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.

    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.

      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

      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

      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

      U.S. to expedite coronavirus vaccine efforts

      The CDC thinks the virus could prove to be a seasonal affliction like the flu

      With the coronavirus -- COVID-19 -- spreading around the world with increasing speed, U.S. health officials are stepping up efforts to contain it.

      The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says human trials on a potential vaccine should begin by late March or early April. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, an agency within HHS, told reporters that he’s optimistic that the vaccine-makers are a little ahead of the curve.

      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has begun a randomized controlled trial for the treatment of COVID-19 patients. 

      “While sponsors are usually expected to allow 30 days between submission and initiation of an initial IND protocol to allow for safety review, FDA has been using both pre-IND discussions and highly expedited initial review to allow such trials to begin as soon as possible,” the agency said in a statement.

      No drug shortages yet

      The FDA says it is monitoring the market for potential drug shortages and phony treatment scams. The agency has identified about 20 drugs that either solely source their active ingredients or produce finished drug products in China and has contacted their manufacturers to see if they have experienced any supply issues. So far it has found no shortages.

      The Trump administration has reportedly asked Congress for additional funding to beef up the government’s response to the virus, which has proved to be highly contagious and deadly to about 2 percent of the people who get it.

      Might follow a flu-like pattern

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sounded an optimistic note on Tuesday when it said there is a theory that the virus will prove to be a seasonal affliction much like the flu and begin to subside in warmer weather.

      “Other viral respiratory diseases are seasonal, including influenza and therefore in many viral respiratory diseases we do see a decrease in disease in spring and summer,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, in a briefing with reporters. “And so we can certainly be optimistic that this disease will follow suit.”

      The CDC reported Tuesday that there had been 53 confirmed cases of COVID-19 coronavirus in the United States. But the agency characterized the risk for transmission as "low."

      Still, it said the country’s healthcare system should take steps to prepare for an outbreak, including “simple daily precautions to help prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses."

      With the coronavirus -- COVID-19 -- spreading around the world with increasing speed, U.S. health officials are stepping up efforts to contain it.The D...
      Read lessRead more

      Better sleep could help teens deal with social situations

      Researchers say quality sleep could be the ultimate coping mechanism

      Recent studies have found that teens aren’t getting enough sleep, which can affect them in more ways than many consumers may realize. 

      Now, researchers from Michigan State University found that when teens get quality sleep, they could be better equipped to deal with stressful social situations. This includes anything from arguments with friends to issues of race and discrimination. 

      “Findings of this study have important implications,” said researcher Yijie Wang. “Understanding how sleep helps adolescents negotiate social challenges may consequently elucidate how promoting sleep may improve adolescent adjustment during high school and beyond.”  

      Improving sleep quality

      The researchers had over 250 ninth graders participate in the study, all of whom wore activity-monitoring watches that tracked their physical activity and sleep for the two-week study. 

      The second component of the study was a nightly survey, which gave the participants the opportunity to reflect on their days. The survey asked them to report on how they dealt with stressful situations, how they felt emotionally, and any discrimination they experienced. 

      The study revealed that participants were better able to handle stressful situations at school when they slept better at night. The students who got better sleep were not only seeking out support from their friends to help handle conflicts at school, but they were reporting better coping and problem-solving skills overall. 

      When it came to issues of discrimination, the findings held up. The students who slept better at night responded better in these situations and reported stronger mental well-being. However, the researchers found that not getting enough sleep could lead to worse results. 

      “These studies showed that, on days when adolescents experienced ethnic or racial discrimination, they slept less and also took longer to actually fall asleep,” said Wang. 

      Promoting better sleeping habits

      It can be difficult for parents to get their teens to follow a sleeping schedule, but Wang says doing so can be incredibly beneficial. 

      These findings clearly outlined how impactful sleep can be for young people. Parents can be instrumental in their children’s social success by being stricter about bedtimes and having more positive attitudes around sleep. 

      “The promotive effect of sleep is so consistent,” said Wang. “It reduces how much adolescents ruminate, it promotes their problem solving, and it also helps them to better seek support from their peers.” 

      Recent studies have found that teens aren’t getting enough sleep, which can affect them in more ways than many consumers may realize. Now, researchers...
      Read lessRead more

      Consumer confidence showed a slight increase in February

      But the survey may not fully measure the impact of coronavirus fears

      Despite the fast-spreading coronavirus that’s sickening and killing thousands around the world and plunging financial markets into turmoil, consumers remain remarkably confident.

      The Conference Board reports that its Consumer Confidence Index, based on consumers' assessment of current business and labor market conditions, rose slightly in February after another gain in January.

      The index rose to 130.7 despite the fact that consumers’ short-term outlook for business and employment conditions suffered a significant dip.

      But that was more than offset by a sharp rise in the Expectations Index, which measures consumers' short-term outlook for income, business and labor market conditions in the months ahead. That rose more than six points.

      "Despite the decline in the Present Situation Index, consumers continue to view current conditions quite favorably,” said Lynn Franco, senior director of Economic Indicators. “Consumers' short-term expectations improved, and when coupled with solid employment growth, should be enough to continue to support spending and economic growth in the near term.

      ‘Glass is half-full’

      The February report seems to indicate a “glass is half-full” sensibility among consumers. They generally think the present situation isn’t as good as it should be, but they’re optimistic about the short-term future.

      Consumers who describe business conditions as "good" declined from 40 percent to 38.6 percent. Those saying business conditions are "bad" rose from 10.4 percent to 11.9 percent. 

      Consumers weren’t as bullish on the job market this month. Those saying jobs are "plentiful" fell from 47.2 percent to 44.6 percent, while those claiming jobs are "hard to get" increased from 11.9 percent to 14.8 percent.

      Despite that finding, consumers generally expect their fortunes to improve in the near future. More than 20 percent expect business conditions to be better in six months, up from a little more than 18 percent in January. There was also a decline in the percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to get worse.

      Didn’t fully measure the market sell-off

      The February survey was mostly conducted before this week’s dramatic stock market plunge over concerns about the coronavirus, codenamed COVID-19. Economist Joel Naroff, of Naroff Economic Advisors, says the market turmoil could have an impact in the near future.

      “Consumers remain confident, but continued declines in the equity markets are likely to test their resolve,” Naroff wrote on his blog.

      Naroff also sees a warning in the data. The drop in the Present Situation Index in February signals some consumer discomfort with the economy. Unless the stock market bounces back quickly, he says the March report could show a less confident consumer.

      Despite the fast-spreading coronavirus that’s sickening and killing thousands around the world and plunging financial markets into turmoil, consumers remai...
      Read lessRead more

      Fresh Sprout International recalls bean sprouts

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Fresh Sprout International is recalling Fresh Sprouts brand Fresh Bean Sprouts.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      There have been no reported illnesses to date.

      The following item, sold in the Canadian province of Ontario, is being recalled:

      BrandProductSizeUPCCodes
      Fresh SproutsFresh Bean Sprouts454 g8 27468 00100 020/FEB/28

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but discard or return to the store where purchased.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at (905) 501-7588, or by email at info@fsprouts.com.

      Fresh Sprout International is recalling Fresh Sprouts brand Fresh Bean Sprouts.The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.There have been no r...
      Read lessRead more

      Ford F-150s with engine heater elements recalled

      A resistive short may occur in the engine-block heater splice connector

      Ford is recalling about 33,000 model year 2015-16 Ford F-150s with engine heater elements and 3.5-liter GTDI engines.

      Depending on the heater element location, some vehicles may have cables with insufficient heat protection and incorrect length.

      Prolonged exposure to high temperatures can cause a resistive short, inoperative engine block heater, and/or tripping of household breakers or GFCI-equipped outlets while the vehicle is parked and the block heater is plugged in.

      The risk to safety exists only while the vehicle is parked and the block heater cable is plugged into an electrical outlet.

      A resistive short in the engine-block heater splice connector can increase the risk of overheated or melted wiring and fire.

      The automaker says it is unaware of any reports of fire, accident or injury.

      What to do

      Ford will contact owners, and dealers will inspect the block heater and cable and repair or replace as necessary free of charge.

      Owners should not use the engine block heater cable until their vehicle is inspected.

      Owners may contact Ford at (866) 436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 20S08.

      Ford is recalling about 33,000 model year 2015-16 Ford F-150s with engine heater elements and 3.5-liter GTDI engines. Depending on the heater element lo...
      Read lessRead more

      Amazon opens the doors to its first Go supermarket

      The cashless, checkout-free concept starts in Seattle with 5,000 items on the shelves

      You: “Alexa, take me to that new Amazon Go supermarket.”

      Alexa: “Pack your bags -- we’re off to Seattle!”

      Never at a loss for trying something new, Amazon has just launched its first Amazon Go Grocery, with Seattle getting the nod as the idea’s geo launchpad.

      Nearly 5,000 items will be on shelves laid out over a 10,400-square-foot space (about half the size of the smallest Wal-Mart). The initiative is essentially a heftier version of its app-driven, checkout-free Amazon Go convenience store, with a wider range of products like wine and organic vegetables. 

      The other major difference is that the updated idea will be closer to residential areas, most likely as a test to see how it fares versus traditional grocers like Publix, Kroger, and Safeway.

      Thinking ahead

      As is the case with anything digital, cashless, or app-driven, there’s always the possibility of bumps in the road, but Amazon has done its best to predict those. 

      One example would be how a shopper tends to pick up produce like avocados or tomatoes and compare size and freshness. To get over that hurdle, Amazon is keeping track of moments when consumers physically pick up items by using in-store cameras. When the item is put back, the store’s systems register what the product is so it can be checked later on. 

      “Most of the things at Amazon Go are packaged, or they’re single items like a can of Coke,” Dilip Kumar, vice president of Amazon’s Physical Retail and Technology department, told GeekWire. “But here, people are shopping for potatoes or they’re shopping for onions — there’s a lot more browsing and rummaging that tends to happen. That’s what makes this problem a lot more complicated.”

      Anything missing?

      Amazon has thought everything out pretty well. Staying competitive with typical grocery chains, it has prepared “Meals Made Easy” selections, cat litter, toiletries, baked goods, and even alcohol like wine and beer. 

      However, if you’re a meat lover and like to talk to the butcher, the supersized version of Amazon Go might not be for you. Yes, there is beef, seafood, and poultry, but all of that is pre-cut and pre-wrapped. 

      Go big or go home

      Amazon appears ready to expand this concept if all goes well. In comments to The Wall Street Journal, Kumar said that there is “no real upper bound” to the store concept. “It could be five times as big, it could be 10 times as big." 

      One question that came up as ConsumerAffairs was doing the legwork on this story was what happens to Whole Foods. While some marketing brains might think Amazon is cannibalizing itself by having two grocery brands, the company feels it can satisfy two distinct and different groups of grocery shoppers without hurting either one. 

      One of those differentiators is home delivery, an add-on that Whole Foods keeps expanding on and one that Go will likely avoid.

      You: “Alexa, take me to that new Amazon Go supermarket.”Alexa: “Pack your bags -- we’re off to Seattle!”Never at a loss for trying something new, A...
      Read lessRead more

      Ford recalls F-150 trucks with LED headlamps

      The daytime running lamps can remain activated instead of dimming as designed

      Ford is recalling about 207,000 model year 2018-20 F-150 trucks with LED headlamps in the U.S. and Canada.

      When the daytime running lamps are illuminated and the master lighting switch is manually rotated from the autolamp position to the headlamp-on (low-beam) position, the daytime running lamps remain activated instead of dimming to parking lamp intensity.

      This may reduce the visibility of other drivers, increasing the risk of a crash.

      Ford says it has not received any reports of accident or injury related to this condition.

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners and dealers will update the body control module software configuration free of charge.

      Owners may contact Ford at (866) 436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 20C03.

      Ford is recalling about 207,000 model year 2018-20 F-150 trucks with LED headlamps in the U.S. and Canada. When the daytime running lamps are illuminate...
      Read lessRead more

      Coronavirus cases surge, sending markets reeling

      Concerns are growing over the potential economic impact of the fast-spreading virus

      The number of cases of the coronavirus, both inside and outside of China, surged over the weekend, sending investors racing for the sidelines. The world’s stock markets opened sharply lower Monday after a steep sell-off on Friday.

      The Dow Jones Industrial Average opened Monday’s trading at 28,143, down 843 points -- nearly 3 percent -- from Friday’s close, and it was heading lower. South Korea’s stock market plunged 3 percent, nearly twice the losses experienced on the Hong Kong market.

      The travel industry has already taken a severe hit, but the virus, also known as COVID-19, threatens other areas of the economy. There have been growing concerns that the coronavirus could cause a worldwide recession, impacting China’s supply chain while reducing demand. 

      “Not only are Chinese industrial hubs in lockdown, and derailing global supply chains, you now have the virus spreading very close to industrial hubs in Europe,” Florian Hense, European economist at Berenberg Bank, told The Wall Street Journal.

      What Warren Buffet’s doing

      But for consumers with their retirement savings in the stock market, legendary investor Warren Buffett says it’s no time for panic. In an interview with CNBC Monday, Buffett said the impact of the virus, as severe as it may be, is likely to have only a short-term effect. He says his economic outlook remains unchanged.

      “We’re buying businesses to own for 20 or 30 years,” he told the network. “We buy them in whole, we buy them in parts ... and we think the 20- and 30-year outlook is not changed by the coronavirus.”

      What is increasing investors’ concern is the virus’ spread outside China. Over the weekend, there was an explosion in the number of reported cases in Italy and Iran, among other countries. There have been hundreds of new cases reported in South Korea, as a fifth person has died from the virus in Italy. The government there reports that at least 50,000 people have been placed under quarantine.

      In its latest update on the situation in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the disease has been detected among travelers returning from China and has been transmitted via person-to-person contact. 

      “But at this time, this virus is not currently spreading in the community in the United States,” the CDC said.

      The number of cases of the coronavirus, both inside and outside of China, surged over the weekend, sending investors racing for the sidelines. The world’s...
      Read lessRead more

      United Airlines increases fee for checked baggage

      Travelers can save money and avoid the price bump by paying in advance

      Following similar moves from other major carriers, United Airlines announced on Friday that it will be increasing the fee it assesses for checked bags by $5 starting on March 6. 

      The company said that it would be raising the fee from $30 to $35 for travelers’ first checked bag; the fee for the second checked bag will now be $45. Travelers who bought a ticket before the announcement will not have to pay the additional fee. 

      The price increase will be effective for all flights within the United States and short-range flights to areas in Latin America and the Caribbean.

      Avoiding the price increase

      While the price bump may catch the ire of travelers who have become frustrated with constantly increasing fees for airline services, there is a way to avoid price jump for now. 

      Passengers who prepay for their bags online will not have to pay the extra $5. However, United notes on its websites that prepaying for checked baggage is non-refundable. Travelers will also need to make sure that their bags are not oversized, overweight, or categorized as a “special item” by the airline. 

      For more information on United’s policy for checked bags, readers can visit the company’s website here.

      Following similar moves from other major carriers, United Airlines announced on Friday that it will be increasing the fee it assesses for checked bags by $...
      Read lessRead more

      Sales of existing homes dropped sharply in January

      Homebuyers are finding fewer options as inventory levels fall

      Anecdotal evidence suggests buyers were getting an early start on home shopping last month, but the sales numbers haven’t borne that out. More people may have been looking, but they weren’t buying.

      Sales of existing homes fell 1.3 percent from December, pulled down by a significant drop in home sales in the western states, according to data from the National Association of Realtors (NAR). However, home sales were up 9.6 percent from January 2019.

      Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist, isn’t all that discouraged by the lackluster start to the 2020 home-buying season. 

      "Existing-home sales are off to a strong start at 5.46 million," Yun said. "The trend line for housing starts is increasing and showing steady improvement, which should ultimately lead to more home sales."

      Good economic conditions

      Economic conditions are ripe for a surge in home sales. Unemployment is low, and wages have been steadily rising. Mortgage rates have hovered just below 4 percent.

      What may be depressing sales is the lack of available homes to purchase. Zillow recently reported that housing inventory hit a seven-year low in December.

      The report showed inventory was down year-over-year in 31 of the 35 largest U.S. housing markets, with Seattle, San Diego, and Sacramento seeing the largest drawdowns. The exceptions to shrinking inventory are San Antonio, Detroit, Atlanta, and Chicago -- the only markets where inventory actually increased over the last 12 months.

      Even if shoppers can afford a home, there is no guarantee they will find one to their liking in their price range with the inventory at these levels. That means potential January sales could have been put off a couple of months, or longer.

      Real estate brokerage firm Redfin reports that a majority of its agents faced competing offers when they tried to help clients buy homes in January. The company said competition is “spiking early and hard in 2020.”

      Fewer homes, higher prices

      Yun says inventory levels are down more than 10 percent from 12 months ago, and that lack of supply, coupled with increasing demand, is causing prices to rise at a faster rate. The median home price last month was $266,300, 6.8 percent higher than January 2019. Home prices have now risen year-over-year for 95 straight months.

      "Mortgage rates have helped with affordability, but it is supply conditions that are driving price growth," Yun said.

      Declining inventory isn’t helping. In January, total housing inventory was 1.42 million homes, nearly 11 percent lower than a year ago. That’s the lowest level since January 1999.

      Anecdotal evidence suggests buyers were getting an early start on home shopping last month, but the sales numbers haven’t borne that out. More people may h...
      Read lessRead more

      FCC forced by judges to ask for public feedback on net neutrality repeal

      Net neutrality’s roller coaster ride isn’t over, but it might be getting closer to giving low-income consumers better and less expensive internet service

      Net neutrality is back in the news again. On Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) came out victorious over efforts by Mozilla -- the company that makes the Firefox web browser -- to reverse the commission's repeal of net neutrality. 

      This is just another detour for net neutrality. The FCC can’t seem to find something it likes and stick with it. In the last couple of years alone, it’s discussed scrapping it and rolling it back, and officials were even getting hauled into a California court to face challenges brought by internet rights advocates.

      Don’t put the cart before the horse, FCC

      There’s a twist to this latest bit of unfolding news. Even though federal judges agreed with the FCC on the Mozilla case, they have asked the commission to further investigate if repealing the law for the sole purpose of preventing a multi-speed internet has had any negative repercussions. 

      Those upshots include checking if repealing net neutrality has harmed public safety, reduced spending in infrastructure, or hampered the FCC’s Lifeline program.

      Lifeline is an FCC initiative designed to make communications services affordable for low-income consumers. The Lifeline package of deals includes a discount on monthly telephone service, broadband Internet access service, or voice-broadband bundled service purchased from participating providers.

      Bad move?

      Not all FCC officials agree when it comes to the agency’s stance on net neutrality.

      “The FCC got it wrong when it repealed net neutrality. The decision put the agency on the wrong side of history, the American public, and the law,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said in a public statement.

      She goes on to say that the court's decision will enable the FCC to get more public feedback so that the best course can be decided. She advises consumers to make their voices heard when the comment period begins.

      “The American public should raise their voices and let Washington know how important an open internet is for every piece of our civic and commercial lives.  The agency wrongfully gave broadband providers the power to block websites, throttle services, and censor online content. The fight for an open internet is not over. It’s time to make noise,” Rosenworcel said.

      Consumers who would like to comment on net neutrality can make their thoughts known through the FCC's Electronic Filing System by simply entering 17-108 (Restoring Internet Freedom) in the proceedings box. Comments are open until March 30, 2020.

      Net neutrality is back in the news again. On Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) came out victorious over efforts by Mozilla -- the comp...
      Read lessRead more

      MGM Resorts data on over 10 million guests found on the dark web

      The company says payment details were not compromised

      Hackers who seized personal data from more than 10 million guests at MGM Resorts last year are now trying to cash in by selling that information to the highest bidders.

      Technology publisher ZDNet reports that it found personal details on the breach victims listed on a hacking forum this week. The information includes personal and contact information on guests, including well-known celebrities and business executives.

      ZDNet said it has independently verified that the information seen online is authentic.

      “Last summer, we discovered unauthorized access to a cloud server that contained a limited amount of information for certain previous guests of MGM Resorts”, a company spokesman said in a statement to the media. People compromised by the hack have been notified, the company said.

      MGM Resorts said it has contracted two cybersecurity forensic investigative companies to help the company fully understand how the security breach occurred. It said it has also begun beefing up its network security to prevent future intrusions.

      Data breaches are racking up

      The spokesman said the leaked data did not include payment information, which was included in recent hacks of convenience store chains Wawa and Rutters. The Wawa hack, affecting 30 million customers, was reported in December. By late January, much of the data was for sale on the dark web.

      Hackers began advertising the card data for sale on sites known to be used by hackers. Experts at Gemini Advisory, a threat intelligence firm, said the source of the card data was confirmed as coming from Wawa.

      Hackers have been able to make a handsome profit when they market stolen data on the dark web, but the sheer volume of this information has made it more difficult to find buyers in recent years.

      Late last year, researchers came across a huge collection of data on a poorly guarded server and notified authorities before it could be compromised. The data belonged to consumers in Canada, the U.K., and the U.S. and included phone numbers and social media profiles. Social Security numbers, passwords, and credit card numbers were not found.

      Hackers who seized personal data from more than 10 million guests at MGM Resorts last year are now trying to cash in by selling that information to the hig...
      Read lessRead more

      Gas prices are moving higher again

      Experts say winter prices have likely bottomed

      Motorists paid a little more for gasoline this week, particularly in the Southeast where the price at the pump is usually the lowest in the nation. Several southeastern states saw sizable one-week price hikes.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the average price of regular is $2.46 a gallon, three cents higher than a week ago. That’s eight cents less than a month ago. The average price of premium is $3.06 a gallon, up two cents from a week ago. The average price of diesel fuel is $2.87 a gallon, two cents cheaper than last week.

      Earlier this week, Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, reported that the seasonal rise in gasoline prices appears to have begun. Around this time of year, oil refineries begin maintenance, which reduces output. They will also begin switching over the summer-grade fuel blends, which cost more.

      States where prices are generally the cheapest saw some of the biggest price increases this week. The statewide average rose eight cents a gallon in Missouri and Texas and seven cents a gallon in South Carolina.

      A decline in gasoline supplies during the previous week also put upward pressure on prices, especially because demand for fuel increased. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports domestic gasoline stocks dropped by 2 million barrels. 

      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 ($3.49)

      • Washington ($3.08)

      • Nevada ($2.91)

      • Oregon ($2.97) 

      • Alaska ($2.93)

      • Arizona ($2.77)

      • Pennsylvania ($2.66)

      • Illinois ($2.63)

      • New York ($2.60) 

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

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

      • Missouri ($2.15)

      • Texas ($2.15)

      • Mississippi ($2.12)

      • Louisiana ($2.14)

      • Alabama ($2.17)

      • Arkansas ($2.18)

      • South Carolina ($2.19)

      • Oklahoma ($2.20)

      • Kansas ($2.20)

      • Virginia ($2.22)

      Motorists paid a little more for gasoline this week, particularly in the Southeast where the price at the pump is usually the lowest in the nation. Several...
      Read lessRead more

      Kolcraft Recalls inclined sleeper accessory included with baby beds

      Infants may roll from their back to their stomach or side

      Kolcraft Enterprises of Chicago, Ill., is recalling about 51,000 inclined sleeper accessories included with Kolcraft Cuddle ‘n Care 2-in-1 Bassinet & Incline Sleepers and Preferred Position 2-in-1 Bassinet & Incline Sleepers.

      Infant fatalities have been reported with other manufacturers’ inclined sleep products, after the infants rolled from their back to their stomach or side, or under other circumstances.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves the inclined sleeper accessory sold with the Kolcraft Cuddle ‘n Care 2-in-1 Bassinet & Incline Sleeper (model number starting with KB063) and the Kolcraft Preferred Position 2-in-1 Bassinet & Incline Sleeper (model number starting with KB061).

      Model numbers are located on the metal bar between the bassinets’ legs.

      The inclined sleeper is the only portion of the product that is being recalled.

      The inclined sleeper, manufactured in China, was sold at juvenile product stores and mass merchandisers nationwide from March 2011, through December 2017, for about $140.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled inclined sleeper accessory and contact Kolcraft for a $35 voucher to be used on www.Kolcraft.com or a $20 refund. The voucher can be used until February 20, 2022.

      Kolcraft is contacting all registered owners and known purchasers directly via a postcard by mail.

      Consumers can continue to use the bassinet without the inclined sleeper accessory.

      Consumers may contact Kolcraft at (800) 453-7673 Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Friday from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (CT), by email customerservice@kolcraft.com, or online at www.kolcraft.com and click on “Safety Notifications” at the bottom of the page for more information.

      Kolcraft Enterprises of Chicago, Ill., is recalling about 51,000 inclined sleeper accessories included with Kolcraft Cuddle ‘n Care 2-in-1 Bassinet & Incli...
      Read lessRead more

      Boeing discovers debris in 737 Max fuel tanks

      The finding marks another setback for the beleaguered aircraft manufacturer

      You can chalk up another delay for Boeing getting its 737 Max aircraft back in the air. The company has discovered debris in several of its 737 Max jets’ fuel tanks. 

      The debris -- formally referred to as “foreign object debris” (FOD) -- was found in jets that were being held in storage. That represents a huge problem because FOD can cause a plane to short circuit or experience a fire while in operation.

      Absolutely unacceptable

      CNN reported that Boeing fired off a memo to its employees, saying that FOD was “absolutely unacceptable. One escape is one too many. With your help and focus, we will eliminate FOD from our production system." 

      "During these challenging times, our customers and the flying public are counting on us to do our best work each and every day. That's why we're taking action.”

      Boeing said it will tackle the problem head-on by updating the aircraft’s instructions and checklist it uses before a plane is cleared to go. It’s doubling-down by also adding affirmations for when the aircraft are being inspected or audited.

      A never-ending story

      Boeing can’t win for losing. Now into a second year of fatal crashes, groundings, production stoppages, and continued misgivings about the 737 Max, it was only a few weeks ago that Boeing uncovered a possible wiring issue that could compromise control of the tail of the aircraft. If that happens, it could cause a short-circuit and lead to a crash if pilots don’t respond to the problem correctly and in time. 

      The FAA says no 737 Max is taking off until it sees firsthand proof that the jet is completely ready to take to the skies again.

      You can chalk up another delay for Boeing getting its 737 Max aircraft back in the air. The company has discovered debris in several of its 737 Max jets’ f...
      Read lessRead more

      Hackers lived inside of Citrix’ network for five months, the company confirms

      Information from many of the nation’s top companies may have been up for grabs

      A new story about Citrix Systems proves that no one is safe from hackers and digital con artists.

      One would think that a software company known for networking, software as a service (SaaS), and cloud computing might be super vigilant. But, it appears that no person or company is immune. Citrix has confirmed that some nasty hackers were roaming through its networks for five months between 2018 and 2019, grabbing the financial and personal data of Citrix employees, contractors, and even interns and dependents of employees. 

      The company says the hackers may have also made off with Social Security Numbers, other tax ID numbers, driver’s license numbers, financial account numbers, payment card numbers, passport numbers, and health claims information like provider names and dates of service.

      It took Citrix almost a year to come clean about the intrusion. In a February 10, 2020 letter to those who may have been affected, Citrix divulged that the attackers “had intermittent access” to Citrix’s internal network between Oct. 13, 2018 and Mar. 8, 2019. However, it stated there was zero evidence that hackers remained in the company’s systems.

      Why a letter? Actually, there’s a law in most U.S. states that requires any company to notify affected customers about hacking incidents. Citrix’s letter was prompted by laws in virtually all U.S. states that require companies to notify affected consumers of any incident that may have compromised their personal data. Plus, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has an additional breach notification rule for any business that collects health-related information.

      Password spraying

      Rewinding back to March, 2019, Krebs on Security reports that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) alerted Citrix about the potential incursion, saying that the hackers probably got into Citrix’ networks using a technique called “password spraying.” 

      Password spraying is an attack mode that tries to make its way into large databases of usernames by using a few commonly used passwords, such as “Password1.” The reason that technique is used is because it allows the hacker to remain hidden and avoid account lockouts.

      A new story about Citrix Systems proves that no one is safe from hackers and digital con artists.One would think that a software company known for netw...
      Read lessRead more

      Mercedes-Benz recalls vehicles with emergency communications issue

      The Emergency Call System may relay inaccurate vehicle location information

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 239 of the vollowing model year 2020 vehicles:

      • C300 Cabrios
      • C300 Cabrio 4MATICs
      • C300 Coupes
      • C43 AMG Cabrio 4MATICs
      • C43 AMG Coupe 4MATICs
      • C63S AMG Cabrios
      • CLS53 AMG 4MATICs
      • E350, E350 4MATICs
      • E450 Cabrios
      • E450 Cabrio 4MATICs
      • E450 Coupes
      • E450 Coupe 4MATICs
      • E450 4MATICs
      • E53 AMG Cabrio 4MATICs
      • GLC300 Coupe 4MATICs
      • GLC300s
      • GLC300 4MATICs
      • GLC63 AMG Coupe 4MATICs
      • AMG GT63 4-Door 4MATICs
      • AMG GT63S 4-Door 4MATICs

      An electrical circuit inside the Emergency Call System (eCall) communication module may be damaged, potentially relaying an inaccurate vehicle location.

      An inaccurate vehicle location may delay emergency responders, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

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

      The recall is expected to begin April 7, 2020.

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

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 239 of the vollowing model year 2020 vehicles: C300 Cabrios C300 Cabrio 4MATICs C300 Coupes C43 AMG Cabr...
      Read lessRead more

      Missa Bay recalls spinach Dijon salad

      The product may contain egg and wheat, allergens not declared on the label

      Missa Bay of Swedesboro, N.J., is recalling 1,154 cases of Ready Pac Bistro Bowl Spinach Dijon Salad.

      The product may contain egg and wheat, allergens not declared on the label.

      No adverse reactions have been reported to date.

      The recalled product has a use-by date of Feb. 18, 2020, and product lot code of 255588007 (printed on the top label).

      It was sold at retail stores in 15 states including Connecticut, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Mary Toscano at (800) 800-7822.

      Missa Bay of Swedesboro, N.J., is recalling 1,154 cases of Ready Pac Bistro Bowl Spinach Dijon Salad. The product may contain egg and wheat, allergens n...
      Read lessRead more

      Doctors call for more coronavirus testing in the U.S.

      But the healthcare system is hampered by a lack of testing kits

      The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, does not appear to be spreading in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) categorizes it as an "emerging, rapidly evolving situation."

      But the group Doctors for Disaster Preparedness says it’s very hard to tell the status of the virus in the U.S. because at this point there is no way to really know.

      "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 points 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.

      In recent days, the CDC has changed the way it considers whether someone in the U.S. is a person under suspicion. If a patient is severely ill, testing can be considered if “exposure history is equivocal.” Otherwise, testing is not likely.

      Limited test kit availability

      The problem is the limited availability of test kits, which are in great demand in Asia at the moment. Doctors for Disaster Preparedness says some test kits have been shown to be defective, so replacements have been ordered. Accuracy has also been an issue.

      "With all laboratory tests, there are both false positives and false negatives," Orient said.

      There have been social media posts from people complaining that hospitals will not test their coughing and fever symptoms for COVID-19, even if they have tested negative for the flu.

      Orient says it is vitally important to stop this epidemic with public health measures, especially if it begins to increasingly show up in the U.S. If it were to rapidly spread, she worries about its effect on the U.S. healthcare system.

      "We may not even be able to support seriously sick people who need ventilators because the necessary drugs come from China," she said.

      On one hand, Orient is encouraged that the U.S. government is racing to ramp up production of critical drug and medical supplies. But she says if the system doesn’t prepare for the worst, it will be very difficult to deal with a major outbreak when and if it should take place.

      The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, does not appear to be spreading in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) categorizes it...
      Read lessRead more

      Blendtopia Products recalls frozen smoothie kits

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Blendtopia Products is recalling 29,078 cases of 7-oz. frozen Blendtopia brand Superfood Smoothie Kits.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      There are no reports of illness to date.

      The recalled smoothie blends include: Blendtopia brand “Glow”, “Detox”, “Energy”, “Immunity” and “Strength” Superfood Smoothie Kits, “Best By July 2021, Best By Oct 2021, and Best By Nov 2021.”

      The recalled product was sold at select retailers nationwide and through online sales.

      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 the company at (844) 260-8181 Monday – Friday, 9am – 5pm (MT) or by email at support@blendtopia.com

      Blendtopia Products is recalling 29,078 cases of 7-oz. frozen Blendtopia brand Superfood Smoothie Kits. The products may be contaminated with Listeria m...
      Read lessRead more

      Model year 2020 Honda Passports and Pilots recalled

      Ink on the certification label can be wiped away

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 10,050 model year 2020 Passports and Pilots.

      The certification label may have been printed with ink that can be wiped away with a solvent, removing the Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) and Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) information.

      If the operator is unable to refer to the label information, the vehicle may be overloaded, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will replace the certification label free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin March 17, 2020.

      Owners may contact Honda customer service at (888) 234-2138. Honda's number for this recall is B6T.

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 10,050 model year 2020 Passports and Pilots. The certification label may have been printed with ink that can be wi...
      Read lessRead more

      Textron Specialized Vehicles recalls gas-powered E-Z-GO, Cushman and Tracker brand off-road vehicles

      The starter generator wire can come into contact with the vehicle’s exhaust

      Textron Specialized Vehicles of Augusta, Ga., is recalling about 20,573 gas-powered E-Z-GO, Cushman and Tracker brand off-road vehicles.

      The starter generator wire can be improperly secured, allowing it to come into contact with the vehicle’s exhaust, posing a fire hazard.

      The firm has received 13 reports of melted and/or burned wires and electrical components and loss of vehicle function in some cases, including one report of fire. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves gas-powered E-Z-GO, Cushman and Tracker brand off-road vehicles manufactured from November 2018, through June 2019, with certain non-sequential serial numbers ranging from 3377720 to 3440924. The serial number is located on the kick panel below the driver side seat.

      The vehicles, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at E-Z-GO, Cushman and Tracker off road dealerships nationwide from November 2018, through October 2019, for between $6,300 and $13,400.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled off-road vehicles and contact Textron Specialized Vehicles for a free repair. Textron Specialized Vehicles is contacting all known purchasers directly.

      Consumers may contact Textron toll-free at (888) 525-6040 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at jcook03@textron.com or online (for E-Z-Go) at https://ezgo.txtsv.com, click on “Owners” at the top of the page, then “Recall Information;” (for Cushman) at https://cushman.txtsv.com, click on Owners at the top of the page, then “Recall Information,” and (for Tracker) at www.trackeroffroad.com and click on “Recalls” at the bottom of the page.

      Textron Specialized Vehicles of Augusta, Ga., is recalling about 20,573 gas-powered E-Z-GO, Cushman and Tracker brand off-road vehicles. The starter gen...
      Read lessRead more

      Just how deadly is the coronavirus?

      The worrisome fact is that health experts just don’t know for sure

      The headlines are scary. The novel coronavirus, now officially named COVID-19, has sickened at least 70,000 people and killed more than 1,770 -- with nearly all the deaths occurring in China.

      That’s a death rate of a little more than 2 percent, which at this point is higher than the percentage of Americans who have died from the flu this year. But health officials point out that we’re relatively early in the outbreak. That percentage of COVID-19 deaths could increase over time, or it might not.

      At this point, however, your chances of surviving if you get COVID-19 appear to be similar to your odds of surviving the flu. Both conditions tend to kill people who are in fragile health, along with the very old and very young. 

      But the new disease appears to be more severe in some patients than in others. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that about 80 percent of the people who get the virus get a relatively mild case and recover in about a week. If you’re in that 80 percent, your odds of survival are very good.

      It’s the other 20 percent that health officials worry about. In these patients, the virus causes a serious lung infection that creates pneumonia-like symptoms. 

      WHO says deaths are ‘rare’

      Dr. Yoko Furuya, an infectious disease specialist at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, says the virus replicates in lung tissue and begins to destroy cells in severe cases. But at this point, WHO calls deaths from COVID-19 “rare.”

      “Older people, and people with pre-existing medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus,” officials said.

      WHO reports that the disease, at its worst, attacks the lungs in three phases. The second and third phases may be the most lethal, attacking the immune system and destroying the body’s pulmonary system.

      But just as in the SARS epidemic nearly 20 years ago, not everyone who gets the virus goes through all three phases. That’s often the case with the flu, which is generally more widespread and more deadly than COVID-19. 

      Flu fatalities

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates at least 26 million Americans have come down with the flu between October 1 and February 1. Between 14,000 and 36,000 of them have died, and that’s just in the U.S.

      Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, in an interview on CNBC, said the flu may not be a good comparison when considering COVID-19. What makes the latter more worrisome, he says, is that it appears to be a lot more contagious than the flu and might spread more easily.

      COVID-19 may turn out to be less pervasive or lethal than the flu, but again, it’s really too early to tell, a fact that makes healthcare providers very nervous.

      Gabriel Leung, a professor and chairman of public health medicine at Hong Kong University, told The Guardian last week that COVID-19 might eventually spread to 60 percent of the world’s population if it’s not stopped in its tracks.

      The headlines are scary. The novel coronavirus, now officially named COVID-19, has sickened at least 70,000 people and killed more than 1,770 -- with nearl...
      Read lessRead more

      American passengers aboard quarantined cruise liner are back home after coronavirus scare

      People with no symptoms of sickness have been evacuated

      American passengers who were quarantined aboard a cruise ship in Japan are arriving home today.

      The passengers spent two weeks in quarantine aboard the ship in a Japanese port after there were confirmed cases of coronavirus on the ship. The Americans face two more weeks of isolation at Travis Air Force Base in California and Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. They left Japan aboard two jets chartered by the U.S. State Department.

      Nearly 400 Americans and their families were aboard the Diamond Princess cruise liner when cases of the coronavirus began to be reported in early February. In tests that were given, several passengers tested positive for the virus.

      The American passengers who tested positive have been separated from the main group and were not evacuated. Instead, they remain in Tokyo hospitals for treatment. However, in a statement Monday morning, the U.S. government reported that 14 of the evacuated passengers aboard the planes have now tested positive for the virus.

      NPR reports that 355 people aboard the ship tested positive for the virus, including 44 Americans. That’s the largest confirmed outbreak outside of China.

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the decision was made to evacuate the non-infected Americans because the number of confirmed coronavirus cases on the ship was rising.

      The problem with cruise ships

      A cruise ship is one of the worst places to be when a contagious disease has broken out. The confined spaces make it difficult to avoid contact with germs and other infected people.

      Last week, the Cruise Lines International Association, an industry trade group, advised members to deny boarding to passengers or crew members if they have traveled through China, Hong Kong, or Macao in the last two weeks.

      The coronavirus outbreak has hit the cruise industry particularly hard, coming at the height of travel season and threatening to put a dent in the $46 billion ocean cruise industry. In the U.S., the major players are Carnival Corp., Royal Caribbean Cruises, and Norwegian Cruise Lines.

      American passengers who were quarantined aboard a cruise ship in Japan are arriving home today.The passengers spent two weeks in quarantine aboard the...
      Read lessRead more

      Social media makes breakups harder for consumers

      Researchers say it’s harder than ever for consumers to distance themselves from ex-partners

      While previous studies have explored how social media can make users feel excluded by their friends, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder found that it can also make users feel worse after a breakup. 

      According to the researchers, social media platforms have made it harder than ever for users to get distance from relationships that have recently ended. These platforms can serve as a constant reminder of what ex-partners are up to -- including forming new relationships. Moreover, the researchers found that utilizing tools to block, mute, or unfriend exes didn’t make things better. 

      “Before social media, break-ups still sucked, but it was much easier to get distance from the person,” said researcher Anthony Pinter. “It can almost make it impossible to move on if you are constantly bombarded with reminders in different places online.” 

      Why it’s so hard to move on

      The researchers had 19 people involved in the study, all of whom had experienced the end of a relationship in the last 18 months and had a poor experience with social media after the breakup. 

      The participants were interviewed for over an hour each about their social media use after their breakup. They answered questions about how the internet contributed, either positively or negatively, to their coping. 

      The researchers learned that there were several features -- particularly on Facebook -- that made it difficult for consumers to get distance from their exes and move on from their past relationships. Participants were frequently reminded of their relationship bliss via the Memories feature, which calls up pictures, videos, and posts from past years, making it harder for social media users to put that part of their lives behind them. 

      Moreover, Facebook made it nearly impossible for the study participants to ignore their former partners’ life updates, as the News Feed is a constant reminder of things going on with a person they no longer want to be updated on. And while this could be a way for users to upload a new profile picture or share news about a job, it could also be the way to share a new relationship, making it all the more difficult for exes to move on. 

      Unfriending isn’t the answer 

      While Facebook, like several social media platforms, gives users the option to block, unfriend, or mute others, the researchers learned that these tools weren’t enough for the participants. 

      “A lot of people make the assumption that they can just unfriend their ex or unfollow them and they are not going to have to deal with this anymore,” Pinter said. “Our work shows that this is not the case.” 

      He explained that exes’ information can pop up via comments or likes from mutual friends or in mutual groups, or even from their family members or friends who haven’t been unfriended. This can leave heartbroken consumers with constant reminders of their lives pre-breakup. 

      While these tools certainly aren’t going to rid exes from consumers’ social media profiles, Pinter suggests using them anyway, as they can offer some peace of mind when a relationship ends. Perhaps most importantly, he says staying off social media for a while can work wonders while consumers process their feelings. 

      “In real life, you get to decide who gets the cat and who gets the couch, but online it’s a lot harder to determine who gets this picture or who gets this group,” Pinter said. 

      While previous studies have explored how social media can make users feel excluded by their friends, a new study conducted by researchers from the Universi...
      Read lessRead more

      Consumers and countries with more money waste more food

      Researchers say more food is wasted than most people might think

      There are many factors that contribute to consumers’ food waste, but findings from a recent study suggest that how much money you earn and spend could play more of a key role than previously thought.

      Researchers from Wageningen University in the Netherlands conducted an analysis that sought to link spending with food waste. They found that relatively low levels of spending were linked with higher levels of waste.

      “According to our estimates, annual per capita consumer expenditure of about 2450 (International 2005 USD) or about $6.70/day/capita, is the level at which policy-makers should start paying particular attention to consumer [food waste] in a country and implement consumer awareness and education programs to counter it before it explodes,” the researchers said.

      Focus on high-income and developing nations

      The team came to their conclusions after analyzing data collected by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). While creating their model, the team found that current FAO estimates focused on food waste were drastically underestimated. 

      "Novel research using energy requirement and consumer affluence data shows that consumers waste more than twice as much food as is commonly believed,” the study authors stated. 

      To solve this problem, the team suggests that policymakers specifically focus on reducing food waste in high-income countries. Following that, they recommend focusing on countries where affluence is growing so that emerging economies and nations do not follow a similar path.

      “If these growing economies follow the same growth paths as the developed regions, we will soon see similar [food waste] patterns evolving,” the researchers warn.

      The full study has been published in the journal PLOS ONE.

      There are many factors that contribute to consumers’ food waste, but findings from a recent study suggest that how much money you earn and spend could play...
      Read lessRead more

      Honda recalls model year 2018-2020 Odyssey

      The wire harness for the third row seat accessory power outlet may short circuit

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 241,339 model year 2018-2020 Odysseys.

      The wire harness for the third row seat accessory power outlet may get pinched between the unibody and rear trim panel, possibly damaging the wires and causing an electrical short.

      An intermittent electrical short could overheat the wire harness, increasing the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the third row seat accessory power outlet wire harness for damage, replacing it as necessary.

      If no damage is found, the dealer will apply protective tape and re-route the harness. All repairs will be performed free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin March 16, 2020.

      Owners may contact Honda customer service at (888) 234-2138. Honda's number for this recall is T6U.

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 241,339 model year 2018-2020 Odysseys. The wire harness for the third row seat accessory power outlet may get pinc...
      Read lessRead more

      BMW recalls X7 xDrive vehicles

      The rear reflex reflectors may not reflect an adequate amount of light

      BMW of North America is recalling 683 model year 2020 X7 xDrive40i and X7 xDrive50i vehicles. The rear reflex reflectors may not reflect an adequate amount of light.

      An inadequate amount of reflected light will decrease the vehicle's visibility to other drivers, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will replace both rear reflex reflectors free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin March 23, 2020.

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

      BMW of North America is recalling 683 model year 2020 X7 xDrive40i and X7 xDrive50i vehicles. The rear reflex reflectors may not reflect an adequate amount...
      Read lessRead more

      Delta Air Lines announces plans to go carbon neutral starting next month

      The company is making a $1 billion commitment towards the sustainability goal

      When March 2020 rolls around, Delta Air Lines will be depositing a big, fat $1 billion towards doing what it can to clean up the environment. 

      In a 10-year commitment heralded by Delta CEO Ed Bastian, the airline will put an all-in effort towards mitigating emissions -- both in the air and on the ground -- anywhere it has a presence. As part of that 10-year investment, Bastian is pinning his hopes on innovation, clean air tech, and waste reduction to honor that commitment.

      “There is no substitute for the power that travel has to connect people, which our world needs today more than ever before. As we connect customers around the globe, it is our responsibility to deliver on our promise to bring people together and ensure the utmost care for our environment,” said Bastian. “The time is now to accelerate our investments and establish an ambitious commitment that the entire Delta team will deliver.”

      With Delta becoming the first airline to go carbon neutral, it may force U.S. airports to follow Europe’s lead and also take the carbon neutral route. The number of Europe’s carbon neutral airports are growing expeditiously. Currently, Europe has 41 carbon neutral airports and is on track to hit 100 by 2030. 

      Prepare for take-off

      Bastian is a busy boy. When you take into account his earlier promise to build a technological conduit between Delta and its passengers, this latest initiative will put a lot on his plate.

      With as much as 98 percent of all the company’s emissions coming from its aircraft, Bastian’s carbon neutral wish is an especially tall order, but he appears determined that Delta can -- and will -- make this move happen. To get there, however, it’s not only going to take everyone from the ground crew up. The airliner will need to build coalitions with outside brains and resources, as well. 

      “There’s no challenge we face that is in greater need of innovation than environmental sustainability, and we know there is no single solution. We are digging deep into the issues, examining every corner of our business, engaging experts, building coalitions, fostering partnerships and driving innovation,” Bastian said

      “We are on a journey, and though we don’t have all the answers today, we know that our scale, along with investments of time, talent and resources will bring meaningful impact to the planet and ensure the sustainability of our business for decades to come.”

      How do travelers benefit?

      A cleaner environment is one thing, but you may be asking yourself what’s in it for you the next time you climb aboard a Delta flight?

      “When customers choose to fly Delta, they should feel they’re making a statement about taking care of our planet,” Bastian said. “Our commitment to carbon neutrality means flying with Delta represents far more than a great travel experience – it’s about joining arms to create a better world.

      When March 2020 rolls around, Delta Air Lines will be depositing a big, fat $1 billion towards doing what it can to clean up the environment. In a 10-y...
      Read lessRead more

      Rutter’s convenience store chain reports data breach

      The details are similar to the hack of Wawa’s payment card system

      Rutter's, a chain of convenience stores and gas stations with 72 locations in central Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Maryland, has reported details of a data breach that exposed customers’ payment card information.

      The breach is disturbingly similar to one that victimized Wawa, another convenience store chain. That breach was announced in December and affected nearly 30 million consumers.

      “On January 14, 2020, the investigation identified evidence indicating that an unauthorized actor may have accessed payment card data from cards used on point-of-sale (POS) devices at some fuel pumps and inside some of our convenience stores through malware installed on the payment processing systems,” Rutter’s said in a statement. 

      Similar methods

      In the Wawa incident, a team of security investigators found malware on the company’s payment processing servers on December 10 and contained it two days later. The malware was able to capture payment card data from cards used in gas pump card readers as well as in point of sale terminals inside the stores.

      The Rutter’s announcement suggests that the hackers were using the same or very similar method. Investigators say the malware found on Rutter’s servers searched for tracking data and read from a payment card as it was being routed through the payment processing systems. But not all cards used at the stores may have been compromised.

      “Chip-enabled (EMV) POS terminals are used inside our convenience stores.  EMV cards generate a unique code that is validated for each transaction, and the code cannot be reused,” the company said. “As a result, for EMV cards inserted into the chip-reader on the EMV POS devices in our convenience stores, only card number and expiration date were involved.”

      It also appears that the malware did not copy data from all of the payment cards used during the time it was on the company’s network. What’s clear, the company said, is that this hack was a sophisticated operation and not the result of a handheld "skimmer" being placed on a Rutter's fuel pump. 

      New way to steal data

      Visa warned in December that this type of hack was becoming more common. Over the summer, Visa said it found that “threat actors” had stepped up their game when it comes to stealing consumers’ payment card information. 

      The scammers target merchant employees through the use of phishing emails. If someone clicks on an email link, they download malware that infects the entire network. Once inside the company’s system, it has no need to use risky and “low-tech” gas pump skimmers to steal payment card information.

      As for the Rutter’s hack, the company says the specific timeframes when data from cards used at the locations involved may have been accessed vary by location. But the malware could have been capturing data at some locations from October 1, 2018 through May 29, 2019.

      Consumers who used a payment card to make purchases at Rutter’s between those dates should carefully monitor statements and inform their bank or credit card issuer. Those companies may or may not choose to issue new cards.

      Rutter's, a chain of convenience stores and gas stations with 72 locations in central Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Maryland, has reported details of a...
      Read lessRead more

      Consumers still getting a late winter break at the gas pump

      The average gas price has fallen slightly in the last week

      Uncertainty over the coronavirus is keeping world oil prices low, and that, in turn, continues to push down gasoline prices.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gas is $2.43 a gallon, down a penny in the last week. It’s 16 cents cheaper than a month ago. The average price of premium is $3.04 a gallon, also one cent lower than last Friday. The average price of diesel fuel is $2.89, down from $2.91 last week.

      In a few weeks, fuel prices will likely start to rise as refineries curtail operations for winter maintenance and begin the switchover to more expensive summer-blend gasoline. But until then, oil prices should continue to give motorists a break at the gas pump.

      “At $50 a barrel, West Texas Intermediate crude oil prices are at their cheapest point in a year,” said Jeanette Casselano, AAA’s spokesperson. “That, plus steady gasoline stock levels and low demand have helped to push the national average lower – a dime cheaper than three weeks ago.”

      Supply and demand remain the biggest factor in falling fuel prices. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported Thursday that gas supplies are still 2.7 million barrels higher than 2019’s level at this time. Meanwhile, EIA estimates demand fell from 8.93 million barrels a day to 8.72 million barrels last week.

      Florida led the nation with an eight cents a gallon drop in its average gas price. The average price in North Dakota is down six cents a gallon in the last 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 ($3.60)

      • California ($3.49)

      • Washington ($3.09)

      • Nevada ($2.93)

      • Oregon ($2.97) 

      • Alaska ($2.94)

      • Arizona ($2.78)

      • Pennsylvania ($2.62)

      • New York ($2.61)

      • Vermont ($2.59) 

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

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

      • Missouri ($2.07)

      • Texas ($2.07)

      • Mississippi ($2.09)

      • Louisiana ($2.10)

      • South Carolina ($2.12)

      • Oklahoma ($2.12)

      • Arkansas ($2.15)

      • Kansas ($2.17)

      • Alabama ($2.14)

      • Kentucky ($2.18)

      Uncertainty over the coronavirus is keeping world oil prices low, and that, in turn, continues to push down gasoline prices.The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey s...
      Read lessRead more

      Rooms To Go recalls Patmos Chaise Lounge Chairs

      Paint on the chair’s metal frame exceeds the federal lead paint standard

      Rooms To Go of Seffner, Fla., is recalling about 385 Patmos Chaise Lounge Chairs.

      The paint used on the chair’s metal frame contains levels of lead that exceed the federal lead paint standard. Lead is toxic if ingested by young children.

      This recall involves the Patmos Chaise Lounge Chair, which is sold in brown and gray, and covered with a tightly woven, synthetic, resin/all-weather wicker.

      The chair also has an adjustable backrest and measures 34 inches wide, 83 inches deep, and 11 inches high.

      The chairs, manufactured in Indonesia, were sold at Rooms To Go and Carl’s Patio stores in Florida and online at www.roomstogo.com from March 2017, through April 2019, for between $500 and $700.

      What to do

      Consumers should stop using the recalled chairs immediately and contact Rooms To Go for a replacement. Rooms To Go is contacting all known purchasers directly.

      Consumers may contact Rooms To Go toll-free at (855) 688-0919, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (ET), or online at www.roomstogo.com and click on “Customer Service” at the bottom of the page for more information.

      Rooms To Go of Seffner, Fla., is recalling about 385 Patmos Chaise Lounge Chairs. The paint used on the chair’s metal frame contains levels of lead that...
      Read lessRead more

      Family Traditions Meat Company recalls ready-to-eat meat sticks

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

      Family Traditions Meat Company of Ackley, Iowa, is recalling approximately 270 pounds of ready-to-eat beef sticks.

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

      There are no confirmed reports of adverse reactions.

      The following fully cooked, ready-to-eat item, produced on November 14, 2019, December 3, 2019, and January 6, 2020 with a shelf life of six months, is being recalled:

      • 3-oz. and 6-oz. vacuum-packed packages containing “Arcadia MEATS SMOKED BEEF STICKS ORIGINAL” with lot numbers 31819, 33719 and 00620.

      The recalled product, bearing establishment number “EST. 46538” inside the USDA mark of inspection, was shipped to retail locations in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Jolene Heikens or Ashley Morton at (641) 847-8116.

      Family Traditions Meat Company of Ackley, Iowa, is recalling approximately 270 pounds of ready-to-eat beef sticks. The product contains milk, an allerge...
      Read lessRead more

      GM recalls Chevrolet Silverado 1500s and GMC Sierra 1500s

      The vehicle's electronic brake assist may be disabled

      General Motors is recalling 148,055 model year 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500s and GMC Sierra 1500s.

      The vehicles received updated software for the Electronic Brake Control Module (EBCM). However, the software has an error, and as a result, the electronic brake assist may be disabled.

      A loss of electronic brake assist can increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will reprogram the EBCM free of charge.

      The recall was expected to begin February 10, 2020.

      Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at (800) 222-1020 or GMC customer service at (888) 988-7267. GM's number for this recall is N192268091.

      General Motors is recalling 148,055 model year 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500s and GMC Sierra 1500s.The vehicles received updated software for the Elect...
      Read lessRead more

      Confirmed U.S. coronavirus cases rise to 15

      The CDC says consumers should prepare for the virus to take a foothold in the States

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released details of the 14th and 15th U.S. cases of coronavirus infection. 

      Details of the 14th case, which were released on Wednesday, show that another consumer in California contracted the virus while traveling abroad. The patient had been under federal quarantine after returning on a State Department-chartered flight that arrived back in the U.S. on February 7. 

      The 15th case, shared on Thursday, shares many similar details. The patient in question lives in Texas and was also under quarantine after arriving back in the U.S. on February 7. They had visited the Hubei Province of China and showed symptoms while under observation. Tests confirmed that they had contracted COVID-19 (the name officials recently gave to the infection), and they are currently receiving isolated treatment at a nearby hospital.

      Consumers brace for more infections

      CDC officials say that U.S. consumers should prepare themselves for more cases of COVID-19 in the coming weeks.

      “There will likely be additional cases in the coming days and weeks, including among other people recently returned from Wuhan. While 195 people were discharged from quarantine on Tuesday, more than 600 people who returned on chartered flights from Wuhan remain under federal quarantine and are being closely monitored to contain the spread of the virus,” the CDC stated. 

      Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the CDC’s director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, added that future person-to-person spread in the U.S. is a distinct possibility.

      “At some point, we are likely to see community spread in the U.S. or in other countries. This will trigger a change in our response strategy,” she said in a statement.

      For more information about the virus outbreak and current efforts to contain it, visit the CDC’s website here.

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released details of the 14th and 15th U.S. cases of coronavirus infection. Details of the 14th...
      Read lessRead more

      Hyundai recalls Elantras and Elantra Touring vehicles

      The Anti-lock Brake module may short circuit

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 429,686 model year 2006-2011 Elantras and model year 2007-2011 Elantra Touring vehicles.

      Moisture may enter the Anti-lock Brake (ABS) Module and result in an electrical short.

      An electrical short within the ABS Module may cause an engine compartment fire, even when the car is turned off, increasing the risk of an injury.

      What to do

      Hyundai will notify owners, and dealers will install a relay in the vehicle's main junction box to prevent the risk of an ABS short-circuit while the car is turned off -- free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin April 3, 2020.

      Owners may contact Hyundai customer service at (855) 371-9460. Hyundai's number for this recall is 188.

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 429,686 model year 2006-2011 Elantras and model year 2007-2011 Elantra Touring vehicles. Moisture may enter the Anti-...
      Read lessRead more

      Mercedes-Benz recalls AMG 4MATICs

      The vehicle may leak oil

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 2,518 model year 2018-2019 E63 AMG 4MATICs, E63S AMG 4MATIC Wagons, S63 AMG Cabrio 4MATICs, S63 AMG Coupe 4MATICs & S63 AMG 4MATICs, and model year 2019 G63 AMG 4MATICs, AMG GT63 4MATICs and AMG GT63S 4MATICs with 4.0L 8-cylinder gasoline turbocharged engines.

      The oil feed line to the turbocharger may leak.

      An oil leak in the presence of an ignition source such as hot engine or exhaust components can increase the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will replace the oil feed line to the turbocharger free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin March 27, 2020.

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

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 2,518 model year 2018-2019 E63 AMG 4MATICs, E63S AMG 4MATIC Wagons, S63 AMG Cabrio 4MATICs, S63 AMG Coupe 4MATICs & ...
      Read lessRead more

      Ford recalls vehicles with possible suspension issue

      The vehicle may experience a fractured rear suspension toe link

      Ford Motor Company is recalling about 217,000 model year 2013-18 Ford Flex, Ford Taurus Police Interceptor Sedan, Ford Taurus SHO and Lincoln MKT vehicles.

      Vehicles exposed to frequent full rear-suspension articulation (jounce and rebound) may experience a fractured rear suspension toe link.

      A rear toe link fracture while the vehicle is being driven increases the risk of a crash.

      The automaker says it is not aware of any reports of accidents or injuries to date.

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will replace the left- and right-hand rear suspension toe links with new forged toe links.

      Owners may contact Ford at (866) 436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 20S04.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling about 217,000 model year 2013-18 Ford Flex, Ford Taurus Police Interceptor Sedan, Ford Taurus SHO and Lincoln MKT vehicles....
      Read lessRead more

      Job candidates need to be mindful of their social media presence

      Employers are taking candidates’ online posts into consideration during the hiring process

      A new study conducted by researchers from Penn State found yet another way social media can come into play for prospective job candidates. 

      The findings revealed that employers are not only looking at social media before hiring a new employee, but posts that appear too opinionated or self-absorbed could cost consumers a job. 

      “In 2018, 70 percent of employers reported looking at social media sites to help them evaluate potential employees, and almost that many -- 60 percent -- eliminated candidates on the basis of negative content,” said researcher Michael Tews. “It’s important for job candidates to be aware of how they portray themselves in social media.” 

      Posts to avoid

      The researchers had nearly 500 hiring managers participate in the study. Each of them evaluated a job candidate’s responses to an in-person interview; afterwards, they reviewed the hypothetical candidate’s social media posts. 

      When it came time to look over candidates’ social media, the participants were shown one of 16 different social media profiles. The profiles showed a wide variety of posts, with the primary focus being on alcohol and drug use, strong opinions, and self-absorption. Ultimately, the researchers found that hiring managers were more likely to reject job candidates based on their social media presence, particularly when taking into consideration those three categories. 

      While posts with alcohol or drug use cost some candidates a job, this proved to be the most acceptable posting category for job prospects. Though Tews explained that the posts involved in this study were “benign” when it came to substance use, he also mentioned that hiring managers may “perceive the content as relatively normal.” 

      When it came to being perceived as self-absorbed or opinionated, potential job candidates were often dismissed. 

      Tews explained that posting opinions that could be “divisive” may make prospective employees seem “more argumentative and less cooperative,” whereas those posting solely about themselves could be perceived as “less likely to sacrifice for the benefit of other employees and the organization.” 

      Social media as networking

      Though many consumers on the job hunt may be worried about everything they’ve ever posted, Tews is of the mindset that social media can be used for the greater good, especially when it comes to the job market. 

      While he believes that job candidates should certainly do a once-over of their online profiles before going to an interview, he also believes that employers should be clearer about what posts are and aren’t acceptable for their corporation to make the process easier on applicants.  

      “From the employer perspective, hiring managers should be trained on how best to use social networking content in making selection decisions,” said Tews. “To maximize the benefit of using social networking content for selection purposes, organizations should set guidelines for what content is relevant and should be examined, specify what content is irrelevant and potentially discriminatory and develop standardized rating systems to make the evaluation process more objective.” 

      A new study conducted by researchers from Penn State found yet another way social media can come into play for prospective job candidates. The findings...
      Read lessRead more

      Model year 2019 Mercedes-Benz AMG GT63 4MATICs and AMG GT63S 4MATICs recalled

      The automatic transmission wiring harness may chafe

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 28 model year 2019 AMG GT63 4MATICs and AMG GT63S 4MATICs.

      A wiring harness for the automatic transmission may not be properly secured, allowing it to chafe against the drive shaft and possibly cause an engine stall, which increases the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the mounting clips and wiring harness, and repair or replace them -- as necessary -- free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin March 27, 2020. Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at (800) 367-6372.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 28 model year 2019 AMG GT63 4MATICs and AMG GT63S 4MATICs. A wiring harness for the automatic transmission may no...
      Read lessRead more

      The U.S. accuses China of carrying out the 2017 Equifax data breach

      Four members of the Chinese military have been indicted for the largest breach in history

      Attorney General William Barr has announced the indictment of four members of China’s military for the 2017 Equifax data hack that exposed sensitive information on nearly 150 million people.

      The government investigation found that the data breach was part of a massive attack that also stole trade secrets from Equifax. Barr called it a “deliberate and sweeping intrusion” into the private information of the American people.

      “We collect information only for legitimate national security purposes; we don’t indiscriminately violate the privacy of ordinary citizens,” Barr said. 

      This isn’t the first time China has been accused of a cyberattack on a U.S. data network, but it has always denied the accusations. The Chinese government has yet to comment on the latest charges.

      Nine-count indictment

      A federal grand jury in Atlanta returned the nine-count indictment against the Chinese nationals who the government says were working for the People’s Liberation Army. They are charged with breaking into Equifax’s online dispute portal by exploiting a major software flaw.

      The 2017 data breach caused widespread havoc among the consumers whose information was stolen. Since Social Security numbers were part of the theft, it requires life-long credit monitoring to guard against a victim’s identity being stolen.

      Equifax, meanwhile, faced a barrage of lawsuits and has paid out millions of dollars in settlements, the latest coming last summer when the company settled claims by the U.S. government and 48 states.

      “It is reassuring that our federal law enforcement agencies treat cybercrime – especially state-sponsored crime – with the seriousness it deserves and that the Justice Department is committed to pursuing those who target U.S. consumers, businesses and our government,” said Equifax CEO Mark Begor. “The attack on Equifax was an attack on U.S. consumers as well as the United States.”

      Begor said Equifax has made significant progress in protecting data since the hack. He says the company has invested $1.25 billion since 2018 on beefed-up security and technology.

      Attorney General William Barr has announced the indictment of four members of China’s military for the 2017 Equifax data hack that exposed sensitive inform...
      Read lessRead more

      Amazon seeks to depose President Trump and other officials over Pentagon contract

      The company alleges that the decision was politically biased

      Back in November, Amazon filed a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s decision to choose Microsoft for a $10 billion cloud computing contract with the Pentagon. Now, the company is going a step further by seeking depositions from several federal officials -- including Defense Secretary Mark Esper, former Defense Secretary James Mattis, and President Donald Trump. 

      The company has already alleged that the government's decision was based on political considerations. In a statement, an Amazon Web Services (AWS) spokesperson pointed to President Trump’s supposed penchant for using political position to his advantage. 

      “President Trump has repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to use his position as President and Commander in Chief to interfere with government functions -- including federal procurements -- to advance his personal agenda,” a spokesperson said. 

      “The preservation of public confidence in the nation’s procurement process requires discovery and supplementation of the administrative record, particularly in light of President Trump’s order to ‘screw Amazon.’ The question is whether the President of the United States should be allowed to use the budget of the [Department of Defense] to pursue his own personal and political ends.”

      “Unmistakable bias”

      The $10 billion cloud computing contract -- otherwise known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract -- is meant to provide the military with better access to technology and information when working in remote areas of the world. 

      In a legal motion filed last month, Amazon requested that the current contract set up between the federal government and Microsoft not be allowed to take effect until after its lawsuit has been dealt with. 

      “It’s critical for our country that the government and its elected leaders administer procurements objectively and in a manner that is free from political influence. Numerous aspects of the JEDI evaluation process contained clear deficiencies, errors, and unmistakable bias -- and it’s important that these matters be examined and rectified,” said Amazon spokesperson Drew Herdener. 

      Back in November, Amazon filed a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s decision to choose Microsoft for a $10 billion cloud computing contract with...
      Read lessRead more

      Chrysler recalls model year 2020 Jeep Wranglers

      The lower control arm may separate from the axle

      Chrysler is recalling 3,005 model year 2020 Jeep Wranglers.

      The left side lower control arm bracket and weld may not be positioned correctly.

      The improper weld may allow the lower control arm to separate from the axle which can increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the front axles -- replacing them as necessary -- free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin March 14, 2020.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at (800) 853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is W01.

      Chrysler is recalling 3,005 model year 2020 Jeep Wranglers.The left side lower control arm bracket and weld may not be positioned correctly.The imp...
      Read lessRead more

      Mercedes-Benz recalls model year 2019 A220s and A220 4MATICs

      There could be a delay in displaying the rearview camera image

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 22 model year 2019 A220s and A220 4MATICs.

      In certain operating conditions, the rearview camera software may cause a delay in displaying the rearview camera image.

      A delayed rearview camera display can reduce the driver's view of what is behind the car, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will update the rearview camera software free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin March 27, 2020.

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

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 22 model year 2019 A220s and A220 4MATICs.In certain operating conditions, the rearview camera software may caus...
      Read lessRead more

      Juratoys recalls bead maze toys

      The wooden triangle shape piece poses a choking hazard

      Juratoys US of Millersburg, Pa., is recalling about 980 Sophie la Giraffe bead maze toys.

      The wooden triangle shape piece fails to meet the mandatory federal standard for small parts, posing a choking hazard to young children.

      No incidents or injuries are reported.

      The recall includes a round wood-based bead maze toy in the shape of the Eiffel Tower with a Sophie giraffe figure and three wooden shapes: Orange triangle, red heart and green star, that sort into the wood base.

      The gray Eiffel Tower stands 8 inches tall on a green circular base measuring 6 3/4 inches in diameter.

      This recall involves the following batch numbers, found on the bottom of the base of the packaging above the barcode:

      • 9321/J09504/022019
      • 9474/J09504/042019
      • 9549/J09504/052019

      The bead maze toys, manufactured in China, were sold at specialty toy and gift stores nationwide from February 2019, to November 2019, for about $25.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled toy and check the bottom for the recalled batch numbers. If the toy matches the recalled batch numbers, consumers should destroy the triangle piece and contact Juratoys to receive a free replacement triangle piece.

      Consumers may contact Juratoys US toll-free at (855) 665-9287 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at customercare@juratoysus.com or online at www.juratoysus.com for more information.

      Juratoys US of Millersburg, Pa., is recalling about 980 Sophie la Giraffe bead maze toys.The wooden triangle shape piece fails to meet the mandatory fe...
      Read lessRead more

      Cruise lines are now barring passengers from China due to coronavirus concerns

      The travel industry is trying to come to grips with the fast-spreading outbreak

      The travel industry continues to react to the coronavirus, with cruise lines becoming the latest to take steps to screen passengers.

      Both Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines announced over the weekend that they would not board passengers with Chinese passports. They are also blocking passengers from Hong Kong and Macao “until further notice.”

      Royal Caribbean took the added step of barring passengers or crew members if they have traveled through China, Hong Kong, or Macao in the last two weeks.

      Guidance for cruise lines

      Other cruise lines are likely to take similar steps after the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) issued a statement Friday directing members to err on the side of caution.

      “Given the evolving nature of the ongoing 2019-novel coronavirus outbreak -- and based upon prevailing guidance from global health authorities, including the World Health Organization (WHO) -- CLIA members have adopted the following enhanced protocols for ocean-going guests and crew who have recently traveled from or through China, including Hong Kong and Macau,” the group said. “CLIA Members are to deny boarding to all persons who have traveled from, visited or transited via airports in China, including Hong Kong and Macau, within 14 days before embarkation.”

      • CLIA Members are to deny boarding to all persons who, within 14 days before embarkation, have had close contact with, or helped care for, anyone suspected or diagnosed as having coronavirus, or who is currently subject to health monitoring for possible exposure to novel coronavirus. 

      • CLIA Members are to conduct preboarding screening necessary to effectuate these prevention measures. Enhanced screening and initial medical support are to be provided, as needed, to any persons exhibiting symptoms of suspected novel coronavirus.

      The policies update those issued at the end of January and allow for informed decisions on a case-by-case basis whether a guest or crewmember will be permitted to board.

      Stranded in port

      The fast-spreading virus has also caused havoc among some cruise line operations. The New York Post reports the Royal Caribbean liner Anthem of the Seas was scheduled to depart Bayonne, N.J. over the weekend for the Caribbean but was kept in port because of a health scare.

      After the ship docked Friday, four Chinese citizens were reportedly taken off the ship by paramedics after the four passengers had become ill. One tested positive for the flu.

      At last report, the worldwide death toll from the coronavirus reached 904 and the World Health Organization (WHO) says it’s concerned about reports of people with no travel history in China getting the virus.

      While the unknown aspects of the virus and the lack of effective treatments are cause for concern, influenza is currently a larger threat. The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations estimates that the flu accounts for between 290,000 to 650,000 deaths each year.

      Appearing on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” Monday morning, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said it appears a slightly larger percentage of people with coronavirus die from the illness than die from the flu. He said it may be two weeks before we will know how pervasive the disease is in the U.S.

      The travel industry continues to react to the coronavirus, with cruise lines becoming the latest to take steps to screen passengers.Both Royal Caribbea...
      Read lessRead more

      FAA’s chief upholds agency’s rationale for keeping 737 MAX grounded

      There’s no estimated timeline for the plane’s reactivation, but Boeing and FAA appear to be working together

      We’re nearing the first anniversary of the U.S. government’s decision to ground all 737 MAX flights, and the top dog at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Steve Dickson, says his agency isn’t going to clear the aircraft for service until it sees firsthand proof that the jet is completely ready to take to the skies again.

      At a news briefing in London last week, Dickson reconfirmed that regulatory alignment would’ve been the preferable way to go -- but the FAA is taking its time to make sure it gets it right.

      “If you ground an airplane arbitrarily – if you’re making any kind of safety decision arbitrarily – you really don’t know when you’ve got to a point where the situation has been improved,” Dickson said.

      Contradicting what Ethiopian Minister of Transport said after an Ethiopian Airlines jet crashed, Dickson claims that the two accidents (Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines) “had different factors associated with them – two airlines, two groups of pilots – so they weren’t the same scenario.” However, he agreed that there was a “common thread” of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS)* in both situations, “but having the data from which to make those decisions certainly focuses your effort.” 

      *The Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) flight control law was designed and certified for the 737 MAX to enhance the pitch stability of the airplane so that it feels and flies like other 737s, according to Boeing, manufacturer of the 737 MAX.

      Getting Boeing and the FAA on the same page

      Getting to the point where the FAA completely trusts Boeing’s efforts to keep the MAX safely up in the air is not an overnight thing, but both parties are trying to work together and progress is apparently being made.

      “The FAA reviewed the most recent 737 MAX-related documents submitted by Boeing for the purpose of identifying any safety implications,” Dickson recently commented. “Our experts determined that nothing in the submission pointed to any safety risks that were not already identified as part of the ongoing review of proposed modifications to the aircraft.”

      Nonetheless, both companies are dealing with flight simulators and not planes full of passengers flying in the skies, so both are being extra cautious.

      “The FAA maintains a rigorous process for qualifying flight simulators. Upon reviewing the records for the specific simulator mentioned in the documents, the agency determined that piece of equipment has been evaluated and qualified three times in the last six months. Any potential safety deficiencies identified in the documents have been addressed,” is Dickson’s stance.

      “While the tone and content of some of the language contained in the documents is disappointing, the FAA remains focused on following a thorough process for returning the Boeing 737 MAX to passenger service. We continue to work with other international aviation safety regulators to review the proposed changes to the aircraft. Our first priority is safety, and we have set no timeframe for when the work will be completed.”

      We’re nearing the first anniversary of the U.S. government’s decision to ground all 737 MAX flights, and the top dog at the Federal Aviation Administration...
      Read lessRead more

      Apple fined another €25 million for its iPhone slow down debacle

      Despite its apologies, the company may still face further retribution

      Pay up, mon frere. Three years after it was discovered that Apple was purposely slowing down older versions of its iPhones, possibly in hopes of prodding consumers toward buying a newer model, France’s overseer of consumer affairs has fined the company €25 million ($27,342,875 U.S.) as a result of its own investigation. Apple has agreed to fork over the entire amount.

      The General Directorate for Competition Policy, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control (DGCCRF) announced the fine on Friday. 

      While Apple has already asked consumers for their forgiveness and promises it’ll be more informative going forward, its planned obsolescence still leaves it vulnerable to governmental investigations both at home and abroad. In Italy, Apple was fined 5 million euros ($5,468,575 U.S.) for the phone slowdown and another 5 million for neglecting to give customers necessary information about how to ensure the health of an iPhone battery or how to replace it. 

      A quick refresher

      In case you missed it, the basics of the blunder is that iPhone owners were not informed that the updates of the iOS operating system (10.2.1 and 11.2) they installed would, in all likelihood, slow down their iPhone thanks to a dynamic power management device that came with those updates, especially if the device’s batteries were old. Apple has apparently learned its lesson and gone one step further by extending the life of its devices’ batteries.

      Adding insult to misery, iPhone users couldn’t roll their operating software back to an earlier version that didn’t have the new feature.

      Pay up, mon frere. Three years after it was discovered that Apple was purposely slowing down older versions of its iPhones, possibly in hopes of prodding c...
      Read lessRead more

      Job market stays strong to begin 2020

      January job-creation beat estimates from experts

      It was easier than expected to get hired last month. The Labor Department reports that the economy added 225,000 jobs in January, significantly more than expected.

      Some of the biggest gains came in construction, health care, and transportation and warehousing. The unemployment rate ticked up to 3.6 percent because more people were looking for work.

      Construction jobs increased by 17,000 after averaging 12,000 a month throughout 2019. Jobs in health care rose by 36,000, and transportation and warehousing jobs increased by 28,000.

      The ADP National Employment Report, issued two days ahead of the government’s non-farm payrolls, showed where the new jobs are being created. Medium-size businesses with 50 to 499 employees created the most jobs in January -- 128,000. Small businesses, which traditionally have been the employment driver in the economy, produced only 94,000 jobs last month.

      Gad Levanon, vice president of Labor Markets at The Conference Board, says the robust January jobs report is, in general, good news for people looking for a job.

      “Amid stagnant growth in the working-age population, strong employment growth will likely further tighten the labor market in 2020,” Levanon said. “As a result, we can expect increasing challenges around recruitment and retention, higher labor cost growth, and a further squeeze on corporate profits.”

      The advantage goes to employees and job seekers

      A tight labor market might not be so good for employers, but it gives employees and job seekers additional leverage. The increase in jobs is drawing more people to the workforce, especially women. Levanon says the labor force participation rate for women aged 25-54 reached 77 percent in January. 

      “That marks a near-record, just shy of the record rate in April 2000,” he said. “The improvement in labor force participation will partly offset the impact of strong job growth, slow further tightening in the labor market, and help fuel continued employment and economic growth.”

      People with jobs earned more last month as well. Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by seven cents to $28.44. On an annual basis, that’s a 3.1 percent increase in pay, slightly higher than the increase in December.

      The record-long economic recovery has been marked by a strong demand for labor. The U.S. economy has added jobs for 112 straight months, the longest streak of job gains on record.

      It was easier than expected to get hired last month. The Labor Department reports that the economy added 225,000 jobs in January, significantly more than e...
      Read lessRead more

      Salud Natural Entrepreneur recalls flax seed fiber powder and capsules

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Salud Natural Entrepreneur of Waukegan, Ill., is recalling Nopalina Flax Seed Fiber (powder) and Nopalina Flax Seed Fiber (capsule).

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      There are no reports of illnesses to date.

      The following lot numbers, which can be found on the bottom back of the product label, are being recalled:

      Nopalina Flax Seed Fiber (powder, 1 lb. bags) UPC 890523000720

      • Lot # 62.19 / 9 # 52.1 Best if used by 10/7/21
      • Lot # 62.19 / 2 # 52.1 Best if used by 10/7/21

      Nopalina Flax Seed Fiber (powder, 1 lb. bags) UPC 890523000720

      • Lot # 64.19 / 3 # 52.1 Best if used by 10/21/21

      Nopalina Flax Seed Fiber (powder, 1 lb. bags) UPC 890523000720

      • Lot # 65.19 / 1 # 52.1 Best if used by 10/24/21
      • Lot # 65.19 / 2 # 52.1 Best if used by 10/24/21

      Nopalina Flax Seed Fiber (powder, 2 lb. bags) UPC:890523000843

      • Lot # 64.19 / 2 # 52.1 Best if used by 10/21/21
      • Lot # 64.19 / 2 * 2Lb # 52.1 Best if used by 10/21/21

      Nopalina Flax Seed Fiber (capsules, 120 count) UPC 890523000867

      • Lot # 23.19 1C120 # 07 Best if used by 10/7/21
      • Lot # 23.192C120 # 02 Best if used by 10/7/21
      • Lot # 23.19 / 2C120 # 02 Best if used by 10/7/21
      • Lot # 23.19.2C120 # 02 Best if used by 10/7/21
      • Lot # 23.19.3C120 # 02 Best if used by 10/7/21

      The recalled products were sold at retail stores throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico and on the firm's website

      What to do

      Consumers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at (877) 296-6845Monday through Friday, 9am – 5pm) or online at https://www.nopalinaonline.com/certificate/.

      Salud Natural Entrepreneur of Waukegan, Ill., is recalling Nopalina Flax Seed Fiber (powder) and Nopalina Flax Seed Fiber (capsule). The products may be...
      Read lessRead more

      Toyota and Lexus vehicles with possible engine block issue recalled

      Toyota and Lexus vehicles with possible engine block issue recalled

      Toyota is recalling about 44,00 model year 2020 Avalon Hybrids, Camrys, Camry Hybrids; model year 2019-2020 RAV4s, RAV4 Hybrids and model year 2020 Lexus ES 300h vehicles.

      Some of the vehicles may be equipped with an engine block that was manufactured incorrectly, which may cause coolant to leak internally and/or externally during normal engine operation.

      This can lead to engine noise, engine smoke, warning lights/malfunction indicator illumination, an audible chime sounding, and/or, in some cases, engine overheating and possible internal mechanical engine damage.

      In a conventional gasoline vehicle, the vehicle could stall while being driven at higher speeds without prior warning, increasing the risk of a crash.

      For both hybrid and conventional gasoline vehicles, the mechanical engine damage could cause engine oil to leak which, in the presence of an ignition source, can lead to an increased risk of fire.

      What to do

      Toyota and Lexus will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the engine block casting serial number to determine if it is involved. In the cases where an involved engine block is identified, dealers will replace the engine including the engine block with a new one free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin by early April.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at (800) 331-4331 or Lexus customer service at (800) 255-3987.

      Coolant may leak internally and/or externally during normal engine operation...
      Read lessRead more

      Southwest to pay out $667 million in employee bonuses

      The carrier is sticking to its profit-sharing system despite an up-and-down year

      Many airline carriers faced an up-and-down year in 2019. Boeing’s 737 MAX debacle caused logistical problems, and the recent coronavirus outbreak that began in December has forced many companies to alter their schedules.

      But despite those pitfalls, airline employees working for Southwest will happily receive a well-earned profit-sharing bonus. The company announced on Thursday that it would be doling out $667 million to 60,000 employees who are eligible under the program. 

      “Our Employees delivered outstanding results despite a challenging year, and it’s a pleasure to reward our People for all they contribute to our continued success,” said Southwest CEO Gary Kelly. “We recognize their resolve, persistence, resilience, and devotion to each other, our Customers, and our cause.”

      In total, the bonus payments will reportedly equate to about 6 weeks of extra pay for employees who receive them. 

      More headwinds in 2020

      Despite the good news for employees, Southwest as a company is facing some more headwinds as we progress through 2020. 

      A Department of Transportation report leaked at the end of January and expected to go public this month will allegedly hold the company accountable for unsafe practices. The Wall Street Journal claims that the report will also admonish the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for not holding Southwest accountable.

      In one instance, a Southwest jet’s wing tips were reportedly smashed when trying to make a landing in gale force winds. 

      Many airline carriers faced an up-and-down year in 2019. Boeing’s 737 MAX debacle caused logistical problems, and the recent coronavirus outbreak that bega...
      Read lessRead more

      U.S. gas prices stay low due to coronavirus lowering demand for oil

      Oil prices have stabilized but gas prices should continue their decline for a while

      A plunge in oil prices due to the fast-spreading coronavirus in China is giving motorists a break at the gas pump. Oil prices stabilized this week, but the effects of cheap crude are being felt nationwide.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gas is $2.45 a gallon. That’s only three cents lower than a week ago but 13 cents lower than a month ago, as gas prices have drifted lower since the start of 2020. The average price of premium gas is $3.06, down from $3.09 last Friday. The average price of diesel fuel is $2.92 a gallon, also three cents less than a week ago.

      GasBuddy counts nearly 8,000 stations under $2 a gallon, according to Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy. He reports on Twitter that the average gas price continues to fall in most states while gyrating in “price cycling” states like Indiana, Ohio, and Florida. Price cycling refers to a strategy by gas stations in which they slowly lower their prices to gain market share and then raise them again when prices are so low that they’re losing money.

      States in the Southeast and Midwest saw the biggest price declines this week. The statewide average fell six cents a gallon in South Carolina, Louisiana, and Mississippi. It fell nine cents in Ohio and seven cents in Illinois.

      Gas prices should continue to fall over the next few weeks. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported Thursday that U.S. gasoline stockpiles continue to grow while wintertime demand for fuel continues to decline.

      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 ($3.63)

      • California ($3.51)

      • Washington ($3.09)

      • Nevada ($2.95)

      • Oregon ($2.98) 

      • Alaska ($2.95)

      • Arizona ($2.80)

      • Pennsylvania ($2.65)

      • New York ($2.64)

      • Vermont ($2.61) 

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

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

      • Missouri ($2.09)

      • Texas ($2.11)

      • Mississippi ($2.13)

      • Louisiana ($2.14)

      • South Carolina ($2.14)

      • Oklahoma ($2.16)

      • Arkansas ($2.18)

      • Kansas ($2.18)

      • Alabama ($2.18)

      • Tennessee ($2.21)

      A plunge in oil prices due to the fast-spreading coronavirus in China is giving motorists a break at the gas pump. Oil prices stabilized this week, but the...
      Read lessRead more

      Bobcat recalls UTVs

      The rear brake line can become punctured causing the brakes to fail

      Bobcat Company of West Fargo, N.D., is recalling about 575 model year 2017-2018 Bobcat 3650 Utility Vehicles sold in the U.S. and Canada.

      The rear brake line can become punctured causing the brakes to fail, posing a collision and crash hazard.

      No incidents or injuries are reported.

      This recall involves model year 2017-2018 Bobcat 3650 utility vehicles that are white and black with orange decals.

      “Bobcat” is printed on the hood of the utility vehicle and “3650” is printed on the rear box. The vehicle identification numbers (VINs) can be found on a label affixed to the vehicle frame under the seat and storage bin on the passenger side.

      The following vehicles are included in this recall:

      Year

       Model Number

       Partial Non-Sequential VIN Range

      2017

        3650

       17001 thru 17308

      2018

        3650

       18001 thru 18344

      The utility vehicles, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at Bobcat dealers nationwide from May 2016, through February 2019, for between $24,000 and $29,000.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled vehicles and contact a Bobcat dealer to schedule a free inspection and repair. Bobcat is notifying dealers and contacting affected registered owners directly.

      Consumers may contact:Bobcat at (800) 743-4340 from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday or online at www.bobcat.com and click on “For Owners” at the top of the page. Click “CPSC Recalls” for more information.

      Bobcat Company of West Fargo, N.D., is recalling about 575 model year 2017-2018 Bobcat 3650 Utility Vehicles sold in the U.S. and Canada. The rear brake...
      Read lessRead more

      Savannah Food Company recalls cornbread dressing and bread stuffing

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Savannah Food Company is recalling cornbread dressing and bread stuffing that include frozen diced eggs.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No confirmed illnesses are reported.

      The following items, packaged in either plastic or aluminum trays with “Use By” dates ranging from “USE BY 04/2021” to “USE BY 12/2021” stamped on the package label and side of corrugated case, are being recalled:.

      Item #BrandProduct
      39015Savannah Classics7 lb. Special Cornbread Dressing
      38016Savannah Classics7 lb. Classic Cornbread Dressing
      38025Savannah Classics4.5 lb. Bread Stuffing
      39012Morrison’s7 lb. Cornbread Dressing
      39010Morrison’s4 lb. Cornbread Dressing
      38017Piccadilly2 lb. Cornbread Dressing

      The recalled products were distributed through wholesale distributors to restaurants, delis, cafeterias, and foodservice establishments in Tennessee, Alabama, Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Arkansas.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should discard or return them to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions may contact Savannah Food Company at (731) 925 -1155, Monday through Friday 8:00am – 4:00pm (CST).

      Savannah Food Company is recalling cornbread dressing and bread stuffing that include frozen diced eggs. The products may be contaminated with Listeria ...
      Read lessRead more

      Chrysler recalls nearly a-quarter million model year 2014-2019 Ram ProMasters

      The shifter cable may disconnect from the transmission

      Chrysler is recalling 222,207 model year 2014-2019 Ram ProMasters with 6L engines.

      The transmission shifter cable may separate and disconnect from the transmission, causing the vehicle to not perform shifts intended by the driver and the gear shift lever position not matching the actual transmission gear.

      The driver may be unaware of the actual gear position and unintended vehicle movement can occur, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the transmission shift cable free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin March 13, 2020.

      Owners may contact Ram Trucks at (866) 726-4636. Chrysler's number for this recall is W00.

      Chrysler is recalling 222,207 model year 2014-2019 Ram ProMasters with 6L engines. The transmission shifter cable may separate and disconnect from the t...
      Read lessRead more

      Mitsubishi recalls model year 1998-2000 Monteros

      The airbag inflators may rupture or underinflate the bag

      Mitsubishi Motors North America (MMNA) is recalling 20,000 model year 1998-2000 Monteros.

      These vehicles were equipped with Non-Azide Driver airbag Inflators (NADI) and 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.

      An inflator rupture may result in metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants. An underinflated airbag may not properly protect the occupant. Both increase the risk of serious injury or death.

      What to do

      The remedy for this recall is still under development.

      The recall is expected to begin March 22, 2020.

      Owners may contact MMNA customer service at (888) 648-7820. MMNA's number for this recall is SR-20-001.

      Mitsubishi Motors North America (MMNA) is recalling 20,000 model year 1998-2000 Monteros. These vehicles were equipped with Non-Azide Driver airbag Infl...
      Read lessRead more

      Twitter issues apology for hack of 17 million users’ phone numbers

      The platform says hackers from Iran, Israel, and Malaysia could be the perpetrators

      Attackers have exploited Twitter in a gigantic grab-and-go that included the personal phone numbers of as many as 17 million users

      Twitter came clean on Monday about a December hack job that exploited its API (application programming interface) by matching usernames with phone numbers via its “Let people who have your phone number find you on Twitter” option. Those who didn’t have that setting enabled lucked out, and their phone number wasn’t exposed. 

      "We immediately suspended these accounts and are disclosing the details of our investigation to you today because we believe it’s important that you are aware of what happened, and how we fixed it,” the company confessed.

      State-sponsored actors?

      While the accounts associated with the hack were from a “wide range of countries,” Twitter’s investigation found that “a particularly high volume of requests coming from individual IP addresses located within Iran, Israel, and Malaysia.” The platform says it’s possible that some of those addresses “may have ties to state-sponsored actors” and that it was disclosing that information “out of an abundance of caution and as a matter of principle.”

      The Jerusalem Post says its investigation of the matter leads it to believe that former Israeli intelligence agents have found ways to gain backdoor access not only to Twitter, but a variety of social-media platforms. However, the Post stopped short of saying with certainty that agents used the techniques while they were employed by Israeli intelligence. 

      “There have been numerous reports that top intelligence agencies, including American ones, are sometimes able to use such techniques,” it wrote.

      Make sure you’re protected

      While Twitter didn’t say why it waited more than a month to go public with the phone number swindle, it did say that it made changes to users’ phone number options in hopes that a similar heist won’t happen again. 

      “We’re very sorry this happened. We recognize and appreciate the trust you place in us, and are committed to earning that trust every day. You can reach out to our Office of Data Protection through this form if you have questions.”

      Twitter users can double-check to make sure their phone numbers and personal emails are safe from prying eyes. According to HackerNews, all it takes is navigating to the 'Discoverability' setting in a user’s Twitter account and disabling it.

      Attackers have exploited Twitter in a gigantic grab-and-go that included the personal phone numbers of as many as 17 million users. Twitter came clean...
      Read lessRead more

      Apple takes to the streets to offer on-site repairs

      The initial rollout covers only six U.S. markets, and the extent of the service appears limited for the time being

      With consumers having less and less time to take care of interruptions that upset their normal schedules, it looks like Apple is coming to the rescue by offering on-site repair for iPhone owners who can’t find the time to visit a repair shop or Apple store, much less send their phone in to be fixed.

      As reported by MacRumors, Apple is trying out its new on-site service in Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. Consumers in those markets should see that option when they visit Apple's Support site.

      Research conducted by ConsumerAffairs and MacRumors suggests that the service is provided by Go Tech Services. The company is an Apple-authorized service provider and is not directly governed by the tech giant -- much like the relationship between Geek Squad and Best Buy. Findings suggest that Go Tech is a new service offered by SquareTrade, an Allstate company.

      Can everything on my iPhone be repaired on a house call?

      There’s no official word from Apple or Go Tech on what can be repaired at a customer’s home or office. MacRumors reports that a cracked iPhone display could be fixed but not a battery replacement.

      And price? There’s no official word on that either, but MacRumors reports that “an on-site visit fee may be charged in addition to the provider's standard repair cost.”

      With consumers having less and less time to take care of interruptions that upset their normal schedules, it looks like Apple is coming to the rescue by of...
      Read lessRead more

      Model year 2020 Hyundai Konas recalled

      The certification label may have the incorrect Gross Axle Weight Rating

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 477 model year 2020 Konas.

      The certification label may indicate incorrect Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR). An incorrect GAWR could result in the vehicle being overloaded, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Hyundai will notify owners, and dealers will install new label stickers displaying the correct GAWR over the affected areas of the certification label free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin March 20, 2020.

      Owners may contact Hyundai customer service at (855) 371-9460. Hyundai's number for this recall is 187.

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 477 model year 2020 Konas. The certification label may indicate incorrect Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR). An incorre...
      Read lessRead more

      Five Star Food Recalls Sham Gardens Excellent Tahina

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Five Star Food of Garden City, Mich., is recalling 100 cases of Excellent Tahina.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses are reported to date.

      The following item, which comes in 800 gram (1.76-lb) and 400 grams (14.1-oz) containers with Best By Nov 2020, is being recalled:

      Product CodeProduct DescriptionUPC
      TAH806SGExcellent Tahina 800 g6214002717420
      TAH400SGExcellent Tahina 400 g6214002717413

      The recalled product was sold in Michigan, Ohio, New York, Florida, North Dakota, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Texas

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should stop using and return it to the store where purchased for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact Mr. Omar at (810) 919-3519 Monday – Friday from 9AM – 5PM.

      Five Star Food of Garden City, Mich., is recalling 100 cases of Excellent Tahina.The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.No illnesses are r...
      Read lessRead more

      CDC confirms 11th case of coronavirus in U.S.

      The ongoing outbreak has claimed over 360 lives worldwide

      The number of infections in the U.S. related to the 2019 coronavirus outbreak (2019-nCoV) continues to grow, and illnesses and deaths around the world continue to climb to new heights. 

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed the 11th case of coronavirus infection within the U.S., with health officials investigating another 82 potential cases as of Monday. Consumers under investigation range across 36 U.S. states. 

      This outbreak of coronavirus is believed to have originated in the Wuhan area of China, where officials believe it first spread through animal-to-person contact at a large seafood and live animal market. The number of severe illnesses have skyrocketed, with over 360 deaths worldwide and 17,000 possible infections.

      Despite the rising tide of infections across the globe, government officials maintain that U.S. consumers are not yet in danger from members of their own communities.

      “Imported cases of 2019-nCoV infection in travelers have been detected in the U.S. Person-to-person spread of 2019-nCoV also has been seen among close contacts of returned travelers from Wuhan, but at this time, this virus is NOT currently spreading in the community in the United States,” the CDC stated.

      Unprecedented travel restrictions

      Despite those claims, officials in the U.S. have instituted what the CDC has hailed as “unprecedented steps” for the sake of security. 

      Late last week, the government issued a proclamation on global travel that suspended entry of foreign nationals who had visited China within the previous two weeks. Regulators have also implemented measures at airports to detect the virus and lessen the risk to public health. The New York Times reports that those measures include quarantines on certain flights returning from China. 

      The CDC still maintains a Level 3 travel warning, which recommends that travelers avoid any nonessential travel to China. Travel into and out of the Wuhan area of the country has already been closed by Chinese officials, and there is limited access to “adequate medical care” in affected areas. 

      For more information on the outbreak, including live updates, visit the CDC’s website here.

      The number of infections in the U.S. related to the 2019 coronavirus outbreak (2019-nCoV) continues to grow, and illnesses and deaths around the world cont...
      Read lessRead more

      Coronavirus scammers go phishing for consumers’ personal information

      Consumers have to be vigilant whenever there’s a health outbreak or a disaster

      Apparently, with nothing else better to do, cybercrooks have decided to ride the wave of fear connected to the coronavirus outbreak in hopes of fleecing some consumers.

      Reports are starting to pop up that phishers are sending out malicious links and PDFs masquerading as information consumers can use to protect themselves from the virus. In Los Angeles County, public health officials put the public on notice that a letter to locals about a coronavirus in Carson City was completely bogus. 

      North of Los Angeles, the school system raised a red flag on false social media reports about the outbreak. School districts in San Diego and Arizona also put out a similar alert. 

      What to be on the outlook for

      The cyber security firm Mimecast took to Twitter to report it had detected one of the phishing emails, and it read like this:

      Dear Sir

      Go through the attached document on safety measures regarding the spreading of the corona virus. This little measure can save you.

      Use the link below to download (followed by a link to a PDF entitled “Safety Measures”.

      Symptoms Common symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties.

      Regard

      Dr. (name redacted)

      Specialist wuhan-virus-advisory

      (Company/practice redacted)

      In ComputerWeekly’s coverage of the scam, security software company Kaspersky reported that its researchers had come across at least 10 different messages, some with a movie file (mp4) or a Microsoft Word file (.docx). 

      IBM’s X-Force uncovered another that appeared to be sent from a disability welfare service provider in Japan, simply saying that there have been reports of coronavirus patients in the Gifu prefecture in Japan. It urges the reader to view an attached document, but clicking on the link allows hackers access to their system and information. 

      Don’t put your trust in an email or a social media post

      Swindles riding on the back of a health outbreak or a major disaster aren’t going away anytime soon.

      "Unfortunately we see this often in geopolitical events and world events," Francis Gaffney, the director of threat intelligence at Mimecast, told Wired. "This is when cybercriminals seek opportunities to use the confusion that vulnerable people have. They’ll click on links because they’re not sure."

      When a consumer gets an email or sees a social media post that offers a solution, help, etc., the smartest thing to do is go all the way up the food chain and contact the federal agency or topmost business related to the situation BEFORE opening any attachment, responding to any email, or putting any charge on a credit card. In short, stay vigilant.

      “One fascinating aspect of phishing and online malware infections (including ransomware), is that the same concept is generally true,” Dan Lohrmann, Chief Security Officer & Chief Strategist at Security Mentor Inc. told GovernmentTechnology. If the bad actors are not successful in getting the user to click on Coronavirus-labeled content today, they will be back tomorrow with a new technique.”

      In the coronavirus case, the best place to go is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It has a complete rundown of everything related to the virus and can answer any questions you might have.

      “So we all must prepare now and spread the word,” Lohrmann concluded.

      Apparently, with nothing else better to do, cybercrooks have decided to ride the wave of fear connected to the coronavirus outbreak in hopes of fleecing so...
      Read lessRead more

      GM recalls Chevrolet Silverado 2500s & 3500s, and GMC Sierra 2500s and 3500s

      The passenger front airbag inflators could explode

      General Motors is recalling 699 model year 2007-2008 Chevrolet Silverado 2500s & 3500s, and GMC Sierra 2500s and 3500s with non-desiccated, passenger front airbag inflators containing phase stabilized ammonium nitrate (PSAN) propellant that were used as interim remedy parts for previous Takata recalls.

      The inflators may explode due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to high absolute humidity, high temperatures, and high temperature cycling.

      An inflator explosion may result in sharp metal fragments striking the front passenger or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front passenger airbag inflators free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 24, 2020.

      Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at (800) 222-1020 or GMC customer service at (866) 522-9559. GM's number for this recall is N192290990.

      General Motors is recalling 699 model year 2007-2008 Chevrolet Silverado 2500s & 3500s, and GMC Sierra 2500s and 3500s with non-desiccated, passenger front...
      Read lessRead more

      Alliance Tire recalls Galaxy DH241-G 16H commercial truck tires

      The tread may separate from the casing

      Alliance Tire Americas is recalling 1,178 Galaxy DH241-G 16H commercial truck tires in size 11R24.5 with DOT date codes 2519 through 4619.

      The tires may have been improperly vulcanized, allowing the tread to separate from the casing.

      Tread separation can reduce vehicle handling, increasing the risk of a crash

      What to do

      Alliance Tire will notify owners, and dealers will replace the tires free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 4, 2020.

      Owners may contact Alliance Tire customer service at (844) 921-2778.

      Alliance Tire Americas is recalling 1,178 Galaxy DH241-G 16H commercial truck tires in size 11R24.5 with DOT date codes 2519 through 4619. The tires may...
      Read lessRead more

      Polaris Recalls Brutus UTVs

      The rear brake line can become punctured causing the brakes to fail

      Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 359 model year 2017-2018 Brutus Utility Vehicles (UTVs) sold in the U.S., and Canada.

      The rear brake line can become punctured causing the brakes to fail, posing a collision and crash hazard.

      This recall involves model year 2017–2018 Polaris Brutus utility vehicles (UTVs) with the following model names:  

      Year

      Model Name

      2017

           BRUTUS  DSL HD PTO DLX

      2017

           BRUTUS DSL HD PTO 

      2018

           BRUTUS DSL HD PTO DLX

      The two-seated vehicles are gray, black and blue. The vehicles have “POLARIS” stamped on the front grille, “POLARIS BRUTUS” on the sides of the utility bed, and “DIESEL HD” on the front fenders.

      Vehicle identification numbers (VINs) included in this recall can be found on a label affixed to the vehicle frame in the left front wheel well. Non-sequential VINs ending in 7740364 to 8576615 are included in this recall.

      The UTVs, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at Polaris dealers nationwide from May 2016, through April 2019, for between $18,800 and $24,100.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled vehicles and contact a Polaris dealer to schedule a free inspection and repair. Polaris is notifying dealers and contacting affected registered owners directly.

      Consumers may contact Polaris at (800O) 765-2747 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, or online at www.polaris.com and click on “Off-Road Safety Recalls” at the bottom of the page for more information.

      Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 359 model year 2017-2018 Brutus Utility Vehicles (UTVs) sold in the U.S., and Canada. The rear b...
      Read lessRead more

      Quesos La Ricura recalls Cotija Cheese (Queso Cotija)

      The product may be contaminated with Shiga toxin producing E. coli

      Quesos La Ricura of Hicksville, N.Y., is recalling 12 oz. packages of Cotija Cheese (Queso Cotija).

      The product may be contaminated with Shiga toxin producing E. coli.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The recalled product product comes in a plastic wrapped yellow styrofoam container with a label reading “Quesos La Ricura Queso Cotija, Cotija Cheese aged over 60 days.” The UPC is 7 69087 00933 6, and the item weighs 12 oz. with a “Sell By” date of May 20, 2020-3/ May 20, 2020-4.

      It was sold in retail stores in New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Florida.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at (516) 932-5756; Monday – Friday, 9 am – 3 pm (EST).

      Quesos La Ricura of Hicksville, N.Y., is recalling 12 oz. packages of Cotija Cheese (Queso Cotija). The product may be contaminated with Shiga toxin pro...
      Read lessRead more