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Traveler Gets Luggage Back From Airport’s Lost & Found 20 Years After Plane Trip

Thu, 2014-12-18 18:02



We’ve all been there — the airline has lost your luggage and it’s probably never going to show up again. But maybe if you wait 20 years, your missing property will find its way back to you.

That was the case for one Arizona woman who got a call this week that her luggage had been found — and not from a trip she took in August, but a bag she flew with 20 years ago, reports

The Tucson woman thought at first that the phone call from the Transportation Security Administration’s lost and found at Tucson International Airport was regarding that most recent trip, and was shocked to find that the bag that had been found had disappeared back in 1994 after a trade show in Las Vegas.

“Well it’s a handwritten note with my notes and address of 20 years ago,” she says of a piece of paper tucked into the bag filled with art supplies valued at about $600. “When I looked at this note, it was dated, it dated me as 20 years ago! And I was just absolutely blown away.”

As for why it took so long for her bag to find its way back to her? It’s a mystery.

“Items that pre date our agency are interesting. But I understand that we just did some shuffling of equipment at the airport, so it’s quite possible that we came across something that somebody left unattended for a long period of time,” a TSA spokesman explained, adding that he liked her use of plastic baggies before they even required for liquids.

And the baggage she lost in August has been returned to her recently as well, so she must have some really stellar karma points stacked up.

Lost luggage turns up after 20 years []

Ford Takes Takata Airbag Recall Nationwide, Adds Additional 500,000 Vehicles

Thu, 2014-12-18 17:40


For the second time this month Ford has announced plans to expand its recall of vehicles equipped with Takata-produced airbags that may spew shrapnel at passengers upon deployment. Not only does the latest recall cover nearly 500,000 vehicles, it finally takes into consideration the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrations’ request to include vehicles currently registered nationwide. 

The Associated Press reports that Ford agreed to expand its recall by 447,310 vehicles in all corners of the United States.

Ford’s expanded recall covers model year 2005 to 2008 Mustangs and model year 2005 and 2006 GT sports cars currently in the United States, Mexico, and Canada.

In all, officials with the company say the tally of Ford vehicles recalled because of defective airbags now includes about 462,911 in the U.S. and its territories, 27,516 in Canada and 7,578 in Mexico affected by the recall.

So far, the company is aware of only one injury related to its use of Takata airbags. That incident, which promoted NHTSA to request the nationwide recall from automakers, occurred when the driver’s side airbag failed in a 2007 Ford Mustang in North Carolina.

Previously, Ford and other automakers had issued recalls in only areas of high humidity including southern Florida, along the Gulf Coast, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Saipan and American Samoa.

Ford’s latest move puts pressure on Chrysler and BMW, the only two automakers that have not heeded NHTSA’s request to expand recalls. Earlier this month, Mazda and Honda announced they would take their recalls nationwide. Honda’s expanded recall covered 2.6 million vehicles in the U.S., while Mazda’s covered about 330,000 cars.

While automakers have begun to expand their recalls, Takata has firmly refused the same suggestion from NHTSA.

Shortly after NHTSA’s request, officials with Takata said during a congressional hearing that they wouldn’t initiate a national recall, in part because they don’t believe that NHTSA has the power to order such an initiative and because testing hasn’t shown what’s really behind the issue.

Officials with Takata took out full-page ads in major U.S. newspapers to reassure customers. [Click to Enlarge]

Officials with Takata took out full-page ads in major U.S. newspapers to reassure customers. [Click to Enlarge]

However, the AP reports that the company took out full-page ads in many of the country’s largest newspapers on Thursday to reassure consumers that it was working with regulators on the matter.

The ad featured a letter [PDF] from Takata chairman and CEO Shigehisa Takata, saying the company is working to perform tests to determine the cause of the airbag issues and to increase production capacity for replacement airbags.

“Takata will work in unison with automakers to advance our common goal of putting the safety of customers first,” the letter says.

The airbags have been the center of controversy since early summer when car makers began recalling vehicles after receiving reports that drivers and passengers were hit with flying pieces of metal when their airbags deployed.

So far, automakers have recalled nearly 12 million vehicles in the U.S. and about 19 million globally for the issues.

The airbag issues led to a number of ongoing investigations by NHTSA. One centers on Takata’s processes and the production of the airbag.

In the second case, NHTSA opened an investigation into Honda’s reporting procedures after it was revealed the company didn’t properly notify regulators about issues related to the Takata airbags. The car company currently faces the possibility of a record-breaking $35 million fine for its reporting failures.

It was previously reported that Takata uses an unusual chemical explosive – ammonium nitrate – for the chemical’s ability to make airbags inflate in a matter of milliseconds. Since then the company notified NHTSA of a change in its chemical compound.

Ford expands drivers air bag recall nationwide [Associated Press]

Police: Man Faked Heart Attack At Walmart While Pal Took Off With Cart Full Of Toys

Thu, 2014-12-18 16:49

Anti-Santa takes his toy haul from the store while people tend to his alleged accomplice

Anti-Santa takes his toy haul from the store while people tend to his alleged accomplice

You’re shopping or working at Walmart when a young man collapses in front of you, showing signs of a heart attack. What do you do? You tend to the victim, because you are a human being with a soul. However, police say when this happened in Florida, two men took advantage of the functioning souls of the people around them to steal a cart filled with toys.

Surveillance cameras caught all of the action, and police also note that the men arrived at the store and left together in the same vehicle, while pretending not to have anything to do with each other inside the store.

However, police caught up with the men, and there’s that surveillance footage that you see above. They’ve both been arrested and charged with grand theft. The items in the cart included a LeapPad tablet, a motorized Barbie car, a Barbie house, and whatever that giant Fisher-Price thing is that’s visible from the security camera.

Man fakes heart attack so friend can steal Barbie car, deputies say [WESH] (Warning: auto-play video)

New York AG Tells Walmart, Amazon, Sears To Stop Allegedly Selling Illegal Toy Guns

Thu, 2014-12-18 16:45

A prohibited toy gun from Amazon, via the NY AG's office.

A prohibited toy gun from Amazon, via the NY AG’s office.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office says several retailers are selling illegal toy guns online, as the items don’t carry an orange stripe required to mark them as fakes and not real weapons. His office annoucned today that it issued cease and desist letters to retailers including Amazon, Walmart, Kmart, Sears and more, demanding they stop the alleged illegal sales.

“When toy guns are mistaken for real guns, there can be tragic consequences,” Schneiderman said in a release announcing his office’s actions. “New York State law is clear: retailers cannot put children and law enforcement at risk by selling toy guns that are virtually indistinguishable from the real thing.”

Those retailers allegedly sold prohibited toy guns online to residents of New York State, with at least one case of a sale at a Kmart store in Rochester.

The letter calls for retailers to immediately stop selling the toys online and in-stores, pending the final outcome of the AG office’s investigation.

According to the investigation thus far, officials say many of the prohibited toy guns, priced from less than $10 up to several hundred, can be found and purchased easily online in New York.

Some of those were advertised as “realistic looking” and “full size,” so without those orange stripes on both sides of the barrel, the AG says the fake assault rifles, shotguns and pistols could easily be mistaken for real weapons by not only fellow civilians, but law enforcement as well.

Report: U.S. Government Agrees North Korea Actually Is Behind The Hack Attack On Sony

Thu, 2014-12-18 16:25

sony_pictures_logoIt has been a bad, bad month for Sony Pictures. In the wake of the hack that loosed their employees’ most personal information onto the internet, threats of violence resulted in the cancellation of their Christmas-day comedy release The Interview. And now, federal investigators aren’t sure how to point the finger of blame — not because they don’t know who’s behind it, but because they do. North Korea is indeed to blame, administration officials say, and the U.S. has to figure out how to handle international relations in the face of what is not just another hack, but cyberterrorism.

The New York Times reports that federal investigators have concluded that North Korea is “centrally involved” in the Sony hack. The question then becomes: what to do about it?

Senior administration officials told the NYT that the White House still hasn’t decided if publicly accusing North Korea of the attack is the best tactic. Some in the administration feel that the North Korean government should be directly confronted. Others, however, point out that there may not be any consequences the U.S. can credibly threaten, and that revealing exactly how investigators made the link with North Korea could compromise U.S. intelligence operations in the area.

The hackers brought their intrusion to the attention of Sony employees rather dramatically a few days before Thanksgiving, though the attack itself began long before that. Early rumors immediately put agents from or sponsored by North Korea high on the list of suspects, and Sony’s own internal investigation supported the theory, and federal investigators agree.

This act of what some are calling “data terrorism” has been devastatingly successful. Not only are Sony’s movies and all of their dirty laundry out loose in the wild, but also after theater chains all backed out of showing The Interview, Sony has been compelled to cancel its release entirely.

North Korean representatives have been condemning the film since a trailer was released over the summer. Representatives for the country have denied involvement in the attack, but did say that the hack was a “righteous deed” and could have been carried out by “supporters and sympathizers.”

Investigators have uncovered some signs that indicate the hackers may indeed have had inside help from within Sony.

That a North Korean attack has effectively censored the release of an American film made by a Japanese-owned studio is a deeply troubling precedent. Its success means that hackers (from any nation) have every incentive to do something like this again.

U.S. Said to Find North Korea Ordered Cyberattack on Sony [New York Times]

Amazon Prime Now: One-Hour NYC Delivery So New, Only One Area Code Has It

Thu, 2014-12-18 16:15

Prime now appHere’s a hypothetical: You wake up one morning to find that you’ve run out of toothpaste, what do you do? Sure, you could walk the two blocks to the local drug store and pick up a box. Or if you’re an Amazon Prime member you could just sit on the couch and wait an hour for some paste to be delivered, that is, as long as you live in a small section of Manhattan and feel like paying a shipping cost double that of the toothpaste.

Amazon announced Thursday that it launched a new service, Prime Now, aimed at delivering tens of thousands of daily essentials to Prime members in as little as one hour; two hours if you want free delivery.

Officials with Amazon say the latest “perk” for Prime members is available from 6 a.m. to midnight seven days a week.

To access the service customers must first download the Prime Now app. After selecting the daily essential you’re currently lacking – anything from batteries to toys and books – the nearest Amazon fulfillment center will dispatch you order.

While the service might seem perfect for those times you just can’t bear to leave the apartment without washing your hair (because you’ve run out of shampoo), there are several rather glaring drawbacks to Prime Now.

For starters, the service is currently only available in select areas of Manhattan. And by that we mean, it seems like only zip code. While Amazon has yet to return Consumerist’s request to define what “select areas” means, the sleuths in our NYC bureau played around with the app and found that only one Manhattan zip code appears to offer the service: 10001.

Here's a Google map showing the current delivery area for Prime Now service.

Here’s a Google map showing the current delivery area for Prime Now service.

When we tried searching the app with an address just 10 blocks north of that 10001 zone, Prime Now shot us down. The same story went for addresses in two other Manhattan zip codes, both south of Central Park.

Amazon says in its announcement about the service that users who download the mobile app will be notified when delivery is available in their area. But at this point it’s unclear when expansions of the service will occur.

The other major downside of the service is the relatively steep cost for one-hour delivery.

Consumers who decide to use Prime Now for daily essentials will have to shell out $7.99 to receive their toothpaste in 60 minutes. However, if they’re willing to wait a little longer, two-hour delivery with the service is free.

Add the expensive one-hour delivery cost to the $99-yearly subscription fee Prime members already pay and that tube of toothpaste is looking pretty expensive right about now.

Amazon Introduces Prime Now: One-Hour Delivery on Tens of Thousands of Daily Essentials Exclusively for Prime Members [Amazon]

Guy Picks The Lucky Gal With Same Name As His Ex To Fly Around The World With Him

Thu, 2014-12-18 15:09



It’s a tale as old as time: Guy meets girl, buys nonrefundable plane tickets for trip around the world, guy and girl part ways, guy seeks new girl but with same name and Canadian passport so tickets don’t go to waste, guy meets new girl, they go around the world. This stuff never gets old.

Back in November, a good chunk of the female population was annoyed to find out that they neither had the same name as the man who wanted someone to replace his ex-girlfriend using her same tickets on a trip round the world, nor a Canadian passport.

Some lucky lady had both the moniker and the paperwork, reports ABC News, and has been chosen to be the bearer of the tickets. It took thousands of emails and 18 actual entrants from women with the right name and documents, as well as hundreds of people who apparently wanted to change their names, ostensibly to go on this trip.

The 23-year-old student and part-time office administrator who won is already in New York City, where the twosome will embark on their three-week journey. On Sunday, they’ll be heading to Milan, Vienna, Prague, Paris, southern Thailand, Bangkok then Delhi, India, before returning home Jan. 12.

“At the end of the day, I’m just a simple guy from Canada,” the man told ABC News. “Initially, when the story broke, it was shocking. I didn’t have any anticipation this would happen. The original story implicated my ex-girlfriend, which was very difficult as well.”

While he was looking for the right person to share his trip, he founded a charity that he says will help “underprivileged and at-risk” people travel, called A Ticket Forward.

“The whole reason the charity started was there was a huge outpouring from people who wanted to travel the world and feared they wouldn’t,” he explained.

The twosome will be staying together in sponsored, separate hotel rooms (she has a serious boyfriend), but will be paying their own way when it comes to food and souvenirs.

“We still have some planning left to do, but we’re getting there. The message of the original post was, here’s a ticket and you can take it,” the male part of the traveling duo says. “[She] has all kinds of stuff that she wants to do and so do I. We’re taking it one day at a time.”

As for the lucky lady, she says her family is all for it… even her boyfriend, it seems, who remains supportive, if not a bit jealous of her trip.

“They were pushing me out the door. Some of my sweetest aunts in the world who would never say anything were saying, ‘If you don’t go on this, you are crazy,’” she told the Toronto Star. “I thought this is a crazy opportunity. Even if I didn’t get picked, I felt like I had to say I tried.”

Canadian Finds Woman With Ex-Girlfriend’s Name to Travel the World Together [ABC News]
Toronto man finds an Elizabeth… to travel the world with him [Toronto Star]

Sony Pictures Entertainment Cancels Release Of ‘The Interview’

Thu, 2014-12-18 00:17

Empty theaters. (Scoboco)

Empty theaters. (Scoboco)

Throughout today, more movie theater chains have announced that they would prefer not to screen the comedy “The Interview” in the wake of vague terrorist threats against theaters screening the film. Sony Pictures Entertainment, had already canceled the scheduled premiere in New York City tomorrow and told theater operators that they were welcome to not screen the movie if they don’t want to. All of the major theater chains took Sony up on this offer, and now the planned Christmas Day release has been canceled.

While the Department of Homeland Security says that there is no evidence of a credible threat to any movie theaters, the three largest theater chains opted to not screen “The Interview.” AMC, Cinemark, or Regal probably own most of your local multiplexes, and Sony has decided not to release the film on December 25th if it won’t be on the vast majority of screens nationwide.

The threatening message came from the same group of cyber-baddies who obtained employees’ personal and financial data, as well as a cache of company e-mails that Sony really, really doesn’t want entertainment reporters, or anyone else, to comb through.

In part, they said:

We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places “The Interview” be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to.

Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made.

Sony Pictures Entertainment has not announced at this time whether the release has been delayed or canceled entirely. The Daily Beast reported today that officials from the the U.S. Department of State reviewed the entire film before release, including the scenes depicting the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and had no problems with it being released. Ironically, we know this because of an e-mail exchange leaked by the very group that made these threats, the Guardians of Peace.

Sony Pictures cancels Christmas Day release of ‘The Interview’ [L.A. Times]

CFPB Suit: Texas Company Charged Consumers Millions In Fees For Credit Card They Couldn’t Use

Wed, 2014-12-17 23:24


Credit cards, while often a risky financial product, can at times prove to be a proverbial lifesaver when you get into a pinch. For that reason, most consumers who apply for a card envision using it as a valid form of payment for any number of reasons. While a Texas-based company marketed their credit card as general-use, consumers quickly found out that wasn’t actually the case. And so, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has filed suit against the company for its allegedly deceptive ways.

The CFPB announced today that it has filed suit against Union Workers Credit Services accusing the company of deceiving customers into paying fees to sign up for a sham credit card. The Bureau seeks to put a stop to the company’s alleged unlawful practices and provide restitution for consumers.

According to the complaint [PDF], the Dallas-based company falsely advertises a general-use credit card, that in actuality can only be used to buy products from the company.

The Bureau alleges that the vast majority of the company’s revenue is generated from selling the particularly useless buying-club membership card. And while most consumers never use the membership card, they cannot recoup their membership fees − $37 if they apply through the mail or $95 if they apply online.

Since it began offering the card in 2004, the Bureau estimates that Union Workers Credit Services has collected membership fees from hundreds of thousands of consumers throughout the United States, totaling millions of dollars.

In addition to unfairly charging consumers fees for a card they can’t use, Union Workers Credit Services also deceptively implies in advertisements that it has an affiliation with unions by using pictures of nurses, firefighters, and other public servants, the CFPB alleges.

Finally, the suit claims that the company misused consumer credit reports.

While companies can use credit reports to target certain advertisements to consumers without advance consent, they must provide an option in which people can for opt out of receiving marketing materials. However, the CFPB says the Union Workers Credit Services did not provide that opportunity.

According to the CFPB, thousands of consumers have filed complaints with law enforcement agencies and the Better Business Bureau regarding Union Workers Credit Services.

Additionally, the company has previously been sued by multiple government entities, including the New York State Attorney General and the U.S. Postal Service.

CFPB Sues Texas Company for Sham Credit Card [CFPB]

Amazon Offers Special Deal On The Perfect Gift: Sticks

Wed, 2014-12-17 23:11

perfect_sticksWooden sticks are a wonderfully versatile item. You can use them to hit people you don’t like, or to knit homemade mittens for people you do like. You could use one to stir paint, or use a pile of them to build a house for dolls. Only your imagination limits the possibilities.

This was an actual thing that Amazon posted to Twitter, which we do not really understand. The link that Amazon posted led to a page featuring only two items: sticks for making rock candy and sticks for stirring paint. While making rock candy and painting the house are both fun family projects for the holidays, the people of Twitter found Amazon’s offer of 15% off sticks baffling, awesome, or both.

@amazon WOW! I was just thinking to myself, "Self, where can a guy get some discount sticks?"

— Tim (@TimsSketchPad) December 12, 2014

@amazon Do you have a sale on glue?

— £ûλú De Panbehchi (@luluee) December 14, 2014

@amazon This is pretty great. I've been needing some sticks but hate paying full price for them.

— Robyn Halbert (@R_Halbert) December 16, 2014

Amazon reviewers suggested using these sticks to stir paint, logically enough, or as handles for paper fans. Those are fine ideas, but still does not explain why Amazon felt the need to offer them as a Gold Box deal or publicize that deal on Twitter.

The paint stirrers are down to 19% off, if you need some paint stirred.

Consumer Advocates Head Back To FCC, Continue Urging Agency To Reject Comcast/TWC Merger

Wed, 2014-12-17 22:47

Comcast-TWCLogoAfter a long pause, the FCC’s review of the Comcast/TWC merger is back underway. Now, the wave of comments in response to Comcast’s last data dump are starting to roll in, once again asking the agency to block the merger.

Our colleagues down the hall at Consumers Union (the advocacy arm of Consmerist’s parent organization, Consumer Reports), together with Common Cause, are once again urging the FCC not to allow the transaction.

The comment (PDF) reiterates many of the arguments Consumers Union, Common Cause, and others (including we here at Consumerist) have been making against the merger for months. Among them:

  • Competition is not as fierce (or extant) as Comcast claims. Mobile data (as we demonstrated) is absolutely not a realistic substitute for wired broadband, nor are DSL or fiber realistic competition in the majority of markets. And even Comcast isn’t sure that the merger won’t reduce what scant competition there is.
  • The purported benefits of the merger aren’t that great. Comcast likes to talk about expanding their Internet Essentials program, which really has connected 350,000 families to inexpensive broadband. But there are millions more who are blocked from participating in the program, which still only provides a fraction of the service to low-income families that their higher-income peers can afford. And public and private entities should be working to close the digital divide even without the merger. Using low-income children as a bargaining chip is not a great look.
  • A bigger Comcast is not good for net neutrality. Due in part to a coincidence of timing, the two issues have visibly gone hand in hand all year long. Comcast has strong incentives to double dip and to act as a chokepoint for data that travels to their customers.

And of course, Consumers Union adds, taking competition to a level even worse than its current abysmal state will do no wonders for either pricing or customer service. Consumers who don’t have the ability to change providers (so, nearly everyone) will just have to take what rapidly increasing prices and legendarily awful service they can get.

FDA: Going To The Mall For Your Ultrasounds Probably Isn’t A Good Idea, Even If It Comes With A Keepsake Gift

Wed, 2014-12-17 22:19
(Marcos de Madariaga)

(Marcos de Madariaga)

Any expectant parent would likely jump at the chance to see their developing bundle of joy. But while commercial ultrasound businesses might seem like the perfect place to catch a glimpse, the Food & Drug Administration is once again warning consumers that non-medical ultrasounds and heartbeat monitors aren’t exactly safe. 

The FDA issued an alert today reminding consumers that such devices are designed to be used by trained healthcare professionals, not a tween working part-time at the mall.

Officials with the FDA say ultrasound imaging and Doppler fetal ultrasound heartbeat monitors are “not intended for over-the-counter (OTC) sale or use, and the FDA strongly discourages their use for creating fetal keepsake images and videos.”

While ultrasounds can provide needed medical information for doctors when it comes to determining the overall health of an unborn child, the machines can also “heat tissues slightly, and in some cases, it can also produce very small bubbles (cavitation) in some tissues,” the FDA says.

Because the long-term effects of tissue heating and cavitation are not known, officials say ultrasound scans should be done only when there is a medical need, based on a prescription, and performed by appropriately trained operators.

Officials with the FDA say that part of the appeal for commercial ultrasounds is their promise to provide keepsake items for soon-to-be parents, despite the fact that many professional healthcare providers now provide printouts from ultrasound images.

“Fetal keepsake videos are controversial because there is no medical benefit gained from exposing the fetus to ultrasound,” the alert says. “In some cases, the ultrasound machine may be used for as long as an hour to get a video of the fetus.”

And while the FDA recognizes that such imaging may promote bonding between parents and their unborn child, plenty of much safer opportunities are available during routine prenatal care in a doctor’s office.

“In creating fetal keepsake videos, there is no control on how long a single imaging session will last, how many sessions will take place, or whether the ultrasound systems will be operated properly,” officials say.

As for Doppler ultrasound heartbeat monitors, the FDA warns that the devices are marketed as “prescription devices,” an should only be used by, or under the supervision, of healthcare professionals.

Shahram Vaezy, Ph.D., an FDA biomedical engineer, says there is little or no medical benefit expected from the exposure.

“When the product is purchased over the counter and used without consultation with a health care professional taking care of the pregnant woman, there is no oversight of how the device is used,”  Vaezy says. “Furthermore, the number of sessions or the length of a session in scanning a fetus is uncontrolled, and that increases the potential for harm to the fetus and eventually the mother.”

So, if you were planning to get soon-to-be grandma and grandpa a keepsake key chain of your unborn baby, you might want to rethink your strategy.

Avoid Fetal “Keepsake” Images, Heartbeat Monitors [FDA]

FedEx Truck Crashes In Georgia, Spilling Packages On Highway

Wed, 2014-12-17 21:49

Not the vehicle that crashed, as far as we know. (Michael Sauers)

Not the vehicle that crashed, as far as we know. (Michael Sauers)

Yesterday morning, a FedEx tractor-trailer crashed along a highway, holding up traffic and scattering packages at a busy time of year. No, this is not a rerun from Monday, when the same thing happened in New Jersey on FedEx’s biggest shipping day of the year. This crash occurred in Georgia, and the truck was carrying packages that contained regular consumer goods as well as grapefruit and consumer goods.

Like Monday’s New Jersey incident, this truck was pulling two trailers You can check out the pictures of scattered consumer goods and citrus fruits on the highway over at the Macon Telegraph. A man from a local wrecking crew told the Telegraph that he saw “a lot of laptops” among the wreckage. He says that he also gathered loose DVDs bound for Redbox kiosks into a box.

If you’re wondering what’s with the grapefruits, we should probably point out that the truck was traveling from grapefruit country in Orlando, Florida to a destination in Kentucky. Mostly, witnesses say, the cargo in the truck was gifts and other packages, with many boxes torn open or damaged. FedEx representatives told the Macon Telegraph that all of the cargo from the trailers would be inspected. Getting packages and debris off the highway was the most important thing, a task that local emergency services performed with a bulldozer-like vehicle.

Fortunately, the FedEx vehicle was the only one involved in the wreck, which happened around 10:30 in the morning. The driver wasn’t injured.

FedEx truck wreck spills packages on I-75 northbound in Monroe County [Macon Telegraph]

Consumer Advocates Warn Sale Of Corinthian Campuses To Loan Servicer Company Could Further Hurt Students

Wed, 2014-12-17 21:34

everestNearly a month ago embattled for profit-college group Corinthian Colleges Inc. announced it had found a buyer for 56 of its campuses under the Everest and WyoTech brands. But the proposed $24 million sale to Educational Credit Management Corporation has drawn the ire of consumer advocates for its lack of protections to students and the possibility that all liabilities related to litigation or private student loans carried by CCI would be waived.

Consumer advocate groups including the Center for Responsible Lending, the Institute for College Access & Success, as well as our colleagues at Consumers Union sent a letter [PDF] to officials at the Department of Education, U.S. Department of Justice and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau warning that the pending sale and its stipulations could further hurt students already reeling from CCI’s abusive practices.

In the letter, the groups urged the departments and CFPB to refrain from waiving liability for Corinthian buyers unless the sale provides significant relief for current and former students and contains enforceable safeguards to protect students and taxpayers from future abuses.

“Given the evidence that Corinthian made false representations to secure enrollment, any waiver of liability for a purchaser of Corinthian campuses must ensure adequate relief for past and current students,” the letter reads.

The groups say the current deal would effectively remove an incentive for many of Corinthian’s worst programs to improve because degree programs run by the new nonprofit entity would no longer be subject to the gainful employment rule.

If ECMC, a debt collector and loan servicer, is successful in purchasing the 56 Corinthian Campuses, the company would become the nation’s largest nonprofit career college chain, despite the fact ECMC has no experience running an institution of higher education, the groups say.

When the deal was announced ECMC said it would convert its new business to nonprofit status.

Furthermore, the groups say ECMC’s past record related to unsavory collection tactics doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that they would provide high-quality educational opportunities to Corinthian students.

The New York Times previously reported that ECMC’s actions have often “veered more than occasionally into dubious terrain,” using “ruthless tactics” to “hound” debtors to the point where the company has been sanctioned and reprimanded by judges for abusing the bankruptcy process.

Additionally, the groups took umbrage with the proposed deals’ terms that would prevent students from having the choice to complete their CCI degrees or leave the schools with a fresh start by having student loans discharged.

“ECMC’s lack of any experience running an institution of higher education and its reputation for aggressive loan tactics make enforceable safeguards all the more essential,” the groups write. “Students and taxpayers deserve better.”

To better ensure current and future students of present and future Corinthian campuses are treated fairly the groups provided a set of minimum conditions in which ECMC employ:

No mandatory arbitration clauses or bans on class action lawsuits in enrollment agreements. Nonprofit colleges do not require mandatory arbitration or ban class action lawsuits as a condition of enrollment.

Apply the standards required for all new colleges, including that no more than 33 percent of students withdraw in any academic year. ECMC has said it will run the campuses as new schools, not as they had been run under Corinthian ownership, and it should be required to meet the standards for all other new colleges.

Immediately post all faculty names and credentials on the web. Nonprofit colleges typically make public their faculty names and credentials, enabling prospective students to better evaluate the quality of the programs and faculty.

Apply gainful employment regulation standards and consequences to all programs for seven years. According to the latest public data, many of Corinthian Colleges’ degree and certificate programs would fail the gainful employment metrics or fall in the “zone,” which requires rapid improvement. The purchase of these programs by ECMC must not eliminate requirements for such poor degree programs to rapidly improve or close. The gainful employment requirements should continue to be applied during the “earn out” period, just as the Department continues to apply the 90/10 rule requirements after a for-profit college is purchased by a non-profit entity to ensure the transaction does not evade the law.

Require all recruiting calls be recorded and allow state and federal officials to monitor a random sample. Given the history of deceptive recruiting to attract students to overpriced, low-quality programs, all calls should be recorded and subject to federal and state monitoring.

Even if ECMC agrees to meet the above stated conditions, the consumer advocates say there are other issues with the proposed sale, namely a perceived conflict of interest.

Even though the Department plans to prohibit ECMC from any involvement with the loans of students at its schools, terms of the proposed sale create a conflict by having ECMC share revenue with the Education Department during the “earn out” period, the groups say.

“The Department should not benefit from enrollment growth at the ECMC campuses that the Department is charged with overseeing,” the groups write.

Additionally, ECMC’s plan to establish a separate board for its new education subsidiary doesn’t sit well with the groups.

“The board may have many of the same highly compensated people who are on ECMC’s current boards, which raises questions about whether the board will provide the necessary independent oversight required of nonprofit college boards,” the letter states.

Finally, the groups call ECMC’s plan to reduce tuition by 20% and close certain programs insufficient.

The program closures will likely cost “many times more than higher quality programs available at existing colleges.” Likewise, the groups claim the plan for closures fails to address many of CCI’s worst performing programs, including many failing gainful employment requirements, that have default rates over 30%, and whose graduates earn less than $17,000 per year.

In order to provide better protections for consumers, the groups urge the Dept. of Justice, Dept. of Education and CFPB to follow the California Attorney General’s lead by refusing to waive liability for ECMC, as the proposed terms do not provide adequate relief for past and current students and do not provide enforceable safeguards against future harm

Pharmacy Linked To Deadly Meningitis Outbreak Allegedly Faked Prescriptions For “Filet O’Fish,” “Bud Weiser”

Wed, 2014-12-17 21:22

From the federal indictment.

From the federal indictment.

As part of a federal indictment against a Massachusetts pharmacy linked to a meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people, officials allege that employees of the company used some pretty suspicious names on faked prescriptions, including things like menu items — “Filet O’fish” and “Coco Puff” — as well as famous er, names like “Bud Weiser” and his pal, “Raymond Rollingrock.”

Feds have charged 14 people (PDF, names begin on page 44) who worked at the New England Compounding Center for their alleged roles in the outbreak, reports CBS Boston, wherein tainted steroids manufactured by the pharmacy were blamed for the 2012 deadly meningitis outbreak.

“Big Baby Jesus” and “Hugh Jass” are also on the list, as well as odd pairings like a bunch of late night personalities along with “Al Bundie.”

“All names must resemble ‘real’ names… no obviously false names!” an email from the reads, according to the indictment.

So those names are the opposite of obvious…?

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said in a statement that NECC “routinely dispensed drugs in bulk without valid prescriptions.”

“It was further part of the conspiracy that defendants… used and caused others to use the names of celebrities, fictional characters, doctors and medical staff to create fraudulent prescriptions for drugs,” the indictment read.

‘Bud Weiser,’ ‘Jennifer Lopez’ Among Fake Prescription Names Allegedly Used By Pharmacy [CBS Boston]

If You Have A Reason To Go To Cuba, You Can Now Bring Cuban Rum And Cigars Back To The U.S. With You

Wed, 2014-12-17 21:13

(Kat N.L.M.)

(Kat N.L.M.)

You can get a Cuban sandwich in almost any city in the U.S., but it’s been fifty years since it was last legal to have a Cuban rum drink along with it, or to go smoke a Cuban cigar on the patio out back afterwards. Until today.

The United States and Cuba today announced a historic rekindling of diplomatic relations. International tensions put an icy chill over the hundred-mile stretch of the Caribbean between the two nations’ shores in the 1960s, and the U.S. has had trade and travel sanctions against Cuba in place ever since.

Today’s major shift in policy toward Cuba not only changes global relations, but also the availability of certain consumer goods. You still can’t bring a goat home (from anywhere) in your luggage, but travelers to Cuba are now allowed to bring $400 of purchased goods back within American borders. Up to $100 of that can be alcohol and/or tobacco.

A hundred dollars’ worth of alcohol and tobacco aren’t exactly large scale imports, granted. But they are dramatic increases from the previous legally acceptable amounts, which were zero.

Travel to Cuba just for the sake of tourism is still a no-go, under federal law. But the Obama administration is seeking to expand travel to Cuba within the law. There are twelve reasons travelers are permitted to head to Havana and back: family visits, government business, journalism, professional meetings or research, education, religious activities, humanitarian projects, foundation work or research, import and export work, artistic or athletic performances, clinics, workshops, and “support for the Cuban people.”

American credit cards will also now work in Cuba, so if you do know anyone who’s traveling there, they now have no excuse not to bring you back a souvenir… drinkable or otherwise.

Texas Plumber Sells Truck, Gets Branded A Terrorist

Wed, 2014-12-17 20:31

terrorist_tweetOur global, interconnected economy is an amazing thing. Of course, it doesn’t seem so amazing right now to the person answering the phones at Mark-1 Plumbing in Texas City, Texas. The business has had to remove the batteries from its cordless phones to stop the phones from “ringing off the hook” after a truck with its name emblazoned on the door ended up in the hands of an Islamic militant group in Syria.

Normally, just selling your old truck doesn’t lead to an international furor. The plumbing company just traded its old truck in at a local dealership last fall, and didn’t expect to hear about it again. That’s how trading your truck in works. Only what they failed to do was remove the business name and phone number from the door.

The company’s owner assures the public that they are not sponsors of any militant groups in other countries, but that hasn’t stopped angry members of the public from calling them and even making threats. “We have a secretary here, she’s scared to death. We all have families. We don’t want no problems,” the company’s owner told TV station KHOU. They are no longer answering the phone.

The dealership sold the Ford F-250 at auction, and from there it disappeared into the used car market. Until it reappeared in a photo posted to Twitter by a group of Islamic militants fighting in Syria’s civil war, with an anti-aircraft weapon mounted on the back. Unfortunately, the name and phone number of the plumbing company in Texas were still on the side.

That’s one useful piece of consumer advice from this story: when you trade in or sell a vehicle, don’t simply assume that the buyer will remove decals or emblems. Apparently, you can never predict where your old truck might end up.

Texas City truck seen on Islamic military group’s Twitter feed [KHOU] (Warning: auto-play video)

L.A. Medical Marijuana Dispensary Removes Pot-Smoking Santa Painting From The Window After Complaints

Wed, 2014-12-17 20:18

(NBC Los Angeles)

(NBC Los Angeles)

If the legal marijuana industry learns anything from Big Tobacco’s experience in this country, it’s that mixing kids and smoking is just not going to fly, as the industry found out with the banishment of Joe Camel and his ilk. So even if medical marijuana is legal in California, it’s not legal for anyone under 18. You know, or anyone who might believe in Santa Claus.

Members of the public who are complaining about a painting of Santa Claus on the window of a Los Angeles medical marijuana dispensary that shows him as quite the Jolly St. Nick, puffing away on what appears to be a cinnamon stick blunt while holding a smoking bong, say kids are going to get the wrong idea.

NBC Los Angeles reports that people are worried that because the dispensary is in an area where a lot of children tend to be — there’s a junior high school nearby, one critic noted — those kids might see what Santa’s doing and want to copy him.

As such, the business has agreed to remove the Christmas scene, which also included a snowman holding a prescription pill bottle.

Despite the outcry on social media and elsewhere, the store manager tells the station that he didn’t realize people were ticked off about the paintings. After talking to NBC Los Angeles, he reportedly called the artist in charge of the paintings and asked him to scrape his work off the windows. No sign of smokey Santa as of yesterday afternoon.

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Residents Riled Over Christmas Display of Pot-Smoking Santa [NBC Los Angeles]

CFPB Lawsuit: Sprint Made Millions Off Consumers Acting As A “Breeding Ground” For Bill-Cramming

Wed, 2014-12-17 19:42
(Spidra Webster)

(Spidra Webster)

Just a day after rumors surfaced that Sprint could be facing a $105 million from the Federal Communications Commission for allegedly overcharging customers using a practice known as “bill-cramming,” the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has filed a lawsuit against the carrier for the bogus charges placed on customer’s phone bills.

The CFPB announced today that it has filed a lawsuit against Sprint Corporation for illegally billing wireless consumers tens of millions of dollars in unauthorized third-party charges.

According to the Bureau’s complaint [PDF], which seeks refunds for affected consumers, Sprint operated a billing system that allowed third-party servicers to “cram” unauthorized charges on customers’ mobile-phone accounts and subsequently ignored consumers’ complaints about the charges.

Like previous cramming allegations against T-Mobile and AT&T, Sprint allegedly tacked unasked-for and unauthorized subscriptions for things like ringtones and text messages containing love tips, horoscopes, and “fun facts” onto bills.

From about 2004 through 2013, regulators say nearly all wireless carriers’ third-party billing involved products called “premium text messages” or “premium short messaging services” (PSMS) because they were frequently delivered by text messages.

In Sprint’s case, the company outsourced payment processing for these digital purchases to vendors called “billing aggregators” without properly monitoring them.

Because of the lack of oversight, regulators allege that Sprint’s system attracted and enabled unscrupulous merchants who, in some cases, only needed consumers’ phone numbers to cram illegitimate charges onto wireless bills.

The charges typically ranged from one-time fees of about $0.99 – $4.99 to monthly subscriptions that cost about $9.99 a month.

In all, the CFPB estimates that Sprint received a 30% to 40% cut of the gross revenue from these charges.

The CFPB reports that most affected Sprint customers were initially targeted by the third-party products online.

“Consumers clicked on ads that brought them to websites asking them to enter their cellphone numbers,” officials with the CFPB say in a news release. “Some merchants tricked consumers into providing their cellphone numbers to receive ‘free’ digital content and then charged for it. Many others simply placed fabricated charges on bills without delivering any goods or communicating with consumers.”

The CFPB claims that Sprint essentially welcomed the third-party charges with open arms.

Sprint allegedly did not allow customers to opt-in to third-party billing. Instead the wireless company automatically enrolled customers without their consent.

This policy helped to perpetrate the egregious actions by the third-party companies because many customers did not spot unauthorized charges, as they were unaware that third parties could place charges on their bill, the CFPB reports.

In addition to providing a hospitable environment for exploitative merchants, Sprint regularly disregarded red flags showing its system was a “breeding ground” for unauthorized charges, the CFPB alleges.

“Sprint continued to outsource to billing aggregators despite lawsuits about cramming against the very same aggregators that Sprint used,” the CFPB says. “In addition, Sprint should have known that cramming was a major problem as the company had already been subject to a law enforcement action related to the issue.”

That action was closed when Sprint settled charges of wireless cramming with the Florida Attorney General.

Officials with the Bureau say that Sprint further failed its customers by ignoring their complaints regarding unauthorized charges.

“Sprint failed to track customer complaints about unauthorized charges, and as a result, lacked the most basic alert mechanism that could have revealed flaws in its monitoring systems,” regulators say. “Sprint also failed to provide full and prompt remediation to consumers subjected to these charges.”

In many cases, Sprint refused to provide customers with refunds and only offered instructions on how to block future third-party charges.

While action by the FCC against Sprint – rumored to be a $105 million fine – is still pending, Commission spokesman Tom Wheeler provided a press statement on the CFPB’s lawsuit against the wireless company.

“Protecting consumers from unauthorized fees on their phone bills is a team effort,” Wheeler says. “The Commission has a great working relationship with CFPB and state law enforcement partners. Together, we are pursuing joint enforcement actions to protect consumers from unauthorized fees on their wireless bills. Our agencies have agreed to continue our close cooperation on this and other cases on behalf of wireless customers nationwide.”

If the FCC moves forward with the speculated $105 million fine, it would mark the third time this year a major wireless carrier has faced action regarding bill-cramming.

In October, AT&T entered into a deal with the Federal Trade Commission, FCC and attorneys general from 50 states and the District of Columbia to pay $105 million to settle allegations that it profited off of bill-cramming.

The FTC claimed that AT&T kept about 35% of all the fees it took in from these charges; in some cases, the company earned upwards of 40% of the revenue from the third-party charges.

The CFPB’s lawsuit against Sprint marks the second such action against a mobile carrier this year.

Back in July, the Federal Trade Commission sued T-Mobile for similar practices, accusing the company of making hundreds of millions of dollars off of premium text-messaging premium.

T-Mobile’s response to that lawsuit was to claim that it shouldn’t be sued because it stopped allowing these illegal charges.

The FTC alleged that T-Mobile received anywhere from 35-40% of the total amount charged to consumers for subscriptions (mostly $9.99/month) for things like “flirting tips, horoscope information or celebrity gossip.”

Continued allegations and action against carriers regarding bill-cramming may not come as much surprise after a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation report released in July found that wireless providers often turned a blind eye to cramming because it resulted in billions of dollars in revenue for carriers.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Sues Spring For Cramming Consumers With Unauthorized Third-Party Charges [CFPB]

Sony Tells Theaters They’re Free Not To Screen ‘The Interview’ Amid Hackers’ Threats

Wed, 2014-12-17 19:07

interview2After the hackers claiming responsibility for the recent data breach at Sony Pictures warned the studio that there would be violent consequences for any theater showing The Interview, the Seth Rogen/James Franco bro-com about assassinating Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, Sony is telling theaters they can feel free not to show the movie.

The movie studio canceled the New York premiere of the flick, which was scheduled to screen on Dec. 18, reports, but has no plans to pull the release nationwide.

Executives spoke with exhibitors yesterday, according to sources cited by AdAge, telling them to do what they want, and that it’ll support whatever decision exhibitors make.

Carmike Cinemas, the fourth-largest U.S. movie chain, has already reportedly said it won’t be showing the film amid the threats of violence. Regal Entertainment Group, AMC Entertainment Holdings and Cinemark Holdings haven’t commented thus far.

“We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time,” the hackers wrote, addressing theaters that will show the movie. “(If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.)”

An official with the Department of Homeland Security told AdAge however, that there is no credible intelligence to indicate there is an active plot against movie theaters in the U.S.

But because some people might worry about attending other movies at the same theater, even if they’re not there to see The Interview, some theaters might choose to nix screenings.

“We believe that the potential risk of the hackers carrying out any threats clearly outweighs the potential minimal loss of revenues to the exhibitors,” an analyst at B. Riley & Co. wrote in a report. “Should increased concern by moviegoers keep some of them away from theaters to any degree, there could be risk to other important 2014 movies to be released in the coming weeks.”

Sony Cancels ‘Interview’ Premiere; Carmike Won’t Show Film [AdAge]