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February 2014 Archives

GM Recall Expands to 1.6M Vehicles; 13 Deaths Reported

A GM recall linked to an ignition issue has more than doubled to 1.6 million vehicles, mostly in North America.

A fault involving the ignition switch in certain makes and models can potentially shut off all electrical power, including to the engine and airbags, while the car is in motion, Reuters reports. GM now says the problem may have caused or contributed to 31 crashes, inlcuding 13 deaths.

Which GM vehicles are affected by the expanded recall?

More GM Models Affected

The recall expanded to include more than 1.6 million vehicles in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, and a smaller number overseas, Reuters reports.

Earlier this month, GM said it was recalling 778,562 Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 compact cars from model years 2005 through 2007.

But GM is now adding to the recall list:

  • Saturn Ions from model years 2003 to 2007,
  • Chevy HHRs from 2006 and 2007,
  • Pontiac Solstice vehicles from 2006 and 2007, and
  • Saturn Sky sports cars from 2006 and 2007.

Of the new recalled total, more than 1.3 million vehicles are in the United States, according to GM.

Recall Remedies

If you own an affected car, you are entitled to recall remedies. At the very least, owners of recalled vehicles are entitled to a free repair or replacement of the defective parts.

In this case, dealers will replace the ignition switch at no charge. But GM cautions drivers that until the fix is made, customers should remove nonessential items from their key rings.

Sadly, the ignition issue may have caused multiple fatalities and crashes. Even though GM has recalled the vehicles for a safety-related defect, these people can still bring independent legal action against the manufacturer for the injuries they have suffered, which may include wrongful death.

Affected vehicle owners should be receiving a letter from GM notifying them if their cars are part of this large recall. GM owners can also visit GM's website and enter their cars' Vehicle Identification Numbers to verify if the vehicles are under recall.

For additional help, you may want to consult an experienced motor vehicle defects attorney in your area.

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Apple Security Flaw: Update Software to Thwart Wi-Fi Hackers

A critical security flaw in iPhone and Mac software can potentially make Apple users vulnerable to hackers -- just by using public Wi-Fi.

Apple released an update Friday to address this serious security issue, but experts believe that this "bug" in Apple's device software has existed for almost two years, reports The Verge.

How can you make sure your Apple device isn't vulnerable to attack?

Flaw Allows Hackers to Pose as Secure Sources

When you log on to your bank's website or even to Facebook using your Apple device, your Web browser uses SSL connections. It's recommended that businesses use SSL connections when using wireless or external networks because of the dangers inherent in having that data intercepted by a third party.

SSL connections work by exchanging SSL certificates, which verify and authenticate a source as being a "trusted" one. That way, your browser knows to give a secure connection to "trusted" sites like your bank -- but not to untrusted ones you're unfamiliar with.

Unfortunately, a bug in the source code in Apple's iOS and OSX operating systems makes this SSL process open to attack, potentially giving hackers the ability to trick your iPhone or Mac into thinking they're trusted, secure sources. And they'll do so over unsecured Wi-Fi connections.

How to Patch the Security Gap

Apple has already released a patch for devices running its iOS operating system that will fix this security problem. If you're on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, go to Settings > General > Software Update and follow the instructions to download the patch.

If you have not yet updated your device to iOS 7 -- perhaps because you heard about some of its security flaws -- you may not have a choice. If you have an iPhone 4 or newer, you'll need to upgrade to iOS 7 to receive the patch.

Mac users may be disappointed to learn that there is no patch available yet for OSX, but the security flaw is still very real for Mac laptops. If you're worried about your MacBook getting hacked, don't use unsecured Wi-Fi (such as those offered at coffee houses or bookstores). Your home Wi-Fi, assuming you've set up a password or other encryption, should be fine until Apple gets around to fixing the problem.

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Child Safety Recalls Ineffective, Report Says

A new study suggests child safety recalls are ineffective. Only 10% of children's products are returned or repaired following child safety recalls, according to a new report by Kids in Danger (KID), a Chicago-based children's safety advocacy group.

The government makes announcements but product owners either don't hear about it or they don't respond, according to Nancy Cowles, KID's executive director, USA Today reports.

But others contend a low recall rate doesn't necessarily equate to an ineffective recall.

Reasons for Ineffectiveness

Here are three reasons child product recalls are ineffective, according to the study:

  1. Lack of publicity. Companies and the Consumer Product Safety Commission distribute joint press releases about recalls. Also, companies with websites must post the information online. But responsibility of sharing information about a recall ultimately shifts to the company, which the study suggests leads to less information reaching consumers.
  2. Poor social media use. The study claims companies' social media tools are significantly underutilized in sharing recall information. Of 114 recalls in 2013, more than half involved companies with social media accounts. But of those, only nine used Facebook to share recall information and only eight tweeted recall information, according to the study.
  3. Failure to fill out registration cards. Julie Vallese, a spokeswoman for the Juvenile Product Manufacturers Association, says another issue is consumers' failure to fill out the registration card for juvenile products. Filling out a registration card gives companies a direct and quick way to notify you if a product you purchased is recalled.

Caveat of Study

Vallese claims the KID study's findings are misleading. As you may know, a recall is a refund, repair, or replacement. Companies may select which of the three remedies to select. But Vallese says when it comes to products concerning child safety, consumers might be taking matters into their own hands.

"Return rates for products are a poor indicator of recall effectiveness since a variety of factors affect how consumers decide to respond," says Vallese, a former spokeswoman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission. "Many products may no longer be in use or have already been disposed of by consumers."

Although the study's findings may be uncertain, the lesson is clear: consumers should take child product recalls seriously. Whether you decide to toss the product yourself or take advantage of recall remedies, try to stay in the know of recall efforts. For starters, consider signing up for consumer protection alerts.

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Army Benefits Website Scam Targets Soldiers, Veterans

An Army benefits website scam is making the rounds, according to a statement issued by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command.

If you've seen the misppelled Web address USMilitaryBenifit.org, ignore it -- it's not an official U.S. Army website, the military warns. The bogus website claims to provide information about benefits, but it's actually not endorsed by the Army.

Soldiers, Army civilians, retirees, and even relatives of service members should take heed to avoid the website and ignore any information on it. It's also advisable to immediately delete any suspicious or unsolicited emails regarding the scam website, without responding to those messages.

Army Benefits Scam

The primary purpose of the fraudulent site is to collect U.S. Army service members' Army Knowledge Online, or AKO, email accounts and passwords, officials say.

The fake website also makes the false claim that the U.S. military has granted access to unclaimed and accumulated benefits for active duty soldiers, including the following language: "The U.S. military has granted access to unclaimed and accumulated army benefits for the under listed active duty soldiers. Benefits not claimed within the stipulated period will be available for claims after 60 months." Again, this information is false, the Army says.

Official Benefits Website

The Army does, however, maintain an official benefits website called "MyArmyBenefits" at http://myarmybenefits.us.army.mil that is operated by the service's Retirement Services Office.

It is still the go-to source for all benefits and services available to soldiers and their families. Soldiers and former service members are required to use either their CAC or AKO login information to access the official website.

Red Flags of Scam Website

Most online scam attempts are easily recognizable as they are usually unsolicited emails or texts. Hoax websites typically contain misspelled words, punctuation and grammatical errors, and often ask for private information, such as an individual's email address and password.

In this case, you may have noticed the incorrect spelling of "benefit" in the website's URL, "USMilitaryBenifit.org." That's a classic red flag of a scam. In addition, notice that the bogus website ends in ".org" while the official website ends in ".mil."

What to Do

If you received correspondence from the bogus benefits website or provided information through it, here are some steps you may want to take:

  • Do not log on to the website;
  • Do not respond to any emails from that web address;
  • Stop all contact if you have previously responded to any emails; and
  • Immediately contact your local information assurance office if you accessed the website from a government computer or system.

If you fell victim to the scam, you may want to consult an experienced Internet attorney to explore your potential legal remedies.

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Graco's Recall of 3.8M Car Seats Should Go Further: NHTSA

Graco is recalling almost 3.8 million car safety seats because of buckles that may not unlatch, making it difficult to free the child in an emergency.

But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the government's road safety watchdog, wants Graco to recall another 1.8 million rear-facing car seats designed for infants, The Associated Press reports.

The situation highlights the difference between a voluntary recall and an ordered recall.

Graco Car Seat Recall

The Graco recall aims to address car seat buckles that are stuck or difficult to unlatch. According to Graco, the problem often results from food and drink getting stuck in the buckles, reports the AP.

The recall covers 11 car seat models made from 2009 through 2013 of the Cozy Cline, Comfort Sport, Classic Ride 50, My Ride 65, My Ride with Safety Surround, My Ride 70, Size 4 Me 70, Smartseat, Nautilus, Nautilus Elite and Argos 70.

The NHTSA wants Graco to expand its recall efforts to include seven infant car seat models with the same buckles. There are an estimated 1.8 million rear-facing infant car seats that could be affected.

Fortunately, there have been no reported injuries due to the defect.

Voluntary Recalls vs. Government-Initiated Recalls

The Graco recall was voluntary, meaning the company wasn't required by law to do it. However, if the voluntary recall isn't adequate, the government can step in through National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigations. This is what happens with car recalls, too.

In this case, an uncharacteristically public disagreement erupted between Graco and the NHTSA. The safety agency told Graco in a sternly-worded letter that unless those additional infant seats were fixed it would take legal action to force a recall, reports the AP.

The NHTSA is responsible for monitoring the manufacturer's compliance with the recall process. If deemed necessary by the NHTSA, Graco may be required to expand its recall to include the additional 1.8 million infant car seats.

When You Need a Lawyer

Parents should check seat buckles and contact Graco for a free replacement, the NHTSA said. The agency also recommended drivers obtain other safety seats for their children until their Graco seats are fixed.

If your child was injured by the car seat defect, contact an experienced products liability lawyer near you. If you own a defective Graco car seat that wasn't listed by the company, you may want to file a safety complaint with NHTSA, which can trigger a recall.

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Meat Recall Affects 8.7M Pounds Shipped to 4 States

In a massive meat recall, a company in Petaluma, California is recalling more than 8.7 million pounds of beef products.

According to federal officials, the company processed diseased and unhealthy animals without adequate inspection. Without a full inspection, the products are unfit for human consumption.

But how do you know if you've been affected? And if so, how do you know if you need a lawyer?

Recall Details

Eighteen Rancho Feeding Corp. products are being recalled. They include beef carcasses, oxtail, liver, cheeks, tripe, tongue and veal bones, reports San Francisco's KGO-TV.

The products were processed from Jan. 1, 2013, through Jan. 7, 2014, and shipped to distribution centers and retail stores in California, Florida, Illinois and Texas. The boxes of product are marked "EST. 527" inside the USDA mark of inspection. Each box bears the case code number ending in "3" or "4."

For additional details on the recalled items, review the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service's press release on the recall.

When Would You Need a Lawyer?

Fortunately, there have been no reports of illnesses. However, a Class I recall -- the most serious type of recall -- was still issued because some of the affected products could still be frozen and in storage. If consumed, these products can cause serious illness.

If you're badly sickened from contaminated meat, your first step should be to seek immediate medical attention. Next, figure out what exactly made you sick. If you believe the recalled meat was the root cause of your illness and you suffered injuries because of it -- for example, medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering -- pursuing legal action may be in your best interest.

An experienced products liability attorney can consider all aspects of your case and advise you on whether a lawsuit is a viable option in your specific situation. A lawyer will also know how much time you have to file your claim, and whether a class action may be appropriate in your particular food-poisoning case.

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Online Rental Scams: 5 Tips, 5 Red Flags

Renters beware: Online rental scams may be moving to a city near you. What are some keys to avoid becoming a victim?

In one recent case, an Arizona resident fell victim to a classic online housing scam on the popular housing website Zillow. The victim found a house for rent on Zillow and inquired about it. The scammer told the victim he would hold the house for $800, and the victim sent the money. But after the scammer asked for more money, the victim grew suspicious and called police, Tucson's KOLD-TV reports.

Lest you fall prey to an online housing scam, follow these five safety tips:

  1. Deal locally with people you can meet in person. According to Craigslist's housing scam tips, "follow this one rule and avoid 99 percent of scam attempts."
  2. Don't rent or purchase housing sight-unseen. Unfortunately, pictures can be misleading. In this case, photos of a legitimate listing in the "sale" section were taken and relisted by the scammer in the "rentals" section. Nothing can trump going to the property in-person and speaking to the owner.
  3. Never wire funds. Especially for rental properties, beware requests for substantial deposits before seeing the place.
  4. Don't submit to credit or background checks remotely. Wait until you have met the landlord or agent in person before giving up your personal information.
  5. Find out who owns the property. Always carefully inspect the property deed.

And the No. 1 rule: Never give money up-front without meeting in-person first and inspecting the property.

Alas, the victim in the Arizona case committed a cardinal safety sin by paying before seeing the property and never meeting the "property manager" face-to-face.

Rental Housing Scam Red Flags

Although housing scams on Zillow and other websites are becoming a serious problem, there are almost always telltale signs of a scam.

Beware the following rental housing scam red flags:

  • Using Zillow for money exchanges -- according to Zillow, it does not handle money exchanges or escrow between buyers and sellers or tenants and landlords.
  • Photos in the listing show up in other sections of the website (such as the "sale" section or in different regions).
  • When you show interest, the scammer claims to be out of town and asks you to wire first-month’s rent or other fees to an out-of-state location.
  • A requirement to pay by Western Union, MoneyGram, cashier's check, or money order.
  • An inability or refusal to meet face-to-face before consummating the transaction.

If you've fallen victim to a housing scam, you may want to consult an experienced consumer protection attorney to figure out what legal options you have.

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The 10 Car Makers With the Most Recalls in 2013

Which car makers issued the most recalls in 2013?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) has released a list of 2013 vehicle recalls by manufacturer. The list highlights the number of recalls issued by each car manufacturer, along with the total number of vehicles affected by those recalls.

However, NHSTA advises that the list shouldn't be interpreted to reflect what the agency thinks of the manufacturers or their products. The numbers don't factor in or weigh averages based on production, according to NHSTA. (In other words, some of the larger car makers will inevitably have more recalls, or more vehicles affected by recalls, than smaller car companies.)

The Top 10

So which manufacturers made the Top 10 in terms of total vehicles recalled? Here's NHSTA's list:

  1. Toyota -- 15 recalls in 2013, affecting 5.3 million vehicles.
  2. Chrysler -- 36 recalls, 4.7 million vehicles.
  3. Honda -- 15 recalls, 2.8 million vehicles.
  4. Hyundai -- 9 recalls, 2.2 million vehicles.
  5. Ford -- 16 recalls, 1.2 million vehicles.
  6. Kia -- 3 recalls, 1.1 million vehicles.
  7. Nissan -- 17 recalls, 958,148 vehicles.
  8. BMW -- 14 recalls, 934,047 vehicles.
  9. General Motors -- 23 recalls, 757,677 vehicles.
  10. Suzuki -- 4 recalls, 405,605 vehicles.

Can You Sue Over a Recall?

In general, most recalls don't lead to lawsuits, especially if the recall is for a minor part that doesn't result in any injuries.

However, some of the most well-known recall lawsuits are those related to a Toyota recall for accelerator pedal defects. In that case, several people were seriously injured and some were killed in vehicles as a result of a dangerous acceleration defect. Since people were hurt because of those defects, a lawsuit was appropriate.

If your car has been recalled, or if you suffered injuries caused by a recalled vehicle or vehicle part, you may want to consult an experienced motor vehicle defects attorney near you.

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