Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

September 2013 Archives

FindLaw Survey: 1 in 6 Americans Still Paying Student Loans

A newly released FindLaw survey on student loans is reporting that one in six Americans are still paying off their student loans, among some other alarming findings.

Unfortunately, for many of us who were or are students who've taken out loans, the repayment period can drag on for years. Sometimes, it may even be even decades before a former student can dig herself out of debt.

While this may be a downer, most folks who are dealing with student loans are not alone. What else was reported in this FindLaw survey from loan recipients? Here's a summary and some suggestions:

Borrowing at a Cost

The FindLaw survey was conducted by polling a demographically balanced group of 1,000 American adults who were finished with school. Some insights gained by the survey include:

  • 31% of those adults took out some form of student loans
  • 53% of student loan borrowers (17% of all surveyed) still have loan obligations
  • Two-thirds of that 53% are between the ages of 24 and 44
  • One in five adults aged 55 and older still owes money on his or her student loans
  • 7% of people with outstanding student loans say they still owe $50,000 or more
  • Only 47% of people who have taken out student loans are done paying them off

How to Deal With Your Student Loans

If you're struggling with your student loans, you have options. Consider these other alternative routes to simple repayment that may help:

  • Deferment(s). There are many different types of deferments that you can look into. If you're unemployed, disabled, or suffering a financial hardship and can prove this, your payments can be delayed. Depending on what type of loan, this may also suspend accruing interest.
  • Forbearance. Forbearance also allows you to delay your payments. Unfortunately, unlike deferments, your interest will still continue to accrue during that time.
  • Consolidation. If you don't quality for deferments, you can also consider loan consolidation. Consolidating your loans allows you to combine them and extends your repayment period. However, this will mean accruing more interest as you repay your consolidated loan.

To learn more about avoiding default and other options available to you, you can also download our free Guide to Student Loan Debt.

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FDA to Regulate Smartphone Health Apps

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released a press announcement stating that it will begin regulating smartphone health apps.

With the continuing popularity of smartphones such as the Apple iPhone, Android mobile devices, and various tablets, a whole new slew of health applications have hit the market designed to keep users' health in check. Medical applications such as calorie counters and heart monitors are easily downloadable, and many users rely on them to serve their designated functions.

Despite these benefits, there could be potential health consequences if an application is faulty or used improperly. Enter the new FDA regulations:

What Types of Applications?

There is a huge variety of different mobile medical apps currently on the market. Some can diagnose abnormal heart rhythms or even function as a glucose meter for those with diabetes. However, just because an app serves some type of health or medical function doesn't mean the FDA's new regulations will apply.

The FDA states in its press release that the focus will be on the following types of apps in particular:

  • Apps that are intended to be used as an accessory to a regulated medical device (e.g. an application that allows a doctor to diagnose by viewing an image from a picture archiving and communication system); or
  • Apps that can transform a mobile platform into a regulated medical device (e.g. applications that serve as a device to detect abnormal heart rhythms or measure glucose)

Regulations Focused on Functionality

The FDA also does not plan to regulate any general consumer functions of smartphone apps such as sales, settings, or where they are sold (through iTunes or Google Play, for example). Nor will they plan to regulate personal wellness apps, such as those that allow a user to track her daily calorie consumption.

According to the director of the FDA's medical device division, as stated in the press announcement, regulation of an application ultimately depends on that app's primary functions and its risks. He states that, for example, if a heart device that is used in a hospital is regulated, then the mobile app version will of course also be regulated. A faulty application can be just as dangerous as a faulty medical device.

Basically, "[i]t's not about the platform. It's about the functionality."

These products will first need to be cleared by the FDA before being released into the market. The average review time could take up to a couple of months, and the apps will be regulated according to the same standards for medical devices.

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10 States With the Highest Car Theft Rates

Which states have the highest car theft rates? According to a recent Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) report, the FBI collected data from all 50 states (and Puerto Rico) through the Uniform Crime Reporting Program to determine specific crime statistics by state.

Those statistics were calculated for the 2012 year, and include the rate of car theft in each state.

Based on this new data, what are the 10 states with the highest car theft rates?

2012 Car Theft Rates

The car theft rates among all 50 states and Puerto Rico, measuring the number of auto thefts per 100,000 inhabitants, are ranked as follows:

  1. Washington D.C. at 579.0 thefts/100,000 residents
  2. California at 443.2 thefts/100,000 residents
  3. Washington at 382.8 thefts/100,000 residents
  4. Nevada at 363.1 thefts/100,000 residents
  5. Oklahoma at 303.1 thefts/100,000 residents
  6. Arizona at 292.3 thefts/100,000 residents
  7. Georgia at 287.7 thefts/100,000 residents
  8. South Carolina at 279.5 thefts/100,000 residents
  9. Missouri at 270.8 thefts/100,000 residents
  10. New Mexico at 261.9 thefts/100,000 residents

Protect Your Car

Even if you don't live in the top 10 worst auto theft states, car theft may be running rampant in your area. Do what you can to protect your car. Here are some precautionary measures you should take to help prevent your car from being stolen:

  • Don't leave valuables out in the open. Leaving things like cash, brand-name sunglasses, an expensive gadget like a smart phone, or expensive purses and clothes is like an open invitation for a thief to attempt to break into your car and then steal it.
  • Make sure it's locked. Make sure, every time you get out of your car, that your car is properly locked. Check all doors -- not just the driver's side -- and make a habit of doing this.
  • Park in a well-lit area. Make sure you park in a well-lit area when you can, or a spot that sees a lot of foot traffic. The more visible a thief may be when attempting to steal your car, the less promising your car will be to the potential auto thief.
  • Be careful if you lend. If you lend your car to anyone, make sure it's trusted family member or friend. Some borrowers may be tempted to never return it. On top of that, you should also be wary of lending your car to a reckless driver; you could be liable if the driver causes an accident.

An extra couple of minutes to double check your doors or find a better parking spot could easily save you weeks of grief if your car is stolen. Remember, it's always better to be safe than sorry.

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Suzuki Recalls 194K Vehicles; Airbag Injuries Possible

Japan's Suzuki is recalling almost 200,000 vehicles in the U.S. because of an improper airbag sensor. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), this recall affects around 193,936 Grand Vitara SUVs made in the 2006 to 2011 model years, as well as SX4s from the 2007 to 2011 model years, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The reason for the recall is a faulty airbag sensor in the front passenger seat which may either fail or simply deploy improperly during an accident. This defective sensor would affect both adults and children sitting in the seat. So far, thankfully, no injuries have been reported.

What else do you need to know, and what should you do if your car is affected?

Possible Injuries

While there have been no reports of injuries from affected Suzukis, or Suzukis in general, some drivers may still be at risk. According to the LA Times, the NHTSA claims that if the affected airbag does deploy at maximum force and there is a child in the seat, the child could potentially be injured. Furthermore, this malfunction may still cause a full-on failure of the airbag from deploying in the event of a crash.

This recall resulted from an initial investigation that began in June. The NHTSA claimed that 128 Suzuki owners filed complaints, reporting that they were having issues with their airbag sensors in the front passenger's seats not detecting a passenger when a child was sitting there, USA Today reports

If Your Car is Affected

If your car is affected, you have the right to remedies or compensation. Usually this means that the vehicle or equipment manufacturer and your local dealer will actively take steps to involve you in the recall.

In this case, owners of the affected Suzuki vehicles will be notified by Suzuki in October. If there is a parts shortage, however, then a second notice will be sent out, notifying owners when dealers will be ready to fix the vehicles. All repairs will be performed free of charge for the affected owners.

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A PayPal scam involving receipt of a fake notifications through email has been giving users trouble recently, reports San Antonio's WOAI-TV. PayPal is arguably the e-commerce giant when it comes to sending payments online. With more than 132 million accounts, its popularity not only supports a customer base who trusts them but also scammers who prey on those customers.

PayPal scams are not uncommon. Here is a rundown of this one and how you should protect yourself from it:

Fake "PayPal" Email Confirmation

WOAI-TV recounts a real-life example of this scam from 15-year-old Adam Perkins. Perkins first put his laptop on eBay and a received a buyer confirmation right away.

Then, he received an email from "PayPal" claiming that they had his funds. The buyer, in turn, then requested that Adam ship the laptop. A Friday deadline for overnight shipping turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as a second glance at the alleged PayPal email turned up several grammatical and spelling errors. The lack of professionalism from a legitimate business like PayPal seemed incredibly suspect, and lo and behold, the email was indeed not from PayPal.

This type of scam usually involves the suspect buying an item, sending out a fake email on behalf of PayPal confirming payment, and then receiving the goods without having ever paid.

Take Necessary Steps to Protect Yourself

Don't let this happen to you. Make sure that you take the precautionary steps necessary in order to protect yourself. PayPal suggests the following two guidelines to follow in spotting a fake email:

  • PayPal emails will always use your first and last name or your business's name
  • PayPal emails will also never ask for any personal or account information (this includes credit or debit card numbers, driver's license number, bank account details, etc.)

Also, be on the lookout for other obvious red flags -- such as typos, no transaction reflected in your bank account when there should be, or anything else that just doesn't sit right with you. Be sure to alert PayPal if you come across a suspect or fake email by forwarding it to spoof@paypal.com, and then delete the email from your account.

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After Baby Monitors Hacked, FTC Penalizes TRENDnet

According to The New York Times, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is penalizing a company for selling baby monitors that were vulnerable to hacking. TRENDnet had apparently told their customers, mainly families, that their home security cameras and baby monitors were "secure." However, their unfortunately unsecure devices were compromised, evidenced by a hacker who exploited a security flaw in the monitors last year.

This hacker not only broke into the SecurView camera software, but the security thwarter also posted links to live feeds taken directly from the cameras. These feeds displayed adults, in their homes, going about their daily routines, babies sleeping in their rooms, and children playing.

TRENDnet's Future

The FTC states, in their complaint, that TRENDnet transmitted its customers' login information in readable text, as opposed to using a proper way to encrypt the data. TRENDnet's mobile app also allegedly did not properly protect their users' information.

TRENDnet's punishment includes a 20-year security compliance auditing program. Additionally, the company has promised not to misrepresent the security of their cameras, break the confidentiality of the content that the devices transmit, or compromise TRENDnet consumers' ability to control the security of the cameras and their recordings.

While the FTC doesn't have any legal authority to impose fines in this case, TRENDnet has agreed to a consent order prohibiting similar practices. reports The New York Times. This means that the agency's commissioners will have the ability to seek penalties in the future, in case of more violations.

Protect Yourself and Your Little One(s)

While baby monitor hacking may be rare, you still want to ensure that it doesn't happen in your home, period. This is especially true if you have an infant or a toddler, whose privacy and even safety could be at risk. If you own any type of security camera, baby monitor, or general monitoring device, make sure you take the proper steps to protect yourself, such as:

  • Ensuring you have a password set. Remember, without a password, anyone can use your wireless network and crack into your networked data and personal information.
  • Use WPA2. In other words, use Wi-Fi Protected Access 2, which has strong encryption standards.
  • Make sure your password is unique. Remember, the more complicated and difficult a password is to predict, the better.
  • Change your password often. This is not only a standard practice, but it will help to ensure that you stay protected in the long term.

If you or your child happen to run into any trouble with your baby monitor or security camera at home, you should definitely alert the police and/or meet with an experienced attorney.

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Chobani Recalls Moldy Yogurt as FDA Investigates

Chobani is recalling some of its Greek yogurt products because of mold, after customers reported illnesses.

The official recall comes after Chobani "quietly" asked retailers to pull some of its yogurt products from store shelves last week, The Associated Press reports. Customers and retailers complained about "swelling and bloating" in certain containers; some of the yogurt smelled foul and tasted "fizzy."

The Chobani recall is voluntary, meaning it was the company's decision. Still, the Food and Drug Administration is investigating.

Mold in Certain Containers

The New York-based company claims the tarnished products came from an Idaho facility and represent less than 5 percent of its total production. Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya says the problem stems from a type of mold that is commonly associated with dairy products.

The mold grew because Chobani's products don't contain preservatives, Ulukaya said, according to the AP. But he added the problem is now "totally fixed."

According to the press release from the FDA, the recalled Chobani containers have expiration dates from September 11 to October 7, and are marked with the code 16-012. They include all flavors in the following sizes:

  • Chobani 6 oz. cups,
  • Chobani 16 oz. tubs,
  • Chobani 32 oz. tubs,
  • Chobani 3.5 oz. cups,
  • Chobani Bite 3.5 oz. cups,
  • Chobani Flip 5.3 oz. containers,
  • Chobani Champions 3.5 oz. cups, and
  • Chobani Champions 2.25 oz. tubes, sold in packages of 8, 16 and 36.

Are You a Chobani Customer?

Chobani did not state how many illnesses were reported, but if you have consumed any of the Chobani products listed above and got sick, make sure you seek medical attention immediately. Linking your illness to a recalled product is a key step toward filing a food poisoning or product liability lawsuit.

For customers who purchased any of the affected containers, Chobani advises you to discard the products and contact Chobani's Customer Loyalty Team online. They can also be reached at (877) 847-6181 betweeb 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Eastern Time.

Chobani is currently working to issue refunds or replacements.

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TSA PreCheck Set to Take Off at 60 More Airports

The TSA's PreCheck program is set to expand to 60 more airports this year, reports Reuters. So how can you take advantage of it?

The Transportation Security Administration's expedited screening program is already available at 40 airports, and with the upcoming expansion, it will soon operate at 100 airports in 40 states, along with Guam and Puerto Rico.

TSA also plans to increase the number of PreCheck lanes at participating airports in the coming weeks.

What Is TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck is an expedited version of the agency's usual screening process. Eligible travelers who can use PreCheck can keep their shoes, light outerwear, and belt on as they go through security. They also do not need to take their laptop computers out of their cases, nor do they need to remove their appropriately-sized liquids from their carry-on bags.

In providing this option at more airports across the country, TSA hopes it will ensure a smoother, more effective, and more efficient security check.

Who's Eligible for TSA PreCheck?

There are a number of ways to determine eligibility for the TSA's PreCheck program. U.S. citizens of frequent flyer programs can be invited to apply by participating airlines. Also, U.S. citizens who are also members of a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler Program, and Canadian citizens who are members of the NEXUS expedited travel program, can qualify for PreCheck as well.

In addition, any U.S. citizen can apply for PreCheck. The process includes an online application, fingerprints, and an $85 enrollment fee for a five-year term of eligibility. Once approved, the PreCheck status will be embedded into the bar code of the PreCheck traveler's boarding pass.

A Few Caveats

Of course, TSA can also revoke or suspend one's PreCheck status at any time for reasons including, but not limited to, security issues at the gate or for criminal convictions since their PreCheck status was granted. TSA also reserves the right to randomly ask PreCheck passengers to instead go through regular security.

However, keep in mind that not all airlines are participating in the program. PreCheck is currently only available for passengers on Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta, Hawaiian Airlines, United, US Airways, and Virgin America, according to the TSA.

Also, expedited TSA PreCheck lines are not open 24/7. Click on this list to see the hours of operation for PreCheck lines at participating airports.

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Ford Recalls More Than 370K Cars

Due to a possible steering shaft issue with a potential of corrosion, a huge recall of over 370,000 Ford cars will begin starting October 21, 2013 in North America. The recall will affect several car models, including Mercury Grand Marquis, Lincoln Town Cars, and Ford Crown Victorias manufactured and sold between 2005 and 2011.

According to a statement released by Ford in early September, only 15,000 cars in Canada may be affected by the threat of corrosion in the steering shaft. On the other hand, the majority of the Ford vehicles affected by the recall are in 21 U.S. states (and D.C.) Some affected states include:

  • Connecticut
  • Iowa
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Missouri
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • New Jersey
  • Wisconsin
  • Virginia

Ford states that there have been no reported injuries or accidents in connection with this recall error.

If Your Car is Affected

There are two types of recalls - government initiated and manufacturer initiated. Regardless of who initiates the recall, however, the process is generally the same. Once notice is given, the manufacturer will have to remedy the malfunction or issue at no charge.

You could be affected by this recall if you:

  1. Are the owner of one of the affected Ford car models,
  2. Purchased your car between 2005-2011, and
  3. Purchased in one of the states listed above

The recall may affect your vehicle even if your car seems to be running fine. It's wise to allow your car to be recalled to ensure ultimate safety.

If you are the owner of a recalled car, you have rights and remedies. Monitor your email, phone, or snail mailbox for further instructions. Ford will first notify you, and once you receive notice you may have the recalled parts replaced free of charge. A reputable repair garage will inspect, repair, or replace additional questionable parts, but the extra services may not be covered by the recall.

Even if you are an owner in a state not listed, or if you just have any additional concerns, you can contact Ford at 1-866-436-7332.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Vehicle Safety Hotline is also available: 1-888-327-4236.

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