Follow us:
  1. Home
  2. News
  3. 2020
  4. February

News in February 2020

Browse by year

2020

Browse by month

Get trending consumer news and recalls

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

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

    Kids who read by themselves each day score better on school tests

    Researchers found that books benefitted kids’ academic performance more than other reading materials

    While previous studies have highlighted the benefits of parents reading with their kids, a new study explored how reading independently can help kids in the classroom. 

    According to researchers, children scored higher on tests when they read books on a daily basis. Books are key, as other forms of reading, such as comics or magazines, didn’t yield the same academic results. 

    “In an increasingly digital world, it’s important that young people are encouraged to find time to read a good book,” said researcher John Jerrim. “Other less complex and less engaging forms of reading are unlikely to bring the same benefits for their cognitive development, and shouldn’t be counted as part of their reading time.” 

    Making reading a habit

    The researchers had 43,000 children between the ages of 10 and 11 participate in the study. The participants and their parents completed questionnaires that assessed the children’s typical reading habits, their attitudes towards reading and school, parents’ feelings about reading, and how often parents read. 

    The researchers compared responses to children’s standardized test scores and then reassessed the children when they were 13 and 14 years old. The study revealed that children who read books daily outperformed their classmates who either didn’t read or opted for magazines or comic books. 

    The researchers found that the increase in test scores matched an additional three months worth of formal schooling, which can ultimately benefit children as they continue through their studies. 

    “Although three months’ worth of progress may sound comparatively small to some people, it equates to more than 10 percent of the three academic secondary school years measured -- from when these young people are aged 11 years old to 14, which we know is a hugely developmental period,” Jerrim said. 

    Better math scores

    Reading regularly also boosted kids’ test scores in math, as they showed similar levels of progress on math exams over the course of the study.  

    The findings are proof that making reading a daily habit can help kids excel in the classroom, and books play a key role in that success. 

    “Reading is a fundamental skill that plays a key part in all our lives,” said researcher Luis Alejandro Lopez-Agudo. “Our results provide further evidence that it’s not only whether young people read or not that matters -- but also what they read.”  

    While previous studies have highlighted the benefits of parents reading with their kids, a new study explored how reading independently can help kids in th...
    Read lessRead more

    Get trending consumer news and recalls

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

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

      Uber makes strong move toward improving driver and rider communication

      Easier prompts to follow and a foreign language translator will help travelers in a strange land

      If you’ve ever had an Uber pickup that went awry and left you hanging, the rideshare king has heard you loud and clear. On Thursday, Uber announced two new features that it says will make pickups “even more seamless.” 

      Upping focus and transparency

      The first upgrade is designed-based more than anything else, but Uber promises that it will deliver “greater focus and transparency into your ride’s arrival status.” What riders will now see is a sequence of rotating, actionable notifications regarding their pickup. The new information riders will have access to will include: 

      • How many minutes before the car arrives;

      • Exactly where the rider should meet the driver;

      • Suggestions on what landmarks to walk toward (which, especially for a vacationer in an unfamiliar city, is a huge plus); and

      • Instructions on things like the right exits to walk out of to get closer to where the driver will be pulling up at places like airports or stadiums.

      ¿Dónde está usted?

      Any traveler who’s tried to make the most out of Uber in a foreign city knows how problematic that can be. Uber’s heard that loud and clear, too.

      Up to now, any messages sent from a driver to a rider would appear in that driver’s language preference with no concern for the traveler at all. That’s all changing. The Uber app will now include a language translation feature (with more than 100 languages) that is designed to make it easier for riders to communicate with a foreign-speaking driver. 

      “We anticipate this being most helpful for drivers whose primary language isn’t English, and for riders that are traveling abroad outside the U.S.,” the company said. “Translation is available for pre-generated messages, and for any written message sent between a rider and driver.”

      If you’ve ever had an Uber pickup that went awry and left you hanging, the rideshare king has heard you loud and clear. On Thursday, Uber announced two new...
      Read lessRead more

      Walmart is reportedly preparing a membership program aimed at Amazon Prime

      The program could include free shipping and other perks

      Walmart appears to have abandoned its free, no-membership approach to compete with Amazon Prime.

      The retailer is reportedly preparing to take on Amazon with its own paid membership program with the free shipping that Prime includes, along with other perks. Walmart has beefed up its online business over the last few years but has yet to catch up to Amazon.

      According to a report by technology site Vox, Walmart will soon start testing Walmart+, in part by rebranding its Delivery Unlimited service. That service currently charges customers $98 a year for unlimited same-day grocery deliveries at more than 1,600 Walmart locations. The report says the retailer may also test a feature that would allow Walmart+ members to place orders using a text message.

      But Amazon Prime offers more than just free two-day shipping, and in some cases one-day delivery. Members get access to streaming video through Prime Video and to a streaming music service.

      Walmart also reportedly plans to sweeten its deal with additional perks. According to Vox, those perks could include discounts on prescription drugs and gasoline at Walmart fueling stations.

      Walmart has made no official announcement of its plans, but a company spokesman confirmed that a membership program was indeed in the works in a statement to Vox.

      Prime’s rise

      When Amazon launched Prime in 2005, few could see what a powerful force in the retail economy it would become. For an annual fee of $119 a year, members get free expedited shipping on their orders.

      For many consumers, knowing that delivery won’t cost anything has made Amazon the go-to place to shop. When Amazon sweetened the deal with entertainment services, it almost became irresistible.

      Amazon Prime currently has a global membership of more than 150 million and, besides the free expedited shipping, it offers same-day delivery from Whole Foods or Amazon Fresh.

      Walmart in recent years has made Amazon its prime target. It has increased delivery services and made a point of saying that it doesn’t require a membership. In 2019, the retailer appeared to be making some headway.

      A 2019 survey by First Insight, a retail analytics firm, found that 55 percent of consumers preferred shopping at Walmart rather than Amazon.com. That was an increase from 47 percent in 2018.

      Walmart appears to have abandoned its free, no-membership approach to compete with Amazon Prime.The retailer is reportedly preparing to take on Amazon...
      Read lessRead more

      States offering corporate tax incentives don’t benefit from them, study finds

      Researchers say these enticements cost states millions but provide almost nothing in return

      State policymakers are constantly looking for ways to improve their local economies, and many rely on giving tax breaks to big businesses so that they can pump money into the community. However, results from a recent study suggest that this strategy doesn’t really work at all. 

      Researchers from North Carolina State University looked at the corporate tax incentives and other associated data for 32 states from 1990 to 2015 to determine how beneficial they were for everyone involved. They found that the states involved suffered negative repercussions a vast majority of the time. 

      "We found that, in almost all instances, these corporate tax incentives cost states millions of dollars - if not more - and the returns were minimal. In fact, the combination of costly tax incentives and limited returns ultimately left states in worse financial condition than they were to begin with,” said study corresponding author Bruce McDonald.

      Most incentives backfire on states

      The researchers say they focused on just 32 states because they represented 90 percent of all state and local tax incentives nationally. 

      Out of all the corporate tax incentives they researched, the team found that job creation tax credits and job training grants were the only ones that gave some benefit to the states. McDonald notes that these particular incentives only worked because tax revenue related to new jobs and underemployed consumers finding higher-paying work were able to offset the total cost of the incentives.

      However, the remaining incentives ended up costing the states more than what they paid out. The researchers hope their findings may spur lawmakers to reconsider how these incentives are doled out in the future.

      "The takeaway message here is that maybe states shouldn't be offering these tax incentives. Or, at the very least, states need to examine their assumptions about the impact these incentives actually have, with the exception of incentives explicitly tied to job creation and training," McDonald said.

      The full study has been published in the journal Public Administration Review.

      State policymakers are constantly looking for ways to improve their local economies, and many rely on giving tax breaks to big businesses so that they can...
      Read lessRead more

      Coronavirus fears are keeping gas prices in check

      Prices barely moved last week at a time when they usually rise

      Fears of the coronavirus have sent oil prices lower, but that has yet to translate into much lower prices at the gas pump. Consumers are paying roughly what they did a week earlier.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gas is $2.45 a gallon, about a penny less than last Friday. That price is only six cents more than at this time last year.

      The average price of premium is $3.05 a gallon, down a penny from last week. The average price of diesel fuel is $2.86 a gallon, a penny less than last week.

      Prices normally start to move higher at this time of year as refineries begin maintenance and switch over to producing more expensive summer blends of gasoline. But Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, says the effects of the coronavirus may alter that seasonal pattern.

      DeHaan says plunging oil prices could delay, offset, or shorten the normal seasonal upswing that generally starts this time of year. He says that could translate into a few extra weeks of lower prices at the pump before they begin their inevitable rise.

      While most states saw prices edge up slightly during the week Michigan was a happy exception, with motorists enjoying gas prices that were seven cents a gallon lower than the previous week.

      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 ($3.57)

      • California ($3.48)

      • Washington ($3.09)

      • Nevada ($2.90)

      • Oregon ($2.98) 

      • Alaska ($2.94)

      • Arizona ($2.76)

      • Pennsylvania ($2.67)

      • Illinois ($2.65)

      • New York ($2.61) 

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

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

      • Missouri ($2.18)

      • Texas ($2.15)

      • Mississippi ($2.14)

      • Louisiana ($2.17)

      • Alabama ($2.20)

      • Arkansas ($2.20)

      • South Carolina ($2.20)

      • Oklahoma ($2.20)

      • Kansas ($2.22)

      • Virginia ($2.24)

      Fears of the coronavirus have sent oil prices lower, but that has yet to translate into much lower prices at the gas pump. Consumers are paying roughly wha...
      Read lessRead more

      Volkswagen recalls model year 2019 Audi Q7s

      The side curtain air bags may not inflate properly

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 383 model year 2019 Audi Q7s.

      The side curtain air bags may not inflate properly in a crash, increasing the risk of injury .

      What to do

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will replace the side curtain air bags free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin April 19, 2020.

      Owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at (800) 893-5298. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 69AJ.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 383 model year 2019 Audi Q7s.The side curtain air bags may not inflate properly in a crash, increasing the ris...
      Read lessRead more

      First coronavirus case of ‘unknown origin’ diagnosed in California

      The patient had not traveled or had contact with anyone who was exposed to the disease

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a report about the first coronavirus case in the U.S. of “unknown origin,” a fact that has raised the concern level among health officials.

      “Unknown origin” means the patient had not traveled to China or been in contact with someone who has, or with anyone else with symptoms of the virus. The CDC is now investigating the case.

      “It is a confirmed case. There is one in Northern California,” CDC spokesman Scott Pauley told The Sacramento Bee.

      What’s troubling to health officials is the fact that the patient, now being treated in Sacramento, is not known to have traveled outside the country or come in contact with people who might have been exposed to the virus.

      Health investigators are trying to learn how the patient was infected since, at the moment, it is the only U.S. case of unknown origin.

      Only 15 known cases in the U.S.

      The patient became the 15th person in the U.S. to be diagnosed with the virus, code-named COVID-19, that has killed nearly 3,000 people worldwide since breaking out in Wuhan, China at the end of December. All other infections in the U.S. came as a result of known contact with people who had traveled to China.

      While confirmed infections in the U.S. are significantly lower than in other developed nations, a doctors’ group suggests that could be the result of a lack of testing. The group Doctors for Disaster Preparedness said last week that a shortage of testing kits has meant fewer people who could have the disease are getting tested.

      "It is impossible to be sure that the virus is not spreading without more extensive testing," said Dr. Jane Orient, the group’s president. 

      She pointed out that testing for COVID-19 has been limited to "persons under suspicion" (PUIs), that is persons with fever, signs of a lower respiratory infection, exposure to a person known to have COVID-19, or travel to China within 14 days of symptom onset.

      Vice President Pence in charge

      At a news conference Wednesday evening President Trump announced Vice President Mike Pence would head the government’s COVID-19 response team, made up of agencies under the departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Transportation (DOT).

      While telling Americans they should prepare for the worst, Trump offered assurances that U.S. health agencies had taken steps to mitigate risks.

      "Because of all we've done, the risk to the American people remains very low," Trump said.

      As for the virus’ effect on the stock market, Bankrate.com's senior economic analyst Mark Hamrick doesn’t expect the market’s steep sell-off this week to be long-lasting.

      “For investors who truly have a longer time horizon for their money, including those saving for retirement years into the future, they should try to avoid the inclination to act on fear,” Hamrick said.

      In the first three days of trading this week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost over 2,000 points.

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a report about the first coronavirus case in the U.S. of “unknown origin,” a fact that has...
      Read lessRead more

      Supreme Court refuses to block retirement fund lawsuit against Intel

      The company argued that the plaintiffs waited too long to file the complaint

      If you think your employer has mismanaged your retirement account, the Supreme Court says you may have more time to file a lawsuit.

      The case in question involved a suit against Intel by a worker who accused the company of overstepping its legal authority by making what it termed as “high-risk” investments.

      Despite an ideological split on the court, the decision was unanimous. The justices upheld a lower court’s ruling that allowed a 2015 lawsuit to move forward. In that suit, a former Intel engineer claimed losses from the company’s action. Intel countered that the lawsuit had been filed too late.

      The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) specifies that people who manage employees’ retirement accounts invest those funds prudently. In most cases, employees have six years to file a lawsuit but as few as three years if the problem becomes known right away.

      The legal challenge to the high court, which was supported by the Trump administration, charged that Intel’s people in charge of retirement accounts violated their fiduciary duty when they overweighted the funds with investments in hedge funds and private equity instead of publicly traded stocks.

      Intel’s defense

      In mounting a defense, the company said the investments were intended to diversify portfolios and argued that the case was without merit. It cited emails showing the plaintiff was aware of the investments more than three years before the action was filed. Intel argued that the case should be dismissed because the plaintiff missed the deadline.

      But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the plaintiff might not have been aware of the investments just because emails were sent out. It ruled that the lawsuit could proceed and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed.

      In writing the opinion for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said the question boiled down to one factor. Just because someone was sent an email with information doesn’t mean that person actually read the information or could recall reading it.

      If you think your employer has mismanaged your retirement account, the Supreme Court says you may have more time to file a lawsuit.The case in question...
      Read lessRead more

      Losing a spouse linked with greater risk of cognitive decline

      Researchers say this is particularly worrisome for those at risk of Alzheimer’s

      As experts continue to find ways to identify cognitive decline in older consumers, a new study has revealed that losing a spouse can play a significant role in cognitive function. 

      According to researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, cognitive decline is likely to worsen for widows, particularly those who are at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. 

      “We know that social relationships can be an important buffer against cognitive decline,” said researcher Dr. Nancy Donovan. “Being married provides opportunity for more social engagement and emotional support from a spouse, it expands one’s social network, and it provides more opportunity for cognitive stimulation. All of these benefits are lost in widowhood. Importantly, loss of a spouse is a highly stressful life event which can have deleterious effects on the brain.” 

      Monitoring cognitive decline

      The researchers had 260 participants involved in the study and divided them into three groups: married, unmarried, or widowed. 

      When the study began, the researchers performed PET scans on the participants to gauge their levels of the beta-amyloid protein, which has been known to be closely linked to Alzheimer’s. The study went on for four years, and the participants’ cognition was put to the test annually. The researchers tracked their progress using several different assessments and compared their results to their beta-amyloid levels. 

      The study revealed that losing a spouse greatly affected cognitive function, as those who were widowed experienced a much more rapid cognitive decline than the unmarried or married participants. 

      This was particularly troubling for those with higher levels of beta-amyloid, as their cognitive function was compromised to a much greater degree than the participants in the other two groups. 

      The researchers hope that these findings highlight the lesser-known side effects associated with losing a spouse so that future research can include this vulnerable population. 

      “Our division has become very interested in understanding the physiological effects of widowhood so that we can develop interventions to try to alter these trajectories,” Dr. Donovan said. “Our findings also suggest that researchers engaged in Alzheimer’s disease prevention trials may want to pay particular attention to widowed older adults to tailor interventions for this especially susceptible group of patients.”  

      As experts continue to find ways to identify cognitive decline in older consumers, a new study has revealed that losing a spouse can play a significant rol...
      Read lessRead more

      Ford recalls F-Series Super Duty and E-Series trucks

      The vehicle may not have enough axle lubricant

      Ford Motor Company is recalling about 326 model year 2020 F-Series Super Duty and model year 2021 E-Series trucks.

      Some of these vehicles may have an inadequate amount of axle lubricant, resulting in bearing seizure and leading to component fracture and driveshaft separation from the rear axle.

      In the event of a rear-axle pinion stem fracture, customers would experience loss of vehicle motive power and loss of the park function.

      If the parking brake is not applied, this could result in unintended vehicle movement, increasing the risk of injury or crash.

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

      What to do

      Ford will contact owners and dealers will check the differential fluid level. If the fluid is at the proper level, no further action will be taken. If the fluid level is determined to be low, the rear axle assembly will be replaced free of charge.

      Owners may contact Ford at (866) 436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 20S09.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling about 326 model year 2020 F-Series Super Duty and model year 2021 E-Series trucks. Some of these vehicles may have an in...
      Read lessRead more