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The Consumerist

McDonald’s, If It’s Come To This, Just Improve Your Food

Fri, 2015-05-22 01:22

“We’ve heard the same rumors you have,” says a recent publication from McDonald’s. “Fillers in our beef, so called ‘pink slime.'” The message is fine, but the location is problematic: McDonald’s is not only protesting a little too much, but this message is on a tray placemat. In one of their restaurants. The kind that you look at while you eat your McDonald’s food.

(Harry McCracken)

(Harry McCracken)

“I sort of feel that McDonald’s shouldn’t mention pink slime on its trays,” mused technology journalist Harry McCracken on Twitter, “even if only to debunk it.”

Let’s refresh our memories about what “pink slime” is. The pink bricks are a way to use trimmings from cow carcasses that would normally be thrown away. These small pieces are cooked, have the fat separated out using a centrifuge, and are sprayed with ammonia gas to kill bacteria. Then they’re packed into pink bricks shipped to sellers of ground beef, where it’s used as a filler that is, technically, beef. That’s how the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines it.

The idea of ammonia-sprayed meat and just the phrase “pink slime” turned the public against the stuff: the company that makes it sued news network ABC for defamation.

If you don’t like the existence of pink slime, too bad: higher beef prices mean that as of last year, it was popular again as of last year. Just not at McDonald’s. Apparently.

McDonald’s doesn’t use pink slime now, but they used to. It stopped using the product in their burgers back in 2012, but still fights rumors that it comprises 85% of their ground beef.

We’ve said this before, of course: once you’re putting on a defensive ad campaign explaining that your food is actually made out of food, you’ve already lost. When you’re reminding people of what used to be in their burgers while they eat their burgers, you’ve really lost.

With that, we offer some suggestions for alternate placemat messages for McDonald’s.

  • Picture some mucus. That’s not us.
  • We promise we washed our hands.
  • Our food now contains food. (This isn’t far off the message of the current McDonald’s campaign.)
  • Chicken McNuggets are definitely not made from mutant birds the size of goats.
  • Our lemonade is 100% mucus-free.
  • McDonald’s: Better Than Eating Off The Floor!

Would any of these things have occurred to you before seeing them on your placemat? Probably not!

6 Out Of 11 Extra Virgin Olive Oils Tested Don’t Meet Standard

Fri, 2015-05-22 00:18

(Caroline Angelo)

(Caroline Angelo)

There’s at least some good news out of the National Consumer League’s recent tests of olive oil that they purchased in retail stores in the Washington, DC area: out of all the samples they tested, none of them contained oil that wasn’t olives. That’s an improvement over other recent olive oil testing, including an investigation that the New York Times published last year. Unfortunately, all of that olive oil wasn’t exactly as advertised.

Consumers pay higher prices to dip their breads and douse their salads in extra virgin olive oil. However, out of the eleven brands tested, six didn’t pass the lab’s stringent tests to meet the “extra virgin” standard. The lab in Australia performed chemical tests on the oil as well as sensory testing by trained humans to determine the flavor profile.

While they didn’t name which oils failed the tests, here’s a list of brands that they say passed:

  • California Olive Ranch “Extra Virgin Olive Oil”
  • Colavita “Extra Virgin Olive Oil”
  • Trader Joe’s “ Extra Virgin California Estate Olive Oil”
  • Trader Joe’s “100% Italian Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil”
  • Lucini “Premium Select Extra Virgin Olive Oil”

“The results of our olive oil testing reveal that, while consumers are buying and paying extra for olive oil labeled EVOO, too much of the olive oil bought off the shelf isn’t the real deal,” Sally Greenberg, executive director of the NCL, said in a statement. When more than half of the bottles are degraded, that’s pretty bad, especially when the group says that they took care to choose bottles that were stored away from the light and less likely to be degraded.

Olive oil mislabeling: Are consumers catching on? [National Consumers League]

Flickr Robots Auto-Tag Every Photo, Auto-Annoy Users

Thu, 2015-05-21 22:44

(Cambodia4kids.org Beth Kanter)

(Beth Kanter)

Flickr’s survival is a minor miracle of the Internet age: it’s one of the few sites that Yahoo acquired in the last decade that it didn’t kill off or change beyond all recognition. That’s because of its core base of very loyal and very talented users. Unfortunately, that kind of base means a popular uprising whenever anything about the site changes, a minor revolt happens.

We at Consumerist are grateful for the continuing existence of Flickr: thanks to Creative Commons-licensed photos and photos licensed through our own Flickr pool, we populate these pages with original photos contributed by our readers and other talented people.

This time, what Flickr changed seemed like a really good idea. Maybe if they had made it an opt-in beta test, that could have worked a little better. The site’s innovation was using photo recognition to automatically generate tags for users’ photos.

zoesquirrelIn a few minutes of poking around Flickr, I saw a hamster labeled “people.” Here’s another relatively non-offensive example, unless you’re my dog: at right is a camera phone snapshot of my dog plotting her next move while watching a squirrel in my backyard. She’s small compared to the rest of the picture and the picture was taken from the back and at an angle so she isn’t dog-shaped, so what did Flickr’s tagging system label her as? A bird. Without any other tags by me to provide context, they tagged the picture with “bird,” “outdoor,” and “animal.”bird

Other examples were a lot less innocuous. Users noticed photos of black people that were tagged “animal” and “ape.” Don’t call the robot racist, though: photo of a white and blonde woman taken at a color run was tagged “ape.” From an evolutionary point of view, we’re all apes, but that is probably not where the tagging robot was going with that.) A photo of the metal fence outside of the Dachau concentration camp was labeled “jungle gym,” since it kind of looks like one if you’re a photo-recognition computer that doesn’t understand context.

Or boundaries. Some users complained that they felt like their privacy had been violated because the tagging robot added tags to photos that had been limited to “friends and family” only. “I can’t help but feel violated that the Flickr auto tagging has invaded my [friends and family] photos,” one user posted. “That is very invasive. Flickr has no place trespassing like that. It is just morally wrong. You were not invited in.”

A Flickr staff member explained to users upset about the change why some of the tags were incredibly generic, like “people” or “indoors.”

The overwhelming majority of searches on Flickr include some very general terms – sometimes alone and sometimes in conjunction with other, more specific terms. When people search Flickr, general tags often help in getting your photos found.

If you have a Flickr account and want to opt out of getting auto-tagged entirely, so far your best option is to turn off search for your account. you can do that here. That does mean opting out of having your photos searched and found by strangers.

Flickr faces complaints over ‘offensive’ auto-tagging for photos [The Guardian]

FDA Report Shows Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams Failed To Adequately Comply With Testing, Cleaning Procedures

Thu, 2015-05-21 22:13

stack_of_pints__05446-1427209886-1280-1280While Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams prepares to reopen its scoop shops this weekend, newly released federal investigation reports show the Ohio-based company’s issues date back several years before its public battle with listeria contamination.

The Associated Press reports that a recent Food and Drug Administration investigation found Jeni’s relied on inadequate testing and cleaning procedures at its Columbus plant prior to its listeria outbreak last month.

The 2015 report, which was released as part of a Freedom of Information request by the AP, show Jeni’s did not prescribe to a sufficient testing program and failed to acceptably sanitize surfaces at the plant.

According to the report, staff responsible for assuring compliance with government food safety standards showed a “lack of competency” by failing to adhere to guidelines.

An additional report based on a 2008 inspection found many of the same issues, the AP reports.

Additionally, investigators at that time found evidence of the presence of rodents and insects, as well as inadequate personal cleanliness of workers. Those problems were not found in the most recent report.

Since recalling all of its products last month and closing its ice cream stores, Jeni’s has reworked production to prevent future contamination.

The company previously identified the source of the listeria contamination at its production kitchen to a single pint-filling machine.

Since finding the issue, Jeni’s has turned its focus to creating a production kitchen with the best defenses against any contamination. To do so, the company has enlisted top food safety experts and plans to invest more than $200,000 into the kitchen transformation.

FDA probe of Jeni’s plant finds inadequate testing, cleaning [The Associated Press]

Restaurant Chain Suing Sweets Company Over Smiley-Faced Cookies

Thu, 2015-05-21 21:57

No laughing matter.

No laughing matter.

In a case that just makes me want to order folks to turn their frowns upside down, a Pennsylvania baked goods company is suing a Chicago business over what it calls a similar use of smiley faces on cookies. Can’t we all just eat cookies featuring joyful visages and be happy about it?

No, apparently not: Eat’n Park of Pennsylvania is suing Chicago American Sweet & Snacks in federal court over its use of a cookie that features a smiling face drawn in icing, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

On the one hand, there’s Eat’n Park’s Smiley cookies, which it’s been selling since 1985. Those feature white icing with a smiling face — including a nose — in various colors.

Chicago American’s “Smiley’s” are a lot like its product, Eat’n Park claims. That iteration of happy baked good is a beige treat filled with chocolate cream, with brown wyes and a smiling mouth. No nose, however.

Eat’n Park has filed numerous trademark infringement suits against various companies to protect its design in the past, something the company is required to do now and then to defend the Smiley trademarks.

“In this particular case, the ‘Smiley’s Cookies’ logo name and design used by the company infringes on our brand trademark,“ a spokesman told the paper.

Eat’n Park sues Chicago cookie-maker over Smiley trademark [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]

Credit Bureaus Must Pay $6M, Fix Errors More Quickly Under 31-State Agreement

Thu, 2015-05-21 21:26
(Chris Blakeley)

(Chris Blakeley)

The three largest companies to collect and disseminate credit information for millions of Americans – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – must significantly change the way they treat disputed information on credit reports as part of a massive multi-state settlement announced this week.

The credit reporting agencies (CRAs) entered into a settlement with 31 states attorneys general on Wednesday that requires them to pay $6 million to the states and revamp their business practices including fixing disputed information on credit reports more quickly, waiting longer to add potentially damaging information on medical debt and scrutinizing data furnished by outside entities.

“Today is a good day for all consumers,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who led the charge, said in a statement. “We are announcing a comprehensive multi-state settlement that will help protect consumers from credit reports that are wrong, out of date, or even mixed up with someone else’s report, and it will reduce the chance that a consumer is wrongly denied a house loan, a car loan, or even a job, because of an inaccurate credit report.”

The settlement stems from an investigation initiated by DeWine back in 2012. That probe, which covered all 31 states that are part of the agreement, focused on consumer disputes about credit report errors, monitoring and disciplining data furnishers, accuracy in consumer credit reports, and the marketing of credit monitoring products to consumers who call the credit reporting agencies to dispute information on their credit report.

Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt said in a statement that the settlement provides protections to consumers nationwide by ensuring that they will have greater control over their financial lives.

“This is a comprehensive settlement that has taken participating states years to negotiate,” he said. “I empathize with those Nevadans who have long struggled with these issues, and am actively working to achieve changes and positive results.”

In all, the agreement requires the three big CRAs to:

• Maintain information about problems with entities that furnish them data and make that information available to states;
• Use a better, more detailed system to share data with furnishers;
• Create an extensive process for complicated disputes involving identity theft, fraud or cases in which two people’s identities have been confused;
• Launch investigations when consumers report mistakes;
• Refrain from peddling fee-based credit-monitoring services or other products until a consumer’s complaint is resolved;
• Educate consumers about how they can further dispute the outcome of an investigation;
• Provide the name of the original creditor when a debt collector seeks to add an unpaid bill to a credit report

Additionally, the CRAs are prohibited from adding information about fines and tickets to a consumer’s report and bans the agencies from including medical debt until 180 days after it is reported, in order to give consumers time to work with hospitals and insurance companies.

When it comes to disputes, the agencies are now required to provide consumers with an extra free credit report in a 12-month period if information they challenged creates a change on their report.

According to DeWine, the changes will be implemented in three phases to allow the agencies to update their IT systems and procedures. All changes must be made by three years and 90 days following the settlement’s effective date.

In addition to Ohio and Nevada, states included in the settlement are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

The multi-state settlement comes nearly three months after New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced a similar agreement with the same CRAs.

According to that arrangement, over the next three years the Experian, Equifax and Transunion must make nationwide policy changes regarding the ways they handle errors, resolve disputes and list unpaid medical bills.

The three CRAs will now be required to use trained employees to review documentation consumers submit when they believe there is an error in their credit files, even if a creditor says the information is correct.

Attorney General DeWine Announces Major National Settlement with Credit Reporting Agencies [Attorney General Mike DeWine]
Attorney General Laxalt announces $6 million settlement with Credit Reporting Agencies [Nevada Attorney General Adam Paul Laxalt]

How Long Until A Hybrid Car Actually Saves Me Money?

Thu, 2015-05-21 21:11

Roger H. Goun

Roger H. Goun

Because common sense is more common than you might think, sales of hybrid cars are down now that gas prices have fallen as well. That makes sense. Yet there are some circumstances where it makes sense to buy a hybrid car, even when fuel costs are low. How do you know if that includes your situation? The government is here to help.

The FuelEconomy.gov site helps you compare between a hybrid car and a similar non-hybrid model. The sticker price on hybrid cars is higher, and in theory the better fuel economy should offset that. I plugged in my real-life driving numbers (not very many miles, mostly not on the highway) for a Prius and a similar Toyota Corolla, and found that it would take me nine and a half years to make up the difference in gas savings.

priuscomp

Where this tool also reflects the real world, though, is that you can also calculate how much more it will cost you to recoup the cost with a loan: most people don’t pay for a $25,000 vehicle with cash, after all. For me, the hybrid would add more than a year to the amount of time it would take to recoup the cost.

Can a Hybrid Save Me Money? [FuelEconomy.gov] (via Jalopnik)

Report: Shake Shack Considering Getting Into The Chicken Game

Thu, 2015-05-21 20:44

(nyer82)

(nyer82)

Though burger chain Shake Shack has yet to extend its reach to every state or even region of the United States, the company is reportedly ready to start looking beyond beef patties and enter the chicken sandwich arena, according to a new report.

With 63 locations worldwide, including 10 in its hometown New York City and elsewhere in the U.S. in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Chicago, Boston, Connecticut and New Jersey, CNBC says Shake Shack is mulling the idea of expanding into the chicken market, citing a recent trademark filing for “Chicken Shack.”

A subsidiary of the company filed for the “chicken shack” trademark on April 20, with a note that the trademarked phrase only pertains to chicken sandwiches, so it’s doubtful there’s an entirely new chain of chicken restaurants in the works.

While Shake Shack is staying mum on any plans, it’s not uncommon for companies to proceed with trademark applications before announcing new menu items. The chain currently only has one menu offering that includes chicken, a “chicken dog” that’s made with chicken, apple and sage sausage.

“Shake Shack was born from a fine dining company, and we constantly test new menu items in our test kitchen,” according to a statement from the company yesterday. “We have no new items to announce at this time, except for the new ParkBurger at New York’s Madison Square Park, which reopened today.”

Burger chain Shake Shack eyeing chicken [CNBC]

58 Senators Urge CFPB To Create Rules Against Forced Arbitration Clauses In Financial Products

Thu, 2015-05-21 20:14
Adam Fagen

Adam Fagen

A month after legislation was introduced to eliminate mandatory arbitration clauses in employment, consumer, civil rights and antitrust cases, a coalition of 58 lawmakers and several consumer advocate groups are urging the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to take things a step further by protecting consumers from forced arbitration clauses in financial services contracts.

In the letter [PDF] sent to CFPB director Richard Cordray, the legislators – including Minnesota Sen. Al Franken and Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson, who introduced the Arbitration Fairness Act of 2015 in April – call on the Bureau to undertake rule-making to eliminate the use of forced arbitration clauses in financial contracts.

“These clauses force individuals into private binding arbitration as a condition of buying a product or service, and are designed to stack the deck against consumers and ensure that the final outcome of forced ambition is unreviewable by courts,” the letter states. “Forced arbitration clauses – often buried deep within the fine print of financial products and service contracts – harm American consumers by depriving them of their day in court even when companies have violated the law.”

The lawmakers cite the CFPB’s own recent study as compelling evidence of the “devastating effects of forced arbitration on tens of millions of consumers.”

That CFPB report found that forced arbitration clauses are prevalent in credit card, checking account, student loan, and wireless phone contracts.

The report included findings that a majority (53%) of credit cards currently have arbitration clauses, 92% of prepaid cards are subject to arbitration, and that while only 8% of banks and credit unions use the clauses, those few institutions are so large they represent 44% of all insured deposits.

For those reasons the lawmakers asked the CFPB to use its authority under the Dodd-Frank Act to issue rules prohibiting the use of forced arbitration clauses in financial contracts and “give consumer a meaningful choice after disputes arise.”

The use of arbitration clauses has skyrocketed by companies since 2011, when the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that it was perfectly okay for companies to take away a consumer’s right to sue or their ability to join other wronged consumers in a class-action case by inserting a paragraph or two of text inside lengthy contracts.

Following the publication of the letter, several consumer advocacy groups – including Public Citizen, National Association of Consumer Advocates, Americans for Financial Reform and the National Consumer Law Center – gave their stamp of approval to the lawmakers’ request.

“It’s clear the lawmakers appreciate the powerful data in the CFPB report that prove forced arbitration is simply unfair and everywhere in consumer financial services,” Christine Hines, consumer and civil justice counsel with Public Citizen, said in a statement. “It is fitting for them to join consumers across the country calling on the CFPB to relieve us all of this burden by simply restoring what financial institutions have unjustly taken: our access to the court system.”

The advocates also expressed their opinion that such steps have been a long time coming.

“For far too long, corporations and Wall Street banks have been getting away with cheating and defrauding Americans without ever being held accountable for their actions with the use of forced arbitration,” Ellen Taverna, legislative director at the National Association of Consumer Advocates, said in a statement.

Lisa Donner, executive director of Americans for Financial Reform reiterated the importance of removing forced arbitration clauses, saying that “when a financial services company breaks the law and harms consumers with abuses like hidden fees or worthless add-on products, each individual consumer’s losses may be too small to make legal action feasible even if the total profit for the company is substantial. That’s one important reason why consumers need to be able to band together to seek justice under the law.”

The National Consumer Law Center echoed those sentiments, commending the legislators for recognizing the urgency for consumer protections and the authority the CFPB holds.

The letter to the CFPB comes just a month after Franken and Johnson introduced legislation that stipulates agreements to arbitration of employment, consumer, civil rights and antitrust disputes could only be made after the dispute has arisen.

The Act seeks to ensure transparency in civil litigation by protecting the integrity of Civil Rights Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and others that are frequently skirted by companies using forced arbitration.

Additionally, the Act would continue to allow pre-dispute mandatory arbitration to continue in business-to-business agreements, and does not apply to collective bargaining agreements.

Groups Urge Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to Heed Lawmakers’ Call for Agency to Protect Consumers From Forced Arbitration [Public Citizen]

Devotees Of Deep-Fried Food Could Be Facing Price Hikes For Their Favorite Fare

Thu, 2015-05-21 19:32

(Coyoty)

(Coyoty)

Take a look at that fried chicken sandwich/French fry/potato chip you’re about to eat. It could soon cost you more money to reach deep-fried satisfaction, as the crops necessary to make the vegetable oil used by many companies to fry your favorite foods to a golden crisp are struggling in Canada.

The canola seeds grown in Canada’s Prairie provinces that are then crushed to make the oil used by McDonald’s, KFC, Taco Bell and Frito-Lay are suffering after a dry spell this year, reports Bloomberg, making it harder for farmers to produce enough oilseeds for the second year in a row.

“We’ve just been missing every rain,” one grower from Saskatchewan told Bloomberg.

Canola has had issues lately in Canada, with prices spiking 18% from a four-year low last September. Other crops like wheat, barley and lentils are also having issues because of the lack of moisture.

And it could get worse — the price of canola, or rapeseed as it’s also called, could climb even more if the dry spell lasts into June, hitting the highest price since May 2014, one expert explains.

When the companies that buy the oil needed for deep fryers have to pay more, it’s very likely that the extra cost could be passed on to the consumer, so cherish the cheapness you’re enjoying every time you bite into a golden, salty piece of fried potato delight while you can.

Deep-Frying Anything Gets More Expensive as Canada Soil Goes Dry [Bloomberg]

FTC Puts A Stop To Three Debt Collection Operations Using Threatening Text Messages, Robocalls

Thu, 2015-05-21 19:00
(stuartpilbrow)

(stuartpilbrow)

For the most part, we can’t say many glowing things about the debt collection industry that has, in the past, been known for using a litany of abusive and deceptive practices to pry money from consumers. Three such companies will no longer be bothering people after the Federal Trade Commission temporarily shut down the operations for engaging in nearly all of the hallmarks of shady collectors: threatening lawsuits or arrest, impersonating law enforcement and government officials and illegally contacting supposed debtors.

The FTC today announced that at its request, federal courts in New York and Georgia temporarily halted the operations of Unified Global Group, Premier Debt Acquisitions and Primary Group.

As with many other debt collection operations that have faced similar action, the FTC contends that the three companies engaged in a series of unlawful actions including using text messages, emails, and phone calls to falsely threaten to arrest or sue consumers, as well as contacting friends, family members, and employers about owed debts, withholding information needed to confirm or dispute debts, and failing to identify themselves as debt collectors, as required by law.

In some cases the FTC alleges that the collection abuses targeted individuals over a period of several years, despite evidence that a debt was not owed or previously paid in full.

The FTC’s action against the companies is part of its ongoing “Messaging for Money” enforcement sweep.

According to the FTC complaint [PDF] against Unified Global Group, the operation utilized text messages to trick people into calling them back.

Many of the text messages included false statement such as “YOUR PAYMENT DECLINED WITH CARD ****-****-****-5463 . . . CALL 866.256.2117 IMMEDIATELY.” The FTC alleges that the messages, which failed to identify the sender as a debt collector, were sent to consumers despite the fact they had never arranged to make payments to the company.

In addition to the intrusive text messages, the company also used similarly threatening emails and robocalls as methods of contact.

As for Premier Debt Acquisitions, the FTC alleges in its complaint [PDF] that the company impersonated state or law enforcement officials, and threatened consumers with lawsuits or arrests if they didn’t pay up. In some cases, the collectors attempted to intimidate people with claims they would face with criminal fraud charges, wage garnishments, or loss of property.

Text messages sent by the company claimed that the alleged debtor would be sued or have their possessions seized unless they paid. Voicemails left by the collectors included false claims that they would send “a uniformed officer to home or place of employment to enforce” collections.

In other attempts to collect supposed debts, the FTC says Premier Debt Acquisitions sent emails that claimed making a payment would help their credit report.

When individuals challenged the debt, the operation continued to push for payments and failed to investigate the disputes.

In a specific instance, the collection attempts continued despite written evidence that the debt was a result of identity theft and a prior debt collector had marked it fully paid. Others tell the FTC that the defendants tried to collect a payment even after they had received it, and hounded them for two years about someone else’s debt.

The final complaint [PDF] against Primary Group alleges that the operation sent consumers a series of text messages, most failing to disclose that the company was a debt collector.

Messages included threats and false statements such as “I’m a process server with Primary Solutions, appointed to serve you papers for case [eight-digit number].” or “Please have proper ID and a witness present who can provide a signature. If there’s no reply I’ll have to bring the document to your employer.”

People tell the FTC that in numerous instances, they were unable to find any legal case against them in the jurisdictions where they reside or work after researching the case numbers that were included in text messages from collectors.

While the court order temporarily shuts down the operations, the FTC is seeking a permanent end to the company’s enterprise.

FTC Halts Three Debt Collection Operations That Allegedly Threatened and Deceived Consumers via Illegal Text Messages [Federal Trade Commission]

Hobby Lobby Misses Prime Opportunity For More Christmas Mashups

Thu, 2015-05-21 18:53

Hobby Lobby, a chain of craft and home decor chains, is infamous on this site for two things: being the first retailer to put out Christmas merchandise every year, and for taking advantage of that fact by making glorious “Nightmare Before Christmas” trees, or Christmas trees covered with beautiful fall leaves and acorns. That’s why we’re disappointed in them: if they’re going to get Christmas decorations out in May, why not double-celebrate other holidays too?

Dalton in Alabama sent along these pictures, which do not surprise us at all. Last year, the first sighting of Hobby Lobby’s Christmas department came on May 31. This year, it came on May 21. At this rate, before long they will be out before Easter.

lobbyballs

lobbystockings

For example, it’s Memorial Day weekend: why not create a tree honoring veterans covered with glittery camouflage ribbons and ornaments shaped like military transport vehicles? Why not honor Memorial Day or Independence Day with a tree decorated in patriotic colors?

We’re giving these ideas out for free here, craft retailers of the world.

NYPD Catches Up To Hot Dog Vendor Accused Of Ripping Off Tourists

Thu, 2015-05-21 18:42

Not the vendors in question. Just wieners. (hesweptlime)

Not the vendors in question. Just wieners. (hesweptlime)

It seems the news travels fast, and in New York, the police are definitely paying attention: After a report that a hot dog vendor near Ground Zero had been caught charging customers $30 for a hot dog and overcharging on other items like pretzels, water and soda, the NYPD announced they’ve served the wiener peddler with three fines for not posting prices on his cart.

The Twitter account for NYPD’s 1st Precinct posted a photo of officers visit the vendor yesterday, Tweeting at Jessica Lappin of the Downtown Alliance to share the news of his Environmental Control Board summonses:

@JessLappin What? A $30 hot dog?! We paid him a visit. 3 ECB summonses. #PostYourPrices #WeWillBeBack @DowntownNYC pic.twitter.com/y8HL9WO6qC

— NYPD 1st Precinct (@NYPD1Pct) May 20, 2015

Lappin said the organization first started receiving complaints about the overpriced franks last week, with about five coming in from disgruntled folks who felt ripped off.

“People get upset about that type of thing and rightly so,” she told DNAInfo. “He shouldn’t be preying on people. It gives people, whether they live here or work here, a bad impression. It’s not the New York I know.”

It’s unclear how long he’s been trying to pull the wool over customers’ eyes, as well as how much he’s facing in fines for the three tickets.

Rip-Off Hot Dog Vendor Ticketed After Charging $30 for Wieners, Police Say [DNAInfo.com]

AT&T Ditching 2-Year Contracts At Walmart & Other Retailers

Thu, 2015-05-21 18:26

(jetsetpress)

(jetsetpress)

In the latest move to nudge new customers into paying full price for their phones, AT&T is going to stop offering 2-year contracts through third party retail stores like Walmart and others.

While two-year contracts lock a user into that provider for the 24 months, they also come with deep discounts on new phones because the wireless companies are subsidizing a good chunk of the retail price of those devices.

In recent years, most wireless providers have given customers an incentive to pay full price for their phones by discounting monthly rates for users who buy unsubsidized phones. Additionally, programs like AT&T Next allow users to spread out that higher price through monthly installments rather than pay up front.

Of course, these programs ultimately have the effect of a contract, as the user is locked into that provider until the phone is paid off. Depending on the length of a plan and the cost of the phone, a customer could end up saving money in the long run, but you have to do the math first.

Droid Life was the first to report that, starting in June, local and national retailers who sell AT&T service would no longer be offering two-year contracts directly to customers.

FierceWireless then reported that it had obtained an internal Walmart document that puts a May 28 stop date on the sale of two-year AT&T contracts. That memo stated that the change is “not just limited to Walmart. It affects all national retailers.”

The only way to get a contract phone through one of these third-party stores is for the retailer to place a Direct Fulfillment order, but that means you’ll get your device shipped to you within a few days.

This change does not impact orders at company-owned AT&T stores, which will continue to offer the traditional two-year contracts. Additionally, these contracts will be available online through ATT.com. So there is still plenty of opportunity to get a less-expensive subsidized phone — you just won’t be able to do it at the same spot where you get your groceries.

Yes, You Can Be Prosecuted For Stealing Gold, Weapons From Video Game Characters

Thu, 2015-05-21 17:39

bbtIn the Big Bang Theory episode “The Zarnecki Incursion,” Sheldon’s World of Warcraft account is hacked and his in-game character is robbed of all its amassed treasure and weaponry. The local police and FBI both laugh off his demands to track down the virtual thief, but in the real world there are prosecutors going after this new form of criminal.

Fusion has the story of a pair of online gamers-turned-bandits who teamed up to steal and resell virtual goods in the game Diablo III. The twosome profited to the tune of more than $8,000 — in actual money.

To commit their crimes, they would trick other Diablo users into downloading software that would allow them to remotely access the other users’ computers.

Then one of the thieves would take over a victim’s character, dropping all of its loot in an in-game spot for his partner-in-crime to come in and grab up.

The victimized players were able to get their lost items back by dealing with the game publisher, Blizzard, but that doesn’t make it any less of a crime for someone to illegally access your computer, and to resell those goods (virtual or not) for thousands of dollars. Additionally, Blizzard was at a loss for having to reimburse users whose in-game items were stolen.

That’s why the FBI arrested the men in 2012.

Though the dollar value of the crimes resulted in felony charges for the two thieves, they eventually both entered guilty pleas to misdemeanor “unauthorized impairment of a protected computer.” They were given probation and ordered to pay $5,654 to Blizzard.

“People think they are not going to get caught, that they’re not going to be found in their bedrooms on a computer. They don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” the federal prosecutor in the case tells Fusion.

110-Year-Old Man Credits Long Life To His Daily Can Of Beer

Thu, 2015-05-21 17:35

(Pedestrian Photographer)

(Pedestrian Photographer)

We’ve all heard that an apple a day can keep the doctor away, but one man who’s reached the lofty age of 110 has entirely different maxim — drinking a can of beer a day is keeping the reaper away.

Nebraska’s oldest man and possibly the oldest man in America turned 110 on May 16, reports Omaha.com, and his family said his daily beer has always been his secret to a long life.

“He always told everybody the reason he has lived so long is drinking one can of beer, every day at 3 p.m.,” said his daughter. “He always joked that that was his medicine since he takes very little medicine.”

When it comes to said medicine, it doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s a lager or an IPA, he says.

“Whatever kind was around,” he said, though his daughter said he prefers Miller brands.

As for his age, he sometimes has to be reminded of it, as it’s not one of those things he can be bothered with these days.

“I don’t even notice it,” he said.

He may be the oldest man in America, but it’s unclear, as two other candidates at 116 and 112 have gaps in their age records. He’s currently the oldest man whose age can be verified, according to the national Gerontology Research Group.

“All this means is that there is a confusing situation, whereby we have three potential contenders for ‘oldest man in America,’” Robert Young, director of the group’s supercentenarian research and database division told Omaha.com.

Besides drinking his daily beer, the other advice he has for a long, happy life?

“Right here,” he told Omaha.com, pointing to his heart.

A beer a day is 110-year-old Nebraska man’s secret to a long life [Omaha.com]

CVS Buys Nursing Home Pharmacy Chain, Drug Provider OmniCare For $12.7B

Thu, 2015-05-21 17:11
(Chris Rief)

(Chris Rief)

CVS plans to spend $12.7 billion to buy pharmacy-service provider Omnicare Inc. in order to gain a larger foothold in the quickly expanding long-term care industry and specialty pharmacy market.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the deal, which includes about $2.3 billion in debt, will boost CVS’s business presence with nursing homes and senior-living facilities across the U.S.

Omnicare, currently the largest provider of pharmaceutical services in nursing homes, operates 160 locations in assisted living and long-term care facilities in 47 states.

The company also helps market, distribute and obtain reimbursements for high-priced drugs generally used by smaller patient populations, the WSJ reports.

“The acquisition of Omnicare significantly expands our business, providing CVS Health access into a new pharmacy dispensing channel,” CVS Health CEO Larry Merlo said in a statement.

The deal has the potential to be fairly lucrative for CVS. In 2014, Omnicare recorded a revenue of $4.75 billion in the long-term care market and $1.67 billion in specialty pharmacy services.

USA Today reports the deal comes at the right time for CVS to capture more business in the long-term care market, as that industry is estimated to grow exponentially in the coming years.

The Congressional Budget Office expects that one-fifth of the total U.S. population will be 65 years of age or older by 2050. Many of those consumers could find themselves residents of nursing homes and residential care centers, nearly all of which offer on-site pharmaceutical facilities.

The transaction, which is expected to close later this year, is just the latest in what appears to be a trend in acquisitions related to how drugs are sold and distributed, indicating that health-related companies are looking to the future of consumer care, according to the WSJ.

UnitedHealth Group purchased Caramaran Corp. for $12.8 billion earlier this year. Shortly before that deal was reached Rite Aid bought pharmacy-benefit manager Envision Pharmaceutical Services for $2 billion.

CVS Buys Drug Provider for $10.4 Billion [The Wall Street Journal]
CVS buys Omnicare for $12.7B to expand senior care business [USA Today]

Kohl’s Will Open An Off-Price Store In New Jersey

Thu, 2015-05-21 17:00

(JeepersMedia)

(JeepersMedia)

You may have been under the impression that Kohl’s, a department store where suggested retail prices are largely imaginary because most of the store is at least 30% off, already was a discount store. Even then, they’re about to experiment with an even more discounted store, joining stores like Nordstrom, Saks, and now Macy’s in opening their own downscale outlet store.

The new Kohl’s store will be about 30,000 square feet, located in New Jersey’s Philadelphia suburbs, and will be called Off Aisle by Kohl’s. That’s about half the size of the smallest existing Kohl’s stores. The chain says it will have returned merchandise from regular Kohl’s stores: they haven’t said this, but we suspect that they’ll also carry items that have sat around other stores for too long.

Kohl’s is a retailer that focuses on middle-class customers, and the American middle class is keeping a firm hand on their wallets recently. Off-price stores like TJ Maxx and Ross, however, have been doing great. While this year so far, the west coast ports slowdown that delayed some fashion shipments and send them to the outlet market has been great for low-end retailers of higher-end merchandise.

Kohl’s will test off-priced store for returned merchandise [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]

Lumber Liquidators CEO Resigns Amid Formaldehyde Flooring Investigation

Thu, 2015-05-21 16:40

lumberliquFollowing news reports of allegedly excessive formaldehyde levels in some of its flooring products — and subsequent lawsuits and investigations — the CEO of Lumber Liquidators has resigned from the top position at the company.

In a move the company describes as “unexpected,” Robert Lynch told the Lumber Liquidators board he’d decided to step down as CEO and President.

While the announcement made no mention of the formaldehyde issue, the company’s stock price has plummeted in the months since a 60 Minutes report that claims to have found potentially dangerous levels of formaldehyde in China-made laminate flooring sold by Lumber Liquidators.

The company has maintained that it did nothing wrong and has questioned the testing methods used in the news report, but decided in early May to halt sales of laminate flooring from Chinese manufacturers.

But even that move could not help the company, whose stock price is now less than one-third of what it was in February.

Company founder Thomas Sullivan will take over as interim CEO while the company looks for Lynch’s replacement.

Formaldehyde is commonly used in the manufacture of laminate flooring, but usually in such small levels that it dissipates quickly. If employed in excess, the chemical can remain in the flooring even after it’s been installed.

Prolonged, continued exposure to formaldehyde has been linked to numerous health problems ranging from nausea to increased cancer risk. Children are more susceptible than adults to the toxic effects of formaldehyde.

Amazon Prime Now Adds 1-Hour Delivery From Local Stores In NYC

Thu, 2015-05-21 16:39

(protohiro)

(protohiro)

Because walking outside and going a few blocks to pick up some bread and milk is just too much work sometimes, Amazon is adding one-hour delivery from certain local stores — but only in New York City’s Manhattan borough for now, with plans to expand to other locations that offer Prime Now eventually.

Starting today, the Prime Now service will bring deliveries in an hour from a select few stores — D’Agostino grocery stores, Gourmet Garage and Billy’s Bakery — Amazon announced in a press release, only in certain Manhattan neighborhoods at first, with more stores and more locations added in the coming weeks.

Next in Manhattan will be Italian marketplace Eataly and Westside Market.

“We are launching delivery from local stores through Prime Now in Manhattan today and will add local stores in other cities where we offer Prime Now soon,” Amazon says, with deliveries arriving in an hour or less.

Customers will have to use the Prime Now App, which offers deliveries in either two hours for free or one hour for $7.99 in Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Brooklyn, Dallas, Manhattan and Miami. Those cities will eventually be added to the local delivery list as well.

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