Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

June 2013 Archives

The Cleanest, Dirtiest Beaches in America Revealed

Where are the cleanest beaches in America? What about the dirtiest?

Just in time for summer beach season, the verdict is in when it comes to beach cleanliness. The National Resources Defense Council has rated 200 popular beaches from coast to coast. Among the NRDC's ratings criteria: how frequently a beach is tested for contaminants, and how a beach handles unsafe bacterial levels, such as by notifying the public.

In 2012, only 13 beaches received a full 5-star rating from the NRDC. The cleanest beaches in America are:

  1. Gulf Shores Public Beach, Alabama
  2. Gulf State Park Pavilion, Alabama
  3. Bolsa Chica Beach, California
  4. Newport Beach, California
  5. San Clemente State Beach, California
  6. Dewey Beach, Delaware
  7. Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
  8. Ocean City at Beach 6, Maryland
  9. Bay City State Recreation Area, Michigan
  10. Park Point Franklin Park: 13th Street South Beach, Minnesota
  11. Lafayette Community Club Beach, Minnesota
  12. Hampton Beach State Park, New Hampshire
  13. Wallis Sands Beach at Wallis Road, New Hampshire

If you're not lucky enough to live near one of these pristine beaches, how can you find the cleanest (and dirtiest) beaches in your area? The NRDC has a number of useful tips, such as going online to check test reports and results. The group's website also links you to detailed ratings for the 200 beaches included in its report.

But if you still aren't sure of whether or not your beach is clean or dirty enough, you can also abide by these certain rules:

  • Choose beaches that are away from urban areas and next to open water.
  • Don't swim near the pipes along the beach. Those pipes drain water from the streets (from rain and storms) and are likely to be far more dirty than ocean water.
  • Keep your head above the water, and don't stay in it for too long.
  • Avoiding swimming too soon after it rains.

If you do happen to get injured or sickened by conditions at a dirty beach, you can potentially take legal action. For example, premises liability generally holds property owners responsible if you were harmed or became ill from a condition on their property. If the property owner is the government, however, there are extra steps you'll have to take before you can sue. An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to help guide you through the process.

If you're lucky enough to live near one of the Top 13 cleanest beaches in America, however, what are you waiting for? Lather on some SPF, and hit the shores! Have a safe and happy summer!

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New Online Social Security Scam Targets Seniors

A new online Social Security scam is targeting seniors, the Better Business Bureau warns. What should you watch out for?

One victim, 71-year-old Patricia Bell of Florida, had received a letter in the mail informing her of her new online account on the Social Security website. The thing is, she never actually created this account herself.

It turns out, online scammers had been stealing all her personal information, including her Social Security number. They then used Social Security's new online system to log on as her, and changed her direct deposit information so that her check was redirected to them, WPTV reports.

For many, including Bell, their Social Security check is their only source of income.

Scams Are Common

Social Security scams are not uncommon. According to the Better Business Bureau, nearly 36,000 people have had their Social Security information stolen. However, this is usually done over the phone or through some type of impersonation scam. For Bell, her crook apparently went online to conduct this scam.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) reports nearly 2,400 victims nationwide have fallen victim to the newer, online version of this scam. In just the last few months, there were 34 in Florida alone.

The SSA is currently in the middle of an internal audit of their online records and system, and will hopefully be able to determine soon exactly how much money has been scammed out of the proper owners' accounts. They are also working on setting some preventative measures in place so that it doesn't occur again.

How to Protect Yourself

In the meantime, protect your information. This includes any email accounts or online bank accounts that may have your Social Security information stored.

Also, be wary every time you are asked for your Social Security number -- especially if it doesn't seem like normal protocol (for example, you should never be asked for your Social Security number at a grocery store).

And it might help to set up your own online Social Security account, before a scammer gets to it. Make sure you select a good password, too.

Lastly, if you suspect that you may be a victim, make sure you verify that your direct deposit information is all correct and to double check with the Social Security Administration to make sure that checks are still coming to your specific account or address.

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A nationwide Natura pet food recall has led to several brands being pulled from shelves due to concerns over potential Salmonella contamination.

According to the FDA, about a half-dozen brands under the Natura Pet Products line were all packaged in the same facility where one sample of dry pet food tested positive for Salmonella. So far, no pet or human illnesses have been reported, Houston's KPRC-TV reports.

The Natura recall includes dry pet food and biscuit treats (canned and wet goods are not included), all with expiration dates prior to June 10, 2014. A list of the products can be found on the FDA's website. They include brands such as Innova, EVO, and Mother Nature.

All the recalled products were sold either in veterinary clinics, online, or at pet specialty retail stores.

Usually, standard procedures calls for a fairly limited recall when only a single positive test for a contaminant has been found. However, Natura has decided to voluntarily recall all products that came out more than a week ago.

Salmonella can directly affect both pets and their human owners handling the contaminated products, resulting in similar symptoms for both the animals and humans of a fever, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea.

While the illness typically passes within a week, there are often severe cases of the infection that require antibiotic treatments. In these more critical instances, improper treatment or lack thereof can result in death, especially for infants, those with impaired immune systems, and the elderly.

Typically, food poisoning and food recall cases fall under the legal branch of product liability. Determining liability in these instances usually involves pinpointing the source of the cause, looking at what type of product, what type of damage it is (whether it is a rare instance, or a defect in the entire line), and what type of merchant or manufacturer put out the product to determine the level of responsibility.

As you can see, product liability lawsuits can get tricky. If you or your pet has been sickened by tainted pet food, an experienced products liability lawyer can help you figure out the best way to proceed.

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5 'As Seen On TV' Product Recalls You May Not Have Seen

If you're a late night TV junkie, you are probably very familiar with the "As Seen On TV" line of products. But you may not be in the know about their recalls.

Here are five infomercial-born appliances and gadgets that have been recalled back to TV-land for some alarming reasons.

  1. The Ab Lounge. This product, which looks almost like a lawn chair, was recalled in 2004 after consumers got their fingers crushed or cut off by the hinges of the Ab Lounge. The distributor, Fitness Quest Inc., no longer sells these products, and it is illegal for consumers or businesses to attempt to resell them, reports the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
  2. The Therma Scarf. This microwavable scarf (complete with pockets!) by Telebrands was recalled after consumers reported fires from heating them up. Heat packs inside the scarf were made of flax seeds, which upon sufficient reheating, can cause fire and burn hazards which is probably not what you'd be looking for in a scarf.
  3. Kinoki Foot Pads. The marketers of these "revitalizing" foot pads were charged by the FTC for deceptive advertising after claiming that the pads removed toxins and "metabolic waste." In 2010, this "As Seen On TV" product and similar products were barred from sale by a federal judge.
  4. The Snackmaster Dehydrator. Who doesn't love dried fruits and herbs? But consumers who were tired of the hassle and price of buying those pricey dried apricots and prunes didn't save any money by using the Snackmaster Dehydrator. This item was recalled by the CPSC after reports that the heating element in the dehydrator may cause fires.
  5. The H2O Mop Steam Cleaner. Scrubbing and cleaning your floors can have you at frayed ends, but users of the H20 Mop Steam Cleaner were literally shocked after the mop's cord wore down, leaving dangerous exposed wires. The CPSC issued a recall for potential shock and burn injuries, but die-hard "As Seen On TV" consumers can contact Thane International Inc. for a repair kit.

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A Rite-Aid scam nearly cost a Pennsylvania woman her financial security after she received a letter telling her that she had won $18,000 from Rite-Aid.

The scammer called the victim and informed her that in order to claim her prize money, she need to purchase a $500 prepaid Green Dot card and deliver the card's serial number to the scammer, reports UPI.

This scam is not unique in its targets or methods, and there are several ways you can avoid it.

Similar to the 'MoneyPak' Scam

Folks in western Pennsylvania have been receiving scam calls informing them that they've won a Rite-Aid sweepstakes, and even the local army barracks has been placed on alert, reports the Associated Press.

Police report that the scam caller has since been traced to Jamaica, and no arrests have been made.

This Rite-Aid scam shares many similarities with the "MoneyPak" virus, which has infected computers nationwide. The "MoneyPak" scam requested that users give them $200 in the form of a MoneyPak code.

MoneyPak and Green Dot are prepaid debit cards which are sold with a certain amount of dollars preloaded, which can then be reloaded as you use the cards for purchases.

Scammers like prepaid debit cards because they are a quick, and fairly untraceable way to turn electronically transferred money into cash.

How to Avoid Being Scammed

Regardless of whether the scammer uses the Internet or the phone like with the Rite-Aid scam, keep these rules in mind to avoid becoming a victim:

  1. Guard your financial or personal information. If an email or caller requests your credit card number or Social Security number, don't reply.
  2. Distrust requests for payment by prepaid card. Legitimate businesses and creditors will not ever ask you for payment in a strange fashion like a prepaid debit card.
  3. Verify information separately. Make sure to verify any claims you think are legitimate by checking a business via the Better Business Bureau or other consumer protection agency.

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U.S. safety regulators are saying that its "likely" that more than 13 deaths have been caused by the GM cars recalled earlier this year for an ignition switch defect.

In its recall of the vehicles, which includes models from Chevrolet, Saturn, and Pontiac, GM had reported that there were 13 deaths and 31 crashes associated with the defective ignition switches, which can cause vehicles to lose electronic power while driving.

However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is now saying that though the final death toll is not yet known, it is "likely that more than 13 lives were lost."

Death Toll Could be As High as 300

While the NHTSA is leaving their estimate at "more than 13" another report by the watchdog group Center for Auto Safety (CAS) said that its research found that 303 people had died from airbags that failed to deploy in the recalled vehicles. Failure of airbags to deploy, along with loss of power steering and loss of brakes, are among the problems caused by the faulty ignition switches subject to the recall.

GM called that report "pure speculation" but has yet to identify those whose deaths may be linked to the recall, a process the NHTSA is now assisting in.

GM Models Affected by the Recall

The recall for the faulty ignition switch spans 2.6 million GM vehicles model years 2003 to 2007. They include:

  • Saturn Ions from 2003 to 2007
  • Chevy HHRs from 2006 and 2007
  • Pontiac Solstice from 2006 and 2007
  • Saturn Sky from 2006 and 2007
  • Chevrolet Cobalt 2005 to 2007
  • Pontiac G5 from 2007

There are seven million more GM vehicles also currently subject to recall for various problems including faulty brake lights and malfunctioning windshield wipers. This brings the total number of GM vehicles recalled this year to 10 million.

If you are the owner of a recalled vehicle, you should receive notice by mail of the recall, and be able to have the problem fixed or your vehicle replaced free or charge. Any repairs done as part of a recall will not prevent you from being able to sue if you have been injured or have had a family member injured or killed by one of the recalled vehicles.

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Ford Recalls 2013 Models Over Fuel Tanks, Fire Risks

A trio of Ford recalls have been issued on new 2013 models, reports The Detroit News. The largest of the three recalls concerns fuels leaks. A second recall involves potentially cracked engine block heater electrical cords. The final recall addresses possible steering control issues.

Here is some extra information on each of the Ford recalls:

Recall #1: Fuel Leaks

The largest recall, affecting 465,000 vehicles, resulted from 600 complaints of fuel leaks, which could lead to a fire risk, the report indicates. Fortunately, no fires have been reported thus far.

Included in 465k-unit recall are the 2013 Explorer, Flex, Fusion, Taurus and Police Interceptor sedan, as well as the Lincoln MKS, MKT and MKZ.

If you own a recalled model, watch out for a fuel odor, or in some cases, evidence of a fuel leak on the ground.

Recall #2: Cracked Electrical Cords

Ford is recalling 500 units of its 2013 Lincoln MKZ equipped with engine block heaters.

According to Ford, the insulation on the engine block heater's electrical cord may crack in cold temperatures, The Detroit News reports.

Recall #3: Steering Control Flaws

The third and final recall involves 23 Ford Fusion models. The vehicles are being recalled due to potential impairment or loss of steering control. This may be due to faulty steering gears that may have been built without an internal retaining clip, The Detroit News reports.

Consumers can learn more about the recall on Ford's website. If you aren't sure whether your vehicle is affected, you can type in your vehicle's VIN number on the website. You can also call Ford at (866) 436-7332 in the United States.

If you have been injured from one of the defects, you may have a right to recall remedies. You may be able to collect damages both for your physical injuries as well as monetary compensation to replace your car. Contact a products liability attorney in your area to learn your rights.

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