Current Events in December 2020

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2020

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    Walmart+ drops the $35 minimum order for free shipping

    Starting Friday, members get free next-day and two-day shipping no matter what they spend

    Walmart is dropping its $35 minimum order requirement for Walmart+ members to receive free shipping, a move that is seen as ratcheting up the competition with Amazon.

    Starting Friday, Walmart+ members can get free next-day and two-day delivery on all orders from the company’s website, regardless of how much they spend. Company officials hope the perk will attract more consumers to Walmart+.

    “Customers have been clear, they want this benefit,” said Janey Whiteside, chief customer officer at Walmart. “Being able to toss an item into your cart, regardless the total, and check out right away lets them knock little things off their to-do list in no time.”

    Deliveries from Walmart stores still carry a $35 minimum. Walmart+ members currently get unlimited free grocery deliveries, fuel discounts, and the ability to use Scan and Go in stores, which lets customers shop and check out with their phone.

    The move matches Amazon Prime’s policy of offering members free delivery regardless of the size of the order. While the two programs have different costs and benefits, Walmart has now leveled the playing field in one area that consumers appear to value.

    More places to use fuel discounts

    Walmart said it is also expanding the number of locations where members can use their fuel discounts. They will now include Sam’s Club fuel stations across the country. The discounts are already available at Walmart, Murphy USA, and Murphy Express fuel stations.

    Walmart+ launched earlier this year with an annual membership just under $100 a year, making it slightly less costly than Amazon Prime. The rollout included same-day grocery delivery and reserved delivery windows. 

    A report cited by CNBC put total Walmart+ membership in mid-November at 19 million U.S. households, based on a survey. The same report puts Amazon Prime membership at an estimated 126 million people.

    Walmart is dropping its $35 minimum order requirement for Walmart+ members to receive free shipping, a move that is seen as ratcheting up the competition w...

    Ford recalls model year 2021 Lincoln Aviators

    The front steering knuckles may fracture

    Ford Motor Company is recalling 690 model year 2021 Lincoln Aviators.

    The steering knuckles may have been manufactured improperly.

    The improperly manufactured knuckle may fracture, reducing steering control, increasing the risk of a crash.

    What to do

    Ford will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the front knuckle, and replace it -- if necessary -- free of charge.

    The recall is expected to begin December 14, 2020.

    Owners may contact Ford customer service at (866) 436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 20S69.

    Ford Motor Company is recalling 690 model year 2021 Lincoln Aviators. The steering knuckles may have been manufactured improperly. The improperly man...

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      Cyber Monday 2020 sets new spending record with over $10 billion in sales

      It was the largest online shopping day in U.S. history

      This year, Cyber Monday spending was widely expected to smash records -- and it did just that. 

      According to a report from Adobe Analytics, consumers spent $10.8 billion online on Monday, setting a record for the biggest online shopping day in U.S. history and beating last year’s $9.4 billion Cyber Monday record. 

      Adobe, which analyzes website transactions from 80 of the top 100 U.S. online retailers, said consumers got some of the biggest discounts on computers (28 percent), sporting goods (20 percent), toys (19 percent), appliances (20 percent), and electronics (27 percent). 

      With the pandemic still keeping people at home, many consumers purchased toys and electronics to keep family members entertained. Some of the top sellers in the toy category included Lego Sets, vTech Toys, and scooters. In the electronics category, top sellers included Apple AirPods, Apple Watches, HP & Dell Computers, and Chromecast.     

      Key insights

      Adobe said it expects online shopping and curbside pickup to continue to be used more often this holiday season compared to years past. On Monday, Adobe said the number of orders placed online and picked up curbside was up 30 percent from a year ago.

      “Throughout the remainder of the holiday season, we expect to see record sales continue and curbside pickup to gain even more momentum as shoppers avoid crowds and potential shipping delays,” said Taylor Schreiner, a director at Adobe Digital Insights.

      The firm said a significant percentage of Cyber Monday purchases (37 percent) were made on smartphones, continuing a trend that has emerged over the past few years. Researchers noted that early discounts offered by retailers during the weeks leading up to Cyber Monday didn’t have a major impact on the day’s spending totals. 

      “Cyber Monday continued to dominate the holiday shopping season, becoming the biggest online shopping day in US history, despite early discounts from retailers,” Schreiner said.

      This year, Cyber Monday spending was widely expected to smash records -- and it did just that. According to a report from Adobe Analytics, consumers sp...

      Coronavirus update: Deaths rise 63 percent, current outbreak linked to big-box stores

      Hospitalizations have hit a record high

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 13,566,283 (13,399,855)

      Total U.S. deaths: 268,262 (266,986)

      Total global cases: 63,478,019 (62,924,259)

      Total global deaths: 1,472,917 (1,462,989)

      Deaths rise 63 percent in November

      The number of deaths from the coronavirus (COVID-19) rose sharply in November as the nation recorded more than 4 million new cases of the virus.

      A ConsumerAffairs analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University shows there were approximately 39,000 deaths in the last month attributed to the virus, a 63 percent increase over the approximately 24,000 deaths in October.

      But November was far from America’s deadliest month. In April, the second month of the pandemic, there were approximately 57,000 deaths from COVID-19.

      Spike linked to shopping at big retail stores

      Your chances of avoiding the coronavirus are a lot better if you stay out of big-box retail stores. That’s the assessment of El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, who leads a city where cases of the virus have spiked in recent weeks.

      “We did a deep dive in our contact tracing for the week of November the 10th through the 16th and found that 55 percent of the positives were coming from shopping at large retailers, what we’d term as the big box stores,” Margo told CBS News

      While state and local officials have wide leeway over restaurants and small retailers, big-box retailers are classified as “essential” under federal guidelines. Margo said local officials don’t have any control over whether these retailers are open or how they operate.

      Hospitalizations approach 100,000

      A measure of how quickly the coronavirus is spreading is the increasing burden on the nation’s hospitals. The COVID-19 Tracking project at Johns Hopkins University reported a record 93,000 people were being treated for the virus in U.S. hospitals as of Monday.

      In the early days of the pandemic, hospitals in New York and New Jersey were nearly overwhelmed. In November, it was hospitals all over the country, particularly in the Midwest, that were bearing a heavy load. Nearly four million of the nation’s 13 million cases were reported last month.

      New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo took the unusual step this week of asking doctors and nurses to come out of retirement to help handle the caseload.

      Study suggests COVID-19 arrived last year

      The first documented case of COVID-19 in the U.S. was diagnosed in late January, but a new study suggests the virus was present in the U.S. no later than December 2019.

      Researchers writing in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases based their findings on a study of blood samples collected by the American Red Cross last December. 

      The study analyzed residual archived samples from 7,389 routine blood donations from December 13, 2019 to January 17, 2020, from donors in California, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wisconsin. The study found COVID-19 antibodies in a small number of the samples.

      Fed chairman says pandemic-slammed economy needs help

      Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has told Congress that it needs to act soon to provide more relief for an economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic.

      In prepared remarks to the Senate Finance Committee, Powell urged Congress to renew some of the provisions of the CARES Act set to expire at the end of the month. He said the economy is only as strong as it is because of the stimulus enacted in the early days of the pandemic.

      Powell told lawmakers that the outlook for the economy is “extraordinarily uncertain.” He also said a full economic recovery is unlikely until Americans are confident that it is safe to reengage in a broad range of activities.

      Around the nation

      • Connecticut: Dozens of doctors around the state have signed a letter to Gov. Ted Lamont asking him to take additional steps to slow the coronavirus. Specifically, they’re asking that he close gyms and prohibit indoor dining in the state.

      • Nevada: Sixteen counties, making up nearly the entire state, have now been flagged as areas where virus cases are rising at a rapid rate. State health officials say the current surge in cases probably does not include the cases that will be reported in the aftermath of the Thanksgiving holiday.

      • Kentucky: Gov. Andy Beshear said his state is expected to receive its first shipment of a coronavirus vaccine by mid-December. However, the FDA has yet to clear any vaccine for distribution.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 13,566,283 (13,399,...

      Giving stock as holiday gifts could pay off for both the giver and the recipient

      There are some rules you should know when gifting stock, but they’re fairly easy to follow

      For people looking for something unique to add to their Christmas wish lists, analysts and financial managers say they should consider shares of stock -- a gift that has the potential to keep on giving.

      “Gifting stocks can be a great way to teach children or grandchildren about saving and investing, or a fun way of creating interest in the stock market, a company, or a particular industry,” says Eva Victor, director of wealth planning at Girard, a wealth management firm in the Philadelphia area.

      One of the greatest advantages of gifting stock to a child is the tax benefit. Under the annual gift exclusion, individuals are allowed to give up to $15,000 annually (for 2020 and 2021) to any number of recipients without incurring a gift tax.

      How to buy and gift stock

      Giving stock isn’t something that requires a master’s degree, but there are some rules to pay attention to so you stay on the right side of the law.

      If you’re thinking of giving stock to a child, Bankrate turned ConsumerAffairs onto a few options for how to make things as easy as possible:

      • Purchase stock specifically for a child. That can be done simply by using a custodial account over which you have control. A minor child should have a custodial account, while an of-age child may have a regular account. “While you could transfer the stock as physical certificates, it’s merely a novelty and pricey to do so, too,” said James Royal, Bankrate.com analyst and author of “The Zen of Thrift Conversions.”

      • Give stock from an existing investment account. Bankrate suggests contacting your broker to help make the transfer electronically or by stock certificate. Again, the recipient should have a brokerage account to receive the stock.

      • Give stock with an app. Many online brokers offer apps that allow you to give stock.

      The sky is NOT the limit

      If you’re sitting on a pile of cash and looking for the tax break of the century, there are some definite upsides, but you need to get a hold of yourself because there are legal thresholds that could cause tax headaches if you go over the limit. 

      Under the annual gift exclusion, you can safely give stock to any number of children (or anyone for that matter) without incurring a gift tax as long as you don’t go over the $15,000 limit per year. 

      “A couple (meaning a husband and wife separately) could gift up to $30,000 to every child and grandchild under this exclusion,” says Victor. “Any unused annual gift exclusion doesn’t carry over to later years.”

      The IRS offers a full set of FAQs on gift taxes. If you’d like to find out more, those answers are available here.

      For people looking for something unique to add to their Christmas wish lists, analysts and financial managers say they should consider shares of stock -- a...

      Consumer groups criticize new rules governing ‘deceptive practices’ by airlines

      The Biden administration could reverse the rule change, but it could take a lot of time and effort

      The Department of Transportation (DOT) has established a new set of standards for determining whether an airline was being unfair or deceptive in dealing with passengers. On the surface, that sounds great for the consumer, but consumer advocacy groups disagree, saying the new standards will actually make it more difficult to curtail bad behavior and create new protections going forward.

      According to the Washington Post’s coverage of the policy update, the airline industry was behind the requested change. Chief among its complaints was that the Trump administration had enacted consumer protection rules which made it more difficult for airlines to do business, so the industry reportedly asked the government to pull back on those reins a bit. 

      Early in 2018, airlines asked for industry-wide rule changes as part of Trump’s deregulation push, putting more than 30 flyer-oriented protections and regulations on the chopping block. This included certain regulations created under the Obama administration, such as a DOT requirement that airlines publish the entire cost of tickets, including fees and taxes; give passengers a full 24 hours to cancel a ticket after booking; and take additional steps to protect consumers from delayed or oversold flights.

      “Critical” or “Disappointing”

      Airlines for America, which represents the major carriers and championed the rule changes, applauded federal officials for taking action. “This reform is a critical step forward in ensuring a data-driven regulatory process, which will produce widespread and lasting benefits for air travelers, airlines and the economy,” Katherine Estep, an Airlines for America spokeswoman, told the Post.

      However, the National Consumers League isn’t buying that. “The DOT’s decision, at the height of a pandemic, to kneecap its ability to protect millions of travelers from airline industry abuses is deeply disappointing. That the Department decided to do so on the Friday after Thanksgiving highlights that they hope this terrible decision will be forgotten by Monday,” said John Breyault, the League’s vice president of public policy, telecommunications, and fraud. 

      “It should be clear to every member of the flying public that current DOT leadership is focused squarely on doing the airline industry’s bidding between now and January 20.”

      The incoming Biden administration could seek to reverse the rule change, but it may have things it considers more important on its to-do list, and changing a rule like this doesn’t exactly come at the snap of a finger. The Biden transition team did not respond to a request for comment from the Post, but Breyault said his organization has had positive conversations with the president-elect’s team about consumer protection issues.

      The Department of Transportation (DOT) has established a new set of standards for determining whether an airline was being unfair or deceptive in dealing w...

      Don’t trust emails that claim your Zoom account has been suspended

      During the pandemic, scammers are pretending to be Zoom customer support

      During the holiday season, phishing scams usually disguise themselves as delivery or credit card companies.

      You know the drill: you receive an email with an official-looking logo that tells you the delivery company has been unable to deliver your package or your credit card has been revoked. The scammer hopes that just enough people who are expecting a package or have made a lot of credit card purchases will see the message and overreact.

      But in this year of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, scammers have another weapon in their arsenal. So many people are using Zoom to communicate with school, the office, and family that a message saying your Zoom account is being canceled is enough to induce panic.

      Consumer authorities report a surge of reports of this kind of scheme. A social media message or a text includes Zoom’s logo and contains a message saying something like, “Your Zoom account has been suspended. Click here to reactivate.” 

      Several different versions

      Other versions of the scam use the message “You missed a meeting, click here to see the details and reschedule.” In either case, the sender wants you to click on the link in the message because doing so will download malware onto your device.

      According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), scammers registered more than 2,449 Zoom-related domains from late April to early May. They’ve been using them ever since to bombard unsuspecting consumers with bogus emails.

      While these scammers aren’t trying to steal money or your identity -- at least not directly -- they are seeking to take control of your computer, which could actually be worse. Once inside they might be able to help themselves to your bank account or steal enough personal data to steal your identity.

      A key logger would be able to watch everything you do with your device. Entering your username and password gives scammers access to your account and any other account that uses a similar login and password combination.

      Dos and don’ts

      To avoid this, think before you react to any unexpected email. It may say it’s from Zoom, but it probably isn’t.

      Look carefully at the domain address. It should say either Zoom.com or Zoom.us. Anything else, and it’s not an official communication.

      Make it a rule to never click on links contained in unsolicited emails. When in doubt, use a search engine to get to the company’s website. They all have a “contact us” page where you can ask if the communication is real. Without clicking any links, copy and paste the contents of the email into the “contact us” form.

      If you think there may be a legitimate issue with your account, contact the company directly by going to its website by either typing in the URL or doing a search. Don’t click on the link in the email.

      During the holiday season, phishing scams usually disguise themselves as delivery or credit card companies.You know the drill: you receive an email wit...

      Hy-Vee recalls Short Cuts veggie mixes

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Hy-Vee is recalling two Hy-Vee Short Cuts veggie mix products sold across its eight-state region.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have are reported.

      The following products, with a “Best if Used By” date through December 3, 2020, are being recalled:

      • Hy-Vee Short Cuts Pot Roast Mix – UPC Code 0272083305352
      • Hy-Vee Short Cuts Grill/Oven Ready Veggie Mix – UPC Code 0272104105992

      The recalled products were sold at Hy-Vee stores in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but discard or return them to their local Hy-Vee store for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact Hy-Vee customer care 24 hours a day, seven days a week at (800) 772-4098.

      Hy-Vee is recalling two Hy-Vee Short Cuts veggie mix products sold across its eight-state region. The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocyt...

      Chrysler recalls model year 2020 Alfa Romeo Giulia

      The rear brake discs may fracture

      Chrysler is recalling eight model year 2020 Alfa Romeo Giulias.

      The rear brake discs may fracture during vehicle operation.

      A rear brake disc fracture may result in a reduction of braking performance, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the rear brake discs free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 7, 2021.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at (800) 853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is W86.

      Chrysler is recalling eight model year 2020 Alfa Romeo Giulias. The rear brake discs may fracture during vehicle operation. A rear brake disc fractur...