Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

October 2007 Archives

Consumer Fraud Survey Released by FTC

A statistical survey of fraud in the United States shows that 30.2 million adults were victims of some type of consumer fraud during 2005. According to the report, from the Federal Trade Commission, the top 10 most common consumer rip-offs are:

  • Fraudulent Weight-Loss Products (4.8 M victims)
  • Foreign Lottery Scams (3.2 M)
  • Unauthorized Billing - Buyers Clubs (3.2 M)
  • Prize Promotions (2.7 M)
  • Work-at-Home Programs (2.4 M)
  • Credit Card Insurance (2.1 M)
  • Unauthorized Billing - Internet Services (1.8 M)
  • Advance-Fee Loans (1.7 M)
  • Credit Repair Scams (1.2 M)
  • Business Opportunities (.8 M)

The FTC advises consumers to know who they are dealing with, protect personal information, and always read the fine print. Click on the links below for more information:

Supreme Court Considers Child Pornography Law

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in a case that hinges on the constitutionality of a federal child pornography law. Specifically, the Court will decide whether certain provisions of the 2003 PROTECT Act are overly vague and/or impermissibly vague in violation of First Amendment free speech guarantees. The Associated Press reports that "opponents of the provision of the 2003 federal law that sets a five-year mandatory prison term for promoting child porn have said that movies that depict adolescent sex could fall under the law."

Lawyer Group Urges Death Penalty Moratorium

Administration of capital punishment should be suspended nationwide, based on unfairness and unreliable evidence in death penalty cases, according to a new report issued by the American Bar Association. The ABA examined the way the death penalty works in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. The Associated Press reports that, due to problems such as spotty DNA evidence, false confessions, and racial disparities in sentencing, "the ABA said every state with the death penalty should review its execution procedures before putting anyone else to death."

Court: Teen's Sentence "Cruel and Unusual"

The Georgia Supreme Court has ruled that a 10-year prison sentence given to a teenager for a consensual sex act amounted to "cruel and unusual punishment" under the Georgia and U.S. Constitutions. In 2005, Genarlow Wilson, then 17 years old, was convicted of aggravated child molestation for having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl. In today's decision, the court stated that, especially in light of the fact that the conduct for which Wilson was convicted is now considered a misdemeanor under Georgia law, "the extraordinarily harsh punishment of ten years in prison without the possibility of probation or parole, appears to be grossly disproportionate to [Wilson's] crime." The court ordered that Wilson, now 21, be released from prison. The New York Times reports that Wilson could be released as early as today.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM), an opportunity to focus on domestic violence prevention efforts and resources on both the national and state levels, and a time to raise awareness of the dangers and harms caused by domestic violence. The following links from the federal government and from FindLaw for the Public provide more information on Domestic Violence Awareness Month and the problem of domestic violence:

Countrywide Will Restructure Home Loans

Countrywide Financial, the largest home loan company in the U.S., announced a plan to help homeowners restructure as much as $16 billion in mortgages, in an effort to stem the tide of loan defaults and home foreclosures. The company states that "dedicated teams of Countrywide specialists will contact customers who are current in their payments and approaching a rate reset to ascertain the borrowers circumstances and advise them about refinance and home preservation options." According to the New York Times, "the effort by Countrywide follows weeks of intense criticism from advocacy organizations contending that the company had not moved quickly to help its borrowers escape risky, high-cost loans made before the mortgage crisis took hold this year."

Home Lead Tests Found Unreliable

Consumers should not use lead test kits to evaluate consumer products for potential lead hazards, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced Monday, after a CPSC evaluation of a number of commonly-available lead test kits showed that the kits frequently failed to detect lead when it was there, or indicated that lead was present when it was not. CPSC advises consumers that "testing by a qualified laboratory and trained personnel is the only way to accurately assess the potential risk posed by a consumer product that may contain lead." Excess levels of lead in paint used on children's toys has prompted a number of recent recalls, and dangerous levels of lead can be found in the home.

Study Looks at Identity Theft Trends

Most identity theft crimes are not carried out online, and more than 60 percent of identity thieves are under the age of 34 (with two-thirds being male), according to a new study funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and conducted by the Center for Identity Management and Information Protection. The findings also show that one-third of identity theft cases occurred through the identity thief's employment. According to CBS News, "the most frequently used non-technological method [of identity theft] was the rerouting of mail through change of address cards. Other prevalent non-technological methods were mail theft and dumpster diving."

Hearing Loss Risk Added to Impotence Drug Labeling

Labeling on erectile dysfunction (ED) drugs Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra will more prominently display information on the potential risk of sudden hearing loss, and guide consumers on what to do if they experience sudden problems with their hearing, according to an announcement from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The labeling changes are a result of a number of cases in which patients taking these drugs reported sudden hearing loss, sometimes with dizzinesss and/or ringing in the ears. The FDA is advising patients who are taking Cialis, Levitra, or Viagra and experience sudden hearing loss to immediately stop taking the drug and seek prompt medical attention.

Halloween Safety Tips

This Halloween, parents should warn trick-or-treating children not to eat any treats before an adult has carefully examined them for evidence of tampering. And when shopping for that perfect Halloween costume, parents should be sure to look for the "Flame Resistant" label. Those are just a few of the tips offered by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in this year's Halloween Safety Alert. The CPSC also offers tips on costume design, pedestrian safety, and choosing safe houses.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers safety tips on Treats, Novelty Makeup, and Decorative Contact Lenses.

Social Security Benefits to Increase 2.3 Percent

Monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits for more than 54 million Americans will increase 2.3 percent in 2008, according to an announcement from the Social Security Administration. The Associated Press reports that "the new cost-of-living figure means the typical retired worker's benefit check will go from $1,055 per month to $1,079," and calls the increase "the smallest since a 2.1 percent boost in 2004." The SSA also announced that the maximum amount of earnings that will be subject to the Social Security tax (called the "taxable maximum") will increase to $102,000 from $97,500, beginning in January 2008.

Study Rates States' Hospital Care

Patients at the country's top-ranked hospitals are 71 percent less likely to die, when compared with patient mortality ratings at the lowest-ranked hospitals, according to a study released by HealthGrades, a healthcare ratings company. The study examined cases of patient mortality in 18 different medical procedures and health conditions. HealthGrades calls the assessment of about 5,000 hospitals nationwide "the most comprehensive annual study of its kind, cover[ing] more than 41 million Medicare hospitalization records over the years 2004 to 2006." The study ranks trends in hospitals in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Faulty Medtronic Defibrillator Component

Defibrillator manufacturer Medtronic Inc. is warning patients and health care providers that an electrical wire (called a "lead") that links the defibrillator to the heart could fracture. Medtronic is voluntarily suspending all distribution of the "Sprint Fidelis" leads. Medtronic defibrillators have included the Fidelis lead since 2004. According to a Press Release from Medtronic, Inc., the estimated 268,000 patients who have been implanted with Sprint Fidelis leads might experience lead fractures as "audible alerts, inappropriate shocks and/or loss of output," and the company has identified five deaths "in which a Sprint Fidelis lead fracture may have been a possible or likely contributing factor." At this time, Medtronic is not recommending replacement of the leads, because risks posed by implanting of a different lead are greater than risks presented by fracture of the Sprint Fidelis lead.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that Medtronic's action is "in the best interest of patient safety," and that while it "can be frightening for a patient to learn that a product they rely on so much might have a serious defect, patients can be assured that the likelihood of fracture is very low and FDA is committed to ensuring that the risk to patients is minimized."

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling requiring the City of New York to pay for the private school tuition of disabled students. The 2006 decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that, regardless of whether parents of disabled children avail themselves of the public school system first, the New York City school system must pay the disabled students' private school costs. According to the New York Times, "the case has been closely watched by educators. Almost seven million students nationwide receive special-education services, with 71,000 educated in private schools at public expense, according to the federal Education Department. Usually, districts agree to pay for those services after conceding that they cannot provide suitable ones."

Infant Cold Medicines Pulled from Shelves

A number of drug makers have pulled children's cough and cold medicines from markets after a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warning on health risks associated with use of the medications in infants. See a full list of recalled infant cold medicines (from CNN.com). In August, the FDA warned that, due to the risk of serious side effects, parents should not give cough and cold medications to children under the age of two unless specifically instructed to do so by a healthcare provider.

Crash Tests: Some SUVs Perform Worse Than Cars

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Certain late-model sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) performed worse than a number of cars in crash tests, based on test results released Thursday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The Jeep Grand Cherokee and Chevrolet TrailBlazer were among the worst SUV performers in "serious side crashes." According to Reuters, the fact that certain SUVs performed worse than standard-size cars "challenges a belief among consumers that sport utility occupants are safer in some crashes because they are heavier than cars and occupants are seated higher."

Crackdown on Hoodia and Anti-Aging "Spam" E-Mails

Spammers have been ordered to stop sending unwanted and illegal e-mail "spam" messages related to hoodia weight-loss products and human growth hormone (HGH) anti-aging products, according to an announcement from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC is alleging that "the international enterprise, with defendants in the United States, Canada, and Australia, used spammers to drive traffic to Web sites" which sold products including purported weight-loss aids "HoodiaLife" and "HoodiaPlus," and "HGHLife" and "HGHPlus" (which are marketed as capable of reversing the aging process). The FTC has determined that claims related to the products are false and unsubstantiated. The action is the first to use the U.S. SAFE WEB Act to share information with foreign partners.

U.S. Supreme Court Declines Torture Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear the appeal of Khalid El-Masri, a German citizen who claims that he was tortured in a prison in Afghanistan after being kidnapped by the CIA. The Court's decision means that a March decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit will stand. In that case, in response to El-Masri's claim that he was detained and interrogated in violation of his rights under the Constitution and international law, the Fourth Circuit sided with the government and its argument that El-Masri's case could not proceed because it posed an unreasonable risk that privileged state secrets would be disclosed. The New York Times reports that today's decision by the Supreme Court "prompted immediate expressions of dismay, and it could exacerbate tensions between the United States and Germany."

Imaging Drug Risk Warnings

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co's Definity and General Electric Co's Optison, imaging contrast agents that are used during heart ultrasound procedures (echocardiography), have caused serious reactions and deaths in a number of cases, according to Reuters. The Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) "is preparing to warn physicians about hazards with drugs used to enhance the diagnosis of heart problems using ultrasound imaging machines," and "the agency also has asked manufacturers to update their product labeling, which they have agreed to do."

Topps Meat Company Out of Business After Recall

Topps meat company, the frozen beef manufacturer that recalled more than 21 million pounds of ground beef products on September 25 due to links to E. coli bacteria, has announced that it is going out of business. The New York Times reports that "the company, based in Elizabeth, N.J., said a few of its 87 employees will remain at the plant to help the United States Department of Agriculture investigate how the E. coli bacteria tainted frozen hamburger patties made there." On October 4, the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that 30 cases of E. coli infection had been linked to Topps brand frozen ground beef patties.

Airlines' On-Time Performance Down

The nation's largest airlines reported 71.1 percent on-time arrivals in August 2006, down from a 75.8 percent on-time arrival rate in August 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). The airlines also received 7.55 reports of mishandled baggage per 1,000 passengers in August 2007, an improvement from August 2006's 8.10 rate. The Chicago Tribune calls August 2007 "the second-worst August on record" for on-time flights, and reports that "2007 continues to be a record-setting year for both the volume of airplane traffic and the number of flights gone awry."

FDA Seeks Halt of Cymbalta Promotion

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has determined that a professional mailer on Cymbalta from manufacturer Eli Lilly and Co. is "false and misleading" in that it "overstates the efficacy of Cymbalta and omits some of the most serious and important risk information associated with its use" in violation of federal law. FDA has ordered Lilly to cease dissemination of these promotional materials. Cymbalta has been approved for treatment of major depressive disorder, management of pain associated with diabetes, and treatment of generalized anxiety disorder.

New Passport Rules Back in Effect

A temporary easing of new passport rules for travelers entering the U.S. has expired, meaning that all persons -- including U.S. citizens -- traveling by air from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda are now required to have a passport in order to enter the United States, in accordance with regulations that went into effect in January 2007 (a second phase of passport requirements will apply to land and sea travelers, beginning as early as January 2008). The temporary easing of the new requirements was in effect for summer travel, but the initiative ended as scheduled on September 30, 2007.