

      Analysts suggest the numbers indicate a slowing in the economy, but other recent surveys have shown more optimism among consumers. One of the most recent surveys taken by the Gallup Poll showed consumers to be in an upbeat mood financially as they enter a new year.

      The poll found 69 percent of those questioned expect their financial situation to improve over the next 12 months. However, that optimism didn’t translate into additional holiday spending in December.

      When you strip out automobile purchases, gasoline, building materials, and food services, sales were even worse, down 1.7 percent.

      A second government report also suggests a softening economy. The Federal Reserve reports industrial production fell 0.6 percent in January, the first decline in eight months. But the slowdown at the nation’s factories followed several months of sizable gains. Even with the decline, industrial output last month was up 3.8 percent over January 2018.

      Economists no doubt will dissect the data to determine what it says about an economy that, from all other appearances, looks to be in good shape. Unemployment remains low while wages have steadily risen.

      Even though it was the climax to the holiday season, consumers stayed away from shopping malls and even spent less online in December. Retail sales suffere...

      Gas prices hold steady over the last seven days

      A steep drop in demand kept prices at the pump stable

      Motorists continue to enjoy relatively low gasoline prices, but price increases could be just around the corner.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gasoline is $2.29 a gallon, a penny more than last Friday. That’s about 27 cents less than at this time last year.

      The average price of premium gas is unchanged from last week at $2.86 a gallon. The average price of diesel fuel is $2.92 a gallon, also unchanged from last week. One reason gas prices have remained stable is a drop in demand. Cold weather may have played a role in that.

      “For two weeks, demand numbers have been decreasing,” AAA said in its latest market update. ‘The latest Energy Information Administration data reveals that gas demand fell by approximately 425,000 barrels a day from the previous week to 8.6 million barrels a day.” This latest rate is down by more than 400,000 barrels a day when compared to last year at this time.

      On Twitter, Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, reported prices have begun to lurch higher in the Great Lakes region.

      “We'll likely see the national average rise to its highest in a few months before tapering off slightly in the days ahead,” he wrote.

      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 ($3.27)

      • California ($3.26)

      • Washington ($2.87)

      • Nevada ($2.84)

      • Alaska ($2.82)

      • Oregon ($2.75)

      • Pennsylvania ($2.50)

      • New York ($2.46)

      • Connecticut ($2.45)

      • Arizona ($2.44)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

      The survey found these states currently have the lowest prices for regular gas:

      • Missouri ($2.00)

      • Arkansas ($1.97)

      • Oklahoma ($2.02)

      • Alabama ($1.98)

      • Mississippi ($1.98)

      • Texas ($1.98)

      • Kansas ($2.02)

      • South Carolina ($2.01)

      • Louisiana ($2.02)

      • Colorado ($2.03)

      Motorists continue to enjoy relatively low gasoline prices, but price increases could be just around the corner.The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the nat...

      Chrysler recalls model year 2019 Ram 1500 trucks

      The brake pedal may move too far and separate from pedal assembly

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 193,813 model year 2019 Ram 1500 trucks with adjustable pedals.

      The vehicles have a brake pedal that may move too far and separate from pedal assembly. This condition could prevent the driver from braking the vehicle, increasing the risk of crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will repair the adjustable pedal assembly, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin on March 27, 2019.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is V07.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 193,813 model year 2019 Ram 1500 trucks with adjustable pedals.The vehicles have a brake pedal that may move too far...

      Ford recalls model year 2017-19 Lincoln Continentals

      The door latch may not fully engage

      Ford is recalling about 28,200 model year 2017-19 Lincoln Continentals.

      The autos may have an intermittently functioning door latch motor due to the buildup of silicon contamination, resulting in the door latch not fully engaging.

      This condition could increase the potential for the door to open while the car is being driven, increasing the risk of injury.

      Ford is not aware of any reports of accidents or injuries resulting from this condition.

      What to do

      Dealers will remove and replace the door latch assemblies in all four doors of the recalled vehicles.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's reference number for this recall is 19S03.

      Ford is recalling about 28,200 model year 2017-19 Lincoln Continentals.The autos may have an intermittently functioning door latch motor due to the bui...

      Valentine’s spending is up, but consumer participation is down

      Just 51 percent adults in the U.S. are expected to celebrate Valentine’s Day in 2019

      American consumers will spend nearly $21 billion for Valentine’s Day this year, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). But although Valentine’s spending is up 5.6 percent from last year, shopper participation in the holiday has dropped in recent years.

      “Ten years ago, more than 60 percent of adults planned to celebrate Valentine’s Day; today, that’s dropped to just over half,” the NRF said.

      “At the same time, spending for the holiday has continued to rise and is projected to reach more than $20 billion this year. Driving these opposing trends are three critical shifts in how consumers view and celebrate love’s official holiday.”

      Key insights

      The NRF estimates that consumers who will celebrate the holiday will spend $162, on average, per person. Last year, that number was about $144.

      For Valentine’s Day 2019, the NRF estimates that:

      • One in every three American adults will celebrate with a night out this year;

      • 52 percent of Americans will mark the occasion by buying candy;

      • 44 percent will buy a card;

      • 35 percent will buy flowers; and

      • An estimated $886 million will be spent on pet gifts this year.

      Consumer participation falling

      While the average amount spent for Valentine’s Day per person is on the rise, the share of consumers who actually plan to celebrate the holiday has been steadily falling for “three overwhelming reasons,” according to Katherine Cullen, the NRF director of industry and consumer insights.

      “We did some surveying to understand why people might choose not to participate,” Cullen told Moneyish. “And three overwhelming reasons were that: there was a sense of feeling among some consumers that Valentine’s Day is over-commercialized; people also tend not to participate if they do not have a significant other; and then they just weren’t interested anymore.”

      Surveys commissioned by the NRF in recent years have also suggested that younger consumers often choose to mark the holiday differently than their older peers, such as by treating themselves or having an anti-Valentine’s Day celebration.

      “The definition of how you celebrate on Valentine’s day has broadened a lot,” Cullen noted.

      American consumers will spend nearly $21 billion for Valentine’s Day this year, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). But although Valentine’s...

      FCC steps up pressure on telecoms to reduce robocalls

      The agency’s chairman isn’t satisfied with telecom’s response so far

      The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is stepping up the pressure on telecom providers to find a way to reduce the number of robocalls directed at consumers.

      FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has repeated his call for an effective caller ID authentication system to combat illegal caller ID spoofing by the end of the year.

      “American consumers are sick and tired of unwanted robocalls, this consumer among them,” Pai said. “Caller ID authentication will be a significant step towards ending the scourge of spoofed robocalls. It’s time for carriers to implement robust caller ID authentication.”

      Last November, Pai issued an ultimatum to cellular providers, saying he wanted them to devise an effective way to reduce the number of robocalls by the end of 2019. According to the FCC, Pai is less than pleased with the response so far.

      Achievable goal

      The FCC said some carriers have committed to rolling out a robust plan in the coming months but others hedged, citing concerns that other carriers appear to have already addressed. But Pai said he believes that wireless providers, interconnected VoIP providers, and telephone companies should make real caller ID authentication a priority and believes that major carriers can meet his 2019 goal.

      “This goal should be achievable for every major wireless provider, interconnected VoIP operator, and telephone company—and I expect those lagging behind to make every effort to catch up,” Pai said. “If it appears major carriers won’t meet the deadline to get this done this year, the FCC will have to consider regulatory intervention,” Pai said.

      Robocalls, pushing everything from phony health insurance to timeshares, have become the bane of consumer existence over the last few years. Pai has made cracking down on robocalls a centerpiece of his administration and he has allies in Congress on both sides of the aisle.

      Bipartisan issue

      It turns out no one likes to be interrupted with a robocall. It seems to be one issue that Republicans and Democrats can agree on.

      Earlier this month, a bipartisan group of House members worked together to craft legislation aimed at robocallers.

      "Night and day, Americans are being inundated by spam calls,” said Rep. Charlie Crist (R-Fla.). “It's more than an annoyance – it's an invasion of privacy being used to deceive and take advantage of unsuspecting victims."

      The Republican and Democratic lawmakers are working on legislation that would make it more difficult for robocallers to operate.

      The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is stepping up the pressure on telecom providers to find a way to reduce the number of robocalls directed at co...

      FTC says romance scams are on the rise

      Romance scams cost consumers more than any other type of fraud

      Romance scams -- those in which scammers “prey on people’s loneliness and emotional vulnerability” -- cost consumers more than any other type of scam, the Federal Trade Commission said in a report this week.

      Last year, upwards of 20,000 people were duped into sending money to a scammer disguised as a potential sweetheart.

      The median reported loss from a romance scam is about $2,600 -- seven times higher than losses reported from any other type of fraud, according to the FTC. Among those over the age of 70, the median reported loss jumped to around $10,000.

      The rate of reported romance fraud cases has almost quadrupled since 2015, reaching $143 million in 2018, the Commission said. To avoid falling victim, it’s important to be aware of certain tip-offs that may indicate a scam.

      Red flags

      The FTC explained that romance scammers typically lure unsuspecting individuals with phony online profiles, “often lifting photos from the web to create attractive and convincing personas.”

      “They might make up names or assume the identities of real people. Reports indicate the scammers are active on dating apps, but also on social media sites that aren’t generally used for dating,” the FTC said. “For example, many people say the scam started with a Facebook message.”

      Once they’ve cultivated an online relationship with the person, scammers will say they need money for reasons such as a medical emergency or to cover travel expenses.

      “They often claim to be in the military and stationed abroad, which explains why they can’t meet in person. Pretending to need help with travel costs for a long-awaited visit is another common ruse,” the FTC said in its report.

      Tips for avoiding a scam

      The FTC offered several tips to help consumers avoid falling prey to one of these scams:

      • Never wire money or send gifts without having met the person face-to-face.

      • Take it slowly. Ask questions and look for inconsistent answers.

      • Talk to someone you trust about your new online love interest. “In the excitement about what feels like a new relationship, we can be blinded to things that don’t add up. Pay attention if your friends or family are concerned,” the FTC advises.

      • Conduct a reverse-image search of their profile picture. "If they're associated with another name or with details that don't match up, it's a scam,” the FTC says.

      Romance scams -- those in which scammers “prey on people’s loneliness and emotional vulnerability” -- cost consumers more than any other type of scam, the...

      SEC charges former Apple executive with insider trading

      The executive was previously Apple's corporate secretary and senior director of corporate law

      The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has accused former Apple executive Gene Levoff of engaging in insider trading on multiple occasions between 2011 and 2016.

      Levoff was previously "responsible for Apple's compliance with securities law” prior to his termination in September, the SEC said in its complaint.

      The agency has charged Levoff with using financial information accessible to him under his former position at Apple to trade on “material nonpublic information about Apple's earnings three times during 2015 and 2016.”

      "Levoff also had a previous history of insider trading, having traded on Apple's material nonpublic information at least three additional times in 2011 and 2012,” the complaint says. “For the trading in 2015 and 2016, Levoff profited and avoided losses of approximately $382,000.”

      All told, the SEC said Levoff generated $604,000 in illegal gains and made a profit of nearly $400,000.

      “Levoff’s alleged exploitation of his access to Apple’s financial information was particularly egregious given his responsibility for implementing the company’s insider trading compliance policy,” Antonia Chion, associate director of the SEC’s enforcement division, said in a statement.

      Later on Wednesday, the Department of Justice also announced that it has charged the former Apple executive with one count of securities fraud.

      “The securities fraud count carries a potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $5 million fine,” the Justice Department stated. Levoff is scheduled to appear in court on February 20.

      The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has accused former Apple executive Gene Levoff of engaging in insider trading on multiple occasions between 20...