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The Consumerist

Whole Foods Recalls Dozens Of Products Containing Potentially Listeria-Ridden Fruit

Thu, 2014-07-24 18:32

tjpeachWhole Foods has joined Wegmans in recalling items that they sell in their stores that were made from fruit that’s part of a massive recall due to potential contamination with Listeria monocytogenes. Items like fruit tarts and mango-peach salsa using the affected fruit were sold in Whole Foods stores between June 1 and July 21, 2014.

The grocery chain says that customers who have items that are part of the recall should throw them out, then bring their receipts back to the store for a refund. There’s a wide range of items recalled: if you’ve bought anything from Whole Foods in recent months with any fruit in it, you should probably check the list.

Even if you no longer have the receipt, it’s still unwise to keep or eat the products. Listeriosis is at best an unpleasant disease, and at worst can kill you, or cause miscarriage or stillbirth for pregnant women.

We heard from a reader who believes that she and other family members became ill from eating contaminated fruit. She knows that she purchased some, because the store where she purchased fruit, Raley’s, sent an e-mail out to customers with a warning and pictures of the affected products’ stickers. Unfortunately, her family had already eaten the fruit by then.

“People are getting sick – just not sick enough to seek medical help,” she wrote to Consumerist. “I ate two of the affected peaches and about 48 hours later became ill with strong head pain, stomach pain and diarrhea. Fortunately it lasted just under 24 hours.”

The last thing that you want to do when you have a headache and gastrointestinal distress is get in the car and drive to the doctor, and that’s the problem. In order to confirm that you have a case of foodborne illness, local and federal governments need some of your poop. No, really, they need samples from your body to prove which strain of which pathogen has made you sick, which then is traced back to something that you ate. Most people don’t run to the hospital or see their doctor for a one-day stomach bug, which is why we keep hearing so far that there are no illnesses from this outbreak.

This only proves that no good can come from being all healthy and eating fresh fruit.

Whole Foods Market Recalls Made-in-Store Items Containing Recalled Fruit [Food Safety News]
Company Statement [Wawona Packing Company]

Hackers Seeking Ransom Steal User Data From European Central Bank’s Website

Thu, 2014-07-24 17:54



The European Central Bank announced today that hackers have stolen about 20,000 email addresses and an unknown but lower amount of other information like physical addresses and phone numbers from a database serving its website. The information was reportedly lifted from the ECB’s listings of people who register for its events, and isn’t tied to internal ECB systems.

The ECB, which oversees the financial systems for 18 member countries, said on its official site that it found out about the theft when hackers sent an anonymous email “seeking financial compensation” for the data. AKA, ransom money.

A spokeswoman tells PC World that the ECB has not and will not pay any money to hackers.

No part of the ECB’s internal system nor any market sensitive data was compromised, the announcement says. Most of what was taken was encrypted data, but some of it wasn’t, including contact info.

Those people who did have information exposed in the breach will be contacted by the ECB, and all passwords have been changed on the system “as a precaution.”

Hackers steal user data from the European Central Bank website, ask for money [PC World]

Richard Branson Wants To Introduce “Kids’ Class” Cabins To Virgin Flights

Thu, 2014-07-24 17:42

(Paul Thompson)

(Paul Thompson)

Being trapped on a long flight near a particularly loud or fussy child has caused most frequent travelers to pine for adults-only planes. And at least one airline has created “quiet zones” that are free of young passengers. But billionaire guy who owns lots of cool stuff Richard Branson says his goal is to just lump all the kids together into a separate section of the plane.

“I would love to introduce kid’s class,” the Virgin Atlantic President tells Conde Nast Traveler. “It would be a separate cabin for kids with nannies to look after them.”

Abu Dhabi-based Etihad airlines recently began using “flying nannies” to tend to youngsters during flights, but the kids still sit with their families. Branson seems to want to create an in-flight version of the kiddie pool, where parents can leave their offspring in the care of someone else for a bit while they hang with the adults.

Alas, those pesky regulators are throwing a wrench into his plans.

“We’ve had an issue with the Civil Aviation Authority,” laments Branson. “They worry in an emergency kids would be running in one direction and their parents would be running in the other. So we haven’t got it through yet.”

As nice as his idea sounds on its face, the reality would likely be a nightmare — and not just in emergencies.

Getting on the plane with your family is already a slog, even if your group is seated in the same row. Now, instead of having to get up and down a few times to make sure your kids are buckled in and have everything they need for the trip, you’d have to run back and forth between cabins.

Then when your kid gets antsy in the middle of the flight and starts making requests that only a parent could understand, are you expected to get up and go to the kids’ section, or are the nannies supposed to decipher every possible form of kid-speak. Let’s also not forget that Virgin has a lot of international travelers whose children might not understand English.

And what happens when there’s turbulence and the sounds of crying and wailing children makes its way back to the other passengers? Good luck trying to quell that storm, Branson.

As nice as the idea of flying sans children sounds, it’s probably best to just invest in a good pair of headphones.

Comparison Shopping At Target Would Be Easier If They Could Do Math

Thu, 2014-07-24 16:44

A common strategy when comparison shopping is to use the unit prices that are often available on the shelf to help consumers. This is a pretty solid strategy…except, apparently, at reader MZ’s local Target, where the retailer doesn’t feel the need to make sure that their unit pricing reflects reality at all.

He captured this image of the whole shelf of contact lens solutions at the store, then explained why it’s actually a better deal to buy the single 10-ounce bottle of Opti-Free solution than to buy in bulk and get two 10-ounce bottles.


“The single 10 oz. bottle of Alcon Opti-Free contact solution costs $8.99, while the twin pack, with 20 oz. total, costs $18.99–$1 more than two single bottles,” he points out. If you break down the math, things get more confusing. The shelf tag measures the price per pint for some reason, and a pint is sixteen ounces.

Yet if you divide $15.99 by 20 for the per-ounce price and then multiply it by 16 again, you get $15.19 per pint, or 80 cents per ounce.


MZ notes that he submitted this issue to his local government, but hasn’t heard back. Just remember: while it’s helpful to use unit prices when you shop, they’re only useful when the retailer bothers to print up accurate signs.

Drunk Guy On His First Flight Makes Rookie Mistake, Confuses Cabin Door With Bathroom

Thu, 2014-07-24 16:41

(Jon Gos)

(Jon Gos)

Because we all don’t possess nerves of steel when confronted with the reality of flying through the air in a big metal box, essentially, it’s understandable that a guy going on his first flight effort would have a few drinks to relax. But maybe someone should’ve warned him about the propensity for doors to become confusing when you’re under in the influence.

Officials in Dublin say a man who drank vodka and beer to settle his nerves before his initial ascent into the sky tried to open the plane’s cabin door because he thought it was the toilet, reports The Mirror.

The 26-year-old reportedly admitted being drunk on the Ryanair flight from Krakow to Dublin — drinking vodka and beer beforehand and sipping out of his own beer on the plane — when he got up and managed to get the door’s handle up in his attempt.

It didn’t open, much to the relief of his fellow passengers who were looking on in shock, due to the air pressure keeping it shut from the outside.

Crew escorted the man back to his seat, and he was arrested upon landing in Dublin. He later told a court that he was boozing before the flight because was his first time flying and he was nervous. He admitted that he realized now how serious his actions were, and received a €200 fine.

Drunken passenger tried to open door on Ryanair flight because he thought it was toilet [The Mirror]

NJ Turnpike Authority Sues Florida Pizza Chain Over Lookalike Logo

Thu, 2014-07-24 16:37

Which one sells pizza and which one is gnarled with traffic?

Which one sells pizza and which one is gnarled with traffic?

We don’t know why any restaurant owners would want to associate their food with a stretch of ugly highway that cuts a massive concrete and asphalt path from one end of New Jersey to the other, but that’s what the operators of a small pizza chain in Florida did when crafting a logo that looks a lot like the one for the Garden State Parkway. Fearing that people might somehow think it’s gotten into the pizza business, the NJ Turnpike Authority has sued the pizza chain in federal court.

According to the Authority, the similarity of the two logos — compare them above — is somehow likely to give consumers the impression that the Jersey Boardwalk Pizza is somehow related to a governmental highway-maintenance agency located in a state 1,000 miles away.

New Jersey Law Journal reports that the pizza chain was served with a cease-and-desist notice from the Turnpike Authority on April 16. Two weeks later, Jersey Boardwalk filed a service mark application for its logo, which the pizzeria also puts on merchandise that it sells.

The suit seeks an injunction to stop the allegedly infringing activities, along with compensatory and treble damages. The Authority also wants the pizza chain to hand over all merch branded with the logo in question.

The plaintiffs are also seeking to have the defendants surrender the service mark registration it obtained, since they applied for the mark after the plaintiffs accused them of infringement.

Because the application for the service mark was filed after Jersey Boardwalk had been served with the cease-and-desist, the Authority wants the pizza chain to surrender its registration for the logo.

The chain’s lawyer tells the Journal that it’s “unfortunate that the Turnpike Authority decided to pick on this business. Obviously we would like to see them spending more time being more productive, helping citizens have a good ride.”

He points to a recently dismissed lawsuit in which Union County, NJ, had tried to sue a local activist for trademark infringement because she was using the county logo on a public access TV show.

In that case, the court said that the county didn’t have a trademark on the logo, so there could be no infringement.

But the lawyers for the Authority tell the Journal that this case is different, as the Garden State Parkway logo — which has been around for more than 50 years — is used to promote the highway and, according to the cease-and-desist letter, that the Authority “has invested a substantial amount of time, money and other resources advertising, promoting, marketing and publicizing its services provided under the Garden State Parkway logo mark.”

The defendant maintains that the Parkway logo is “unpoliced” and that its use by businesses is “rampant.” The Authority says it does actually police this logo, but that it doesn’t always make headlines.

As for the pizza chain’s stance that a reasonable consumer would not confuse a restaurant with a highway operator, lawyers for the Authority say it’s not beyond the realm of possibility, as there are numerous rest stops with eateries along the stretch of highway.

“[C]onsumers who encounter your client’s mark as used in connection with its restaurant services will mistakenly assume that your client’s use of the mark is authorized by NJTA and/or that the food items served at your client’s restaurant are associated with the food served at the restaurants located in the services areas on the Garden State Parkway,” reads a letter from the Authority’s legal eagles to attorneys for the pizza chain.

“It’s hysterical,” a co-owner of Jersey Boardwalk, which has used the logo for 10 years, tells the Newark Star-Ledger. “We’re all the way in the Florida Keys. It’s not like people are going to confuse us.”

Dealership Gives Disgruntled Customer $100 Refund… In Loose Change

Thu, 2014-07-24 16:07

(Great Beyond)

(Great Beyond)

Usually when a consumer receives a refund from a company they get a check in the mail, or store credit, or a gift card. But for one Florida college student who got into a dispute with a car dealership, that refund came in the form of two bags full of scrounged-together change.

The ordeal began earlier this year when the student purchased a used 2003 Saab from a dealer in Jacksonville and immediately began having issues with the transmission, First Coast News reports.

The dealership repaired the vehicle and sold the international student a warranty.

A short time later, the transmission went out again. No big deal since she bought the warranty, right? Apparently, not so much.

“First time I paid $300,” she tells First Coast News. “Second time, they asked me for $400 saying how the warranty doesn’t cover labor. I thought it unfair because nobody said that to me.”

So, the woman filed a complaint with the Department of Motor Vehicles and an investigation concluded that the dealer needed to issue her a refund.

“The warranty did not cover labor and I failed to write that in and that was her loophole,” the dealership owner says.

When the student arrived at the dealership this week she found the refund in an unexpected form: loose change, with a few dollar bills.

Instead of hauling off the two bags, the woman left the refund at the dealership, saying she wasn’t sure if it was the correct amount and didn’t have time to count every penny.

The dealership owner tells First Coast News that the unusual refund manner wasn’t in retaliation, but that business has been slow and most of the coins came from various containers where he keeps spare change.

“I am doing what DMV asked me to do,” he says. “It is legal tender.”

The refund remains at the dealership awaiting pickup.

Jacksonville car dealer gives woman refund in pennies [First Coast News]

Everybody Wants The Night Shift After Naked Hamburglars Steal A Bunch Of Beef From Eatery

Thu, 2014-07-24 15:56

Safe for work -- he's got skivvies on. (Southwest Florida Crimestoppers)

Safe for work — he’s got skivvies on. (Southwest Florida Crimestoppers)

There’s nothing like a bit of a “bad boy” image to turn even upstanding, law-abiding citizens into admirers — and by that I mean, there’s nothing like the sight of three (mostly) naked men stealing from a restaurant in the middle of the night to make staff laugh.

Two naked men and a third friend clad only in his underwear reportedly broke into a South Florida eatery and stole 60 hamburgers, three pounds of bacon, three red peppers and a paddleboard, reports the Fort Myers News-Press (warning: link has video that autoplays) this week, and were caught on camera in the midst of their caper. Police say they also left a trail of red peppers outside by a bathhouse.

“Dumb, dumber and dumbest,” one waitress joked.

“They left a trail like Hansel and Gretel,” another waitress said. “One of them probably said after, ‘Uh, guys, where did we leave our clothes?’”

Authorities have released photos in an attempt to identify the men, who police say are likely college age guys out for a bit of fun. One of the guys even realizes he’s in his birthday suit at one point, and appears to turn away from one camera, not realizing there’s another one nearby.

And because the threesome are fit, strapping fellas, well, the restaurant’s manager jokes that his staff wouldn’t mind if they came back.

“These two want to meet the bandits,” he said about the jokey waitresses. “Everybody wants to work the night shift now.”

He adds it’s the first time robbers have busted through a back door totally naked looking only for beef, and not money.

“When I saw the security footage, I said how is this guy not wearing any clothes?” he says. “Then I said, ‘Wait, it’s not just one. There’s three naked. That’s what makes this funny.”

It is scientific fact that the more naked people there are involved in a late-night burger heist, the funnier it becomes, that is true.

Bonita Beach naked hamburglars on the loose []

Doughnut Shop Bans “Rude” 4-Year-Old Boy For Asking Woman If She Was Pregnant

Thu, 2014-07-24 15:42

( function() { var func = function() { var iframe = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-form-bf1db8cc608997c82d6c227c8d676ac0-53d10d390d711'); if ( iframe ) { iframe.submit(); } } if (document.readyState === 'complete') { func.apply(); /* compat for infinite scroll */ } else if ( document.addEventListener ) { document.addEventListener( 'DOMContentLoaded', func, false ); } else if ( document.attachEvent ) { document.attachEvent( 'onreadystatechange', func ); } } )(); Little kids ask questions. Unfortunately, they don’t always realize that their questions may be insensitive or inappropriate. Lots of adults let kids slide for their occasionally tactless queries, but the mother of one 4-year-old says a local doughnut shop is taking a hard line regarding her son’s behavior.

The mom tells WFSB-TV that she and her son had recently visited a doughnut shop in Monroe, CT, when her youngster asked a woman in the store if she “had a baby in her belly.”

She didn’t.

According to the mom, who was embarrassed by her son’s question and apologized, the woman took the query well, telling her it was “no problem,” and that she gets asked that all the time by young children.

But when the mom and son pairing returned earlier this week, they did not receive a warm welcome from store management.

“We were screamed at in front of the door, ‘he’s not allowed in here, he’s rude’,” claims the mom.

WFSB says no one at the shop is commenting on the incident, but the mom is planning on taking her business elsewhere.

“Some people, unfortunately are quick to pass judgment,” she explains.

FAA Lifts Flight Restrictions To Israel

Thu, 2014-07-24 15:20

(James Emery)

(James Emery)

After a two-day ban on U.S. airline flights to and from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, the Federal Aviation Administration has lifted the restriction.

The restrictions, which were put in place Tuesday morning after reports of a rocket impact near Ben Gurion — and then extended on Wednesday morning, were officially lifted shortly before midnight ET last night.

This is good news for the Americans who had been stranded in Tel Aviv during the ban. How quickly these travelers can get moving again will depend on their airlines’ ability to get planes to the airport. Since the ban only impacted U.S.-based airlines, some people were already able to book travel on other carriers.

“Before making this decision, the FAA worked with its U.S. government counterparts to assess the security situation in Israel and carefully reviewed both significant new information and measures the Government of Israel is taking to mitigate potential risks to civil aviation,” reads a statement from the FAA, which says it will “continue to closely monitor the very fluid situation around Ben Gurion Airport and will take additional actions, as necessary.”

Can Dateline NBC Just Run Your YouTube Clip Without Permission?

Thu, 2014-07-24 00:04

Dateline NBC (aka “The Murder Show”) recently aired an episode about a California farm manager who was killed by an explosive device that used a spring-loaded rat trap as part of its triggering system. Thus, the show featured numerous YouTube clips of rat traps doing all sorts of awesome and violent things (no actual killing of rodents, thankfully) — some of which turned up in the browsing history on one of the suspect’s home computers — but Dateline didn’t identify the creator of those videos.

In the above video, YouTube user TAOFLEDERMAUS shows how a number of his popular YouTube clips were used on the NBC show, and how he received no on-screen credit. Additionally, in almost all instances, the video has been cropped in such a way that his identifiable mark is no longer visible in the corner of the screen.

He says that his videos have been used by numerous news outlets in the past but that they have generally sought permission and fully credited him.

We don’t know the ins and outs of this particular situation, but we did talk to a lawyer who knows an awful lot about fair use and copyright to shed some light on this complicated issue.

So can a news program just take my YouTube clip without asking?

There is no definite answer to that question, explains our legal expert.

“Copyright is not an absolute,” he explains. Section 107 of the Copyright Act permits “fair use” of copyrighted materials “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research.”

For example, Harvard professor and Creative Commons co-founder Lawrence Lessig recently found himself in a protracted battle with YouTube because a lecture he’d posted on the site contained copyrighted songs and a clip of The Daily Show. Interestingly, The Daily Show regularly, and correctly, uses copyrighted content without permission under the umbrella of fair use.

The law doesn’t set out hard and fast rules about how much copyrighted material one can use without crossing the line between fair use and copyright infringement. If a news story quotes a sentence or two from a book that is relevant to the topic of the story, the author of the book would likely have a hard time saying this isn’t fair use. But if that excerpted text grows into multiple paragraphs, it becomes more and more difficult to claim fair use.

Perhaps the easiest way to talk about fair use isn’t in the abstract, but through examples.

Let’s start with the premise of a YouTube user who posted a video about how to build a dining room table.

Example 1:
A news program does a story on “How to Build a Table” and uses the YouTube clip in its entirety with no critical response or editorial addition to the content of the clip. This would be difficult to defend as fair use as there is nothing transformative about the way in which it was presented.

Example 2:
The news program shows the whole video without permission but then has an expert on to criticize or warn viewers that the information presented in the video might be misleading or incorrect. This would be a more defensible fair use claim, as the segment is about alerting consumers to potential hazards, not merely showing the video as standalone content.

Example 3:
Take the same situation as in Example 2, but the news program crops out or otherwise covers up a logo placed on the YouTube video by its original creator. According to our expert, if the news program has a justifiable fair use claim, it’s difficult to argue that cropping out a logo somehow negates that fair use claim. The real problem with cropping is when it’s done in furtherance of violating copyright, which we’ll get to in a few examples.

Example 4:
The news program does a table-building segment and does a montage of quick clips of how-to videos, talking briefly about how DIY videos are now all the rage, before then showing its own tips on making a table. This would likely hold up to a fair use claim because the clips are being used to demonstrate the trend and they are brief.

Additionally, it’s hard to argue that the copyright holder is harmed, as the short clip does not provide viewers with any significant amount of the information that could be learned from watching the whole table-making video.

Example 5:
The news program is doing a story on a class-action lawsuit against the manufacturers of the type of table saw used in the YouTube clip. The news shows a long segment of the YouTube clip to illustrate something relevant to the lawsuit; perhaps that it goes against claims made by the plaintiffs. This is another example in which it would hard for the copyright holder to fight a fair use claim.

Example 6:
The news program has a YouTube channel that it uses to upload things that didn’t make it on air, like extended interviews or behind-the-scenes footage. It decides to upload the table-making video wholesale and covers up the original author’s watermark with its own mark. This is hard to defend as fair use, as the news program is not only using the full-length clip, but is also arguably trying to pass it off as content that it created.

[h/t reddit]

Feds File 9 Lawsuits Against Alleged Mortgage Relief Scammers That Took Millions From Consumers

Thu, 2014-07-24 00:02



If the thought of losing one’s home wasn’t bad enough, finding out that you’ve been ripped off by the companies promising to help must be even worse. Today, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, along with the Federal Trade Commission and 15 states announced a string of lawsuits and other actions against such deceptive companies.

The CFPB announced three lawsuits against foreclosure relief companies and their operators that collected more than $25 million in illegal advance fees for services that falsely promised to prevent foreclosures or renegotiated troubled mortgages.

The suits seek compensation for victims, civil fines and injunctions against the alleged scammers.

The CFPB alleges that the companies and individuals took part in a number of illegal practices including:

  • collecting fees before obtaining a loan modification;
  • inflating success rates and likelihood of obtaining a modification;
  • duping consumers into thinking they would receive legal representation;
  • making false promises about loan modifications to consumers.

Clausen & Cobb Management Company, Inc. and Siringoringo Law Firm
According to the CFPB complaint [PDF], Clausen & Cobb Management and owners Alfred Clausen and Joshua Cobb, as well as Stephen Siringoringo and his Siringoringo Law Firm, charged illegal advance fees for mortgage loan modifications to thousands of California homeowners. The operation charged an initial fee ranging from $1,995 to $3,500, as well as monthly fees of $495.

The Mortgage Law Group and the Consumer First Legal Group
The CFPB charges [PDF] that the Mortgage Law Group, LLP, the Consumer First Legal Group, LLC, and attorneys Thomas Macey, Jeffrey Aleman, Jason Searns, and Harold Stafford, allegedly took in more than $19.2 million in fees from over 10,000 distressed homeowners nationwide. According to the compaliny, most of the money came from illegal advance fees for so-called loan modification services.

Hoffman Law Group
In a lawsuit [PDF] filed jointly with the Florida Attorney General, the CFPB alleges that the Hoffman Law Group (HLG), its operators, Michael Harper, Benn Wilcox, and attorney Marc Hoffman, and its affiliated companies, Nationwide Management Solutions, Legal Intake Solutions, File Intake Solutions, and BM Marketing Group accepted more than $5 million in illegal upfront fees from homeowners.

The operation allegedly sold consumers the chance to join mass lawsuits as plaintiffs on the false promise that the suit would help them get mortgage loan modifications or foreclosure relief. HLG typically charged an upfront fee of $6,000 plus a months maintenance fee of $495.

In similiar action Wednesday, the FTC filed six lawsuits against mortgage relief companies that allegedly preyed on distressed homeowners by misrepresenting that they typically could lower homeowners’ mortgage payments and interest rates or prevent foreclosure, and illegally charging advance fees.

Danielson Law Group
The FTC alleges that the Utah-based operation touted a success rate that exceeded 90% in order to entice consumers to pay fees ranging from $500 to $3,900 to negotiate loan modifications on behalf of distressed homeowners. The operation falsely promising that attorneys would negotiate loan modifications with substantially reduced mortgage payments using their special relationships with lenders or mortgage analysis reports produced by a proprietary software program.

FMC Counseling Services, Inc.
The FTC has alleged that from at least February 2011, this Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based operation made false claims that it was affiliated with the federal government’s Making Home Affordable assistance program, and that it would renegotiate consumers’ mortgages, reducing them by several hundred dollars.

The company collected more than $600,000 in payments from hundreds of consumers.

Lanier Law
Since at least 2011, this Jacksonville, FL-based operation told consumers they would get a loan modification or that their changes of getting one was 85% to 100%.

The defendants typically collected an upfront fee of $1,000 to $4,000, or an ongoing monthly fee of $500 or more. In some cases, according to the FTC, they also told consumers not to pay their mortgages while their supposed loan modifications were pending, and that they would conduct an audit of consumers’ mortgage documents to find errors or fraud committed by the lender.

Mortgage Relief Advocates
According to the FTC complaint, from at least April 2010 the California-based operation sold fraudulent mortgage assistance services on its website and through telemarketing. The operation charged up-front fee of $1,000 to $3,200, the defendants are alleged to have rarely provided the promised mortgage relief.

Home Relief Foundation
The FTC alleges that from October 2010 to December 2013 the Austin, Texas-based operation made false promises that because of their affiliation with attorneys, their affiliation with a government program, their knowledge of the industry, and their relationships with mortgage lenders, Home Relief Foundation would be able to lower consumers’ interest rates and monthly mortgage payments by charging fees ranging from $500 to $4,000,

CD Capital Investments
The FTC has alleged since mid-2011, this Southern California-based operation collected more than $1 million in revenues by often promising consumers would receive mortgage relief services within two to four months, and often claimed affiliation with the Obama Administration’s “Making Home Affordable Program.”

In addition to announcing the lawsuits today, the CFPB and the FTC released resources to help consumers better understand and recognize mortgage modification scammers.

“These companies pocketed illegal fees—taking millions of hard-earned dollars from distressed consumers, and then left those consumers worse off than they began,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray says in a prepared statement about the lawsuits. “These practices are not only illegal, they are reprehensible.”

FlightCar Loses All The Stuff In My Glove Box, Isn’t Answering The Phone

Wed, 2014-07-23 23:18

flightcar_videoWhat if there were an AirBNB for cars? FlightCar is a startup that aims to connect lonely cars in long-term airport parking with travelers in need of short-term wheels. This seems like a great idea….except, like many “sharing economy” businesses, when it isn’t. Just ask reader Evan.

Car owners who leave their vehicles behind with FlightCar don’t just get free parking and a car wash. They also can make money if someone rents their car, receiving a check based on the number of miles the vehicle was driven. Neat. Obviously, part of renting your car to strangers is that you shouldn’t leave the backseat filled with Trader Joe’s tote bags and water bottles, and you should also remove your expensive sunglasses from the center console. What if you do leave some items behind, though? That’s what happened to Evan.

He left his vehicle with FlightCar in San Francisco. He did leave a few things in the glove box: the car’s manual, the registration, and a charging cable. Out of those things, car owners must leave behind the registration, can choose whether to leave behind the manual, and shouldn’t leave behind a charging cable. Fine. When he returned, he found the glovebox empty. Where was his stuff?

“Search the entire FlightCar office – they have stuff for 30+ other cars, but not mine,” he writes. He notes that an employee tells him that hey, things were a lot worse in the office last week. Not helpful. The location’s assistant manager told him to e-mail the company, which Evan did. That was on July 7.

On July 8, he called the company simultaneously on two different phones, while also tweeting them. If this sounds like overkill, remember that the company still had the registration to his car. He received a few different pieces of advice, which included that he should send a list of missing items for reimbursement. Okay.

Later that afternoon, the local office contacted him with good news: they had found his box of stuff! (We now know where it was–more on that in a bit.) He gave them his work address to mail it to, and the box…still hadn’t showed up when he wrote to us last week.

“God forbid you have damage or accident with FlightCar – what then?” he wrote at the time. “On hold for another 2 days while they hire an intern?”

We got in touch with one of the company’s founders, Kevin Petrovic. He explained to us that FlightCar’s goal is not to hold on to your owner’s manual and then not answer the phone, but that they had some recent staff turnover and were short-handed at the time of Evan’s trip.

How things are supposed to work is that staff take everything out of the car and store it in a numbered box. They make a copy of the registration with the owner’s personal information redacted for any renters to carry with them in the car. Say Evan’s car was #23 parked with them at the time: it would be stashed in the office in a box with the number 23. Makes sense.

“We’re usually pretty good at storing the owner’s items and returning them to the car,” Petrovic noted. The system apparently went a little awry in this case. Petrovic explained to Consumerist, “For some reason, we had two boxes with the same number on them. I definitely appreciate that it’s a frustrating experience.”

Mixups in the office happen all the time, as anyone who has ever worked in an office knows, and startup growing pains happen too. We just feel bad for Evan, worried, frustrated, and possibly not knowing how to put his windshield wipers on intermittent mode.

While Evan had two different phone calls going, the local office discovered that they had two boxes with the same number on them for some reason. Evan’s stuff was in that other box #23.

“I love these startup ideas, but there’s such a gap when things go wrong – hope that they can improve and iterate on these experiences and be better,” he wrote to us.

As of today, Evan has his owner’s manual back, and he knows that it’s his own copy. The rest of the items that had been in the back are still missing. It’s not like he left his diamond-encrusted tire pressure gauge in there, but he would still like to have his phone charging cable and non-diamond-encrusted tire pressure gauge back.

“At the end of the day,” he reflected in an e-mail to Consumerist this afternoon, “hours lost, some property still missing, and an experience learned the hard way to save a few bucks on parking.”

Grocery Store Runs On Electricity Generated By Its Own Food Waste

Wed, 2014-07-23 23:00



It’s the ciiiiiiircle, the circle of life, but instead of a cartoon lion there’s a grocery store running on electricity generated by the same food waste that store creates. More recycling, fewer anthropomorphic talking animals, but it’s a circle… of science.

The Sainsbury superstore in Staffordshire, England is reportedly the first time a retailer in that country has come off the National Grid to power a store, reports the BBC.

The store already sends all its food waste to an anaerobic digestion plant, which basically feeds the garbage to bacteria that break down the food in many steps, producing primarily carbon dioxide and methane gas, explains Popular Science.

The methane is separated from the carbon dioxide and turned into biomethane gas, which is then used to generate electricity. A 1.5-kilometer-long cable carries the electricity back to the store.

“Sainsbury’s sends absolutely no waste to landfill and we’re always looking for new ways to re-use and recycle,” the head of sustainability at Sainsbury’s told the BBC. “We’re delighted to be the first business ever to make use of this link-up technology, allowing our Cannock store to be powered entirely by our food waste.”

Food waste is a big problem all over the world – 141 trillion calories food are wasted every year in just the United States, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

Sainsbury’s store powered by food waste [BBC]
U.K. Supermarket To Run On Electricity Made From Its Own Rotting Food [Popular Science]

Man Returns From 2-Day Vacation, Finds Family Living In His Home

Wed, 2014-07-23 22:28



In our post about the AirBNB “guest” who decided to make himself at home and squat in a desert condo after he had stayed for a month, we noted that at least the condo in question was a vacation home, not her regular home. No, that actually happened this week to a man in Miami. He returned to the house he was renting after a short vacation and found another family living there.

The squatters, it turns out, weren’t out to maliciously displace someone from his home. They claim that they had been misled by a scammy realtor (who may or may not have been an actual realtor.) The realtor collected $3,600 from them for rent and a deposit on a house that he had no authority to rent out.

The fake realtor apparently rented the house as “furnished,” and the new fake tenants are using all of the renter’s stuff.

“I can’t sell the house until we get them out of there,” the homeowner told CBS Miami.

How did the realtor target this house in particular? It’s not clear how they learned that it was temporarily vacant, but the house had recently been listed for a short sale. The current renter is a friend of the homeowner, who had been preparing to move since the house is now for sale.

Man Finds Family Living In His Miami Home [CBS Miami]

Verizon Sends $3,020 Phone Bill To Website That Doesn’t Use Verizon

Wed, 2014-07-23 22:13



It’s always frustrating when you receive a bill that, without even having to break down the numbers, you know right away is too high. It’s even more frustrating when you know the bill is too high because you are not a customer of the company that sent you the bill.

Just ask the folks at, who were a bit flummoxed by the $3,019.95 phone bill they recently received from Verizon.

“Now, TPM’s phone bill is bigger than your home phone bill because we two offices and about two dozen employees,” writes TPM’s Josh Marshall. “But it’s not three thousand dollars a month. But there’s a bigger problem. We’re not a Verizon customer.”

And, just like so many other non-customers who have tried to sort out why they are being billed for things they didn’t buy, the TPM staff apparently got caught in the revolving door at Verizon customer service — being asked to confirm their account with a number they don’t have access to because they do not actually have an account.

Eventually, they got through to someone who might possibly be able to help them. This person gave them the name of the person who had supposedly set up the account. No one by that name has ever worked at the site.

Oh — and Verizon has apparently been trying to bill TPM for phone service since 2012, but is only now getting to the “pay up or lose your service” point.

The Verion rep also theorized that it may be a government-mandated emergency phone line, but no one really knows.

Marshall says that TPM did have Verizon phone service until 2012, at which point the site switched to a VoIP provider.

“Presumably they somehow forgot that this happened and have now come back after two years as thought the whole thing never happened,” he writes.

The latest development is that, says Marshall is that Verizon now claims that two of TPM’s old landlines “regenerated” after the site switched providers.

That’s not very comforting.

We’ve reached out to Verizon HQ to see if anyone there can explain what is going on. Will update if we hear back.

[via @jeffjarvis]

There’s “I’m Unhappy With My Hair” Mad, And Then There’s “Throwing Salon Chairs” Mad

Wed, 2014-07-23 22:00



It is a customer’s right to express dissatisfaction with a paid service, but that right doesn’t extend to throwing, chucking and otherwise tossing anything you can get your hands on in an angry fit. According to cops in New York City, that’s how one woman reacted to a hairdo gone wrong.

Police say a woman wearing a United States Postal Service uniform had an argument with stylists at an NYC salon, reports, and ended up allegedly throwing all sorts of salon tools around in a rage. A flying metal box ended up hitting another customer, causing minor cuts.

The salon owners say it wasn’t the stylists fault — they claim the workers tried to help the woman who walked in without an appointment to see what could be done about knots in her hair.

Apparently the process of unknotting her hair took too long, and the suspect reportedly grew impatient.

“We were trying to be nice, to squeeze her in between clients to remove the knots, but we weren’t working fast enough for her I guess,” one of the owners explained. “We kept trying to calm her down, saying, ‘please this is going to take time to remove all these tangles,’ but she was just getting angrier.”

The woman who ended up getting caught in the crossfire says she tried to help calm the situation down as well.

“I walked over to calm her down initially, but she shooed me away, saying it was the employees’ fault and they needed to fix it,” she said.

“The women in the salon kept trying to appease her. They took her over to the sink, apparently to try a different conditioner on her hair, which had somehow ended up with knots — and then all of a sudden, it seemed like she just really snapped.”

She says that’s when the customer started throwing anything in her way — chairs, hair dryers, shampoo bottles, whathaveyou, as part of her fit.

“Suddenly this like 20-pound metal box was being hurled at my head, so I ducked and somehow it hit my leg. I don’t think she was throwing it at me — I was just in the way of this crazy scene. I felt like I was in a movie — it was that dramatic,” the witness said.

The whole thing last a few minutes before police arrived to break it up. The woman was charged with two counts of third-degree assault, fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon and second-degree harassment.

When a business allows walk-ins, it’s doing customers a favor already by trying to accommodate them. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be quick — something customers should try to understand. And if your time is precious, plan ahead and schedule an appointment if you can.

Postal Worker Goes on Violent Salon Rampage Over Botched Hairdo, Police Say []

Is Cash America Getting Out Of The Payday Loan Business? Not Exactly

Wed, 2014-07-23 21:48



Sometimes there’s no better feeling than the one you get when you return to your so-called roots. Maybe that’s what Cash America International is looking for now that the company is making plans to separate itself from payday lending and returning to its first moneymaker: pawnshops.

A new piece from Dallas Morning News columnist Mitchell Schnurman suggests that one of the U.S.’s largest payday lenders is expected to spin-off its consumer loan operations to its subsidiary Enova by the end of the year.

The move may come as a surprise considering the majority of the Fort Worth, Texas-based company’s revenue comes from from payday lending. Cash America’s payday revenue exploded from $21 million a decade ago to $878 million last year.

This isn’t the first time Cash America has attempted to distance itself from Enova. The company filed paperwork for an initial public offering back in 2012 but canceled the deal.

Of course the separation of Cash American from Enova isn’t a done deal. The Dallas Morning News reports that officials will consider other options such as a sale. Additionally, if the loan operation does spin-off, Cash America plans to retain a small stake for a few years.

It’s unclear what motivation Cash America has for spinning off its loan operations, but the company was subject to a hefty fine from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau last fall.

Cash America and Enova were accused of robo-signing court documents related to debt-collection lawsuits, illegally overcharging military servicemembers and their families, and trying to cover these actions up by destroying documents before the CFPB could investigate.

In all, Cash America was required to pay out $14 million in refunds to consumers and pay a $5 million fine for its attempt to destroy evidence and documents.

The short-term, high-interest loans – intended to get the borrower through to the next paycheck, but in reality often lead to a revolving cycle of debt – have come under increased scrutiny from lawmakers in recent years.

Stricter restrictions and local laws regulating payday loans may play a part in Cash America’s choice to spin-off its loan operations.

While many states have enacted tougher restrictions and rate caps on payday loans, Texas is home to some of the highest interest and fee costs related to the loans – with the exception of some city restrictions.

Those tough municipal restrictions have resulted in Cash America shutting down 36 stores throughout Texas, The Dallas Morning news reports.

Schnurman: Cash America International ready to exit the payday loan business [The Dallas Morning News]

GM Recalls Another 718,000 Vehicles, Including Your Bitchin’ Camaro

Wed, 2014-07-23 21:28

This is not one of the recalled Camaros. It is th wrong year, and it's a cake. (Don Buciak II)

This is not one of the recalled Camaros. It is the wrong year, and it’s a cake. (Don Buciak II)

Not to be outdone by Chrysler’s recent recall-a-thon, GM has announced six new safety recalls covering more than a dozen models, for a grand total of 717,949 vehicles.

Recall #1

The largest recall is for 414,333 vehicles and involves a problem with a potentially loose bolt on seat adjustment mechanisms. The recall includes: Chevy Camaro (model year 2011-2012); Chevy Equinox (2010-2012); GMC Terrain (2010-2012); Buick Regal and LaCrosse (2011-2012 for both); Cadillac SRX (2010-2012).

GM says that the bolt that secures the height adjuster actuator may become loose or fall out. If the bolt falls out, the seat will move up and down freely because it is no longer attached at the height adjuster.

Owners of these vehicles are advised to NOT use the power height adjustable feature until dealers can replace the height adjuster bolt.

The car maker says it knows of one crash and three injuries (no fatalities) related to this defect.

Recall #2

This one is for 124,007 vehicles — Chevrolet Caprice (2014), Chevrolet SS (2014), Chevrolet Silverado LD and HD (2014-2015), Cadillac ATS (2013-2014), Cadillac CTS (2014), Cadillac ELR (2014), Buick Encore (2013-2014), GMC Sierra LD and HD (2014-2015) — that GM says may have an incomplete weld on the seat hook bracket assembly.

Dealers will inspect the weld on affected vehicles to determine if it is sufficient. If so, no further action is necessary. If it is insufficient, dealers will replace the lower seat track at no charge.

GM, which says it knows of now crashes or injuries from this problem, believes that fewer than 1 percent of welds are expected to require seat track replacement.

Recall #3

Another 120,426 vehicles — Buick Regals (2011-2013) and Chevrolet Malibus (2013) — are being recalled over a problem with the front turn signals. These cars have two bulbs in each of the signals. When any of the bulbs fail, the driver should be signaled by a rapidly flashing turn signal arrow in the dashboard. But this is apparently only happening when both bulbs fail. If only one bulb on either side burns out, there is no signal to the driver.

GM says that its dealers will reprogram the body control module to fix the condition.

Recall #4

This one involves 57,242 Chevrolet Impalas (2014) equipped with belt-drive electric power steering.

According to GM, customers may experience reduced or no power steering assist at start-up or while driving due to a poor electrical ground connection to the Power Steering Control Module.

The cause of the problem is believed to be paint that may have seeped behind the nut on the power steering control module ground stud.

To fix the issue, dealers will inspect and clean paint from behind the ground nut, re-torque the nut and update the power steering control module software at no charge.

GM knows of one crash related to this problem, but says that no injuries or fatalities resulted.

Recall #5

Almost done…

This relatively small recall of 1,919 Chevrolet Sparks (2014-2015) involves vehicles imported from Korea that were assembled with a lower control arm bolt not fastened to specification.

The condition could result in noise from the front suspension and separation of the lower control arm from the steering knuckle while driving resulting in loss of steering control.

Dealers will inspect the left and right hand lower control arm attaching bolts to assure they are tightened to specification.

And finally…

Recall #6

GM is recalling 22 model year 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban and GMC Yukon/Yukon Denali vehicles on which the roof carriers may have been attached with the wrong retaining nuts, resulting in holes or tears in the roof rail air bags if they deploy.

This recall is even smaller than the 22 number might indicate, as 8 these vehicles are still in dealer stock.

6 Things We Learned About The Wiener Business From The Founder Of The Hot Dog University

Wed, 2014-07-23 21:00



It’s the middle of National Hot Dog Month and today just so happens to be National Hot Dog Day, so what better time than now to learn a little bit more about those wieners, and the business of selling them? Because yes, there is a Hot Dog University run by a master of hot dogs, who seems to have all the answers. has an interesting interview with Mark Reitman, who teaches a $699 two-day course about how to operate a hot dog stand, or “the art of the cart,” at the Vienna Beef factory in Chicago.

Here’s what we learned in this mini-course — for more, check out Time’s interview.

1. The Hot Dog University has had over 800 students: Of those 800 students, 300 have opened restaurants and 500 have set up hot dog carts, according to Reitman

2. You can simmer a hot dog (but don’t boil it) or chargrill it: But “don’t just throw the dog on there,” he explains. Score the dog first and crosscut the ends so it doesn’t get too big and explode.

3. Ketchup is acceptable on a hot dog, with one exception: “It doesn’t belong on a Chicago-style hot dog because the tomatoes and relish already provide that sweetness.”

4. Speaking of which, there is a correct way to put the seven toppings on a Chicago-style dog (something you Chicagoans out there no doubt already know): A thin line of mustard on top, green relish, diced onions, two thinly-sliced tomato wedges on one side and two sport peppers on the others, a cold pickle spear down the middle and a dash of celery salt.

5. There is no place for meatless dogs in the hot dog university: That’s for one simple reason — “hot dogs are not health food, they’re comfort food.”

6. Grilled onions are used as an aromatic lure to bring in customers: The smell works like bait, whether you end up eating an onion or not. “Even if we don’t put the onions on the hot dogs, we do that whenever it gets slow to attract customers to the cart,” Reitman explains.

Meet the Man Behind Hot Dog University []