Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

November 2012 Archives

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and KidCo Inc. have announced a voluntary recall of PeaPod and PeaPod Plus infant travel beds. The KidCo recall affects about 220,000 beds and follows the death of a 5-month-old infant in New York.

PeaPod Travel Beds are small, portable sleep tents marketed for use by infants from birth to over 3 years of age, reports the CPSC. The tents include an inflatable air mattress and have sides made of fabric. The danger with the product is that an infant can roll off the air mattress and become trapped between the mattress and the fabric side, leading to suffocation.

Along with the death of the infant in New York, the PeaPod Travel Bed has also been linked to nine other reports of infants in distress or becoming trapped, according to the CPSC.

The KidCo travel tents were made in China and sold nationwide at juvenile specialty stores and through Amazon from 2005 to the present. The models and tent fabric colors affected by the voluntary recall include:

  • P100 Teal
  • P101 Red
  • P102 Lime
  • P103 Periwinkle
  • P104 Ocean
  • P201 Princess/Red
  • P202 Camouflage
  • P203 Quick Silver
  • P204 Sagebrush
  • P205 Cardinal
  • P900CS Green

The model number can be found on a small tag on the underside of the product.

Consumers are urged to immediately stop using the tents and contact KidCo to get a free repair kit. You can contact KidCo at (855) 847-8600, or you can visit the company's website to receive the kit.

If your child has been injured by the KidCo infant travel bed, you may want to contact an attorney to learn about your rights to collect damages. Product liability can be an extremely complex area of law, and an experienced attorney can help you review your options and remedies.

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More bad news for peanut butter fans: The FDA has shut down Sunland Inc.'s peanut butter plant after multiple violations of health and safety codes.

The plant was one of the largest organic peanut butter factories in the country, and produced nut butter for Trader Joe's. The company was at the center of a salmonella outbreak in September, and on Monday the Food and Drug Administration suspended its registration.

It wasn't just the salmonella outbreak that led the FDA to pull the plug on the peanut butter operation. Inspections of the plant led officials to conclude that the facility was potentially producing unsafe food.

FDA inspectors found 11 lots of peanut butter had tested positive for salmonella over the last 10 years at Sunland. Eight of those lots were distributed after testing positive, reports ABC News.

On a recent inspection, they also found inadequate hand-washing stations, improper storage for raw peanuts, and substandard cleaning records. The multitude of violations as well as the history of contamination led the FDA to order the plant be shut down.

It's only recently that the FDA has been given the power to shut down a plant that doesn't comply with federal health and safety standards. In 2011, the Food Safety Modernization Act gave the agency the power to close plants that have a reasonable probability of causing adverse health consequences.

Like in other administrative processes, Sunland has the opportunity to ask for a hearing to lift the suspension. The company would have to show the plant is complying with manufacturing requirements and that its practices are safe.

Even if a plant isn't unsafe enough to be shut down, it still may have some issues that could affect customers' health.

If you've become sick from food that should be safe, talk to an attorney about what you can do. It won't undo what happened but it will help you recover financially.

Sunland disputes the FDA's allegation that the company distributed contaminated products, according to a statement earlier this month. Sunland still has the option to challenge the suspension.

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Fake Craigslist Job Ads May Lead to Identity Theft

If you're unemployed, underemployed, or unhappily employed, Craigslist job ads are probably a regular stop in your browser of choice.

But if you're relying on the popular website's classified ads to find employment opportunities, you also have to watch out for employment scams. Not every job posted on Craigslist reflects a position in the real world that's worth applying for, according to an article at UnemploymentHandbook.com.

It's a waste of time to write out a resume and cover letter for a job that's not even there, so here are some signs of a potential scam when you're looking at job ads online:

  1. No skills required. Sure it's nice to find entry-level jobs, but even those require some skills, even if it's just using a computer. Hundreds of people are applying for these jobs, which makes your chances pretty slim, so it may not be worth your time unless the job looks amazing. If you see a high salary combined with "no skills required," it's almost certainly a scam.

  2. "Mystery shopper" positions. Jobs for mystery shopping where the mystery-shopping "employee" gets a check and wires leftover money back to a "company" are bad news. Those kinds of wire transfer schemes are almost always scams to cheat you out of your money when the checks bounce. If an ad asks you to do that, run the other way.

  3. Ads that seek unnecessary personal info. For a job application, all you should have to submit is your name and prior work experience. Bank information and credit reports are not relevant, and it's generally not legal for employers to ask for them during interviews anyway. Don't give out personal information when you're applying for a job unless you want to be a victim of identity theft. You can always provide it when you're hired, if necessary.

  4. No company name. When you're applying to jobs, it's helpful to do some homework on the hiring companies so you know if they will be a good fit. That's impossible to do if there's no company name in the ad. It also makes it less likely the job is legitimate, since employers want you to gauge your interest in the company before applying. If you don't see a company name, you may not want to apply.

  5. Ads that redirect. The majority of Craigslist ads allow you to respond directly to the email provided with your cover letter and resume. But some redirect you to a new website and ask you to fill out information on that page instead. Large corporations like hotel chains may work this way, but it's unlikely legitimate smaller employers would go to this trouble. In general, it's best to steer clear of these ads, and instead look for ones that will accept your job application directly.

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Don't Get Ripped Off in a Cyber Monday Scam

Identity theft is a serious risk for online shoppers, and Cyber Monday scams are one way that shoppers are targeted.

There are lots of ways to prevent identity theft and becoming a victim of consumer fraud, but knowing what kinds of sales are likely to be scams makes it easier to shop smart.

A scam isn't just a phony email, it can also be a shady way of doing online business. Especially on this Cyber Monday, follow these strategies to keep yourself, your bank account, and your identity safe:

  1. Check the return policy. Unless you're buying something on "Final Sale," you should be able to return any items you buy online within a limited period of time. Don't take that for granted though; check the online merchant's return policy before you buy. If they won't let you return it, you probably don't want to buy it.

  2. Read user reviews. You can't check out the item for yourself online, so make sure you only buy items that have good reviews, and that are sold by reputable online retailers. Read user reviews to see what details about the product aren't in the description, and whether the seller has scammed customers before. If there aren't enough reviews or they all seem negative, don't be fooled.

  3. Don't do a "discount" search. Cyber Monday is often plagued by spammers who target search engines. Consumers who search for words like "sale" and "discount" may land on disreputable sites that don't sell the things they claim. Stick to online merchants that you know when scoping out sales this holiday season. Don't use big search engines to look for deals.

  4. Never click pop-up windows. Pop-ups that ask you to click for deals or to get to a website are almost always bad news. Even if it looks like an ad for a store that you like, it may be a virus in disguise. Type in the URL by yourself for any store you want to shop at, instead of letting pop-up windows redirect you.

  5. Protect your phones and tablets too. This year there are a lot of holiday shopping apps available for smartphones and tablets. Some of them are real, but others are just a way to get a virus into your phone or to hack into your personal information. Buy your apps from an official store and read the reviews before you install them. Your smartphone is just like a computer, so make sure it stays safe when you shop.

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Top 5 Cyber Monday Safe Shopping Tips

Cyber Monday sales are just around the corner, and while it's easier than ever to make an online purchase, it's also quite easy to click your way into a trap.

Cyber criminals may not care about what you're buying for dad this holiday season, but they are looking for credit card numbers and other ways to steal your identity. And there are other potential pitfalls as well.

Online shopping is a great convenience, but there are many risks to sending your financial information via the Internet. Follow these tips so you can enjoy making those purchases without a hassle.

  1. Update your virus software. You still have a few days before sales start, so use this time to make sure your computer is secure. Check your virus software to make sure it can protect your computer from any dangerous downloads that may come your way.

  2. Read the fine print. Most people don't read the click-through agreements on websites, according to a FindLaw survey, but that language is a binding agreement. If you click "I agree," make sure you know what you're agreeing to. Otherwise you may end up in a lot of trouble that you didn't see coming.

  3. Make sure the site is secure. You can check a website's security by taking a look at its URL. If it says "https," then the site uses secure sockets layer (SSL) security to protect users from hacking it. Only enter your credit card on a site that uses SSL.

  4. Pay with a credit card. There's no way to completely prevent identify theft, but one of the easiest ways to protect yourself is to use a credit card rather than a wire or bank transfer when you pay. Credit cards already have built-in protection against identity theft, and suspicious activity could trigger the credit card company to contact you and stop the fraudulent charges.

  5. Limit the personal information you provide. To make a purchase online, you need to provide a payment method and an address. But that's it. If an online store asks for your Social Security or bank account number (because you're paying with a credit card, right?), don't provide it and exit the website. No matter how good the deal, it's not worth dealing with identity theft.

If, despite your precautions, you become a victim of identity theft, it's important to act quickly to protect your credit score. While you're at it, talk to an attorney about how you can potentially pursue justice through a lawsuit.

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Even if you aren't normally a modern-day Julia Child in the kitchen, on Thanksgiving most people make an extra effort -- which means you're potentially leaving yourself open to some kitchen dangers as well.

The turkey deep fryer is a great example of a kitchen tool that requires some extra safety precautions. But there are other once-a-year tools that could cause a lot of harm if you're not careful.

During your holiday cooking, take a minute to check out the safety features and instructions for these and other kitchen tools so you can enjoy your meal without a trip to the hospital:

  1. Electric knife. There's a good chance this knife gets taken out for Thanksgiving, and then put away after Christmas where it sits in a box for 11 months. When you take it out, the knife is probably dull which means a greater chance of cutting yourself. Before you use it, get the knife sharpened and review its safety features. If you're not fully comfortable with it, use a different knife.
  2. Grater. A box grater may seem innocent, but all those grater holes are still very sharp and can take off your knuckles or the tips of your fingers. That's not appetizing for guests, and cuts made while handling food can also get infected easily. Get some gloves to protect your fingers, or sacrifice the last inch of what you're grating in the name of safety.
  3. Plugged-in appliances. It doesn't matter how innocent the appliance is, anything with a cord can get frayed, and frayed wires can mean a nasty shock. If the cord is worn out, check the manufacturer's website to learn whether you should keep or throw out the appliance. Don't just try to fix it with electrical tape -- that can mask some potentially bigger problems.
  4. Pyrex and other heat-resistant baking dishes. These dishes are a great workhorse in the kitchen, but they can break at the most inopportune moments. Extreme temperature changes can be a problem, so set them on a towel or pot holder when they come out of the oven and never put them directly on the stove. Not only will you have a mess, you likely won't be entitled to any damages if you sue because that isn't their intended use.
  5. Gas stove. People with gas stoves often brag that they produce more even heat. But they can also be a serious danger if you leave the gas on without a flame. Make it a habit to check that the burners are off when you walk away from the stove, and install a carbon monoxide detector. It could be the difference between a funny holiday story and family tragedy.

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Toyota's Prius Recall Affects 670K Hybrids in U.S.

Two Toyota Prius recalls have been announced: one that affects about 670,000 cars in the U.S., and another that affects about 2 million Prius and Carolla models worldwide.

The issue is the same in both recalls. Toyota says the steering intermediate extension shafts in all the recalled vehicles will need to be inspected, and that in about half the cars the electric water pumps will also have to be replaced, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The recall affects 2004 through 2009 model-year Prius hybrids in the United States, reports the Times.

There have been no reported crashes or injuries due to the problems. However, the steering shaft problem reportedly can lead to deformations in the steering system, while the water pump problem can cause the car's hybrid system to shut off.

Toyota will notify the owners of affected vehicles by mail starting next month. Authorized Toyota dealers will reportedly perform the repairs for free.

Still, this is the second large recall to affect Toyota vehicles in the past few weeks. Earlier, 2.5 million vehicles were recalled in the U.S. due to a faulty power-window switch. In that recall, several injuries were linked to the problem.

In addition, Toyota famously recalled the Prius in 2010 for sudden-acceleration problems and other safety defects. Given that the Prius is one of the most popular cars sold in the U.S., you would not expect so many problems with the car.

While the recent recalls seem relatively minor, owners will still be inconvenienced by having to take their cars to a dealership for repairs.

If you have purchased a Toyota Prius or other vehicle that has given you problems, you may want to talk to a consumer products attorney. Some cars may be lemons and violate warranty agreements. A lawyer can help you review your options to potentially collect damages and even possibly a refund.

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Beware These 3 Scams in Wake of Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy has played herself out, but now that people are starting to put their lives back together, a new threat has arisen: scams.

It's unfortunate, but there are always more than a few people who try to take advantage of those in need and those who want to help. That's why it's a good idea to be careful.

When it comes to disaster-related scams, there are some common ways for consumers to become victims of fraud. Be especially cautious when it comes to these scams so you don't get taken for a ride.

  1. Fake charities. After a tragedy, people who weren't affected want to help, and an easy way to do that is by donating to a charity. But beware of email messages from so-called charities, even if the name seems like one you recognize. Make your donations directly to organizations you know and trust, preferably with a check or credit card so you have a paper trail. Don't rely on others to make your donations for you.

  2. Phony inspectors. With all the damage from the storm, there are concerns about health and safety in places that are affected. It's possible a scammer will try take advantage of that by claiming to be an inspector and charging a fee to "inspect" damage to your property or to "check" your water for safety. You shouldn't have to pay your insurance company to inspect claimed damage, and your local government will release information about whether the water is safe to drink.

  3. Fees for loans. When you're strapped for cash, a loan is one solution. But it can take a while to process. Especially after disaster strikes, people are looking for ways to get some extra cash quickly, but beware of programs that "guarantee" a loan if you pay a fee, reports Forbes. Fees should only apply after you're approved for a loan, if at all. Don't pay in the hopes of getting more money for "free."

Don't let scammers take advantage of you and your family. If you're a victim of fraud, get a lawyer on your side and fight back.

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Space Heater Dangers: 3 Ways to Stay Safe

Temperatures are dropping, which means many consumers are in the market for a new space heater for the winter.

But beware: While it's an important and useful appliance, a space heater can also be harmful to you and your family. Heating elements can cause burns, and can be a fire hazard if not treated carefully, Denver's KUSA-TV reports.

If it's time to buy a space heater or upgrade your old model, keep the following tips in mind to stay safe and warm this winter:

  1. Check for an automatic shut-off. The dangers of space heaters aren't new, and in response the industry has made many newer models with automatic shut-off systems. If such heaters are tipped over, they will automatically turn off which can prevent fires. While you still have to be careful the unit isn't too close to flammable furniture, at least accidentally knocking over the unit is unlikely to cause a fire.

  2. Consider which type of heater is best for you. There are several different kinds of heaters that are available. Oil heaters provide gentler heat, infrared models mean the heating elements are never hot to the touch, and electric models can come with protected coils. Consider the risk of burns to small fingers, winter dryness, and the amount of heat you need when purchasing a model.

  3. Follow the directions. Most consumer goods have a warning label that tells buyers how to properly use the product. If you use it according to the directions and someone gets hurt, you may be able to have the company pay for your injuries. But if you use it in a way that's not recommended, you may have a hard time bringing a lawsuit to recover.

If you are injured by a space heater or any other dangerous appliance in your home, you may not have to cover the bills by yourself. Talk to an experienced personal injury lawyer about how you may be able to recover in a lawsuit against the product's manufacturer.

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900K Jeeps Recalled Over Airbag-Deployment Injuries

Car recalls often involve a minor repair, and Chrysler's Jeep recall is no exception. But the issue is causing some concern because it involves important safety equipment, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Chrysler announced the recall Friday over concerns about the Jeeps' airbags. It's possible the airbags in Jeep Grand Cherokees (model years 2002 to 2004) and Jeep Libertys (model years 2002 to 2003) may go off unexpectedly while the car is being operated. The seatbelt pretensioners are also affected and may tighten up without warning.

So far, more than 200 unexpected airbag deployments have been reported, along with more than 80 injuries, CNN reports.

The recall affects 744,822 vehicles nationwide, along with nearly 200,000 more Jeeps outside the United States. Because of the specific problem, not fixing it could be very dangerous.

The Jeeps' front and side airbags may deploy and inflate while driving, which could lead to serious injuries, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. None of the injuries reported so far have been serious, however.

Still, even one injury caused by a product defect can be enough to get a company into serious legal trouble.

When it comes to product liability, manufacturers can be liable for defects in both the design and manufacture of their product, if that defect makes the item less safe.

In this case, the problem appears to be linked to a design change in the cars that led to an electrical issue, reports The Wall Street Journal. Chrysler will be installing a filter in the affected cars to correct the issue.

Chrysler plans to begin notifying individual Jeep owners in March, but if you've been injured by an unexpected Jeep airbag deployment, you can take steps now to pursue compensation. Unsafe product lawsuits are often the only way to force a manufacturer to cover expensive medical bills.

Once a company institutes a recall, it becomes easier to prove in court that the product was defective. An experienced products-liability attorney will be able to advise you about the best way to proceed.

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Britex Car Seats Recalled Over Potential Choking Hazard

Parents who own a Britex car seat should take care, as the company has recalled more than 60,000 of its convertible car seats over a potential choking hazard.

So far it doesn't appear that any children have been hurt by the recalled seats. But to be on the safe side, Britex is asking parents to remove the chest pads from the seats, and is offering free replacement pieces that are safer for children.

The problem isn't that the seats don't hold children safely. It's that they have pieces that children can put in their mouths.

The chest pads are just at the right height for children to bite them, and the material is soft enough that pieces can break off, reports The Huffington Post. That's where the choking hazard comes from.

All manufacturers are required to meet certain safety standards when their products hit the marketplace. Products made for infants and children are held to particularly high standards.

If a company discovers that its products don't meet the standards, the choice is to repair the problem or to refund customers' money. Either way, it's called a recall.

But just because a product is recalled doesn't mean injuries that happen won't be taken seriously.

Unsafe products that cause harm can be the subject of a lawsuit. If that's happened to you, talk to an experienced products-liability attorney about what you can do to get compensation.

The Britex recall was voluntary, meaning the company wasn't required by law to do it. But Britex chose to anyway, given the safety issue. While consumer protection agencies can force a recall if a company refuses to address safety hazards, luckily that didn't happen in this case.

For parents who own the Britex Boulevard 70-G3, Pavilion 70-G3, or Advocate 70-G3 convertible car seats in the United States, or the Boulevard 65-G3, Pavilion 65-G3, or Advocate 65-G3 convertible models, Britex has more information on its website about what you can do.

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The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Champion Power Equipment have announced a voluntary recall of Champion's portable generators that were sold at Costco.

Consumers are urged to stop using the product immediately, due to a fire hazard caused by fuel leaking into the generator's carburetor, reports CBS News.

About 8,600 of the units were sold. So far, there have been 11 reports of fuel leaking from the generators, including eight reports of the generators catching fire and two of property damage.

The recall involves two models of Champion portable generators -- model Nos. 41332 and 41532. Both models have a black frame with black and yellow control panels, a bar handle, and two wheels, according to CBS. These generators were sold exclusively at Costco stores nationwide from December 2011 through July 2012. They were made in China and had a retail price of about $699.

The model number and serial number of the affected portable generators are located on the side of the generator with the handle. The numbers are also located on a tag on the crossbar above the yellow generator end cap.

The affected model and serial numbers are:

  • 41332: 11NOV2600701 to 11NOV2601500
  • 41532: 11NOV1400151 to 11NOV1400360
  • 41532: 11DEC0700001 to 11DEC0700720
  • 41532: 11DEC1301077 to 11DEC1402602
  • 41532: 11DEC2201801 to 11DEC2203600
  • 41532: 11DEC2501531 to 11DEC2503330
  • 41532: 11DEC2801073 to 11DEC2801325

Consumers who bought the recalled generators can contact Champion at (855) 236-9424 for a free repair kit, or return the generator to Costco for a full refund, reports CBS News.

In addition, consumers who suffered harm or property damage may want to contact a product liability attorney to learn what recourse they have against Champion to recover for their injuries.

A manufacturer of a defective product is typically liable for injuries caused by the products' defects such as a design defect or the product not working as advertised.

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Debt Collectors Will be Policed by the Feds

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau finalized a new rule that will allow the federal agency to oversee and regulate the largest debt collection agencies.

Now those who hound you over unpaid debts will be hounded themselves by the feds.

The rule is slated to go into effect January 2, 2013 and could benefit a significant portion of the 30 million indebted Americans, reports CNN Money.

The new rule will allow examiners from the federal agency to go into the offices of large debt collectors to ensure they follow ethical practices. The federal agents can make sure the debt collectors clearly and accurately identify themselves, truthfully disclose the amount of debt owed, and not attempt to collect debt that doesn't exist or has been paid off, writes CNN Money.

However, the new rule will not affect all debt collectors. Instead, the rule's application is limited to only debt collection companies with $10 million or more in receipts. So a large number of the 4,500 debt collection companies in the U.S. will not fall under the agency's close scrutiny.

Still, some oversight is better than no oversight.

Since the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created last year, the agency has gone after credit card companies like American Express, Discover, and Capital One for deceptive practices, reports CNN Money.

The agency was formed to protect consumers from shady or fraudulent transactions and oversees all financial companies, including banks, credit unions and private mortgage firms that do business with the public. The agency has the authority to create or improve rules to govern all consumer transactions, including loans, home mortgages and credit cards and is responsible for enforcing those rules, such as with this new rule affecting debt collection agencies.

Consumers should know that even if a debt collection agency does not fall under the immediate oversight of the agency, unethical debt collection practices are illegal. If you believe you are subject to unethical debt collection practices, you may want to talk to a consumer protection attorney.

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