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FTC: Tech Support Representatives Pretended To Be From Microsoft, Facebook, Scammed $2.5M From Consumers

Fri, 2014-10-24 17:27

(lungstruck)

(lungstruck)

It makes sense that consumers with a lack of computer knowledge would seek services and assistance from well-known tech companies like Microsoft and Facebook. So it should come as little surprise that a shady company would use this information to dupe consumers out of millions by pretending to be from the popular tech firms selling support services and software.

The Federal Trade Commission announced today that at the agency’s request a federal court shut down a New York-based tech support scam business that allegedly tricked older consumers into paying nearly $2.5 million for technical support services they didn’t need and for software that was actually available for free.

According to the FTC complaint, Pairsys, Inc. often cold-called consumers selling services and support while pretending to be representatives for Microsoft or Facebook.

Additionally, the company purchased deceptive ads online that led consumers to believe they were calling the technical support line for legitimate companies.

Once consumers were on the line, they were presented with a high-pressure sales pitch that typically involved scammers asking for remote access to the individual’s computer in order to assess a supposed issue.

Once the representative had access to the consumer’s computer they would allegedly lead the consumer to believe that the computer’s operating system had been affected by viruses or malware. In many instances, it was implied that the computer was severely compromised and had to be “repaired” immediately.

Consumers were then allegedly pressured into paying $149 to $600 for bogus warranty programs and software that was freely available elsewhere.

According to the preliminary injunction approved by the court, Pairsys and its operators are prohibited from making misrepresentations to consumers about the company and whether or not viruses are present on their computers.

The FTC will continue to seek the permanent closure of the company and refunds for consumers.

At FTC’s Request, Court Shuts Down New York-Based Tech Support Scam Business [FTC]

Bakery That Never Used The Word “Cronut” Told To Stop Using The Word “Cronut”

Fri, 2014-10-24 17:19

From the cease-and-desist letter sent by Ansel's lawyer to the Reno bakery. (via Facebook)

From the cease-and-desist letter sent by Ansel’s lawyer to the Reno bakery. (via Facebook)

While NYC pastry chef Dominique Ansel may have trademarked the word “cronut” to describe the cross-breeding of a croissant and a donut, he’s certainly not the only person to have made or sold them. Now his lawyers are sending cease-and-desist notices to bakers to get them to stop calling their creations “cronuts,” even if they’ve never used the word on their menus.

Rounds Bakery of Reno, NV, says that it recently received a C&D notice from Ansel’s lawyers, telling it to stop selling its donut/croissant product as a “cronut.” Problem is, the folks at Rounds say they have never employed that trademarked term.

The owner of Rounds explains to the Reno Gazette-Journal that his bakery was aware of the trademark and that it “has been very diligent about not using the term Cronut. We refer to our product as a croissant donut in all our communications.”

He tells KOLO-TV that he can’t control how customers or others describe the pastries he sells.

“[T]he problem is everybody refers to them as cronuts and we can’t be responsible for what customers choose to call it,” says the owner.

The letter insists that Rounds “cease and desist with the use of the term ‘Cronut’ and any similar and substantially confusing derivation thereof in describing your food items.”

One could make the argument that calling his version a “croissant donut” is similar to the term “cronut,” but I’d contend that it’s not Rounds’ fault that Ansel’s trademarked term is so close to the actual words any layperson would use to describe the item. If I trademark “RubHose” as a brand of rubber hose, I don’t see how I could tell someone to stop selling a generic “rubber hose.”

Rounds has taken the offensive in this battle, mocking the C&D notice on Twitter with the hashtag #notacronut

.@DominiqueAnsel I ripped open the envelope & got a paper cut. Thank god I had a Band-Aid—oops, I mean an adhesive bandage #NotACronut

— Rounds Bakery (@roundsbakery) October 23, 2014

.@DominiqueAnsel I was shocked. I spilled my Coke, erm, my carbonated beverage all over my Levis… oops I mean denim pants. #NotACronut

— Rounds Bakery (@roundsbakery) October 23, 2014

.@DominiqueAnsel To say sorry, I drew you a picture with my Crayolas. Damn, I mean my wax drawing sticks #NotACronut http://t.co/0vxI0YbTU9

— Rounds Bakery (@roundsbakery) October 23, 2014

.@DominiqueAnsel I am so sad I upset you, I started to cry & I immediately reached for a Kleenex… I mean paper facial tissue #NotACronut

— Rounds Bakery (@roundsbakery) October 23, 2014

[via Eater]

AT&T U-Verse Freaks Customers Out With Bogus Emergency Alert Message

Fri, 2014-10-24 16:52

This is not an alert message. It just looks like one. (KXAN-TV)

This is not an alert message. It just looks like one. (KXAN-TV)

This morning, some AT&T U-Verse subscribers woke to an alarming message displayed on their TV screens declaring a vague emergency, without any mention of it being a test.

“This is an Emergency Action Notification,” read the text over a large red banner. “Your channel has been force tuned to receive the Emergency Alert Message.”

Thankfully, there is not some nationwide emergency facing only U-Verse users. Instead, it appears to be some sort of large-scale glitch with the pay-TV system.

KXAN-TV in Austin, TX, reports that U-Verse had confirmed hearing about this problem from people Atlanta, Austin and Detroit.

The message disappeared for some users around 9 a.m. CT this morning, but KXAN said others continued to complain about still seeing the banner on their screens.

KXAN says that it has opted to run a crawl of its own to let viewers know that there is no emergency and that it’s just a U-Verse glitch.

No official statement from AT&T on this one yet, but the U-Verse Twitter feed is currently apologizing to many subscribers, promising that “We’re investigating this issue and working toward a resolution.”

UPDATE: A rep for AT&T send Consumerist the following statement about this morning’s incident –

“Earlier today U-verse TV customers may have received an Emergency Alert notification. We confirmed that there is no emergency at this time and we are investigating why this occurred. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

[via DSLreports.com]

Toddler Gets Stuck In Toy Claw Machine, Now Has Interesting Story To Tell At Every Party He Ever Goes To

Fri, 2014-10-24 16:38

(WBIR.com)

(WBIR.com)

If you think about it, as long as a child is successfully rescued from inside one of those claw toy machines, it’s kind of a win-win: You get to spend time in a box stuffed full of toys, and you’ll be set for life as an adult with a great icebreaker story to tell at parties about the one time you somehow climbed into a claw machine as a kid. That’s the tale a boy in Tennessee will have to tell for years to come, joining the club of every child’s dreams.

He also gets to add “saved by a bunch of firefighters” to the story, reports WBIR.com (warning: link has video that autoplays), after he managed to wiggle his way inside the toy machine at a coin laundromat this week.

His grandmother says she looked away from the 18-month-old for just a second to check a text message, and by the time she was done, the tot was on his way into the belly of the toy beast.

“All I could see was his feet. He had already crawled in,” she said. “I grabbed his feet and he kicked my hand and got in. Climbed up over the glass partition and sat down in the toys.”

She adds that he loves crawling into and onto everything he can, so she wasn’t that worried once he was ensconced among the plush toys. But she was concerned that he’d hurt himself if he tried to climb back out, as he’d have to climb over a cracked, broken plastic partition.

Firefighters managed to free him in just a few minutes, with the rescuers’ presence causing quite a bit of excitement for the little guy. They even let him pick a toy from the machine to keep.

Welcome to your future, kid. You’ll be telling the story of How I Climbed Inside A Toy Claw Machine When I Was A Kid at parties for years to come, and it’ll never get old. Because all of us secretly would’ve loved to be in there, too. Heck, it’s not even a secret, we’re all jealous.

Toddler climbs into toy machine, gets stuck [WBIR.com]

Brewery Battling Lucasfilm After Attempt To Trademark “Empire Strikes Bock” Beer

Fri, 2014-10-24 16:06

(Great Beyond)

(Great Beyond)

On the one hand, it was all a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. On the other hand, Lucasfilm owns the trademark on the Star Wars franchise and you better believe anyone creeping around those star systems is going to get a response. So when an upstate New York brewery started peddling “Empire’s Strike Bock” beer, Disney-owned Lucasfilm fired up the legal engines and is sueing the brewery right into hyperspace (too many Star Wars references? No such thing).

Because the second movie in the trilogy is called The Empire Strikes Back, Lucasfilm is none too pleased with the brewery, Empire, shilling its “Strikes Bock” beer, reports the New York Post, because of the difference of a few letters.

In addition, marketing materials for the beer feature a poster styled after the opening crawl of letters in the Star Wars movies, declaring “May the hops be with you,” so make no mistake, this beer wants you to think of Luke, Leia, Han and the rest of the gang.

empirestrikesbockposter

Lucasfilm filed a notice of opposition with the US Patent and Trademark Office earlier this month, noting the similarity in the beer’s name and the title of the 1980 film, as well as the fact that the brand sells its own beverages now and again.

It reads:

“Applicant’s EMPIRE STRIKES BOCK mark is virtually identical in sound, appearance and connotation to Lucasfilm’s THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK mark, differing by only one letter in the respective last words ‘BOCK’ and ‘BACK’ and the initial word ‘THE.’”

Lucasfilm has a long history of using such marks for food and beverages, including wine. The fact that consumers have been exposed to and accustomed to seeing Lucasfilm’s Star Wars film franchise marks in connection with food and beverages, including wine, increases the already existing likelihood of confusion.”

But a manager at the brewery says it’s all a misunderstanding, because the beer is really just “Strikes Bock,” and it happens to made by Empire, so it’s Empire’s “Strike Bock” beer. Oh.

“I don’t see why they would have any objection. It’s not like we’re using images of Star Wars on the bottle or on our Web site,” he told the NYP. “As a Star Wars fan boy, I’m a big dork. I’d love nothing more than to be the trilogy’s official beer, but I don’t think there’s any chance of people actually interpreting it that way.”

The brewery has been making the beer for seven years, so why is this fight just brewing now? It turns out Empire had reportedly filed for a trademark recently, stirring up some serious cosmic space dust in the process.

Lucasfilm sues brewery over Star Wars-inspired beer [New York Post]

The Average Middle-Class American Only Has $20,000 Saved For Retirement

Fri, 2014-10-24 16:04

(Misfit Photographer)

(Misfit Photographer)

Consumers’ lack of savings for the future isn’t a new phenomena: Just two months ago we reported that one-in-three Americans have no retirement savings. Today we know a little more about just how much those other two have saved; and it isn’t nearly enough.

A new survey conducted by Harris Poll for Wells Fargo found that middle-class residents of the United States have a median of $20,000 put away for retirement, USA Today reports.

That figure falls well below the $250,000 most consumers estimate they’ll need to live on after retirement. In fact, 31% of the survey respondents don’t believe they’ll have enough savings to survive on in retirement.

About 50% of middle-class adults currently in their 50s say they plan to work until they are at least 80 years old because they won’t have enough saved for retirement.

Like previous studies, the Wells Fargo report – which surveyed 1,001 adults ages 25 to 75 – found that a third (34%) of working middle-class adults aren’t contributing anything to a 401(k), IRA or other retirement plan.

Of those consumers who are putting money away, the current savings is a median of just $125 per month.

The overall lack of savings likely stems from consumers’ decisions early in life to hold-off on saving for retirement. For years consumers have been saying there’s always next year, but that notion appears to be changing.

According to the report, more and more consumers are beginning to realize the importance of saving early on.

Of the survey respondents, nearly 72% say they should have start saving earlier, a significant increase for 65% who believed the same thing just a year ago.

To make up for lost savings, consumers said they would make sacrifices in the future such as cutting out indulgences like spa trips, eating out and putting off big purchases.

Middle-class adults have $20K saved for retirement [USA TOday]

Dear McDonald’s: If People Are Asking “What’s In Your Burger?” You’ve Already Lost

Fri, 2014-10-24 15:00

Unless you’ve completely managed to avoid live TV in the last week, you’ve probably seen the McDonald’s ad with footage from its public “question box,” where regular consumers ask the fast food company embarrassing questions. McDonald’s intends to use these ads as a platform for bringing the truth to the masses, but what it completely overlooks is that the real problem is the fact that people are asking these questions to begin with.

The longform version of the ad, shown above, includes questions that we can’t imagine people asking of any other major fast food company, like:

• “Does McDonald’s even sell real food?”

• “What’s in your chicken nuggets?”

• “What is really in your beef?”

• “What’s in your hamburger?”

and

• “I’ve read that there is horse meat in your food.”

McDonald’s, with the help of recently laid-off Mythbusters co-star Grant Imahara, is trying to answer these questions with interviews of McDonald’s staffers and behind-the-scenes footage at its food production facilities.

That’s all well and good, but it ultimately won’t do much to change people’s minds about McDonald’s.

McDonald’s loudest skeptics and critics aren’t going to be convinced they are mistaken because the company paid the robot-building guy from a basic cable show to appear in videos declaring that the rumors are untrue.

PREACHING TO THE UN-CONVERTIBLE

Like the decades-old false claim that Twinkies can sit on store shelves for years and will outlast a nuclear explosion, there are numerous myths and muddied facts about what’s in McDonald’s food. And just like the Twinkie tale, simply telling the public that it’s not true isn’t going to erase these stories from our cultural memory.

For example, there’s the often-told story of how McDonald’s burgers and fries contain some sort of chemical that prevents them from rotting. This isn’t true, and it’s been proven that any well-done, thin hamburger will likely also dry up and resist rot over time; or that even a McDonald’s burger kept in a moist, warm environment will eventually rot and mold over.

Yet people still occasionally trot out old Happy Meals that look vaguely edible years later, and they will continue to do so regardless of this ad campaign.

Likewise, people will continue to ask “What part of a chicken does the McNugget come from?” (or change that up by inserting “pig” and “McRib” in the appropriate places).

BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT

Folks only ask “What’s in your burger?” for one of two reasons — either because it’s so good they want to know the secret, or because they genuinely question whether or not they are eating beef.

It comes down to this: If people even think there’s a scintilla of truth to the rumors and stories they’ve heard — or if they know they won’t have those same questions if they go across the street to a competing eatery — they won’t be loyal McDonald’s customers.

And survey after survey shows that people don’t think very much of McDonald’s food or the service.

In the most recent survey from our colleagues at Consumer Reports, the taste of McDonald’s food came in dead last, not just among the 21 burger chains included, but of all 52 fast food chains in the entire survey, regardless of food category.

As CR noted in its write-up of those ratings, McDonald’s pledge that its burgers are free of “preservatives, fillers, extenders, and so-called pink slime” is “hardly a rousing endorsement.”

TIME FOR A CHANGE

And it’s not just the food; McDonald’s has brought up the rear of the American Customer Satisfaction Index scores for fast food restaurants for years.

At the same time, consumers have grown more aware, not just of things like carbs, sodium, and saturated fat, but of how easy it is to improve even a fast food burger with better ingredients. Some of McDonald’s national competition — most notably Wendy’s — has taken note of this, and there are any number of regional chains making quality burgers waiting in the wings to take McDonald’s customers away.

Perhaps McDonald’s can learn from Domino’s Pizza, which fell on its own sword in 2010 and publicly admitted that its pizza was not good. The company promised to do better and revamped its recipes.

Some didn’t like the new Domino’s, but the humility combined with these menu changes did work to help turn the company’s image around.

But McDonald’s needs to know that telling the public, “You’re all wrong and you shouldn’t believe what you hear or read,” isn’t going to win many people over, especially when the menu remains the same.

Consumerist Friday Flickr Finds

Fri, 2014-10-24 14:30

Here are eight of the best photos that readers added to the Consumerist Flickr Pool in the last week, picked for usability in a Consumerist post or for just plain neatness.

(Atwater Village Newbie)

(Atwater Village Newbie)

(Joachim Rayos)

(Joachim Rayos)

(Fabio Cecchin)

(Fabio Cecchin)

(Xavier J. Peg ☠)

(Xavier J. Peg ☠)

(frankieleon)

(frankieleon)

(Joel Zimmer)

(Joel Zimmer)

(Great Beyond)

(Great Beyond)

(Coyoty)

(Coyoty)

Our Flickr Pool is the place where Consumerist readers upload photos for possible use in future Consumerist posts. Want to see your pictures on our site? Just be a registered Flickr user, go here, and click “Join Group?” up on the top right. Choose your best photos, then click “send to group” on the individual images you want to add to the pool.

Sears Says Reports Of Planned Store Closings Are Wrong, Won’t Elaborate

Fri, 2014-10-24 00:09

Pete Kraynak

Pete Kraynak

Sears Holdings wants you to know that the rumors of planned store closings by the end of this year are wrong. After a report earlier today put together information from local media reports about which Sears, Sears Auto, and Kmart locations are currently scheduled to close, Sears representatives reached out to major outlets like USA Today and the Chicago Tribune to explain that the reports were incorrect.

What was incorrect about Seeking Alpha’s research? The list misidentified one of the stores in Indiana set to close, naming a store in Evansville instead of Indianapolis. What else was wrong on the list? Were there any other stores listed that weren’t closing, or stores left off the list? The Sears Holdings spokesperson wouldn’t say. Saying that a total of 107 outlets were going to close could be one inaccuracy from the chain’s point of view, but they tend to list those stores separately, so why shouldn’t the media count them separately?

Sears used to release nationwide lists to the press of stores that would be closing. If they don’t want to do that any longer, that’s fine with us, but here’s one from 2011 that was archived online, for example. Representatives of the company say that the company will simply release a revised store count along with its quarterly results.

Seeking Alpha, meanwhile, has added nine more stores to the list, bringing the total to 116 outlets closing, and more than 6,000 jobs lost.

Sears rejects report of layoffs, store closings [Chicago Tribune]

USPS Gets Go-Ahead To Expand Deliveries Of Groceries & Other Stuff

Thu, 2014-10-23 23:56

(Molly)

(Molly)

Last month, the cash-strapped street urchin that is the U.S. Postal Service pleaded “more gruel, sir” to the Postal Regulatory Commission, asking for permission to expand its test of delivering groceries and other non-postal items during those wee-morning hours when mail trucks mostly sit idle. Today, the PRC granted the USPS its wish.

USPS has already been running some very localized deliveries for Amazon’s Amazon Fresh grocery service, packing its trucks with customers’ orders and making deliveries, often in the pre-dawn hours.

The Postal Service hopes it can find a new life making these sorts of non-postal deliveries and asked the PRC for permission to expand the test in size and scope.

Today, the PRC [PDF] gave the Service the okay to do so, but under the condition that the experimental “Custom Delivery” service program must be “from the viewpoint of mail users, significantly different from all Postal Service products offered within the past two fiscal years.”

This is basically a way of saying, that is a test to see how the USPS does with delivering things other than letters or packages.

The USPS had also asked for an exemption from the $10 million revenue cap for the test, but the PRC has — for the moment — denied that exemption because it doesn’t have enough data to determine if it’s necessary. The Postal folks will be allowed to revisit the exemption discussion at a later date, after it has more information on whether or not Custom Delivery is actually making money.

No word yet on when USPS will start leaving backs from groceries on your doorstep at 4:30 a.m.

Here’s The Latest Bit Of Astroturfing From The Cable Industry About Broadband Speeds

Thu, 2014-10-23 23:30

A site called "The Connectivist" tries to argue that U.S. broadband isn't really as bad as it might look, but the site's motives are questionable, since it's a "partner" of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

A site called “The Connectivist” tries to argue that U.S. broadband isn’t really as bad as it might look, but the site’s motives are questionable, since it’s a “partner” of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

Once again, the latest survey of the current state of broadband around the globe [PDF] shows that, while improving, the U.S. still lags behind other developed countries, like South Korea, Japan, Switzerland, Latvia, and Romania in average broadband speeds and access to decent Internet. But leave it to the cable industry to try to convince America that everything is A-OK, and to try to do so without mentioning that this message is being brought to you by the cable industry.

This morning, I received a PR pitch for a site I’d never heard of, dubbed “The Connectivist.” More precisely, the pitch was to get me interested in the Connectivist’s infographic on just how darn good American broadband is, or rather, how much it’s improving.

The e-mail from the site’s shill admits (though the site itself leaves this out) that on a national level, the U.S. still comes up short of many other nations, but assures me that “if you compare relative geographical size to something more comparable, like individual states, then the story about how bad our internet speeds can be looks a bit different.”

Thus, the Connectivist tries to paint a rosy portrait of U.S. broadband by comparig America’s fastest states with the national rankings, presumably based on the misguided math that (1 U.S. State) = (1 Country Elsewhere in the World).

By that logic, the mysterious Connectivist — you’ll notice that no one actually takes a byline on this particular story — argues that if you broke out the highest-performing states and put them in the international list, they would occupy four of the top 10 spots, and 10 of the top 20.

But when you compare the 10 countries and 10 states (or rather, 9 states plus D.C.) to each other, it’s not an apples to apples comparison.

The populations of those nations range from around 2 million for Latvia all the way to more than 126 million for Japan. Taking out the two extremes, that still comes out to an average population of around 17.4 million.

But the U.S. locations injected into this list only have an average of around 4.3 million people, only a quarter of the number of people in the average for the 10 non-U.S. countries.

So this idea that you can simply compare America’s fastest states with the world’s fastest countries is utter nonsense.

The only way to do a true apples to apples comparison would be to look at the data for areas with similar conditions, including population size and area, which the Connectivist doesn’t do.

The site simply glosses over the fact that while broadband in the U.S. is improving, it’s still not a world leader in deploying high-speed Internet access to its citizens.

Even though nearly three-quarters of the U.S. has access to what the FCC currently defines as “broadband,” meaning at least 4Mbps downstream, that’s still not a high enough percentage to get it into the top 10 globally. In fact, that percentage barely puts the U.S. in the 40 of all nations.

Likewise, only 39% of Americans have access to 10 Mbps service, which is what many people now consider the minimum acceptable standard for broadband. That ranks higher, putting the U.S. within the top 15 worldwide, but still pales in comparison to world leaders like Sweden (56%), the Netherlands (52%), and Romania (50%).

Why is all of this not-as-impressive information omitted from the infographic that the Connectivist was so eager to share?

Maybe it has something to do with an organization you won’t see mentioned on the Connectivist until you get to its “About” page, where it just happens to mention that “The Connectivist is an online magazine created in partnership with the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.”

For those unfamiliar with the NCTA, it’s an industry group, currently headed by former FCC Chair Michael “Yes, my dad was Colin” Powell, that hates you but wants you to keep paying your cable and phone bills. It’s also an organization that loves to inform the public through campaigns that it tries its best to keep its name out of.

For instance, it’s behind other groups like Broadband for America, which pretends to be a coalition of companies — including, inexplicably, an Ohio tile company, some defunct Belgian business, and a bed and breakfast — that care about broadband access but which is just a front for the NCTA, which provides most of the group’s funding, to push its anti-net neutrality agenda.

More recently, the NCTA was identified as the cash-addled brains behind a hipster-themed guerrilla marketing campaign for something called Onward Internet, to try get the youngsters in their corner in the NCTA’s fight to screw consumers.

Costume Shops Have To Guess What You’ll Rush In To Buy On October 30th

Thu, 2014-10-23 23:29

(Kelly Lynn)

(Kelly Lynn)

It’s October 23rd: do you know what you’re going to be for Halloween? How about your kids? If your answer is “no,” don’t worry. Most people don’t really plan ahead for this holiday, but do you know who does? Costume shop owners. They have to not only plan for Halloween, but try to figure out what people will be rushing to stores to buy at the last minute.

This year, the hottest costumes weren’t hard to predict, at least not if you have any contact with children under age ten or so. NPR interviewed a costume shop owner in New York City who has a six-year-old son, so he knew to stock up on costumes of characters from the Disney animated film “Frozen.” While those costumes are very specific (and licensed by Disney) he points out that you can’t go wrong with generic princesses, along with witches, wizards, vampires, and superheroes.

Last year, the nightmare scenario for costume shop owners happened: a hot costume struck at the last minute. The drama series “Breaking Bad” ended in September, and people still remembered it fondly and wanted to dress up as characters from that show a month later. The costume shop owner in New York City assembled his own costumes at the last minute with parts from different suppliers, but still sold out.

Pirates, Princesses, Witches And Vampires: Stocking Costumes Is Serious Business [NPR]

Swiss Company Apologizes For Printing Photos Of Hitler, Mussolini On Creamer Packages

Thu, 2014-10-23 23:07
Some 2,000 mini-creamer containers distributed in Switzerland mistakenly contained images of Hitler and Mussolini.

Some 2,000 mini-creamer containers distributed in Switzerland mistakenly contained images of Hitler and Mussolini.

Most consumers wouldn’t dream of coming face-to-printed face with Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini while preparing their coffee. For people in Switzerland that scenario is all too possible after a company behind mini-creamers printed photos of the former dictators on a number of containers.

The New York Times reports that Migros, a Swiss retailer, apologized for what it calls an “unforgivable incident” and withdrew nearly 2,000 containers of creamer from more than 100 cafes in the German-speaking part of Switzerland.

A spokesperson for the company tells the Times that they were horrified by the failure of international controls to detect the images.

The issue came to the company’s attention after a customer drinking coffee at a train station saw the label and sent a photo to a local newspaper.

Mini-cream containers have somewhat of a cult collectible following in Switzerland, with makers continually finding new ways to promote the products.

The spokesperson tells the Times that the mistake occurred when an outside company asked one of Migros’ subsidiaries to create a series of 55 coffee cream containers based on vintage cigar labels.

The outside company, which was not named by Migros, supplied the subsidiary with the designs, two of which featured Hitler and Mussolini.

“I can’t tell you how these labels got past our controls,” the spokesman for the company says. “Usually the labels have pleasant images like trains, landscapes and dogs — nothing polemic that can pose a problem.”

This isn’t the first time products with potentially offensive photos from Nazi-era Germany have made headlines this year.

Just last week, Sears apologized for allowing a third-party ventured to sell a men’s “Thai silver Swastika ring” on its marketplace.

In August, Zara pulled a shipment of blue and white striped pajama tops after consumers complained the clothing looked too much like the outfits Nazis forced Jewish concentration camp prisoners to wear during the Holocaust.

Walmart, Amazon, and Sears pulled a poster featuring a concentration camp sign from their online marketplaces in early July. The photo includes a gate with a phrase that translates to “work makes you free.”

For Swiss, a Distasteful Jolt With Coffee: Hitler Creamer [The New York Times]

Free Shipping Will Be More Expensive This Holiday Season

Thu, 2014-10-23 22:27

(PaulBarwick)

(PaulBarwick)

There’s no such thing as free shipping. What looks like free shipping from a shopper’s perspective is only subsidized shipping, and those subsidies come from shoppers. They could come in the form of higher prices, or higher spending thresholds to earn free shipping. This year, free shipping will cost you a little more.

The Wall Street Journal explains this brave new world, pointing out that the average retailer now requires you to spend $82 in order to get free shipping. At this time last year, the average among the same retailers was only $75.

Amazon, always at the forefront of free shipping, has raised the price of its all-you-can-shop Prime membership from $79 to $99 the next time most subscribers renew. Newegg has introduced its own subscription-based program since last holiday season.

Last year, Amazon raised its minimum for free “Super Saver” shipping to $35, and other companies are following that example. Best Buy raised their minimum to $35 from $25.

Clothing retailers have even higher limits: J. Crew, for example, sets theirs at $150, and Ann Taylor at $175. On the lower end, Kohl’s requires that you spend $75, and JCPenney set a minimum of $99.

Retailers once used free shipping to attract customers to shop online in the first place, and now use it to entice us to buy more, or to choose one retailer over another. Would you rather pay $5 for shipping, or spend $5 more to put you over the free shipping threshold? Online retailers have found that people are more likely to do the latter, which is why they’re raising limits.

Free Shipping Is Going to Cost You More [Wall Street Journal]

North Carolina Food Firm Shuts Down Two Weeks After Major Recall For Listeria Contamination

Thu, 2014-10-23 22:00

sunburstJust two weeks after recalling more than 150 food products for possible listeria contamination, a North Carolina-based food distributor is reportedly closing its doors.

WCTI-TV reports that SunBurst Foods, which distributed a plethora of pre-packaged foods, closed its doors this week leaving nearly 100 employees without a job.

A spokesperson for SunBurst didn’t explain why the company chose to shut its doors instead of fixing any issues that may have contributed to the possible contamination.

“We determined that it was just in the best interest to shut down,” the spokesperson told WCTI.

On October 13, the FDA issued a notice that food products under the names SunBurst, Fresh Bites and private labels sold in grocery stores and convenience stores in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia could contain traces of listeria.

Recalled items include a variety of cold sandwiches, salads, breakfast meals, packaged fruit, desserts and snacks. A full list of recalled products can be found online.

Private labels included in the recall include River Edge Farms, CFW, Southern Zest, CJ’s Vending, Binford Street Deli, Middle Georgia Vendors, Roanoke Foods, Select Foods, and Jesse Jones.

At the time of the initial recall, SunBurst said it was unaware of any illnesses related to the recalled products. Consumers who may have purchased the affected products are urged to destroy the items or return them to the place of purchase for a refund.

Products contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

Listeria outbreak closes ENC food distributor [WCTI-TV]

First Female UPS Driver Reaches 40 Accident-Free Years

Thu, 2014-10-23 21:12

(So Cal Metro)

(So Cal Metro)

UPS drivers who have been on the road for 25 years or more with zero accidents get a special arm patch and are named to the company’s “Circle of Honor.” One of the company’s minority of female drivers reached an even more impressive milestone, and was recently honored for driving more than four million miles over her forty years with the company. For most of that time, she has been a tractor-trailer driver. [WFTV]

Audi Recalls 850,000 Vehicles For Glitch That Could Prevent Airbag Deployment

Thu, 2014-10-23 21:00

(dirtyblueshirt)

(dirtyblueshirt)

Airbag woes continued for car manufacturers around the world today as Audi announced it would recall 850,000 vehicles with possibly defective airbags.

The Wall Street Journal reports that while the recall isn’t related to the ongoing issues with Takata-produced airbags, the problems in the Audi A4, Avant, and AllRoad versions can be equally as dangerous.

Affected vehicles, which were manufactured since 2012, contain a software glitch that can prevent the airbag from opening in a collision.

Officials with the company tell Bloomberg that they are examining a “low, single digit number” of accidents where the airbags probably didn’t inflate as planned. Investigators with the company are still working to determine if any injuries or crashes have resulted from the issue.

Owners of affected vehicles are urged to take their car to a local dealer for a software upgrade to remedy the issue.

Audi Recalls 850,000 A4s for Air-Bag Fix [The Wall Street Journal]
Audi Recalls 850,000 A4 Models to Fix Air Bag Software [Bloomberg]

Some Furniture Warranties May Expire Before Items Are Even Sold

Thu, 2014-10-23 20:59

( function() { var func = function() { var iframe_form = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-form-20c03832b864361376ba3d39a250f031-544954f70df4d'); var iframe = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-20c03832b864361376ba3d39a250f031-544954f70df4d'); if ( iframe_form && iframe ) { iframe_form.submit(); iframe.onload = function() { iframe.contentWindow.postMessage( { 'msg_type': 'poll_size', 'frame_id': 'wpcom-iframe-20c03832b864361376ba3d39a250f031-544954f70df4d' }, window.location.protocol + '//wpcomwidgets.com' ); } } // Autosize iframe var funcSizeResponse = function( e ) { var origin = document.createElement( 'a' ); origin.href = e.origin; // Verify message origin if ( 'wpcomwidgets.com' !== origin.host ) return; // Verify message is in a format we expect if ( 'object' !== typeof e.data || undefined === e.data.msg_type ) return; switch ( e.data.msg_type ) { case 'poll_size:response': var iframe = document.getElementById( e.data._request.frame_id ); if ( iframe && '' === iframe.width ) iframe.width = '100%'; if ( iframe && '' === iframe.height ) iframe.height = parseInt( e.data.height ); return; default: return; } } if ( 'function' === typeof window.addEventListener ) { window.addEventListener( 'message', funcSizeResponse, false ); } else if ( 'function' === typeof window.attachEvent ) { window.attachEvent( 'onmessage', funcSizeResponse ); } } if (document.readyState === 'complete') { func.apply(); /* compat for infinite scroll */ } else if ( document.addEventListener ) { document.addEventListener( 'DOMContentLoaded', func, false ); } else if ( document.attachEvent ) { document.attachEvent( 'onreadystatechange', func ); } } )(); In most cases, when a manufacturer advertises a 3-year warranty, it means three years from the time of purchase. But some consumers are finding out that the warranty clock may have started much earlier, and in some cases could have already expired by the time you purchase a piece of furniture.

CBS Sacramento’s Kurtis Ming has the story of a local family who purchased a pair of recliners that they believed came with a three-year manufacturer’s warranty.

In fact, they did come with that warranty, but what the buyers didn’t know is that this particular manufacturer starts its warranty clock from the date of manufacture.

So when the buyers of these recliners tried to get a noise problem fixed, they were told their warranties had already expired, even though it hadn’t been three years since they purchased the chairs.

When Ming checked with the California Furniture Manufacturers Association, it said that a small number of companies do start counting their warranty from the date of manufacture. So if a piece of furniture goes unsold for a long time, it’s possible that the buyer will end up with little or no warranty coverage by the time they take it home.

A rep for the Better Business Bureau tells Ming that he believes it’s misleading to start a warranty before the date of purchase.

“The customer most times does not know the date of manufacture,” he explains. “In effect, the warranty is never a three year warranty, so it’s misleading just at its face value.”

The actual manufacturer of these chairs says that the reason its warranties start so early is because it does a lot of custom work. But the recliners in this case were not custom-made.

When contacted by Ming, they offered to provide the replacement parts for free. And the store that sold the chairs agreed to do the repair without charging the customer, explaining that this warranty situation is “very unusual.”

Customs Agents Seize Hundreds Of Kansas City Royals Panties In Raid On Boutique

Thu, 2014-10-23 20:45

(Old Shoe Woman)

(Old Shoe Woman)

Show me someone who predicted federal agents would be engaged in a literal panty raid and I will show you a liar, because the idea is preposterous — at first. But in a scenario that’s actually par for the course for agents with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (which falls under the Department of Homeland Security’s auspices) put the kibosh on a lingerie boutique for selling unauthorized Kansas City Royals underwear.

The shop’s owner says she didn’t know she’d be running afoul of the law when she designed panties with the phrase “Take the Crown” with a capital “KC” for Kansas City on the rear, reports the Kansas City Star, she just wanted to spread the hometown love.

She realized something was amiss when Homeland Security agents dropped by and confiscated a few dozen pairs of the underoos, which were printed by a local company.

“They came in and there were two guys,” she told the paper. “I asked one of them what size he needed and he showed me a badge and took me outside. They told me they were from Homeland Security and we were violating copyright laws.”

Though her design was hand-drawn, the connected “K” and “C” made it an infringement on Major League Baseball’s copyright, the agents reportedly said.

The panties were placed in official government bags and whisked from the premises.

“We just thought it was something funny we could do,” the owner said. “But it was so scary.”

The crackdown isn’t panty-specific, however, as officials are busy busting counterfeit World Series goods all around town, from fake tickets to T-shirts, cellphone cases and baby clothes.

“Our primary goal is to stop the sale or production of these items,” said a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “Our agents are focused on protecting consumers. You don’t want somebody paying a lot of money for bogus tickets, and the quality of the merchandise often doesn’t meet federal standards.”

Panty raid: Homeland Security agents confiscate Birdies’ Royals underwear [Kansas City Star]

How Much Would You Pay For A Standalone HBO Go?

Thu, 2014-10-23 19:52

MV5BNTIyOTQ3ODA3N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDg2MjQzMTE@._V1__SX1219_SY650_Last week, HBO confirmed plans to launch a standalone online service that doesn’t require you to have a separate basic pay-TV package. Beyond that, the company has provided few details, leaving both consumers and cable companies wondering what the service will actually be — and how much it will cost.

As I’ve pointed out previously, one huge impediment to a standalone HBO service is that it would require the premium cable company to dive into the business of customer service and billing, two things that it has historically left in the hands of the cable and satellite companies.

In theory, the company could avoid this by offering the standalone service through pay-TV providers, since most of them are also the primary broadband servicers to residential customers.

So HBO could make deals with Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, etc., where customers aren’t paying for a premium TV add-on, but for an online service. This way, the cable companies still get their cut and HBO doesn’t have to be burdened with the headaches and costs of actually dealing with human beings.

Now the question is whether or not cable companies will go for that. Sure, they would still be getting a piece of the HBO pie, but they would inevitably see a number of customers drop the basic pay-TV packages that they had maintained just so they could keep watching Game of Thrones without having to find a pirated copy.

And if the cable companies were going to be part of this plan, that seems to be news to them.

This morning, NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke was talking about the quarterly earnings of parent company Comcast and he said the company was “surprised” by the HBO announcement. So if HBO has been making closed-door deals with cable companies to handle the billing for its upcoming service, it either hasn’t been talking to the country’s largest pay-TV provider, or Comcast has a good poker face.

But making a deal where the cable companies still handle all the billing for HBO would leave the network with a problem that BusinessWeek eloquently describes thusly: “HBO is a premium product that people love, delivered to them by companies they hate.”

HBO-loving cord-cutters might be able to rid themselves of the basic cable nonsense they don’t watch, but they’d still be paying money to a business they likely revile.

Another possibility would be for HBO to partner with another online service for billing and all that mess. For example, why couldn’t it make a deal to stream even more HBO content through Amazon?

Earlier this year, Amazon Prime became the first non-HBO service to stream the network’s shows on a subscription basis. However, that selection is very limited compared to the full back catalogs available on HBO Go. But it’s possible that Amazon, or Apple, or Google could eventually offer a streaming package that contains either the full archive, or at least something more substantial than the current Amazon Prime offerings.

One problem with this route involves the pending arguments over net neutrality and paid-peering.

On the neutrality front, if Internet service providers are allowed to create so-called “fast lanes” for content companies to pay more for better access to end-users, then you can bet they will do everything they can to squeeze money from anyone who takes away their precious HBO dollars.

And even if the FCC decides against allowing fast lanes, ISPs can still do what many of them have done to Netflix in the last two years — passive-aggressively allow the traffic to bottleneck until HBO pays for a better connection to the ISPs’ networks.

In the end, most people won’t care how they get the service, they just want to know how much it’s going to cost.

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The number that gets bounced around most frequently is $15/month, which is what many people currently pay to their cable providers for the HBO package.

But will people be okay with that fee when it’s for an online-only service?

It’s significantly more money than the monthly fee Netflix (or the monthly cost of an annual subscription to Amazon Prime). Netflix offers a much larger library of movies — but not the HBO shows — and Amazon Prime includes various other benefits for the site’s shoppers, along with the smattering of HBO content.

The $15/month one pays now for HBO usually includes multiple HBO channels, along with multiple Cinemax channels and access to HBO Go and the lesser-discussed Max Go. If the network is going to take away the option of watching live programming, it would seemingly have to go with a lower price in order to win over enough viewers.

The other route would be to offer additional content that isn’t available to TV viewers; setting up a direct competitor to Netflix with the HBO content as the primary draw.

Another thing that HBO would need to do to justify charging $15 for its streaming service is to iron out the kinks that it’s had when HBO Go has been faced with high demand. It seems like every major season finale or season premiere results in stories about the service crashing from high demand.

So far, it’s been able to weather that storm by pointing out that the content people were looking for was readily available via their TVs and that HBO Go is a free bonus to subscribers (the tacit implication being that all the freeloaders using their friends’ HBO Go passwords can just shut up about it).

But when people are paying a premium price, they will demand a premium level of service. Blocky image quality and sound problems will not be tolerated, especially when anyone who knows how to navigate the Pirate Bay can find the latest HBO shows (illegally) for free.

NBC’s Burke, who obviously has a vested interest in promoting skepticism of the service, predicts that “it’s going to be a challenge for [HBO] to not cannibalize what is already a really, really good business.”

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