Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

September 2012 Archives

Spyware On Rent-To-Own Computers Not OK: FTC

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that spyware on rental computers are not allowed.

The FTC's announcement comes on the heels of a lawsuit brought by a Wyoming couple. The couple claims that the furniture rental company Aaron's Inc. took photos of the couple on their rented Dell laptop without their knowledge or permission, reports Forbes.

The FTC ordered Aaron's and six other furniture rental companies to stop putting the spyware on unsuspecting customers’ computers. These companies were not fined or penalized, but they were ordered to stop the practice.

So why do these furniture rental companies put the spyware on the computers in the first place? Are they perverts? Identity thieves?

It appears that Aaron's and other companies install the software onto the computers to make it easier to repossess the computers in case of non-payment, reports Forbes. The spyware can allow the companies to location-track the computers and take control of the screen and webcam.

The Wyoming couple that brought the lawsuit was reportedly on-time with payments, so it's unclear exactly why the photos were snapped. That may explain the lawsuit.

Nevertheless, the FTC will now require all furniture rental companies to get the customers' express consent to track and spy on them. The Chairman of the FTC said that, “An agreement to rent a computer doesn’t give a company license to access consumers’ private emails, bank account information, and medical records, or, even worse, webcam photos of people in the privacy of their own homes.”

In addition, you should remember that just because the FTC choose not to fine the companies involved, this does not mean you cannot sue to recover for your damages. If you believe your privacy rights have been violated by such spyware, you may want to talk to a consumer protect lawyer. You can also ask questions about privacy rights on our message board.

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Political campaigns were warned that they face a $16,000 fine from the FCC if they make robocalls to cell phones and other mobile devices.

The FCC says that no one may deliver prerecorded voice and autodialed calls (including live calls, prerecorded voice messages, and text messages) to cell phones, pagers, or other mobile devices without the prior express consent of the called party, reports Ars Technica.

And political campaigns are not immune from this restriction. So how will the ban on robocalling affect political campaigns?

For starters, your evening meals are now much less likely to be interrupted by some canned message by a candidate you never heard of. In addition, beyond the annoyance, your cell phone bills and minutes also won't be hit with these unsolicited calls, so you can save some money too.

The robocalling restriction makes sense as most people pay each month or have a prepaid plan for their mobile devices, reports Ars Technica. And as many of us keep close tabs on our minutes, it's only fair that we should not be bombarded by these robocalls.

Due to the FCC regulation, you may see political campaigns abandoning phone calls completely. While the FCC regulation still allows telemarketers to call people's landlines, there is no way for the caller to know whether they are calling a cell phone or landline.

And as many people simply list their cell phones as their home phones, political campaigns (and anyone else) risk substantial penalties for robocalling the wrong number.

If faced with a fine, political campaigns may try a good faith defense that they thought they were calling a landline. But faced with a $16,000 fine for each violation, campaigns may resort to emails to get their message across as they could multi-million dollar liability given the number of calls they make.

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Whole Foods Joins Ricotta Cheese Recall Over Listeria Fears

Whole Foods Market's ricotta cheese recall is part of a nationwide recall traced to a supplier in New York. At least 14 people in 11 states have been sickened by possible Listeria contamination, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

About 4,800 pounds of ricotta cheese distributed by Forever Cheese Inc. of Long Island City, N.Y., may be infected with Listeria, according to the FDA.

The cheese was marketed under the brand name Ricotta Salata Frescolina. It was sold to distributors and wound up in grocery stores and restaurants in at least 21 states and the District of Columbia.

Original wheels of the recalled cheese are stamped with Lot No. T9425 and/or Production Code 441202, according to the FDA. But stores and restaurants may have repackaged the product.

For example, at Whole Foods Market, the recalled cheese was cut into wedges, wrapped in clear plastic, and sold with a Whole Foods Market label marked "PLU 293427." All "sell by" dates through Oct. 2 are included in the recall, the FDA reports.

More than a dozen customers reported getting sick after eating the recalled cheese. The FDA suspects Listeria contamination.

Listeria is a bacterium that can cause serious infections in pregnant women, newborns, young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems. Symptoms of infection include fever, muscle aches, and gastrointestinal problems.

It's not yet clear what caused the suspected Listeria contamination, but foods like soft cheeses can become contaminated during and after processing.

If anyone is seriously sickened or even dies from an infection, the person or company responsible for the contamination may eventually be forced to pay in a products liability lawsuit. Victims should seek medical attention and contact an experienced products liability lawyer who can guide them through the process.

Whole Foods is offering a refund to customers who return the recalled cheese to its stores. Forever Cheese has set up a recall hotline at (888) 930-8693.

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Don't Google Emma Watson, Most 'Dangerous' Cyber Celebrity

Emma Watson doesn't look dangerous but she could be bad for you, or at least for your computer.

It's not anything personal about the 'Harry Potter' star but her popularity makes her a target for cyber criminals. That means Internet searchers looking for information about Watson could be directed to spam sites rather than relatively harmless gossip.

This isn't just a suspicion about Watson's popularity. Tech security company McAfee took the guesswork out of it by creating a list of famous names most likely to lead to malware or other Internet woes.

Watson is the most dangerous celebrity to search online with a one-in-eight chance that searches will land on a malicious site instead of finding celebrity news, reports the New York Post.

She's not the only risky celebrity when it comes to searching. Jessica Biel and Eva Mendes are also high on the list which is filled with mostly women. It's unclear why cyber criminals tend to use female celebrities as a way to lure in unsuspecting victims but McAfee reports only one male celebrity made the list.

Congrats Jimmy Kimmel. Or maybe not since it means fans searching for news about Kimmel may be led astray.

All this bad news doesn't mean you can't search for news on your favorite celebrities. It's just a reminder to be careful when you do it.

How you ask? Be smart about what you click.

If you love good celebrity gossip as much as we do, you know what sites have the news. If you don't recognize the site be very careful before you click on it.

Once you find a site that has the news you're looking for, don't download anything you didn't ask for. Avoid giving out personal information on those sites since that's what a hacker would be looking for.

Even if you end up on a potentially malicious site, if you don't click or give up your information, there's not a lot of harm done.

Have you been the victim of a cyber crime? Being online doesn't make it any less still illegal so let an attorney help you stop it from happening to others.

Emma Watson's newest film comes out in late September so cyber criminals are likely using the added publicity to draw in targets. Be smart about your online searching so you can still keep up on latest news about the 'dangerous' star.

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Black Licorice Recall: Lead in Candy Expands Recall

Fans of black licorice should know the Red Vines brand of the sweet treat has been recalled due to concerns over lead in the candy.

Testing of black licorice made in Union City, California showed that the popular treats had elevated levels of lead. This is especially dangerous for children who are likely to be a large portion of the consumers for black licorice.

Red Vines discovered the high lead levels and issued a voluntary recall of products containing black licorice. They are working with the California Department of Public Health to remove the mixes that contain it from the market.

The recall affects Red Vines Black Licorice Twists, Family Mix, Mixed Bites and Snaps with a "Best Before 020413" label. Consumers are encouraged to discard those candies immediately, reports the San Jose Mercury.

Lead poisoning is a disease that builds up over time with repeated exposure.

Children who've eaten the contaminated candy may not show symptoms now but that doesn't make it any less dangerous. The black licorice tested has more than twice the recommended amount of lead for children.

Initiating a recall is a good first step for companies that may face products liability.

Companies that make products for public consumption, especially food, must meet state and federal regulations for product safety. Products that fail to meet those standards create potential liable for any injuries that occur.

A recall is intended to alert customers to potential danger. But it doesn't absolve the company of liability from injuries.

If you've gotten sick from black licorice or some other food that failed to meet regulations you don't have to deal with it on your own. There are attorneys who specialize in this area of law and can help you file a suit against the manufacturer.

Even if no symptoms are showing, parents of small children and pregnant women should talk to their doctor about whether testing is needed, reports the San Jose Mercury.

If you're unsure whether your black licorice is affected by the recall, check the CDC's listing. Your health isn't worth taking the risk.

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3 Election-Related Scams to Watch Out For in 2012

Campaign season is in full swing, and scam artists are stepping up their game. Many are trying to ride the coattails of the 2012 election to take your money and run.

Scammers typically try to make their pitches sound believable in an attempt to persuade victims to disclose personal financial information. That's why the 2012 election cycle, with hundreds of political groups seeking donations, could be a goldmine for crooks, according to the Better Business Bureau.

"Scammers use incentives based on what they think voters want to hear," a BBB spokeswoman told The Boston Globe.

You may recall the recent scam in which shady callers suggested President Barack Obama's bailout would cover people's utility bills. All they had to do was give up their Social Security and bank account numbers.

Similar to the utility scam, the Globe's report suggests three other types of election-related frauds that may trip up consumers. They are:

  • Fundraising scams -- callers who pretend to be from a legitimate political group. In reality, this is just a cover for their real intent: to collect your credit-card or bank account information. Don't fall for it, the BBB warns. If the fundraising group is legitimate, they'll be happy to take your donation by mail or online.
  • Voter registration scams -- typically designed to collect your Social Security number. Callers will ask to verify that you're a registered voter by asking for personal information. Genuine elections officials will never ask for this by phone, the BBB advises.
  • Fake opinion polls -- some of which offer prizes like a free cruise in exchange for your participation in a fake survey. But in order to collect, you'll often be asked to pay "taxes" on your fabulous prize, with the goal of getting your credit-card number.

Of course, election-related phone scams are illegal, as are other types of telemarketing scams. Anyone contacted by a scammer should report it to the Federal Trade Commission which investigates fraud. Depending on the extent of the election scam, those behind such criminal campaigns could win themselves a lengthy term in prison.

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Mangoes Recalled After 105 Sickened With Salmonella

If your fruit bowl contains any mangoes, you may want to check their labels because there's a recall for the tropical fruit.

Daniella brand mangoes have been recalled for potential contamination. The products were distributed across the country and could contain Salmonella. The recalled mangoes include whole pieces of fruit, along with sliced mangoes found in many pre-cut fruit blends.

So far no one has died from Salmonella infection but more than 100 people have gotten sick, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The recalled mangoes were distributed in many states and are part of several packaged fruit products. Consumers who recently purchased Daniella mangoes are advised to throw them away.

That also goes for consumers with pre-cut fruit blends containing mangoes. Daniella brand mangoes are found in products from Dining In, Ready Pac, Starbucks, and Walmart, reports The (Salinas) Californian.

If you're unsure about the origin of the fruit, throw it out. For a full list of contaminated products, check out the CDC's website.

Food producers are required to initiate a recall when they have reason to believe food that they've made or distributed is contaminated. A recall alerts consumers that the food is unsafe, but it doesn't insulate the company from liability.

Producers can still be sued for injuries caused by unsafe food after the recall goes out.

If you've gotten sick from contaminated mangoes or other foods, you can fight back. A qualified attorney can help you build a case against food companies.

So far, 105 people from 16 states have been infected by strain of Salmonella linked to the potentially contaminated mangoes. Of those infected, 25 have been hospitalized.

The vast majority of those infections come from California, reports the CDC.

Salmonella and other types of food-borne illnesses can be especially dangerous for children and elderly people with weakened immune systems.

If you've recently consumed any Daniella brand mangoes, watch for symptoms of Salmonella infection, such as abdominal pain and cramping, fever, and diarrhea. It can take a while after ingestion for these symptoms to develop.

Salmonella is no joke, so be sure to throw out any mangoes affected by the recall. Don't take chances with your family's health.

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Mr. Coffee Recalls 600,000 Brewers After 61 People are Burned

A Mr. Coffee recall is brewing, and includes more than 600,000 units sold in the United States and Canada.

The recall of Mr. Coffee Single Cup Brewing System units was announced after consumers reported at least 61 injuries. In each case, the brewer's water chamber exploded because of steam, spewing hot water and coffee grounds onto people's faces, arms, and torsos, reports the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Consumers are urged to stop using the product immediately. If you own one of these brewers, you can receive a free replacement unit.

The Mr. Coffee Single Cup Brewing System subject to the Mr. Coffee recall is produced by Sunbeam Products. The recalled coffeemaker comes in black with silver, red or white trim. The units have a Brew Now/Off button and a removable drip tray, according to the CPSC.

The affected model numbers, which are printed on the bottom of the brewers, are:

  • BVMC-KG1
  • BVMC-KG1A-001
  • BVMC-KG1-WM-001
  • BVMC-KG1-001
  • BVMC-KG1-BEA
  • BVMC-KG1R-001
  • BVMC-KG1-044
  • BVMC-KG1BP-PAL
  • BVMC-KG1R-006
  • BVMC-KG1A
  • BVMC-KG1-WM
  • BVMC-KG1W-001

So far there have been 164 reports of the brewing chamber bursting open because of steam pressure. That includes the 61 reported injuries, according to the CPSC's recall alert.

The brewers were sold at retailers including Bed Bath & Beyond, BrandsMart, JC Penney, Kmart, Lowe's, Target, and Walmart from September 2010 through August 2012 for between $60 and $80.

Consumers can contact the makers of the recalled product at (800) 993-8609 or online at www.mrcoffeerecall.com to learn about receiving a replacement.

If you have been injured by the coffeemaker subject to the Mr. Coffee recall, you are urged to notify the CPSC at (800) 638-2772. You may also want to consider contacting a product liability attorney to learn more about your rights. Companies are generally responsible for defective products and you may be entitled to damages.

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