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The Consumerist

If You Dream Of Playing Piano While Shucking Clams, We Know A Place That’s Hiring

Wed, 2014-07-23 17:32

clampianoDid you put yourself through music school by working at a seafood restaurant? Well now you can put both your piano skills and your clam-shucking chops to good use at the same time.

Consumerist reader Catherine spotted this odd sign in the window of a Long Island, NY, eatery where the owners apparently don’t mind that their piano might reek of raw clams.

Or perhaps they just want someone with “knowledge of opening clams” who can use their mollusk know-how to provide impromptu lectures to diners about bivalves; maybe the piano player can even create a few clam-inspired tunes to entertain the crowds.

In more practical terms, we’re wondering if it’s a good idea to have a piano player putting his or her fingers at risk by shucking clams for the tourist crowd.

Which reminds us, we may be looking to a hire a sitar player with knowledge of using rusty bandsaws…

Oregonians Get Another Chance To Vote On Recreational Marijuana Come This November

Wed, 2014-07-23 17:21

(Brett Levin Photography)

(Brett Levin Photography)

For the last two years, Oregonians in favor of marijuana for recreational use have had to stare glumly across the border at Washington State, where it’s legal, after a ballot initiative to legalize the stuff failed in 2012. But if at first you don’t succeed… You know where this is going.

A proposal that wants to legalize, tax and regulate recreational marijuana in Oregon has qualified for the November ballot, reports Reuters. A similar measure was rejected by voters two years ago, making Colorado and Washington the only states that currently allow recreational pot.

“This is a moment we’ve been waiting for, that we’ve worked months to get to,” said a spokesman for the campaign in favor of the Oregon initiative.

Supporters of the initiative submitted 88,584 valid signatures from voters to get it on the ballot, according to the elections division of the Oregon secretary of state’s office, which more than the 87,213 required to qualify.

“Every signature represents an Oregonian who believes it’s time for a new approach to marijuana,” the campaign spokesman said. “We’ve been trying the black market approach for 40 years and it’s not working.”

But opponents in the national anti-marijuana group Smart Approaches to Marijuana said the issues cropping up in Colorado and Washington — like reports of children eating marijuana-laced baked goods — will move to Oregon, along with the pressure of Big Marijuana (which is apparently a thing?).

“Despite already having the most lax marijuana laws next to Colorado and Washington, big money, special interests from D.C. are now descending onto Oregon in order to create the next Big Tobacco of our time,” the co-founder of the group said in response to the new ballot initiative.

Oregon recreational pot initiative qualifies for November ballot [Reuters]

If You’re Going To Commit $175K In ID Theft, Don’t Do It Under Your Real Name

Wed, 2014-07-23 17:01

(Enokson)

(Enokson)

One would think that a scammer clever enough to steal a victim’s personal data and trick some of the nation’s largest banks into helping her steal $175,000 would have the forethought to hide her own identity. But that idea apparently didn’t occur to a North Carolina who also posted helpful photos of herself online to aid police in their search.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports on a local man whose Charles Schwab investment account was drained of $175,000 by ID thieves who somehow gained access to his personal info and his phone number.

Knowing that Schwab would call the customer to confirm the authenticity of two huge transfers — $123,000 to a Chase branch in Atlanta, and $52,000 to a Wells Fargo outlet in California — the suspects apparently had all the victim’s incoming calls forwarded to an untraceable cellphone. So when Schwab made the call to check on the transfers, it was the scammers who picked up instead of the victim.

The suspects then used cash withdrawals and money orders to drain the $123,000 from the Chase account, which had been set up in the North Carolina woman’s name. Her Facebook page also has several “selfies” that helped police match her to a woman seen in the bank branch’s security footage.

“I think she is with a group of professionals,” said the detective who is currently looking for the 26-year-old suspect. “There is no way she did this by herself.”

Luckily, the Wells Fargo transaction was caught before the money vanished. And Schwab has put the $123,000 back into the victim’s account.

This Wizard Will Help You Write A Complaint Letter–No, Not That Kind Of Wizard

Wed, 2014-07-23 16:41

(photographynatalia)

(photographynatalia)

Do you need to write a complaint letter, but don’t know where to begin? As long as you can type a few facts in a box, you can produce a simple, classy, and easy-to-read complaint letter that should get the job done.

On the federal government’s USA.gov portal where you can find information on pretty much everything, you can find this handy five-step letter-writing wizard. It can even help you find the corporate headquarters of the company you’re contacting if you don’t have the address handy. Here’s the end result, with details taken from our much longer and fancier model letter that we published earlier this week:

hoverbike_letter

Would you rather flesh out your own message? The site also has this handy model letter, which breaks down and labels the basic required elements of a complaint letter. There’s a version that you can copy and paste and customize for your own needs as well.

samplecomplaintletter-thumb

Consumer Complaint Letter Wizard [USA.gov]
Sample Consumer Complaint Letter [USA.gov]
Consumer Action Handbook [USA.gov]

Kroger Pharmacist Accused Of Taking Up-Skirt Photo By Squatting Next To Customer In Line

Wed, 2014-07-23 16:23

(Otherstream)

(Otherstream)

It’s an unfortunate reality in this mobile world we’re living in that people who shouldn’t be taking photos of say, the view up a person’s skirt, can now more easily do so with these handy devices we all have at the ready. That’s what has one Kroger store pharmacist in hot water in Georgia.

Police say a woman standing in the checkout line at a Kroger store noticed something disturbing, reports The Smoking Gun.

The woman told police she was “standing in the checkout line when she observed the suspect, [redacted], squatting next to her holding his cell phone in such a way as to photograph under her skirt.”

When she realized what was going on, she reportedly tried to grab his phone, setting off a brief scuffle. The suspect “fell backwards to the ground” as the woman and another shopper tried to snatch the phone back while he was “trying to delete the pictures.”

The two managed to get the phone away from him and turn it in to police. When police asked the man what he was doing on the ground, he claimed he was squatting to get a drink from the “soda refrigerator” and also send a text at the same time.

An officer asked for permission to look at the photos and videos on his phone, but the pharmacist “denied permission and stated he had other stuff on his phone that he did not want everybody to see,” investigators said.

According to police, three other shoppers said they’d seen the suspect taking pictures or a video “up the skirt of a woman.”

The pharmacist has been arrested for felony eavesdropping, and was placed on administrative leave by Kroger.

Kroger Worker Arrested For In-Store “Upskirt” [The Smoking Gun]

StubHub Customers’ Accounts Hacked, Authorities Across The World Investigating

Wed, 2014-07-23 15:42
(Joe King)

(Joe King)

Didn’t purchase those tickets on your StubHub account? Well, join the club, because numerous accounts on the ticket resale site were recently hacked.

According to a CBS DC news report, thieves gained access to nearly 1,000 customer accounts and fraudulently purchased tickets for events.

StubHub officials say they detected unauthorized transactions last year, notified authorities and provided refunds to affected customers.

According to eBay-owned StubHub, the hackers didn’t gain access to the accounts through its security, but rather they acquired customers’ login and password information from other data breaches or from key-loggers or other malware on the customers’ computers.

While there appears to be a small number of accounts hacked, authorities say the case goes much farther – sprawling across international borders.

Glenn Lehrman, head of global communications for StubHub, tells Reuters that the company has been working with law enforcement around the world for the last year on the case.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., along with London and Royal Canadian Mounted police officials, are expected to release more details about the case, including how much money was involved and possible arrests, during a news conference later today.

More Than 1,000 StubHub Accounts Hacked [CBS]

“The World’s Largest Bottle Of Catsup” Can Be Yours For Only $500,000

Wed, 2014-07-23 15:34

(Amanda SG)

(Amanda SG)

I know, I don’t call it “catsup” either, but the fact remains that a huge bottle of the tomato-based condiment is for sale, which means someone will soon be crowned the owner of “The World’s Largest Bottle Of Catsup.”

Start digging in your couch cushions for change or pull out that emergency If The World’s Largest Bottle Of Catsup Ever Goes On Sale Imma Buy It fund you started all those years ago: Not only do you get an American landmark for $500,000 (and no, there isn’t any actual ketchup inside it, alas) but the warehouse property next to it in Collinsville, Ill. is also part of the deal.

According to the Belleville-News Democrat, the Brooks Catsup Bottle is 170 feet tall and has enjoyed the attention of a fan club that coordinates events year-round to celebrate the former water tower.

Those volunteers are hoping that whoever buys the bottle and the factory next to it will continue to celebrate ketchup. Excuse me, catsup (note: it’s the same stuff, just spelled differently).

“Hopefully new owners will come in who are preservation-minded,” said one volunteer who goes by “Big Tomato.”

“We really hope someone with its best interest at heart comes along,” he explains. “We’ve been brainstorming ideas for redevelopment of that block for years: a welcome center, a museum, a cafe, a park. There are all kinds of great ideas on what that property could turn into.”

The bottle started as a water tower for the Brooks Catsup Co. and was completed in October 1949. It was used to supply water for catsup production (and yes, it’s hard to keep typing “catsup”) and to run the fire sprinkler system for the plant.

But when the plant closed in the early 1960s, it was turned into a warehouse and the bottle stayed. It was restored in 1995 after a grassroots campaign to raise money for it. It’s now on the National Register of Historic Places, so whoever buys the property will be required to preserve it, most likely. And probably required to say “catsup” instead of “ketchup” for all eternity.

A $500,000 catsup bottle? Iconic Collinsville landmark for sale [Belleville News-Democrat]

Now Chrysler Is Recalling 800K Jeep SUVs For Ignition Problems

Wed, 2014-07-23 01:11

(Lisa Pisa)

(Lisa Pisa)

The faulty ignition flu of 2014 is spreading among the car makers of greater Detroit. Months after General Motors began recalling millions of vehicles for defective ignitions that resulted in at least 13 deaths, and a month after NHTSA began looking into possible similar problems at Chrysler, the company has announced a recall of around 800,000 Jeeps to fix ignition switches that might turn off inadvertently.

Chrysler says the recall involves some 2006-2007 Jeep Commanders and 2005-2007 Jeep Grand Cherokees. Like the defective GM cars, the ignitions in these Jeeps could be turned off while the car is in operation, deactivating the airbag and making the vehicle more difficult to control.

And like GM, the Jeep maker is asking owners of the recalled vehicles “to assure there is clearance between their knees and the keys,” and “to remove all items from their key rings, leaving only their ignition keys.”

Chrysler claims to know of no injuries resulting from faulty ignitions, but admits to receiving 32 customer complaints — including a pair of rear-end collisions — and 465 warranty claims of inadvertent engine shutoff while driving.

It’s taken more than a year for Chrysler to begin fixing 1.6 million Jeeps recalled for increased risk of engine fires, but the company appears to be moving more quickly with this recall; it plans to notify affected owners by mid-September.

Chrysler recalls 800,000 SUVs for ignition problems [Detroit News]

Comcast Solves Customer Service Issue, Keeps Calling To Solve It

Wed, 2014-07-23 00:10

(Consumerist's own Chris Morran)

(Consumerist’s own Chris Morran)

Hey, remember reader Karen, who had trouble convincing Comcast that they had somehow locked her out of all online access to her accounts? She spent more than two weeks fighting her own one-woman Battle of Kabletown, finally getting the attention of the ComcastCares team with Consumerist’s help. It looked like everything worked out for her. It did…except for how Comcast continued to call her about her open “trouble ticket” for days.

Remember, during the first round of her battle, the company closed down her service ticket without bothering to make sure that the issue had been resolved. “Wouldn’t you think an account could be noted properly?” she wrote to us. “Nah — same folks who closed a trouble ticket without resolving it.”

Each time someone called last week, she patiently explained that her problem had been resolved, and they could close the ticket. The calls kept coming.

Evidently, the way to get attention from Comcast is to already have your problem resolved. This is not effective consumer advice that we can pass on.

PREVIOUSLY:
Comcast Locks You Out Of Your E-Mail Accounts, Shrugs

This Site Is Cyberstalking Your Cat For Your Own Good

Tue, 2014-07-22 22:49

photocatThe Internet has an endless appetite for two things. The first is people sharing more information than they had intended with companies that use that information to target advertising. The second is cat pictures. Yet what if there were a way to use cat pictures to teach us all a lesson about how much information we’re inadvertently sharing with the Internet?

Here’s the thing: smartphones have built-in cameras and global positioning system capabilities. When you send someone a digital photo, the GPS coordinates of where you took that picture are embedded in the image, waiting only for someone who cares about where you are to strip them out. It sounds like a minor thing, but it’s not: back in 2012, a reporter for Vice accidentally revealed where fugitive murder suspect and rich dude John McAfee was hiding by posting a simple iPhone snapshot.

australian_cat

If you wouldn’t post your home address on the Internet, make sure you aren’t uploading or sending geotagged photos. That’s where the site I Know Where Your Cat Lives comes in, combining education about online privacy with pictures of cats. IKWYCL takes public photos posted on sites like Flickr and Instagram that come with geographic data included and plots them on a map. A global map of cats.

The site explains its true purpose as follows:

This project explores two uses of the internet: the sociable and humorous appreciation of domesticated felines, and the status quo of personal data usage by startups and international megacorps who are riding the wave of decreased privacy for all. This website doesn’t visualize all of the cats on the net, only the ones that allow you to track where their owners have been.

There are only about a million cats on the map, chosen from the pictures available online that are tagged with the word “cat” and the location where they were taken.

If your own cat appears on the map, you can remove it simply by editing the privacy settings on the account that you used to upload it, or removing the geographic information from the photo, then re-uploading it. The site will then conceal your cat’s identity within 30 days.

Purrrrrivacy...I hate myself for even thinking of that pun.

Purrrrrivacy…I hate myself for even thinking of that pun.

Oh, and the site happens to be running a Kickstarter campaign right now, just in case you want to support the project of educating cats about online privacy.

I Know Where Your Cat Lives [Official Site] (Thanks, Olivia!)

Forty-Year Family Feud Leads To Empty Shelves At 70 Supermarkets, Protests In Two States

Tue, 2014-07-22 22:45

(kevin dean)

(kevin dean)

A weird situation in New England is getting weirder. Regional grocery store chain Market Basket, which operates 71 stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine, is finding itself at the center of a massive controversy, with employees, executives, customers, and even local lawmakers all getting involved. The core issue? The board ousted good-guy CEO Arthur Demoulas to replace him with perceived money-grubber Arthur Demoulas, and the resulting furor has led to strikes, boycotts, and empty shelves.

Confused yet? Don’t blame you. Here’s what’s going on.

Arthur T. Demoulas became the CEO of Market Basket in 2008. He developed a reputation as a leader who genuinely cared about the 25,000 employees who worked for the family-run business. Employees for the company — both in the stores and also in the back offices — reportedly found him very likable, and were loyal to him and to the company.

In 2013, Arthur T.’s cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, gained control of the company’s board. After trying for months, Arthur S. was finally able completely to oust Arthur T. from his role this June. A few other top executives also got the boot and were replaced with external hires.

Arthur S., however, does not enjoy the positive reputation of his cousin. The company is known for worker-friendly policies like good health insurance and promotions from within but employees believe that the new leadership means an end to employee-friendly practices and the start of a laser focus on nickel-and-diming their way to the bottom line.

Now workers at every level have rebelled, and so has the public. As of Friday, workers have vowed not to restock until Arthur T. is reinstated. Store shelves are sitting around empty in most Market Basket locations while the feud continues.

Thousands of protestors have gathered for rallies and demonstrations at Market Basket stores over the past days, starting with an event at the company’s Tewksbury, MA headquarters. Eight senior employees who helped organize the rallies have been fired; several of them had 40 or more years of service with the company.

17 Massachusetts lawmakers on Saturday signed a letter supporting the workers and urging consumers to boycott the chain. Massachusetts Attorney General (and gubernatorial candidate) Martha Coakley also put in her two cents to support the workers. Even the governor of New Hampshire has issued a statement asking Market Basket’s new leadership to address the issue.

So where did this all come from? As always, there’s more to the story: current events are just the culmination of well over forty years’ worth of Demoulas family animosity.

A local blogger from Gloucester, MA, has a whole two-part explainer up covering the entire family drama- and scandal-filled backstory back to 1916, when the first store opened. It’s quite a tale, involving epic, decades-long lawsuits, paid-off witnesses, and lots of people going to jail.

The whole saga is well worth a read, but the important points in the timeline leading to today are these:

  • The original founder had two sons, Mike and George Demoulas. They inherited his business.
  • Mike and George expanded and co-managed the chain through the 1950s and ’60s, until George died suddenly in 1971.
  • During the 1970s and 1980s, Mike basically stole the company out from under George’s heirs one chunk at a time.
  • In the 1990s, George’s family sued Mike’s family over the fraud. The ensuing lawsuits become sprawling chaos.
  • George’s family eventually wins. Mike is found to have defrauded them to the tune of $500 million and they gain back 51% of the company.

Ousted-but-beloved Arthur T. is one of Mike Demoulas’s four children; new, reviled leader Arthur S. is one of George Demoulas’s four children. It’s not hard to see why there would be animosity between them, nor even particularly hard to see why Arthur S. and his family might feel they are owed more from the company than they have been getting.

But what’s become clear over the past few weeks is that pretty much everyone at every level underestimated the loyalty Market Basket employees have for Arthur T. Market Basket does not have a unionized workforce, and so the employees do not have protection to undertake a collective strike.

Arthur T. Demoulas issued a statement today urging the company to reinstate the employees who were fired, saying, “The success of Market Basket is the result of two things: a business model that works and the execution of it by a dedicated and impassioned team of associates. Their fierce loyalty to the company and its customers has always been deeply valued. In the final analysis, this is not about me. It is about the people who have proven their dedication over many years and should not have lost their jobs because of it. I urge that they be reinstated in the best interest of the company and our customers.”

This week, the protests have moved from the company’s head offices to the (empty) stores themselves. Employees are calling for rallies at all 71 store locations. Reports from local media find that consumers are vaguely supportive of the workers, but mostly just want to be able to buy groceries again.

It’s unusual at best for so many workers to rally in support of one top executive over another, particularly at the risk of their own jobs. Arthur T. might not get his job back, but the chain needs to find a way to make peace with its workforce before all its customers get too used to shopping with the competition.

Despite Policy Changes, Google Must Face Class Action Suit Regarding In-App Purchases

Tue, 2014-07-22 21:46

A class action suit against Google involves the in-app purchase of currency for the game Marvel Run Jump Smash.

A class action suit against Google involves the in-app purchase of currency for the game Marvel Run Jump Smash.

Google may have made changes to prevent inadvertent in-app purchases within the Google Play store, but the company still has to answer for their previously lax controls that allowed children to run up huge bills on their parents’ accounts.

Reuters reports that a U.S. district court in San Jose ruled that Google must face a class action lawsuit filed by a New York woman earlier this year.

The suit [PDF] was filed in San Francisco by a mother who says that one of her young boys ran up $65.95 in in-app purchases while playing the game Marvel Run Jump Smash on her Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 tablet.

“Prior to the purchase of an App, Google requires account holders to enter their password,” reads the complaint. “However, once the account holder enters the password, he or she (or… his or her minor child) could make purchases for up to 30 minutes without re-entering the password. Thus, a parent could enter his or her password to permit a child to download a free gaming App, and then allow the child to download and play the game. What Google did not tell parents, however, is that their child was then able to purchase Game Currency for 30 minutes without any supervision, oversight or authorization.”

The federal judge Monday denied Google’s motions to dismiss portions of the case that alleged its advertisements were “unfair, deceptive or misleading” and allegations that Google breached the “duty of good faith and fair dealing.”

Google is just the latest company taken to task over in-app purchases.

In June 2013, Apple settled a class-action lawsuit over in-app purchases made by children on their parents’ phones and tablets. Then in January, the company reached a deal with the Federal Trade Commission in which it would issue at least $32.5 million in refunds to consumers.

Earlier this month, the FTC sued Amazon in federal court related to an investigation into the e-tailer’s in-app purchase policy that essentially allows children to make unauthorized purchases.

Google must face class action over kids’ in-apps purchases [Reuters]

Authorities Bust Tiny Dog Out Of Hot Van At Costco, 98-Year-Old Mom Out Of Hot Car At Casino

Tue, 2014-07-22 21:07
(CBS DFW)

(CBS DFW)

Shopping at Costco is pretty great, but that doesn’t mean you should bring your dog along on your shopping trip, then leave it in your vehicle with the temperature outside in the 90s. The same goes for your very young and very old loved ones. Come to think of it, just don’t lock anyone in the car. An elderly woman and a dog are both still alive because authorities intervened and got them both out.

A passing shopper filmed an Animal Services employee breaking the windows of a van in Plano, Texas over the weekend. “I was hot, and I could only imagine what the dog was going through,” the shopper noted. An Animal Services employee said that while they would have preferred not to break into the vehicle, the dog was becoming distressed, panting rapidly. He had been left with a cup of water, and the van’s windows were all closed.

Animal Services now has the dog, because it turns out that he didn’t belong to the owner of the van. The family claimed to have found him as a stray recently, and the city is looking for his owner(s). The dog will go up for adoption if they can’t be found. The people who locked the animal in the van received a citation for animal cruelty, and the city is not responsible for the expense of repairing the broken window.

Meanwhile, police were summoned to a casino in Maryland when someone reported an elderly woman sitting alone inside of a locked truck in the parking garage. It was about eighty degrees inside the closed vehicle, and she had been waiting there for five hours while her son was inside gambling. When police found him, they arrested him for vulnerable adult neglect, as well as an unrelated outstanding warrant.

Sitting in a hot car is a miserable experience even if you’re a young and healthy adult human. Don’t leave vulnerable elders, children, and animals in your vehicle.

Police: Man Left His Elderly Mom in Hot Car While at Md. Casino [CBS Washington]
Plano Man Breaks Into Hot Van To Rescue Dog [CBS DFW]

Target App Allows Customers To Take Pictures Of Ads, Have Product Delivered To Their Door

Tue, 2014-07-22 20:35

targetHave you ever seen a product in an ad that you just had to have but couldn’t make it to the actual store? Sure, you could try to find it online, but who has time to wade through search results all day? A new app from Target hopes to connect customers and their sought-after items more easily.

The In A Snap app allows customers to take a picture of a target advertisement to immediately purchase the item and have it shipped to their home, the retailer announced in a blog post.

The snap and shop technology isn’t just relegated to the retailer’s weekly ads, customers scanning the latest editions of Real Simple, Architectural Digest and Domino magazines can take photos of print ads to purchase products, as well.

Officials with Target say the app is an example of the company’s “test-and-learn” approach to reaching digitally savvy customers.

Earlier this year, the company created one big advertisement by connecting an episode of TBS’s Cougar Town with items from a home decor line at the store.

Viewers watching the show online could click on a decor piece with a flashing red plus sign and be taken to the product’s page to make the purchase.

It appears that In A Snap is currently only available on iOS supported electronics, but officials with Target say if the launch goes smoothly they plan to expand its offerings and the number of adds that can be snapped.

Target Testing Image Recognition App for Easy Mobile Shopping [Target]

Gas Leak At Frozen Burrito Company Leads To Sick Workers, Fart Jokes

Tue, 2014-07-22 19:59

(YouTube)

Evol does not make burritos for hamsters. Yet. (YouTube)

A gas leak and poison monoxide poisoning in the workplace are not at all funny, and we’re glad to hear that workers at Evol in Boulder, Colorado are all okay after they had to evacuate their building. It turned out that the building had dangerous levels of carbon monoxide gas inside because of an unnoticed feature of some of the company’s equipment.

No, no, that “equipment” was not the company’s burritos. Police say that the high carbon monoxide levels in the building may have come from the large batteries that power their forklifts, which had been recharging inside the building. Police didn’t specify where those forklifts were, only that they give off gas while charging.

Paramedics checked 70 employees for signs of carbon monoxide poisoning, and sent 6 to a local hospital. The facility re-opened and burrito-making resumed after the emergency responders aired out the building. Employees sent to the hospital were released later the same afternoon as well.

The company says that it will investigate what caused such a severe leak.

Carbon monoxide exposure at Boulder’s Evol Foods sends 6 to hospital [Boulder Daily Camera]

Proposed Bill Would Keep Many For-Profit Schools From Targeting Military Servicemembers

Tue, 2014-07-22 19:30

(Hammerin Man)

(Hammerin Man)

Legislation making its way though the Senate could put an end to for-profit marketing campaigns targeting servicemembers and their families by changing the way in which those schools count student aid.

The Department of Defense Appropriations Act 2015, which passed the House last week and currently awaits Senate action, includes language that would place new restrictions on some of the federal military benefits currently used toward for-profit education.

The provision, which was introduced by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, changes the language of the “90/10 rule” – used to cap for-profit colleges’ federal funding – to include the Defense Department’s voluntary military education programs.

The current federal 90/10 rule is a provision in the law that bars for-profit colleges and universities from deriving more than 90% of their revenue from the U.S. Department of Education’s federal student aid programs. The other 10% needs to come from sources other than the federal government.

Currently, tuition assistance for servicemembers and MyCAA for their spouses are not included in the 90/10 calculation. Durbin and others believe the omission of these programs make servicemembers and their families vulnerable to aggressive recruitment by for-profit colleges.

If passed, the proposed legislation would also prevent these funds from being used for advertising and marketing purposes while requiring the Department of Defense to better track how the Tuition Assistance and MyCAA funding is being spent by for-profit colleges.

None of the funds made available by this Act… may be disbursed or delivered to an institution of higher education… unless the institution certifies to the Secretary of Defense that it will not use revenues derived from educational assistance funds provided in any form under any Federal law for advertising, marketing or student recruitment activities.

Durbin says in a news release that the recent failure of Corinthian Colleges Inc., its less than savory reputation and the fact that its schools have continued recruitment of students underscores the provision’s importance.

A recent Military Times article reported that the CCI-operated Heald College and Wyotech representatives were actively recruiting servicemembers at education events at four military bases just last week.

“Before signing up for class and student debt, every student should know Corinthian schools are going out of business,” Durbin says. “While my bill would bring much-needed long-term reform to the for-profit college industry, it can’t prevent students from enrolling in a failed for-profit college tomorrow. The Department of Education and state agencies around the country need to put an end to all new Corinthian College enrollments as several states have already done.”

Durbin Legislation Would Help Curb Predatory Marketing Of Armed Forces By For-Profit Colleges [Sen. Dick Durbin]

Remember: You’re Probably Only Opted Out Of Bank Junk Mail For A Few Years

Tue, 2014-07-22 19:09

Here's a letter sent to a Consumerist reader in 2013, reminding him to re-opt-out of BofA junk mail.

Here’s a letter sent to a Consumerist reader in 2013, reminding him to re-opt-out of BofA junk mail, even though he was no longer a customer.

Have you ever cut ties with a friend or loved one, thinking you’d never want to see them again? Have you later had second thoughts about taking the axe (metaphorically) to that relationship and wished you could rebuild what you once had? When it comes to banks, many of them just assume that people who opted out of junk mail are just sitting at home regretting that they ever stopped asking for their mailboxes to once again be filled with credit card, mortgage, and savings account solicitations.

We first wrote about this last year, when a Consumerist reader — who wasn’t even a Bank of America customer anymore — received a letter from BofA reminding him that his 5-year-old junk mail opt-out with the bank was set to expire and that he’d have to contact BofA if he didn’t want to get back on the list of useless mailings that go right into the shredder.

In today’s L.A. Times, David Lazarus takes a closer look at the situation, pointing out that it’s not just BofA that puts a time clock on customers’ opt-out preferences. In fact, he writes that Wells Fargo’s opt-out only lasts for three years, meaning you’ll be saying “no” to WF junk mail more frequently than you’ll be watching the U.S. lose (or fight to a glorious draw) at the World Cup.

A rep for BofA tells Lazarus that the auto opt-out is really all about you, the customer, who Bank of America loves so much.

“We update consumer preferences on direct-mail solicitations every five years because individuals’ preferences may change in the interim and we want to make sure we have current information,” explains the rep.

Yes, the reason you haven’t bought your first home is because you opted out of bank junk mail and don’t know that Bank of America — which has been in the headlines on a regular basis for the last five years because of it mortgage practices — offers home loans.

Lazarus suggests a couple of ways to cut down on junk mail:

OptOutPrescreen.com is a site operated by the nation’s biggest credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, TransUnion. It allows you to opt out electronically of most credit and insurance junk mail for five years. If you want to nix these mailings on a more permanent basis, you’ll need to do so in writing.

DMAchoice.org is run by the junk mail trade group, the Direct Marketing Association. It allows you to opt out of a wide variety of junk mail from the DMA’s 3,600 companies and organizations.

We don’t know if either of these will help if some jerk who controls the mailing list changes your last name to “Is A Slut.”

Video Shows You Don’t Need All That Fine Print In Prepaid Card Fee Disclosures

Tue, 2014-07-22 18:33

Prepaid debit cards may offer a convenient alternative for unbanked consumers, but there are often unexpected costs buried in all the fine print of the cards’ disclosure documents that most people never read. It doesn’t need to be that way.

Today, the Pew Charitable Trusts unveiled the above video comparing a typical prepaid card packaging to their own disclosure box that aims provide easy comparison of prepaid card fees and terms and conditions.

The video features two consumers, Lisa and Jim, who are purchasing prepaid cards to better budget their expenses for a vacation. While Lisa’s prepaid card uses the Pew disclosure box, Jim’s does not.

Jim’s “typical” prepaid card box only lists some of the fees associated with the card. To see the full list of fees, Jim has to purchase the card and then read the fine print on a hard to find Terms and Conditions paper.

While Jim’s struggling to read his card’s fine print, Lisa is off enjoying a Hawaiian vacation.

“We wanted to show in a very accessible way how the disclosure would work,” Susan Weinstock, director of consumer banking research for Pew, tells Consumerist. “We thought doing something fun and engaging would provide that opportunity.”

Although the short video may not be groundbreaking, it does get the point across that prepaid cards can be tricky products to invest in; because there are no federal laws or regulations to protect consumers who use the cards, they could be subjected to hidden fees, unauthorized transactions, or loss of funds.

The video is Pew’s latest effort to bring awareness to the hidden dangers of prepaid cards. Back in February, Pew unveiled the model disclosure box in conjunction with a study detailing the lack of transparency in current card disclosures.

“Many prepaid cards have summary disclosures and leave other fees buried in terms of conditions, or in longer complicated disclosures that are harder to reach – either online or in the case of retail you have to open the package,” Thaddeus King, senior reseacher for consumer banking tells Consumerist.

Pew’s disclosure box – which shouldn’t be confused with a similar box that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is working on – fits on the inside flap of the existing card packaging, making it more convenient for consumers to find fees before purchasing the prepaid card.

Pew researchers found that nearly all of the 66 cards included in its study failed to disclose at least one type of fee, service, or consumer protection.

That research was echoed in an April Bankrate.com survey that examined 30 popular prepaid cards and found that while all charged fees, the actual fee structure varied considerably.

Officials with Pew say the use of its disclosure box would allow for less surprises when it comes to using prepaid cards.

The first company to embrace Pew’s box was JPMorgan Chase. The company announced earlier this year that its Chase Liquid prepaid cards would be the first product to employ Pew’s disclosure box. The company also uses Pew’s checking account disclosure box.

Pew is working on expanding the reach of its box by partnering with Visa in the future. The major credit card company has decide to create a seal of approval designation for Visa-backed prepaid cards. In order for a card to receive the seal they must employ the disclosure box, Weinstock says.

Aside from bringing awareness to consumers, Pew officials hope the prepaid video encourages federal regulators to finish their work on creating consumer protections when it comes to the cards.

“Once rules are in place this will be a safe product that can be a much cheaper option than a checking account,” Weinstock says.

Pew previously made several recommendations to the CFPB to make prepaid cards safer for consumers:

  • Prepaid cards should not have overdraft or other automated or linked credit features.
  • Prepaid cardholders should be protected against liability for unauthorized transactions that occur either when a card is lost or stolen or a charge is incorrectly applied.
  • Prepaid cardholders should have access to account information and transaction history.
  • Prepaid cards should be required to provide information about terms, conditions, and fees in a uniform, concise, and easy-to-read format. This information should be included with the card packaging so that it is accessible pre-purchase at retail outlets as well as online.
  • Prepaid card funds should be federally insured against loss caused by the failure of an institution.
  • Predispute binding arbitration clauses in cardholder agreements, which prevent cardholders from having the choice to challenge unfair and deceptive practices or other legal violations in court, should be prohibited.

AirBNB Guest Refuses To Leave Condo, Tries To Air-Condition The Desert

Tue, 2014-07-22 18:20

(Jonathan Coffey)

(Jonathan Coffey)

An AirBNB “guest” is taking advantage of gaps between the site’s policies and California rental law to squat indefinitely in a Palm Springs condo. Does that sound like a sharing economy nightmare? It is.

The one bit of good news is that the “host” didn’t rent out her primary residence while she happened to be out of town: no, she rented out her vacation home for 44 days. The problem is that 30 days into the stay, the guest quit paying. Why 30 days? After renting a place that long, a tenant, even a temporary one, gains rights to their new “home” under California law. Now it will cost the homeowner thousands of dollars in legal fees and take three to six months to evict the unwanted tenants.

He had complaints about the condo initially, but now isn’t budging. The owner says that the power usage is quadruple the normal levels while the home is occupied or rented out, perhaps because the tenant has been leaving doors and windows open with the air conditioning on.

AirBNB says that they’re compensating the homeowner while the squatter stays, and after the San Francisco Chronicle got involved, the company has also offered to help with her legal fees. “I don’t think they’re equipped to deal with this type of situation,” she told the Chronicle. “I’d like to see them change some policies and improve customer service so they can help people should something like this happen.”
The problem for AirBNB hosts is that in a crisis like this, they can expect to get an e-mail response from the company within 48 hours, and there’s no “guest won’t leave my home” crisis hotline.

Squatters don’t sit well with Airbnb hosts [San Francisco Chronicle] (via ABC News – auto-play video)

Delta, Other U.S. Airlines Cancel Flights To Israel Due To Missile Concerns

Tue, 2014-07-22 18:00

(kevindean)

(kevindean)


In the wake of the tragedy that befell Malaysian Airlines flight 17 last week over Ukraine, and amid escalating hostilities in the Middle East, multiple American airlines have now suspended flights into Israel.

The Associated Press reports that following earlier reports of a rocket landing near Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, Delta has canceled all flights to Israel until further notice.

One such flight, Delta 468, was over the Mediterranean approaching Turkey when it made a dramatic turnaround and Delta rerouted it back to Paris, one flight-tracking site reported.

NBC News confirmed that US Airways has also cancelled flights today to Tel Aviv and American Airlines is meeting to discuss whether they should continue or cancel flights to Israel.

Airlines cancel flights to Israel over missile fears [AP/CNBC]

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