Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

November 2009 Archives

Unintended Acceleration: Toyota to Fix 3.8 Million Gas Pedals

To "remedy" dangerous instances of "unintended acceleration," Toyota plans to either repair or replace the gas pedals on approximately 3.8 million vehicles. We wrote about the Toyota "unintended acceleration" problem previously in Common Law. The car company is responding to complaints by many consumers over sudden acceleration (or what Toyota calls "unintended acceleration"). Toyota initially blamed the problem on floor mats.

According to USA Today, Toyota plans on working on the flaw in its vehicles starting in January of next year. Toyota has announced in a press release exactly how it plans on to tackle the issue.

There will be three remedies as outlined in the press release:

  1. The shape of the accelerator will be reconfigured to address the problem of floor mats getting stuck. For the ES350, Camry, and Avalon models involved, the shape of the floor surface underneath will also be reconfigured to increase the space between the accelerator pedal and the floor.
  2. Vehicles with any genuine Toyota or Lexus accessory all-weather floor mat will be provided with newly-designed replacement driver- and front passenger-side all-weather floor mats.
  3. In addition, as a separate measure independent of the vehicle-based remedy, Toyota will install a brake override system onto the involved Camry, Avalon, and Lexus ES 350, IS350 and IS 250 models as an extra measure of confidence. This system cuts engine power in case of simultaneous application of both the accelerator and brake pedals.

Another essential issue that Toyota brings up in its press release is that it plans on introducing a brake override system as a standard feature on all future models of its vehicles by the end of 2010.

As discussed in FindLaw's Injured, some claim that the vehicles' electronic throttle systems, not the gas pedals, are to blame for the unintended acceleration incidents and resulting deaths.

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Your Old Flame: CPSC Recalls Outdoor Gas Grills

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, along with Health Canada, recently announced a product recall of propane gas grills and natural gas grills sold at Lowe's.

The recall includes the Perfect Flame SLG Series Gas Grills imported by LG Sourcing, Inc. and made in China. There are about 663 units in the US and about 1,700 in Canada.

The danger posed by these grills goes well beyond the overcooked hamburger. Lowe's has received about 40 reports of fires from the burners deteriorating and about 23 reports of the lids of some models catching fire. These incidents have lead to one serious eye injury and 21 incidents of minor burns to the hands, eyes and face.

The specifics on the recall unit are:

  • SLG series "Perfect Flame" outdoor propane or natural gas grills in stainless steel and black or grey metal.
  • Model numbers under recall are SLG2006B, 2006BN, 2006C and 2006CN, 2007A, 2007B, 2007BN, 2007D, 2007DN, 2008A.
  • These models were sold only at U. S. Lowe's retail stores between Sept. 2005 and May 2009, and in Canada from Dec. 2007 to May 2009.

Consumers are asked to immediately stop using the product and contact LG Sourcing to receive free replacement burners and, depending on the model, a free replacement lid.

To contact Lowe's about this recall consumers may call 888.840.9590 or go to www.Lowes.com.  To report an incident or injury to the CPSC go to https://www.cpsc.gov/cgibin/incident.aspx or call 800.638.2772.  

To see the full text of the recall notice go to: http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml10/10043.html.

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Card Reform May Come Too Late This Holiday Season

It seems like credit card companies will be free to scrooge us through holiday season continued credit card interest rate increases. Previously, we discussed the congressional push to move up the effective date on card reform this holiday season, but it seems like that push has now faded into a pipe dream.

Congress was trying to pass a measure that would enact strict rules against a credit card rate increase during the holiday season because of fears that credit card companies would do just that before the CARD Act is fully enacted on February 22, 2010.

CNN reports that while the House of Representatives have passed a measure to do just that, Republican senators have blocked a bill that would freeze current credit card interest rates.

CNN quotes Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn) addressing his fellow senators on the floor: "The holiday season is upon us. Hard-pressed Americans want go out and do what what they can to help their families and celebrate, in a very difficult time, some joy... by taking a credit card out and making those purchases. They're watching... an industry continue to skyrocket these rates and fees on people."

His words seem to have fallen on deaf ears in the Senate. While Sen. Dodd is attempting to pass this measure, many are predicting that the Senate will not pass it because the effective date of the CARD Act is so near.

In the meantime credit card companies are hiking up their interest rates. CNN quotes the Government Accountability Office as saying, "In recent months, changes in the economy and the passage of the [new law] have led many issuers to 'reprice' their credit card accounts by altering the rates, fees, and other terms that apply to cardholders' cards."

This is not good for consumers, but since Congress is too busy with other issues, its likely that the measure to push CARD Act will likely fall flat.

At least we know whose stockings to fill with coal this Christmas.

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Approximately 2.1 million Storkcraft drop-side cribs have been recalled, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The Storkcraft crib recall involves a drop-side crib defect that causes the drop-side to detach in one or more corners, which could allow a baby to fall or suffocate.

The drop-side crib's plastic hardware can break down or deform which leads to the problem with the drop-side. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission urges parents to immediately stop using the recalled cribs and find alternative sleeping arrangements for their infants. Storkcraft is offering a free repair kit in order to fix the defect. Consumers can contact Storkcraft for the free kit.

The cribs affected by this recall are outlined by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission as being: "Stork Craft cribs with manufacturing and distribution dates between January 1993 and October 2009. This recall also includes Stork Craft cribs with the Fisher-Price logo that have manufacturing dates between October 1997 and December 2004. The Stork Craft cribs with the Fisher-Price logo were first sold in the U.S. in July 1998 and in Canada in September 1998."

The retailers that sold these defective cribs include BJ’s Wholesale Club, J.C. Penney, Kmart, Meijer, Sears, USA Baby, and Wal-Mart stores and online at Amazon.com, Babiesrus.com, Costco.com, Target.com, and Walmart.com. The price range on the cribs are from $100 to $400.

According to CNN, this is the second time that the company has had to recall cribs. They recalled over half a million cribs back in January 2009. There have been over 100 documented cases of drop-side detachment in both the United States and Canada. The injuries sustained have ranged from severe concussions to minor bumps and bruises.

CNN quoted U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission spokesperson Scott Wolfson as saying: "CPSC is working on new federal rules to make all cribs safer." This could result in a move to actually ban drop-side cribs. CNN reports that Toys "R" Us plans to actually stop carrying drop-side cribs and jurisdictions such as Suffolk County, NY has already passed a law that banned sales of drop-side cribs.

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Food Safety System to Get More Government Oversight in 2010

According to Reuters, the U.S. Senate committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions voted last Wednesday to increase government oversight on food safety. This would be the first major overhaul of the food safety system in 50 years. However, as busy as congress is with health care, food safety probably won't hit the Senate floor until early 2010.

The Senate bill, similar to the House legislation, would allow the FDA to expand oversight of the food supply and more importantly, shift its focus from reacting to outbreaks of foodborne, illness to preventing them. The FDA would have the power to order recalls, increase inspection rates to at least once every four years, and in the case of high-risk facilities, once every year. Currently, facilities can go several years without a visit from the FDA. The Bill would also implement traceability for fruits and vegetables and start a pilot program for tracing processed foods.

The only current difference between the House and Senate bills is the House bill provides for funding for the increased oversight via a yearly fee of $500 charged to processing plants while the Senate bill does not. However, the Senate might change its mind on that point after the Congressional Budget office puts a price tag on the bill. Chairman of the Health Committee Tom Harkin (D) said, "if this is for public protection, it's something we all ought to pay for."  

Consumer groups are pleased with the progress thus far. "This is another milestone on the path to fixing our badly broken system for food safety," said Jean Halloran, a director at Consumers Union. Even large U.S. food companies are generally in favor of improving food safety as illness outbreaks are detrimental to sales. "There are not big substantive disagreements that will stand in the way of legislation," said Scott Faber, a vice president at the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

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Tis the Season for...Toy Safety: New Rules from CPSC

CPSC Chair Inez Tenebaum held a Town Hall meeting in New York recently to talk to parents and consumers about safe toys and new toy safety regulations. The CPSC has introduced new rules and guidelines for higher toy safety standards this year. In addition, there are steps parents and grandparents can take to ensure a happy and safe giving season.

Starting this year new federal rules state:

  • federal limits for lead in paint on children's toys dropped to 90 parts per million, which is among the lowest in the world;
  • toys for children 12 and younger must now be tested and certified that they meet the new lead in paint limits;
  • children's toys cannot be made or sold with more than 300 parts per million of total lead;
  • children’s toys cannot be made or sold with more than 0.1% of six prohibited phthalates
  • most children’s toys now fall under mandatory standards, instead of voluntary ones.

This year, toy recalls are significantly down. So far this calendar year there have been 38 toy recalls, down from 162 in 2008 and 148 in 2007. CPSC cites better enforcement for imports, cooperation with other nations, and more consumer awareness and education, among the factors giving consumers a bit safer year.

There are several safety tips the CPSC would like consumers to take when shopping this holiday season:

  • Scooters and other Riding Toys – Riding toys, skateboards and in-line skates go fast and falls could be deadly. Helmets and safety gear should be worn at all times and be sized to fit.
  • Small Balls and other Toys with Small Parts – For children younger than age three, avoid toys with small parts, which can cause choking.
  • Balloons - Children can choke or suffocate on un-inflated or broken balloons. Keep un-inflated balloons away from children younger than eight years old. Discard broken balloons at once.
  • Magnets – For children under age six, avoid building or play sets with small magnets. If magnets or pieces with magnets are swallowed, serious injuries and/or death can occur.

Once the screaming is over and the gifts are open, the CPSC also recommends the following:

  • Immediately discard plastic wrappings or other packaging on toys before they become dangerous play things.
  • Keep toys appropriate for older children away from younger siblings.
  • Charging batteries should be supervised by adults. Chargers and adapters can pose thermal burn hazards to young children. Pay attention to instructions and warnings on battery chargers. Some chargers lack any device to prevent overcharging.

The CPSC is committed to working with consumers on toy safety and education and with foreign and domestic toy manufacturers, importers and retailers to understand and comply with the new regulations.

To see the full text of the CPSC News Release go to: http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml10/10039.html.

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Public Health Advisory: Drug Interaction, Prilosec/Plavix

A new Public Health Advisory from the FDA was published on November 17th. The FDA has new data showing a drug interaction between the drug omeprazole (Prilosec and Prilosec OTC) and clopidogrel (Plavix) which reduces the effects of the clopidogrel (Plavix) by almost half when both are taken by the same patient. The drug interaction in this case is caused by the omeprazole (Prilosec) blocking the "conversion of the Plavix into its active form."

Clopidogrel (Plavix) is a medication taken by heart attack or stroke patients to aid anticoagulation and prevent further clotting of the blood. Omeprazole (Prilosec) is commonly taken by prescription and over the counter to treat frequent heart burn. The FDA wants patients taking clopidogrel (Plavix) to know the following:

  • Patients using clopidogrel should consult with their healthcare provider if they are currently taking or considering taking omeprazole, including Prilosec OTC.
  • Both clopidogrel and omeprazole can provide significant benefits to patients, and patients should always consult with their healthcare professional before starting or stopping any medication.
  • It is very important that patients talk with their healthcare professional about any over-the-counter (OTC) drugs they are taking before starting or while using clopidogrel

The FDA recommends patients taking clopidogrel (Plavix) that need a medication for stomach acid can use the following medications without serious interference with anti-coagulation medications such as Plavix: antacids such as Maalox or Mylanta, Zantac, Pepcid, or Axid.

The label for clopidogrel will be updated with the new warnings. If you are concerned about these drugs or their interactions with any medication you are taking, you should speak with your doctor.

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Never Mind, Rapunzel: Illinois AG Sues Hair Growth Institute

Hair today, gone... no, that's just too easy. What is more difficult than promised, apparently, is for follically challenged Illinois consumers to get their money back from the Natural Hair Growth Institute. The Institute is a company supposedly promoting hair growth remedies. In a suit announced November 17, Illinois Attorney General, Lisa Madigan, is seeking $50,000 in penalties for each violation of the Consumer Fraud Act, full restitution for customers, and to ban the defendants Natural Hair Growth Institute (NHGI) and owner, Steve Bennis, from operating in Illinois.

According to the Attorney General's News Release, the claims made by the NHGI are completely unsupported by science. The company, for a token $8,000-$12,000, guarantees (or your money back) that its laser therapy, scalp massage and topical hair products will help re-grow hair within six months. The NHGI also claims that it uses an FDA approved "Orbit Laser Light" treatment like one commonly used in that great oasis of cutting edge health treatments, Europe. In fact, Madigan says, the laser used is not the same as the approved Orbit Laser Light device. 

The Illinois AG's Office has received nine complaints by consumers that, even after the promised "scalp detoxification... massage" and additional treatments failed to work, they did not receive their money back, as promised. Even after repeated requests.

ChicagoBreakingNews.com reports that the defendant remains unbowed.  A spokeswoman for Bennis said Tuesday night that he stands behind his businesses and called the suit a waste of taxpayer money. The suit "is 100 percent one-sided and has no basis whatsoever," spokeswoman Angela Kolton said.  Maybe hats will just come back into fashion in Illinois.

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Feds Crack Down on Gift Cards in Time for Holidays

With the holidays approaching, it seems like the best way to handle those pesky shopping lists is just to buy a bunch of gift cards right? Wrong! Sometimes you end up giving a nightmare instead of a dream gift.

Why is that? Sometimes retailers pretend that gift cards are like cash, but there are things in the fine print. For example, gift cards can expire before they can be used. Or the gift card has a monthly "maintenance" fee. Gift card fees and gift card expiration aren't exactly what most gift givers have in mind.

The government has heard many complaints and it has finally decided to crackdown on these unfair gift card practices. Complaints have been steady since 2007 about gift card practices. For example, Kmart had to settle charges brought against it by the Federal Trade Commission which charged that the retailer engaged in deceptive practices in selling and advertising its gift card. It promoted its card as the equivalent of cash but there were fees placed on the cards after two years of non-use. The retailer also advertised that the card never expired when it really did expire after a certain period of time.

Well this holiday season promises to be a bit brighter with help from the Federal Reserve Board. It announced that proposed rules to restrict fees and expiration dates would apply to gift cards. This would prevent all of those problems that consumers have had in the past with gift cards as outlined above.

According to the press release from the Federal Reserve Board: "The proposed rules would prohibit dormancy, inactivity, and service fees on gift cards unless: (1) there has been at least one year of inactivity on the certificate or card; (2) no more than one such fee is charged per month; and (3) the consumer is given clear and conspicuous disclosures about the fees. Expiration dates for funds underlying gift cards must be at least five years after the date of issuance, or five years after the date when funds were last loaded."

This is in order to help implement the provisions outlined in the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 which are specifically for gift cards.

So make sure you read the fine print this holiday season. That way you can prevent retailers from scrooging your gift card recipients.

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Update: Utah Settles with Eli Lilly in Zyprexa Case

As we previously discussed regarding Eli Lilly's $1.42 Billion Zyprexa settlement, major pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly has faced a host of suits over its marketing tactics for the drug Zyprexa. Last week Utah Attorney General, Mark Shurtleff, announced that state's settlement of the drug lawsuit with Lily, for $24 million.

Shurtleff feels this was a big win for the state, not only in terms of the money, but because the he wanted Lilly's "bad conduct to stop." According to Utah's four year investigation, 1,769 patients over the age of 65 received the drug with out the appropriate diagnosis. 

Utah, like 13 other states, choose to go it alone in its suit against the drug company instead of joining the 32 state group who's suit against Lilly ended in a $62 million dollar settlement last year. The group suit, like the Utah case, centered around Lilly's aggressive marketing of the drug for off-label uses for dementia, Alzheimer's, agitation, aggression, hostility, depression and generalized sleep disorder. The FDA has not approved the drug for treating these conditions.  

The settlement money will be useful for Utah which, like so many other states, is struggling with a huge budget shortfall. "There are plenty of opportunities and critical needs for this money," House Speaker David Clark, R-Santa Clara, said as he accepted a faux $24 million check from Shurtleff.

In the Utah Attorney General's News Release, Robert Steed, Assistant Attorney General and Director of the Utah Medicaid Fraud Control Unit said, "Today's announcement should send a clear message that those who would put corporate profits ahead of patient safety will be held accountable."

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Heads Up: BPA in High Levels Linked to Sexual Dysfunction

After numerous reports on the potential harmful effects of the chemical bisphenol A, known as BPA, one more issue rears its ugly head: potential problems with sexual function in men. In a new report from Kaiser Permanente and published in the journal Human Reproduction, researchers spent five years studying workers in factories in China with relatively high levels of exposure to BPA. Numerous effects on sexual function were reported.

Earlier research has linked BPA exposure to reproduction problems in animals, but the new study is the first to do so in humans, reports webmd.com. Critics who were quicker to reject reports based on animal subjects may have a more difficult time dismissing this one. Additionally, there is the subject matter. Based on self-reporting techniques, the study found the BPA exposed workers had nearly a fourfold increased risk of reduced sexual desire, an even greater risk of erectile dysfunction and a more than sevenfold risk of ejaculation difficulty than non-exposed men

American Chemical Council spokesman Steve Hentges, PhD, tells WebMD.com he still has doubts. He finds the study sample small, "with just 230 occupationally exposed and 404 unexposed workers," and is concerned by the "self-reported observations of sexual dysfunction." However, doubts about the self reporting should be considered carefully since workers might well be likely to under-report, rather than over-report, such problems.

Consumers should be aware of these new findings, as BPA is found not only in plastic goods such as bottles, but in the lining of cans used for food products. However, it should be noted that the men in the study were exposed to about 50 times higher levels of BPA than the average American male. 

SanFranciscoGate.com also reports that while the FDA found in 2008 that trace amounts of BPA are not harmful, some manufacturers have stopped using it and several regional and state governments have banned it in baby products such as bottles and sippy cups.

Researches who published the report for Kaiser Permanente would like to do further research investigating the effects of lower levels of exposure, like those to consumers of products containing BPA.

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FDA Considering New Food Tracing Guidelines

In a November 13, 2009 press release, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a food safety report from the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) recommending objectives be set to improve tracking on global food supply chains. The IFT is a nonprofit scientific society focusing on the science of food. This report was commissioned by the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition in 2008.

Since food can become contaminated at any point in the supply chain, the improved ability to trace the movement of food products will allow the FDA and other agencies to more quickly identify the source of contaminated foods and thus hopefully reduce the instances of illnesses in consumers.

According to WorldPoultry.net, the recommendations from the IFT and their expert panel include basic plans to integrate and update food tracing systems. Suggestions include: use of electronic data systems for data transfer, comprehensive record keeping to allow linking of information with partners, standardization of formats of information. As elementary as some of these tasks sound, partners in food production and supply include a diverse, global group including farm workers, shippers, importers, wholesalers, retailers, government agencies and consumers. It will be a large task to develop a system to allow information from each of these groups to be available to all the others.

The improved ability to track and pinpoint the origin of food borne diseases will of course enable the FDA to "get risky products off the market faster," notes the FDA press release. This report is only part of the record the FDA will consider when, as meat international.com reports, the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service will hold a public meeting on food product tracing in Washington, D.C., on December 9 and 10, 2009. The agencies will be seeking written input from stakeholders on improving the food tracing system.   

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Will the FDA Ban Alcoholic Energy Drinks?

The FDA announced Friday that sent a letter to about 30 companies regarding their production of energy drinks with alcohol. Why would the FDA target manufacturers of legal products with an additive that is as seemingly safe as caffeine? Don't we all take in more caffeine with a morning latte?

Attorneys General from 18 different states and one City Attorney sent a letter to the FDA expressing concerns about the health risks of alcoholic energy drinks. A 2007 study at Wake Forest University found that the mixture of alcohol, a depressant, and caffeine, a stimulant, actually masked the drinker's intoxication level and lead to an increase in injury, willingness to ride with an intoxicated driver and even increased instances of sexual assault.

The FDA will give companies 30 days to show that under their regulations, the addition of caffeine has either been previously sanctioned by the agency, or is what the agency calls GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe, unfortunately, no pun intended). At this time, the FDA has only approved caffeine as an additive in drinks at levels of no more than 200 parts per million and has not approved caffeine for use at any level in alcoholic beverages.

However, even your Red Bull may not be safe from increased regulation. Last October, a number of scientists and doctors petitioned the FDA for more regulation over the amount of caffeine found in non-alcoholic energy drinks such as Red Bull, Rock Star and Monster. The group is hoping for better notification of the disparity in caffeine levels in the various drinks and a warning about potential risks when mixed with alcohol.

According to CNN, some manufacturers of alcoholic drinks have already taken their caffeinated variants off the market, including Anheuser-Busch and Miller who have reformulated their drinks Tilt, Sparks and Bud Extra to leave out the caffeine. 

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Bank on This: New Rules on Overdraft Fees Issued

One change in overdraft fees and bank regulation in favor of consumers down, and about 100 still to go. The Federal Reserve announced last Thursday that new rules concerning overdraft protection charges plaguing consumers' bank balances are set to go into mandatory effect for new cards on July, 1, 2010.

As discussed in previous Common Law posts, consumers have numerous concerns with overdraft. Some of those we've previously addressed include:

  • processing order (banks often do the largest transaction first, rather than in chronological order),
  • getting signed up for overdraft "protection" perhaps without even knowing it,
  • not having an opportunity to back out of a transaction if it puts the balance, in negative territory,
  • having no, or high daily or yearly limits on overdraft fees levied, and
  • having fees that are disproportionate to the amount overdrawn.

The Fed has chosen this time around to address one of the above issues frustrating bank customers. As of July next year (August 15 for existing accounts), consumers will have the right to receive clear information about and the opportunity to opt out of OD services and related charges pertaining to check card transactions at retailers and ATM's only.

As reported by the New York Times, it seems that consumers are simply not as upset about the overdraft fees on paper checks or on re-occurring scheduled withdrawals (such as monthly phone bills), so they are exempt from this rule.

Under the new rules, consumers will have an opportunity decline overdraft protection for ATM and check card transactions. Banks will be then prohibited from "discriminating" (that is trying to make up the loss with added fees elsewhere) against customers who do choose to opt out. Customers will also have the option of revoking their consent to the service. 

The banks, of course, are predicting doom and gloom and a loss to the customer-beloved institution of overdraft protection due to all the losses that they argue mostly smaller banks will incur under the new rules (though big banks will surely miss some of the billions they've been reaping off overdraft fees).

Still up for future consideration is legislation introduced by Senators Christopher Dodd and Charles Schumer to limit the number of overdraft fees to one a month and to require a bank to seek permission from consumers to cover debit card and check purchases that would push their bank balance below zero.

Unfortunately, the Fed did not yet address other troubling bank practices such as processing a larger transaction ahead of smaller ones which could push a customer into the red, thus triggering overdraft protection and those pesky fees.  Maybe next time.

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In this time of economic woe, most of us are putting less on our credit cards. If you haven't been so wise and are facing large bills and increasing interest rates, be careful whom you choose to help you out of your hole. On November 10, 2009, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filled suit against two companies for telemarketing scams promising to lower consumer's credit card interest rates.

According to ConsumerAffairs.com, the Illinois AG's suit alleges two Texas and Washington based companies guaranteed customers a minimum savings of $2,500 in reduced credit card rates, or their money back. Once a customer enrolled in the program, they were charged fees from $391 up to $1590 which were promised to be refunded, but never were. In addition, when the promised interest rate reduction did not materialize, refunds were refused or sent minus an undisclosed $199 fee.

Unfortunately, this type of scam is nothing new. A strikingly similar operation was run out of Canada and halted by the FTC in February of 2007. In that scheme, telemarketers also promised to save consumers $2,500 (were they reading from the same handbook?) and then charged $695 for materials that of course failed, as did the company, to save consumers a dime.

What can you do to protect yourself from like scammers? A few simple guidelines may help: 

  • never reveal your credit card number to unsolicited callers
  • ask for and read contracts, literature or any company prospectus before buying or investing
  • ask for information from the seller: name, company name, address, website 
  • if you think you have been the victim of fraud, contact your Better Business Bureau, the FTC, state Attorney General's office or other appropriate agency

Illinois AG Lisa Madigan recommends consumers contact credit counseling companies to assist them with their credit problems.

Finally, use common sense. Just like your mother told you, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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FDA Warning on Selling Illegally Flavored Cigarettes

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued warning letters on Monday to companies continuing to sell illegal flavored cigarettes to consumers through their Web sites.

According to the FDA, it is enforcing the ban on flavored cigarette under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. These efforts are part of a multi-level initiative to steer children and youth away from cigarettes.

The FDA requested a written response from each of the companies within 15 days outlining the corrective actions to cease the marketing and sale of these products.

The FDA's warning letters are posted on the agency's site and detail the offending websites and flavored cigarette products.

Nearly 500,000 Americans die from tobacco-related causes each year, according to the American Cancer Society. Smoking is responsible for 87% of all lung cancer deaths.

FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg also points out that 90% of adult smokers started as teenagers.

Prevously, we discussed the list of tobacco products covered under the ban.

In addition, here are some already passed rules which will be going into effect over the next few years:

  • By January 2010, tobacco manufacturers and importers will submit information to the FDA about ingredients and additives in tobacco products.
  • By July 2010, tobacco manufacturers may no longer use the terms "light," "low," and "mild" on tobacco products without an FDA order in effect.
  • By July 2010, warning labels for smokeless tobacco products will be revised and strengthened.
  • By October 2012, warning labels for cigarettes will be revised and strengthened.

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Apple proclaims in their ads, "There's an app for that." Well, it turns out that there is also an app that allegedly steals your personal information.

A recent lawsuit against the gaming developer Storm8 claims the developer has been collecting the cell phone numbers of iPhone users who downloaded Storm8's games from the iTunes app store.

Online Media Daily reports that the lawsuit claims that user phone numbers are not necessary for any of Storm8 games, but the games nonetheless contain software that automatically collects and transmits the telephone number of all iPhone users who download any Storm8 game.

The lawsuit has been filed by Michael Turner who is a resident of Lynwood, WA. He claims that the data harvesting committed by the software developer violates the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act as well as certain California state laws.

He also claims that when he downloaded the games during the summer that the developer "harvested his wireless telephone number without notifying him or obtaining his consent."

While he has outlined how Storm8 has collected his number as well as other users' numbers, there may not be a legal remedy.

This is because that the law requires that not only was a personal computer accessed, but also that the computer was also damaged.

Turner's suit may have to get creative about how Storm8's practices caused damage. His lawyer says that Storm8 caused damage because it "impaired the integrity of the data stored on a protected computer."

However, it may be a tough sell. While there are certain data that are considered protected such as social security numbers and bank accounts, a cell phone number is not protected data. It is information that people give out freely.

If you are an iPhone, or other smart phone user, just beware that the apps you use may be using your personal information. Until we get a decision about what happens to developers who harvest your information, be careful about which apps you download.

Related Resources:

Yesterday, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced a recall by Maclaren U.S.A. Inc., of about 1 million of it's strollers, due to fingertip laceration or amputation hazards to children while their parents are folding or unfolding the stroller. The CPSC states that the company has received as many as 15 reports of children placing their fingers in the hinge mechanism, resulting in up to 12 fingertip amputations in the U.S.

This announcement may come as a surprise to many parents who know the Maclaren company as makers of high-end and sought-after strollers selling for as much as $360, depending on the model. In their own recall notice, Maclaren emphasized their continuing commitment to stroller safety and reminds consumers their products "meet all U.S. ASTM & JPMA compliance standards."

Consumer Reports points out that these stroller safety standard apply to strollers when in their upright recommended use position, and that these injuries here have occurred when the strollers were being folded or unfolded.

All single and double strollers from all model years are listed under the recall, but the company and CPSC specifically include the following models: Volo, Triumph, Quest Sport, Quest Mod, Techno XT, Techno XLR, Twin Triumph, Twin Techno and Easy Traveller.

According to the Time, the parenting blogosphere is all a-twitter with the news of a trusted company with a major safety issue. It will remain to be seen whether this generation of hyper-vigilant parents will allow Maclaren to return to their previous lofty stature in the parenting world.

Consumers can contact Maclaren to receive a free repair kit providing hinge covers to protect children's fingers and adults from additional parenting stress.

Recall Kits can be obtained online or by calling: 1-877-688-2326 Monday through Friday between 8am and 5pm ET, or by going to Maclaren's recall site: http://recall.maclarenbaby.com/.

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Victims of last year's salmonella outbreak say they are fed up.

They are angry that no one has been charged in the salmonella outbreak linked to hundreds of illnesses and nine deaths.

"It seems like it's been forgotten. That's kind of how the country ebbs and flows — it's in the news for a while, then everything quiets down," Lou Tousignant told the Associated Press.

His 78-year-old father died in January from salmonella poisoning after eating tainted peanut butter in his nursing home.

As previously discussed here, reported infections of Salmonella serotype Typhimurium began between September 3 and December 31, 2008, with most illnesses beginning after October 1st, and 18 percent of reported cases requiring hospitalization.

The peanut salmonella outbreak was linked to Peanut Corp. of America plant in Blakely, Ga., where Food and Drug Administration inspectors found roaches and mold while trying to figure out the source of the salmonella.

During the criminal probe, Congress also revealed e-mails from the peanut company's top executive that seemed to suggest the pursuit of profits took priority over ensuring public safety.

Food safety prosecutions typically lead to fines against companies rather than prison time, and experts and attorneys sensed criminal charges could be imminent in the salmonella case.

Under federal law cases can prosecuted without proof the company knew it was distributing contaminated food.

According to the AP, the deadline for personal injury claims against the company was Oct. 31, but the number of people seeking a share of $12 million in insurance is not yet available.

Target, Kmart and Toys R Us retailers agreed to pay $454,000 in civil penalties and other fines to settle claims related to lead in children's products.

The lawsuit was filed two years ago after toys were found to have been made and/or sold with unsafe levels of lead paint.

The retailers, along with several manufacturers including Mattel Inc., were sued by the California Attorney General's office and the Los Angeles City Attorney's office in November 2007, the L.A. Times reports.

The products violated federal toy safety standards and Proposition 65, a state law dealing with toxic substances, and led to a rash of recalls in 2007 and 2008.

In the settlement, Target is scheduled to pay $210,000, Toys R Us $175,000 and Kmart $69,000.

The furor over the sale and importation of toys containing lead and other toxic materials led to new federal legislation.

Last year, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. It not only sets mandatory safety standards for products used by children under the age of 12 but requires manufacturers to test their products to prove that they were safe.

Before this law was passed, testing of toys was not required, and compliance with safety standards was voluntary.

Lead can be toxic if ingested and is considered particularly dangerous for children, whose brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to its effects.

"Our enforcement action will serve as a reminder to companies that they have a responsibility to make sure that children aren't exposed to harmful chemicals from their toys," said Harrison Pollak California’s deputy attorney general.

CARD Act Move-Up: Credit Card Reform May Come Early

With growing reports that credit card companies are gouging their customers before new rules take effect, the House of Representatives has approved legislation to speed up the effective date of portions of the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 (known as the CARD Act), which otherwise would not go into effect until February or August of 2010.

The Consumers Union gives a good breakdown of the law. Here is what the law is about in a nutshell:

  • It restricts interest rate increases during the first year
  • It prevents interest rate increases on existing balances except for three instances
  • Longer amounts of notice are required in order to raise rates on future purchases
  • Keeps payment terms the same... meaning credit card companies can't change the terms on you
  • Places limits on the fees and penalty interests that companies can charge consumers
  • Companies must consider the consumer's ability to pay before allowing limit increases or issuing a new card
  • Requiring companies to set reasonable due dates
  • Preventing companies from targeting young consumers
  • Stopping deceptive advertising for credit reports
  • Setting Gift Card Protection

As you can tell, the CARD Act sets up a number of protections for you as a consumer. As a result, credit card companies have been scrambling to add last minute interest rate and penalty fee hikes before the new credit card reform takes effect.

However, the House passed a bill to ensure that consumers are protected from these last ditch attempts to milk consumers. They passed a bill this past Wednesday in order to move up the CARD Act's effective date from Feb and Aug 2010 to Dec. 2009.

CNN quotes a statement released by bill co-sponsor Rep. Carolyn Maloney (Dem-NY) as saying: "Just in time for the holidays, Congress can lock in a ban on interest rate hikes on existing balances, and the tricks that have kept far too many consumers trapped in a never-ending cycle of debt."

She continues by saying that credit card companies "brought this on themselves" by taking advantage of the time between when the credit card reform reform act was signed and when it would go into effect by pushing through even more rate and fee hikes.

"This marks a step forward in bringing consumers badly-needed relief," Maloney said in the statement.

While the House has voted 331-92 on this issue, it still must pass in the Senate. Stay posted on whether the Senate will OK the rush on this legislation.

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You might want to hold onto your luggage.

We all know how much of a hassle it is to find checked bags that are lost, mishandled, damage or stolen.

Investigators at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix continue to sort through piles of stolen bags.

They now face the challenge of matching the recovered property with victims after a couple was accused of stealing more than 1,000 pieces of luggage from unsuspecting travelers.

Authorities said they were in touch with a handful of victims from the Sky Harbor heists, though returning stolen items to them would be difficult because each of the bags was stripped of any identification tags.

According to the Associated Press, police served a search warrant earlier this week to the couple's home in Waddell, AZ.

Keith King, 61, remained held Thursday in a Maricopa County jail on a $25,000 bond. His wife, Stacy Lynne Legg-King, 38, posted bond and was released from jail, according to police.

Detectives found clothing stacked from the floor to the ceiling. They found digital cameras and laptops. They also found prescription-pill bottles with the prescription scratched off. Passports and adoption paperwork was among other personal stolen property found.

On average of nearly 14,100 a day, checked bags are lost, delayed, damaged or stolen, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Neighbors reported to police seeing a trailer full of material arriving to the home in the middle of the night, which they described as suspicious.

At least one neighbor told police the couple frequently held garage sales to sell a variety of merchandise, including luggage.

A Phoenix airport officer said he watched Keith King for about three weeks enter the airport and grab random bags off the luggage carousel before leaving.

Police said surveillance video also showed Keith King parking in an airport garage and walking to the baggage-claim area to steal luggage.

The two had been taking luggage from the airport over a period of a year or more, authorities said.

Here are some quick tips to keep a closer eye on your bags while traveling:

  • Put your name, phone number and address on the inside of your bags as well in case the luggage tag gets ripped off
  • Put your itinerary in your bag so the airline will know where to re-route your luggage if it gets misplaced
  • Take a photo of your bag with you in your carry-on so you can give it to the airline if they lose it
  • If you can afford it, ship your belongings to your final destination and avoid the baggage claim terminal all together

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Consumer Reports found that many canned foods had significant levels of the chemical additive bisphenol A (BPA) within the food itself, including canned foods labeled "BPA free."

The Los Angeles Times reports that Consumer Reports released findings showing measurable levels of BPA in a wide range of foods, including some labeled to be free of the chemical.

BPA is a plastic hardener and a component of epoxy resin used to help extend shelf life without affecting flavor. Currently, BPA is approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration. However, the FDA is now taking a closer look at reviewing the existing evidence about BPA's health effects.

The consumer advocacy group's analysis raises concerns about the level of BPA in food products and bolsters arguments for banning it from metal can linings and infant products, such as bottles and sippy cups.

Studies show bisphenol A is linked with increased risks of certain cancers, diabetes, reproductive abnormalities, heart disease early onset puberty, infertility, and weight gain in animals.

The National Health Institutes is pouring $30 million to study the safety of BPA. NIH officials say the almost half the money comes from economic stimulus funds.

About 19 name-brand foods were tested by Consumer Reports, including soups, juice, tuna, and green beans. Consumer Reports found that almost all of the 19 name-brand foods tested contained BPA.

The Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports) is urging manufacturers and government agencies to act to eliminate the use of BPA in all materials that come into contact with food.

They also suggest the following tips to consumers:

  • Choose fresh food whenever possible.
  • Consider alternatives to canned food, beverages, juices, and infant formula.
  • Use glass containers when heating food in microwave ovens.

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We've been hearing for months about credit card reform slowly making its way to us. As cardholders wait for new rules to protect them from systematically unfair and deceptive practices, card issuers scramble to jack interest rates and fees before new rules go into effect. A study by the Pew Charitable Trusts finds that as of July, 2009, 100% of credit cards from the nations 12 largest banks were using "unfair or deceptive practices" under Federal Reserve guidelines, and that none would meet the requirements which will take effect next year.

A few other highlights from the study:

  • The percentage of bank card issuers raising interest rates by unilaterally changing the cardholder agreement went from 93% last December to 97.3% as of July.
  • 90% of bank issued credit cards imposed penalty interest rates on outstanding balances as a result of late payments or overlimit transactions. A vast majority of these had "hair trigger" penalty interest rates (meaning a single late penalty could cause you to owe penalty interest on your entire balance).
  • The median penalty interest rate was 28.99%, with 90% of the penalty rates continuing indefinitely. That's right, with most bank issued cards, one or two late payments could mean around 30% interest on your entire balance from the past and on your future balance even if you resume timely payments.
  • 95% of bank issued credit cards allowed the issuer to apply payments to customer accounts in a manner harmful to cardholders. (The other 5% of bank card issuers refused to disclose their policy.)

Many might be asking: but what about all that credit card reform we heard about?

Well, the CARD Act (Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act of 2009) was passed by Congress and signed by the president, but the majority of new rules within it won't go into effect until February of 2010 or later. Until then, it looks like credit card issuers (particularly banks) are going for the throat.

The silver lining? Cards from credit unions proved less prone to unfair or deceptive practices and did a much better job complying with the changes that are coming. They too have late fees, overlimit fees and penalty interest rates, but these costs are generally lower on the credit union cards.

What can you do besides watch your card company like a hawk? Go to Consumer Reports' website to tell your Congressperson to pass legislation pushing up the date for the new credit card rules to December 1, 2009.

Beef Recall: 500,00 Pounds Due to E. coli; 2 Deaths Linked

Two deaths have been connected to yet another large recall of ground beef contaminated with E. coli.

The AP reports that beef contaminated with E. coli has caused the death of two individuals, one in New York, the other in New Hampshire. Twenty eight others may have become ill, according to the Center for Disease Control.

Here is the USDA's release about the beef recall.

To summarize, Fairbank Farms, in Ashville, New York is recalling 545,699 pounds of fresh ground beef sold at Trader Joe;s, ACME, Price Chopper, Lancaster and Wild Harvest, Shaw's, BJ's, Ford Brothers and Giant Food Stores.

Fairbank Farms originally stated that the beef was sold in 8 states, but has extended its warning to the entire Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, where beef may have been sent after going to distribution centers.

The USDA will update its list of retail locations as the information becomes available.

These beef products were likely sold with sell-by dates between September 19 and 28, 2009, except for a few products with sell-by dates after that.

Here are images of product labels for some of the recalled beef, which was sold as ground beef, beef patties and meatballs.

Each product should include "Est. 492" inside the USDA mark of inspection or on the nutrition label.

What should you do? Check your fridge and freezer if you've recently bought beef from these stores. Also ask your local retailer if any of the beef they've sold has been recalled.

Driving While Texting: Apps to Block It and Toughening Laws

About 97 percent of Americans support a ban on texting while driving, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll.

The survey also showed that half say that texting while behind the wheel should be punished at least as harshly as drunken driving.

The growing concerns about districted drivers was highlighted in a recent New York Times story.

In the article, Michael Brooks, 38, from Limerick, Pa., said "Someone who is texting creates just as much of a danger as someone behind the wheel who is inebriated."

Though technology appears to be distrating drivers, technology might also help control the problem.

The Consumerist blog reviewed 3 cell phone applications meant to disable texting in certain circumstances. These programs are marketed mainly to parents of teenagers. They can disable texting if the phone's GPS detects that the phone is moving faster than 10 mph.

Texting while driving is already banned for federal staff, according to an executive ordered signed by President Barack Obama last month.

Currently, the federal government is also considering plans to ban text messaging by bus drivers and truckers traveling across state lines, and may also prevent them from using cell phones while driving, except in emergencies.

Senators Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, and Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, have introduced legislation to force states to ban texting while driving or lose federal highway funds.

So, far Utah has passed the nation’s toughest law to crack down on texting behind the wheel. A New York Times article, reports that offenders in Utah now face up to 15 years in prison.

This has sparked lots of debate among legislators across the country about how to reduce multitasking behind the wheel.

For example, in Alaska it is a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison if a driver causes a fatal accident when a television, video monitor or computer is on inside the car and in the driver’s field of vision.  However, the law applies to phones used for texting, but not to phones used exclusively for calling.

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Swine Flu Scams Rampant on Internet Warns FDA

If there was ever an over the counter or self-care product guaranteed to protect to prevent or treat swine flu, it probably would be flying off the shelves by now.

Since there isn't any such product, the Food and Drug Administration is warning people to beware of swine flu scams on the internet.

The FDA's web site is alerting the public to watch out for bogus claims Internet sites and other promotions offering a quick fix for the swine flu. Scam artists know how to play on public's fears and are selling everything from pills to protective shampoos to treat or cure swine flu, FDA officials said.

In addition, they have sent warning letters to promoters of more than 140 swine flu-related products.

Consumer Reports also warn the public to be wary.

"Swine Flu...Gone," a product made by Secrets of Eden caught the attention of the FDA because it contained silver. The web site claimed that with ionic silver on your hands and on any surface where these germs may exist and kill the virus.

As reported by the AP, Secrets of Eden sells supplements and oils with a biblical flair, said its general manager, Rick Strawcutter, a former pastor in Adrian, Mich.

The staff "got a little carried away" on marketing for one product and "drew the ire of the FDA," he said. Strawcutter said he ordered a stop to it.

FDA officials said fraudulent products emerged shortly after swine flu did last spring.

Alyson Saben, head of a swine flu consumer fraud team formed by the Food and Drug Administration says new sites are popping up every day. The FDA is working to alert consumers about web sites that are or were illegally marketing unapproved, uncleared, or unauthorized products in relation to the 2009 H1N1 Flu Virus.

Swine flu scammers are driving consumers to pharmacy Web sites. To avoid getting the Better Business Bureau is offering some tips:

  • Don't believe online offers for vaccines against swine flu. They don't exist.
  • Avoid opening e-mail from an unknown source, and don't click on any links in the body of the e-mail.
  • Make sure your anti-virus software is up to date to avoid your computer catching a deadly virus.

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