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.

    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

    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.

      Major opioid manufacturer reaches $1.6 billion settlement over role in opioid crisis

      Thousands of lawsuits from towns, companies, and others must still be dealt with in court

      Mallinckrodt announced Wednesday that it has agreed to the terms of a settlement related to its part in the opioid epidemic -- one that would, in the company’s words, “resolve all opioid-related claims against the Company.” The deal reportedly closes complaints by “thousands of plaintiffs” and is supported by a broad-based group of 47 state and U.S. Territory attorneys general.

      The most important part of the proposed settlement is that $1.6 billion in structured payments will go to plaintiffs. The majority of those payments are pegged for a trust designed to cover the costs of opioid addiction treatment and related efforts.

      Paying for opioid crisis involvement

      Mallinckrodt says that its settlement represents an important step towards resolving the massive amount of lawsuits and litigation connected to the opioid crisis.

      “Importantly, when finalized, we believe the proposed settlement and capital restructuring activities will provide us with a clear path forward to achieving our long term strategy, preserving value for our financial stakeholders and providing us with the flexibility to operate effectively," said Mark Trudeau, President and Chief Executive Officer of Mallinckrodt.

      Mallinckrodt had previously reached agreements with two counties in Ohio that had filed suit against the company over the opioid situation. However, other companies are still in the weeds. In late 2018, Florida’s Attorney General added CVS, Walgreens, and others as additional defendants in its suit in state court against opioid manufacturers.

      It’s important to note that this isn’t Mallinckrodt’s first fall from grace. The company was in a similar jam in 2017 when it was forced to pay $100 million to settle antitrust charges after it raised the price of its Acthar medication some 85,000 percent. 

      The lawsuits are far from over

      Opioid-related lawsuits will continue to swirl for who knows how long. As late as October 2019, there were more than 2,500 suits brought by small towns, cities, counties, tribal authorities, and individuals from across the U.S.

      To try and wrestle that unimaginable caseload to a more workable size, U.S. District Judge Dan Polster -- a proponent of "global settlement" deals with Big Pharma -- approved a plan to create something called a "negotiation class."

      “It's a novel concept that permits lawyers for a group of 49 local governments to hammer out any settlement deals on behalf of every city and county in the U.S., unless a city or county explicitly opts out of the arrangement,” NPR’s Colin Dwyer reported.

      “Here's a sketch of how that works: If they reach a deal with a particular company, it will be put to a vote among members of the entire negotiation class; if enough of them approve -- and if the judge signs off -- the deal is inked and binding. That would essentially resolve any other lawsuits against the company in the consolidated federal case, and it would protect the company from future lawsuits by cities and counties at the federal level.”

      Mallinckrodt announced Wednesday that it has agreed to the terms of a settlement related to its part in the opioid epidemic -- one that would, in the compa...
      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

      FTC settles with operator of debt collection scheme

      The company was accused of using scare tactics to defraud consumers

      A company accused of running a debt collection scheme in New York is settling with regulators over charges lying to consumers about the money they owed and using scare tactics to make them pay.

      The case, which was initially filed back in 2018, accused six corporations and operator Robert Heidenreich of tricking people into paying more money than they actually owed on debts -- a practice referred to as “overbiffing.” The settlement dictates that Heidenreich can no longer operate in the debt collection business, and he will have to pay $30,000 to the FTC.

      “Together, the FTC and the New York Attorney General stopped the latest in a line of illegal and abusive debt collectors. As a result of this joint law enforcement action, Mr. Heidenreich will never again be allowed to collect debts,” said Andrew Smith, director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the FTC.

      Debt collection options

      While anyone can fall behind a payment, there are rules that dictate how debt collectors can engage with consumers. 

      Debt collectors are barred from harassing, threatening, or making consumers uncomfortable in order to collect on a debt that they have bought from a creditor. Laws also dictate that a debt collector must contact your attorney if you have one, and they can not contact your relatives unless they genuinely do not know how to reach you. 

      To learn more about your legal rights and how to deal with debt collectors, visit ConsumerAffairs guide here.

      A company accused of running a debt collection scheme in New York is settling with regulators over charges lying to consumers about the money they owed and...
      Read lessRead more

      FTC to refund victims of tech support scam

      The agency is distributing $1.7 million in restitution

      Consumers who were tricked into paying for unnecessary tech support services from operator Click4Support will be receiving refunds from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). 

      The agency announced this week that refunds totaling over $1.7 million would be distributed to tens of thousands of eligible people. The refunds will average around $30 for each victim of a scheme that used ads and pop-ups on search engines like Google to make consumers think that they were buying services from companies like Microsoft and Apple. 

      Most refund recipients will be receiving their refund via PayPal, but there is an option to receive a physical check from the FTC. The agency asks that these consumers cash their check within 60 days after they receive it. To help mitigate the threat of scammers, agency officials are reminding consumers that the FTC does not require any money or account information to cash a refund check.

      Consumers who have questions about the refund process can call the FTC’s refund manager for this case -- Rust Consulting, Inc. -- at 1-877-389-4472. More information can also be found at the FTC’s interactive dashboard for refund data.

      Consumers who were tricked into paying for unnecessary tech support services from operator Click4Support will be receiving refunds from the Federal Trade C...
      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

      Uber agrees to deal that will lead to ad displays on top of drivers’ vehicles

      Drivers in the pilot program will be compensated if they choose to participate

      Uber drivers could soon be placing ad displays on top of their vehicles to earn extra cash while shuttling around passengers. 

      According to an Adweek report, the rideshare company signed a deal with ad-tech company Adomni that would place the displays on one thousand vehicles in three U.S. cities by April 1. Drivers in Atlanta, Dallas, and Phoenix will be eligible to participate in the pilot program and will be compensated if they choose to display the commercial advertisements.

      “After exploring this idea for over a year now, we realized that the timing is perfect to launch this new ad network and we couldn’t ask for a better partner than adomni. Their expertise with mobile vehicle digital out-of-home networks and programmatic ad sales is compelling,” said Brett Baker, the leader of Uber’s new business unit Uber OOH.

      Uber says it plans to pay participating drivers $300 to install the vehicle ad displays on their vehicles, and it will shell out an extra $100 per week to those who drive more than 20 hours with the display on. After April 1, drivers will be paid solely on how many hours they drive.

      New features

      The digital ad displays aren’t the only new features that Uber is introducing. Earlier this month, the company rolled out a new app feature that lets riders report safety issues in real-time while on their Uber trip. 

      The rollout followed a company safety report that detailed nearly 6,000 sexual assault cases that took place between drivers and riders between 2017 and 2018. 

      “By creating an additional reporting channel, we aim to encourage people to share feedback when it’s convenient for them, which helps us better pinpoint issues and guide our work on helping to develop safety solutions,” Uber stated. 

      Uber drivers could soon be placing ad displays on top of their vehicles to earn extra cash while shuttling around passengers. According to an Adweek re...
      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

      The Ram brand resonated with consumers in the fourth quarter

      FCA’s signature pickup surged in Kelley Blue Book’s Brand Watch Report

      When Fiat Chrysler (FCA) turned Ram into a stand-alone brand, it was viewed as a risky move. However, it appears to have struck a chord with truck buyers. 

      Ram was one of the top performers among consumers in the Kelley Blue Book (KBB) Brand Watch Report for the fourth quarter of 2019. KBB’s report measures consumer perceptions and shopping behaviors to determine how a particular brand compares to its closest competitors. The report breaks down into luxury and non-luxury classes.

      Ram has been gaining traction with consumers since it launched as a brand with a completely redesigned Ram 1500 pickup truck. KBB found that shopping for the Ram 1500 surged by nearly one-third from the third to the fourth quarter of last year.

      Ram wrapped up 2019 as the 11th most-considered brand for consumers shopping for a non-luxury brand vehicle, passing both Mazda and Volkswagen in the Brand Watch Report rankings.

      Consideration translated into sales

      It seems that consumers who took the time to consider Ram were more likely to buy it. Sales of Ram vehicles rose 7 percent from the fourth quarter of 2018. In fact, record fourth-quarter sales catapulted Ram into the number two truck sales position, overtaking the Chevy Silverado for the first time.

      In 2019, KBB added the classification of “perception,” and Ram scored well there as well. For the first time, KBB found Ram ranked at the top in six of the 12 most important factors to non-luxury buyers. In the fourth quarter, it swept the categories of interior layout, exterior styling, driving comfort, driving performance, technology, and prestige/sophistication.

      With relatively low fuel prices, consumers continue to shop for SUVs and pickup trucks. KBB reports that trucks accounted for 18 percent of all new vehicles sold in 2019, the highest percentage since 2005. 

      But it seems those who weren’t considering a truck were kicking the tires of an SUV. In terms of consideration, the top three brands were the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Subaru Outback.

      At the same time, the traditional sedan continued to fall out of favor with consumers. For the first time, consideration fell below 40 percent of all new-vehicle shoppers considering a car. The minivan share of new-vehicle shopping held steady at 6 percent.

      When Fiat Chrysler (FCA) turned Ram into a stand-alone brand, it was viewed as a risky move. However, it appears to have struck a chord with truck buyers....
      Read lessRead more