Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

October 2013 Archives

Halloween Apps Can Track Your Kids While Trick-Or-Treating

Halloween apps give parents a way to keep an eye on their kids' whereabouts without getting in the way of their trick-or-treat rounds. An especially sweet treat, much of this temporary location-sharing technology is available for free.

Here are a few Halloween apps parents may want to check out:

  • Track n Treat. With the free iPhone app Track n Treat, children send a time-limited link of their location via a phone number or email. This then allows parents to track their whereabouts via a web browser for the next four hours, reports Reuters. The limited window of surveillance time is likely an attempt to stave off potential privacy concerns.
  • Trick or Tracker. Not to be confused with "Track n Treat," the Trick or Tracker app links a parent's and child's phone and uses each phone's GPS capabilities to monitor locations. It includes a safety compass that points children in the direction of home and/or the parents' location, reports NBC News.
  • Family GPS Tracker. The name may not be as festive as "Track n Treat" but this app nevertheless gets the job done. Another free app, Family GPS Tracker for iPhone and Android lets parents see where their children are in real-time, and it also sends alerts when a child ventures outside of a set area (no doubt, in a quest for a king-size candy bar).
  • Life360. This free app is available for both iPhone and Android. It enables family members to view each others' location on a map and communicate via group messaging. You can set up zones and notifications (e.g. notifying you when your kid makes it to the Halloween party).

While you're at it, you may also want to check out Mamabear, the Amber Alert GPS device, Footprints (iOS), GPS Tracking Pro (Android), and NQ Family Guardian.

Since our smartphones are spying on us anyway, you might as well use it as a safety tool. That way, while your kiddies are out collecting candy, you can stay at home and sip on grownup Halloween treats.

Happy Halloween!

Related Resources:

10 Halloween Health Hazards All Beggars Should Beware

Like any other holiday, Halloween is not without its health hazards.

With all the extra people out on the streets and the holiday excitement in the air, you never know what can ensue.

Here are 10 potential Halloween health hazards that you should beware of this year:

  1. Expired or foreign candy. Inspect all your children's treats and make sure you throw out all suspicious treats that aren't packaged properly, look expired, or are homemade -- these could carry food-borne illness.
  2. Costumes with sharp objects attached. Beware of costumes with attachments or sharp accessories like swords. It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye.
  3. Licorice. All sweet treats should be consumed in moderation -- especially black licorice. Licorice overload could lead to irregular heart rhythm or arrhythmia.
  4. Vehicles on the road. Be cautious when it comes to other vehicles on the road and follow all traffic rules. There will likely be more pedestrians out than usual, which means a higher likelihood of pedestrian accidents.
  5. Flammable costumes. Flammable costumes can lead to disastrous health hazards -- like burn injuries for you or your trick-or-treating child. Check the tags on your little one's costume and keep him or her away from open flames.
  6. Face paint. Certain types of face paint can set off allergic reactions or skin irritation. Following the FDA's recommendation, test out a small amount of the material on your arm first before applying to you or your child's face.
  7. Oversized costumes. Make sure your child's costume is fitted properly. This will ensure that he or she doesn't end up tripping over it and injuring him or herself.
  8. More pedestrian traffic. Because there will be more folks out at night on foot than usual, you and your child should be careful when walking around.
  9. Wet weather. Halloween in some parts of the country may come with cold and wet weather. Make sure that you and your child wear safe shoes that are easy to walk in to avoid any slip and fall injuries.
  10. Unsafe decorations. Beware of any unsafe decor that homeowners may have on their property -- this includes poorly lit walkways, hazardous smoke devices, and loose-hanging decorations that are ghoulish safety hazards.

Enjoy this beloved childhood (and adult) favorite by making sure that you not only prepare for a fun night but also guarantee you and your child's safety. Happy Halloween!

Related Resources:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently investigating a dog jerky treat outbreak. Meat or plant-based pet jerky treats have so far been tied to unexplained illnesses in nearly thousands of dogs, HealthDay News reports.

These products come in the form of jerky tenders or strips, and they are made of chicken, duck, sweet potatoes, or dried fruit. The FDA is reporting that since 2007, the death of nearly 580 pets have been linked to illnesses related to these products.

What else may your pet be at risk for from consuming these jerky treats? What can you as a pet owner do to protect your pet?

Dangerous Risks For Your Furry Ones

The FDA has performed more than 1,200 tests on these jerky products, allegedly believed to be imported from China. DNA tests and a variety of screenings have been conducted, testing for contaminants, metals, pesticides, and Salmonella, among others. In the end, however, the exact cause is still unknown.

Pet owners, who may have a likely product liability claim in their hands, are also being called on to come forward if they find that their pets, after consuming jerky treats, suffering from the following risky symptoms:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Decreased activity
  • Diarrhea (sometimes with blood or mucus)
  • Increased water intake or urination

Pets have also experienced kidney failure or skin convulsions in more extreme cases.

Protect Your Furry B-F-F

Pet owners -- what can you do to protect your pets? The FDA advises, first of all, just to avoid purchasing jerky treats for their pets, or to be cautious at the very least. Not only do these treats provide minimal nutritional benefits, but the possible link to all these dangerous symptoms make jerky treats just not worth it.

As the investigation does continue, the FDA plans to inform consumers of its findings via a fact sheet distributed to veterinarians.

Aside from general caution, pet owners should also be sure to report any illnesses that their pets are experiencing, by calling the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator in their respective state.

Related Resources:

Breast Milk Sold Online Is Often Contaminated: Study

When a product recall is issued, how do you know? Social media services like Twitter are playing an increasingly important role in spreading the word about recalls.

The major federal government agencies that issue product recalls are all on Twitter, so they can send out instant messages whenever they announce a recall. Consumers with Twitter accounts can simply click "Follow" to get the agencies' tweets delivered straight to their Twitter feeds.

So which Twitter accounts should you follow? Here are the five key agencies that announce product recalls, and their associated Twitter names:

  1. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration: Follow @NHTSAgov to stay on top of automotive recalls. You can also interact with the agency, as whoever's in charge of the account apparently likes to reply to, and comment about, other people's tweets.
  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration: The FDA has multiple Twitter accounts. @FDArecalls specifically deals with food and drug recalls, but you may also want to keep tabs on a few others as well. For example, @FDADeviceInfo and @FDAMedWatch discuss safety information about medical devices and products. @FDA_Drug_Info is devoted to news about drug recalls and approvals.
  3. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission: Get the latest alerts and recalls about dangerous and defective products by following @OnSafety. The CPSC's official Twitter account also links to articles about timely safety issues, such as pool safety in summertime.
  4. U.S. Department of Agriculture: The USDA also has more than one Twitter account, but the one that deals with recalls is @USDA. However, most tweets are about agriculture news and agency press releases.
  5. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: @EPAgov tweets news about recalls and the environment. @EPAnews sends out automated news releases.

For consumers who aren't on Twitter, these agencies all post their recall alerts on the website Recalls.gov. The site also offers a free smartphone app.

Related Resources:

Toyota Recall of 870K Vehicles Spurred by Spiders

A Toyota recall is unintentionally getting into the Halloween spirit and recalling about 885,000 vehicles worldwide due to spiders.

No, not Spyders --we're talking spiders.

The vehicles involved are model year 2012 and 2013 Camrys, Venzas and Avalons, including hybrid versions of those cars.

Weaving a Web of Recalls

Due to an issue with an air conditioner part, water from the condenser can leak onto the airbag control module, which can cause the airbag to spontaneously inflate and deploy, according to Toyota's statement.

Curiously, spiders have also caused the problem by weaving their webs inside the cars' condensers, reports The Christian Science Monitor.

The web blockage can cause water to drip down onto the airbag control module, causing a short circuit. That, in turn, could cause a loss in power steering, cause the airbag warning light to light up on the dashboard, and even cause the driver's side airbag to deploy.

It's like Lemony Snicket's "Series of Unfortunate Events" on a microcosmic level. Fortunately, the problems are similarly on a small-scale. Thus far, Toyota is only aware of three faulty airbag deployments and 35 cases of warning lights coming on, reports The Monitor.

This actually isn't the first time spiders have sparked a recall. In 2011, Mazda recalled more than 50,000 of its Mazda6 sedans after the company realized that the vent lines for the model's gas tank could be compromised by -- you guessed it -- spider webs.

If Your Car is Caught in the Web

When a recall is initiated, manufacturers must offer affected owners a repair, replacement or refund.

Toyota is opting for the "repair" option. Toyota dealers will apply a sealant and install a new part to cover the air conditioner’s condensing unit, reports The Monitor.

If your car is part of the Toyota recall, spider or sans spider, you will be notified by mail to take your vehicle to a Toyota dealer where the necessary work will be performed at no charge.

Spooky stuff, huh?

Related Resources:

For those of you on social media -- be on the lookout. The "kidnapped relative" scam is on the rise and could affect you. A rather recent version of this scam surfaced in mid-October with a victim in Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs' KOAA-TV reports.

Of course, social media scams are not uncommon in this day and age due to the overwhelming popularity of many social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. With the many benefits that these sites bring, however, come scammers and those attempting to take unfair advantage of a site or app's many vulnerable users.

So, what is the "kidnapped relative" scam? Also, how can you protect yourself from it?

The Fake Hostage Phone Call

How does this particular scam work? Generally, the scam begins when one receives a call from an unknown number. The person on the other line will tell the victim that one of his or her loved ones (a close relative or a child, usually) is being held hostage and that unless the call recipient sends the caller money, the person being held hostage will be hurt or even killed. In reality, the "kidnapped" relative is usually safe and sound. This is exactly what happened to a Florida woman last year, Tampa Bay's WTSP-TV reports.

Various forms of the scam may exist, but it usually involves some type of fake-kidnapping and blackmailing the victim for money. Scammers may troll social media sites for one's personal information, such as the name(s) of a potential victim's children, his or her spouse, or one of the soon-to-be-victim's parents. Scammers may even be able to extract your contact information from social media sites, which is likely from where these past scammers obtained the victims' phone numbers.

Social Media Safety Tips

Make sure you protect yourself from being targeted from a scam like this. Here are two ways that you can start:

  • Double-check your privacy settings. You may not know this, but the default privacy settings on many of your social media accounts may be set to "public," exposing some possibly personal information on your profile to anyone. This may not only lead to identify theft, but is bait for these "kidnapped relative" scammers.
  • Don't post personal contact information, period. Even if your social media privacy settings are restrictively set, it's always best to err on the side of caution and abstain from posting personal contact information online. You never know when your preferred site might get hacked, and it's best to directly exchange this sensitive information with friends and family outside of social media.

Lastly, always remember, if you receive a call similar to the one described above, consider calling the police (non-emergency number) to report the scam.

Related Resources:

Batches of fat-burning supplement OxyElite Pro are likely going to be removed from shelves soon. The Hawaii Department of Health, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) are encouraging consumers to stop using the supplement, after several reports of hepatitis, liver-failure, and even one death may have been linked to the dietary supplement, the New York Daily News reports.

So far, 29 suspected cases have been under investigation. In 24 of those cases, more than 80%, symptom sufferers reported using OxyElite Pro. 11 consumers were also hospitalized, while two required liver transplants.

Possible Dangers of OxyElite Pro

OxyElite Pro is a weight loss and muscle building dietary supplement that is sold nationwide. According to a statement released from the company to the FDA, reports USA Today, they believe that counterfeit versions of the supplement are being marketed.

The company also claimed that the liver problems, "[are] complete mystery and nothing like this has ever been associated with OxyElite Pro."

However, just to be safe, domestic distribution has since ceased while the investigation carries on.

No Such Thing as "Fat-Burning"

The CDC, according to USA Today, is urging health-care providers, hospitals, and all other health agencies to be on the lookout for any patients who develop liver failure or acute hepatitis after using a weight-loss and/or a muscle building supplement.

An expert with the Cambridge Health Alliance in Massachusetts, according to USA Today, also added that the concept of a fat-burning pill is a myth. "The idea that there is a natural weight-loss pill out there is hogwash. Either the pills don't work or they do work because they contain substances which are not natural and are pharmaceuticals."

Dietary supplements, such as OxyElite Pro, don't actually have to be approved by the FDA before they are sold in stores. However, this doesn't mean that they aren't just as susceptible to being recalled as any other product.

While the FDA is investigating, they could not be reached for comment because of the ongoing government shutdown.

Related Resources:

Salmonella in Raw Chicken Sickens 278 in 18 States

A Salmonella outbreak linked to raw chicken packaged at three Foster Farm facilities has made hundreds sick across the country in recent months.

CNN reports that according to the United States Department of Agriculture, as many as 278 people have fallen ill since the strains were first detected in March.

Though Salmonella-related illnesses have been reported in 18 states, if you're on the West Coast, you may want to exercise particular caution. The tainted chicken was mainly distributed to retail outlets in California, Oregon and Washington state -- with most of the illnesses occurring in California.

Unclear Cause

The USDA has not directly linked the outbreak of illnesses to a specific product or production period. The USDA mark on suspect packages would read: P6137, P6137A and P7632, reports CNN.

Foster Farms has not issued a recall, claiming the infections were caused by eating chicken that was undercooked or improperly handled, according to a company statement.

As their investigation continues, health officials caution consumers to be careful when handling raw chicken.

Take Precautions

Salmonella is a pathogen that contaminates meat during slaughter and processing. While steaks and some other red meats often can be eaten rare, poultry is especially susceptible to Salmonella contamination.

To protect yourself from a Salmonella infection, always cook poultry to at least 165 degrees and don't forget to thoroughly wash your hands after handling raw meat.

Don't wash the poultry before cooking it as the juices can spread to other foods, utensils and surfaces. Cooking it at the right temperature is sufficient to kill the bacteria, reports CNN.

Monitor Symptoms

Salmonella infections and illnesses usually occur around 12 to 72 hours after exposure, and most will recover from the illness. Still, deaths have resulted from previous Salmonella outbreaks. In fact, Salmonella from undercooked chicken is the No. 1 source of death from food poisoning.

Experts recommend seeking immediate medical attention if you are experiencing diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps.

The elderly, young children and those with impaired immune symptoms have more of a risk of suffering from severe illnesses.

Related Resources:

Mazda6 Recall: 161K Sedans May Have Loose Screws

Mazda Motor Corporation has announced a safety recall on Mazda6 sedans sold in the U.S. According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), this recall will affect Mazda6 vehicles from model years 2009 to 2013.

The recall is expected to begin by October 18, 2013. This is a safety recall that stems from possible issues with the screws that hold side doors in place in certain Mazda6 sedans.

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

Concerns With Door Latch

According to the NHTSA, certain models of the Mazda6 sedans in model years 2009-2013 may have issues with the mounting screws in their door latches. If all three door latch mounting screws in those models become too loose, the door latch mechanism may fail to engage. This defect leads to the risk of the door opening while the vehicle is actually in motion, which increases the risk of accident or injury.

If Your Car is Affected

If you drive an affected Mazda, you especially have a right to recall remedies. Generally, recalls ordered or initiated by affected consumers start with a notice containing information on how to correct the problem.

In this case, Mazda will likely notify owners of the affected vehicles. If you're among them, you can then take your car in to a dealer who will then apply a thread-locking adhesive to your door screws and re-torque them. These repairs will all be free of charge.

If you aren't contacted by Mazda after the recall has begun on or around October 18, you can also contact Mazda at 1-800-222-5500 -- Mazda's reference recall number is 7013I.

Mazda owners may also contact the NHTSA with their concerns at their hotline, at: 1-888-327-4253, or visit SaferCar.gov.

Related Resources:

Obamacare Scams Target Individuals, Businesses

Beware of Obamacare scams. Open enrollment officially starts today, October 1. This means that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, is now in full effect. But so are scammers, and they're hoping to target vulnerable consumers and business owners who are unfamiliar with the new law, Forbes reports.

What do some of these scams entail? Here's an overview, and how you can protect yourself:

New Law, New Scams

If you're confused about Obamacare or unsure of what's required of you, you may be especially vulnerable to these scams. Here are three scams that you should be on the lookout for.

  • Fake website. Beware fake websites that you'll be linked to in an email. These websites claim to be official new health insurance exchanges that will ask for private identifying information, such as your social security number, health records, or bank account information, The Washington Post reports.
  • Phone calls. Fake scammers will also call those who are unaware, reports Marketplace.org. These callers will claim to be from the government and attempt to scare you, claiming that you might end up in jail if you don't meet Obamacare requirements (completely untrue) and then offering a deal to help you sign up. This fake sign up, of course, asks for your personal information.
  • The "Obamacare card." You may also get a call from someone claiming that they need your personal information so that they can send you an "Obamacare card," the Better Business Bureau reports. Don't be fooled -- there is no such thing as a special insurance card through Obamacare.

How to Protect Yourself

Remember, these schemes are meant to target those who are misinformed or unaware of the new Obamacare rules. In order to protect yourself from these scams, first of all, make sure you ignore any unsolicited calls or emails about Obamacare.

Also, keep in mind that the more informed you are about Obamacare, the less likely you'll be to fall into these scammers' traps. Make sure you read up on Obamacare and what's required of you. You may already have health insurance, or you may be exempt.

For official Obamacare details, you can visit HealthCare.gov, a federal government website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Also, you can call the federal toll-free hotline at (800) 318-2596.

Related Resources: