Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

April 2011 Archives

PlayStation Network Breach One of Largest Ever?

As we saw earlier this month with the Epsilon data breach, security breaches are common these days, and hackers are becoming bolder.

In fact, the recent PlayStation Network breach is said not only to be the first time a gaming network has ever been compromised, but it also has been pegged by experts as the second largest network security breach in history.

According to an April 26 statement Sony posted on its website, the company became aware of the PlayStation Network breach on April 19, causing it to disband access on April 20. It is expected to remain down for another week.

Because the network is used to purchase online games and movies, USA Today reports that the breach may have provided hackers with names, addresses, passwords and credit card numbers.

Nearly 70 million users are thought to be affected.

Citing a need to conduct a forensic audit, CNN reports that it took Sony 7 days to first notify the public about the PlayStation Network breach. During the time lag, hackers may have started to use the stolen information.

If you're a PlayStation subscriber, be aware of strange emails--even from Sony. No reputable company will ask you to provide or verify personal information via email. Also be wary of unsolicited phone calls.

If you're able to, it is also a good idea to cancel the credit card on file with the PlayStation Network. Otherwise, protect yourself by monitoring your credit card account for strange activity. The earlier you catch it, the better off you will be.

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Apple Sued Over Free Apps’ Credit Card Charges

It's a well known fact that Apple's AppStore features a selection of free gaming apps geared towards children.

But, as it turns out, the apps aren't exactly free. Children have been racking up bills totaling hundreds of dollars from in-app purchases made without parental consent.

A recipient of one of those bills has now filed a class action lawsuit against the company alleging that Apple is preying on children who don't understand that nothing in life is free.

Most of these free apps sell virtual cash that gives players an advantage in the tasks they must complete. The only way to obtain the virtual cash is via in-app purchases with real money.

The lawsuit claims that the free games are addictive by design, which in turn compels children to make these purchases, reports PCWorld.

Until the Federal Trade Commission launched an investigation in February, it was significantly easier for children to make in-app purchases without parental consent. Passwords were stored for 15 minutes following an initial purchase to increase ease of use.

Children were using that window to make their own unauthorized purchases.

In response, Apple began requiring users to input their password with every transaction, and some game developers began including in-app disclaimers.

The plaintiff is still suing.

The lesson here is that if you have a child with an iPod, iPad or iPhone, you need to have a frank discussion about in-app purchases and their actual monetary value. You should also consider altering parental controls to prevent any shopping.

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Attorney Roni Deutch, a daytime TV mainstay known as the “Tax Lady,” runs incessant ads extolling her ability to get anyone out of a jam with the IRS.

Well, the "Tax Lady" may well be headed to jail.

California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris has asked a judge to lock up the Tax Lady after accusing Deutch of refusing to refund clients as required by court order and for allegedly destroying thousands of documents sought in a lawsuit accusing her of scamming thousands of consumers, Reuters reports.

Harris’ office asked a California court to hold Deutch in contempt of court. In response to the allegations, her assets were frozen and a trial was set for July.

The Tax Lady is being charged with defrauding customers by demanding large upfront fees to help people with huge tax debts and then not making good on her advertised promises.

Deutch was accused in August of running a massive scam that preyed on people desperate for help with their tax problems, Reuters reports. The state said Deutch would collect thousands of dollars in up-front payments from consumers who owed the IRS and then provided virtually no assistance.

“Deutch showed herself to be a predator for profit, preying on innocent, hard-working people who were simply hoping to settle their accounts with the IRS,” Harris said in a statement. “By defrauding these victims, and then pleading poverty, she created a real danger that her clients will never receive their advance fees back.”

Harris’ office said Deutch has systematically destroyed documents for months and may have shredded up to 2.7 million pages of records.

The Attorney General said Deutch had been spending $3 million a year on advertising, mainly late at night on cable TV and that only one in 10 clients received any benefit from working with her firm.

The state also said Deutch was supposed to pay $435,000 in refunds by January, but instead released the money to other creditors, including family and friends, a NASCAR racing team and a casino.

Deutch still bills her firm as the largest tax resolution firm in the country and is promoting a book she wrote. She hasn’t commented on the accusations.

We all thought that the Taco Bell beef lawsuit had come to an end when Alabama's Beasley Allen law firm voluntarily dropped the class action suit against the company early last week.

But as it turns out, the firm's dismissal was little more than an underhanded jab at the fast food chain. And now Taco Bell wants an apology.

The Taco Bell beef lawsuit originally filed by Beasley Allen alleged that the company falsely advertised its taco meat as beef, when in fact it barely met federal "beef" naming standards.

The firm announced that it was dropping its suit because Taco Bell had made changes to its advertising and "beef" disclosures, reports The Denver Post.

Taco Bell says they haven't changed anything, and has launched a semi-nasty campaign against Beasley Allen making this very clear.

Calling out the law firm for its inability to read the company's website, Taco Bell asks, "Would it kill you to say you're sorry? C'mon, you can do it!"

What's highly amusing about Taco Bell's ad is that it proudly proclaims that it has always used "100% USDA-inspected premium beef."

All beef in the United States is USDA-inspected. And there's no such thing as "premium beef."

In fact, the company's failure to indicate which USDA grade of beef it uses implies that it uses the lowest grade possible--the pieces that are used solely for off-brand ground beef and processed foods.

Should you really trust a company that stands behind the "quality" of this ingredient?

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Toyota Recall of RAV4s, Highlanders Announced

Toyota recalled more than 300,000 RAV4 and Highlander vehicles Thursday to fix an air bag issue.

The recall includes about 214,000 RAV4s from 2007 and 2008 and approximately 94,000 Highlander and Highlander HV vehicles from 2008, the Associated Press reports. All of the vehicles involved were sold in the U.S. This particular recall does not include any other Lexus or Toyota vehicles.

Over the past 18 months Toyota has wrestled with numerous recalls covering a wide range of defects, including faulty floor mats, sticky gas pedals and glitches in braking software. More than 14 million vehicles globally have been involved in recalls, the AP reports.

The company paid the U.S. government a record $48.8 million in fines for its handling of three recalls. Toyota faces dozens of lawsuits from owners in the U.S., including fatalities allegedly linked to defects.

Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. said Thursday that the air bag sensor assembly in the RAV 4 and Highland vehicles has two sensors that are designed to detect vehicle roll angle. The malfunction of a single sensor will result in a warning light coming on and the roll detection system will be suspended.

If both sensors fail at about the same time after an initial air bag system check, the seat belt pretensioner and the curtain shield air bag may be inadvertently activated.

Toyota dealers will replace the sensor assembly with a new one at no charge.

Owners of the affected vehicles will receive a recall notification letter in the mail next month. Recall information will also be available on the company’s web site.

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Candle Recall: 7 Million Pulled Due to Fire Risk

More than 7 million candles are being recalled because of concerns the cup holding the candle could melt or catch fire.

The tea lights were sold under the Chesapeake Bay Candle and Modern Light brand names, the Consumer Product Safety Commission says.

They were sold at Home Goods, Target, Wegmans and other stores nationwide between July 2009 and February 2011, the AP reports.

The CPSC says the candles have a clear plastic cup that can melt or ignite, posing a fire and burn hazard.

The importer, Pacific Trade International Inc. of Rockville, Md., has received one report of the plastic cup melting while in use. No injuries or property damage have been reported.

Consumers can call the company at 800-331-8339 for more information or visit its website.

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McDonald's Defends Happy Meals: Mom Can Say 'No'

However you feel about McDonald's and fast food in general, it's your decision as to whether or not you feed Happy Meals to your kids.

Or at least McDonald's thinks so.

Responding to a lawsuit that accuses the company of false advertising and unfair competition for its placement of toys in Happy Meals, McDonald's requested that a judge dismiss the lawsuit because parents can just say "no."

Last year, Monet Parham filed the Happy Meal lawsuit alleging that McDonald's toys violate California consumer protection laws because targeting young children is exploitative and deceptive.

In its motion for dismissal, Reuters reports that McDonald's points to Parham's complaint wherein she admits that she frequently tells her children "no."

The company goes on to note that this makes the Happy Meal lawsuit baseless--if she can deny her children, she's clearly not being misled or relying on McDonald's for information.

The fact is that even if lawmakers and parents are perturbed by McDonald's advertising and toys, the company is free to advertise to children as long as it is not deceptive in doing so. A toy unto itself is probably not deceptive--especially when parental consent is necessary.

And as much as it may be painful to accept, McDonald's is correct in what Reuters reports is its assessment of the Happy Meal suit should it come to fruition:

Anytime a company advertises a product to a child, and the parent says "no" despite not wanting to purchase it, the advertisement would constitute an unfair trade practice.

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Ford Recall: 1.2 Million F-150s May Have Faulty Airbags

After feeling the pressure from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Ford has agreed to recall an additional 1.2 million pickup trucks because the driver’s air bag may inadvertently deploy.

The models are the 2004-6 F-150s and the 2006 Lincoln Mark LT, a sibling.

In February, Ford recalled about 135,000 F-150s in the United States from the 2005-6 model years, but that was about one-tenth of the number the safety agency said should be recalled, The New York Times reports.

Ford said the 135,000 vehicles had the highest failure rates and told the agency that recalling more would lack “common sense.”

But in a series of letters, the agency accused Ford of skewing the data and said its review found the pickups had the largest number of inadvertent deployments in the agency’s history.

The agency also dismissed Ford’s argument that a warning light would be enough to warn the driver of a problem, the NY Times reports. The agency said some dealers had trouble figuring out the problem and because the deployment was as loud as a gunshot, a startled driver could lose control of the vehicle.

Ford told the agency in an April 11 letter that “after continuing discussions with the agency and to reassure customers of Ford’s commitment to safety and to eliminate any possible customer confusion, Ford is voluntarily recalling this remaining population of vehicles.”

In that letter Ford did not concede there was a safety defect. Doing so could create a problem for the automaker because in 2006 it made a mid-model year change to the wiring on the air bags, the Times reports. That indicates it was aware of a problem. Under federal regulations, when an automaker knows of a safety defect, it must notify the agency within five working days or face civil penalties.

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Organic beef. It's natural, juicy, delicious, expensive, and may come laced with E. coli. Beef, it's what's for dinner. 

Federal officials have announced the recall of 34,373 pounds of organic ground beef and hamburger patties produced by First Class Foods Inc. E. coli is no joke, it is a bacterium that is potentially deadly and can cause bloody diarrhea, dehydration, kidney failure and even death, the Los Angeles Times reports. Infants, seniors and those with weakened immune systems at most at risk for food-borne illnesses like E. coli.

The E. coli was spotted during a regular test of the facilities by First Class Foods. Fortunately there have yet to be any reported outbreaks in relation to the organic beef recall, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service.

The organic beef recall includes:

  • 16-ounce packages of Nature’s Harvest Organic Ground Beef Brick
  • 16-ounce packages of Organic Harvest Organic Ground Beef Brick, sold singly and in three-packs
  • 16-ounce packages of Nature’s Harvest Ground Patty, which contains four 4-ounce patties.

Consumers who wish to inspect their packages to determine whether they are part of the recall should look for potentially contaminated beef bearing the mark “EST 18895” as well as either 10341 or 10350. Packages of organic beef matching that description should not be consumed. The beef was packaged and shipped December 7 and 16, 2010. It was shipped to California, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Washington and Wisconsin.

If you have questions regarding the recall, you can contact Lucienne Adams of First Class Foods at 310-676-2500.

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Reken Recalls Mousse: Cans Have Been Rupturing

Redken hair care company has recalled more than 1 million cans of its spray mousse over concerns that the cans may rupture.

The company said the aerosol container liner of the Guts 10 volume spray mousse foam can corrode over time.

Redken has received 41 reports of cans rupturing, but no injuries have been reported. The recall covered the 10.58 and 2 ounce cans, which were sold at salons from January 1998 through February.

Hair salons and beauty supply stores sold the mousse nationwide from January 1998 through February 2011 for between $4 and $16. It was made in the United States.

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled mousse, record the product's lot code then discard the contents by spraying it into a waste container in a well ventilated area. Prior to disposing of the container, consumers should obtain the lot code from the container, then contact Redken for information on receiving a refund of the purchase price.

For additional information, contact Redken at 888-241-9504 or visit the company's website at www.redken.com.

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If you recently received an email from a company you do business with, your information may have been stolen as part of the Epsilon data breach.

Epsilon is a marketing company that manages e-mail lists for a variety of large companies, such as Target, Kroger, Marriot, Best Buy and a host of banks.

Last week, hackers broken into their system, stealing potentially millions of email addresses, opening up customers to e-mail phishing scams.

In what some are calling the largest security breach in history, email addresses attached to names and business relationships were stolen. Other personal identifying information, such as social security numbers and addresses, were not accessed.

Epsilon has identified the source of the break-in and is working with law enforcement, but if your information was stolen, you are still not safe.

Email phishing scams generally involve phony emails that are purportedly from reputable companies or the government. They most often ask recipients to provide personal information, or to verify account numbers.

Companies will not ask you for information over e-mail, so if you receive one requesting account information or other personal data, do not respond. Instead, contact the business by phone or via their website.

To prevent email phishing scams, you should also only share your information with verified sources who have adequate website security, and try not to open e-mails from people you do not know.

If you think you have fallen victim to an email phishing scam, keep an eye on your credit report and any credit card and bank accounts. The best thing you can do is be vigilant and cut off any theft as early as possible.

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Mercedes Recall: M-Class SUV Cruise Control Gets Stuck

Mercedes-Benz is recalling almost 137,000 of its M-Class sport utility vehicles because tapping the brake may not disengage the cruise control.

Mercedes says the recall covers the 2000–02 M-Class and the 2000–04 M-Class AMG, a high-performance model, according to a document published Tuesday on the Web site of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The automaker told N.H.T.S.A. that it had found a problem with the brake-lamp switch; applying the brakes doesn’t send the electronic signal needed to disengage the cruise control, The New York Times reports.

Mercedes did say there were other ways to disengage the system. One is to use the cruise-control stalk. The system is also designed to disengage below 25 m.p.h. Finally, harder braking will turn off the system. The Times reports that Mercedes defines harder braking as “comparable to that used when approaching a traffic light.” It doesn’t say whether one is approaching the traffic light at 50 m.p.h. or 15 m.p.h.

Some 136,751 vehicles will be recalled in the United States, said Mercedes-Benz representatives.

No crashes or injuries have resulted from the issue, said Mercedes-Benz USA spokesman Rob Moran.

Mercedes described the recall as voluntary, but under federal regulations once a manufacturer is aware of a safety problem it has no choice but to announce a recall, which must be done within five business days, the Times reports.

A Mercedes dealership will repair the cruise control.

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On Friday, a Southwest Airlines plane heading towards Sacramento made an emergency landing after a 5 foot by 1 foot tear occurred in the fuselage, forcing passengers to rely on oxygen masks.

By mid-day Monday, Southwest had cancelled nearly 70 flights, taking the time to inspect all of its 737s for similar cracks.

Cracks occur on airplane siding all the time, and due to regular inspections, are constantly repaired, reports The Wall Street Journal. The reason why the Southwest 737 crack was undetected is because it occurred where two pieces of metal overlap.

These overlapping joints, which run the length of the plane, do not undergo extensive routine checks, according to the paper.

While you may be questioning the safety of flying on Southwest Airlines' planes, the problem with the Boeing 737 is expected to be worldwide.

Both landing and take-off stress airplane joints, notes The Wall Street Journal. And Southwest Airlines is known for its short city-hopping flights, which is why it is probably the first airline to have this problem.

The National Transportation Safety Board has announced that Boeing will be releasing a service bulletin describing suggested inspection practices, according to Mercury News. They are not expected to be mandatory.

In the meantime, if you had a flight reservation with either Southwest Airlines or another airline grounding flights to inspect its 737s, you may be entitled to compensation, a new flight, or, at the very least, a refund. Contact your airline's ticketing to service to find out about your options.

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