Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

June 2012 Archives

iPads and tablets in general have become a lightweight substitute for a laptop in many situations. That also means an increased need for digital privacy since they are increasingly full of personal information.

Internet browser history, online shopping and banking, and personal chat messages can all be stored on an iPad and in the wrong hands that information can give away a lot.

Luckily, it doesn't have to be a tradeoff between your iPad and your privacy.

Just follow these 3 tips to keep your digital identity under wraps if your iPad is ever lost or stolen.

1. Get a better password

The iPad comes programmed to allow a four digit password that uses numbers only. That kind of protection won't last for long if your iPad is stolen.

Instead, go into the iPad Settings > General > Passcode Lock and select Disable Simple Passcode. That will allow you to create a longer password that includes both numbers and letters.

The more random and complex the password, the better it will protect your private information.

2. Keep your browser history private

The websites you visit can store a lot of information, especially if you choose to save your passwords on protected sites like Amazon and Mint. If someone gets into your iPad, they can access that information by looking through your browser history.

One quick way to stop this is to enable Private Browsing on Safari which will stop the iPad from saving your browser history. Go to Settings >Safari and enable it.

Don't save passwords for sites that store your financial information, including bank accounts and credit cards since it makes it easier for uninvited users to access that information.

3. Encrypt your information - Black SMS and Private Data/Ben the Bodyguard

If at this point you're asking how we expect you to remember all those passwords if they aren't saved, here's your answer. There are apps available to encrypt data saved on your iPad, including documents that contain passwords and other private information.

Private Data is a free app that password-protects any information that store inside of it. The information saved in the app is encrypted to protect it from hacking.

The more expensive version, Ben the Bodyguard is available for $5 and provides a more interactive and amusing experience while maintaining your privacy.

For an added level of privacy, Black SMS is an app that encrypts chat messages so that your communications stay private. It's available for the iPad for $0.99 in the App Store.

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Chevy Cruze Recall Over Engine, Fuel-Tank Fire Risks

General Motors has announced two Chevy Cruze recalls, after reports of big problems with the popular small car's engine compartment and fuel tank.

Fires can possibly break out when flammable engine fluids become trapped by the Chevy Cruze's engine shield, according to the Associated Press. About 30 engine fires have been reported, but they did not cause any crashes or injuries, a GM spokesman said.

In light of the engine fire risk, more than 475,000 Chevy Cruzes are being recalled. All the recalled vehicles were built at GM's plant in Lordstown, Ohio, between September 2010 and May 2012, the AP reports. The Cruzes were sold in the United States, Canada, and Israel.

In addition to the engine-fire recall, a second Chevy Cruze recall affects about 61,000 vehicles that may be missing welds on gas tank brackets, according to the AP. In a crash, fuel tanks without welded brackets can come loose, causing leaks and potential fires.

As with most automotive recalls, the Chevy Cruze recalls come with free fixes. For the engine compartment issue, local dealers will cut the engine's plastic shield to let fluid drip to the pavement, the AP reports. Cruz owners will receive notices about the free engine-shield repairs, which are set to begin July 11.

For the fuel-tank bracket issue, local dealers will secure any loose brackets with fasteners, according to GM.

In addition to free Chevy Cruze recall fixes, consumers may be able to pursue other legal remedies such as filing a lawsuit over a safety-related defect. Because these legal remedies differ by state, consumers may want to contact a local product liability lawyer to figure out which legal options are available.

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Reports of hundreds of exploding toilets have triggered a Sloan Flushmate recall affecting more than 2 million commodes from coast to coast.

More than a dozen "impact and laceration" injuries have been linked to the Sloan Flushmate III Pressure-Assist Flushing System, the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced Thursday. The unit sells for about $108 at Home Depot and Lowe's, and is used in more than 2.3 million toilet tanks nationwide.

So far, more than 300 Sloan Flushmate III units have exploded in toilet tanks, "releasing stored pressure," according to the CPSC's recall alert. "This pressure can lift the tank lid and shatter the tank, posing impact or laceration hazards to consumers and property damage."

Flushmate III units are black, made of plastic, and installed inside toilet tanks. They use air and water pressure instead of gravity to ensure a powerful flush, according to the company's website.

The recalled units are marked with a "series number" of 503, along with a 16-character "serial number" -- the first six digits of which show the manufacturing date. Units with manufacturing dates of between 101497 (Oct. 14, 1997) and 022908 (Feb. 29, 2008) are included in the voluntary recall.

Anyone with a recalled Sloan Flushmate III unit in their toilet should turn off the water supply and stop using the unit, the CPSC advises. Consumers can get a free repair kit from Flushmate by visiting the company's website,, or by calling a toll-free hotline, (800) 303-5123.

Anyone injured by an exploding toilet may be able to pursue a product liability lawsuit, which would likely allege that a design defect made the product unsafe. But such lawsuits can be costly and time consuming. An experienced products liability lawyer can help determine if a lawsuit is worth your while.

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Turns out, Hebrew National may not answer to a higher authority. At least, that's what plaintiffs are claiming in a suit for fraud against the allegedly kosher brand.

Consumers claim that meat processing standards at AER Services Inc, which provides kosher meat to ConAgra for Hebrew National products, fell below the requirements for kosher certification. ConAgra was negligent in continuing to label Hebrew National hotdogs as kosher, according to the complaint.

AER Services is not named in the suit but their actions are the basis for the complaint.

Employees at AER allegedly complained to the company about procedures at the slaughterhouse. Problems with the slaughtering and inspective process violated the rules of kashrut, as reported by the Jewish press.

When the inappropriate actions were brought to light, complaining employees were fired or transferred, plaintiffs' claim.

ConAgra stands behind the kosher status of Hebrew National, based on a statement by ConAgra spokesperson Teresa Paulsen. But the issue here is more than just a religious debate.

The claim against ConAgra alleges violations of Minnesota state consumer fraud laws, where the claim was raised. Mislabeling food, whether the label is kosher, sugar-free, or vegetarian, is fraud and individual states as well as the federal government prohibit producers from misleading consumers.

The fact that ConAgra was sued for negligence indicates that plaintiffs don't think the food processing giant set out to defraud consumers.

Rather, the allegation is that ConAgra failed to appropriately monitor the kosher status of meat that went into Hebrew National hot dogs. It's the relationship between AER and ConAgra that likely opened the latter up to liability.

While the alleged kosher fraud may or may not be proven in court, there's a good chance that Hebrew National's reputation may not bounce back. "How does a consumer who thinks he is buying kosher meat really know he is buying kosher meat?" plaintiff's lawyer Hart Robinovitch said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. Earning back consumer trust may take a while.

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As swimming pool season gets underway, a new report finds drowning is the No. 1 accidental cause of death for children 4 years and younger.

But there are some simple steps you can take to help prevent children from drowning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 3,880 people die from accidental drowning each year, with death rates highest for children 4 years and younger, the CDC reports. That makes drownings the No. 1 cause of death for this age group, second only to birth defects, according to U.S. News and World Report.

Among nonfatal drownings, children under 4 comprised more than 52% of emergency-room visits between 2005-09, the CDC found.

Summer weekends saw the most child drowning accidents. More than 57% of nonfatal drownings, and 46% of fatal cases, took place over weekends in June, July, and August, the CDC found. More than half the accidents took place in swimming pools.

To prevent drowning accidents, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests adults should:

  • Block access to swimming pools, preferably by a fence at least 4 feet high.
  • Be more vigilant in supervising children around swimming pools.
  • If using an inflatable or plastic pool, empty it and turn it upside-down after each use.
  • Start swimming lessons early. Formal swimming lessons can reduce a child's risk of drowning by as much as 88%, according to the CDC.

In some cases, however, a child's drowning in a pool could be due to negligence, such as a lifeguard's actions (or lack of action) or a failure to adhere to state or federal pool-safety laws. An experienced personal injury or wrongful death attorney can help figure out who's responsible for a drowning accident, and can help pursue compensation if possible.

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A swimming pool is not a babysitter.

Thirty years ago, children of all ages were left to their own devices at a swimming pool, while parents attended other matters.

The thinking was that a pool ensures that your children stay in one general area and can keep raucous children preoccupied for hours. However, with accidental drownings as one of the leading causes of child deaths, parents should be aware of swimming pool dangers and know these five ways to protect your children.

  1. Supervise Your Kids. Don't watch the game while there are children in the pool. Keep a watchful eye or make sure there is some adult who is overseeing the children.

  2. Install a Fence. You can't stand guard over your pool at every hour of the day. But you can install a fence and locked gate. Only let kids in the pool when your schedule allows. Your kids can survive a day indoors.

  3. Have an Anti-Entrapment Drain Cover. You hear more stories of children being injured by the suction coming from pool drains. A drain cover is not that expensive and can save you a world of headaches.

  4. Give Your Kids Swimming Lessons. You'd probably be reported to CPS if you tried the sink-or-swim method to teach your kids how to swim. Invest in some lessons, and your kids may develop a new hobby.

  5. Keep the Pool Clean. Children do dirty stuff in pools. Keep the pool clean, but go easy on the chlorine. Too little chlorine can make your pool dirty, but too much may make your pool toxic.

Keep these five tips to reduce swimming pool dangers in mind. Pool injuries can be tragic and can lead to substantial legal liability.

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Diamond Pet Foods is expanding a dog food recall for nine of it dry food brands, Reuters reports.

It's believed the dog food may be linked to a salmonella outbreak that infected at least 14 people nationwide. The company initially pulled only three of its brands in April. The additional six were removed as a precautionary measure, according to Diamond Pet Foods.

Authorities suspected the possible connection after they discovered those infected came into contact with dogs, or the affected dog food brands, prior to getting sick.

So what does this mean for the rest of the nation?

Well, if you live in Canada or one of the 16 states where the recalled dog food was distributed, watch out. The products were sold in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

While there's no word yet of any legal action, don't be surprised if you see something soon.

Whenever a company releases a product that is defectively designed or made, product liability lawsuits are possible. In general, liable parties may include the manufacturer, wholesaler, and every retailer that sells the defective product.

In the case of tainted food, the result is no different. So Diamond Pet Foods could be in a lot trouble -- especially because a Salmonella infection can lead to serious illness.

Symptoms of infection include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. The sickness last about four to seven days. Most can recover without treatment, but elderly people, infants, and those with weak immunes systems are at a greater risk.

While there have only been 14 human salmonella cases reported so far, there's no telling yet whether this dog food recall came soon enough.

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Spray Tanning May Cause Cancer, Too

New information indicates that spray tanning may cause cancer; just when you thought it was safe.

Emphasis here is on the word "may." There's some preliminary research that a chemical in spray tan, called DHA, may cause genetic mutations to cells in Petri dishes. There's currently no evidence that DHA does cause cancer but there's no evidence that it doesn't either.

Spray tan companies have previously told clients that a spray tan is completely safe but that may not have been their smartest move.

While spray tanning salons can still offer their product without FDA approval, they need to make clear that spraying on tanning lotion is not FDA approved and provide the FDA guidelines for safety or risk legal liability.

The purpose of the FDA's approval or disapproval process is two-fold. Obviously, it educates consumers about what is and is not safe for use. But it also provides sellers with some measure of protection from liability. If a food additive or drug turns out to be unsafe, the seller isn't on the hook for marketing an unsafe product since it was approved by the FDA.

That is, so long as the product was used according to FDA regulations.

DHA was approved for topical tanning lotion back in the 1970's when it was first introduced - and turned everyone who used it orange. But now it's in spray tan and it's causing concern among health experts.

The original studies on DHA's safety never investigated whether it is still safe in spray form which makes it more likely that the chemical will be inhaled.

It appears that spray tanning companies are already making efforts to comply with the new FDA guidelines. Major tanning salon Beach Bum Tanning and spray manufacturer Norvell are committed to educating consumers about the potential risks as reported to ABC news.

So the next time you find yourself in a spray tanning booth, make sure you're wearing those cute little goggles.

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A Jeep Liberty recall has been announced by Chrysler. As part of the recall, 137,176 Jeep Liberty SUVs from the 2006 and 2007 model years are being called back to fix possible corrosion problem in the undercarriage.

This will be four model years in a row where Chrysler had to issue a Jeep Liberty recall for a similar rust problem, reports The Wall Street Journal.

The rust problem has potentially serious consequences as the vehicle's rear lower control arms can corrode and break, causing the vehicle to lose control, reports the Journal. In its announcement, Chrysler said that the Jeep Liberty recall affects vehicles sold in the U.S. where road salt is used to melt snow. Chrysler said it will inspect the vehicle's undercarriage and replace the suspension where appropriate, free of charge.

Prior to this recall, Chrysler had also recalled the 2004 and 2005 Jeep Liberty vehicles for a similar problem, making it four model years in a row where the vehicle could not withstand road salt. You figure that once Chrysler was made aware of the problem, it would have taken steps to ensure that the problem did not reoccur. Apparently, whatever steps the company took (if any) was not enough.

If you have been injured while riding a Jeep Liberty for a problem related to salt corrosion, you may want to speak with a product liability attorney in your area. An attorney can advise you on your rights and options, and ability to collect damages. Even if you haven't been injured, you should still comply with the Jeep Liberty recall and have your car checked out especially if you live in an area that snows.

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Someone Talked Bad About Me. Can I Sue for Defamation?

Life is full of annoying unavoidable things. Traffic lights, long lines, and worst of all, rude people. Everyone has to deal with an angry or unpleasant person at some point. But when does their smack talk become defamation?

It's understandably a nebulous concept to most people. The general reaction when one becomes the target of disparaging remarks typically isn't, "Man, I'm going to sue." Rather, it's usually more along the lines of, "What a jerk."

However, you'd be surprise what is and isn't considered defamation in the eyes of the law.

Defamation actually covers both spoken and written statements. Oral defamation is called "slander." If it's in writing, than it's called "libel."

In addition, anyone can be defamed regardless of the person's status. It's not just a cause of action available to the rich and famous. Regular Joes can sue for defamation, too.

However, to understand why this is so, it's important to define defamation first.

Defamation is any statement made by someone that hurts another person's reputation. It's not a crime to defame someone, but victims can sue in civil court for it.

Defamation is proven by showing five elements: a statement was made about you, the statement was false, the statement was published, the statement harmed your reputation, and no privilege or defense exists for it.

While the first and second elements are pretty self-explanatory, the rest can be a little tricky.

Publication of a statement can be done in any way where it can be heard or read by a third party. This means in addition to things like books, films, and newspapers, publication can also be as simple as a statement being told to someone else.

Reputation harm is what it sounds like. Typical examples are statements that falsely indicate a person is immoral or a criminal. But it can be pretty much anything that causes others to incorrectly view a person poorly.

So the next time someone runs their mouth off at you. Pay attention to see when or if their talk becomes defamation. And if you're still unsure, don't be shy to seek out the proper help.

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So Nutella really isn't nutritious after all.

Nutella isn't as healthy as its makers held it out to be. That's what consumers learned after years of being told that Nutella was the smart way to get their kids to enjoy a healthy breakfast.

Apparently, Nutella had about as much nutritional value as a candy bar. And as a result, the parent company, Italy's Ferrero Group, found itself on the bad end of a class action lawsuit.

The company's U.S. branch was sued by angry consumers over its false advertising claims. While the makers of Nutella held their product out as part of a healthy breakfast, what they failed to state clearly in their nutritional claims was that it was the glass of milk and the bread atop of which the Nutella sat that actually lent any nutrition to the breakfast.

So, Nutella's makers had to answer to consumers and eventually, the lawsuit settled. Under the settlement, consumers are entitled to reimbursement for up to five jars of Nutella, at $4 a jar.

Here's a copy of the Nutella class action settlement.

Are you entitled to some cash from the Nutella settlement? If so, how can you claim a piece of the Nutella settlement?

Who is entitled to the Nutella class action settlement: Consumers who purchased Nutella in California between August 1, 2009 and January 23, 2012 or consumers who purchased Nutella in any other state between January 1, 2008 and February 3, 2012 can file a claim to collect in the Nutella class action settlement.

Steps to take to collect your class action settlement check: If you fall within the class of consumers above, then you need to submit a claim form by July 5, 2012. You can submit a claim form online by clicking here. You can also go online and get a copy of the form to print and mail.

If you take no action, you won't be able to get your settlement check so act fast. There's less than a month left to collect your share!

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Millions of web users' passwords are being reset after two popular websites were hit by hackers in a security breach, Reuters reports.

LinkedIn, a professional social-networking site, warned its 161 million users of the hacker attack Wednesday. eHarmony, an online dating site with more than 20 million users, announced it had also been hacked, apparently by the same person or group.

As many as 8 million passwords may have been compromised, according to Ars Technica. The encrypted passwords were posted on underground hacker forums with a request to help unscramble them. It's not clear if LinkedIn and eHarmony were the only sites attacked, Reuters reports.

Once a hacker obtains a user's password, the hacker could collect personal information from users' accounts. That could possibly set the stage for extortion, in which a hacker requests money in exchange for keeping secret a user's private information, one e-security researcher told Reuters.

"When somebody has the keys to your business and personal kingdom, that gives them all sorts of powerful information," the researcher said. "They might be able to use it for years."

Other security experts blamed poor data-protection policies for allowing the alleged hacker attacks. For example, LinkedIn's method of encrypting passwords allows a hacker to unscramble all passwords once they've figured out the encryption formula, experts told Reuters.

But the company appears to have recently implemented new password-protection methods, according to one LinkedIn engineer's blog post.

The LinkedIn and eHarmony password hacking also raises concerns about possible identity theft. Check out FindLaw's section on online scams for tips on what to do if your identity has been stolen.

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Man Catches Fire After Applying Spray-On Sunscreen

Here's a warning for sun-worshippers: Spray-on sunscreen can catch fire if you stand too close to a grill, as one Massachusetts man learned the hard way.

"I've never experienced pain like that in my life," Brett Sigworth of Stow, Mass., told ABC News.

Sigworth said he applied spray-on sunscreen to his chest, back, and ears. When he walked over to his grill, the areas where he'd sprayed the sunscreen instantly caught fire. Sigworth suffered second-degree burns.

As with many spray-on sunscreen products, the Banana Boat sunscreen that Sigworth allegedly used comes with a printed warning. "Flammable, don't use near heat, flame or while burning," the warning states.

But after spray-on sunscreen is applied, droplets from the aerosol spray may still linger in the air for a few minutes, a burn-prevention expert told ABC News.

"As he approached the flame, the charcoal simply caught the vapor trail and it follows the vapor trail to where the bulk of the substance is, which is on his body," the expert said.

In a statement, Banana Boat promised to investigate. "We are unaware of any prior incidents similar to what Brett has described, but ... we are taking this matter very seriously," the company's statement said.

Brett Sigworth doesn't plan to sue, but suggested a possible defect in warnings about the risks of spray-on sunscreen: There are currently no printed warnings that the sunscreen can catch fire for a period of time after it's applied, he told CBS News. "I think if people were told this is flammable for two minutes on your skin afterward, people wouldn't use it," he said.

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Almost 900 colleges are pushing students into using fee-heavy payment cards, according to a new study. Some universities even make it mandatory in order to receive financial aid.

The report was conducted by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Higher Education Fund. It found that all over the country, colleges are striking deals with banks to handle student financial aid. More than two out of five American college students attend schools that have such deals, the Associated Press reports.

The extra fees from these private lending groups can get pretty exorbitant. So why are some universities letting this happen?

Money. Why else?

The study discovered that lenders, such as Wells Fargo and US Bank, paid many schools large sums for the opportunity to take over an institution's student aid program. For instance, Ohio State University will receive $25 million under its contract with Huntington Bank.

Many of these colleges also receive a cut of the fees charged to students who use their school's financial aid debit cards. One lender, Higher One, assessed students $50 for accounts overdrawn for more than 45 days. It also charged $10 per month for accounts inactive for six months and 50 cents for PIN transactions, among a slew of other charges.

Such fees aren't just happening at a few institutions either. Higher One, for example, has deals with 520 schools. Meaning potentially about a fifth (4.3 million) of the nation's college student population could be subject to these charges.

However, some schools blame the lack of public funding for the wave of college bank deals. They argue this has caused many universities and students to look for alternative ways to fund higher education.

In terms of legality, it's uncertain how many, if any, of the college-bank contracts violate federal or state laws. That's because many universities haven't released their written agreements to the public. For now, the best advice to students is to read their financial aid contracts closely and take note of any potential fees.

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It's hard to pick a sunscreen. You approach the shelf and are tasked with choosing between at least 20 different tubes. Not only that, each has a different level of protection, a special scent, an application method, and the absence (or presence) of certain ingredients. What are you to do?

Last summer, the Food and Drug Administration tried to arm consumers with the tools to pick the best sunscreen possible. It planned to cap sunscreens at SPF 50, do away with "waterproof" claims, and warn consumers to look for UVA protection.

Yet, it's still confusing out there. But luckily, Consumer Reports has finally stepped in and issued its 2012 Sunscreen Buying Guide. It even rates the best sunscreens on the market. After extensive testing, the following are some of the magazine's top picks:

  • No-Ad lotion with aloe & vitamin E, SPF 45
  • Walgreens continuous spray sport, SPF 50
  • Coppertone oil-free foaming spray, SPF 75+
  • All Terrain Aqua Sport lotion, SPF 30
  • Banana Boat clear ultra-mist sports performance active dry protect spray, SPF 30
  • Coppertone sport high performance ultra sweat-proof spray, SPF 30
  • Eco all natural sunscreen body lotion, SPF 30

Even if you choose the best sunscreen for your needs, Consumer Reports warns that you have not fulfilled your sun protection duties. It urges consumers to wear hats and cover-ups, check ingredients, spray carefully and reapply approximately every 2 hours. The sun's rays can cause cancer, so be careful out there this summer.

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