Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

April 2012 Archives

Which Insurance Isn't Worth the Money?

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Some types of insurance you just can't live without, while others are generally a waste of money, a new report suggests.

With these unnecessary insurance plans, "small threats are hyped, overpriced premiums seem reasonable when chopped into daily installments, and promises shrink in the fine print," Consumer Reports warns in its May issue.

The magazine's editors identified specific types of insurance that aren't worth the cost. Common unneeded insurance plans include:

Cell phone insurance: $5-$7/month

Before you activate a new cell phone, you're probably asked to consider insurance in case your phone gets lost, stolen, or damaged. But such calamities only strike about 1 in 5 cell phone users, Consumer Reports found. Also, cell phone companies may just replace your insured phone with a refurbished model.

Identity theft insurance: $120-$300/year

ID theft insurance plans may sound good, promising up to $1 million in insurance if your identity is ever stolen. But under federal laws, a consumer generally does not have to pay for an identity thief's fraudulent activity. Your efforts are better spent by freezing your credit reports and monitoring your accounts, Consumer Reports says.

Child life insurance: $1/week

Those TV commercials offering a "head start" on child life insurance are generally a waste of money, according to Consumer Reports. "The purpose of life insurance is to protect dependents, so child life insurance is unnecessary," the magazine advises.

Flight life insurance: Prices vary

This type of insurance promises to pay your named beneficiaries if you're killed in a plane crash. Consumer Reports says a term life insurance policy is better for this purpose.

Pet insurance: Prices vary

A Consumer Reports analysis of nine pet insurance plans found none paid off in the long run. Don't waste your money buying this unnecessary insurance: Instead, just budget about $300/year for pet care, the magazine suggests.

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300,000 People Will Lose Web Access by July: FBI

If you use the Internet every day, and you probably do, be careful as you might lose Web access soon, the FBI reports. Over 300,000 people could find their computers without the Internet come July 9th.

While this might sound like something out of "The Matrix," the issue is quite real. Even worse is that it'll affect both Mac and Windows users (Linux, iOS and Android users should be in the clear).

But don't worry. You'll be able to fix this potential nightmare in just a few mouse clicks.

Though most of you are likely curious as to why this is happening, you probably want the solution first. Click here to get to the FBI's fix.

The problem goes back to 2007. A group of Estonian hackers had launched "DNSChanger," a program that infected millions of computers worldwide. The malware allowed the group to redirect Internet traffic to any Websites of their choosing. Their goal was to send millions of browsers to various online ads. The traffic would net the group millions of dollars in fees.

The program did this by commandeering and changing an operating system's Domain Name Server (hence DNSChanger). DNS essentially translates word URLs, like FindLaw.com, into numbers. Those numbers are what bring users to their selected Website.

Infected users couldn't tell the difference because they'd still get where they wanted, but with different ads.

Thankfully the six suspects were caught and their servers were seized. Unfortunately, federal authorities never shut them down.

The reason was due to the sheer number of computers infected. Shutting it down right away would've left all those infected without online access. Instead, they neutralized the ad traffic redirection and left the servers on until they figured out how to purge all infected computers.

The Website link given earlier is the agency's solution. The site directs users to free DNS cleaner sites that will detect and repair problem computers.

So if you don't want to lose Web access, check out the FBI's Website link above.

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Remember last year when Apple was sued for allowing children to make in-app purchases? Well, now Facebook is at the center of a very similar suit.

Arizona mom Glynnis Bohannon sued the social network after it refused to refund the hundreds of dollars her son spent on virtual currency for the game Ninja Saga. She's seeking class action status and wants the court to ban the site from selling Facebook Credits to minors.

Facebook does warn minors not to make purchases without parental consent, according to Technorati. However, the Facebook Credit lawsuit asserts that it doesn't disclose the fact that the site stores a parent's credit card number for further use.

Bohannon had let her son purchase $20 worth of Facebook Credits, but claims he "thought he was expending virtual, in-game currency" when making later purchases.

The fate of the Facebook Credit lawsuit rests primarily in contract law. Attorneys assert that California law permits children to rescind contracts at their leisure, reports MediaPost. And they're technically right.

In most states, children can't enter into contracts for non-essential items. If litigated, such contracts would likely be deemed "voidable" by the court. The minor could then choose to cancel the contract and would be entitled to a refund.

Nonetheless, the Facebook Credit lawsuit exhibits just how difficult it is to get to this point. Which is why parents should probably hand their younger children a prepaid, reloadable "credit card" instead of the real thing. They can't accidentally accumulate charges if it's empty.

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Salmonella in Sushi Sickens Women for 6 Weeks

The sushi-linked Salmonella outbreak that led to a nationwide recall has spawned its first lawsuit, which details two victims' slow and painful road to recovery.

Two Wisconsin women, 22 and 33, claim they were victims of Salmonella poisoning when they ate tuna rolls at a local restaurant, MSNBC reports.

The rolls were distributed by California-based Moon Marine USA, which has recalled 59,000 pounds of ground yellowfin tuna allegedly linked to a nationwide Salmonella outbreak. The outbreak has sickened more than 140 people in 20 states and the District of Columbia, according to MSNBC.

At least a dozen people have sought treatment at hospitals, including the Wisconsin women who filed suit against Moon Marine last week. The company did not respond to MSNBC's request for a comment.

The women claim they ate Salmonella-contaminated sushi about six to nine weeks ago. One victim complained of pain "from head to toe," along with bloody diarrhea; a hospital exam also revealed an ulcerated colon, she told MSNBC.

Scientific tests show the victims were sickened by a rare type of bacteria called Salmonella Bareilly, which is not usually associated with fish, the women's lawyer said. Investigations are underway to determine where bacteria came from.

The women's Salmonella sushi lawsuit focuses on a product called "Nakaochi Scrape" -- meat that's taken off fish bones and later added to raw, ground yellowfin tuna, MSNBC reports.

"The problem is this product got repackaged and resold," one of the women's lawyers said. "There are sushi restaurants that may not even know they're serving this tuna."

Salmonella infections generally lead to diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps within 72 hours, according to the FDA. Victims usually recover after about a week, but severe cases may require medical treatment.

Consumers who may be affected by the Salmonella sushi outbreak should consult a doctor, the FDA advises. Medical bills and treatment can also be used to prove damages in a food-poisoning lawsuit; such cases generally fall under product liability laws.

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What is Mad Cow Disease?

Just when you thought consuming pink slime was the worst thing about eating American beef, mad cow disease suddenly decides to stage a comeback.

Following an investigation of a cow that died suddenly in California, the USDA has announced the bovine's death was caused by mad cow disease. The discovery marks the first U.S. case of mad cow disease since 2006, the Seattle Post Intelligencer reports.

So what does this revelation mean to consumers and what can mad cow disease do to you? Surprisingly, the answer is a mix of good and bad.

Known formally as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, mad cow disease is a neurological disorder that attacks a cow's brain and spine. It's caused by a protein called prion, which gets stuck in the cattle's spinal tissue and brain.

Humans can contract the disease by eating tainted beef. The disorder attacks a person's body in much the same way as it does to cattle. Symptoms include disorientation, hallucination, speech impairment, and loss of coordination. These symptoms become progressively worse over time.

Unfortunately, there's no treatment for humans or cows. Victims can die within months after infection.

Previous outbreaks were controlled by destroying tainted cattle. Britain did this in the 1990s.

Fortunately though, this most recent case is only the fourth to be discovered in America. Furthermore, the investigation also revealed the dead cow contracted the disease by way of a random genetic mutation. Not through feeding.

This is good news for American beef eaters as it means none of the other cattle in the food supply currently pose the risk of infection.

There have been very few product liability lawsuits based on mad cow disease in America. However, if an outbreak were to occur, every tainted beef producer and retailer in the chain of distribution could be liable for the fallout.

Luckily, this latest report of mad cow disease appears to be an isolated incident. Beef, for now, remains safe to eat, according to the Department of Food and Agriculture.

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Why Are Teens Drinking Hand Sanitizer?

The answer? Teens drink hand sanitizer to get drunk. You may think "yuck," but they're apparently thinking "yum."

Well, before they end up in the emergency room. In recent months, six teenagers in the Los Angeles area have been hospitalized for drinking hand sanitizer. The teens all presented with symptoms of alcohol poisoning and had to be monitored.

The inexpensive, accessible substance is made of 62% ethyl alcohol, according to the Times. The teens reportedly used Internet directions explaining how to use salt to separate the alcohol from the sanitizer's other ingredients. When distilled, they were left with 120-proof liquor.

With such a high percentage of alcohol, just a few shots of the stuff can cause a teenager to become sick enough to need emergency treatment.

Some suggest that drinking hand sanitizer is a new trend amongst teens, a group known to huff aerosols, drink vanilla extract and eat copious amounts of nutmeg. The Los Angeles incidents were the first of their kind, according to CBS News, and at least one New York doctor has had patients chug the liquid cleaner. His patients, however, only did so after being dared.

Health officials are therefore asking parents to buy only foam sanitizer and monitor it like any other liquid medicine. But the reality is that, if your kid wants to drink hand sanitizer, he can go down to the corner store and buy a bottle and some salt.

It may therefore be better to take WebMD's advice. Talk to your teen about drugs, including over-the-counter products; watch for risky behavior and friends; and pay attention to how they are doing in school. And if you think your teen is drinking hand sanitizer, just ask.

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How to Use the Internet to Legally Save Money on Cable

As cable bills continue to rise, consumers are looking for better options. Some are looking to bundle services, while others just switch providers. Still, the price can be far from affordable.

If this sounds like your situation, there are other ways to save money on cable. But the first thing you need to do is sit down and figure out which channels you watch on a regular basis, and which channels you're actually paying for.

Once you've made a list, cancel the useless stations and replace some of your favorites with these:

1. Free broadcast television. Broadcast television got infinitely better when it went digital in 2009. If you get good reception, the picture is incredibly clear, and in some areas, you can even pick up more than 60 channels.

2. Free online streaming. The legal kind, that is. You'll still have to pay for a decent Internet connection, but you can save money on cable. Most of the major networks stream new episodes for free on their websites. Some of the pay stations do as well, including channels like Bravo and A&E. Go to a show's official website for information.

3. Hulu Plus and Netflix. Both cost $7.99 a month for streaming and can be accessed via a television if you have the right equipment. Hulu has current TV seasons, while Netflix does not. You can also sign up for a free trial to see which better fits your "I'm bored and nothing is on" needs.

4. Leave the house. Seriously, get out and mingle when there's a sporting event on. If a bar doesn't sound pleasing, share an online sports subscription with a friend and watch together. Or if your friends have cable, show up with some snacks and a smile. The same goes if you want to watch something on a premium channel like HBO.

Replacing just part of your subscription with one of the above options can save you money on cable. But if you're still not convinced it's worth the work, there's one other thing you can try. Call your cable provider and ask them to give you their latest deal -- even if you aren't a new subscriber. Most of them will do it if you ask nicely and threaten to switch providers.

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Girl, 5, Dies of Cough Medicine Overdose

Tragic news from Colorado, as a 5-year-old girl died due to a cough medicine overdose. Local authorities are investigating her grandmother, who was looking after her at the time.

Kimber Michelle Brown, the child, was being treated for flu-like symptoms by Linda Sheets, her 59-year-old grandmother. The coroner's report revealed Kimber's overdose was accidental. Her blood had toxic levels of dextromethorphan, a common ingredient in cough syrup. She also had high levels of cetirizine, the main ingredient used in allergy medication Zyrtec.

Medical examiners believe the combination of drugs caused her death. But investigators aren't finished looking into Sheets.

Authorities aren't sure whether the grandmother gave the child too much medicine or if Kimber took the drugs on her own.

Colorado law imposes stiff penalties for causing a child's death through neglect or abuse. The offense may be charged as a felony with differing sentences depending on the defendant's intent.

For instance, a person who negligently allows or places a child in a life-threatening situation in which the child dies is guilty of a class 3 felony. A conviction can result in up to 12 years in prison. If the person knowingly does the same act, it can be charged as a class 2 felony, which carries up 24 years imprisonment.

It's unclear how Kimber got the fatal dose. But since Sheets was responsible for looking after her granddaughter when she died, the possibility for criminal liability exists.

There's no word yet if authorities will charge Sheets for Kimber's death. The investigation behind the little girl's cough medicine overdose is ongoing.

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How to Get a Job with a Criminal Record

Whether you were only fined, given probation, or just got out of jail, figuring out how to get a job with a criminal record can be difficult.

Though it's changing slowly, society has a tendency to look down on those with troubled pasts. But getting over this obstacle isn't impossible. Like most problems, the trick to solving this one lies with how passionate you are about achieving your goal.

So if you're struggling to find work due to your criminal history, consider taking the following steps.

1) Expunge Your Criminal Record

Most states have expungement laws that allow ex-convicts to remove their past blemishes from their records. The type and extent of offenses that can be expunged vary from state to state. Be sure to check your local laws to see if your prior convictions qualify for removal. Expungement is an important first step because under most state laws it allows you to legally tell employers you were never convicted of a crime.

2) Look the Part, Be the Part

Even those who don't have a criminal history will find it tough to get a job looking like a slob. But beyond remembering to suit up for an interview, successfully finding work also means an attitude change. For instance, if you wanted to become a stock broker, picking up a new haircut and suit isn't enough. You need to immerse yourself in the career and learn its every facet.

3) Get a Certification or a College Degree

Despite the recent uproar against the value of education, employers still value applicants that have it over ones that don't. College degrees and certifications aren't required for every job, but they don't hurt. So try to get one as you continue your job hunt.

4) Turn Looking for a Job into a Job

Don't confuse this with meaning you should become a headhunter. While it's a good gig, this step means your employment search should take up a full work day. Start at 9 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. or later, but don't go overboard. There's no overtime pay here.

5) Stay Hopeful

Getting a job is a game of odds. Figuring out how to get a job with a criminal record is no different. Stay positive and remember: if you play enough you'll eventually win.

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Car Buyers Beware the Yo-Yo Car Sale Scam

Yo-yo car sale scams are a big problem in this country, according to a new report by the Center for Responsible Lending. So car buyers with poor credit beware. You're prey for shady car dealers.

The scam works by dealers extending financing to credit-challenged buyers for their vehicle purchase. After the buyer completes the sale, the dealer tries to sell the buyer's loan on the open-market for a profit. If they can't make money on the loan, they tell the buyer his or her financing fell through. The dealer then either repossesses the car or forces the buyer to pay a higher down payment.

It sounds illegal, but under current federal law it might not be.

That's because of "conditional sales."

A conditional car sale means buyers will only be allowed to keep their purchased vehicle if their financing is approved. While this might sound reasonable, car dealers have figured out how to game the system using the yo-yo car sale scam described above.

For those with the money to buy a car straight up or get their own private loan to finance their purchase, yo-yo car sale scams aren't a problem.

But for those buyers with bad credit who can't qualify for their own loans, getting financing through the dealership is often the only way they can buy a car.

However, it's not all bad. About a third of U.S. states have laws that prohibit conditional car sales, MSNBC reports.

As for the rest of the country, they're not so lucky.

So if your credit is less than stellar, the best way to avoid these yo-yo car sale scams is to read the fine print in your purchase contract. You can also try saving enough to buy your car with cash. Or you can try getting a loan from trusted friends and family instead of the dealership.

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Death rates from accidental injuries to children dropped nearly 30% overall from 2000 to 2009, a new federal report shows. But two types of accidental injury deaths saw significant increases.

"The decrease in injury death rates in the past decade has resulted in more than 11,000 children's lives being saved," the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement, according to UPI. "But we can do more. It's tragic and unacceptable when we lose even one child to an avoidable injury."

The CDC's Vital Signs report shows most causes of accidental injury deaths for children are on the decline. But two types of injury deaths affecting two different age groups have seen significant spikes since 2000:

Child injury deaths from suffocation increased by 54% among infants 1 year old and younger -- from 864 deaths in 2000 to 1,160 deaths in 2009, according to the CDC.

Many infant deaths were apparently linked to how they slept. CDC researchers recommend following the American Academy of Pediatrics' infant-sleeping guidelines: Infants should sleep alone in cribs, on their backs, with no loose bedding or soft toys, U.S. News reports.

Child injury deaths from poisoning also spiked by 91% among 15- to 19-year-olds, mainly because of prescription-drug overdoses, CDC researchers said.

Still, motor vehicle crashes remain the No. 1 cause of accidental child injury deaths in the United States. Crash-related deaths declined 41% between 2000 and 2009, but still account for about half of all child injury deaths, the CDC says.

Though the total number of deaths from accidental child injuries is declining, accidents are still the leading cause of death for U.S. children between 1 and 19. Accidents are the fifth-leading cause of death for children under 1, the report says, according to USA Today.

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Yellowfin Tuna Recalled After Sushi Salmonella Outbreak

The cause behind the countrywide reports of sushi-related salmonella poisoning might have finally been found. A Cupertino, Calif. company has issued a voluntary recall of yellowfin tuna.

Moon Marine USA Corporation is flagging 59,000 pounds of frozen yellowfin tuna for the recall. The salmonella outbreak has sickened 116 people across 20 states. No deaths have been reported, but 12 people have been hospitalized, CBS News reports.

But which states have been affected so far by the salmonella outbreak?

The Food and Drug Administration has gotten reports of poisoning in Alabama (2), Arkansas (1), Connecticut (5), District of Columbia (2), Florida (1), Georgia (5), Illinois (10), Louisiana (2), Maryland (11), Massachusetts (8), Mississippi (1), Missouri (2), New Jersey (7), New York (24), North Carolina (2), Pennsylvania (5), Rhode Island (5), South Carolina (3), Texas (3), Virginia (5), and Wisconsin (12).

The recalled frozen yellowfin is sold to restaurants and grocery stores nationwide under the name "Nakaochi Scrape AA or AAA." In addition to sushi, yellowfin is often used in ceviche, sashimi and other raw dishes.

Salmonella poisoning can last between four to seven days. Symptoms include fever, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. Most people can recover without treatment. But in cases where the diarrhea is severe, hospitalization may be required. In some people, long-term effects such as joint pain, eye irritation, and painful urination can develop.

There's no word yet of any legal action, but sushi salmonella poisoning on this scale could serve as the basis for a products liability lawsuit. Under this cause of action, the manufacturer and any retailers and restaurants that sold the recalled yellowfin tuna could be liable for damages.

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Employers who ask for an employee's social media passwords in Maryland may soon be banned from doing so under a proposed law.

The Maryland General Assembly has passed a bill that would prohibit employers from requesting access to employees' social media accounts, like Facebook and Twitter. The measure has been sent to Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley for signing. If it passes, the law would be the first of its kind in the country.

The move marks a huge step forward for privacy advocates. But not everyone agrees with the proposed protections.

Business groups within the state, such as the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, have criticized the bill, SB 433/HB 964. They argue that access to a potential employee's social media accounts is sometimes necessary to screen out unfit candidates, The Baltimore Sun reports.

Employers requesting candidates' social media passwords is a growing trend in job interviews today . There aren't any current laws in any state that prevent the practice.

For the most part, employee privacy protection as it relates to hiring is generally limited to anything that is discriminatory in nature, such as race or religion. Beyond this, most states allow employers to ask whatever they want to prospective employees about their personal history.

Of course, an interviewee can also choose not to answer certain questions. But then they risk turning off potential employers.

The Maryland bill doesn't provide complete protection, however. An amendment was added to allow employers to investigate an employee's social media account if proprietary company information is posted.

No word yet on whether O'Malley plans to sign the Maryland social media password bill into law.

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GameStop's California customers will soon see new warnings in stores and possibly $15 refunds in the mail, as part of a GameStop lawsuit settlement.

A federal judge approved a class-action settlement against GameStop, the world's largest video game retailer, after complaints about used games sold in California stores, Sacramento's KXTV reports.

The second-hand games required users to pay additional fees to access "downloadable content" that's needed to play the games. But the games' packages said the downloadable content would be free.

The GameStop lawsuit settlement requires the retailer's California stores to post a warning on its used games for the next two years. The warnings must state that an additional fee is needed to access any online content required for the game, KXTV reports.

The settlement also includes a possible refund for California customers who bought used games from GameStop. Members of GameStop's "PowerUp Rewards" program may be eligible for a $10 check and a $5 coupon; non-members may get a $5 check and $10 in coupons.

However, customers who purchased multiple used games will only be compensated for a single game purchase, a plaintiff's attorney told PC Magazine.

Still, one important question remains unanswered: Which games qualify for the refund?

That key detail has not yet been disclosed -- perhaps because a public list of affected games may lead to "mega claims" against GameStop from customers nationwide, the plaintiff's attorney opined in PC Magazine.

Details about the GameStop lawsuit settlement, including how to apply for the $15 payout, will be posted on the settlement's Facebook page once they're ironed out. The attorneys who sued GameStop say they may file additional lawsuits outside California as well.

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Dole Recalls Bagged Salad Over Salmonella Fears

Dole Food Company Inc. is recalling a specific line of bagged salad, called Seven Lettuces, because of possible Salmonella contamination. But for some consumers, the recall may have come too late.

No illnesses have been reported, but one sample of Dole's Seven Lettuces bagged salad tested positive for Salmonella, the Associated Press reports. In response, Dole issued the recall.

The recalled bags of Dole's Seven Lettuces were sold in 15 states: Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The recalled salad bags have specific UPC and product codes, which are listed on Dole's website. The bags are also stamped with a use-by date of April 11, 2012.

However, because the company's recall wasn't announced until April 14, there's a chance the potentially contaminated lettuce has already been consumed.

If so, it may be wise to try to hang on to the bag itself, as evidence for a potential food poisoning lawsuit. Such suits generally fall under strict product liability rules.

Those who have already consumed salad linked to Dole's recall may want to look for symptoms of Salmonella infection. They include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps, about 12 to 72 hours after infection.

Healthy people can generally recover from a Salmonella infection within about a week. But in more severe cases, an infection can also lead to hospitalization and even death, if a patient is not properly treated.

Customers who purchased recalled bags of Dole's Seven Lettuces should toss the bags in the trash, Dole recommends. They can also call Dole's Customer Response Center at (800) 356-3111.

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Car Lemon Laws: How to Get Your Car Fixed For Free

There's no better feeling than pulling out of a car dealership in your new ride. Conversely, there's no worse feeling than watching said ride putter to a stop a few blocks later. Don't worry, that's why there are car lemon laws.

Lemon laws give car buyers certain rights, such as free repairs and even replacement of their vehicles. The catch is that your car has to be declared a lemon first.

So how can you tell if your car is a lemon?

1) Is Your Car New or Used?

Typically, most state's lemon laws only cover new car purchases, but some cover used cars, too. This varies from state to state. So an important first step is to check your local lemon laws to see if your car is covered.

2) What's Your Car's Problem?

Lemon laws usually only protect buyers against "substantial defects." Generally, this means any issue that impairs your car's use, value, safety, or anything expressly covered under warranty. Defective brakes or faulty seatbelts are good examples of what's considered a substantial defect.

3) Can Your Car Be Repaired?

Before a car can be declared a lemon, the seller or manufacturer must be given a chance to try and repair the defect. But this doesn't mean they can jerk you around forever. The seller or manufacture must fix your car within a reasonable number of repair attempts. Most states considered four tries to be reasonable.

4) Does Your Car Need to Be Replaced?

If your car's substantial defect can't be repaired, chances are you've got a lemon on your hands. This is where lemon laws really shine. At this point, you're generally entitled to either a refund or a replacement car. But keep in mind that you'll typically have to notify the manufacturer of your defect first before you're entitled to this remedy.

5) Time for a Lawyer?

Is your car dealer and/or manufacturer still not budging on your repair or replacement? Then it might be time to lawyer up . Sometimes a well-worded letter from an attorney is enough to get you what you're due.

Car lemon laws are meant to protect buyers from fraud. So don't be afraid to exercise your rights.

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Despite Cancer Risks, Teens Still Tan for the Prom

Skin cancer among teenagers who tan is on the rise, according to a new study published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings. However, the news appears to be doing little to curb the number of teens tanning for prom.

The study found melanoma rates in young adults increased by six fold in the last 40 years, MSNBC reports. The incidences of melanoma for women ages 18 to 39 rose eight times from what they were in 1970. Men in the same age group saw a fourfold increase.

The study's numbers are pretty shocking. But the potential legal ramifications of this news could be even worse for the tanning industry.

That's because much like the legal problems facing the cigarette industry today, the tanning business could face similar issues from teens who get melanoma in the future.

The two industries have a lot in common. Both have come under fire from the government and the public for their alleged negative health affects and advertisements. We all remember how crazy cigarette ads used to be .

Both have also attempted to redirect the onus elsewhere. For instance, the tanning industry's response to the study has been to point the blame on other factors, such as heredity and geographic bias.

While the study's authors acknowledge that these factors could possibly limit the full scope of their findings, the fact is tanning teens that get skin cancer in the future probably won't care. That's because they'll probably be looking to sue.

And if they do, it's likely that they'll probably end up using similar arguments being employed in lawsuits against the cigarette industry today. Arguments like, inadequate notice of harm, deceptive and manipulative advertisements, and so forth.

Whether these possible future lawsuits against the tanning industry will have legs is another issue.

However for now, as prom season approaches teen tanning goes unabated despite the heightened cancer risks.

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If your cell phone is stolen, who ya gonna call? The answer may soon involve a new nationwide database that the FCC hopes will cut down on cell phone thefts.

America's "big four" wireless carriers -- AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint -- are joining forces to create a combined national database of stolen cell phones, ZDNet reports. The participating wireless carriers cover about 90% of U.S. cell phone subscribers, according to the Associated Press.

Here's how the database, called the PROTECTS Initiative, will work:

When a cell phone is stolen, an owner will be able to report the theft to their wireless carrier. The carrier will then "lock" the phone, using the phone's unique cell phone ID, so it can't be used again, according to ZDNet.

The FCC is helping wireless companies set up their databases. Each carrier's database should be up and running within six months; it's hoped the databases will be centralized within 18 months.

For those concerned about privacy, the database will store only a cell phone's ID number. Consumers' personal information will not be stored, ZDNet reports.

"Locking" stolen cell phones renders them useless for resale, and should help thwart the rising tide of smartphone thefts, PC Magazine reports. About 40% of robberies in New York City and Washington, D.C., among other cities, are now related to cell phones, the FCC's chairman said in announcing the PROTECTS Initiative.

A nationwide stolen cell phone database is new for the United States, but it's been successfully implemented in the UK and Australia, ZDNet reports. The UK's system has been up and running for two years.

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$1 a Gallon Gas Sends Texas Town into a Frenzy

With gas prices high, anything below $4 a gallon is a miracle. But $1 a gallon? Well, that might just be a bona fide gift from the Gods. Or a computer glitch.

Residents in Pasadena, Texas were sent into a frenzy on Tuesday when word spread that a local Conoco gas station was selling gas for $1 a gallon. Residents began calling friends and family. Some even posted the news on Facebook, according to the local Fox affiliate.

After a few hours, employees finally caught on -- and caught the culprit. It seems the station's new gas pumps malfunctioned. Somehow, prices dropped to $1 at midnight when the store closed.

Obviously the station planned to charge a much higher price, as gas for $1 a gallon is simply unheard of. Can the owners retrieve the difference between what customers paid and what they intended to charge?

Probably not. Consumer protection rules generally state that consumers are entitled to pay the lowest marked price. If retailers were allowed to charge whatever they want at the register, many consumers would be duped into purchasing unwanted products or spending much more than they ever intended to.

Courts will even enforce this rule when the disparity is just a few cents.

It's unfortunate for the owners that their gas station sold gas at $1 a gallon, but it's just something they're going to have to deal with. It was the price electronically posted on the gas pumps, so it was the price consumers were entitled to pay.

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Pink Slime Ammonia Also Found in Cheese, Chocolate

Outrage. That's the only word to describe the recent pink slime controversy. Consumers are upset that pink slime is in their beef. They're also upset that the process used to make pink slime involves ammonia.

Putting aside the gross factor, should Americans really be concerned about ammonia in food? Or is the entire thing being blown out of proportion?

Experts suggest the latter option. Ammonia has been part of the U.S. food supply for nearly 40 years. In 1974, the Food and Drug Administration approved ammonia as a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) substance. These are food substances that have been shown, via scientific study, to be safe under the conditions of their intended use.

Ammonium phosphate, ammonium chloride and ammonium hydroxide, in small amounts, have been deemed safe for human consumption, according to Reuters. That's why you can find them in many a product.

The first two are salts, according to Kraft spokeswoman Angela Wiggins. They are used to activate yeast in dough and to help control the acidity in cheese and chocolate, she told Reuters. Ammonium hydroxide, which is the ammonia of pink slime fame, is a processing aid. It's used to kill deadly bacteria.

Gary Acuff, director of Texas A&M University's Center for Food Safety echoed these statements. "We use ammonia in all kinds of foods," he explained at a press conference hosted by Beef Products Inc. It's de rigueur for the high-tech food industry.

And perhaps this is the problem. Health experts have always known about ammonia in food, but consumers have not. Pink slime has changed that, and now consumers want more information. And perhaps they should get it.

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Judge Dismisses California Happy Meal Lawsuit

A California judge has dismissed the Happy Meal lawsuit, bringing an end to this chapter in McDonald's legal history. The suit, which has been pending for over a year, accused the fast food chain of using toys to lure in children.

The practice, according to lead plaintiff Monet Parham, violates local consumer protection laws. Industry, she claims, cannot prey on the vulnerability of young children.

The judge's decision is no surprise -- the Happy Meal lawsuit has always been a long shot. As the chain argued in April, parents can just say "no." Additionally, consumer protection laws tend to only prohibit deceptive advertising. Everyone knows what McDonald's is doing when it offers Happy Meal toys.

Still, it's unclear just what exactly made the judge dismiss the suit. Court documents do not include any legal reasoning, according to Fox News, and only state that it was dismissed with prejudice.

This means that Parham cannot re-file at a later date.

It's very possible that the judge concluded that which is stated above. If he was unable to find any situation in which Parham's allegations violate state law, then he would have no choice but to dismiss the suit.

Parham and her legal team at the Center for Science in the Public Interest are now left to regroup. Though they can still appeal the judge's decision to dismiss the Happy Meal lawsuit, the chances of winning are slim. They may be better off in the long run if they refocus their energy on changing the actual law.

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Good news to lift the spirits of anyone currently fighting with their bank. A Florida bankruptcy judge recently spanked Bank of America with a cash penalty for allegedly calling a debtor 38 times after he filed for bankruptcy.

The message from the court to BofA was clear: stop harassing debtors or face the consequences.

It's just too bad the amount the banking giant was charged probably wouldn't be enough to cover its hourly coffee budget.

Arthur Briskman, the Florida bankruptcy court judge, ordered BofA to pay the comparatively puny sum of $12,500 in attorney's fees and emotional distress damages.

BofA was accused of repeatedly contacting a debtor to collect on an outstanding balance even after the debtor filed for bankruptcy protection.

When a person files for bankruptcy, they are given a type of legal protection called "debtor's discharge." Debtor's discharge is essentially a type of legal injunction that protects the filing party from being contacted by phone, mail, or otherwise regarding debt collection.

The point of debtor's discharge is to give debtors a chance to get their finances together free from outside harassment.

BofA allegedly violated this rule with their 38 phone calls. That's why the Florida judge ordered them to pay up.

This isn't the first time BofA has been in hot water over their less than accurate/ethical collection practices. Last year, BofA attempted to foreclose on a house due to a $1 internal coding error. The house, by the way, was also already sold.

More recently, a BofA customer was repeated contacted by a collection agency even after she had paid off her debt.

BofA earned $2 billion in the last quarter of 2011 alone, USA Today reports. So while the five-figure court ordered damages isn't much more than a drop in the bucket for the bank, it will at least hopefully serve as a reminder to other institutions to stay on the straight and narrow.

Or at the very least, it'll let debtors know that if they've filed for bankruptcy, BofA can't bombard them with collection phone calls.

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Toddler Fell Into, Drowned in Washing Machine

The story of little Oliver Hebb is a sad one. Yet, it serves as an important reminder to parents of young children.

The boy, just 21-months-old, died late last month after he drowned in a washing machine. He liked to help his mother on laundry day, according to the Associated Press, and was allowed to climb atop a bin and toss clothes into the top-loading washer.

On that fateful day a few weeks ago, he returned to the washing machine after he and his mother went into the living room to read. When she realized he was no longer in the room, The Oregonian reports that she went looking for him. She found him unconscious and in the washing machine.

An autopsy has concluded that Oliver Hebb did, in fact, drown in the washing machine. He also suffered some injuries from the agitator, according to the paper. The lack of oxygen to his brain and the injuries were just too much for his little body to handle.

Such incidents are a rarity, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Only two children drowned in washing machines between 2005 and 2009. However, rarity does not mean precautions should not be taken.

Explain to your young children that washers -- and dryers -- are not toys. Tell them that they can help mommy and daddy with the laundry, but they can't do it themselves. And remove all climbable items from your laundry room. Do everything you can to prevent your child from drowning in a washing machine.

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Groupon Settles Expiring Coupon Suit for $8.5M

Daily deal leader Groupon has agreed to pay $8.5 million to settle claims that it violated federal and state consumer protection laws. More specifically, the Groupon settlement, if accepted by U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, will end a class action lawsuit involving possibly illegal expiration dates on Groupon vouchers.

In addition to state laws that regulate gift card and gift certificate expiration dates, the federal Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act prohibits the sale of gift cards that expire in less than five years from the sale date. Many Groupon vouchers expire within 30 days of purchase.

Though Groupon has a policy of refunding a gift certificate's purchase price after the date of expiration, consumers lose the certificate's promotional value. The individuals who filed the lawsuit say this practice violates federal law. Though Groupon has agreed to the settlement, Bloomberg reports that it adamantly disagrees with this argument.

Under the Groupon settlement, individuals who purchased deals between November 2008 and December 1, 2011 will be able to redeem their coupons past the expiration date. If unable to do so, the Chicago Sun-Times reports that he or she can request a refund from the $8.5 million.

In some states, this clause applies to only those deals sold after August 22, 2010.

In addition to offering promotional value refunds, the Groupon settlement will also change the way the company chooses expiration dates. It has promised not to sell more than 10% of its deals with an expiration date less than 30 days later.

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Americans consume nearly 130 pounds of sugar per person, per year -- so much, it should be classified as a toxin, a new report says.

The amount of sugar in U.S. diets -- about a third of a pound per person, per day -- poses as big a risk to public health as alcohol, according to the report by three obesity researchers at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine. Their report appears in the journal Nature, and was featured on CBS' "60 Minutes."

High sugar intake is linked to obesity and Type 2 diabetes, along with hypertension and heart disease, the report's lead author, Dr. Robert Lustig, said.

And it's not just refined table sugar, the consumption of which has actually declined 40% since the 1970s, according to "60 Minutes." Sucrose and high fructose corn syrup are making up the difference.

Independent research seems to back up those claims. A new study at the University of California, Davis found people who ingested high fructose corn syrup showed increased LDL cholesterol levels and other risk factors for heart disease, "60 Minutes" reports.

"Ultimately this is a public health crisis. And when it's a public health crisis, you have to do big things and you have to do them across the board," Lustig told "60 Minutes" about why he believes sugar is "toxic."

"Tobacco and alcohol are perfect examples," Lustig continued. "We have made a conscious choice that we're not going to get rid of them, but we are going to limit their consumption. I think sugar belongs in this exact same wastebasket."

Lustig's recommendation: Men should limit themselves to 150 calories of added sugars a day, while women should limit themselves to 100 calories.

Lustig also wants more regulations and health warnings on sugary products. You can hear more from Lustig in this 90-minute lecture, viewed more than 2 million times, about the damage caused by "toxic" sugar:

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iPhone 4 With Bad Reception? Get $15 in Settlement

Disgruntled iPhone 4 users: Apple hears you, and is answering the call for compensation -- with a $15 settlement payment.

The $15 settlement is for Apple iPhone 4 users who experienced reception issues linked to the smartphone's built-in antenna, PC Magazine reports. To qualify, users must have purchased an original iPhone 4 before Feb. 17, 2012.

The $15 payout is Apple's final offer to iPhone 4 owners who were part of a class-action settlement over the so-called "Antennagate" issue. Shortly after the iPhone 4 was released in 2010, many users complained about bad reception when they held their phones in a certain way.

Apple's late CEO Steve Jobs initially suggested iPhone 4 users change the way they hold their phones. But consumers took their complaints to court, filing 18 separate lawsuits that were combined into a single class-action settlement.

About 25 million iPhone 4 users comprise the class, PC Magazine reports. Many took advantage of Apple's offer for a free iPhone case, which sells for $29. Those who received an iPhone case are not eligible for the $15 settlement.

Though the company's free iPhone case offer officially ended in 2010, Apple is still doling out free cases if an iPhone 4 user requests one, according to Apple Insider.

That gives iPhone 4 users two options, if they haven't settled their claims already: They can apply for the $15 cash settlement by calling (877) 417-7234 or going to the website http://www.iPhone4Settlement.com; or they can request a free iPhone case by heading to Apple's support page for iPhone 4 antenna issues.

Apple's $15 iPhone 4 settlement offer is good until Aug. 28. iPhone owners who qualify should have received a notice by email on Thursday.

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