Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

August 2014 Archives

Was Your Car Recalled? Look Up Your VIN to Find Out

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has rolled out a free online tool allowing both used car shoppers and car owners to determine whether safety recall repairs were ever completed on a specific vehicle.

The online tool searches by Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), using information supplied by most major automobile and motorcycle manufacturers regarding the status of repairs pursuant to any vehicle safety recalls issued over the past 15 years.

Database the Result of New Rule

In addition to making recall information searchable by VIN on the NHTSA website, individual auto manufacturers are now mandated to have recall information searchable by VIN on the manufacturer's own website. The new federal rules requiring the recall information database were announced last year, reports USA Today.

The information is the same on both manufacturers' and the NHTSA websites, but the NHTSA tool will compile information for all reporting automakers into one searchable database.

Using NHTSA's VIN Search Tool

NHTSA's online VIN search covers all safety recalls issued in the last 15 calendar years, noting whether the repairs required by the recall were completed on a specific vehicle. Users enter the VIN number of a vehicle -- typically found at the base of the windshield on the driver's side -- and the tool displays any repairs that have yet to be completed.

The VIN search will not show information about completed recall repairs, customer service or other non-safety recalls, recalls for international and ultra-luxury brand vehicles, and recalls that may have been recently announced.

2014 Auto Recalls

The rollout of the NHTSA's new database comes as two of the nation's largest automakers deal with sizable safety recalls. As you probably know, General Motors has issued numerous recalls affecting nearly 29 million vehicles so far this year. In July, Chrysler issued a recall for 1.5 million Dodge, Jeep, and Chrysler vehicles over a wiring issue that has caused more than 60 fires.

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BBB: Beware Robin Williams 'Goodbye Video' Clickbait Scam

Many fans saddened by the recent death of comedian and actor Robin Williams turned to the Internet for information. This curiosity, however, has turned into an opportunity for online scammers.

Internet users who've attempted to watch the dramatically titled "Robin Williams Goodbye Video," purporting to have been filmed by the actor before his death, have instead found themselves victims of an online scam, reports Wichita, Kansas' KAKE-TV.

Scam Targets Your Personal Data, Facebook Profile

Despite what your Facebook news feed may say, it turns out there is no "Robin Williams Goodbye Video." According to KAKE, links to the video instead direct users to surveys which mine for personal data, or instruct users to download a video player, which is actually a virus or another form of malware.

Clicking on links to the video on Facebook may also compromise your Facebook profile by unwittingly granting scammers access to your account, further propagating the scam.

How to Avoid 'Clickbait' Scams

Consumers who have become proficient at avoiding other forms of online scams such as phishing e-mails and fake job postings may not yet be familiar with this latest form of online scam, which the Better Business Bureau refers to as a clickbait scam.

According the BBB, these scams target users by taking advantage of major news stories with sensational headlines or claims. Clickbait links can be used to spread malware, or even simply to accumulate massive amounts of Facebook likes, which can translate into real-world dollars when the scammer then sells that account -- probably to another scammer.

The BBB advises Internet users to protect themselves by:

  • Not clicking on links that advertise "shocking" or "exclusive" footage that seems too good to be true;
  • "Hovering" over links with your mouse to see where they really lead; and
  • Not trusting links posted by your friends on social media, as their accounts may be compromised by a scammer.

The BBB recommends that Facebook users who see a clickbait scam to report the offending post via Facebook's spam report system.

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Peanut, Almond Butters Recalled Over Salmonella Risk

nSPIRED Foods, a unit of organic food company Hain Celestial Group, has announced a voluntary recall of its peanut and almond butters after testing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration revealed potential salmonella contamination.

The nut butters subject to the recall were sold under the Arrowhead Mills and MaraNatha brand names, and were also sold as private label nut butters for Trader Joes, Whole Foods, Safeway and other retailers, reports The Associated Press.

4 Illnesses Reported

In its announcement of the recall, the FDA noted that nSPIRED has so far received reports of four illnesses that may be associated with the recalled products.

Salmonella is a type of bacteria that can cause those who consume it to contract salmonellosis, a disease that for most people results in diarrhea, stomach cramps, and fever symptoms that last less than a week. In some cases, however, salmonellosis can cause severe, potentially fatal illness requiring hospitalization.

A salmonella outbreak affecting peanut butter and other peanut products in 2008 killed nine people and sickened more than 700 across 44 states. In that case, a peanut processing plant was found to have retested batches of peanut product testing positive for salmonella until results were negative, at which point the peanut products were shipped to food retailers.

Recalled Products

The FDA has provided a list of the retail lots being recalled on its website. Recalled products can be identified using the product UPC code and the "Best By" date printed on the top of the jar lid.

The products were distributed in the United States and internationally, including in Canada, Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates, and the Dominican Republic. The products were also available for purchase online, according to the FDA's press release.

The FDA advises consumers to dispose of any recalled products they may have purchased. For information regarding refunds, replacements, or other questions about the recall, consumers can call (800) 937-7008.

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The Consumer Product Safety Commission has set a deadline of January 17, 2015, for consumers who wish to file a refund claim for their purchase of Buckyballs or Buckycubes magnets.

The refunds were made available as part of a settlement agreement between the CPSC and Craig Zucker, the founder of Maxfield & Oberton, the company that produced the Buckyballs desk magnets. The CPSC sued Zucker individually after Maxfield & Oberton was dissolved, at least partly because of an increasing number of consumer safety complaints. The CPSC also filed an administrative complaint to force the company to stop the sale of its magnets.

Injuries to Children

Reports of children being injured by swallowing the tiny magnets first surfaced in 2010, when the CPSC issued a voluntary recall for Buckyballs because of insufficient warning labels.

However, the products remained on the market, and children continued to be injured by swallowing them, including an Oregon girl who swallowed 37 of the magnets, which tore holes in her intestine and stomach.

Settlement Agreement

To settle the CPSC's complaint against both him and his former company, Zucker agreed earlier this year to establish a recall trust to provide consumers who bought Buckyballs and Buckycubes with refunds.

Under the terms of the agreement, Zucker was ordered to provide $375,000 in an escrow fund and to establish a website at which consumers can file refund claims.

How to Get a Refund

If you purchased Buckyballs or Buckycubes, you can file a refund claim at the Buckyballs Recall Website,

In order to obtain a refund, consumers must complete a claim form (either online or mailed) and return their Buckyballs or Buckycubes magnet sets via the prepaid USPS postage available through the website or via their own shipping carrier. According to the recall website, a receipt is not necessary. Packages must be postmarked by January 17, 2015, to be eligible for the refund.

Consumers who have questions about the recall can call the Recall Administrator at (866) 905-8102.

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While many Americans worry about the damage done by illegal drugs, a new study reveals just how pernicious legal prescription drugs can be.

According to a new survey, a surprising one in four Americans admitted to abusing prescription drugs. "Abuse" in this case includes using the drug other than for its intended use, or use by someone other than the person on the prescription.

With startling revelations like these about the insidious nature of prescription drug abuse, what can consumers do to legally protect themselves?

Know the Legal Risks of Abuse

Whether you're using prescription drugs to self-medicate, or if someone else is making use of your leftover drugs, be aware of these potential legal consequences:

  • Prescription drug-related DUI. Even if you're taking prescription drugs for their intended purposes, you can be pulled over and charged for a DUI while under their influence. A cop will not be impressed by you telling him that you "only" took two Xanax before getting behind the wheel. If you're driving impaired while taking prescription drugs, you can be arrested.
  • An arrest for buying/selling Rx drugs without a prescription. If you decide to sell a half-full leftover bottle of Oxycontin to your neighbor, you're essentially committing a federal and state drug crime. That includes buying or selling your pills online.
  • Liablity for overdose deaths. If you illegally share or sell your prescription drugs with others, you may be held liable if the recipients overdose and die.

According to's survey, up to 24 percent of Americans admit to taking medicine that was prescribed to someone else or giving their own meds away. That may open one-fourth of Americans to serious legal consequences.

Properly Dispose of Your Rx Meds

Instead of illegally selling or giving away your prescription drugs to a friend or stranger, dispose of them legally. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency holds National Take-Back Day events where you can drop off leftover prescription drugs to be properly disposed at listed collection sites.

The Food and Drug Administration also has compiled a list of drugs you can flush, while many others can be simply thrown in the garbage after being mixed-in with kitty litter or coffee grounds.

Don't contribute to the recent statistics in drug abuse, protect your health and legal wellbeing by being smart about prescription drugs.

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Plastic Pieces Prompt Chicken Nugget Recall

Georgia-based Perdue Farms is recalling over 15,000 pounds of frozen chicken nuggets after discovering that the nuggets may be contaminated with "extraneous material."

Perdue recalled the nuggets after receiving reports from consumers about small pieces of plastic found inside the products, reports Food Safety News.

What Products are Recalled?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture press release, the recall includes eight-ounce boxes of Applegate Naturals chicken nuggets bearing the establishment number "P2617" inside the USDA Mark of Inspection. The USDA has posted pictures of the product packaging on the Food Safety and Inspection Service website.

The boxes of chicken nuggets being recalled were shipped nationwide. The nuggets were produced in February and have a sell-by date of February 5th, 2015. The USDA warns that since the nuggets are a frozen product, consumers may still have the product in their freezers.

Class II Recall

When inspections or consumer reports cause safety concerns regarding a food product, a food recall is initiated. These recalls are typically initiated by the manufacturer or distributor of the products, but can also be requested by the USDA or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

In this case, Perdue initiated the recall after learning of the possible contamination from consumers. The product was withdrawn from the market on August 8th, and so far, there have been no reports of illness or injury associated with the recalled product.

The recall classification is based on the possible risk of injury presented by a product, so when the probability of injury associated with the recalled product is low, the recall is classified by the USDA as a Class II. There are three classes of recalls, with Class I being the most dangerous -- where there is a reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause adverse health consequences or death -- and Class III being the lowest, where the products will not cause any adverse health consequences. Class II recalls, like this chicken nugget recall, are defined as situations where there is a remote, but possible, chance that adverse health consequences will result from use of the product.

The USDA recommends that consumers with questions about the recall should contact Gerry Clarkson, Applegate Consumer Relations Specialist at (800) 587-5858.

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Scammers in South Florida have begun targeting online daters with a sexting extortion scam.

The scammers pose as users of dating website, engaging the victims in conversation. The scammers then request the victim send explicit photographs. If the victim obliges, the scammers then attempt to extort money from the victim by claiming to be law enforcement investigating internet crime against children. So far, reports WPLG-TV, victims have paid between $500 - $1500 each to the scammers.

How Does the Scam Work?

This latest extortion scam is simple, but so far has proven effective with more than 100 victims since March.

When the victim sends sexually explicit pictures, the scammers claim that they are Broward Sheriff's officers. The scammers claim that the sexually explicit pictures were sent to a minor and that in order to avoid federal sex crime charges, the victim must pay a fine via Western Union.

How Do You Know if You're Being Scammed?

According to Broward Sheriff's Office Major Don Peterson -- who told WPLG-TV that his name was being used by the scammers -- no law enforcement officer would ever ask for money in order to avoid an arrest.

How to Avoid Online Dating Scams

In general, there are several ways to prevent being victimized by an online dating scam:

  • Search the person's name and see if you can find any proof he or she is a real person,
  • Run a Google image search on his or her photos to see if they are taken from somewhere else,
  • Ask to meet in a public place, and
  • Never disclose financial information, provide personal information, or give photographs that could be used to blackmail or extort you.

If you believe you've been the victim of an online scam, contact your local police department.

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A voluntary recall issued last month for California peaches, plums, nectarines and pluots that may be contaminated with listeria bacteria has been expanded.

The initial recall was issued July 19th for fruit packed by the Wawona Packing Company in Cutler, California from June 1st through July 12th. The expansion of the recall now includes fruit packed by the company through July 18th, reports USA Today.

No Cases of Listeriosis Reported

Although no illnesses have been linked to the recalled fruit yet, the company isn't taking any chances. A 2011 outbreak of listeriosis -- the disease caused by consuming listeria contaminated food -- linked to Colorado cantaloupes killed more than 30 people and sickened more than a hundred.

Listeriosis typically affects pregnant women, babies, and adults with compromised immune systems, although anyone who consumes contaminated food may be at risk. Symptoms include stomach cramps and diarrhea, followed by fever, muscle aches, confusion, and convulsions. Pregnant women may also suffer miscarriages as a result of listeriosis.

Recalled Products

According to a press release issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the recalled products were shipped directly to wholesalers and retailers to resell the products. The company doesn't know the locations or specific companies or stores who may have received the recalled products, although retailers including Walmart, Costco, and Whole Foods Market have posted warnings to their customers.

Customers can identify the products affected by the recall by the following brand names: Sweet 2 Eat, Sweet 2 Eat Organic, and Mrs. Smittcamp’s. Some of the fruit may also have been sold under private labels such as Trader Joe's. The FDA has provided photographs of the recalled products on the administration's website to help consumers identify potentially tainted fruit.

What Should You Do If You Bought Recalled Fruit?

The FDA advises that consumers who purchased the recalled products can return to the store where they purchased the product to request a refund if they have a receipt or other proof of purchase. Consumers may also contact Wawona Packing’s consumer information desk by calling 1-888-232-9912.

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Don't Fall for ‘eJuror’ Jury Duty Email Scam

A new jury-duty email scam is being reported by federal court districts nationwide.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts issued a warning last week about the scam. It claims to be affiliated with the courts' eJuror registration program, which is used in about 80 federal court districts across the country.

Email Seeks Personal Information, Threatens Jail Time

The scam emails claim that the individual receiving the message has been selected for jury service. It instructs the recipient to fill out a form that asks for an array of sensitive personal information: Social Security number, mother's maiden name, driver's license number, date of birth, and cell phone number. The email also threatens those who fail to provide the requested information with fines and jail time.

Needless to say, providing such information via email can easily lead to identity theft.

Federal Jury Summons Won't Come by Email

The Administrative Office advises that real requests for personal information in connection with federal jury service will come in the form of formal written correspondence sent via U.S. mail.

In districts which use the online eJuror system, potential jurors will receive written instructions on how to access a secure, online connection. "eJuror never requests that personal identification information be sent directly in an email response," says the alert issued by the Administrative Office.

The office also warns that any telephone contact from court officials will never include requests for personal information such as credit card numbers of Social Security numbers. A separate juror scam earlier this year used phone calls threatening prosecution for failing to comply with jury service to coerce sensitive personal information from citizens.

What to Do If You Receive a Juror Scam Email

The Administrative Office advises that anyone who believes they have received a fraudulent email or phone call regarding federal jury service to notify the Clerk of Court's office of the U.S. District Court in their area.

If you're not sure where the nearest U.S. District Court is, you find out using the Office's online court locator.

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