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      Model year 2020 Ford Explorers and Lincoln Aviators recalled

      The vehicles may leak fuel

      Ford Motor Company is recalling about 3,900 model year 2020 Ford Explorers and Lincoln Aviators.

      The convolute protective sleeve on the liquid fuel line is not long enough, which may allow for potential hard contact with the convolute-protected vapor fuel line.

      Over time, with vibration and engine roll, hard contact between the two fuel lines could cause the convolute on the vapor fuel line to rub through the plastic liquid fuel line. A fuel leak in the presence of an ignition source increases the risk of a fire.

      Ford has not received any reports of accident, injury or fire.

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will inspect vehicles for a full-length yellow-colored protective convolute on the liquid fuel line. If the convolute does not cover the full length of the liquid fuel line, dealers will remove the existing convolute, replace it with one that has the correct length and secure it with a tie strap.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at (866) 436-7332. Ford's reference number for this recall is19S49.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling about 3,900 model year 2020 Ford Explorers and Lincoln Aviators.The convolute protective sleeve on the liquid fuel line...
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      Amazon wins big over holiday season

      The online retailer sold billions of products and had millions of Prime sign-ups

      If you were to take stock following the holiday shopping season, it would be hard to find an area in which Amazon didn’t see growth. 

      Despite a shorter holiday shopping season between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the online retailer reports that it sold billions of items through its network and signed up millions of consumers for its Prime membership. The company cited special deals on some of the busiest shopping days throughout November and December as being a big driver for its success.

      “Throughout the season, Amazon offered customers incredible deals every day and deeper discounts and more Deals of the Day than ever before during shopping events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday,” the company said. 

      Amazon devices and Prime memberships

      While independent and third-party companies that use Amazon’s network produced over a billion sales over the holiday period, the online retailer says that some of its own products and services were big hits with consumers this year. 

      The company says it sold “tens of millions” of Amazon devices, including the Echo Dot, Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote, and Echo Show 5. It also experienced an 80 percent year-over-year increase in the number of people who used its grocery delivery service through Whole Foods and Amazon Fresh.

      Perhaps the biggest highlight may have been the number of consumers who signed up for Amazon’s Prime membership. The company reports that over five million consumers signed up for the program over the holidays, though it remains to be seen if those memberships will hold as we move into 2020. 

      “This holiday season has been better than ever thanks to our customers and employees all around the world,” added Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. “On behalf of all Amazonians, we wish everyone the happiest of holidays and a fantastic 2020.”

      If you were to take stock following the holiday shopping season, it would be hard to find an area in which Amazon didn’t see growth. Despite a shorter...
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      Conservation efforts could be detrimental to farmers, experts find

      Some sustainability efforts can lead to big financial losses

      Consumers have started taking more eco-friendly measures, including switching up their eating and shopping habits, in an effort to be kinder to the earth. However, a new study discovered how certain conservation efforts could come with some unexpected repercussions. 

      Researchers from Michigan State University found that reforestation efforts, which work to transform farmland into forests as a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, often come with rather large price tags that the poorest farmers are left to pay. 

      “The ignorance of this hidden cost might leave local communities under-compensated under the program and exacerbate poverty,” said researcher Hongbo Yang. “Such problems may ultimately compromise the sustainability of conservation. As losses due to human-wildlife conflicts increase, farmers may increasingly resent conservation efforts.” 

      Where do the costs come from?

      To understand how farmers can become vulnerable to unexpected costs and other constraints on their general day-to-day tasks, the researchers evaluated the effects of a popular reforestation effort in China known as the Grain-to-Green Program (GTGP).  

      In transforming part of their land from cropland to forests, the researchers learned that the farmers' livelihoods were seriously compromised, as they now had smaller plots of land to reap profits from. 

      While this alone was troubling, the research also revealed that the transformation process, though beneficial to the environment, proved to be the perfect atmosphere for bugs and other pests. So, the farmers not only had less farmland to work with, but what they did have was compromised by an assortment of critters. 

      The researchers worked to estimate how these efforts affected farmers’ bottom lines, and they determined that farmers lost nearly 30 percent of their earnings, while nearly 65 percent of their goods were destroyed by pestering wildlife. 

      “Those sweeping conservation efforts in returning cropland to vegetated land might have done so with an until-now hidden consequence: it increased the wildlife damage to remaining cropland and thus caused unintended cost that whittled away at the program’s compensation for farmers,” said Yang. 

      Finding better conservation policies

      Moving forward, the researchers are concerned with how these conservation efforts could affect farmers, particularly those already struggling monetarily. They hope that new efforts can be initiated that are beneficial to all parties. 

      “Conservation policies only can endure, and be declared successful, when both nature and humans thrive,” and researcher Jianguo Liu. “Many of these trade-offs and inequities are difficult to spot unless you take a very broad, deep look at the situation, yet these balances are crucial to success.” 

      Consumers have started taking more eco-friendly measures, including switching up their eating and shopping habits, in an effort to be kinder to the earth....
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      Gas prices remain fairly stable despite record holiday travel

      But a few states are seeing prices start to rise

      With a record number of holiday motorists on the nation’s highways in recent days, demand for gasoline remains high and prices have remained mostly stable.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gas is $2.55 a gallon, the same as a week ago. Prices remain at an average of 26 cents a gallon more than at this time last year. The average price of premium gas is $3.14 a gallon, the same as last Friday. The price of diesel is also the same as drivers paid a week ago -- $2.99 a gallon.

      AAA estimates that more than 100 million Americans will be on the road during the period from Christmas through the New Years’ holiday, but stable oil prices and few refinery issues have helped keep up with demand. Only about a dozen states are seeing more expensive gas prices, with increases of less than a dime a gallon.

      “AAA forecasts that 104 million Americans will travel by car – the most on record – for a year-end holiday,” said Jeanette Casselano, AAA spokesperson. “The substantial number of motorists has caused some state averages to increase heading into the holiday week, but these jumps aren’t big and won’t last long or linger past the holiday season.”

      But in a Tweet Thursday, Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, reported that prices are beginning to rise in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana.

      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 ($3.66)

      • California ($3.57)

      • Washington ($3.18) 

      • Nevada ($3.05)

      • Oregon ($3.04) 

      • Alaska ($3.01)

      • Arizona ($2.84)

      • Pennsylvania ($2.75)

      • Utah ($2.73)

      • Idaho ($2.70) 

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

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

      • Missouri ($2.19)

      • Mississippi ($2.21)

      • Texas ($2.22)

      • Oklahoma ($2.23)

      • Louisiana ($2.24)

      • Arkansas ($2.25)

      • Alabama ($2.27)

      • Kansas ($2.25)

      • South Carolina ($2.28)

      • Tennessee ($2.30)

      With a record number of holiday motorists on the nation’s highways in recent days, demand for gasoline remains high and prices have remained mostly stable....
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      Ford recalls model year 2017-19 F-250, F-350 and F-450 Super Duty trucks

      The tailgate could open unintentionally

      Ford is recalling 261,000 model year 2017-19 Ford F-250, F-350 and F-450 Super Duty trucks.

      In vehicles with an electric tailgate latch-release switch mounted in the tailgate handle, water entering the electrical wiring system may cause a short circuit, resulting in unintended switch activation and release of the tailgate latches.

      This could cause the tailgate to open unintentionally, whether the vehicle is in motion or stationary resulting in the loss of unrestrained cargo, and increasing the risk of a crash.

      Ford is not aware of any reports of accident or injury.

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will modify the tailgate frame wiring harnesses by adding jumper pigtails to isolate the tailgate release control circuits and install a new tailgate handle release switch.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at (866) 436-7332. Ford's reference number for this recall is 19S48.

      Ford is recalling 261,000 model year 2017-19 Ford F-250, F-350 and F-450 Super Duty trucks.In vehicles with an electric tailgate latch-release switch m...
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      Montpak International recalls veal and lamb

      The products were not presented for import re-inspection

      Montpak International
      of Canada is recalling approximately 2,804 pounds of veal bone, cutlet items and lamb carcasses.

      The products that were not presented for import re-inspection into the U.S.

      There are no confirmed reports of adverse reactions.

      The following products, imported on December 4, 2019, are being recalled:

      • 40-lb. bulk boxes containing “VEAL Bones” with a SKU 97507U and PRODUCT OF CANADA (“CANADA 96” in the Canadian mark of inspection) represented on the label.
      • 50-lb. bulk boxes containing “VEAL Marrow bones” with a SKU 97660U and PRODUCT OF CANADA (“CANADA 96” in the Canadian mark of inspection) represented on the label.
      • 10-lb. bulk boxes containing “MECHANICALLY TENDERIZED VEAL LEG CUTLET 2 OZ CHUNKS” and EST 1809 and PACKED ON DEC-10-19 represented on the label.
      • 10-lb. bulk boxes containing “MECHANICALLY TENDERIZED VEAL LEG CUTLET 2 OZ EYE RND” and EST 1809 and PACKED ON DEC-10-19 represented on the label.
      • Whole carcasses of lamb wrapped in cheese cloth.
      • The recalled products, bearing establishment number “CANADA 96” in the Canadian mark of inspection or “EST 1809” on the box, were shipped to distributors in New Jersey, New York and Virginia.

      What to do

      Distributors should not release these products to retailers, but discard or return them to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions may contact Robert Mailhot at (514) 245-1553.

      Montpak Internationalof Canada is recalling approximately 2,804 pounds of veal bone, cutlet items and lamb carcasses.The products that were not prese...
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      Toysmith recalls Light-Up Magic Wands

      The battery cover can detach and expose the button-cell batteries

      Toysmith of Sumner Wash., is recalling about 58,000 Light-Up Magic Wands sold in the U.S., and Canada.

      The battery cover can detach and expose the button-cell batteries, posing choking and ingestion hazards to young children.

      The firm has received one report of a child swallowing one of the batteries removed from the toy. Medical attention was required to remove the battery.

      This recall includes a fuchsia colored Light-Up Magic Wand topped with a star that flashes and makes noise. The recalled wands have a manufacturing date code printed in white on the bottom portion of the wand.

      Only magic wands with date codes between March 2018 (3/18/373) and June 2019 (6/19/373) are included in the recall. The UPC code 085761220034 and can be found on the hangtag.

      The wands, manufactured in China, were sold at Carter’s stores and various toy, grocery, hobby and gift retailers nationwide from June 2018, through October 2019, for about $5.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled magic wands, place them out of the reach of children and return them to store where purchased for a refund.

      Consumers may contact Toysmith at (800) 356-0474 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday, by email at info@toysmith.com or online atwww.toysmith.com and click on “Safety Info” at the bottom of the page for more information.

      Toysmith of Sumner Wash., is recalling about 58,000 Light-Up Magic Wands sold in the U.S., and Canada.The battery cover can detach and expose the butto...
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      UPS predicts record-setting number of package returns following the holidays

      The company says January 2 will be the biggest day for returns

      The United Parcel Service (UPS) says that consumers will return more packages this year than they did last year in the wake of the holiday season. If that prediction comes true, it would be the seventh straight year of record-breaking returns.

      The company says the largest spike in returns will happen on January 2, which it has dubbed as “National Returns Day.” It predicts that 1.9 million packages will be returned within its network that day, which would mark a 26 percent increase from last year.

      “This process is a change from years past, when consumers would rush to physical retailers the day after Christmas and stand in long lines to make returns,” UPS said in a press release. “Now, consumers make purchases with returns in mind.”

      “For retailers, a seamless returns process is essential to keeping and growing business,” added UPS chief marketing officer Keven Warren.

      Strong holiday sales

      UPS’ package return prediction has been lent some weight due to the large number of online sales that occurred over the 2019 holiday shopping season. A report by Mastercard showed that e-commerce holiday sales rose by nearly 15 percent over 2018, and overall retail spending increased by over 3 percent after excluding auto purchases. 

      The strong sales numbers are even more impressive because the holiday shopping season was shorter this year. Because Thanksgiving fell on November 28, retailers had six fewer holiday shopping days to work with. However, that shortened time period may have helped push some consumers’ shopping online.

      “E-commerce sales hit a record high this year with more people doing their holiday shopping online,” said Steve Sadove, a Mastercard senior adviser. “Due to later than usual Thanksgiving holiday, we saw retailers offering omnichannel sales earlier in the season meeting consumers’ demand for the best deals across all channels and devices.” 

      The United Parcel Service (UPS) says that consumers will return more packages this year than they did last year in the wake of the holiday season. If that...
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      U.S. holiday shopping season finishes strong due to more online sales

      Online shopping accounted for a large chunk of all purchases this year

      Despite a later start than usual due to Thanksgiving falling on November 28, the holiday shopping season finished a strong note. 

      A report published on Christmas day by Mastercard showed that U.S. online sales finished at record-high levels, growing by 18.8 percent over last year. Overall, online sales made up just under 15 percent of all sales over the holiday shopping season from Thanksgiving to Christmas, and overall retail sales finished 3.4 percent higher (excluding auto sales) than they did last year.

      “E-commerce sales hit a record high this year with more people doing their holiday shopping online,” said Mastercard senior adviser Steve Sadove in a statement. “Due to later than usual Thanksgiving holiday, we saw retailers offering omnichannel sales earlier in the season, meeting consumers’ demand for the best deals across all channels and devices.”

      Dealing with holiday debt

      According to the Mastercard SpendingPulse report, consumers spent more money online for specialty apparel, jewelry, and electronics this year. Respectively, the categories grew by 17.0 percent, 8.8 percent, and 10.7 percent over the 2018 holiday shopping season.

      While there were plenty of gifts under the tree this year for consumers across the U.S., many people may be realizing that all those purchases they made with a credit card will have to be paid off as we move into 2020. One strategy consumers can employ to pay off that debt is using a balance transfer credit card to keep interest payments to a minimum. 

      For more information about these cards, check out ConsumerAffairs guides to these financial products here.

      Despite a later start than usual due to Thanksgiving falling on November 28, the holiday shopping season finished a strong note. A report published on...
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      FDA approves new treatment for acute migraines

      The tablets are meant to be used after symptoms have set in

      Earlier this week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new oral treatment for consumers who suffer from acute migraines.

      The drug, named Ubrelvy, is manufactured by Allergan and meant to be taken after symptoms of a migraine have already begun to set in. The FDA said the drug was proven to be more effective than placebos in two randomized, double-blind trials. 

      “The FDA is pleased to approve a novel treatment for patients suffering from migraine and will continue to work with stakeholders to promote the development of new safe and effective migraine therapies,” said FDA director Dr. Billy Dunn.

      Many participants who took Ubrelvy in the drug trials reported feeling no pain or other associated migraine symptoms after two hours. Regulators said the results are promising for treating a serious health condition that affects millions of people.

      “Migraine is an often disabling condition that affects an estimated 37 million people in the U.S. Ubrevly represents an important new option for the acute treatment of migraine in adults, as it is the first drug in its class approved for this indication,” said Dunn. 

      Earlier this week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new oral treatment for consumers who suffer from acute migraines.The drug, na...
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      CDC provides update on deaths and lung injuries tied to e-cigarettes

      Over 2,500 hospitalizations and 50 deaths have been linked to EVALI

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an update today on the number of hospitalizations and deaths associated with EVALI.

      EVALI -- or “E-cigarettes or Vaping product use Associated Lung Injury” -- was a condition coined by the agency earlier this year after a rash of mysterious hospitalizations and deaths that were linked to vaping. After extensive investigations into the issue, the CDC connected these illnesses with the presence of Vitamin E acetate in certain e-cigarette products.

      As of December 17, the agency says that there have been 2,506 hospitalizations in all 50 states and the District of Columbia that are linked to EVALI. The agency has also confirmed 54 deaths to these illnesses in 27 states and the District of Columbia.

      “Adults who continue to use e-cigarette, or vaping, products, should carefully monitor themselves for symptoms and see a healthcare provider immediately if they develop symptoms like those reported in this outbreak,” the CDC stated.

      Increasing legal age to buy

      The number of deaths and illnesses brought on by EVALI may have been a huge part of the decision by lawmakers this week to increase the minimum age for buying tobacco and e-cigarette products to 21. 

      The move was broadly supported by both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and House of Representatives, and it is expected to be passed into law by the President’s signature in the near future. Lawmakers say passage of the bill will have important health implications for consumers of all ages in the U.S.

      “By raising the age to buy tobacco products nationwide, we can save 223,000 lives and reduce youth tobacco use,” said Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who was one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an update today on the number of hospitalizations and deaths associated with EVALI. “E-cigare...
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      Consumers could have an inflated sense of how eco-friendly they are

      Researchers found that consumers are incredibly confident when it comes to their sustainability efforts

      As climate change threats continue to loom, consumers have started taking their own measures to lessen their ecological footprints. 

      Now, researchers from the University of Gothenburg have found that many consumers could be overly confident when it comes to the steps they’re taking to better the environment. According to a survey, many individuals believe that they’re practicing more sustainable habits than the average consumer. 

      “The results point out our tendency to overestimate our own abilities, which is in line with previous studies where most people consider themselves to be more honest, more creative, and better drivers than others,” said researcher Magnus Bergquist. “This study shows that over-optimism, or the ‘better-than-average’ effect, also applies to environmentally friendly behaviours.” 

      Understanding consumers’ mindsets

      To get a sense of how consumers view their own environmentally friendly behaviors, the researchers conducted a survey of consumers from different parts of the world -- India, England, Sweden, and the United States. 

      The survey required participants to report on how often they completed sustainable behaviors, including anything from opting for eco-friendly products or reducing how often they use single-use plastic. 

      The researchers learned that the majority of participants rated themselves as above average citizens when it comes to caring for the environment. This was true when the participants ranked themselves against strangers and people they know in their day-to-day lives. 

      This could become troubling, as the researchers worry that this overconfidence will lead consumers to scale back on the activities and actions that are benefiting the environment because they think that they’re already doing more than enough. 

      Working harder

      The researchers say this attitude among consumers is common for more than just environmental efforts. However, it’s important that consumers look honestly at the ways they’re being proactive about sustainability and work to be more encouraging in future efforts. 

      “If you think about it logically, the majority cannot be more environmentally friendly than others,” said Bergquist. “One way to change this faulty opinion, is to inform people that others actually behave environmentally friendly, and thereby creating an environmentally friendly norm. Social norms affect us also in this area, we know this from previous studies.”  

      As climate change threats continue to loom, consumers have started taking their own measures to lessen their ecological footprints. Now, researchers fr...
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      Facebook pledges to stop using phone numbers for friend suggestion feature

      The company is making the move following a $5 billion fine from the FTC

      Facebook says it will no longer use phone numbers gathered via two-factor authentication to drive its friend suggestion feature.

      Reuters cites company officials as saying that the decision is driven by the desire to overhaul the platform’s privacy practices. Facebook has faced mountains of criticism over how it handles users’ data, from the Cambridge Analytica scandal to how it uses facial recognition. Other privacy headaches eventually led the Federal Trade Commission to levy a $5 billion fine against the company.

      The move away from using two-factor authentication for user data purposes will reportedly start this week in five countries -- Ecuador, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Libya, and Cambodia. Plans to expand it globally will begin in early 2020. 

      However, the policy change will only affect new users to the site, not those who are already signed up. Reuters notes that those who want to deactivate the function can unlink their two-factor authentication numbers from the friend suggestion feature and then add them back in.

      Antitrust concerns

      While Facebook has already caught the ire of regulators from several different agencies, it may not be out of the woods yet. 

      The FTC announced earlier this month that it will be opening up an antitrust investigation into the platform as part of a larger examination of the role of Big Tech companies in the U.S. Specifically, FTC officials will be seeking to find out if Facebook’s attempt to integrate several of its holdings will eventually make it too big to break up.

      For more information about Facebook, including reviews by consumers, readers can visit ConsumerAffairs page here.

      Facebook says it will no longer use phone numbers gathered via two-factor authentication to drive its friend suggestion feature.Reuters cites company o...
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      Wawa discloses massive data breach that began nine months ago

      The convenience store chain says payment card data may have been exposed at all locations

      Wawa, which operates hundreds of convenience stores along the East Coast, has reported details of a payment card data breach lasting nine months and potentially affecting all locations.

      Consumers who used a credit or debit card at a Wawa location after March 4 may be exposed. In a statement, the company said the breach potentially exposed card numbers, expiration dates, and cardholders’ names.

      Wawa says its security team found the malware on the company’s payment processing servers on December 10 and contained it two days later. The company says it brought in a forensics firm whose investigators determined that the malware began running at different times after March 4. 

      Consumers face no liability

      Wawa CEO Chris Gheysens apologized to customers and said the company believes the malware no longer poses a risk.

      "Once we discovered this malware, we immediately took steps to contain it and launched a forensics investigation so that we could share meaningful information with our customers,” Gheysens said. “I want to reassure anyone impacted they will not be responsible for fraudulent charges related to this incident.”

      Wawa customers who used a payment card at any location in the last nine months should carefully examine their bank and credit card statements during that time for unauthorized charges. 

      Customers should also notify the fraud departments of their card issuers to tell them the card was used at Wawa and may be potentially compromised. The institution may decide to issue new cards as a precaution.

      Free credit monitoring

      Wawa said it is offering identity protection and credit monitoring services at no charge to affected customers. You’ll find information about signing up here.

      The company did not say -- and may not know -- how the system was breached. But as we reported earlier this week, fraudsters attacking gas pumps have become more sophisticated, using email phishing schemes to trick employees into downloading malware, which then makes its way to the card processing network.

      When a customer buys gas with a credit card, the point-of-sale system sends the unencrypted data to the company’s main network where the scammer’s software is waiting to capture it. In issuing a warning, Visa said many companies make it easier for thieves by not walling off this data from the rest of the network.

      Wawa, which operates hundreds of convenience stores along the East Coast, has reported details of a payment card data breach lasting nine months and potent...
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      Gas prices continue to fall into the holidays

      But motorists will pay more than they did last year

      The price of gasoline continues to fall, making holiday road trips a little more affordable in most of the country.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gasoline is $2.55 a gallon, a penny less than a week ago. But holiday travelers will pay an average of 19 cents a gallon more than they did in 2018. The average price of premium is $3.14 a gallon, two cents cheaper than last Friday. The average price of diesel fuel is $2.99, the same as a week ago.

      In its Winter Price Forecast issued Thursday, AAA predicted prices will continue to fall into the end of the year but won’t reach the low levels where they ended 2018. More likely, AAA said the national average will settle into a range between $2.40 and $2.45 a gallon, nearly 20 cents more than last year’s closing price.

      Where you live matters

      “Depending on where you live in the country, you will see gas prices drop anywhere between a nickel and a quarter this month,” said Jeanette Casselano, AAA’s spokesperson. “While that will offer savings to motorists, it is not as much as they saw last December.”

      Casselano said the main reason for higher gas prices this year is higher crude oil prices. Last year, fears of a recession -- which never materialized -- sent crude oil prices into a tailspin.

      The main reason the average price is falling is price drops west of the Mississippi River. AAA says western states have just about recovered from tight supplies after a number of refinery bottlenecks during the fall.

      California gas prices have dropped 57 cents a gallon since October, and Hawaii has regained the dubious honor of having the most expensive fuel in the nation. Missouri has edged out Mississippi as the state with the cheapest gas.

      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 ($3.66)

      • California ($3.60)

      • Washington ($3.19) 

      • Nevada ($3.10)

      • Oregon ($3.06) 

      • Alaska ($3.05)

      • Arizona ($2.86)

      • Utah ($2.78)

      • Idaho ($2.77) 

      • Pennsylvania ($2.76)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

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

      • Missouri ($2.20)

      • Mississippi ($2.21)

      • Texas ($2.22)

      • Oklahoma ($2.23)

      • Louisiana ($2.23)

      • Alabama ($2.26)

      • Arkansas ($2.26)

      • South Carolina ($2.28)

      • Kansas ($2.27)

      • Virginia ($2.29)

      The price of gasoline continues to fall, making holiday road trips a little more affordable in most of the country.The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the...
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      BMC recalls bicycles and framesets

      The bike's fork steerer tube and frameset can crack or break

      BMC is recalling about 900 Teammachine SLR01 DISC bicycles and framesets sold in the U.S. and Canada.

      The fork steerer tube on the bicycles and framesets can crack or break during use, posing a fall hazard.

      The firm has received four reports of the fork steerer tube breaking while in use, with one consumer experiencing a shoulder injury that required hospitalization and surgery, and another consumer reporting minor scratches and bruising.

      This recall involves all model year 2018 and 2019 Teammachine SLR01 DISC bicycles and framesets. The product is a performance road bike. BMC is printed on the downtube. The bikes and framesets were sold in red, green, grey, graphite, blue and aqua green.

      Recalled models contain serial numbers starting with 8R17 and 8R18, followed by one letter and a four-digit code, which is printed on the underside of the bottom bracket of the bicycle. Only bicycles and framesets with a FK6 fork require a replacement fork, which will be confirmed by BMC authorized dealers during the free inspection.

      Model Year

      Model Name

      2018

      Teammachine SLR01 DISC Team

      2018

      Teammachine SLR01 DISC One

      2018

      Teammachine SLR01 DISC Two

      2018

      Teammachine SLR01 DISC Module Team Red

      2018

      Teammachine SLR01 DISC Module Carbon Green

      2018

      Teammachine SLR01 DISC Module Carbon Gray

      2019

      Teammachine SLR01 DISC Edition AXS (also called Ltd.)

      2019

      Teammachine SLR01 DISC One

      2019

      Teammachine SLR01 DISC Two

      2019

      Teammachine SLR01 DISC Three

      2019

      Teammachine SLR01 DISC Four

      2019

      Teammachine SLR01 DISC Frameset Module Race Grey

      2019

      Teammachine SLR01 DISC Frameset Module Steel Blue

      2019

      Teammachine SLR01 DISC Frameset Module Team Red

      2019

      Teammachine SLR01 DISC Frameset Module Aqua Green

      2019

      Teammachine SLR01 DISC Frameset Module Stealth (with Sticker Set)

      The bicycles and framesets, manufactured in Taiwan and Poland, were sold at authorized BMC bicycle dealers and bicycle stores nationwide from July 2017, through October 2019, for between $4,500 and $12,500.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using recalled bicycles and contact their local BMC authorized dealer for a free inspection and free replacement fork.

      Consumers may contact BMC USA toll-free at (888) 262-7755 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday, by email at slr01inspection-US@BMC-Switzerland.com , or online at www.BMC-Switzerland.com/teammachinerecall or www.BMC-Switzerland.com and click on “Support” at the top of the page, then Recalls and Safety for more information.

      BMC is recalling about 900 Teammachine SLR01 DISC bicycles and framesets sold in the U.S. and Canada.The fork steerer tube on the bicycles and frameset...
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      Mercedes-Benz recalls model year 2018-2019 S Class vehicles

      The camshaft idler gear may detach from the crankcase, causing a stall

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling six model year 2018-2019 S560s, S560 Cabrioles, and S560 4MATICs with 8-cylinder gasoline engines.

      The threaded connection between the camshaft idler gear and the crankcase may be improperly tightened, possibly causing the idler gear to detach from the crankcase.

      A detached idler gear can damage the engine, resulting in a stall and increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will replace the engine free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 14, 2020.

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

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling six model year 2018-2019 S560s, S560 Cabrioles, and S560 4MATICs with 8-cylinder gasoline engines.The threaded c...
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      Juul and Marlboro are essentially one in the same when it comes to nicotine, study finds

      The e-cigarette king refuses to give up despite the litany of issues it’s run into

      Juul, the grand potentate of e-cigarettes, has taken another punch in the gut

      In a study just released by Portland State University (Oregon), researchers found that the formula Juul uses for its e-cigarettes is almost a dead-ringer for both the addictive composition and the flavor of Marlboro cigarettes. Or, in their own words, Juul is nothing more than an “analog” version of Marlboro.

      Déjà vu?

      Previous research showed that the nicotine levels in tobacco-based cigarette smoke is “much higher than those in early e-liquids.”If this sounds familiar to the nicotine controversy of the ‘90s, there are some similarities. 

      “The distribution of nicotine ... has been manipulated in tobacco smoke and now in electronic cigarettes by the use of acids to de-freebase nicotine and form ‘nicotine salts’” wrote the researchers. “The design evolution for e-cigarettes has made them more effective as substitutes to get smokers off combustibles. However, this evolution has likely made e-cigarette products vastly more addictive for never-smokers.”

      “It becomes obvious why novice users, people who’ve never smoked before, find it easy to try Juul,” researcher David Peyton told Reuters. “And once you try it, you’re getting dosed with a high concentration of nicotine.”

      The Goldilocks Principle

      Maybe Marlboro didn’t want to see its $12.8 billion investment in Juul go up in smoke, but it had to know that this vaping thing could turn out bad for everyone involved.

      “For Marlboro, by using additives and/or blend manipulation … [it accomplished] a Goldilocks principle solution (ie, not too harsh, not too mild),” the researchers wrote, further noting the “human affinity for the sensory bite” similar to carbonated beverages.

      One of the key reasons why teens and young adults are drawn to e-cigarettes like Juul is the flavor. In a parallel study that was just released, researchers found that the “smoothness” of e-cigarettes is a “cross-cutting mediator” when compared to the bitter taste of tobacco. 

      “Sweetness may also mediate appeal-enhancing effects of fruit and appeal-reducing effects of nicotine. Non-tobacco flavours may suppress appeal-reducing effects of nicotine in e-cigarettes through attenuation of nicotine’s aversive taste attributes,” the researchers concluded.

      Where does Juul go from here?

      Maybe it’s time for Juul to cut bait and go home. It was recenlty forced to give up its popular mint-flavored pods, and the FDA has repeatedly called the company out for playing a large role in the teen vaping crisis. Its CEO even apologized to the parents of teens hooked on its product.

      Where the company is going is anyone’s guess, but it’s possible Juul can find a way out of the woods of woe it keeps walking into, primarily the one where all its teen consumers are.

      “Youth use of vapor products is detrimental to our mission, and to our business,” the company recently wrote on its website. “Our target market is the one billion adult smokers globally, more than 70 percent of whom want to quit using combustible cigarettes (per CDC). Offering these adult smokers a real alternative to cigarettes is a public health and commercial opportunity of historic proportions, with over 7 million preventable deaths per year caused by cigarettes. Youth use puts this all at risk.”

      “Through shared effort, we can significantly reduce youth access to, and usage of, all vapor products, including JUUL, while at the same time ensuring that adult smokers can access a product that is helping millions of them switch from combustible cigarettes – a goal we all share.”

      Juul, the grand potentate of e-cigarettes, has taken another punch in the gut. In a study just released by Portland State University (Oregon), research...
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      BMW recalls model year 2015-2019 X6 vehicles

      Rear seat lower anchor bars used in securing child restraint seats may become damaged

      BMW of North America is recalling 32,760 model year 2015-2019 X6 sDrive35i, X6 xDrive35i, X6 xDrive50i, and X6M vehicles with rear seat lower anchor bars used in securing child restraint seats.

      The lower anchor bars may become damaged over time when used with an ISOFIX-type, rigid-style connector, child restraint system.

      Damaged lower anchor bars may increase the child's risk of injury in a crash.

      What to do

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will weld a reinforcing bracket to the lower anchor bars and the vehicle body free of charge.

      Owner notification is expected to begin January 17, 2020.

      Owners may contact BMW customer service at (800) 525-7417.

      BMW of North America is recalling 32,760 model year 2015-2019 X6 sDrive35i, X6 xDrive35i, X6 xDrive50i, and X6M vehicles with rear seat lower anchor bars u...
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      CATSMO recalls smoked salmon

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      CATSMO of Wallkill, N.Y., is recalling Cold Smoked Salmon that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The following products, which come in a vacuum-sealed plastic package in whole fillets, specialty cuts, 4-oz., 8-oz., or 1-lb. sizes and are either plain or flavored, are being recalled:


      Batch/Lot
      (indicated on label)

      Product Description (INDICATED ON LABEL)

      Expiration Date (indicated on label)

      7408NOVA SLICED SMOKED SALMON12/15/19 OR 12/16/19
      7409DANIEL BOULUD SLICED SMOKED SALMON12/15/19 OR 12/16/19
      7409GOLD SLICED SMOKED SALMON12/15/19 OR 12/16/19
      7412GOLD SLICED SMOKED SALMON12/15/19 OR 12/16/19
      7414SCOTTISH SLICED SMOKED SALMON12/15/19 OR 12/16/19
      7414LOIN SMOKED SALMON12/15/19 OR 12/16/19
      7415SCOTTISH WHOLE NO SKIN SMOKED SALMON12/15/19 OR 12/16/19
      7415GOLD WHOLE SMOKED SALMON12/15/19 OR 12/16/19
      7415PASTRAMI WHOLE SMOKED SALMON12/15/19 OR 12/16/19
      7415SCOTTISH WHOLE SMOKED SALMON12/15/19 OR 12/16/19
      74171lb SCOTTISH SMOKED SALMON12/11/2019
      74174oz SCOTTISH SMOKED SALMON12/11/2019
      7417PASTRAMI SLICED SMOKED SALMON12/15/19 OR 12/16/19
      74204oz PASTRAMI SMOKED SALMON12/11/2019
      74204oz ORGANIC SMOKED SALMON12/11/2019
      74204oz DOUBLE SMOKED SALMON12/11/2019
      74204oz GOLD SMOKED SALMON12/11/2019
      74204oz GRAVELOX SMOKED SALMON12/11/2019
      7420GOLD SLICED SMOKED SALMON12/15/19 OR 12/16/19
      7421BOURBON PEPPER SLICED SMOKED SALMON12/15/19 OR 12/16/19
      7421GOLD SLICED SMOKED SALMON12/15/19 OR 12/16/19
      74248oz DANIEL BOULUD BAJA SMOKED SALMON12/11/2019
      74248oz DANIEL BOULUD HIGHLAND SMOKED
      SALMON
      12/11/2019
      7424GOLD SLICED SMOKED SALMON12/15/19 OR 12/16/19
      7427FIRST COURSE SLICED SMOKED SALMON12/15/19 OR 12/16/19
      7430NOVA WHOLE SMOKED SALMON12/15/19 OR 12/16/19
      7430SCOTTISH WHOLE SMOKED SALMON12/15/19 OR 12/16/19
      74328oz PASTRAMI SMOKED SALMON12/11/2019
      74324oz GOLD SMOKED SALMON12/11/2019
      74324oz RED BEET SMOKED SALMON12/11/2019
      74324oz BOURBON PEPPER SMOKED SALMON12/11/2019
      74324oz IRISH SMOKED SALMON12/11/2019
      74324oz GRAVELOX SMOKED SALMON12/11/2019
      74324oz ORGANIC SMOKED SALMON12/11/2019

      The recalled products were sold via direct delivery and in retail stores in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Minnesota, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, Massachusetts, Illinois, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at (845) 895-2296, Monday through Friday, 9am to 4pm (EST).

      CATSMO of Wallkill, N.Y., is recalling Cold Smoked Salmon that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.No illnesses have been reported to date....
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      Model year 2019 Mercedes-Benz GLC300s and GLC300 4MATICs recalled

      The vehicle could lose electric power steering assist

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling three model year 2019 GLC300s and GLC300 4MATICs.

      The electrical connection between the power steering electric motor and the control unit may fail, resulting in the loss of electric power steering assist.

      A loss of power steering assist would require a greater steering effort to control the vehicle, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will replace the electric power steering control unit free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 14, 2020.

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

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling three model year 2019 GLC300s and GLC300 4MATICs.The electrical connection between the power steering electric m...
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      Renters have spent $4.5 trillion on housing this decade, report says

      The number of renters increased faster in the last 10 years than homeowners

      A new report from online real estate marketplace Zillow shows renters spent a combined $4.5 trillion since 2010 to put a roof over their head.

      That statistic puts recent changes in the housing market into sharper focus as many prospective buyers can’t find homes they like or can afford. As a result, the demand for rental housing has risen, along with rents.

      Zillow reports that U.S. renters will have spent more than $512 billion on housing by the time 2019 ends in a couple of weeks -- the most of any year during this decade. The current median rent is $1,600, a 2.3 percent increase over 2018.

      That trend may continue in 2020. Forbes reports that the number of renters has increased by more than 9 million during this decade and now makes up 34 percent of all U.S. households. Renters have increased faster than homeowners, growing more than twice as fast, according to the Census Bureau.

      Voluntary renters

      Forbes also notes another housing trend that could add to the demand for rental housing. It cites data which shows that more high-income consumers and seniors have voluntarily become renters because they’re able to afford more expensive luxury apartments.

      All of this suggests renters may have to pay more next year for housing, but Zillow Group Economist Joshua Clark says that’s not a given.

      "While the total amount of rent paid has increased each year this decade, that trend is by no means immutable," he said.  "With rental appreciation expected to decrease in the coming year and a homeownership rate that has been ticking up over the past few years, a small or even negative change in total rental spending could be in the cards in the early 2020s."

      Extremely low vacancy rates

      But Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies reports that even with recent softening of rental demand, vacancy rates remain “at decades-long lows,” and that affordability is a growing issue. One bright spot, it says, was Minneapolis’ recent move to end single-family zoning, which the center says could greatly expand the supply of rental homes.

      Rents and home prices are both going up for the same reason -- declining inventory. In the last year, that factor pushed home rental costs up 6.4 percent in Phoenix, 5.2 percent in Las Vegas, and 4 percent in Charlotte. And because there are fewer homes to purchase, more consumers continue to rent, reducing the number of available units. But the housing market got some good news in that regard this week.

      The Commerce Department reports that housing starts rose 3.2 percent in November, the biggest increase in more than 12 years. That suggests builders are in the process of adding to the inventory of available homes, which has been shrinking during this decade.

      The Zillow report shows rents were highest -- both this year and throughout the decade -- in the New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco metros. Renters in New York spent $56.6 billion on rent in 2019, compared to $39.2 billion in Los Angeles and $16.4 billion in San Francisco.

      A new report from online real estate marketplace Zillow shows renters spent a combined $4.5 trillion since 2010 to put a roof over their head.That stat...
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      Netflix continues to grow its footprint abroad

      The company released data on how many subscribers it has globally in an SEC filing

      In a recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Netflix shared how many subscribers it has in several global regions for the first time. While the bulk of its subscriber base is still made up of consumers from the U.S. and Canada, the report shows that the streaming giant is growing quickly in other global markets.

      In the two-year period between 2017 and 2019, Netflix increased its subscriber base in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa from just over 26,000 to over 47,000. In Latin America, that number jumped from under 20,000 to over 29,000; and in the Asia-Pacific region, it went from around 6,500 to nearly 14,500. 

      Revenue generated from foreign markets also made a big leap in those two years. In those same three markets, overall revenue jumped from $4,081,357 to $7,080,948 from 2017 to 2019. In contrast, revenue generated in the U.S. and Canada moved from $6,660,859 to $7,379,300 over the same time period.

      Expanding services and content

      The findings underscore how Netflix has become more of a global giant as a streaming service. It is currently working on several initiatives that company officials hope will generate more excitement and draw in more subscribers. 

      Earlier this month, the company said it was testing a new yearly subscription plan that could save consumers up to 50 percent if they paid in advance for a full year of service. The company also recently offered $2 billion in debt to fund content creation on its platform.

      These initiatives and competitive pricing have made Netflix a hit with many consumers. In a recent ConsumerAffairs review of the service, Sally from Sarasota, Florida said that it can be a great alternative to cable TV. 

      “Unless you have cable to access movies, Netflix has proven a winner with our family. Their list of outstanding movies, past and present, are always available, and at a reasonably low price,” she said.

      To read more consumer reviews about the service, check out ConsumerAffairs’ page here.

      In a recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Netflix shared how many subscribers it has in several global regions for the first ti...
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      Chrysler recalls model year 2019 Ram 1500 trucks

      The vehicle may experience an intermittent loss of power steering assist

      is recalling 193 model year 2019 Ram 1500 trucks.

      The vehicles may have been built with a contaminated electric power steering (EPS) gear that may short circuit, potentially resulting in an intermittent loss of power steering assist.

      An intermittent loss of power steering assist may cause an inconsistent steering effort, especially during lower speed maneuvers, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the EPS gear assembly free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 3, 2020.

      Owners may contact customer service at (800) 853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is VB8.

      is recalling 193 model year 2019 Ram 1500 trucks.The vehicles may have been built with a contaminated electric power steering (EPS) gear that may short...
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      Time is running short for getting holiday gifts in the mail

      This will be a big week for mailing packages

      Attention last-minute holiday shoppers -- if you plan to mail holiday gifts out of town, this is the week you need to get busy.

      Christmas arrives in the middle of next week, and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is offering a gentle reminder that time is running out. It said it expects to deliver 2.5 billion cards and package this week alone.

      The agency has extended Sunday operations in various cities where package volume has been highest. It already delivers packages on Sundays in most major cities and expects to deliver more than 8 million packages each Sunday in December. 

      Here are the USPS deadlines you need to keep in mind this week:

      • Dec. 18 – APO/FPO/DPO (except ZIP Code 093) USPS Priority Mail Express

      • Dec. 20 – First-Class Mail (including greeting cards)

      • Dec. 20 – First-Class Packages (up to 15.99 ounces)

      • Dec. 20 – Hawaii to mainland Priority Mail and First-Class Mail

      • Dec. 20 – Alaska to mainland Priority Mail and First-Class Mail

      • Dec. 21 – Priority Mail

      • Dec. 22 – Alaska to mainland Priority Mail Express

      • Dec. 22 – Hawaii to mainland Priority Mail Express

      • Dec. 23 – Priority Mail Express

      Keep in mind these deadlines don’t constitute a guarantee but are estimates for delivery before December 25.

      New rules

      There are a couple of new wrinkles at USPS this holiday season. Mail and packages weighing more than 10 ounces and more than a half-inch thick can’t be dropped in pickup boxes if their postage consists of stamps. You’ll need to take them to a window clerk at a post office. Customers using Click-N-Ship are not affected.

      If you think you’ll be returning items using USPS after the holidays, you may want to sign up for Informed Delivery to help you keep track of your shipments. The video below, provided by USPS, explains how to do it.

      Relying on retailers

      Retailers may also offer an easy way to get last-minute gifts delivered before Christmas. Target says orders placed on Target.com by noon CT on Friday, Dec. 20 qualify for free delivery by Tuesday, December 24.

      Amazon Prime members can get free delivery on millions of items if purchased by Sunday, December 22. Consumers in areas where one-day and same-day delivery are available can put off shopping to December 23 or December 24.

      Attention last-minute holiday shoppers -- if you plan to mail holiday gifts out of town, this is the week you need to get busy.Christmas arrives in the...
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      FDA approves sale of two low-nicotine cigarette products

      The agency says the new products could reduce nicotine dependence and addiction

      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced today that it is approving the sale of two new tobacco products that have lower amounts of nicotine than traditional cigarettes.

      The agency says that the products -- which are manufactured by 22nd Century Group Inc. -- meet its standards and could potentially help curb nicotine dependence and addiction rates in adult smokers. However, it makes clear that the products still carry many of the same health risks that commercial cigarettes do.

      “While today’s action permits the new tobacco products to be legally sold or distributed in the U.S., it does not mean these products are safe of ‘FDA-approved,’” the FDA said in its announcement. 

      “In its decision, the agency notes that the Moonlight and Moonlight Menthol cigarette products differ from conventional cigarettes in nicotine content only -- the products share similar adverse health risks as conventional cigarettes. There are no safe tobacco products and those who do not use tobacco products should not start.”

      Preventing marketing to youth users

      In a press release, the FDA says that the new products should not be attractive to youth users. But with that in mind, it says that it will be placing “stringent restrictions” on how the products are marketed online and on social media platforms. 

      The manufacturer will also be required to regularly report to the FDA about any information it collects through research studies, sales data, and other avenues so that the agency can respond accordingly if young people start using the products. 

      “The FDA may withdraw this marketing order if, among other reasons, it determines that the continued marketing of a product is no longer appropriate for the protection of public health, such as if there is an uptake of the product by youth,” the FDA stated.

      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced today that it is approving the sale of two new tobacco products that have lower amounts of nicotine than t...
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      Amazon prohibits sellers from using FedEx ground delivery shipping for Prime orders

      The shipping company argues that the move may prevent holiday packages from being delivered on time

      Competition between Amazon and FedEx may be heating up, but it could come at a bad time for consumers who are depending on the services for holiday deliveries. 

      The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports that Amazon has blocked third-party sellers on its site from using FedEx’s ground delivery service for consumers’ Prime orders. While sellers can still use FedEx’s ground delivery for standard orders or its Express delivery for Prime orders, the move will likely have an impact on package delivery during a busy holiday season. 

      “While this decision affects a very small number of shippers, it limits the options for those small businesses on some of the highest demand shipping days in history, and may compromise their ability to meet customer demands and manage their businesses,” a FedEx spokesperson told CNBC, adding that the company will still try to support its customers to the best of its ability.

      Amazon reportedly told third-party sellers that it based its decision to limit shipping options through FedEx to ensure that customers could receive their packages on time during a period of high package traffic.

      Growing competition

      FedEx and Amazon may continue to butt heads as each company tries to take more control of the ecommerce space. Earlier this year, FedEx announced that it would be severing ties with the online retailer by ending its ground delivery contract and no longer shipping packages by air via FedEx Express.

      However, Amazon has been making moves of its own to become more self-reliant from a shipping standpoint. It has been working to expand its own ground delivery fleet so that it can deliver customers’ packages on its own.

      “We are constantly innovating to improve the carrier experience and sometimes that means reevaluating our carrier relationships. FedEx has been a great partner over the years and we appreciate all their work delivering packages to our customers,” the company said following the termination of its contract with the company.

      Competition between Amazon and FedEx may be heating up, but it could come at a bad time for consumers who are depending on the services for holiday deliver...
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      Boeing halts 737 MAX production until grounding is lifted

      The company will focus on the 400 jets currently in storage

      Boeing has announced it will stop work on 737 MAX aircraft currently in production while it awaits action by regulators who will decide when the grounded plane can fly again.

      While sources reported over the weekend that the company might have to adjust production schedules, the announcement appeared to come as a surprise to the financial markets, with CNBC terming it “drastic.”

      “Throughout the grounding of the 737 MAX, Boeing has continued to build new airplanes and there are now approximately 400 airplanes in storage,” the company said in a late Monday statement. “We have previously stated that we would continually evaluate our production plans should the MAX grounding continue longer than we expected. As a result of this ongoing evaluation, we have decided to prioritize the delivery of stored aircraft and temporarily suspend production on the 737 program beginning next month.”

      The three U.S. airlines that fly the 737 MAX -- Southwest, American, and United -- have consolidated flights and employed other aircraft to make up for the loss of 737 MAX equipment.

      The 737 MAX had been one of the aircraft company’s most successful planes, valued for its fuel efficiency and state-of-the-art engineering. But a crash of a Ryan Air 737 MAX in October 2018 and the loss of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX five months later resulted in the worldwide grounding of the jet.

      What began as a reconfiguration of software turned into a major reexamination of the plane’s overall safety. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), under fire for the process of certifying the plane in the first place, appears to be in no hurry to return it to the air.

      No layoffs

      In announcing the temporary shutdown of the 737 MAX production line, Boeing officials stressed that no employees would be laid off or furloughed. The company said they would either continue 737-related work or would be reassigned to other teams.

      “We believe this decision is least disruptive to maintaining long-term production system and supply chain health,” the company said.

      Boeing said the decision was influenced by several factors, including the reality that recertification of the aircraft will extend into 2020. 

      Boeing has announced it will stop work on 737 MAX aircraft currently in production while it awaits action by regulators who will decide when the grounded p...
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      Ford recalls F-250, F-350 and F-450 Super Duty trucks

      The Daytime Running Lights may not dim as designed

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 86,296 model year 2018-2019 F-250, F-350 and F-450 Super Duty trucks.

      The Daytime Running Lights (DRL) may not dim when the headlight switch is moved into the "On" position, reducing the visibility of other drivers and increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Ford has notified owners, and dealers will reprogram the Body Control Module (BCM) software free of charge.

      The recall began November 25, 2019.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at (866) 436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 19C10.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 86,296 model year 2018-2019 F-250, F-350 and F-450 Super Duty trucks.The Daytime Running Lights (DRL) may not dim when...
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      White Castle recalls sliders

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      White Castle is recalling frozen 6-pack cheeseburgers, frozen 6-pack hamburgers, frozen 6-pack jalapeno cheeseburgers, 16-pack hamburgers and 16-pack cheeseburgers.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The following products, sold at select retailers in rectangular cardboard packages with best by dates ranging from August 4 – 17, 2020, are being recalled:

      Lot Code Best By Date
      Lot Code Best By Date
      Lot Code
      H312079104AUG2020
      H312079304AUG2020
      C312079504AUG2020
      H312089104AUG2020
      H312089304AUG2020
      C312089504AUG2020
      H312099104AUG2020
      H312099304AUG2020
      C312099504AUG2020
      H312109104AUG2020
      H312109304AUG2020
      C312109504AUG2020
      H312119104AUG2020
      H312119304AUG2020
      C312119504AUG2020
      H312129104AUG2020
      H312129304AUG2020
      C312129504AUG2020
      H312139104AUG2020
      H312139304AUG2020
      C312139504AUG2020
      H312149104AUG2020
      H312149304AUG2020
      C312149504AUG2020
      H312159104AUG2020
      H312159304AUG2020
      C312159504AUG2020
      H312169104AUG2020
      H312169304AUG2020
      C312169504AUG2020
      H312179104AUG2020
      H312179304AUG2020
      C312179504AUG2020
      H312189104AUG2020
      H312189304AUG2020
      C312189504AUG2020
      H312199104AUG2020
      H312199304AUG2020
      C312199504AUG2020
      H312209104AUG2020
      H312209304AUG2020
      C312209504AUG2020
      H312219104AUG2020
      H312219304AUG2020
      C312219504AUG2020
      H312229104AUG2020
      H312229304AUG2020
      C312229504AUG2020
      H312239104AUG2020
      H312239304AUG2020
      C312239504AUG2020
      scope="col"Lot CodeBest By Date
      C315079107AUG2020
      C315069307AUG2020
      C315079507AUG2020
      C315089107AUG2020
      C315079307AUG2020
      C315089507AUG2020
      C315099107AUG2020
      C315089307AUG2020
      C315099507AUG2020
      C315109107AUG2020
      C315099307AUG2020
      C315109507AUG2020
      C315119107AUG2020
      C315109307AUG2020
      C315119507AUG2020
      C315129107AUG2020
      C315119307AUG2020
      C315129507AUG2020
      C315139107AUG2020
      C315129307AUG2020
      C315139507AUG2020
      C315149107AUG2020
      C315139307AUG2020
      C315149507AUG2020
      C315159107AUG2020
      C315149307AUG2020
      C315159507AUG2020
      C315169107AUG2020
      C315159307AUG2020
      C315169507AUG2020
      C315179107AUG2020
      C315169307AUG2020
      C315179507AUG2020
      C315189107AUG2020
      C315179307AUG2020
      C315189507AUG2020
      C315199107AUG2020
      C315189307AUG2020
      C315199507AUG2020
      C315209107AUG2020
      C315199307AUG2020
      C315209507AUG2020
      C315219107AUG2020
      C315209307AUG2020
      C315219507AUG2020
      C315229107AUG2020
      C315219307AUG2020
      C315229507AUG2020
      C315239107AUG2020
      C315229307AUG2020
      C315239507AUG2020
      C315239307AUG2020
      Lot CodeBest By Date
      J316079108AUG2020
      J316069308AUG2020
      C316079508AUG2020
      J316089108AUG2020
      J316079308AUG2020
      C316089508AUG2020
      J316099108AUG2020
      J316089308AUG2020
      C316099508AUG2020
      J316109108AUG2020
      J316099308AUG2020
      C316109508AUG2020
      J316119108AUG2020
      J316109308AUG2020
      C316119508AUG2020
      J316129108AUG2020
      J316119308AUG2020
      C316129508AUG2020
      J316139108AUG2020
      J316129308AUG2020
      C316139508AUG2020
      J316149108AUG2020
      J316139308AUG2020
      C316149508AUG2020
      J316159108AUG2020
      J316149308AUG2020
      C316159508AUG2020
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      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should discard or return them to the store where were purchased for an exchange or full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at (800) 843-2728.

      White Castle is recalling frozen 6-pack cheeseburgers, frozen 6-pack hamburgers, frozen 6-pack jalapeno cheeseburgers, 16-pack hamburgers and 16-pack chees...
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      BMW 323i, 328i, 323Ci & 328Ci vehicles recalled

      The driver airbag inflators may rupture or the airbag cushion may underinflate.

      BMW of North America (BMW) is recalling 34,396 model year 1999-2000 323i & 328i, and model year 2000 323Ci & 328Ci vehicles with Non-Azide Driver airbag Inflators (NADI) manufactured by Takata.

      The inflators do not contain phase stabilized ammonium nitrate (PSAN) propellant. Due to a manufacturing issue, the NADI inflators may absorb moisture, causing the inflators to rupture or the airbag cushion to underinflate.

      In a crash necessitating airbag deployment, an inflator rupture may result in metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants. An underinflated airbag may not properly protect the occupant.

      Any of these situations increase the risk of serious injury or death.

      What to do

      BMW will mail interim notices informing owners of the safety risk on January 17, 2020. Owners will receive a second notice when the remedy becomes available.

      Dealers will inspect the driver airbag inflators and replace them, as necessary, free of charge.

      Owners may contact BMW customer service at (800) 525-7417.

      BMW of North America (BMW) is recalling 34,396 model year 1999-2000 323i & 328i, and model year 2000 323Ci & 328Ci vehicles with Non-Azide Driver airbag In...
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      Vaping increases risk of respiratory disease, study finds

      Deaths in the U.S. linked to e-cigarette use continue to rise

      Consumers who use e-cigarettes in hopes of quitting smoking may not be helping their cause. In fact, a recent study suggests that it could be raising their risk for respiratory disease.

      While the products were originally created and marketed as an alternative to traditional cigarettes, study findings show that many consumers are using them in addition to traditional cigarettes. That, the research team says, demonstrates that the products should not be used as a stop-gap for consumers looking to quit smoking completely.

      “Although switching from combustible tobacco, including cigarettes, to e-cigarettes theoretically could reduce the risk of developing respiratory disease, current evidence indicates high prevalence of dual use, which is associated with increased risk beyond combustible tobacco use,” the researchers concluded. 

      “For most smokers, using an e-cigarette is associated with lower odds of successfully quitting smoking. E-cigarettes should not be recommended.”

      Dangerous dual use

      To come to their conclusions, researchers from the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education collected data on e-cigarette use over a three-year period from consumers who used the devices. Participants, ranging in age from 18 to 74, answered questions about their e-cigarette use and health.

      While the findings showed that participants who switched from using traditional cigarettes to exclusively using e-cigarettes could lower their risk for respiratory disease, the researchers say that less than one percent of participants at two checkpoints in the study were able to completely make that switch. Instead, they said the vast majority continued to use both traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes after beginning to use the latter. 

      To make matters worse, findings showed that consumers who used both e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes were 3.3 times more likely to develop respiratory disease when compared to participants who had never used either product.

      “Dual use of e-cigarettes and combustible tobacco (including cigarettes) is more dangerous than using either product alone,” the team concluded. 

      Deaths and hospitalizations continue to rise

      The findings come in the wake of a stark update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As of December 10, the agency estimates that over 2,400 hospitalizations linked to vaping and e-cigarette use had occurred in the U.S. Fifty-two deaths in 26 states have also been tied to the devices.

      Unfortunately, the number of deaths and injuries have not stopped young people from using the devices. A report published earlier this month showed that over 6.2 million middle and high school students used tobacco within the previous 30 days, with much of that number being attributed to e-cigarette use. 

      “Youth use of any tobacco product, including e-cigarettes, is unsafe. It is incumbent upon public health and healthcare professionals to educate Americans about the risks resulting from this epidemic among our youth,” said CDC Director Robert R. Redfield.

      Consumers who use e-cigarettes in hopes of quitting smoking may not be helping their cause. In fact, a recent study suggests that it could be raising their...
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      Boeing may cut production of 737 Max aircraft as ban drags on

      The company said it will continue to work with regulators to resolve the matter

      Things don’t appear to be getting any better for Boeing and its beleaguered 737 Max aircraft. Following an extended grounding period and an FAA report which indicated that these jets were more prone to crashes, the company may have to cut back on production.

      CNN cites sources familiar with the matter as saying that a decision to curb or suspend production could come as soon as Monday after U.S. markets close. In a statement to the news outlet, company officials said that they will continue to work with regulators in the U.S. and around the world to bring the 737 Max back into service. 

      “We will continue to assess production decisions based on the timing and conditions of return to service, which will be based on regulatory approvals and may vary by jurisdiction,” the company noted.

      Planes to remain grounded

      While regulatory approval would certainly be a step in the right direction for Boeing, it might be some time before consumers see 737 Max planes back in the air. 

      Even if the company were to get the regulatory green light from the FAA by early 2020, professional pilots would still need to be retrained on the aircraft’s new systems -- a process that could take months to complete. Airline companies would also need to be content with activating the jets within their fleets, which may be a daunting process if consumers don’t want to purchase a ticket with an airliner that uses the planes.

      The 737 Max was originally grounded around the world due to two fatal accidents that occurred in March. The crashes claimed a total of 346 lives, and affected families are eligible to receive up to $144,500 in compensation from a fund of $50 million that Boeing established in July.

      Things don’t appear to be getting any better for Boeing and its beleaguered 737 Max aircraft. Following an extended grounding period and an FAA report whic...
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      RCS messaging goes live for U.S. Android users

      The next evolution of messaging has come ahead of schedule

      Earlier this year, Google announced that it would be upgrading the messaging capabilities of its Android devices by 2020. Now, with time to spare, all U.S. consumers who use these devices will have access to RCS messaging. 

      Google’s Senior Director of Product Management Sanaz Ahari tweeted late last week that all U.S. Android users would gain access to RCS starting Monday, though she noted that updates would need to be made to Carrier Services and the company’s messaging app.

      When another Twitter user asked when RCS would be available to other countries, Ahari gave a curt “Stay tuned.” 

      RCS messaging

      RCS -- or Rich Communication System -- has been touted as the next innovation in messaging technology, but it isn’t exactly new. Apple’s iMessage and Facebook’s WhatsApp already include several of its distinguishing features, such as photo and video sharing, group messaging, and location-based functions. 

      Back in October, the four major U.S. wireless carriers announced their intention to develop and deploy RCS messaging through the Cross-Carrier Messaging Initiative (CCMI). The goal of the initiative is to ensure that Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile can meet evolving industry standards when RCS is rolled out more broadly in the U.S. and globally. 

      Earlier this year, Google announced that it would be upgrading the messaging capabilities of its Android devices by 2020. Now, with time to spare, all U.S....
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      Tailor Cut Produce recalls cut fruit mix

      The product maybe contaminated with Salmonella

      Tailor Cut Produce of New Jersey is recalling its Fruit luau, cut honeydew, cut cantaloupe and cut pineapple products.

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      Several patients have fallen ill in four hospitals in Pennsylvania.

      The recalled fruit products were distributed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Delaware between November 15 and December 1, 2019.

      The recalled product, which comes in 2/1 gallon cases with a date of production stamped on the side, were distributed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Delaware between November 15 and December 1, 2019.

      What to do

      Distributors who purchased the recalled products should quarantine them and call for further instructions.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at (732) 246-2002.

      Tailor Cut Produce of New Jersey is recalling its Fruit luau, cut honeydew, cut cantaloupe and cut pineapple products.The products may be contaminated...
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      Mercedes-Benz recalls G550 4MATICs and G63 AMGs

      Certain safety features may malfunction

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 2,427 model year 2019 G550 4MATICs and G63 AMGs.

      The front door wiring harnesses may have been improperly routed causing damage to the individual wires during opening and closing of the front doors.

      The damage to certain wires can affect safety features such as the side impact restraint system, the automatic unlocking of the door in the event of a crash, or the vehicle location in an emergency call.

      All of these could increase the risk of an injury in a crash.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will inspect, modify, or replace the front door wiring harness in the event damage has occurred free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 14, 2020.

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

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 2,427 model year 2019 G550 4MATICs and G63 AMGs.The front door wiring harnesses may have been improperly routed...
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      AT&T expands 5G coverage to 10 cities

      Consumers in these markets now have access to the carrier’s low-band 5G network

      AT&T has activated its 5G network in ten cities. The faster network is available to consumers with a Samsung Galaxy Note10+ 5G.

      “Millions of consumers and businesses across Birmingham, Ala., Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Providence, R.I., Rochester, N.Y., San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose, Calif. market areas can now access AT&T’s 5G network using the Samsung Galaxy Note10+ 5G,” the carrier said in an announcement

      AT&T was criticised earlier this year for rolling out a “5GE” network, which stood for “5G Evolution” and was essentially just upgraded LTE. The 5G network that was switched on today is actual 5G that uses low-band 850MHz spectrum technology. It’s similar to the 600MHz network that T-Mobile recently turned on

      Nationwide expansion plans

      AT&T added that “low-band 5G availability will continue to rapidly expand.” The cities slated to receive the network in the first half of 2020 include Boston, MA; Bridgeport, CT; Buffalo, NY; Las Vegas, NV; Louisville, KY; and New York City, with more to be added throughout the year. 

      “We believe 5G technology will be game-changing, and we continue to help drive this next wave of innovation,” said Scott Mair, president of AT&T Technology Operations, in a statement. “We were the first in the U.S. to offer commercial mobile 5G, and this is the next step as we build to nationwide service in the first half of 2020.”

      AT&T said its high-band spectrum -- 5G+, which is even faster than 5G -- will be coming at a “later date.” The carrier said 5G+ was designed to “serve high-traffic areas and places like arenas, campuses and more.” It’s currently offered in parts of 23 cities.

      A coverage map of the current low-band 5G markets can be viewed here

      AT&T; has activated its 5G network in ten cities. The faster network is available to consumers with a Samsung Galaxy Note10+ 5G.“Millions of consumers...
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      Apple working on fix for parental control bug

      The bug appears to be related to iCloud syncing

      Apple has promised to fix a vulnerability in one of the new parental control features released Tuesday in iOS 13.3. 

      A feature called Communication Limits is supposed to prevent kids from communicating with people not in their contacts unless a parent enters a security passcode, but the safety feature can easily be bypassed if contacts aren’t stored in iCloud, according to a CNBC report

      “Communication Limits does not work as advertised if contacts are not stored to iCloud by default,” CNBC found. 

      After tapping on an incoming text from an unknown number, CNBC discovered that a "Restricted Contact" page appeared. However, the page could be bypassed by tapping on an “Add Contact” option. Selecting the option would give kids the ability to communicate with the person behind the number in question. 

      In a statement, Apple said the issue “only occurs on devices set up with a non-standard configuration, and a workaround is available.” It added that it’s “working on a complete fix and will release it in an upcoming software update.” 

      While Apple works on a fix, users can ensure the feature works properly by forcing contacts to sync with iCloud. This can be done by going into settings, navigating down to "Contacts," choosing "Default Account,” and changing it to iCloud. Alternatively, parents can set the device to “Downtime” mode to prevent kids from adding any new contacts. 

      Apple has promised to fix a vulnerability in one of the new parental control features released Tuesday in iOS 13.3. A feature called Communication Limi...
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      Gas prices are 17 cents higher than at this time last year

      Prices are falling in western states faster than in the East

      Motorists planning holiday road trips will likely find stable fuel prices along the way, but prices are significantly higher than at this time last year.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average of regular gasoline is $2.56 a gallon, two cents less than last week. But the price is 17 cents higher than it was a year ago. The price of premium gas is $3.17 a gallon, also two cents lower than last Friday. The average price of diesel fuel is $2.99 a gallon, down a penny from last Friday.

      While prices have been slow to fall for several weeks, Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, says that could change quickly. In a Twitter post, DeHaan said the national average for regular could drop another eight cents a gallon by the holidays, thanks to rising fuel supplies and sluggish demand.

      The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports total U.S. gasoline supplies rose by 5.4 million barrels last week, bringing the total stockpile to nearly 235 million barrels. At the same time, gasoline demand dropped from just over 9.0 million barrels a day to 8.8 million.

      Though the national average gasoline price barely moved, consumers in most of the western states continued to see significant price declines. In California, the price fell 11 cents a gallon in the last seven days; it’s down 37 cents in the last month.

      California no longer has the most expensive gas in the nation, but today it slipped into second place behind Hawaii. The cheapest gas in the nation is found in Mississippi.

      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:

      • California ($3.66)

      • Hawaii ($3.66)

      • Washington ($3.24) 

      • Nevada ($3.18)

      • Oregon ($3.10) 

      • Alaska ($3.08)

      • Arizona ($2.88)

      • Idaho ($2.86) 

      • Utah ($2.84)

      • Pennsylvania ($2.78)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

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

      • Mississippi ($2.22)

      • Missouri ($2.23)

      • Texas ($2.24)

      • Oklahoma ($2.25)

      • Louisiana ($2.25)

      • Alabama ($2.26)

      • Arkansas ($2.27)

      • South Carolina ($2.28)

      • Kansas ($2.29)

      • Virginia ($2.29)

      Motorists planning holiday road trips will likely find stable fuel prices along the way, but prices are significantly higher than at this time last year....
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      Model year 2017-19 Ford Super Duty SuperCrew vehicles recalled

      A front seat belt pretensioner can generate excessive sparks when it deploys

      Ford Motor Company is recalling nearly 548,000 model year 2017-19 Ford Super Duty SuperCrew vehicles with carpet flooring.

      A front seat belt pretensioner that deploys during a crash can generate excessive sparks.

      In some cases, this could ignite the carpet or carpet insulation in the area of the B-pillar which may spread within the vehicle, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      Ford will contact owners and dealers will apply foil tape to the carpet and carpet insulation and modify the sound deadener on the back side of the B-pillar trim panel.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at (866) 436-733. Ford's reference number for this recall is 19S52.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling nearly 548,000 model year 2017-19 Ford Super Duty SuperCrew vehicles with carpet flooring.A front seat belt pretensione...
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      Profile Design recalls bicycle carbon aerobars

      The bicycle aerobars can crack and break

      Profile Design of Carson, Calif., is recalling about 260 Aeria Ultimate carbon aerobars.

      The bicycle aerobars can crack and break, causing the rider to lose control and crash.

      The firm has received two reports of the bicycle aerobars cracking or breaking. No injuries reported.

      This recall involves Profile Design Aeria Ultimate carbon aerobars sold individually and as an original equipment upgrade on consumer configurable Diamond Brand Bikes and Quintana Roo model bicycles.

      The aerobars were sold in one size and are all matte black in color. “Profile Design” and “Ultimate” are embossed in gloss black on the top of the rear edge of the aerobars.

      The best way to identify recalled handlebars is to measure the uncut hand extensions from the leading edge of wing to tip of hand extension (where brake lever is placed). On recalled bars it is 13.6 cm (5.3 in) measured from leading edge of wing.

      The bicycle aerobars, manufactured in Taiwan, were sold at independent bicycle stores nationwide from May 2017, through October 2018, for about $1,300 for the aerobar sold individually or between $5,200 and $14,000 as original equipment on bicycles.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using bicycles with the recalled aerobars and contact Profile Design for instructions to receive a free replacement aerobar via their local retailer.

      Consumers may contact Profile Design toll-free at (888) 800-5999 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday, by email AeriaUltimateRecall@profile-design.com or online at www.profile-design.com and click on “Recall Notices” at the bottom of the page for more information.

      Profile Design of Carson, Calif., is recalling about 260 Aeria Ultimate carbon aerobars.The bicycle aerobars can crack and break, causing the rider to...
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      Homeland Security rolls back its expansion of facial recognition

      Travelers have the little-known right to opt out of the biometric process and use their passport instead

      Facial recognition has become a rather touchy subject. Earlier this year, a $35 billion class action lawsuit was filed against Facebook over claims that it harvested consumer biometric data without consent. In San Francisco, the subject is so ripe that the city is considering banning all facial recognition technology within city limits

      The U.S. government thinks it’s a touchy subject, too. First, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) explored facial recognition and recommended that certain companies “provide consumers with an easy-to-use choice not to have their biometric data collected and used for facial recognition.” Now, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is following suit by rolling back its intended expansion of facial recognition in a renewed commitment to protecting traveler privacy.

      The changes

      Currently, by law, Customs and Border Patrol* (CBP) is required to biometrically record foreign nationals’ entry to and departure from the United States. That mandate came out of the 9/11 Commission, which decided that a system like that was “an essential investment in our national security.” (*U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the DHS agency that manages, controls, and protects U.S. borders at ports of entry.)

      But on the consumer side of the privacy ledger, going that far may have been overarching. After three face-to-face meetings with privacy experts to determine how far is too far in using “biometric facial comparison” process at U.S. ports of entry, DHS has made four key moves in what it says is the best interest of the traveler. These include:

      • Reducing the maximum period it retains new photos of U.S. citizens from 14 days to 12 hours; 

      • Establishing rigid requirements which guarantee that airlines and other travel-related partners do not retain traveler photos for their own business purposes;

      • Working with all travel-related partners to give travelers adequate privacy notice by improving the signage and announcements at departure gates; and

      • Publishing 10 Privacy Impact Assessments to let the public know how DHS will collect, use, and store any and all personally identifiable information that’s part of the biometric process.

      “CPB is committed to keeping the public informed about our use of facial comparison technology,” commented John Wagner, Deputy Executive Assistant Commissioner of the CBP Office of Field Operations. “We are implementing a biometric entry-exit system that protects the privacy of all travelers while making travel more secure and convenient.”

      Potential to expose consumer data

      While DHS’ intentions seem to be all well and good, security experts say that the potential for exposing personal data still looms large when it’s in the government’s hands.

      “Despite these efforts, the government’s collection of its citizens’ biometric identity data is troubling for many especially since agencies already have mishandled the security of stored data,” writes ThreatPost’s Elizabeth Montalbano.

      “In June, for instance, a data leak at the CBP exposed photos of the faces and license plates for more than 100,000 travelers that passed through checkpoints on the U.S.-Mexican border. The Office of Personnel Management also experienced a significant data breach in 2015 that resulted in the theft of fingerprint data of 5.6 million people.”

      Should consumers be concerned?

      Is facial recognition so hot of a potato that consumers need to run as fast and as far away from it as they can? When we put the privacy concerns question to David Chen, Co-Founder and Director of Engineering at Orbbec, he said no.

      “Now, with the assistance of 3D camera technology, the accuracy of facial recognition has been dramatically improved and is capable of handling financial-grade security to make your devices more secure,” Chen told ConsumerAffairs. 

      “While some people may still hold serious privacy concerns, actually they can rest assured knowing that all the face data will be stored as encrypted mathematical models and any applications that use facial recognition software will only be able to keep that encrypted data locally to ensure maximum privacy protection.”

      If that’s not enough to put you at ease, consumers should know that they have the right to opt out of the biometric facial comparison process, and all it takes is notifying a CBP officer or airline representative. In lieu of that, anyone who opts out does have to present their passport for visual inspection.

      Facial recognition has become a rather touchy subject. Earlier this year, a $35 billion class action lawsuit was filed against Facebook over claims that it...
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      YouTube unveils stricter harassment policy

      The company says it will now prohibit even ‘veiled or implied threats’

      YouTube announced on Wednesday that it’s implementing a more stringent harassment policy in an effort to reduce the prevalence of hate speech and threats on its platform. 

      The Google-owned video streaming giant said it will be removing videos that insult people based on race, gender, or sexual orientation, regardless of whether the victim is a private individual or well-known YouTube creator. 

      YouTube said explicit threats, even those that are “veiled or implied,” will not be allowed on the site. Additionally, channels that exhibit a pattern of harassing behavior are subject to removal. 

      “Channels that repeatedly brush up against our harassment policy will be suspended from the YouTube Partner Program (YPP), eliminating their ability to make money on YouTube,” the company said in a blog post. “We may also remove content from channels if they repeatedly harass someone. If this behavior continues, we’ll take more severe action including issuing strikes or terminating a channel altogether.” 

      Cracking down on hateful comments

      YouTube also said that almost all content creators now have the ability to review potentially harmful comments. 

      “Beyond comments that we remove, we also empower creators to further shape the conversation on their channels and have a variety of tools that help,” YouTube said. “When we're not sure a comment violates our policies, but it seems potentially inappropriate, we give creators the option to review it before it's posted on their channel.” 

      YouTube said channels that enabled the feature when it was first introduced saw a 75 percent reduction in user flags on comments. The feature is expected to be extended to most channels by the end of 2019. 

      The enactment of a tougher harassment policy on YouTube comes a few months after conservative comedian Stephen Crowder repeatedly mocked a progressive journalist based on his homosexuality and Latino background. The company said at the time that Crowder didn’t technically violate YouTube’s policies, but later it responded to the matter by stripping Crowder of his ability to make money off of ads.

      YouTube says its tougher position on harassment is intended to create a healthier environment for users to share their ideas and opinions.   

      "Harassment hurts our community by making people less inclined to share their opinions and engage with each other," wrote Matt Halprin, YouTube's global head of trust and safety.   

      YouTube announced on Wednesday that it’s implementing a more stringent harassment policy in an effort to reduce the prevalence of hate speech and threats o...
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      Netflix to test a new yearly subscription plan

      If rolled out widely, the plan would allow consumers to save 50 percent if they paid for a full year of the service

      On the heels of the launch of Disney+, Netflix appears to be mulling a change to its pricing plan options. A new, cheaper pricing plan is currently being tested in India, Reuters reports. 

      Under the plan, new and existing subscribers who pay for a full year of the service can save 50 percent. Those who sign up for six months or three months of the service get 30 percent and 20 percent discounts, respectively.

      When applied to the most expensive plan in the U.S. (the Premium plan), consumers would end up paying $7.99 per month if they opted for a one-time payment of $95.94. The Premium plan currently costs $15.99 per month.

      "We believe that our members may value the flexibility that comes from being able to pay for a few months at once. As always, this is a test and we will only introduce it more broadly if people find it useful," a spokeswoman for Netflix India told Reuters. 

      Competitive pricing

      Although Netflix has said it’s not worried about competition from Disney+, the introduction of an alternative pricing option on Netflix would allow it to offer similar pricing when compared to its streaming service rival. 

      Disney’s new service costs just $6.99 per month, or $5.83 for those who pay for a full year of Disney+ access. The service garnered more than 10 million subscribers at launch and could hit as many as 20 million subscribers by the end of the year, according to recent estimates from Credit Suisse.  

      On the heels of the launch of Disney+, Netflix appears to be mulling a change to its pricing plan options. A new, cheaper pricing plan is currently being t...
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      Bass Pro recalls MR. STEAK gas grills

      The gas regulator hose with attached fuel gauge can melt

      Bass Pro of Springfield, Mo., is recalling about 3,700 MR. STEAK four and five burner gas patio grills sold in the U.S., and Canada.

      The gas regulator hose with attached fuel gauge can melt if it comes in contact with the bottom of the grill’s firebox, posing a fire hazard.

      The firm has received nine reports of grill fires. No injuries or property damage have been reported.

      The recall involves four- and five-burner models of MR. STEAK propane gas grills, models MS-4B-PG, SKU 2472264 and MS-5B-PG, SKU 2472265, that have both a fuel gauge and a fuel line that is not attached to the inside of the grill.

      The grills are stainless steel with black trim and have four or five black and red dials. The words “MR. STEAK” are printed below the thermometer on the grills’ lid.

      The recall also applies to SKUs 2366916 and 2366917 if the consumer added an aftermarket fuel gauge to the regulator assembly.

      A label on the inside of the left compartment door or on the back of the grill identifies the model number of the grill.

      The SKU is printed on the purchase receipt.

      The grills, manufactured in China, were sold at Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, and ABT Appliance & Electronics stores nationwide and online at basspro.com and cabelas.com from May 2017, through July 2019, for about $500 for the four burner grill and $600 for the five burner grill.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled grills and contact MR. STEAK for a free repair kit.

      Consumers may contact MR. STEAK toll-free at (833) 677-8325 or 833-MRSTEAK from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, or online at mrsteak.com and click on “RECALL” at the top of the page, or visit mrsteak.com/repairpartskit for more information.

      Bass Pro of Springfield, Mo., is recalling about 3,700 MR. STEAK four and five burner gas patio grills sold in the U.S., and Canada.The gas regulator h...
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      Toyota recalls C-HRs, Corollas and Corolla Hybrids

      Certain seat belts may not properly restrain an occupant in some crashes

      Toyota is recalling about 9,000 model year 2019- 2020 C-HRs, Corollas, and model year 2020 Corolla Hybrids.

      The recalled vehicles are equipped with rear seat belt assemblies that have two types of locking mechanisms. One of the locking mechanisms in certain seat belts may not have been assembled correctly, causing an occupant to not be restrained properly in certain crashes -- increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the rear seat belt assemblies and replace any affected seat belt assembly with a new one free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin in early February 2020.

      Owners may contact Toyota at (800) 331-4331.

      Toyota is recalling about 9,000 model year 2019- 2020 C-HRs, Corollas, and model year 2020 Corolla Hybrids.The recalled vehicles are equipped with rear...
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      Millions of consumers are still paying off last year’s holiday debt

      A personal finance expert offers advice for dealing with this year’s debt

      Consumers appear to be spending heavily this holiday season, which is good for the economy. But if they’re putting too much of that spending on credit cards, that can be a problem.

      YouGov, an international polling and market research company, reports that 9 percent of consumers are still paying off last Christmas’ debt. Among millennials, the percentage is 14 percent.

      Bruce McClary, a vice president at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), says it’s much easier to get into debt than to get out of it, especially at this time of year.

      “It’s tough to climb out from under it, especially if you got into debt without a plan,” McClary told ConsumerAffairs.

      Planning is actually a key step in maintaining a stable financial life. Before spending money, consumers should keep track of how much they’ve already put on a credit card and have a plan for paying it back.

      Many consumers, however, may just be waking up to the fact that they’ve already exceeded their holiday spending limit. Earlier this month, a LendingTree survey found that 61 percent of consumers dread the holidays because of the financial pressures they bring.

      Don’t put it off

      McClary urges consumers to act quickly if they feel the debt burden piling up so they can begin paying it off. Again, one of the most important first steps is planning.

      “It requires sitting down and looking at both your spending and income and figuring out where you can free up extra money to go toward credit card balances because making the minimum payments clearly doesn’t cut it,” McClary said. “We’ve seen that from the number of people still carrying debt from last holiday season.”

      Credit counselors often suggest two options for speeding up debt payments. The “snowball” method prioritizes paying off the lowest credit card balance first. Once that card is paid off, the money that would otherwise go to that payment can then be applied to the next-lowest balance until it is paid off, and so on.

      The “avalanche” method is similar, but instead of prioritizing the account with the lowest balance, you focus on paying off the card with the highest interest rate. McClary said using a balance transfer credit card -- transferring a high-interest balance to a card providing 12 or more months of 0 percent interest -- can be a useful tool for power-paying a balance.

      “But keep in mind these reduced rates or 0 percent offers are time-limited, so you’ll need to plan to pay off the balances before the introductory period expires,” McClary said.

      Boosting your credit score

      ConsumerAffairs has collected information about some of the best balance transfer cards here.

      But you’ll notice that most are for consumers with good to excellent credit scores. If your credit score needs some work in order to qualify, McClary says the new year is a good time to take steps to improve how you look to lenders. 

      “First, pull a copy of your credit report at all three agencies,” he said. “Go to annualcreditreport.com and download the free copies you are entitled to once a year. Then you can see for yourself exactly how your creditors are reporting your payment activity.”

      McClary says you should also look closely at the credit reports for accuracy. Incorrect negative information will pull down your credit score. If you find it, you can contest it with the credit bureau.

      Finally, it’s important that you pay all of your bills on time every month. Timely debt payment makes up about a third of your credit score.

      NFCC represents non-profit credit counselors across the U.S. They charge a small fee but deliver unbiased advice and can help consumers develop and plan for getting out of debt and staying that way.

      Consumers appear to be spending heavily this holiday season, which is good for the economy. But if they’re putting too much of that spending on credit card...
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      FAA says Boeing 737 MAX was more prone to crashes than indicated

      The agency’s analysis raises questions about why the plane was allowed to keep flying after the first fatal crash

      An internal review carried out by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the wake of the fatal Lion Air crash last October found that Boeing 737 MAX jets were far more likely to be involved in future crashes than Boeing regulators stated publicly, according to The Wall Street Journal. 

      The FAA concluded last fall that additional crashes of the jets could have averaged one every two or three years, or 15 similar incidents globally in the next 30 to 45 years, if the plane didn’t undergo certain design changes. 

      The prediction was included in a document released Wednesday at a House Transportation Committee hearing, which is investigating the FAA’s oversight of Boeing and the Max. 

      Safety issues 

      Despite knowing about the presence of an unsafe condition in a critical automated flight-control system, regulators declined to ground the aircraft after the first deadly crash. 

      It wasn’t until a crash of an Ethiopian Airlines jet occurred in March that regulators decided to ground the aircraft worldwide. All told, the crashes claimed 346 lives.

      “The FAA rolled the dice on the safety of the traveling public and let the Max continue to fly until Boeing could overhaul its MCAS software,” said Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the chairman of the committee. The agency “failed to do its job,” he added. “It failed to provide the regulatory oversight necessary to ensure the safety of the flying public.”

      The planes remain grounded today, with no timeline for a return to service. Regulators must still complete several additional steps before the plane is deemed safe to be reintroduced to flight schedules. The grounding is expected to continue into next year.

      An internal review carried out by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the wake of the fatal Lion Air crash last October found that Boeing 737 MAX...
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      Blue Grass Quality Meats recalls pork and turkey products

      The products contain soy, an allergen not declared on the labels

      Blue Grass Quality Meats of Erlanger, Ky., is recalling approximately 121,083 pounds of pork bacon and ready-to-eat turkey breast.

      The products contain soy, an allergen not declared on the labels.

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

      The following Cajun-style items, produced from October 29, 2018, to November 19, 2019, are being recalled:

      • Various weights of shrink-wrap packages containing “BLUE GRASS CAJUN STYLE TURKEY BREAST” with sell by dates from 7/1/19 to 1/9/20.
      • Various weights of shrink-wrap packages containing “OLDE WORLD Cajun Style TURKEY BREAST” with sell by dates from 7/1/19 to 1/1/20.
      • Various weights of shrink-wrap packages containing “Robinson’s PREMIUM Cajun Style Turkey Breast” with sell by dates from 7/12/19 to 1/16/20.
      • Various weights of shrink-wrap packages containing “Troyer CAJUN STYLE TURKEY BREAST” with sell by dates from 7/18/19 to 1/21/20.
      • Various weights of vacuum sealed packages containing “Troyer CAJUN STYLE BACON” with sell by dates from 1/28/19 to 2/19/20.

      The recalled products bearing establishment number “P-7417” or “EST. 7417” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to retail locations in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia, where the turkey products may have been offered as retail-sliced deli product.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact David Kegley at (859) 331-7100.

      Blue Grass Quality Meats of Erlanger, Ky., is recalling approximately 121,083 pounds of pork bacon and ready-to-eat turkey breast.The products contain...
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      Security firm finds cache of birth certificate applications exposed online

      The data reportedly had no password protection and an ‘easy-to-guess’ web address

      An online company that enables U.S. residents to obtain a copy of their birth certificate has exposed nearly 800,000 applications, according to Fidus Information Security

      “More than 752,000 applications for copies of birth certificates were found on an Amazon Web Services (AWS) storage bucket,” according to TechCrunch, which verified the discovery of the UK-based security firm. “The bucket wasn’t protected with a password, allowing anyone who knew the easy-to-guess web address access to the data.” 

      TechCrunch didn’t disclose the name of the company in question in order to protect the privacy of those who used the service. 

      The applications involved in the exposure dated back to 2017 and contained information like the applicant's name, their date of birth, current home address, email address, and phone number. They also included other personal information, such as previous addresses and names of family members.

      TechCrunch said that as many as 9,000 new applications have been added on a daily basis since it started looking into the exposure. 

      Company hasn’t responded

      Attempts to notify the company of the privacy issue have allegedly been met with “only automated emails” and no action so far. Amazon said it would also notify the company of the privacy issue, but officials added that they can’t take direct action to resolve the matter.

      The safety of consumers’ online data has been called into question numerous times over the past several years. Earlier this year, investigators found that the medical data of around 5 million U.S. consumers could be easily accessed online. 

      Last month, a privacy suit was filed against Amazon’s cloud division alleging the company “obtains and stores biometric data on behalf of its customers.” 

      A report published in June by Comparitech estimated that there have been roughly 9,700 reported breaches involving over 10.7 billion records since 2008. 

      An online company that enables U.S. residents to obtain a copy of their birth certificate has exposed nearly 800,000 applications, according to Fidus Infor...
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      FTC warns consumers to beware of smart toys

      The agency says these products can pose a number of risks to children’s privacy

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Monday released a list of questions to ask before buying an internet-connected toy in order to protect the privacy of the child who will be receiving it.

      Toys with microphones, Wi-Fi connectivity, GPS tracking, and other technology can reveal significant amounts of personal information. Before buying one of these devices for a child, the FTC recommends assessing which features could pose privacy risks. 

      The agency recommends asking the following questions before buying a smart toy: 

      • Does the toy come with a camera or microphone? What will it be recording, and will you know when the camera or microphone is on?

      • Does the toy let your child send emails or connect to social media accounts?

      • Can parents control the toy and be involved in its setup and management? What controls and options does it have? What are the default settings?

      Look into information collection practices 

      To protect against the possibility of identity theft or worse, consumers should be fully aware of what information the smart toy collects and how it will be used. 

      Additionally, the FTC recommends asking where the data that the toy collects is stored and shared, and who has access to that information. The toy company should also give parents a way to see and delete the data, the agency said. 

      In order to comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), toy companies must give parents the tools to control the information that is shared about their child and withdraw consent at any time. 

      “If the toy collects personal information from your child who is under 13 years old, the toy company has to tell you about its privacy practices, ask for your consent, protect and secure collected data, and give you the right to have your child’s personal information deleted,” the FTC said. 

      The agency has additional tips for protecting kids’ privacy online on its website

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Monday released a list of questions to ask before buying an internet-connected toy in order to protect the privacy of...
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      Teacher preparation classes see sharp drop in enrollment since 2010

      Low salaries have been a major factor in a declining interest in teaching careers

      The number of adults choosing to pursue teaching as a career has declined sharply over the last eight years, according to a new analysis by the Center for American Progress (CAP). 

      Enrollment in teacher preparation programs has fallen by more than half in the following nine states: New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, California, Oklahoma, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and New Jersey. In Oklahoma, teacher preparation programs at colleges and universities have seen an 80 percent drop in enrollment since 2010. 

      CAP researchers attributed the decline in part to low teacher salaries, which force many educators to take on second jobs or rely on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.  

      “The state of the teaching profession is an urgent topic for policymakers and the public, especially against the backdrop of increased teacher strikes and walkouts across the country in the past two years,” the researchers said in the report. “Due to low salaries, difficult working conditions, and a lack of career pathway opportunities, the teaching profession as a whole cannot compare with other high-status professions such as medicine and law.” 

      Stress and burnout

      All told, there are approximately 340,000 fewer students enrolled in teacher preparation programs today than there were in 2010. 

      Some would-be teachers have cited concerns about burnout as a deterrent to pursuing the career. Julia Alvarez, a senior at Michigan State University, said she’s more worried about potential burnout than low pay. 

      "The stuff that really worries me is the burnout aspect because I know that I care so much and I want to help,” Alvarez, who will be graduating from MSU this spring, told U.S. News and World Report. “I'm so afraid of being five or 10 years in and being like, I can't do this anymore. That's the worst thing: wanting to help but not feeling like you can."

      A number of other studies published this year have attempted to shed light on the impact of declining teacher rates, as well as look into what has fueled the trend. 

      In April, a study found that 93 percent of teachers are affected by high levels of job-related stress, which takes a toll on their ability to effectively teach. A separate report found that a significant number of teachers are choosing to leave their teaching career after ten years on the job to pursue a different career path. Teachers often cited the need for a better work/life balance and less pressure on performance as reasons for resigning. 

      “It’s not as if they weren’t aware that teaching was going to be demanding,” the authors wrote. “However, they feel that the demands of the job outstrip their capacity to adapt. This raises the questions: what can be done to arrest this trend?”

      The number of adults choosing to pursue teaching as a career has declined sharply over the last eight years, according to a new analysis by the Center for...
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      Number of homes for sale declines sharply in November

      A report shows homes priced under $200,000 are harder to find

      Predictions that falling inventory levels would heat up the housing market in 2020 might already be coming to pass, according to a new industry report.

      Online real estate marketplace realtor.com reports that the number of homes for sale in November fell nearly 10 percent year-over-year, several months ahead of previous forecasts. One big reason, the company says, is the recent drop in mortgage rates.

      "As millennials -- the largest cohort of buyers in U.S. history -- embrace homeownership and take advantage of this year's unexpectedly low mortgage rates, demand is outstripping supply, causing inventory to vanish," said George Ratiu, realtor.com’s senior economist. 

      Making matters more difficult for these first-time buyers is the fact that they’re seeing the largest shortage of available homes at the entry-level of the market, where most millennials are looking to become homeowners for the first time.

      "The issue is further compounded by the fact that sellers tend to be more reluctant to list during the colder time of year when the market typically makes a seasonal slowdown," Ratiu said.

      Fewer bidding wars

      As we reported last month, real estate brokerage firm Redfin’s 2020 housing forecast predicts the market will heat up by mid-year. But so far, Redfin hasn’t seen nearly as many “bidding wars” over houses as last year.

      Outside of San Francisco, Redfin said it found little evidence of competition, with no other market seeing a bidding war rate higher than 17 percent. The bidding war rate hit its lowest point in at least five years in November in Chicago, Houston, Portland, Ore., and Los Angeles. 

      "Even though the number of homes for sale has been falling faster than we normally see this time of year, buyers just aren't feeling any sense of urgency right now," said Redfin chief economist Daryl Fairweather. "The supply and demand data still says that it's a seller's market, but homebuyers working with Redfin agents in places like Portland and Denver are feeling and acting like they're in control.”

      Shortages picking up speed

      But based on realtor.com's listing data, the shortage of available homes for sale has already picked up speed, which suggests that the housing market could get more competitive early in 2020. For example, national housing inventory fell  9.5 percent in November, compared to October's drop of 6.9 percent.

      The falling inventory numbers may increasingly pose a problem for first-time buyers if the biggest decline remains in the category of the most affordable homes. The supply of homes priced below $200,000 dropped 16.5 percent year-over-year in November, up from the 15.2 percent decrease seen in October. 

      Predictions that falling inventory levels would heat up the housing market in 2020 might already be coming to pass, according to a new industry report....
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      Surly Bikes recalls bicycle racks

      The front bicycle rack can loosen and contact the front wheel

      Surly Bikes of Bloomington, Minn., is recalling about 5,199 Surly front bicycle racks.

      The front bicycle rack can loosen and contact the front wheel, posing crash and injury hazards to the rider.

      The firm has received 15 reports of racks failing, including three reports of minor injuries including sprains and lacerations, and seven reports of serious injuries including a fractured vertebra.

      This recall involves all Surly 8-Pack Racks and Surly 24-Pack front bicycle racks and Pack Rat Bicycles equipped with these racks.

      The racks were sold in black and silver finishes, are made of tubular chromoly steel and are intended for use on the front of a bicycle.

      The racks, manufactured in Taiwan, were sold at bicycle stores nationwide and online at various websites from December 2015, through September 2019, for $110 and $150 for the 8-Pack Rack and 24-Pack Rack, respectively, and $1,350 for the Pack Rat complete bicycle with rack.

      What to do

      Consumers should stop using the recalled bicycle racks immediately and contact the bike shop or online retailer where it was originally purchased to arrange for a free repair.

      Consumers may contact Surly Bikes toll-free at (877) 773-3191 between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, or online at www.surlybikes.com and click on “Safety Recall 8 – 24-Pack Rack” at the top of the page for more information.

      Surly Bikes of Bloomington, Minn., is recalling about 5,199 Surly front bicycle racks.The front bicycle rack can loosen and contact the front wheel, po...
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      Model year 2012-2013 Fiat 500s recalled

      The shifter cable may detach from the transmission.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 51,788 model year 2012-2013 Fiat 500s with 6-speed automatic transmissions.

      The shifter cable bushing may fail allowing the cable to detach from the transmission.

      If the shifter cable detaches from the transmission, the transmission may not shift into the gear selected by the driver. Additionally, despite selecting PARK with the shifter, the vehicle may roll away.

      These scenarios may increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the shifter cable adjuster free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 4, 2020.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at (800) 853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is VB4.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 51,788 model year 2012-2013 Fiat 500s with 6-speed automatic transmissions.The shifter cable bushing may fail allowi...
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      Judge to hear arguments against Sprint-T-Mobile merger

      A trial for a case brought by state attorneys general begins in New York

      Lawyers for Sprint and T-Mobile will be in court today, arguing that their proposed merger should be allowed to move forward. The U.S. government has already approved the deal.

      But a group of state attorneys general -- all Democrats -- have gone to court to block the merger, which would reduce the number of major wireless providers from four to three. The state officials argue that would harm consumers.

      The complaint involves more than reducing the number of wireless companies. The suit contends that as the smaller players, both Sprint and T-Mobile offer packages with rates that are more affordable for low-income consumers. With these companies merging, regulators argue that those low rates will likely go up.

      As a condition for approving the merger, the Justice Department required Sprint and T-Mobile to provide assistance to Dish Network so the pay-TV provider can launch a competing wireless service.

      Sprint agreed to sell Boost, its prepaid wireless business, to Dish in order to help it get up to speed. Dish would also get a network of towers and billions of dollars in spectrum as part of the deal.

      ‘Not adequate’

      In their complaint, the state officials reject that remedy, arguing that Dish’s wireless network would not be an adequate substitute for what both Sprint and T-Mobile now offer.

      At issue is whether there is now a competitive landscape in the wireless industry. Sprint and T-Mobile say there is, noting that other non-traditional providers like Charter and Comcast have recently launched mobile services.

      “Millions of Americans rely on mobile devices at work, at home, and to organize their lives. Competition between the mobile companies has resulted in better coverage and cheaper, more reliable service for all of us,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, when the suit was filed in June. 

      Year-long investigation

      Healey said her office participated in a year-long investigation which concluded that the proposed merger would give the new company the power to raise prices, significantly reduce competition for customers, lower quality, and cost thousands of retail workers their jobs. 

      “We are challenging this merger to protect a service that matters to everyone,” she said.

      Healey and her colleagues argue that the competition between T-Mobile and Sprint has lowered prices for all mobile phone subscribers. Since 2009, they say the average cost of mobile service in the United States has fallen by roughly 28 percent.

      Sprint and T-Mobile, meanwhile, have said they need to join forces because, as individual companies, they lack the financial resources to build out 5G networks to compete with Verizon and AT&T.

      If you’re looking for a wireless provider, ConsumerAffairs has gathered thousands of reviews of cell phone companies. You’ll find them here

      Lawyers for Sprint and T-Mobile will be in court today, arguing that their proposed merger should be allowed to move forward. The U.S. government has alrea...
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      Trek recalls Super Commuter+ electric bicycles

      The front wheel may detach from the bicycle, posing a fall hazard

      Trek Bicycle Corporation of Waterloo, Wis., is recalling about 2,840 Trek Super Commuter+ 8S electric bicycles.

      The front fender bolt can unthread causing the wheel to detach from the bicycle, posing a fall hazard.

      The firm has received two reports of the wrong bolt being installed to secure the front fender to the fork crown. One injury -- a vertebrae fracture -- has been reported.

      The bikes, manufactured in China, were sold at independent bicycle stores nationwide and online at www.trekbikes.com and other websites from June 2017, through June 2019, for about $5,200.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled bicycle and take it to a Trek retailer for a free inspection and repair.

      Consumers may contact Trek at (800) 373-4594 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, or online at www.trekbikes.com and click on Safety & Recalls at the bottom of the page for more information.

      Trek Bicycle Corporation of Waterloo, Wis., is recalling about 2,840 Trek Super Commuter+ 8S electric bicycles.The front fender bolt can unthread causi...
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      GM recalls model year 2014-2016 Chevrolet SS vehicles

      The vehicle may suffer a loss of electric power steering assist

      General Motors is recalling 476 model year 2014-2016 Chevrolet SS vehicles that previously received an inspect-only remedy under a previous recall.

      Corrosion of the connector between the electric power steering module and the torque sensor connector may cause a loss of electric power steering assist.

      A greater steering effort would be needed to control the vehicle if power steering is lost, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the steering gear assembly free of charge.

      The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at (800) 222-1020 or GM customer service at (586) 596-1733. GM's number for this recall is N192265980.

      General Motors is recalling 476 model year 2014-2016 Chevrolet SS vehicles that previously received an inspect-only remedy under a previous recall.Corr...
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      Chrysler recalls model year 2015-2018 Ram ProMasters

      The cooling fan motor may overheat

      Chrysler is recalling 99,128 model year 2015-2018 Ram ProMasters with 3.0L diesel or 3.6L gasoline engines and air conditioning.

      The engine cooling fan may seize which can cause the cooling fan motor to overheat, increasing the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      The remedy for this recall is still under development.

      Interim notices informing owners of the safety risk are scheduled to begin mailing on or before January 4, 2020. Owners will receive a second notice when the remedy becomes available.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at (800) 853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is VB2.

      Chrysler is recalling 99,128 model year 2015-2018 Ram ProMasters with 3.0L diesel or 3.6L gasoline engines and air conditioning.The engine cooling fan...
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      Apple says an iPhone feature needs your location, regardless of whether you share it or not

      No need for consumers to get up in arms says one tech security chief -- it’s simply an unforced error

      There’s a new wrinkle in the personal privacy world. Security researcher Brian Krebs stumbled upon the fact that Apple’s iPhone 11 seeks out exactly where the user is located even when the user has turned off that feature from any and all apps and system services within the phone.

      Krebs took a hard look at Apple’s privacy policy and didn’t like what he saw, either as a tech watcher or a consumer. Krebs points out that the privacy policy on the iPhone’s Location Services screen clearly says, “If Location Services is on, your iPhone will periodically send the geo-tagged locations of nearby Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers (where supported by a device) in an anonymous and encrypted form to Apple, to be used for augmenting this crowd-sourced database of Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower locations.”

      But it was the next part of the privacy policy that really got Krebs up in arms: “You can also disable location-based system services by tapping on System Services and turning off each location-based system service,” the policy states.

      Not true, Krebs says. “Apparently there are some system services on this model (and possibly other iPhone 11 models) which request location data and cannot be disabled by users without completely turning off location services, as the arrow icon still appears periodically even after individually disabling all system services that use location.”

      Apple responds

      Apple’s comeback? It’s by design, the company says. 

      “Ultra wideband technology is an industry standard technology and is subject to international regulatory requirements that require it to be turned off in certain locations,” said one Apple spokesperson in a statement to TechCrunch. “iOS uses Location Services to help determine if an iPhone is in these prohibited locations in order to disable ultra wideband and comply with regulations.”

      “The management of ultra wideband compliance and its use of location data is done entirely on the device and Apple is not collecting user location data.”

      In ConsumerAffairs’ research, Apple’s use of ultra-wideband doesn’t seem to be anything different than how other platforms and systems use the technology. In fact, the use of ultra-wideband is nothing new. It’s predominantly used for short-range indoor applications like wireless printing of photos from a phone or transferring files between mobile phones. 

      It’s also all around us. It’s been used to monitor vital signs of the human body; the military has employed it to detect and identify buried IEDs and hidden adversaries at a safe distance; and the New York City subway system is testing it for use with signaling. However, that hasn’t stopped those in the industry from giving their two cents’ worth.

      “I think this is a silly unforced error on Apple’s part,” tweeted Will Strafach, CEO of Guardian and the developer of Guardian Firewall, which claims to “blocks digital trackers from secretly collecting your information.”

      Tempest in a teapot?

      Is this a privacy issue? It could be if you want to take exception with Apple’s privacy policy and how this particular situation plays out vis-a-vis those guidelines. But Strafach may be correct when he called it a “silly unforced error.” TechCrunch also pointed to Apple’s sloth speed in responding to Krebs’ discovery, which probably made matters worse than they needed to be.

      Whether this was an unforced error or Apple got caught doing something it shouldn’t, we probably will never know. Nonetheless, Apple said it will provide a new dedicated toggle option for the feature in an upcoming iOS update.

      There’s a new wrinkle in the personal privacy world. Security researcher Brian Krebs stumbled upon the fact that Apple’s iPhone 11 seeks out exactly where...
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      E-cigarette popularity leads to highest youth tobacco use since 2000

      A report finds that more than 6 million middle and high school students used tobacco products this year

      Around 6.2 million middle and high school students used tobacco in the past 30 days, according to data released Thursday in the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey from the CDC. The latest figures are up 3.6 million from last year and represent the highest level since 2000. 

      CDC officials attributed the spike in tobacco use among teenagers to e-cigarettes. For the sixth consecutive year, e-cigarettes were the most commonly used tobacco product among teenagers, the survey found. 

      More than half of students (55 percent) who took the survey reported using e-cigarettes only. Other tobacco products used by adolescents included cigars, cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, hookahs, and pipe tobacco. Around 31 percent of high schoolers and 12 percent of middle school students said they had used some type of tobacco product within the past 30 days. 

      “Given the evolving variety and availability of tobacco products, surveillance for all forms of youth tobacco product use and associated factors is important to inform action at the national, state, and community levels,” the CDC said in a statement.

      Increases in youth tobacco use

      The CDC said curiosity and misperceptions of health risks have played a role in the growing popularity of e-cigarettes among adolescents. To counter their rise in use among teens, CDC Director Robert R. Redfield said it’s “incumbent” to increase education surrounding the health risks of the products.  

      “Our Nation’s youth are becoming increasingly exposed to nicotine, a drug that is highly addictive and can harm brain development,” he said in a statement. “Youth use of any tobacco product, including e-cigarettes, is unsafe. It is incumbent upon public health and healthcare professionals to educate Americans about the risks resulting from this epidemic among our youth.”

      E-cigarettes come in flavors that have been found to appeal to youth users. Nearly a quarter (22 percent) of middle and high school students who participated in the 2019 poll said they used e-cigarettes because “they are available in flavors, such as mint, candy, fruit, or chocolate.” 

      The products have also been marketed in a way that health officials have deemed problematic, as it appeared to speak directly to youth users. Nearly 9 in 10 students reported having been exposed to tobacco product advertisements from at least one source.

      Juul recently agreed to stop marketing its products altogether in an effort to minimize its appeal to teen users. Lawmakers are also considering banning flavored products and raising the minimum age to buy the products.  

      In September, President Trump said the FDA would soon release some "very strong recommendations" regarding the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. An official policy has yet to be announced. 

      Around 6.2 million middle and high school students used tobacco in the past 30 days, according to data released Thursday in the 2019 National Youth Tobacco...
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      The job market is showing surprising strength heading into the end of the year

      The economy added 266,000 jobs in November

      Hiring has exceeded expectations for another month, further diminishing concerns that a recession could be right around the corner.

      The Labor Department reports the economy added 266,000 jobs in November, well ahead of the consensus estimate of 187,000. The unemployment rate fell back to 3.5 percent, the lowest level in a half-century.

      Employment numbers for September and October were both revised higher. That added 41,000 jobs to the two-month total.

      As in most recent months, the biggest job gains occurred in health care and in professional and technical services. Even manufacturing employment showed a nice gain, thanks to the end of the United Auto Workers (UAW) strike.

      Wages still rising

      Workers’ wages continued to tick higher last month. Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by seven cents to $28.29. Wages have increased at a rate of 3.1 percent over the last 12 months.

      With one more month to go in 2019, U.S. job growth has averaged 180,000 per month. Hiring has accelerated in the second half of the year at a time when some economists were warning of an economic slowdown caused by the trade war with China.

      In November, people seeking jobs in health care had the most success. Health care added 45,000 jobs last month. Over the last 12 months, health care hiring has added 414,000 jobs. Hiring in professional and technical services increased by 31,000 in November. That’s up from the monthly average of 23,000 jobs created over the last 12 months.

      Manufacturing plays catch-up

      Manufacturing jobs surged by 54,000 jobs last month, but most of that was catch-up. Manufacturing employment plunged by 43,000 in October as many people were idled by strikes. With those strikes over, those workers returned to their jobs last month.

      Leisure and hospitality, transportation and warehousing, and financial services all continued their upward trend in employment last month.

      Hiring among retailers was essentially flat in November, suggesting some retailers bucked the historical pattern of bringing on temporary help for the holidays.

      Hiring has exceeded expectations for another month, further diminishing concerns that a recession could be right around the corner.The Labor Department...
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      Rising fuel supplies and falling demand are keeping gas prices steady

      The national average price is about the same as last week

      Gasoline prices have remained fairly stable in the wake of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, with prices at the pump rising in states where gas has been cheapest and going down in the most expensive states.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gasoline is $2.59 a gallon, at about the same level as last week. The average price is now 15 cents a gallon higher than at this time last year.

      The average price of premium gas is $3.18 a gallon, also the same as last Friday. The average price of diesel fuel is a penny lower than last week -- $3 a gallon.

      In a meeting in Vienna that could be important to the future of gas prices, OPEC ministers agreed Thursday to significant cuts in oil production next year in an effort to boost prices. The oil markets greeted the news with some skepticism, with oil prices barely moving.

      One interesting trend over the last week was the rise in prices in states like Louisiana and Tennessee, where prices are typically among the lowest in the nation. At the same time, prices fell in most of the western states, typically the most expensive in the nation.

      California still has the most expensive gas of any state, but the statewide average is down seven cents a gallon in the last week and is 32 cents cheaper than a month ago. The result has been a stable national average.

      AAA says that stability has been aided by growing stockpiles of gasoline, which have risen for four consecutive weeks. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports gasoline demand fell to just over 9 million barrels a day, only slightly higher than at this time last year.

      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:

      • California ($3.75)

      • Hawaii ($3.66)

      • Washington ($3.29) 

      • Nevada ($3.25)

      • Oregon ($3.16) 

      • Alaska ($3.12)

      • Idaho ($2.93) 

      • Arizona ($2.90)

      • Utah ($2.90)

      • Pennsylvania ($2.81)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

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

      • Texas ($2.22)

      • Mississippi ($2.23)

      • Missouri ($2.24)

      • Oklahoma ($2.25)

      • Louisiana ($2.26)

      • Alabama ($2.28)

      • South Carolina ($2.29)

      • Arkansas ($2.29)

      • Kansas ($2.30)

      • Virginia ($2.31)

      Gasoline prices have remained fairly stable in the wake of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, with prices at the pump rising in states where gas has been ch...
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      DaVinci recalls bassinets

      The bassinet’s support legs can break

      DaVinci of Pico Rivera, Calif.., is recalling about 3,300 DaVinci Bailey bassinets sold in the U.S., and Canada.

      The bassinet’s support legs can break, posing a fall hazard.

      The firm has received 19 reports of the bassinet legs breaking. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves wooden DaVinci Bailey Bassinets for infants sold in the following four colors, with corresponding product numbers – gray (M0934G), espresso (M0934Q), natural (M0934N) and white (M0934W).

      The model number “0934” is printed on a white label attached to the mattress support board and on the external product package.

      The assembled bassinets measure 38 inches long by 20 inches wide by 30 inches high, and each weighs about 21 pounds.

      They were sold with a 1-inch waterproof cradle pad.

      “DaVinci” is printed on the product packaging, instruction manual and product registration card.

      The bassinets, manufactured in Taiwan, were sold online at Amazon.com, Buybuybaby.com, Target.com, JCPenny.com and other online retailers from August 2018, through September 2019, for about $110.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled bassinets and contact DaVinci for a free repair kit that includes new support legs.

      In the meantime, parents should remove the support legs and use the bassinet on a safe space on the floor or to find an alternate, safe sleeping environment for the child, such as a crib that meets current safety standards.

      DaVinci is contacting all known purchasers directly.

      Consumers may contact DaVinci toll-free at (833) 932-0208 Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (PT) by email at bailey@milliondollarbaby.zendesk.com or online at www.davincibaby.com/baileyrepair or www.davincibaby.com and click on “Recalls” at the bottom of the page for more information.

      DaVinci of Pico Rivera, Calif.., is recalling about 3,300 DaVinci Bailey bassinets sold in the U.S., and Canada.The bassinet’s support legs can break,...
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      Whole Foods Market recalls Raspberry Cheesecake Italian Gelato

      The product contains egg, an allergen not declared on the label

      Whole Foods Market is recalling one lot code of its Whole Foods Market Raspberry Cheesecake Italian Gelato.

      The product contains egg, an allergen not declared on the label.

      No allergic reactions are reported to date.

      The recalled product, packaged in one--pint plastic containers with the UPC 9948248024 and a best by date of 6/11/2021, was sold at Whole Foods Market stores nationwide.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled may bring a valid receipt into stores for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may call (844) 936-8255 from 7:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. (CST) Monday through Friday, or 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. (CST) Saturday and Sunday.

      Whole Foods Market is recalling one lot code of its Whole Foods Market Raspberry Cheesecake Italian Gelato.The product contains egg, an allergen not de...
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      FCC announces $9 billion 5G federal subsidy plan

      The plan is part of the agency’s effort to shrink the digital divide

      On Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that it plans to scrap its previous plan for a $4.5 billion program to provide federal support for 4G LTE support in underserved areas. Instead, the agency says it will launch a $9 billion fund to bring 5G to rural areas of the U.S. 

      FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the new fund will help carriers pay for 5G deployments in areas with “unique wireless connectivity needs,” such as farms, ranches, and other areas that tend to face difficulties in obtaining access to wireless services or the internet.

      “5G has the potential to bring many benefits to American consumers and businesses, including wireless networks that are more responsive, more secure, and up to 100 times faster than today’s 4G LTE networks,” Pai said in a statement. “We want to make sure that rural Americans enjoy these benefits, just as residents of large urban areas will.” 

      “We must ensure that 5G narrows rather than widens the digital divide and that rural Americans receive the benefits that come from wireless innovation,” Pai said. 

      The proposal also involves allocating at least $1 billion to help bolster efforts to deploy precision agriculture tools that require 5G connectivity. 

      The FCC said it plans to formally propose the new 5G fund early next year. The funding will come from its Universal Service Fund, which uses money from surcharges on telephone service and provides subsidies to schools and libraries.

      On Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that it plans to scrap its previous plan for a $4.5 billion program to provide federal...
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      United passengers will soon fly Airbus jets instead of Boeing aircraft

      The airline has turned to the European company to replace aging Boeing 757s

      United Airlines passengers will soon be flying on Airbus jets instead of older Boeing 757 jetliners. The airline this week put in an order for 50 Airbus A321XLR aircraft.

      Whether the airline would have considered the Boeing 737 MAX had it not been grounded was left unsaid, but it can’t be denied that Boeing’s problems have been good for its competitor’s business.

      JetBlue and American have recently turned to Airbus when it was time to order new intermediate to long-range jets. The single-aisle jet is similar to the MAX and has an extended range, making it a versatile aircraft.

      United plans to fly the new Airbus jets from its East Coast Hubs to Europe. They will replace its fleet of aging Boeing 757-200 jets that were produced between 1981 and 2004. At the time, it was the largest single-aisle passenger aircraft produced by any manufacturer.

      Entering service in 2024

      The new aircraft from Airbus are expected to enter service by 2024 for United’s transAtlantic routes from Newark and Washington.

      "The new Airbus A321XLR aircraft is an ideal one-for-one replacement for the older, less-efficient aircraft currently operating between some of the most vital cities in our intercontinental network," said Andrew Nocella, United's executive vice president and chief commercial officer. "In addition to strengthening our ability to fly more efficiently, the A321XLR's range capabilities open potential new destinations to further develop our route network and provide customers with more options to travel the globe."

      The newly-designed A321XLR offers modern amenities that include LED lighting, larger overhead bin space, and Wi-Fi connectivity. An added bonus, says United, is that the new aircraft will be much more fuel-efficient.

      Related to 737 MAX problems?

      While Boeing’s loss to Airbus can’t be directly traced to its problems with the 737 MAX aircraft, it certainly can’t be ruled out. As the company struggles to get the aircraft recertified after two crashes in five months, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has suggested that it won’t be rushed into giving Boeing a green light.

      Boeing’s chief engineer, John Hamilton, who led Boeing’s efforts to investigate the two fatal 737 MAX crashes, announced his retirement Wednesday. Hamilton, along with Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, testified before Congress at two hearings last month, defending the company’s actions in seeking certification of the jetliner.

      United Airlines passengers will soon be flying on Airbus jets instead of older Boeing 757 jetliners. The airline this week put in an order for 50 Airbus A3...
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      Model year 2019 Ford Rangers recalled

      The tail lamps may malfunction

      Ford Motor Company is recalling about 78,000 model year 2019 Ford Rangers.

      The inline electrical connector terminals for the tail lamps may be misaligned or not properly seated, resulting in intermittent or inoperative tail lamps.

      Intermittent or inoperative tail lamps can result in loss of stop, turn, rear position and reverse lamps, which can reduce the vehicle’s visibility and may not fully alert other drivers that the vehicle is braking, turning, or reversing, increasing the risk of a crash.

      The high-mounted center stop lamp is not affected.

      Ford is not aware of any reports of accidents or injuries.

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the underbody inline connector and -- if a terminal is loose -- re-pin it into a replacement connector.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at (866) 436-733. Ford's reference number for this recall is 19S43.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling about 78,000 model year 2019 Ford Rangers.The inline electrical connector terminals for the tail lamps may be misaligne...
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      Morris Meat Packing recalls various pork products

      The products did not undergo federal inspection

      Morris Meat Packing of Maywood, Ill., is recalling approximately 515,000 pounds of various raw, intact pork products.

      The items were produced without undergoing federal inspection and outside inspection hours.

      There are no confirmed reports of adverse reactions.

      A list of the raw, intact items, produced on Saturdays from November 25, 2017, to November 9, 2019, can be found here.

      These recalled products were shipped to distributors and retail locations in Illinois.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact Frank Masellis at (708) 865-8566.

      Morris Meat Packing of Maywood, Ill., is recalling approximately 515,000 pounds of various raw, intact pork products.The items were produced without un...
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      Takata recalls 1.4 million Non-Azide Driver airbag inflators

      The inflators may rupture or the airbag cushion may underinflate

      Takata is recalling 1.4 million Non-Azide Driver airbag inflators (NADI).

      The inflators were used in some brands of model year 1995-2000 vehicles and do not contain phase stabilized ammonium nitrate propellant.

      Due to a manufacturing issue, the NADI inflators may absorb moisture, causing the inflators to rupture or the airbag cushion to underinflate.

      In a crash necessitating airbag deployment, an inflator rupture may result in metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants.

      Additionally, an underinflated air bag may not properly protect the occupant, increasing the risk of serious injury or death.

      What to do

      Takata will be working with vehicle manufacturers to determine into which vehicles the affected inflators were installed either as original or replacement equipment during service.

      As this work progresses, numerous vehicle recalls will likely be announced by the affected vehicle manufacturers.

      The recall is expected to begin on January 24, 2020.

      Takata is recalling 1.4 million Non-Azide Driver airbag inflators (NADI).The inflators were used in some brands of model year 1995-2000 vehicles and do...
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      Motorola jumps back in the mobile phone game with a new commitment to quality and 5G

      Is having a phone enough, though? Consumers have struggled with the service they get from the company

      If you asked consumers who they have to thank for their love of mobile phones, most would probably say Apple, or Nokia, or Samsung. Truth be known, though, it’s really Motorola that deserves the nod for creating the world's first commercial handheld mobile phone, way back in 1983.

      But, despite all its innovations ranging from bag phones to flip phones and clam phones, Motorola has pretty much fallen off the map in the last few years, losing considerable consumer prowess over the last few years at the hands of Apple and Samsung. 

      But, the company says to call off the EMS units because it’s going to try and regain its flagship space

      Razr sharp? Better be.

      The first box Motorola has checked off is a new Moto Razr, an Android-based foldable smartphone styled after the original Razr.

      “The reimagination of the Razr some 15 years after the original isn't just a play on nostalgia, it's a fully formed flip phone with a whole host of fun and functional features,” is how Mike Lowe at PocketLint took to Motorola’s return home. However, he hedged his outlook with a qualifier.

      “Sure, the processor isn't the best going, the cameras aren't a particularly prominent feature, and the battery life might well be questionable (we can't say for certain just yet),” Lowe said.

      The second -- and maybe more important -- box Motorola hopes to tick is a phone that supports 5G, the highly anticipated technology that will give consumers the fastest service they’ve ever had. Reports say that when the company launches a “premium smartphone” sometime in early 2020, that device will have 5G capability.

      None too soon, either

      Motorola has taken it on the chin from ConsumerAffairs reviewers, and if Lowe’s comment about the Razr addressing issues with “build quality in a proper and convincing way” is true, then it’s none too soon.

      Reflecting on his frustrations with a previous Motorola phone, Mike of Winter Haven, FL wrote that he dreaded turning on his device, “because there are always 20 to 26 updates that need to be made every time I turn it on. It is never endless and it is a pain (in) the butt. So I turned it off forever. I have accomplished what I needed to do and now use it as a doorstop.”

      While some consumers having nothing but good things to say about their Moto phones, the company still has some work to do on the customer service end, particularly when things go bad.

      “My phone has LED burn for the second time. There (sic) phones are shotty (sic) at best,” remarked David of Orangevale, CA. “They only give options to lose your phone for 10 days or have to redo a new one with a deposit that most people don't get back even after a fight. They need more options for their crappy phones.”

      If you asked consumers who they have to thank for their love of mobile phones, most would probably say Apple, or Nokia, or Samsung. Truth be known, though,...
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      Sprint overcounted Lifeline subscribers for years, report finds

      Regulators say the carrier kept an inaccurate tally of the number of active government subsidy program subscribers it had

      For years, Sprint failed to keep an accurate count of how many low-income customers it serves through the federal Lifeline program, according to regulatory documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal

      The Journal, which obtained the documents through a public information request, found that an error in how the carrier counted subscriber usage of the Lifeline service during the years 2013 and 2014 caused dormant accounts to be kept live. Subsequently, Sprint was allowed to continue collecting subsidies for those customers. 

      In one instance, a customer in Oregon died but her account retained its “active” status for months. The problem was found to be widespread, affecting thousands of accounts across the nation. Sprint discovered the problem, but it never commented on how many subscribers it lost after remedying the issue. 

      Sprint’s Lifeline mistakes 

      Sprint is facing a separate investigation and a potential settlement with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The agency found in September that Sprint improperly collected millions of dollars in federal subsidies for 885,000 Lifeline customers whose accounts had gone dormant. 

      The carrier said its error was caused by a 2017 issue affecting the system it used to calculate usage and eligibility for Lifeline subscribers.  

      “While the facts make clear that Sprint did make a mistake, it is also clear that Sprint corrected that mistake and cooperated with regulators,” a Sprint spokesman told the Journal, noting that the two incidents are separate and unrelated.

      For years, Sprint failed to keep an accurate count of how many low-income customers it serves through the federal Lifeline program, according to regulatory...
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      Mercedes-Benz recalls model year 2013-2017 vehicles with software glitch

      The date and time for the emergency call system may be incorrect

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 24,226 model year 2013-2017 of the vehicleslisted here.

      Due to a software fault, the date and time for the emergency call system (eCall) may differ from the actual date and time, potentially relaying an inaccurate vehicle location. An inaccurate vehicle location may delay emergency responders, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      MBUSA has initiated an Over the Air (OTA) remote update. MBUSA will also notify owners, and dealers will check software for a successful OTA or update the communication module software as needed free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin December 31, 2019.

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

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 24,226 model year 2013-2017 of the vehicleslisted here.Due to a software fault, the date and time for the emerge...
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      Missa Bay recalls salads containing meat or poultry

      The lettuce ingredient may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7

      Missa Bay of Swedesboro, N.J., is recalling approximately 75,233 pounds of salads that contain meat or poultry.

      The lettuce ingredient may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

      The list of recalled items, produced from October 14 – 16, 2019, may be found here.

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 18502B” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to distribution locations in Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia and Wisconsin.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact Mary Toscano (800) 800-7822.

      Missa Bay of Swedesboro, N.J., is recalling approximately 75,233 pounds of salads that contain meat or poultry.The lettuce ingredient may be contaminat...
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      Cyber Monday sales estimated to be a record $9.2 billion

      But an industry report shows that retailers had to offer better deals to achieve it

      Shoppers flocked to the internet Monday to snap up Cyber Monday deals, spending an estimated $9.2 billion, a new record.

      Adobe Analytics, which tracks both in-store and online spending, reports sales increased more than 16 percent over 2018 as shoppers bought toys, TVs, and video games.

      Despite those impressive numbers, sales fell slightly short of what retailers were hoping for; but they didn’t miss by much. To get close to the record, Adobe said retailers had to offer consumers better deals than in the past.

      “Retailers unlocked sales earlier to combat a shorter shopping season while continuing to drive up promotion of the big branded days including Black Friday and Cyber Monday,” said John Copeland, head of Marketing and Consumer Insights at Adobe. “Consumers capitalized on deals and ramped up spending, especially on smartphones, where activity increased on days when shoppers were snowed or rained in.”

      More consumers order with their phone

      In fact, the number of purchases made on smartphones continued to rise this year, though most orders were still placed from desktop computers. The Adobe report shows that 36 percent of Cyber Monday purchases were made on smartphones, compared to 59 percent on PCs.

      The top items closely mirrored the other designated holiday shopping days. Best-sellers include NERF products, Nintendo Switch consoles, Frozen 2 toys, LOL Surprise Dollars, Samsung TVs, the Jedi Fallen Order video game, and Fire TVs. Among kitchen appliances, air fryers topped the list.

      Amazonreports that Cyber Monday was the single-biggest shopping day in the company’s history, shattering last year’s record.

      Consumers didn’t wait for Cyber Monday to start buying online. A report from ShopperTrak shows Black Friday sales at brick-and-mortar outlets fell more than 6 percent as more sales moved online. Nasty weather in the Northeast contributed to that trend.

      But that didn’t hurt overall sales, as consumers simply did more shopping online on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Small Business Saturday. Consumers spent a record $7.4 billion on Black Friday alone.

      Consumers’ decreasing tolerance for standing in lines was further reflected in the 43 percent increase in buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) orders. Adobe said the increase in these sales suggested that many retailers are “successfully bridging online and offline retail operations.”

      Shoppers flocked to the internet Monday to snap up Cyber Monday deals, spending an estimated $9.2 billion, a new record.Adobe Analytics, which tracks b...
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      Many beauty products contain deadly superbugs, researchers say

      Mascara, lip gloss, and other popular products could be more dangerous than many consumers realize

      Earlier this year, researchers found that hospital patients could be contributing to the spread of superbugs through their hands. 

      Now, a new study conducted by researchers from Aston University found that household make-up products, like beauty blenders and mascara, could be a hotspot for deadly superbugs. 

      “Consumers’ poor hygiene practices when it comes to using make-up, especially beauty blenders, is very worrying when you consider that we found bacteria such as E.coli -- which is linked with faecal contamination -- breeding on the products we tested,” said researcher Dr. Amreen Bashir. 

      Keeping beauty products clean

      To understand how beauty products could be a host for superbugs, the researchers tested popular make-up products that were donated for the purposes of the study. 

      All donated products had been used by consumers and were put into one of five categories before the researchers tested them for various strains of bacteria: beauty blenders, mascara, lip gloss, eyeliner, and lipstick. 

      The researchers found that 90 percent of all products donated for the study had been contaminated; the team detected traces of E.coli, the bacteria known to cause staph infections, and Citrobacter freundii.   

      The study revealed that beauty blenders, which have grown in popularity recently, were the biggest culprits of such bacteria. The researchers say these products are susceptible to new bacteria as they’re often left damp after each use. To make matters worse, over 60 percent of consumers reported using beauty blender after dropping it on the floor, while over 90 percent never cleaned these products.

      Importance of proper hygiene

      These findings are particularly important because consumers buy and utilize beauty products on a regular basis, and many are unaware of the bacteria they could be exposing themselves to. 

      Moving forward, the researchers hope that consumers taking their beauty product hygiene seriously, as these findings highlight how they could be contaminating themselves with a wide array of life-threatening bacteria. 

      “More needs to be done to help educate consumers and the make-up industry as a whole about the need to wash beauty blenders regularly and dry them thoroughly, as well as the risks of using make-up beyond its expiry date,” said Dr. Bashir. 

      Earlier this year, researchers found that hospital patients could be contributing to the spread of superbugs through their hands. Now, a new study cond...
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      Consumers say they’d rather damage their credit score than leave their children empty-handed this holiday season

      One expert says too much debt is avoidable, but it takes a little creativity

      Thanks to the U.S.-China trade war, consumer confidence in America has been on a slippery slope for the last few months.

      A logical thinker would presume that downturn would impact the holiday buying season. However, come the holidays, logical thinking goes out the door in favor of making sure that friends and family have what they want under the tree.

      In fact, shoppers with kiddos are so concerned about not disappointing their children that 61 percent of them would submissively damage their credit score just to make other people happy, according to a new survey by Self and OnePoll.

      Season’s reasons

      Whether you call it guilt, indulgence, or kindness, all bets are off during the holidays. In addition to dropping an average of $675 on gifts and putting credit scores at risk, consumers are also willing to go to other lengths according to the study:

      • Almost half of the parents surveyed (46 percent) said they’ve gone without gifts for themselves or their partner to be able to get their children what they want. 

      • Fifty-nine percent or respondents owned up to overspending on their kids

      • Parents place some of the blame for overspending squarely on playground pompousness. Seventy-one percent of the study group said they anguish about their children going back to school after the holiday break and having to face the “what’d you get” tsunami.

      “Around the holidays there’s a lot of pressure to please everyone – your friends, partner, family, kids, whoever – and be extra generous," James Garvey, CEO of Self told ConsumerAffairs. "Unfortunately, people often equate generosity with spending a lot of money. That can leave you in a tight financial spot for months to come if you don’t prepare for it ahead of time.”

      Adding to the load

      WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez tells ConsumerAffairs that the study results are in line with previous findings about holiday debt. She points out that 35 million Americans are still carrying debt they incurred from last holiday season.

      “The fact that so many people were unable to pay their debt throughout the year, and that so much of the population is willing to go into more debt this Christmas, is alarming. Carrying such a large balance for consecutive years has the potential to damage credit scores in the long term," Gonzalez said.

      Ok, boomer

      Baby boomers might be quick to pin the go-in-debt trend on the millennials, but they’re actually the generation that needs to look at themselves in the mirror because credit card debt is a bigger issue for them.

      “As baby boomers reach retirement, often having more debt can be a financial challenge, while millennials have their entire earnings trajectory,” Sarah Sattelmeyer, the manager of Pew Charitable Trusts’ student borrower success project, told MorningConsult.

      Beat it before it beats you

      Garvey says there are several things consumers can do to cut down on the amount of debt they might incur during the holidays. One of his suggestions is to draw names from a hat and have each person give just one gift, rather than buying separate presents for everyone. 

      “Or offer to host and provide food as your gift, but not extra presents,” he said. “A little creativity might be just as well appreciated and keep you from adding to your debt.”

      “The best way to avoid overspending on the holidays is to start saving in advance,” Garvey added. “But if you’ve passed that point for this year, consider other ways to be generous.”

      Thanks to the U.S.-China trade war, consumer confidence in America has been on a slippery slope for the last few months.A logical thinker would presume...
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      Billions of text messages found on unsecured database

      Security researchers say sensitive data was left unprotected for years

      Security researchers recently found an unsecured database housing a massive collection of text messages containing private information. Nearly 1 billion entries belonging to over 100 million U.S. citizens were found in the database, stored in plain text. 

      A majority of the messages were sent by businesses to customers, and “hundreds of thousands of entries” included details about users (including full names, phone numbers, addresses, emails, and more), according to cybersecurity experts Noam Rotem and Ran Locar. 

      In a blog post, the researchers said "tens of millions" of text messages were left "completely unsecured and unencrypted” for an extended period of time. They believe text messaging firm TrueDialog -- an SMS provider for businesses and higher education providers -- is responsible for the leak. 

      Database now offline

      TrueDialog operates a service that enables businesses to text marketing materials and alerts to their clients in bulk. Recipients are even able to text back. The firm boasts five billion subscribers worldwide. 

      "We contacted the company. We disclosed our findings and offered our expertise in helping them close the data leak and ensure nobody was exposed to risk," the researchers said. "The database has since been closed, but TrueDialog never replied to us." 

      Although the database was pulled offline on November 29, Rotem and Locar say the risk potential of the leak may linger for hundreds of millions of users.

      “The available information can be sold to both marketers and spammers," the researchers said.

      Since the database is now offline, there’s no way to tell who was impacted by the leak. To protect against the possibility of online exposure, security researchers continue to recommend that consumers set up two-factor authentication and frequently change their passwords on Google and Facebook accounts. 

      TechCrunch notes that the leak is “another example of why SMS text messages may be convenient but is not a secure way to communicate — particularly for sensitive data, like sending two-factor codes.” 

      Security researchers recently found an unsecured database housing a massive collection of text messages containing private information. Nearly 1 billion en...
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      Hyundai recalls model year 2020 Palisade

      The side curtain airbags may be damaged during deployment

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 11,217 model year 2020 Palisades.

      The mounting bolts used to secure the side curtain airbags may damage the side curtain airbags during deployment.

      Damaged side curtain airbags may not inflate properly in a crash, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      Hyundai will notify owners, and dealers will install a protective cover on the mounting bolts free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 3, 2020.

      Owners may contact Hyundai customer service at (855) 371-9460. Hyundai's number for this recall is 186.

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 11,217 model year 2020 Palisades.The mounting bolts used to secure the side curtain airbags may damage the side curt...
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      Yamaha recalls portable generators

      The generator’s fuel tank can leak gasoline

      Yamaha Motor Corporation U.S.A. of Kennesaw, Ga., is recalling about 10,100 model year 2018 and 2019 Yamaha EF2000iS portable generators.

      The generator’s fuel tank can leak gasoline, posing fire and burn hazards.

      No incidents or injuries are reported

      This recall involves model year 2018 and 2019 Yamaha EF2000iS portable generators, with serial numbers range 4543288 through 4553706.

      The blue generators have Yamaha and the model name printed on the control panel. The serial number can be found on a label below the exhaust outlet on the left side.

      The generators, manufactured in Japan, were sold exclusively at Yamaha Motorsports dealers nationwide from June 2018, through October 2019, for about $900.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled generators and contact a Yamaha Power Products dealer to schedule a free repair. Yamaha is contacting all registered owners directly.

      Consumers may contact Yamaha toll-free at (866) 788-7398 anytime or online at www.yamahamotorsports.com or www.yamahamotorsports.com/power-product and click on the CPSC Alerts tab at the bottom of the page for more information.

      Yamaha Motor Corporation U.S.A. of Kennesaw, Ga., is recalling about 10,100 model year 2018 and 2019 Yamaha EF2000iS portable generators.The generator’...
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      BrucePac recalls ready-to-eat chicken sausage

      The product contains a pork casing not declared on the label

      BrucePac of Silverton, Ore., is recalling approximately 55,550 pounds of ready-to-eat chicken sausage.

      The product contains a pork casing not declared on the label.

      There are no confirmed reports of adverse reactions.

      The following frozen item, were produced from November 15, 2018, to June 24, 2019, is being recalled:

      • 30-lb. bulk pack cases containing “GRILLED SLICED ITALIAN STYLE CHICKEN SAUSAGE” with lot codes 11158S, 12058S, 03189S, 06249S and 05029S

      The recalled product, bearing establishment number “P-9267A” inside the USDA mark of inspection, was shipped to an institutional location in California.

      What to do

      Institutions that purchased the recalled product should not serve it, but discard or return it to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions may contact Monica McLaughlin at mmclaughlin@brucepac.com.

      BrucePac of Silverton, Ore., is recalling approximately 55,550 pounds of ready-to-eat chicken sausage.The product contains a pork casing not declared o...
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      Chrysler recalls Dodge Durangos and Jeep Grand Cherokees

      The fuel pump relay may fail, causing the vehicle to stall

      Chrysler is recalling 528,594 model year 2011-2013 Dodge Durangos and Jeep Grand Cherokees equipped with a 3.6, 5.7, or 6.4 liter engine.

      The fuel pump relay inside the Totally Integrated Power Module (TIPM-7) may fail, causing the vehicle to stall without warning, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      The remedy for this recall is still under development.

      Interim notices informing owners of the safety risk will be mailed beginning January 3, 2020. Vehicles that experience a fuel pump failure will receive an interim repair.

      Owners will receive a second notice when the final remedy becomes available.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at (800) 853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is V62.

      Chrysler is recalling 528,594 model year 2011-2013 Dodge Durangos and Jeep Grand Cherokees equipped with a 3.6, 5.7, or 6.4 liter engine.The fuel pump...
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      Consumers break spending records on Black Friday

      Shoppers spent $7.4 billion to kick off the holiday shopping season

      Consumers spent a record-breaking $7.4 billion during this year’s Black Friday, according to data from Adobe Analytics

      Adobe, which looks at sales at 80 of the top 100 online retailers in the nation, found that purchases of computers, tablets, and smartphones accounted for many purchases. Top electronics included Air Fryers, Apple’s AirPods, and Samsung televisions. 

      Consumers spent an average of $168 per person -- an increase of 6 percent over last year. 

      This year’s Black Friday figures were up by $1.2 billion from 2018 and represented the biggest numbers for digital sales in history, coming second only to last year’s Cyber Monday total of $7.9 billion. However, this year’s Black Friday sales total was slightly lower than Adobe’s prediction of $7.5 billion. 

      Uptick in smartphone purchases 

      This year, a large share of online sales transactions took place on smartphones. Adobe found that $2.9 billion sales poured in from mobile devices on Friday -- the highest total ever. 

      Half of consumers will choose to shop on a smartphone this holiday season, even when they have a desktop or laptop at their disposal, Adobe said in its report.

      Consumers’ decreasing tolerance for standing in lines was further reflected in the 43 percent increase in buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) orders. Adobe said the increase in these sales suggested that many retailers are “successfully bridging online and offline retail operations.”

      Adobe expects Cyber Monday 2019 to shatter records, as well. The firm predicts spending will hit $9.4 billion -- an 18.9 percent increase from last year. 

      Consumers spent a record-breaking $7.4 billion during this year’s Black Friday, according to data from Adobe Analytics. Adobe, which looks at sales at...
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      FBI warns consumers about risks of unsecured smart TVs

      The agency suggests taking several precautions to protect against possible exploits

      In a timely consumer advisory published ahead of Cyber Monday, the FBI's Portland field office has warned of the dangers of failing to adequately secure smart TVs. 

      The agency said consumers shopping for a smart TV this holiday season should be aware that hackers could potentially use these products to infiltrate consumers’ home networks. They could also use them to take control of the camera and microphone. 

      "Beyond the risk that your TV manufacturer and app developers may be listening and watching you, that television can also be a gateway for hackers to come into your home,” the FBI wrote on its website. “A bad cyber actor may not be able to access your locked-down computer directly, but it is possible that your unsecured TV can give him or her an easy way in the backdoor through your router.” 

      The FBI said attackers could change channels, manipulate the volume, or show children inappropriate videos. 

      “In a worst-case scenario, they can turn on your bedroom TV’s camera and microphone and silently cyberstalk you,” the agency said. 

      Securing smart TVs

      To secure vulnerabilities and protect against exploits, the FBI suggested taking the following actions: 

      • Know the device’s capabilities. Know exactly what features your TV has and how to control those features. A basic internet search with your model number and the words “microphone,” “camera,” and “privacy” can help you find this information.

      • Don’t rely on default security settings. The FBI recommends changing passwords if you can. Consumer should also know how to turn off the microphones, cameras, and the device’s ability to collect personal information if possible. In the event that these features can’t be disabled, the agency advises consumers to “consider whether you are willing to take the risk of buying that model or using that service.” 

      • Use tape if needed. A piece of black tape can be placed over the camera eye as a “back to basics” security option, the agency noted. 

      • Seek information about patches. Check the manufacturer’s ability to update your device with security patches. 

      • Check the privacy policy. Check the privacy policy for the TV manufacturer and the streaming services you use. Confirm what data they collect, how they store that data, and what they do with it.

      In a timely consumer advisory published ahead of Cyber Monday, the FBI's Portland field office has warned of the dangers of failing to adequately secure sm...
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      Amazon removes Christmas ornaments bearing images of Nazi death camp

      The Auschwitz Memorial discovered the listing and alerted the online retailer

      Amazon has removed a series of products from its site after the operators of Poland’s Auschwitz Memorial said the products bore the images of the Nazi death camp.

      The images were found on Christmas ornaments, bottle openers, key rings, and mouse mats.

      “Selling ‘Christmas ornaments’ with images of Auschwitz does not seem appropriate,” the Auschwitz Memorial posted on its Twitter feed. “Auschwitz on a bottle opener is rather disturbing and disrespectful. We ask @amazon to remove the items of those suppliers.”

      Amazon did so almost immediately. In a statement to the media, the online retailer said sellers that don’t follow Amazon’s selling guidelines are “subject to action,” including the closing of their selling account. The guidelines prohibit the sale of “products related to human tragedies and natural disasters.” 

      Auschwitz is perhaps the most notorious of the Nazis’ concentration camps. An estimated 1 million people died there during World War II.

      Third-party seller

      The items were offered for sale by an unidentified third-party seller, not by Amazon itself. The Auschwitz Memorial posted screenshots of the online product descriptions. Each product depicted old, institutional-type buildings that were not identified with a location. One product carried a description that said: “The ideal city souvenir to commemorate and share the cities you have visited.” 

      Neither Amazon nor the Auschwitz Memorial speculated about the motive for the product offerings -- whether they were intended to promote a neo-Nazi ideology or were simply the result of tone-deaf marketing.

      However, this isn’t the first time that something like this has happened. CNBC reported last year that Amazon had removed some products from its site -- including infant clothing -- that carried Ku Klux Klan and Nazi symbols.

      Amazon has removed a series of products from its site after the operators of Poland’s Auschwitz Memorial said the products bore the images of the Nazi deat...
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      Finding a home to rent could be harder and more expensive in 2020

      Rising demand and falling inventory have pushed average rents higher

      Renters can expect housing costs to rise and availability to decline in 2020, according to housing experts.

      A new report from real estate marketplace Zillow shows average rent increased year-over-year each month from July through October. In October, the average rent was $1,600 -- an increase of 2.3 percent over October 2018.

      While Zillow estimates rents grew throughout the country, its report focuses on the 35 largest metro areas. Rents declined in only two of them -- Columbus, Ohio and Houston. In markets where rents are growing, Zillow found they’re growing faster than in 2018.

      Rents and home prices are rising for the same reason -- declining inventory. That pushed home rental costs up 6.4 percent in Phoenix, 5.2 percent in Las Vegas, and 4 percent in Charlotte. And because there are fewer homes to purchase, more consumers continue to rent, reducing the number of available units.

      Warning from Harvard researchers

      In June, a study by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies warned that the U.S. housing supply is falling far short of what’s needed, especially since a good economy has encouraged an increase in household formation.

      Chris Herbert, managing director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies, says building activity has dropped off for a number of reasons. However, he says the most significant reasons are rising land prices and regulatory constraints on development.

      “These constraints, largely imposed at the local level, raise costs and limit the number of homes that can be built in places where demand is highest,” Herbert said. “Meanwhile, a large percentage of new housing being built is intended primarily for the higher end of the market. The limited supply of smaller, more affordable homes in the face of rising demand suggests that the rising land costs and the difficult development environment make it unprofitable to build for the middle market.

      Fewer affordable homes

      The middle market is the segment that is encountering the most difficulty putting a roof over its head. Zillow reports that the inventory decline in October was sharpest in the bottom-third of the market, which is down 9.4 percent year-over-year. 

      "Despite some fearful headlines, the U.S. economy keeps on trucking, and that is reflected in the continued rent growth across the country,” said Zillow Director of Economic Research Skylar Olsen. “The unemployment rate remains near record lows and wage growth keeps adding to renters' pocketbooks."

      Over the last few years, a number of red hot housing markets saw the fastest growth in rents. If the last few months are any indication, Olsen says growing demand and limited supply of rental housing could become a national story.

      Renters can expect housing costs to rise and availability to decline in 2020, according to housing experts.A new report from real estate marketplace Zi...
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