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The Consumerist

UK Artist Creates Payday Loan Store For Kids

Thu, 2014-10-30 15:53

C'mon kiddies, get your 5,000% APR payday loans!

C’mon kiddies, get your 5,000% APR payday loans!

At first glance, the bright blue London storefront with a hand-painted technicolor scene of a cartoon cityscape in the window — complete with a smiling yellow mascot — looks like some sort of kid’s toy store or maybe a daycare center. That is, until you see the sign that reads, “Payday Loans 4 Kids.”

The recently opened Pocket Money Loans, with its offer of 5,000% APR loans (available in only 3 minutes!) for the youngsters, is horrifying some Londoners — or at least those who don’t realize that this is not an actual predatory lending operation.

Instead, the storefront and its associated website are the creation of UK artist Darren Cullen, who is critiquing the way in which actual payday lenders market their products to youth in England.

“Almost all payday loan companies have cartoon mascots, animated characters or sing-along jingles in their adverts,” he explains to HuffPo UK. “Their high street shops often have play areas full of toys and some of them hand out balloons and sweets to kids at the counter.”

Several people, believing this is a real payday loan operation, have vented their rage at the store online, and Cullen says that one in-store visitor refused to believe that it was not actually offering these loans.

“Most of the people who come in just want to be reassured that it’s not real,” says Cullen, “but one guy left believing it was real even after I told him it wasn’t, shaking his head at me.”

moneyproblems

Town Creates Nation’s First “Craigslist Transaction Safe Zone”

Thu, 2014-10-30 15:05

While the vast majority of purchases made via Craigslist go down without a problem, those don’t make the news; it’s the rare case of people getting scammed or attacked that earns the headlines. In an effort to reduce the chance of those sorts of incidents, one Pennsylvania community has created what it claims is the nation’s first Craigslist Transaction Safe Zone.

The police in Conshohocken, a borough on the outskirts of Philadelphia, recently decided that the police station parking lot and lobby were probably the safest places in town to allow area residents to arrange to meet with buyers and sellers from Craigslist, as the likelihood of being rooked out of your money or beaten up by a stranger drops when there are police officers in the vicinity and cameras rolling all the time.

Even with the Safe Zone available at all times of day and night, the Conshohocken police chief recommends that people arrange their transactions during the daytime and always bring a buddy.

Burger King Ditches The Beef For New India Restaurants – Unveils Mutton, Vegetable Whoppers

Thu, 2014-10-30 14:44

Burger King unveiled its newest non-beef menu items Wednesday ahead of the company's launch in India.

Burger King unveiled its newest non-beef menu items Wednesday ahead of the company’s launch in India.

When you hear the name Burger King, you assume the restaurant serves a plethora of burgers. And while that’s true in the United States, it won’t be the case for the company’s latest expansion into India, where menu items are beef-free.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the king of burgers will unveil a new versions of its signature Whopper sandwich when the company’s first restaurants in India open.

Burger King made the announcement in a Facebook post late Wednesday: “GREAT NEWS – The WHOPPER IS COMING SOON TO INDIA!”

The first post was quickly followed by the clarification, “We do not have beef on our menu but our options will certainly delight you.”

The new beef-free burgers include the Chicken Whopper, the Mutton Whopper and the Vegetable Whopper.

Burger King says it dropped its classic beef and pork menu items after keeping in mind the religious practices of the country’s population. It’s unclear if the new options will ever make an appearance at U.S. locations.

[Click to expand]

[Click to expand]

Still, the WSJ reports that some of company’s newest clients aren’t exactly thrilled by the new menu items.

“Whopper as chicken is unacceptable,” one Facebook user wrote after the company’s announcement.

“That sir is not a Whopper. It looks more like a chicken sandwich trying to be cool,” another resident posted.

While the fast food chain has ditched the beef and pork offerings from its upcoming menu, it continues to post photos of traditional Whoppers on its social media account in an attempt to teach its newest customers about the sandwiches.

The fast food restaurant, which is in the process of merging with Tim Hortons and moving to Canada, has yet to confirm how many locations it will open in India.

Local media in India have reported that the chain plans to open at least 12 outlets in the next three months.

Burger King Brings Beef-Free Whoppers to India [The Wall Street Journal]

October Recall Roundup: Let’s Review The Difference Between Tables And Chairs

Thu, 2014-10-30 14:30

In the Recall Roundup for October, some American consumers aren’t clear on how tables work, an appliance that’s supposed to kill bedbugs tries to do so by burning your house down, and a Halloween flashlight can overheat and melt in a terrifying way. Here are the consumer items recalled in the last month.

Three-Lamps_LARGEHome
Waterway Plastics Spa Drain Suction Covers – Drain covers may detach, and could trap a user’s limb in the drain. No injuries reported.
ThermalStrike Expedition bedbug heat treatment system – Poses electrical fire hazard. There has been one report of a minor fire, and three reports of units giving off sparks.
Rejuvenation Haleigh Wire Dome Pendant hanging lamps – lamps may fall off the cord. There has been one report of a falling lamp, but no reported injuries.
Sling Fabric Café Furniture Sets (sold at Costco) – missing washer plate means that chairs may collapse. No reported injuries.
Michaels Stores Folding Tables – tables may collapse if “excessive” weight is placed on them. If you’re wondering what constitutes an excessive amount of stuff to put on a table, the answer is “a person.” Four consumers have reported that they tables collapsed while they were sitting on them. The users, who apparently aren’t clear on the concept of what a “table” is, reported hip, leg, and back injuries when the tables collapsed.

projectorlight
Halloween Items
Meijer image projector Halloween flashlights – may overheat, causing the handle to melt. One user has reported a melted flashlight.

titanium_lopperTools & Gardening
Craftsman Push Mowers (sold at Orchard Supply Hardware) – engine control lever may not control engine, causing engine and blades to run. No injuries reported.
Fiskars Bypass Lopper Shears – Handles may break while cutting branches. There have been 11 reports of handle-falling-off incidents, including some people with bruising or with lacerations that required stitches.
Brigg & Stratton Snapper Rear Engine Riding Mowers – axle failure may lead to loss of brake control. Two users have reported losing brake control, but there have been no injuries.

toy_toasterToys
Just Like Home Toy Toaster Sets (Toys’R’Us) – Plastic toast is not real food, but the plastic toast may crack and break, ending up in a child’s mouth.

Electronics
Sanus Simplicity Television Wall Mounts (Costco) – television may detach from the mount. Two TVs have detached from their mounts, one of which injured a user’s shoulder.

flutterbyBabies & Kids
Baby wipes sold under brands Cuties, Diapers.com, Femtex, Fred’s, Kidgets, Member’s Mark, Simply Right, Sunny Smiles, Tender Touch, and Well Beginnings - contamination with Burkholderia cepacia bacteria
Trimfoot Children’s Soft-Soled Sneakers (sold at Macy’s) – metal eyelet may detach, and children may choke on it. No injuries reported.
Pure Baby Organics Boys’ Hoodies – illegal drawstrings; no injuries reported.
Koala children’s butterfly sandals (Toys’R’Us) – butterflies can come off and pose choking hazard. One parent found a detached butterfly in a child’s mouth, but there have been no reported injuries.

Clothing
Zazou women’s silk scarves – do not meet federal flammability standards. No fires or injuries reported.

Vehicles
KYMCO All-Terrain Vehicles – fuel cap may not vent correctly, leading to pressure in the fuel tank and fires. No fires or injuries reported.
2014 Honda Pioneer 700 recreational off-road vehicles – debris on exhaust plate may catch fire. Eleven minor fires reported, but no injuries.
atvModel year 2008 and 2009 Arctic Cat all-terrain vehicles – front gear case may fail, leading to loss of vehicle control. There have been 44 reports of this, including 10 where the vehicle stopped or the operator lost control. One person sustained broken ribs and knee and back injuries.

Sports & Outdoors
Cane Creek DBINLINE Rear Shocks – may not work correctly, leading rider to fall off the bike. There have been four complaints of failures, with one report of minor injuries.
Louis Garneau P-09 bicycle helmets – may not protect from injuries in cold weather. No reported injuries.

Grocery Chain Sues Clorox For Refusing To Sell Bulk-Pack Products

Wed, 2014-10-29 22:55
(Louis Abate)

(Louis Abate)

Woodman’s Food Market, a Wisconsin-based supermarket chain, is going up against one the nation’s largest producers of household products, accusing Clorox of promoting anticompetitive practices and violating federal law by no longer allowing Woodman’s to sell bulk-packs of Clorox products to consumers.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports that Woodman’s filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Madison earlier this week claiming that Clorox’s new policy – which only allows members-only warehouse stores to sell large packs of products – is a violation of the Robinson-Patman Act.

The Act, which was created in 1936, prohibits anti-competitive practices including price discrimination by producers of products.

According to the complaint [PDF], officials with Woodman’s say a representative from Clorox informed them that the company had created a “Differentiated Products Offering” and that the grocery store – which operates like a warehouse store – would be lumped in with other general market retailers, losing the ability to sell large quantity packs of products and, thus, losing business.

Officials with Clorox allegedly told Woodman’s the change was meant to simplify its market strategy, streamline its operations, offer customers differentiated products and create the “right assortment” of sizes and brands for different retailers based on their shoppers.

However, Woodman’s claims none of those justifications address the prohibition against discrimination in price, discounts, allowances or promotional services between different purchasers of commodities of like grade and quality.

Previously, Woodman’s says it spent hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to provide large packs of Clorox products to its customers.

Products included 192-count Glad Freezer quart bags, 112-count Glad Freezer gallon bags, 460-count Glad Food Storage Zipper Sandwich bags, 42-pound Scoop Away Complete Kitty Litter, 2-40 ounce Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing containers and more.

Under its new policy Clorox says that Woodman’s would be able to purchase smaller packages of products containing the identical grade and quality of all the previously sold products.

But that’s not enough for Woodman’s who says those products come at a significantly higher cost to the store and don’t meet the need of its customer base.

Officials with the store, which has 15 locations in Wisconsin and Illinois, say it operates the largest grocery stores in the world – averaging in excess of over 235,000 square feet per store; a size that puts it in line with many members-only warehouse stores.

“Woodman’s strives to offer its customers the lowest price on the products it sells, it has become the grocer of choice for those purchasing groceries on a budget,” the complaint reads. “Because of the large size of its stores, Woodman’s competes directly for retail customers with the two largest warehouse retailers, Sam’s Club and Costco.”

The complaint alleges that by placing Woodman’s in a different channel than its two largest competitors – Sam’s Club and Costco – Clorox has created an anticompetitive climate for the grocer.

“Without competition from Woodman’s, Sam’s Club and Costco will be able to raise their prices on large pack items,” the complaint reads.

Woodman’s requested that it be allowed to continue purchasing the special large packs, but Clorox denied the request, reiterating its new stance that only Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s could receive the large packages in the future.

The lawsuit seeks a ruling to declare there is no basis, under the Robinson-Patman Act, for Clorox to place Woodman’s in a channel separate from competitors and that the manufacturer provide the company with the same discounts and promotions afforded to its warehouse competitors.

Officials with Clorox tell the State Journal that Woodman’s lawsuit has no merit and the company intends to vigorously defend its new policy.

Woodman’s sues Clorox for pricing discrimination [Wisconsin State Journal]

Do You Really Need A Fridge With A Water And Ice Dispenser?

Wed, 2014-10-29 22:50

(Karen Chappell)

(Karen Chappell)

Water and ice dispensers are a common addition to refrigerators, but are they a useful one? They can be. They offer fresh, on-demand water and ice, usually freshly filtered. The convenience might encourage you to drink more ice water. However, they also take up space and cause problems.

Our pitcher-filling cousins down the hall at Consumer Reports test a lot of appliances, and they know a lot about what a water dispenser and ice maker add to or detract from a refrigerator.

They’re more useful than they used to be. Carbonated water, heated water, and even dispenser spaces tall enough to fit a whole pitcher, if you want to make anything from cucumber-mint water to Kool-Aid. Using filtered tap water is cheaper and easier than using bottled water or a home water cooler,

They need to be fixed more often. More features means more things that can go wrong. With a non-working dispenser…

You lose space for keeping food. The dispenser and ice maker take up valuable real estate that you could be using for ice cream, frozen pizzas, or ice cream. If they aren’t working and you don’t bother to get them fixed, then you lose that space and you don’t get on-demand crushed ice.

The hidden cost of refrigerator water dispensers [Consumer Reports]

Lysol Buys Google Search Ads To Take Advantage Of Ebola Panic

Wed, 2014-10-29 22:25

(Barbara Wells)

(Barbara Wells)

A few weeks ago, we shared the not-at-all-surprising news that Americans are buying more cleaning supplies, especially disinfectants, than we normally do at this time of year. We can partly credit the Ebola virus. While cleanliness is rarely a bad thing and Ebola is a terrifying disease, we do have to give some side-eye to Lysol for buying ads on Google searches about Ebola.

The search result is no longer there, but Vice took a screenshot at the time. The item urges the searcher to “learn the facts about Ebola virus from Lysol(R).” While it is clearly marked as a sponsored result, it also sat above what might be more helpful links from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, or even Wikipedia.

ebola

Even Lysol realizes that, and their “Ebola Update” page currently refers curious people over to the CDC. At the same time, the page also says:

Lysol products like Lysol Disinfectant Spray and the other products listed here are approved as hospital-grade disinfectants and though not specifically tested to kill the Ebola virus, based on their ability to kill similar as well as harder to kill viruses, these products are likely to be effective against the Ebola virus.

The problem is that diseases tend to spread person-to-person. Ebola in particular spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids, which wiping down every surface in your home will not help with.

“I think this is a corporation riding on false fears of an epidemic to sell its product, thus reinforcing those fears,” a Columbia University epidemiologist told Vice.

No, Lysol hasn’t actually been tested for its ability to kill Ebola. It kills similar viruses, so it’s likely to kill Ebola. However, we like to imagine that researchers with samples of the virus are using it to work toward finding possible cures or vaccines, not testing the efficacy of cleaning solutions that are available at Walmart.

Vice takes a look back in consumer and public health history, pointing out that Lysol advertised its disinfecting power against the Spanish flu epidemic. Sure, Lysol also killed that version of influenza, but that virus was also more likely to be transmitted from person to person.

​Lysol Bought the Top Google Search Result for ‘Ebola’ [Vice]

Chrysler Recalls 566,000 Trucks And SUVs For Fuel Leaks, Stability Control Issues

Wed, 2014-10-29 21:03
(Consumerist Dot Com)

(Consumerist Dot Com)

The recalls continue to roll in for national car manufacturers. This time Chrysler has issued two recalls affecting more than 566,000 trucks and SUVs for issues related to fuel leaks and electronic stability control disablement.

Chrysler announced Wednesday the recall of 314,704 model year 2010 to 2014 Dodge Ram 2500 and 3500 trucks and Ram 4500 and 5500 chassis cab trucks to replace the wiring harness and fuel heater housings.

Officials with the car manufacturer say engineers discovered that a terminal connector near the fuel heater may be subject to friction-induced corrosion, which could cause overheating and potential fuel leaks.

Owners of the affected vehicles will be notified and dealers will inspect the heater housings to determine if they need to be replaced.

The second recall from Chrysler covers 184,186 model year 2014 Dodge Durango and Jeep Grand Cherokees for issues with the vehicles’ electronic stability control (ESC) software.

Officials with the company say a debris cover protecting certain circuit boards may inadvertently disrupt communication, disabling the ESC.

To remedy the situation dealers will perform an upgrade to software that manages ESC. Owners of affected vehicles will be notified next month and advised to schedule service at that time.

Chrysler says it unaware of any injuries or accidents related to either recall.

Statement: Software Upgrade [Chrysler]
Statement: Fuel-Heater Housing [Chrysler]

MPAA, Theater Owners Adopt Zero-Tolerance Policy Toward Google Glass

Wed, 2014-10-29 20:59

We sure hope handsome, scruffy bike guy isn't en route to the movies, because he'll have to ditch his pricey specs before the movie starts.

We sure hope handsome, scruffy bike guy isn’t en route to the movies, because he’ll have to ditch his pricey specs before the movie starts.

In “who hates Google Glass owners today?” news, the Motion Picture Association of America and the National Association of Theatre Owners have updated their joint anti-piracy policy to add wearable electronics devices — but really just Google Glass — to the list of verboten items to operate while enjoying that movie you should have just waited to watch on your TV.

“As part of our continued efforts to ensure movies are not recorded in theaters… we maintain a zero-tolerance policy toward using any recording device while movies are being shown,” reads the updated policy from the MPAA and NATO (the other one). “[A]ll phones must be silenced and other recording devices, including wearable devices, must be turned off and put away at show time.”

Those who insist on looking like background players from ’90s sci-fi shows by continuing to wear their Google Glasses may be asked to leave the theater.

This isn’t a big deal right now, when Google Glass is still relatively new and clunky. Most users who need prescription lenses either haven’t integrated them into the Google Glass or still have glasses with which they can’t record a movie.

But at some point — whether it’s Google Glass or some device still to come — the integration of computer and glasses will become more seamless, to the point where some people will choose to use the device as their primary eyewear. At that point, do theaters kick people out just for wearing glasses that could shoot video?

Lawsuit Seeks $50K For Woman Claiming She Was Burned By Flying Hot Coals At A Hookah Lounge

Wed, 2014-10-29 20:54

(chrismar)

(chrismar)

A woman is suing a Philadelphia hookah lounge for $50,000 claiming she was burned by hot coals after some raucous fellow patrons dancing around a stripper pole sent hot coals flying onto her chest.

She says in the lawsuit that she and a friend were sitting in a booth in the lounge when a reveler dancing nearby knocked into their table, reports the Associated Press.

The allegedly wobbly table upset their hookah pipe, sending hot coals skyward straight into her décolletage, she claims.

She’s seeking more than $50,000 in damages for the burns to her breasts, saying she not only suffered severe pain but also humiliation, and could need surgery to deal with the scars.

The owner of the lounge reportedly responded to the lawsuit by saying his lawyer told him not to comment, after another news outlet quoted him as saying the plaintiff was “trying to make a quick buck.”

Suit: Breasts burned at Philadelphia hookah lounge [Associated Press]

Here Is The Lab Where People Smash Gorilla Glass On Purpose

Wed, 2014-10-29 20:29

(Ninja M.)

(Ninja M.)

There’s a secret lab at Corning, the glass company, where technicians sit around and torture innocent pieces of glass. They’re not evil glass-haters: they’re testing new formulations of Gorilla Glass, the tough material that most smartphone screens and tablets are made of. Can they make Gorilla Glass tougher and in more shapes in order to replace its possible synthetic sapphire replacement?

CNET visited the Gorilla Glass torture lab recently, and there’s a good reason why: Corning wants to make its case to gadget-lovers Before the latest iPhone came out, there were rumors that it would have a sapphire screen. Don’t go picturing blue phone screens: sheets of synthetic sapphire are clear, they’re almost as tough as diamonds, and they could replace glass in the future. Just not yet. Some phones, including the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, use it to cover the camera lens and thumbprint sensor, but it’s not quite ready to cover a whole screen yet on a mass-market phone. There are some pricey specialty phones that use it.

The completely unbiased people at Corning will tell you that this is because the material shatters too easily. It does shatter very easily: while sapphire doesn’t pick up as many fine scratches as Gorilla Glass, but it does shatter very easily after even very superficial damage. It really is the job of some engineers to break glass all day: looking at how and why glass breaks helps them to formulate new versions, and also to devise new tests that they will use to smash those new versions of the material.

For Gorilla Glass testers, life is a daily grind (and scratch and drop…) [CNET]

Dressing Your Baby In A Marijuana Leaf Costume: Totally Chill Or Completely Inappropriate?

Wed, 2014-10-29 19:58

(BrandsOnSale.com)

(BrandsOnSale.com)

On the one hand, marijuana is legal for medical and recreational use in some states in our fair country, and the plant’s leaf is just another green thing that grows in the ground. But on the other hand, babies and marijuana.

In a move that surprises no one, in-the-news costume purveyor BrandsOnSale.com (See: Sexy/Regular Ebola Containment Suit) has a Baby Marijuana Costume for sale.

At least the company admits it’s a controversial move:

“This Halloween dress up your baby in our most outrageous costume yet! The baby marijuana plant costume is just the right combo of cute and edgy that is sure to get stares and laughs from everyone.”

Are you inclined to laugh or stare in steely judgment?

To the poll!

Take Our Poll (function(d,c,j){if(!d.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src='http://s1.wp.com/wp-content/mu-plugins/shortcodes/js/polldaddy-shortcode.js';s=d.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);} else if(typeof jQuery !=='undefined')jQuery(d.body).trigger('pd-script-load');}(document,'script','pd-polldaddy-loader'));
(H/T Gawker)

Student Loan Servicers Tricked Borrowers Into Paying More, Made Illegal Collection Calls

Wed, 2014-10-29 19:55

(darrenleno)

(darrenleno)

As if student loan borrowers needed more bad news, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a report this week detailing how some student loan servicers have tricked consumers into paying higher fees and misrepresented balances due.

The CFPB Supervision report [PDF] examined the practices of the companies hired by financial institutions and put in charge of collecting and processing loan payments, modifications and keeping records of borrowers’ payment history.

Examiners for the CFPB found that from March to June 2014 some student loan servicers took part in several illegal and shady practices including inflating borrowers’ minimum payments, made illegal collection calls and charged unlawful late fees.

Although the CFPB did not identify the companies conducting the illegal practices, it did say that one or more servicers that inflated consumers’ did so by including amounts that were in deferment and not actually due.

Examiners found that some servicers employed fee-maximizing practices for consumers who typically made one payment to be split over multiple loans.

In instances that the borrower paid less than the full amount due, the servicer would apply the payment proportionally to each loan. Borrowers were then being charged a minimum late fee on all their loans, with many of those loans then becoming delinquent.

Additionally, the CFPB found that one or more servicers unfairly charged borrowers late fees when payments were received during a stated grace period.

“Like many other types of loans, many student loan contracts have grace periods after the due date,” the report states. “If a payment is received after the due date, but during the grace period, the promissory note stated that late fees would not be charged.”

Some servicers also made it difficult for consumers to acquire required or needed forms for tax purposes. The CFPB claims this practice may have cause some consumers to lose up to $2,500 in tax deductions.

Consumers seeking information on possible loan discharges were often given inaccurate and misleading information from servicers, the CFPB examiners report.

While student loans are extremely difficult to discharge through bankruptcy, it is possible if the borrower proves undue hardship in court. However, many of the servicers examined by the CFPB would imply that student loans were never dischargeable.

Often borrowers who were subjected to one or more of the CFPB’s deceptive findings would find themselves with delinquent loans.

When this happened, examiners found that many student loans servicers would routinely call borrowers early in the morning or late at night.

For example, examiners identified more than 5,000 calls made at inconvenient times during a 45-day period, which included 48 calls made to one consumer.

Under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the CFPB has authority to supervise and bring charges against banks and certain nonbanks including loan servicers. The latest report, the fifth edition of Supervisory Highlights, aims to share information with industry servicers to ensure their operations are in compliance with federal laws.

“Students are already struggling with crushing amounts of loan debt,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray says in a statement. “Student borrowers deserve better than illegal practices as they work to pay back their loans. All borrowers should be treated fairly by loan servicers, and through our supervision program, we intend to hold them accountable for how they treat borrowers.”

CFPB Supervision Report Highlights Risky Practices in Student Loan Servicing [CFPB]

Why AT&T Is Being Sued Over Data Throttling But Verizon Isn’t (Yet)

Wed, 2014-10-29 19:44

(So Cal Metro)

(So Cal Metro)

The glory days of unlimited mobile data plans are long behind us. For years, even the owners of “unlimited” plans have been subject to mysterious and inconsistent limits from their mobile providers. Yesterday, the poorly communicated limits of unlimited data became the core issue of a large lawsuit the FTC filed against AT&T. It’s the first time the agency has tackled data throttling at all, but if many companies are doing it, why target AT&T and not everyone else?

What You Do vs. What You Say
AT&T isn’t exactly acting out of concert with the other big three national mobile carriers here. All four have been accused of hiding or failing to disclose crucial information about data throttling from their subscribers.

The FCC regulates telecom companies and has been taking a close look at the practice of data throttling this year. Mobile data use and throttling are also part of the larger discussion about net neutrality going on at the commission this year. But it’s not the FCC that filed the lawsuit. The FTC did.

The FTC regulates advertising and the promises companies make in their marketing. If AT&T had in fact been doing exactly what they said they were doing, FTC officials contend, the lawsuit wouldn’t have been necessary. The issue, instead, is that AT&T is not clearly saying what they’re doing. Or rather, that what they’re doing actually goes contrary to what they claim they offer.

It might not be fun for wireless customers to be subject to throttling, but when it’s necessary, mobile companies are indeed allowed to do it. Network management is a real and legitimate thing.

AT&T’s Terms and Conditions specify that their wireless network “may not be used in any manner that has the effect of excessively contributing to network congestion, hindering other customers’ access to the network, or degrading network performance,” and that’s generally a good idea. Neither AT&T nor their subscribers benefit if a small handful of extremely high-demand users concentrated in one geographic area can make network speed suck for hundreds or thousands of other users.

AT&T also explicitly reserves the right to “reduce your data throughput speeds at any time or place” (i.e. throttle your service) if your data usage “exceeds an applicable, identified usage threshold during any billing cycle,” but that’s where we get into trouble today. It’s easy to spot the threshold you agreed to in a 2 GB per month contract — but what is an “applicable, identified threshold” for a user with an unlimited data plan?

The Limits of “Unlimited”
AT&T stopped offering unlimited data plans to new customers way back in 2010. Crucially, however, they allowed existing contracts to continue. They began their current strategy of limiting the data “unlimited” subscribers could use by throttling them after they reached a certain threshold in 2011.

For comparison, Verizon also killed their unlimited data offering back in 2012. Verizon users who had unlimited 3G data plans were also grandfathered in, much in the same way AT&T let old plans continue.

(Verizon tried to expand their throttling plan to include LTE (4G) users earlier this year, but walked that back after attracting oodles of negative attention and some stern feedback from the FCC.)

So what triggers “excessive” use? It’s a moving target: both AT&T and Verizon grade on a curve, throttling data from the top 5% of users.

Knowing where your absolute data usage falls is fairly straightforward; most phones and carriers have web or app usage meters a subscriber can use. But relative usage… that’s harder. Phone owners have no real way of knowing how their data use compares against anyone else’s usage — and there are a lot of variables to try to account for.

Traveling? What passes for the high side of median use in tech-heavy San Francisco might be off the charts in Tampa. Got some major event, like a wedding or a new baby, making you use more data than usual? That might put you in the top percentile this month.

There’s no real way of knowing. AT&T says that they send text messages to the highest-volume users, and in 2011 they definitely did. But since then, according to the FTC, AT&T’s communication to users has been lacking — and their numbers just don’t add up.

Redefining “Excessive”
AT&T may not be the only company throttling nominally-unlimited users, but they cast a wider net than others. Being more aggressive than they claim to be ultimately is what made them a target for the FTC.

By definition, AT&T’s and Verizon’s plans should both have an impact on roughly 5% of their remaining “unlimited” users. According to the FTC, when AT&T started with this three years ago, there were about 14 million subscribers using grandfathered unlimited plans. Five percent of 14 million is 700,000 subscribers, so that’s roughly how many you’d expect to see getting throttled, give or take.

But between 2011 and now, the FTC says in their complaint (PDF), 3.5 million unique AT&T customers have had their data throttled for the remainder of a billing cycle at least once (and 25 million times in total). That’s a solid 25% of those 14 million subscribers.

The top 5% of mobile data users tend to consume more than 4.5 GB of data in a month. (For Verizon, it’s 4.7 GB or more per billing cycle.) But AT&T isn’t cutting off the top tier of users; they’re throttling anyone who crosses a set threshold, period. For a time, the FTC says, that was as low as 2 GB per month.

AT&T’s threshold for throttling “unlimited” data is now as low as a fixed 3 GB per month. That’s not only a far cry from unlimited, but it also doesn’t have anything to do with actual network congestion, blocking other users’ access, or ruining the network for everyone else — AT&T’s justifications for the practice in the first place.

Will Verizon and Others Eventually Get Sued Too?
In a media call about the AT&T suit, FTC officials repeatedly said they could not comment on other companies’ practices, or on whether there are any other open investigations or likely future lawsuits. So it’s anyone’s guess what the FTC might have up their sleeves.

If Verizon is in fact doing only what they say they are doing — targeting the top 5% of unlimited data users when the network is congested — then there’s nothing there for the FTC to investigate. The agency’s job is to look into the discrepancies between what customers are sold and what customers get.

But the FCC currently is looking at the disclosure practices of all four national carriers. Earlier this year, consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge initiated complaints with the FCC against Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile. In all cases, Public Knowledge said, the carriers fail to provide consumers with accurate, timely information about when and where they will be subject to data throttling.

Halloween Eats: Free Bacon At Arby’s, $3 Burritos At Chipotle

Wed, 2014-10-29 19:17

(Carbon Arc)

(Carbon Arc)

While we’re still reeling from the revelation that Arby’s may be shorting customers on their fountain drinks, the fast food chain is doing one thing right this week — offering to give away free bacon to customers on Halloween.

The company says that on Oct. 31, it will bacon-up anything you order, including your shake, at no extra cost if you just say “Trick or meat” when you place the order.

Earlier today, Krispy Kreme announced that it will be giving out free doughnuts to folks in costume on Halloween.

Chipotle is offering $3 burritos (or salads, or tacos) to costumed customers who come in after 5 p.m. on Oct. 31.

And certain Baja Fresh stores are already offering free meals to kids in costume whose parents purchase a meal for themselves. There are various conditions on this deal, so check out the coupon before swooping in with your kids for free eats.

Reminder: Don’t Post Photos Of Your Paycheck On Social Media If You’d Like To Avoid ID Theft

Wed, 2014-10-29 19:07
(nffcnnr)

Cat equivalent of face-palm. (nffcnnr)

One way to be sure you aren’t sharing your financial information with the entire Internet? Don’t post it on social media by way of a paycheck made out to you. Yes, you should be proud that you’re raking in the dough. But if you want to keep your identity safe, plastering it on the web is not the way to go.

Federal prosecutors in Minnesota charged 28 people accused of being part of a conspiracy to cash counterfeit checks, reports CNNMoney, using the bank details of unsuspecting Instagram users who’d apparently posted selfies with paychecks, as well as others.

Just by searching #myfirstpaycheck, the group allegedly gleaned account numbers and bank routing information from victims, who displayed those details clearly in their photos.

The suspects also allegedly stole physical checks from workers and businesses as well.

The defendants are accused of then using that information to open new bank accounts, producing and then cashing counterfeit checks, to the tune of more than $2 million, according to the indictment.

“This case is representative of a recurring trend — the migration of traditional street criminals to white collar fraud,” Minnesota U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said.

Noted: Do not put your financial information within easy, hashtaggable reach of strangers on the Internet.

#StealMyIdentity: Fraudsters use paycheck selfies to steal bank details [CNNMoney]

GameStop Decides To Give Employees The Day Off For Thanksgiving

Wed, 2014-10-29 18:53

(Marike79)

(Marike79)

GameStop is well known for often getting the jump on new video game releases by opening stores at midnight, so you might expect that the chain would be throwing open its doors as early as possible on Thanksgiving to get out ahead of the Black Friday competition. But today, the retailer announced that its workers won’t be enjoying their Thanksgiving dinner in between dealing with customers.

In a statement released today, the company says that none of its 6,600 stores will be open during the actual Thanksgiving holiday this year “out of respect for our store associates and their families and friends.”

“We believe it’s the right decision not only for our employees, but also for our customers,” says the company.

However, GameStop does still plan to open at midnight on Black Friday, so some employees will inevitably be up all night dealing with customers and praying for the dawn to come. At the very least, they will be doing so with full stomachs and maybe having watched some football with their families.

Costco recently confirmed that it, too, would not open on Thanksgiving. Other big-name retailers that are refusing to follow the trend of opening on the actual holiday include Dillard’s, Burlington Coat Factory, REI, and American Girl.

Used Car Dealer Suspending Sales Of Vehicles Affected By Takata Airbag Recall

Wed, 2014-10-29 18:33

(smcgee)

(smcgee)

Although it’s not illegal for used car dealers to sell recalled vehicles, one of the nation’s largest pre-owned dealers announced it would suspend the sale of cars with the potentially deadly Takata airbag defect that has so far been linked to four deaths and 30 injuries in the United States.

The Wall Street Journal reports that AutoNation Inc. says it will cease the sale of all vehicles equipped with Takata Corp. airbags that could explode, shooting shrapnel at passengers.

Regulators believe the airbag issues, which affect roughly 8 million vehicles worldwide, have been caused by the presence of moisture, which led automakers to initiate a majority of the recalls in areas of high humidity such as the southern United States.

Officials with AutoNation say about 400 vehicles will be on hold until airbag repairs can be made.

Additionally, when owners of affected cars come in for service the dealer will either replace the airbag, or if parts aren’t available they will place stickers in the car warning against riding in the passenger seat.

Mike Jackson, CEO of AutoNation, tells WSJ that the new policy extends to all makes and models that have been recalled by 10 large automakers so far this year.

The used car dealers’ new policy stems in part from confusion over how to deal with affected vehicles.

“We have a very difficult situation on our hands,” Jackson says. “Every manufacturer has a different policy.”

In fact, some companies have requested dealers remove passenger side airbags, while others have told dealers to simply warn customers of potential issues or to place stickers be placed in cars discouraging passengers.

Jackson says the situation could be resolved if NHTSA would issue orders detailing a uniform approach on how to proceed with affected vehicles.

While NHTSA issued an unusual warning last week urging owners of affected vehicles to get them fixed, it has done little to remedy the problem as a shortage of parts has left millions of potentially dangerous vehicles on the roadways and on dealers’ lots.

Takata’s biggest customer Honda, which has been linked to at least three of the deaths related to the airbag defect, said last week that it doesn’t have enough parts to fix the 2.8 million vehicles the company has recalled.

Instead, the manufacturer is sending out recall notifications only as parts become available, with priority being reserved for areas of high humidity.

Toyota, which expanded its recall of vehicles with Takata airbags last week, says because of the lack of parts, the company would in some cases disable the airbags, leaving a note urging customers not to ride in the front passenger seat.

Consumers who have purchased a used car recently, or who may be thinking of purchasing one, should first check NHTSA’s latest recall look-up tool to determine if the vehicle has been recalled and fixed.

The search tool, which launched in late August, requires consumers to input the vehicle’s 17-digit VIN, which can usually be found in the left corner where the dashboard meets the windshield or on insurance and registration documents. Results will then appear if the consumer has an open recall on their vehicle, and if there are none, owners will see “No Open Recalls.”

The database will only provide information on the vehicle’s safety status and won’t publish personal information or track who checked the recall status of the vehicle, officials with NHTSA say.

While AutoNation has vowed to stop selling the recalled vehicles, other used car dealers have tussled with NHTSA over the same issue in the past.

Consumer groups targeted CarMax earlier this year for its alleged deceptive practices of claiming each of its “Quality Certified” cars has undergone a “125+ point inspection,” and that only 1-in-3 of the cars it considers is accepted for sale, when that simply hasn’t been the case.

The groups – which include our colleagues at Consumers Union – filed a petition with the Federal Trade Commission asking it to investigate CarMax’s practice of marketing quality-control while still selling vehicles that require recall repairs.

CarMax and others have been vocal in their opposition of NHTSA’s recommendation to Congress that it make it against the law for dealerships to sell un-repaired recalled vehicles. The company is also trying to shoot down legislation in California that would make it the first state to ban the sale of recalled cars until they’ve been fixed.

AutoNation Halting Sales of Cars Subject to Takata Airbag Warnings [The Wall Street Journal]

CurrentC, Walmart-Led Competitor To Apple Pay, Has Already Been Hacked

Wed, 2014-10-29 18:30

A screengrab of the e-mail being sent to beta testers of the CurrentC app.

A screengrab of the e-mail being sent to beta testers of the CurrentC app.

A number of major retailers, most notably Walmart, have yet to allow shoppers to use the recently launched Apple Pay system at checkout, and national drugstore chains Rite-Aid and CVS stopped offering Apple Pay as an option after only a few days. That’s because all of these retailers are part of a consortium working on a competing system called CurrentC, which by the way, has already been hacked.

BusinessInsider reports that people who signed up for the beta test of the CurrentC app have received e-mails alerting them to the fact “that unauthorized third parties obtained the e-mail addresses of some of you.”

A rep for the service then confirmed that it learned of the breach in the last 48 hours. The rep tried to minimize the scope of the hack by claiming that “Many of these email addresses are dummy accounts used for testing purposes only. The CurrentC app itself was not affected.”

While the stolen data is just e-mail addresses and not more sensitive information like payment or account data, it does call into question the security of CurrentC, which is being developed by the Walmart-led Merchants Consumer Exchange (MCX), a coalition aiming to, among other things, reduce swipe fees, the amount of money that retailers pay to banks and credit cards for handling transactions.

CurrentC would not only cut out the middle man and allow stores to keep more of the money from each purchase, it would also allow the retailers to better track users’ shopping and buying habits, presumably across multiple stores.

There is still little doubt that Walmart and the other MCX retailers will ultimately launch CurrentC, but if consumers don’t choose to use it, the service could end up in the trash bin of retail history.

After all, people don’t need a mobile payment system, especially one that provides no more privacy than shopping with a credit card. And while the stores might benefit from saving the few percentage points they currently pay in swipe fees, there is no indication that these savings will be passed on to shoppers.

Krispy Kreme Handing Out Free Doughnuts On Halloween To Anyone In A Costume

Wed, 2014-10-29 18:29

ghostbustersdonutsWant a tasty treat but don’t want to spend any money? Dust off that witch hat/set of cat ears/football jersey/train conductor outfit and head to Krispy Kreme on Halloween for a free doughnut of your choice. You’ve gotta be in costume in the store, and it’s gotta be Oct. 31 only. Though feel free to wear a costume any day of the year that you like. [via Krispy Kreme on Facebook]

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