Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

December 2012 Archives

School Shooting Scam on Facebook Prompts Charity Warning

An alleged school shooting scam artist has been arrested for trying to profit off the Sandy Hook massacre via a Facebook page.

Nouel Alba, 37, of New York City, is accused of posing as a relative of school shooting victim Noah Pozner so that she could collect money from well-wishers, reports CNN.

Alba allegedly used her Facebook account to solicit money from those wanting to donate to the victim's family. Alba apparently claimed that the money she received was to be used for a "funeral fund." Unwitting donors then transmitted money via PayPal to Alba, investigators say.

In the wake of tragedies like the Connecticut school shootings, you may want to help out and contribute what you can. But as we too often see, many con artists take advantage of these tragedies to line their own pockets. We've seen this following hurricanes, floods, and mass shootings.

If you want to help out, you should be aware of some signs of a potential scam:

  • Unsolicited calls or emails. Relief and aid organizations typically won't make unsolicited calls or send out mass emails asking for money, the Associated Press reports.

  • Callers who don't answer questions about their organization. If you do receive a call, you should be especially wary of people who don't really know what their organization does or how the money will be spent. Also be skeptical about callers who won't tell you their names.

  • People who won't take "no" for an answer. Used-car sales tactics like not taking "no" for an answer, high-pressure sales, and intimidation are usually signs of a scam.
It's natural to want to help out after a tragedy like the Connecticut school shooting. Just make sure you ask plenty of questions and vet the organization requesting aid before you open up your checkbook. If you believe you've fallen victim to a scam, you may want to contact a consumer protection attorney.

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3 Ways Online Gift Returns Can Present a Problem

Buying presents over the Internet seems so convenient -- until you have to deal with online gift returns.

There are always challenges when it comes to returning unwanted holiday gifts, but when those gifts are bought online it can make things more complicated. How do you return a gift to the store if it wasn't bought in a physical store?

If you've bought items online to give as gift, it's good to know the rules about online gift returns. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Find out where you can return your gifts. Many online retailers have stores as well, especially big departments stores and national clothing chains. In some cases you can return unwanted items to brick-and-mortar stores, but that may mean you only get store credit rather than getting your money back. To return items to online-only retailers, you may have to pay for shipping out of your own pocket. As the gift giver it's a nice gesture to offer to organize the return if the gift is the wrong size or color.

  • There may be a restocking fee. Returning a gift to an online retailer may not be free, even if you don't have to pay for shipping. Some companies charge a restocking fee which is a percentage of the original price. For example, Amazon charges a 20 percent fee to take back unopened media items or items that aren't returned for more than 30 days. It's not just online retailers either. Bigger stores may also charge a restocking fee if you try to return items that have already been unwrapped.

  • Get a gift receipt. As a gift giver you don't want to necessarily give away how much the gift cost, but if the receiver wants to return it then she'll need a receipt. Many larger retailers will create a gift receipt for you that doesn't include a final price. But if that's not possible, be sure to keep the receipt around. That way if it has to be returned you'll have it ready.

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5 Gifts You Shouldn’t Purchase Online

Last-minute deals and free shipping are leading many people to shop online this holiday season -- even if those gifts won't be arriving in time for Christmas.

Of course shopping online isn't without its hazards. Shoppers rarely read click-through agreements which are legally binding, and may fail to read the fine print about shipping or availability. But in general you can get everything on your list without having to set foot in a store.

Still, there are some gifts you should only buy in person, if at all possible. Because of the potential risks to consumers, here are a few items you generally shouldn't purchase online:

  • Clothing. Size and style are personal, so buying clothes for someone is always tricky. If you do it, make sure you see the items before you buy them. An online photo won't show you how the fabric feels, what kind of care it needs, or the quality of construction.

  • Living creatures. Pets and other living things can be bought online, but you may want to think twice. The item will have to be shipped, and shipping methods can be dangerous and potentially cruel. If you buy a pet as a gift, buy it at a store. And only do it if you know the person wants a pet and can care for it.

  • Unbelievable deals on brand-name goods. Coming across an amazing deal on high-end goods seems awesome, but if the price is too good to be true then there's probably a reason. Online sellers that offer dirt-cheap brand-name items generally got them through questionable sources, or are selling knock-offs.

  • Exact color items. Your computer monitor often isn't a true reflection of the color of an item. If you're trying to match a specific color or find a particular shade, then you're better off judging the match with your own eyes in person. Even if the seller isn't trying to mislead you, the color on the screen may be off.

  • Non-returnable goods. When buying a gift, it's good to make sure the recipient can return it in case he or she don't love it as much as you do. This is especially important for online purchases, for which you can't verify that the item is what you expect to buy. You could contact a lawyer and bring a case for false advertising, but it will be much easier if you can send it back and get a refund.

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New FTC Online Child Privacy Rules to Take Effect July 1

In order to provide better protection for kids online, the FTC has issued some new child-privacy rules for companies that market to kids or know that children use their products.

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) was originally created to protect children under 13 from having their information abused by online services. To keep up with changes in technology, the FTC has been working on new rules that amend COPPA.

The FTC's new online child-privacy rules, set to take effect July 1, 2013, are designed to better protect childrens' information online and give parents more tools to keep their kids safe. While there are eight new rules in total, they fall into three broad categories:

  • Better identification of private information. The rules always protected things like names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and gender as personal information that can't be collected without parental permission. But now the rules have expanded to include geolocation and images, which are often collected by online services. Persistent identifiers like IP addresses and mobile device IDs will also now be included in the list of kids' information that can't be collected unless parents give consent.

  • More control over companies. As part of the new rules, the FTC will be exerting greater control over how companies use childrens' personal information. That means selling to third parties and sharing data will be subject to stricter control and require parental permission. In addition, COPPA will now apply to third parties who collect user information so they will be bound to keep childrens' information private as well.

  • Heightened security requirements. To better protect information that is collected (with parental permission of course), the FTC wants companies to have better data security. That means better policies and procedures for storing and deleting data and higher standards for whom the data can be released to. To facilitate getting parental consent, the FTC's new online child-privacy rules also allow new ways to get that consent, such as electronic scans of signed parental consent forms.

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Southwest Airlines Owes Passengers Free Drinks: Settlement

Southwest Airlines will be issuing a lot of free drinks -- almost 12 million actually -- after settling a class action lawsuit over drink coupons.

A class of plaintiffs, led by a Chicago lawyer, sued the airline claiming that they were denied use of their drink vouchers that came with their premium Southwest Business Select seats.

The airline claims that the vouchers were good only for a single flight, but the passengers believed they were entitled to use any unused vouchers on later flights, as the coupons bore no expiration date. Both sides agreed to settle the matter for an amount up to $58 million.

Attorney Adam Levitt brought the lawsuit in 2010 claiming breach of contract and consumer fraud. He apparently boarded a flight after paying a Business Select fare, but saved his drink voucher for a later flight. On the later flight, he was told his drink ticket was no good. So the lawyer did what lawyers are trained to do -- he sued.

After some wrangling, the consumer fraud issues were eventually dismissed and the only remaining issue was whether Southwest breached its contract by refusing to honor the drink coupons on different flights.

While a Southwest spokesperson maintains that the airline could have won had the lawsuit been litigated, the airline decided to settle the lawsuit. Apparently, a potential $58 million penalty was less expensive (or less troublesome) than engaging in a courtroom battle against their passengers.

Class members can recover their $5 drink coupons by filling out a claim form and attesting to the number of vouchers that they held. You may be able to make your claim even if you lost your original vouchers.

If you have questions regarding this class action or any other consumer issue, you may want to contact a consumer rights attorney. An attorney can help review your claim and options for relief.

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You've experienced it at some point: The television show you are watching goes to commercial, and then all of a sudden an extremely loud advertisement about soap or a minivan is blaring on your TV.

Advertisers do this on purpose to get your attention. And the tactic certainly works, as you usually turn to your TV -- if only to turn the volume down.

But the days of annoyingly loud TV commercials may be a thing of the past, as the CALM Act is now in effect, reports the Associated Press.

The CALM Act is an aptly named law which stands for the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act. The rules were actually adopted last year by the Federal Communication Commission, which gave the television industry a 1-year grace period to comply.

With the law now fully effective, television operators and advertisers will have to limit the volume of TV commercials by prohibiting the ads from having a volume louder than the program's content. The CALM Act will apply to both cable and satellite operators, reports the AP. But radio listeners are out of luck -- they may still need to keep a hand close to the volume knob when a commercial airs.

Viewers who still experience loud TV commercials can file a complaint with the FCC. Viewers should be prepared to specify information about the TV commercial, the TV station, your TV provider, and the allegedly offending advertiser.

You can file a complaint electronically using the Commission’s online complaint form. You may also file your complaint by fax to (866) 418-0232 or by letter mailed to the FCC's Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau, Consumer Inquiries & Complaints Division, 445 12th Street SW, Washington, D.C., 20554.

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Lost or Damaged Luggage? How to File a Claim

When waiting at the luggage carousel, it's everyone's worst fear to realize that battered suitcase is your damaged baggage and you'll have to spend time filing a claim. Even worse is when your bag doesn't arrive at all.

Filing a claim for missing or damaged luggage isn't fun, but it doesn't have to a total nightmare if you're prepared. It also helps to know your rights.

Here's hoping it doesn't happen to you or your loved ones this holiday season. But just in case, bookmark this link so you know what to do.

If your luggage is lost or your suitcase is damaged, you'll need to talk to your airline about the issue. Luckily the Department of Transportation has some regulations that will help you.

Some airlines try to claim compensation for lost luggage is limited to outbound flights, reports Consumerist. But that's just not true.

Airlines have to replace your luggage whether you're going on vacation or coming home.

If you have lost your bags or their contents are damaged beyond use, then you can go out and buy replacement clothes which the airline should reimburse you for. There's no waiting period for buying those items; don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Of course, the airline is only responsible for the value of what was lost, which means you have to prove the dollar amount of the clothes and other items in your bag.

If you buy more than that amount, the airline won't reimburse you for it. Also keep in mind that they may try to argue down the price of what was lost so they won't have to pay as much.

At some point the cost or emotional value of the item makes it worth fighting about. When that happens, it's good to find a lawyer who will fight for you.

When traveling it's a good idea to keep valuable or sentimental items in your carry-on bag when possible. It might be inconvenient, but it also means they won't get lost.

What if the bag arrives intact but something is missing? It might have been lost at a TSA checkpoint.

You can file a claim with TSA to try get the item back or be reimbursed for its value. Most locations also have a lost and found which might have your item.

Ideally you and your luggage will arrive at your holiday destination at the same time. But if your luggage gets lost or damaged, well, now you know what to do.

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Honda Recalls 871K Vehicles That May Roll Away on Their Own

Honda is recalling 871,000 vehicles because there is a risk these vehicles could roll away on their own -- even after the ignition key has been removed.

The Japanese automaker says parts of the ignition interlock may become damaged and worn, thereby allowing a driver to remove the key even if the car has not been properly shifted to park, reports Reuters.

As you can imagine, a car that is not properly parked could roll away on its own, especially if it's on a slope or a driveway.

The vehicles affected by the recall include:

  • About 318,000 Honda Odyssey minivans from model years 2003-04;
  • About 259,000 Honda Pilot SUVs also from model years 2003-04; and
  • About 230,000 Acura MDX SUVs from model years 2003-06.

Almost all of the recalled vehicles were sold in the United States, according to Reuters.

The ignition problem was discovered when U.S. safety investigators received 43 complaints from consumers who experienced their cars rolling away and striking objects like other parked cars, fences, trees, and even people. Some of these incidents resulted in injuries, reports Reuters.

Honda says it will begin sending recall notices to owners in February.

As you wait for your recall notice (and pray that your car won't roll away), you may want to explore your rights to recover for any injuries you may have suffered.

Cars are not meant to roll away, especially if they are set to "park" and the keys have been removed. As a result, Honda may be responsible for any damages that occurred.

If you have any questions about recalled vehicles, you can post a query on the FindLaw Answers Injury, Accidents and Torts forum. If you have a specific question or have been injured by your vehicle, you may want to contact a product liability attorney to review your options and your potential claim.

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Top 5 Ways to Tune Up Your Car for Winter Driving

Winter driving brings many unique challenges. As a result, you should consider tuning up your car for the winter season to minimize your chance of accident and injury.

Even if you live in a warm climate, there may be seasonal changes in the weather that you will have to deal with like more rain and slick roads. And if you live in a cooler climate, you may have already dealt with snow, sleet, and having to put chains on your tires.

Here are five of the top ways you can tune up your car for the winter, as provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

  1. Check your battery. When the temperature drops, so does battery power. Additionally, it can take more battery power to start your vehicle in cold weather. So it is important that you check your battery for sufficient voltage, inspect the charging system, and make any necessary repairs and replacements.
  2. Check your cooling system. Coolant can expand when it freezes. This can seriously damage your car's engine. Double-check your coolant to ensure that it can withstand winter temperatures. You may need to flush or refresh your coolant.
  3. Fill your windshield washer reservoir. You'll want your windshield washer fluid topped off if you experience a snowstorm. Besides refilling your fluid, you should also consider using high quality "no-freeze" fluids. Additionally, it's not a bad idea to keep some extra in your trunk.
  4. Check your windshield wipers and defrosters. Make sure your wipers work and replace torn windshield wipers if necessary. Also, test your defrosters. Poor visibility in wintry weather can be a recipe for disaster.
  5. Inspect your tires. If it's going to snow, you should consider getting new snow tires. If you'll be keeping your existing tires, you should check to ensure they are properly inflated, the tread is sufficient, and that your tires aren't uneven.

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Shopping for Christmas Toys? Check This Recall List Twice

As Santa Claus checks his naughty or nice list, you should check your naughty or nice list too. Only your list should check the naughtiness of Christmas toys and whether they appear on a list of recalled products.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission maintains a toy hazard recall list. If you open this list on your browser, you will notice that it's quite long. And you'll also notice some common safety risks that have led to toy recalls.

In fact, some safety risks are so common they warrant some extra attention. Here are three oft-cited areas of concern leading to toy recalls:

  1. Choking hazards. Toys that contain small parts can pose a choking hazard for young children. Yet parents still buy, and manufacturers still produce, children's toys with small parts that can easily be swallowed. Many infant rattles are subject to the recall. Even some toys aimed at older children and adults have been cited like Buckyballs, which teens have been putting in their mouths to imitate tongue piercings.
  2. Laceration dangers. Action toys like pogo sticks, scooters, and toy swords have been recalled due to laceration concerns. Surprisingly, some seemingly safe toys like a build-a-bear set and toy penguins have also been recalled over cuts.
  3. Lead paint. Similar to choking hazards, lead paint is primarily a concern for infant toys. As you know, infants love to put things in their mouths. So if that shiny new toy is coated in lead paint, your child may be sucking on a toxic substance. Toy cars, action figures, and Barbies have all been recalled due to lead paint.

The CPSC list of Christmas toy recalls is too long to review with any detail, and includes a wide range of items including toy guns and plush dolls. You'll probably want to do a "control F" search of the list to see if anything you purchased appears. If so, you should return the product or contact the manufacturer for repairs.

And if you or your child have been injured by a recalled toy, consider speaking with a product liability attorney to learn about your rights to collect damages.

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Ford Recalls 89K Escapes, Fusions Over Engine Fire Risk

Ford has announced it is recalling Escape SUVs and Fusion sedans citing concerns that the engines can overheat and cause fires. The Ford recall will affect more than 89,000 vehicles.

The recall affects 2013 model year Escapes and Fusions equipped with 1.6-liter turbocharged engines that were sold in the U.S. and Canada, reports the Associated Press.

Ford reportedly does not yet have a solution to the problem, but the company has asked owners to contact dealers to receive a free loaner car until the repairs can be made, according to the AP.

The cause of the fire risk is believed to be the engines overheating and leaking fluids onto other hot parts. Ford does not yet know what is triggering the overheating problems or which fluids are leaking.

This recall is the fourth recall in the last four months affecting the newly redesigned Ford Escape compact SUV. This model has only been on the market since the spring. So far, some of the problems affecting the vehicle include problems with coolant leaks, cracked fuel lines, and carpet padding, the AP reports.

Owners of these cars can reasonably be concerned that they may have purchased a lemon.

There have not been any reports of anyone being injured in the car engine fires. However, a Ford spokesman says that they received 12 reports of fires in Escapes and one report of a fire in a Fusion.

The recall affects Fusions and Escapes with "SE" and "SEL" packages. Models with different engines are not subject to the recall. About 73,000 Escapes and 16,000 Fusions are affected, reports the AP.

Consumers can learn more about the recall on Ford's website. If you are unsure if your vehicle is affected, you can type in your vehicle's VIN number on the website. Consumers can also call Ford at (866) 436-7332 in the United States.

If you have been injured by a Ford engine fire, you may want to contact a product liability attorney to learn your rights to collect damages. You may be able to collect damages both for your physical injuries as well as monetary compensation to replace your car.

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