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The Consumerist

Owner Finds His Rental Home Has Been Rigged To Explode At The Flip Of A Switch

Wed, 2015-03-25 16:21

(Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie)

(Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie)

Talk about nightmares: The owner of a house that he’d been renting out had a close call recently when an inspection revealed that the place had been rigged to blow up when a light switch was flipped. Because that kind of intricate wiring isn’t a mistake, police are now investigating.

Police in Massachusetts are now looking for the people who were renting the house, reports NBC News.

The homeowner was conducing a pre-sale inspection on the home with his attorney and an electrical inspector, when the electrician discovered the rigged light switch, Milton Police Chief Richard G. Wells Jr. said Tuesday.

The chief said the mechanism was an intricate set-up — it took police bomb specialists working for several hours in the house before it was declared disarmed and safe.

“It took some work to put it in there,” Wells said, noting that the explosive substance was “secreted inside the house” and connected to a particular light switch through an intricate network of wires snaking through several rooms.

“We believe the intention was that if someone had flipped the light switch on where it ended, the device would have exploded,” he said.

Police were called to the house last week on a vandalism complaint, while it was occupied by renters. At that time, officers found the house’s drains plugged with cement.

Both the Boston and Milton police are now looking for the renters as persons of interest in the investigation.

“I have never seen anything like this,” said Wells, adding that whoever rigged this wasn’t trying to provide a fun fireworks show for the enjoyment of all involved. Instead, those behind the bomb “definitely had malicious intent in what they did.”

Renters Sought After Massachusetts House Rigged to Explode [NBC News]

Philadelphia Uber Driver Accused Of Rape

Wed, 2015-03-25 15:35

uberxdropA woman in Philadelphia has accused a driver for ridesharing service Uber of raping her and holding her captive for hours in his car after the alleged assault.

According to Philadelphia Magazine, the woman was picked up by an UberX driver in the city’s Old City neighborhood on Feb. 6.

She told police that the driver held her down, ripped her pants, and raped her, then kept her in his car for two additional hours as he drove around.

Police confirmed the investigation to Philadelphia Magazine, but Uber claims that it had not been told about the allegation until yesterday, even though the passenger went to the police the same day she was allegedly assaulted.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with our rider,” a rep for Uber tells PhillyMag. “Upon learning of the incident, we immediately reached out to the Philadelphia Police Department to assist in their investigation and support their efforts in any way we can. As the investigation continues, the driver’s access to the Uber platform has been suspended.”

While many have championed services like Uber for offering competition to traditional taxi services, the company has been criticized for not doing enough to ensure the safety of its passengers.

Female passengers have reported being harassed and groped, held hostage, and physically assaulted by drivers.

And it’s not just women. In Chicago, a driver has been accused of sexually assaulting and choking a male passenger. Following multiple incidents of driver malfeasance in that city, Chicago Uber users will soon have access to a “panic button” feature in their mobile app.

Elephants Help Rescue 18-Wheeler Truck Stuck In Louisiana

Wed, 2015-03-25 15:31

(Natchitoches Parish Sheriff's Office)

(Natchitoches Parish Sheriff’s Office)

Forget calling for a tow truck — there’s another road rescue team in place and they probably work for peanuts. But seriously, while it might sound like a joke to have a couple of elephants helping out a stuck semi-truck on the side of the road, it’s all too delightfully true.

A pair of pachyderms was put to work assisting the 18-wheeler trailer they were traveling in when it got stuck on the side of the highway in Nachitoches Parish, LA, reports WTVR.com. They’re seen in photos of the incident leaning against the truck, guided by their handler, as the vehicle appears to be on the verge of tipping over.

Sheriff’s deputies arriving on the scene were surprised to find animals heaving and ho-ing instead of say, a guy with a tow truck. Because again, elephants!

“When deputies arrived on scene, they were astounded to find two elephants keeping the 18-wheeler from overturning,” a sheriff’s department spokesman wrote. “The truck became stuck after the driver pulled off the edge of the soft shoulder. Recent rains caused the ground off of the shoulder to be soft.”

To take the weight off the animals, a local wrecker service was called in to help remove the truck, the sheriff’s office adds.

The truck now owes the elephants a solid, you know. And it better deliver, because these guys do not forget.

Sheriff’s deputies shocked to find elephants holding up tipped 18-wheeler [WTVR.com]

Organic Spinach From Meijer, Target, Wild Harvest, And Cadia Recalled For Possible Listeria

Wed, 2015-03-25 14:58

ucm439760It’s not always fun when our predictions come true, especially when that prediction is about how contaminated food from a single vendor is about to trigger recalls in a variety of places across the food supply. On Monday, we predicted more organic spinach recalls to come, and we were right. Packages of frozen organic spinach from four additional brands have now been recalled due to possible contamination with Listeria bacteria.

What should you look for in your freezer? Here are the potentially-listeria-contaminated products that have been recalled:

Simply Balanced Organic Chopped Spinach (sold at Target): These are a 10-ounce steam-in-bag package. Bring them back to the store where they were purchased, and call 866-672-0811 with any questions.

Cadia Organic Cut Spinach (Only in California): 16-ounce frozen spinach package.

Meijer Organics Chopped Spinach: 16-ounce frozen spinach package; distributed to warehouses in Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Check your spinach against the UPC in the recall notice.

Wild Harvest Organic Cut Leaf Spinach: 16-ounce frozen spinach packages. Check sell by dates by state on the recall notice.

For all of the brands except Simply Organic sold at Target, call (804) 385-3772 with any questions.

According to this latest recall notice, the original source of the spinach was Green Vegetable Company in Oxnard, California.

New Homeowner Has To Sell House Because Of Comcast’s Incompetence, Lack Of Competition

Wed, 2015-03-25 14:45

Only months after moving into his new home in Washington state, Consumerist reader Seth is already looking to sell his house. He didn’t lose his job or discover that the property is haunted. No, Seth can’t stay much longer because no one can provide broadband service to his address; even though Comcast and CenturyLink both misled him into thinking he’d be connected to their networks and in spite of the fact that his county runs a high-speed fiberoptic network that goes very near to his property.

Like an increasing number of Americans, Seth works from home, meaning that it’s vital that he have a reliable high-speed Internet connection at all times. That’s why before he even put an offer on the house in Kitsap County, WA, he contacted Comcast to confirm that he could get service to his potential new address.

According to Seth, who has kept a detailed timeline of events, one Comcast sales rep even said that a previous resident at this address had been a Comcast customer. Seth says he tried to get it in writing that the house was serviceable, but Comcast said they simply do not do that.

Then, on Jan. 31, a Comcast tech came out to perform what should have been a quick installation, only to find that there was no cable infrastructure leading to Seth’s property. Thus began a months-long saga of pointless appointments before Seth ultimately hit a dead end last week.

What follows is the story of Seth’s quest to get broadband from someone, anyone, so he doesn’t have to sell his beautiful new home. According to BroadbandMaps.gov, Seth has 10 options for broadband access at his new address, including a municipal network. But does he really? If Comcast refuses to provide service, can Seth choose another viable provider? Surely one of these 10 listed options will work for him, right? The answer may surprise you.

Parade Of FoolsImage courtesy of Steven DePolo Section Permalink Bookmark Section Share on Facebook Share on Twitter THE REVOLVING DOOR OF TECH VISITS

#1 (Jan. 31): Tech shows up for scheduled appointment. Says there is no line to the house. Leaves.
#2 (First week of Feb.): Tech shows up without appointment. Says there is no line to the house. Leaves.
#3 (Feb. 9): Tech shows up for scheduled appointment. Say there is no line to the house. Leaves.
#4 (Third week of Feb.): Tech shows up without appointment. Says there is no line to the house. Leaves.

 

On Jan 31, as soon as the Comcast tech arrived at Seth’s house, he noticed a problem — no Comcast box on the outside of the house or anywhere near it. He gave Seth the bad news that the only way he’d get service was if Comcast ran cable from the road to his building.

“He called to set that up for us, and told us he was going to do something called a ‘Drop Bury Request’ to bring in service,” writes Seth. “He filed a ticket and went on his way.”

But that request seemed to vanish into the ether. Seth made repeated follow-up calls to Comcast but — in spite of having a ticket number, and in spite of being made promises that people would call or e-mail him back — no one seemed to have any idea what was going on with his account.

After nearly a week of trying, he finally got through to someone who scheduled for another tech to come out on Feb. 9.

Oddly, a Comcast installer showed up unexpectedly days before that scheduled appointment.

“He just appeared out of nowhere and asked us where our cable box was,” writes Seth. “We explained that we didn’t have one, but that we did have a Drop Bury Request in place. He looked perplexed. He told us that there was no way a Drop Bury Request could possibly get us hooked up, we were too far away from the cable infrastructure. We asked him to contact someone at Comcast to get things resolved, and he left.”

Then on Feb. 9 another tech showed up — at least this one was on schedule — but just like his predecessors, this guy had not been given the memo that the house was not yet connected to the Comcast network. He was just there to hook up a modem and some cable boxes.

Several days later — and again without an appointment — yet another Comcast tech showed up to do an install that simply couldn’t be done.

Kafka Comes To KabletownImage courtesy of Kevin Burkett Section Permalink Bookmark Section Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

At some point in the middle of all these pointless appointments, Seth found himself mired in a different Comcast bureaucracy — “Engineering.”

First Seth was told that everything was going fine and that Comcast was in the process of pulling construction permits.

Then, a site surveyor showed up to check out the distance from the house to the nearest Comcast node.

“He mumbled something about how it was going to be a very expensive job, then left,” writes Seth.

On Feb. 20 things got worse. A Comcast rep informed Seth that, despite the visit from the site surveyor, there was nothing in the account notes about an “Engineering” request and that Seth’s original service order had “timed out” because it had been so long since he’d first placed his order with Comcast.

But there was some good news. The rep said Comcast could do a “temporary drop” the next day to get service started ahead of actual construction.

That good news turned bad. Seth answered the door the next morning to hear a Comcast tech telling him, “I hate to tell you this, but I don’t think you have cable!”

The situation became even more confused later that day when yet another Comcast sales rep claimed that the work had been successfully completed that morning and Seth now had service and the ticket had been closed.

Once again, Seth had to place yet another order for service; his second in two days and his third in a month.

And, yes, the “Engineering” request had evaporated from Comcast’s system at some point, meaning an entirely new ticket needed to be opened.

It gets worse.

At this point, Seth had been promised that someone would call him within 24 hours about this new “Engineering” request, and, you guessed it, no one did.

And when Seth finally got sick of waiting and called Comcast, a sales rep claimed that the latest “Engineering” request had been closed as an “invalid ticket.”

Then a few days later — as if to rub it in his face — Comcast actually called Seth to ask him why he’d cancelled his installation appointment.

“They started to upsell me on all the great things I’d be missing out on if I didn’t reschedule!” says Seth. “I just hung up.”

What About DSL?Image courtesy of frankieleon Section Permalink Bookmark Section Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

Like most pay-TV/broadband providers, Comcast has virtually no competition in many of the areas it serves. And that’s certainly true for Seth’s neighborhood.

But wait, what about CenturyLink?

The CenturyLink website shows that Seth’s address is serviced and that he can get broadband speeds of up to 10Mbps (not terribly fast, but sufficient for many purposes):
centlinkgrabseth

After that very first Comcast tech told Seth there was no cable infrastructure to his house, he contacted CenturyLink. The company promised to get him hooked up right away.

But then the next day he got a call informing him that his area was in “Permanent Exhaust” and that CenturyLink wouldn’t be adding new customers. Of course, that didn’t stop CenturyLink from billing Seth more than $100 for service he never received and will never be able to receive. Seth then had to convince someone with CenturyLink’s billing department to zero out the account that should have never been opened.

“Seth’s issue had been ignored, then handed to someone who wouldn’t even be in the office for another 10 days”

We contacted CenturyLink back in February when we first heard about Seth’s story. We asked why: a) Seth’s address was showing up as being served and b) why the company was unable to service that address and also refusing to build out in Seth’s area.

Last Friday, after weeks of e-mail promises from a CenturyLink corporate media rep who repeatedly claimed to be “looking into” the matter, I received the following update that is too ridiculous to keep to myself:

“I have taken a new position with CenturyLink in the last week. I have forwarded your inquires onto M****, my former manager. M**** or one of her staff members will continue to research and follow up with you.”

I don’t usually include this sort of e-mail in my stories, but it shows the level of care with which CenturyLink handled this issue. After more than three weeks of being promised a response, I was being passed on to a new person.

And then to drive that point home, when I wrote to this new contact about the urgency of getting some sort of response, I received an auto-reply stating that M***** was out of the office through March 27.

Seth’s issue had been ignored and then handed to someone who wouldn’t even be in the office for another ten days.

Finally, after pointing out the insanity of waiting three weeks for the results of CL’s thorough research, I was given a one-sentence statement from yet another media contact: “We researched the issue and found that there was an error in our system, which we are updating.”

That was two days ago, and yet as of right now the CenturyLink website still says Seth’s address can get broadband service.

Where’s All That Competition Comcast Talks About?Image courtesy of Chris WIlson Section Permalink Bookmark Section Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

In spite of all evidence to the contrary (and then some), Comcast insists [PDF] that “the broadband marketplace is more competitive than ever.”

And that might sound reasonable when you look at this chart from BroadbandMaps.gov showing available broadband services in Seth’s ZIP code:
broadbandmapsdata

But when you actually look at the names on this list, you’ll see that the truth is much different.

We’ve already ruled out CenturyLink, as they are unwilling to build out their network even though their own website says it’s available.

Next, most of the providers on this list are wireless cellular companies. While your LTE service might be just as fast as your in-home broadband, the per-gigabyte cost of wireless is outrageously more expensive than cable or DSL service. Seth is currently using a mobile wireless hotspot to connect to the Internet at home, but the costs and limitations are not tenable in the long-run.

Satellite broadband is getting faster and more affordable, but it’s still significantly more expensive for someone who would be using the Internet both day and night for home and business.

Additionally, Seth’s work requires that he have a VPN connection. Unfortunately, the latency on satellite broadband is so high that most residential-level service providers won’t guarantee that customers can access VPNs. So satellite might get TV and some Internet into Seth’s home, but not into his home office. Thus, strike ViaSat from the above list.

What’s that StarTouch Broadband company? Good question. StarTouch uses microwave technology to transmit high-speed data service to parts of Washington state. This may have been the perfect solution for Seth — no need to run cables out to Comcast node; no waiting for CenturyLink to get around to providing service to his area — except StarTouch doesn’t actually cover his neighborhood.

A rep for the company confirmed to Consumerist that the data on BroadbandMaps.gov is inaccurate and their service does not reach this part of Kitsap County. When Seth called, a rep told him that his area used to be serviced but that someone recently constructed a tall building that effectively blocks the StarTouch signals from reaching him.

Then there’s XO, which provides connectivity solutions for business. We confirmed with an XO sales rep that the company could, in theory, provide T1 broadband service (through CenturyLink). However, it would require that either Seth’s employer purchase the service or that Seth have a business license of his own.

But even if that were possible, the cost would be exorbitant, starting at nearly $600/month with a three-year contract.

One service not listed above — because it’s not even available yet — is the fixed wireless product promised by AT&T if it’s allowed to merge with DirecTV. It may be exactly the kind of thing for someone in Seth’s situation, but we have no idea how quickly AT&T would roll it out post-merger, or which areas it will be available.

Unfortunately, Seth doesn’t have a year or two to wait.

What’s A PUD & Why Can’t It Sell Me Gigabit Broadband Service? Section Permalink Bookmark Section Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

The only remaining option on that list is the gigabit fiber network operated by the Kitsap Public Utility District. That’s right, the county has high-speed broadband lines running not far from Seth’s house.

TelecomMapSo why can’t he just get his service from the county?

Because Washington is one of the half-dozen states that forbids municipal broadband providers from selling service directly to consumers.

The state law in Washington limits the sale of muni broadband service to the wholesale level, meaning Kitsap PUD can only sell network access to resellers.

Back in February, right around the time we heard of Seth’s story, the FCC voted to approve two petitions from muni broadband providers in Tennessee and North Carolina who were looking to get out from under the thumb of state laws restricting the areas they could service.

That gives hope for city- and county-owned broadband providers around the country, but the FCC vote was not a blanket ruling that overturned all overly restrictive local broadband laws. Instead, each law would need to be challenged, meaning Kitsap PUD or some other similar wholesale provider in the state would need to petition the FCC.

PUD officials had no comment on whether they intend to file such a petition or if they’d publicly support one. After all, running a retail-level broadband service may be too expensive an undertaking for a county with only around 250,000 residents.

However, a source at the District did indicate that there is a need for competition and that the mere threat of a possible newcomer in the form of gigabit fiber service could only help consumers like Seth.

Even if the PUD did get the ability to sell directly to consumers, Seth would still need to pay for a build-out of the fiber network to his home. The one major difference is that this cost can be amortized over a significantly longer time period, meaning the consumer would face a lower up-front investment.

And Now The Sad Conclusion Of Seth’s Story… Section Permalink Bookmark Section Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

So with all other options off the table, Seth has had to wait for Comcast to get around to estimating the construction cost for connecting him to the network, and then for the company to decide whether it’s worth it.

Comcast put Seth around 2,500 feet from the nearest connection point, and gave him an initial unofficial estimate of around $20/foot, meaning he’d have to pay $50,000 just to get connected.

That seemed high to Seth, and several people we talked to (who don’t have the specifics of his situation but who are familiar with these sorts of projects) say this is more than most quotes.

Comcast later revised that estimate upward, to as much as $60,000, though Comcast — if it decided to do the work — would pick up some of the tab.

Seth even began looking into hiring his own contractor to do some of the more expensive work on his property in the hopes of bringing the cost down.

After about seven weeks of pointless install appointments, deleted orders, dead ends, and vague sky-high estimates, Comcast told him that it had decided to simply not do the extension. The company wouldn’t even listen to Seth’s offers to pay for a good chunk of the cost.

“I’m devastated,” he wrote at the time. “This means we have to sell the house. The house that I bought in December, and have lived in for only two months.”

“Comcast has lied. I don’t throw that word around lightly or flippantly, I mean it sincerely,” continued Seth. “They’ve fed me false information from the start, and it’s hurt me very badly.”

Seth says he stands to lose a significant chunk of money by selling his house so soon after moving in.

“Three months of equity in a house isn’t a lot of money compared to sellers fees, excise taxes, and other moving expenses,” he explains.

Even though Comcast was given weeks to research and comment on Seth’s story, the company has yet to provide Consumerist with a statement or explanation of how it could not only fail to keep an accurate accounting of serviceable addresses, but why it continued to send tech after tech to do installs that couldn’t be done.

One person we spoke with at Comcast claims that Seth was provided an estimate for what his portion of the construction bill would be, but that he did not agree to pay the costs.

However, Seth tells Consumerist quite the opposite — that he never received anything in writing from Comcast regarding what he would be expected to pay.

“If there was an explicit offer for me to seriously consider paying them, I’d have expected at least that,” he says.

The last he heard from anyone was on March 23, when a regional supervisor mentioned the vague early number of $50,000 to $60,000, but that the supervisor’s message was “there’s nothing we could do for you.”

According to the latest Broadband Progress Report from the FCC, 4% of all Americans — and only 2% of people in Washington state — lack access to even the most basic non-mobile broadband service. But Seth’s story makes us wonder how many consumers are being counted as having access to these services when in fact the service providers refuse to make them available?

That’s why it’s in the best interest of Comcast, CenturyLink and others to assume an address is serviceable just because it falls within a certain ZIP code or municipal boundary — because it gives the illusion that they are providing service to more customers.

And that was fine when the cable companies only provided pay-TV, because you could still get satellite service or just rent a movie. But now that Internet access has become crucial to our work and home lives, broadband providers must be held accountable when they give customers misleading information.

HJ Heinz Buying Kraft In Deal That Will Create One Huge Food Giant

Wed, 2015-03-25 14:29

(JeepersMedia)

(JeepersMedia)

Usually when two parties walk down that aisle and say “I do” in front of everyone, there are a few whispers from those assembled wondering when the twosome will settle down and start making children. In the case of Heinz and Kraft, everyone already knows what their union will produce — a giant food company baby.

If you’ve been putting ketchup on your macaroni and cheese (without shards of metal, let’s hope), you probably saw this merger coming a long way off: H.J. Heinz Co. is buying Kraft Foods Group, which will create what the companies say is going to be the third-largest food and beverage company in North America, reports the Chicago Tribune, with annual revenue of about $28 million.

It’ll be a split living arrangement, with Kraft Heinz keeping headquarters in both Pittsburgh, where Heinz hails from, and also in the Chicago area, home to Kraft, notes the Associated Press.

The two companies have become household names in the more than 100 years that both have existed, with brands like Oscar Mayer, Ore-Ida, Jell-O and of course Kraft and Heinz included in the roster of familiar names that will now all be part of the same family.

Kraft shareholders will get stock in the new company and a special cash dividend of about $10 billion, or about $16.50. Each share of Kraft will turn into one share of Kraft Heinz.

Heinz shareholders will own 51% of the new company, with Kraft shareholders hanging onto the other 49% stake.

“This is my kind of transaction,” said Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway, one of the engineers of the union (his company and investment firm 3G capital bought Heinz two years ago). “Uniting two world-class organizations and delivering shareholder value. I’m excited by the opportunities for what this new combined organization will achieve.”

The union still needs a final blessing from federal regulators as well as shareholders of Kraft Foods Group, but both companies’ boards have already given the go-ahead unanimously.

HJ Heinz buying Kraft in deal to create food giant [Chicago Tribune]
Heinz buying Northfield-based Kraft and building a $28 billion food giant [Associated Press]

Remembering Reusable Grocery Bags Makes Us Buy More Junk Food

Tue, 2015-03-24 23:41

(Christopher.V)

(Christopher.V)

Reusable shopping bags: they’re environmentally friendly, earn you a discount, and let you express your loyalty to your favorite grocery store when there isn’t a Wegmans available within a two-hour drive. Yet here’s an interesting question: do they have an effect on our behavior? Are there any major differences between shoppers who bring their own bags and those who don’t?

Most people would assume that reusable bag users buy healthier food than people who don’t bring their own bags. That is, as it turns out…not really true. An analysis of store loyalty card data showed that people who bring their own bags do buy more organic products, out of what is most likely a combination of health and environmental concerns. However, when compared to other shoppers, they’re buying a lot more junk food.

“They weren’t replacing other items with junk food, as they did with organic food,” researcher Uma Karmarkar explained to the Harvard Business Review. “They were just adding it to their carts.” Customers who bought, say, organic baby carrots would buy those instead of conventionally grown carrots. Yet the shoppers with reusable bags were buying a lot more cookies and ice cream overall, and those purchases weren’t replacing anything.

Here’s the best part: the researchers were even able to sort out shopping trips by the same household where they did or did not bring the bags along. The same people were more likely to buy junk food when they remembered to bring the bags. One exception: households who were also buying baby items. They didn’t buy extra treats when using reusable bags.

Why is this? The researchers believe that we’re all rewarding ourselves, unconsciously, for the virtuous behavior of remembering to bring along that reusable bag. It’s not a conscious decision, of course: maybe even reading this article will inoculate you from the behavior.

Reusable Bags Make People Buy Organic—and Junk [Harvard Business Review]

Toys ‘R’ Us Can’t Beat Discounters On Price, Invites Everyone Over For Play Dates

Tue, 2015-03-24 22:34

(Nicholas DiMaio)

(Nicholas DiMaio)

Toys ‘R’ Us has a problem: they’re a specialty store that people love, but they must compete with mega-discounters like Walmart and online vendors like Amazon on price. When they can’t do that and still make money, how are they to survive? The company’s new idea: get kids in the door by creating an experience, not just a place to buy toys.

The company has been working on a turnaround for the last ten years or so, and Head Giraffe and CEO (not his actual title) Antonio Urcelay explained to Bloomberg that the company wants to make sure that families see it as a specialist in stuff to play with. They’re planning a prototype store that will feature large play spaces for kids, and demonstration units for technology for them to play with.

Will selling itself as an indoor playground of sorts work? Will getting people in the door mean selling them some toys? What Urcelay knows is that the company is improving its sales numbers even though they aren’t offering as many deep discounts as they used to. Stores will still match prices offered elsewhere, but they know that they aren’t able to compete with Walmart on price. Instead, they aim to train employees better, arm them with more product knowledge, and make the stores into something different that general retailers can’t compete with.

Toys ‘R’ Us Seeking to Ward Off Discounters by Adding Play Space [Bloomberg]

L.A. Man Claims Identity Theft Has Left Stranded Him In Mexico For Weeks

Tue, 2015-03-24 21:57

(Noah Jacquemin)

(Noah Jacquemin)

A U.S. citizen from Los Angeles says his visit to Mexico has lasted much longer than he anticipated, after he claims someone stole his identity, prompting border officials to keep him out of the country for now.

He was coming back from Mexico at the San Ysidro border crossing on March 1 when he found himself stuck, reports ABC 7 News.

Instead of handing over a passport to verify his citizenship, he says he showed his California identification card, Social Security card and birth certificate because he doesn’t have a passport. When agents ran his fingerprints, someone else’s picture showed up in the system.

“Then all of a sudden it became a nightmare. The agents of Customs and Border Patrol accused him of being an impostor and told him, ‘No this is not your ID,'” his attorney told the media.

His lawyer claims border officials arrested him and kept him in custody for three days, allegedly pressuring him to sign a false document saying he had invented a fake name in order to go free.

The family believes someone stole his identity and somehow got another person’s photo to appear with his name. As such, the man’s lawyer has since written to the Inspector General to investigate possible criminal conduct.

While the attorney admits that yes, a passport would clear all this up, why would he, when his system has worked in the past?

“Obviously, he should have had a United States passport, but because he came and went with the same documents… he didn’t go get a passport,” his lawyer says.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a valid driver’s license is enough to prove citizenship to enter the country from Mexico, but it’s unclear if state identification cards are included in that.

He remains in Mexico for now, while authorities at the U.S. Consulate are reportedly investigating and trying to get him a passport. That process could take two to three months.

LOS ANGELES MAN STUCK IN MEXICO AFTER IDENTITY STOLEN [ABC7 News]

Rising Moon Organics Ravioli Recalled For Potential Spinach Listeria

Tue, 2015-03-24 21:42

rising moon organics ravioliYesterday, we predicted that more prepared foods that include organic spinach would be recalled in the coming weeks after a Washington state farm told informed its wholesale customers that routine testing had turned up Listeria bacteria in its spinach. While a link between these recalls hasn’t been announced, another all-organic product including spinach has been recalled: Rising Moon Organics frozen ravioli.

Here’s what you need to know if you’ve purchased New Moon Organics products: the varieties recalled are the Garlic & Veggie, Spinach Florentine, and Spinach & Cheese ravioli. They will have sell by dates between December 22, 2015 and January 20, 2016: check against the recall notice to be sure.

The companies involved and public health agencies do not yet know of any illnesses caused when people ate these products, which is good. Most healthy adults would notice just a brief stomach bug with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle stiffness, or a fever. That’s annoying and you might have to call in sick to work, but survivable. For young children, elders, people with compromised immune systems, the consequences are more serious: listeriosis infection is life-threatening. Listeriosis can also cause miscarriage and stillbirth in pregnant women.

If you purchased this product, you can return it to the store where you purchased it for a refund. If you have any questions about the recall, give the company a call at 510-429-0356.

Carmel Food Group Recalls Rising Moon Organics Frozen Ravioli Due to Possible Health Risk [FDA]

Study: Some Popular Android Apps Tracking User Location Once Every Three Minutes

Tue, 2015-03-24 21:12

(Manik_K)

(Manik_K)

While it can be very useful to have say, a weather app on your smartphone that knows where you are when you want to find out current conditions for your location, does that mean that those apps should be able to know where you are even when you aren’t using the app? That’s a question raised by a new forthcoming study that found about dozen apps for Android smartphones are not only tracking where you are right now, but three minutes from now. And three minutes after that. And so on.

Computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University found that dozens of popular Android apps collected device location (including GPS coordinates accurate to within 50 meters) an average of 6,200 times, or about every three minutes during a two-week study period, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Researchers recruited 23 users of Android’s version 4.3, with participants able to use their own choice of apps after installing software that logged app requests for a variety of personal information including contacts, call logs, calendar entries and camera output, along with location.

Even when an app provides a useful-location based service, some of those requested the data more often than would be needed to provide that service, researchers said.

For example: Groupon Inc’s app requested one participant’s coordinates 1,062 times in two weeks. Does Groupon need to know where you are? Sure, when you’re acvitely trying to find a deal. But the rest of the time…?

“Does Groupon really need to know where you are every 20 minutes?” asked Norman M. Sadeh, a Carnegie Mellon professor who co-wrote the study. “The person would have to be accessing Groupon in their sleep.”

In another part of the study, The Weather Channel’s app requested device location an average 2,000 times, or every 10 minutes during the study period. Which, unless you are really nervous about a storm ruining your outdoor party or an oncoming tornado, seems a bit excessive.

If you’re wondering, the research didn’t include comparable results from iOS users, because unlike Android which groups all its permissions for apps en masse — you can’t download an app if you don’t agree to all its permissions — iOS devices allow for users to adjust what data is collected by an app on an individual basis (click here for more on how to do so).

So I can have the Weather Channel app on my iPhone and turn the location data off (which isn’t that useful to me, but hey, I can do it).

It’s no secret why app developers want to cull as much location data as they can get, with marketers paying good money for online ads that can be targeted to individual users based on location information. That might mean an ad or a coupon for a retailer could pop up on the company’s app if it detects a user is nearby or even inside a store.

In previous research, Sadeh and his fellow researchers found that when an app is asking for your location, 73% of the time it shares that information with an advertising network. That’s something many people are likely not aware of when they give an app permission to access their location.

During the study, researchers found that when users were given a “privacy nudge” to tell them how many times apps collected their personal data each day, 95% of participants reported reassessing their app permissions and 58% chose to restrict apps from collecting data.

But should we have to be nudged?

“The defaults for location data are entirely backward. That data should only be revealed at a particular moment for a particular purpose. Instead, devices routinely reveal location, leaving the user subject to constant tracking,” Marc Rotenberg, president of the privacy advocacy group, the Electronic Privacy Information Center told the WSJ.

Apps Track Users—Once Every 3 Minutes [Wall Street Journal]

Your Personal Data Could Be For Sale In RadioShack Bankruptcy Auction

Tue, 2015-03-24 20:44

(cmorran123)

(cmorran123)

Have you handed your name, address, e-mail address, or phone number over to RadioShack as part of a purchase or, inexplicably, when you returned an item that you bought with cash? As the bankruptcy auction of the smoldering remains of The Shack continues into its second day, we’ve learned that one of the assets for sale is RadioShack’s customer list, which includes more than 65 million mailing addresses and more than 13 million e-mail addresses.

Sure, many of those customers have most likely moved since they bought that extended warranty on their remote control car back in 2007, but many of them haven’t. Do you expect when handing over your contact information that the company will sell that information eight years later? Maybe you do assume that. We all certainly should.

Bloomberg reports that Standard General, a hedge fund with an almost suspiciously generic name, is the winner of the auction for a little less than half of the chain’s pre-bankruptcy store network, as well as the brand name and other assets at the corporate level.

AT&T has already weighed in on what they think ought to be done with their customer data in RadioShack’s hands, and the state attorneys general of Texas and Tennessee have filed objections to the sale of customer data. (RadioShack is based in Texas.)

RadioShack’s Bankruptcy Could Give Your Customer Data to the Highest Bidder [Bloomberg]

EPA: Vacationing Family “Seriously Exposed” To Toxic Pesticide While Staying In Luxury Condo

Tue, 2015-03-24 20:20

(catastrophegirl)

(catastrophegirl)

When you’re staying in a fancy, luxurious vacation condominium at a Caribbean resort, there’s a certain expectation that your health won’t be seriously threatened. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says members of a Delaware family have become seriously ill after their $800-per-night condo at a resort in the U.S Virgin Islands was possibly fumigated using toxic pesticides normally found in industrial farming.

The parents and their two teenage sons were airlifted back stateside after becoming ill during their vaction in the Caribbean island of St. John, reports USA Today, and have now been stabilized and are getting “tremendous medical care.”

Investigators from the EPA are now investigating what poisoned them by taking air samples of their unit at a Sirenusa resort, officials said. The family was reportedly exposed to the pesticide soon after checking in on Wednesday last week, but didn’t show symptoms until Friday when they began having seizures.

An EPA administrator said the poison was caused by methyl bromide, an odorless pesticide that can be fatal or cause serious central nervous system and respiratory system damage. It’s restricted in the U.S. due to its “acute toxicity,” and is only allowed to be used in certain agricultural settings by certified applicators. It is :not authorized for use in dwellings,” the EPA says.

Investigators say it appears methyl bromide was possibly used to fumigate the family’s condo and others “to deal with indoor bugs,” and that the agency knows who applied the chemical. They’re now investigating whether or tenants at Sirenusa or other places where the contractor worked to fumigate rooms have become ill.

“We’ve got resources on the ground and we need to find out exactly what happened and we’re also focused on ensuring that this doesn’t happen again,” Judith Enck, administrator for the EPA’s Region 2 said.

The condominium is owned and managed by a company called Sea Glass Vacations, which hasn’t commented on the incident.

Del. family poisoned in Caribbean has ‘stabilized’ [USA Today]

More Than 100 National Consumer Groups Urge The CFPB To Issue Rules Over Forced Arbitration Clauses

Tue, 2015-03-24 20:11
(SarahMcGowen)

( SarahMcGowen)

Just weeks after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a report showing that tens of millions of Americans have clauses in their credit card, checking account, student loan and wireless phone contracts that take away their rights to sue those companies in a court of law, more than 100 consumer groups have signed a letter urging the Bureau to address the use of forced arbitration clauses by issuing rules forbidding the clauses.

The consumer groups, which include the Center for Responsible Lending, the National Association of Consumer Advocates, the National Consumer Law Center and our colleagues at Consumers Union, sent the letter [PDF] to CFPB director Richard Cordray reiterating the need for the bureau to create rules to protect consumers.

“Few practices are as abusive, unfair, and deceptive as the widespread use of forced arbitration clauses,” the letter states. “Forced arbitration funnels consumers into a private system set up by corporations to protect and hide harmful and unlawful corporate behavior. Not only do these terms eliminate the right to a jury trial in a civil action, limit discovery and make meaningful appeal impossible; they also often prohibit consumers from banding together in a class action as an effective way to seek legal accountability.”

According to the CFPB’s report, 53% of credit cards currently have arbitration clauses, 92% of prepaid debit cards are subject to arbitration, and 99% of all payday loans in California and Texas include the restrictive clauses. In all, more than 93% of consumers under these clauses have no idea they’ve had their rights taken away from them.

Additionally, the report found that most arbitration clauses include a ban on class actions, even if the group of wronged consumers hope to seek joint arbitration. As the report pointed out, these bans have become an important tool for credit card companies who frequently cite their arbitration clauses as a way to preempt group litigation.

The prevalence of forced arbitration clauses stems, in part from a 2013 Supreme Court decision that gave credit card companies more of a reason to use arbitration clauses. At the time a divided SCOTUS ruled that the clauses could be used to preempt class-action lawsuits, even in cases where class actions are the only economically feasible way for the plaintiff to make its case.

Following the CFPB’s report on forced arbitration clauses, several national consumer groups applauded the study, saying it proved financial institutions used the clauses as a “license to steal.”

Consumer groups contend that by eliminating class actions the financial industry can ignore laws far more easily and operate with impunity.

“We believe that the final results of the CFPB arbitration study offer concrete evidence that the use of forced arbitration clauses is harmful to consumers, and therefore, it is in the public interest and in the interest of consumer protection to prohibit the practice,” the groups state. “The CFPB must act now to use its statutory authority to prohibit the use of forced arbitration clauses in contracts for consumer financial products and services, and restore consumers’ right to choose how to resolve disputes with financial institutions.”

The national groups urge the CFPB to follow recent federal government actions that curb forced arbitration clauses.

In the past, Congress banned forced arbitration in transactions with military servicemembers with respect to payday loans, vehicle title loans, and tax refund anticipation loans; auto dealers and automobile and truck manufacturers; livestock and poultry growers; and employees of government defense contractors with Title VII and sexual assault tort claims.

Bill Seeks (Again) To End Over-Use Of Antibiotics In Farm Animals

Tue, 2015-03-24 20:06

(Martijn Venhuizen)

(Martijn Venhuizen)


Antibiotic resistance is a big problem. Farmers know it. Consumer advocates know it. Doctors, the CDC, and the FDA all know it. You know it. And the largest contributor by far to the crisis is the 80% of antibiotics that are used in industrial farming. And Congress is, once again, taking a stab at making agricultural antibiotic abuse against the law before it’s too late.

Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York today introduced a bill — PAMTA, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act — intended to stem the tide of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

The bill would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to severely limit the non-theraputic use of any medically important human antibiotic drugs in agriculture. Specifically, it would mean you can only use antibiotics to treat animals who are actually sick with bacterial infections. Currently, antibiotics are widely used in industrially-farmed animals’ food and water to promote animal growth and as preventative measures against disease outbreak from unsanitary conditions.

Antibiotic resistance is a critical problem in modern medicine, as more people every year suffer from infections that are now difficult or impossible to treat. In a press statement, Slaughter’s office specified that over two million Americans acquire antibiotic-resistant infections each year — and over 23,000 of those prove fatal. Globally, that figure is approximately 700,000 fatalities due to antibiotic-resistant infections each year.

Despite the worsening situation, the abuse of antibiotics in farming has increased, rather than decreased in recent years. The effects are already being seen basically everywhere.

In her statement, Slaughter called antibiotic resistance “the most pressing public health crisis of our time.” She continued, “Both the American people and the U.S. government need to give this issue the attention it demands. Right now, we are allowing the greatest medical advancement of the 20th century to be frittered away, in part because it’s cheaper for factory farms to feed these critical drugs to animals rather than clean up the deplorable conditions on the farm.”

“The Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Congress have all failed to enact meaningful changes to the status quo, endangering countless Americans,” Slaughter added. “If we want to prevent a nightmarish post-antibiotic future, citizens of this country need to speak up and demand that their leaders enact enforceable, verifiable limits on the use of antibiotics on the farm. Anything short of that, and we will only be biding our time until a major outbreak causes widespread devastation in this country and throughout the world.”

The bill, which already has 21 co-sponsors, was referred to the Health subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where it will presumably, and unfortunately, never again see the light of day.

In the meantime, some businesses are slowly responding to consumer concern and taking steps to buy meat from farms that do not use non-theraputic antibiotics.

Slaughter introduced earlier versions of the bill in 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2013; perhaps the fifth time’s the charm.

Student Loan Borrower’s Bill Of Rights Would Reform Disclosure And Servicing Standards

Tue, 2015-03-24 19:03

(Michael)

(Michael)

In recent weeks, legislators have introduced a range of bills aimed at addressing student loans and revamping the laws governing those debts. Today, that push continued with the reintroduction of a bill that would ensure student borrowers are treated fairly and understand the range of options at their disposal.

The Student Loan Borrower’s Bill of Rights – which was first introduced last year, but failed to move forward – was introduced today by Senators Dick Durbin of Illinois, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Jack Reed of Rhode Island.

The bill, intended to provide reform disclosure and servicing standards for student loans, comes just weeks after President Obama introduced his own Student Aid Bill of Rights.

That measure establishes two centralized websites allowing borrowers to view their loan information more easily, while creating mandates for servicers to more clearly disclose changes to the debt and provide fair, affordable payment requirements.

“More must be done to help the nearly 40 million Americans holding some $1.2 trillion in student loan debt,” Dick Durbin says in a statement. “The Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights will ensure that all borrowers have basic rights and protections as they repay their student loans and more repayment options if they find that, despite their best efforts, they are unable to make their monthly payments in full.”

Under the newly introduced bill, federal and private student loan borrowers would be given six basic rights, the legislation’s authors say in a statement [PDF].

Rights afforded by the proposed measure include:
• The right to have options such as alternative payment plans to avoid default.
• The right to be informed about key terms and conditions of the loan and any repayment options to ensure changing plans won’t cost more.
• The right to know your loan’s servicer and who to reach out to when there is a problem.
• The right to consistency when it comes to how monthly payments are applied. Lenders and servicers should also honor promotions and promises that are advertised or offered.
• The right to fairness, like grace periods when loans are transferred or debt cancellation when the borrower dies or becomes disabled.
• The right to accountability, including timely resolution of errors and certification of private loans.

The Student Loan Borrower’s Bill of Rights also puts a special emphasis on servicemember and veteran borrowers by requiring loan servicers to provide each borrower with a liaison specifically trained in the benefits available to military borrowers.

Recent legislation intended to alleviate the burden felt by student loan borrowers include measures that would allow borrowers to discharge private student loans in bankruptcy and would allow loan interest rates to be refinanced.

Durbin, Warren, Reed: Bill Would Put Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights Into Law [Sen. Dick Durbin]

Petition Wants To Make Ohio The Fifth State To Legalize Marijuana

Tue, 2015-03-24 18:59

(BAMCAT)

(BAMCAT)

A group in Ohio wants the state to join Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska in the legal recreational marijuana club, with a new petition to amend the state’s constitution.

The petition from ResponsibleOhio must collect 300,000 signatures before the amendment making marijuana legal medically and for recreational use could be put to a vote in November, reports CNNMoney.

The group is made up of investors from several companies who want the state to allow residents 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of pot for personal use and allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for some medical conditions. Residents could also grow a limited amount of cannabis plants at home.

Under the amendment, nonprofit dispensaries for medical marijuana and retail stores for recreational weed would get permits from the state to sell their wares. On a large scale, production would be limited to 10 commercial growing facilities in locations throughout the state.

As such, critics of the effort say the investors just want to create a marijuana cartel to control those facilities and thus, run the pot business in the state. But ResponsibleOhio insists that the facilities would be operated by different companies that would compete for consumers’ business. There would also be 1,100 permits for Ohioans looking to get into the world of small businesses, the group says.

“There is no coordination between them, they will be trying to make money by selling the best goods at the best prices to stores, dispensaries and manufacturers,” ResponsibleOhio says on its website.

Ohio may legalize pot this year [CNNMoney]

Watch Out For Fake Magazine Renewal Invoices

Tue, 2015-03-24 18:30

(Sean Winters)

(Sean Winters)

When you subscribe to a magazine and a subscription renewal form arrives in the mail, you pay the invoice and keep the magazines coming, right? No, not quite: at least, not if your address and subscription information have fallen into the hands of a company called Subscription Billing Service, which customers say collects money without bothering to mention that they have no relationship to the magazine publisher.

Wait, what? How is that even a thing that happens? When CBS Sacramento’s Kurtis Ming investigated the complaint of a local viewer who had this problem, he learned that the scam is surprisingly common. A Better Business Bureau representative explained that the company operates under dozens of different names, none of which have any actual relationship to the publishers.

How can you prevent yourself from falling for a similar scheme? Renew using invoices that you’re sure come directly from the magazine, or even using the publication’s website. If an invoice arrives with a price that you can’t resist, take note of the mailing address and call the magazine’s customer service number to make sure that it’s from the real company that handles their subscription billing. (Call the number printed in the magazine, not a number on the invoice that you receive.)

Call Kurtis: I Paid To Renew A Magazine, Where Is It? [CBS Sacramento]

Would You Pay To Watch Video From YouTube Stars Before Everyone Else Gets It For Free?

Tue, 2015-03-24 18:10

(Pamela Greer)

(Pamela Greer)

We want what we want, when we want it — but that doesn’t always mean we’re willing to pay for it if we can get it for free later on down the line. One company is betting that some fans of certain popular YouTube stars won’t be so patient, and will be willing to shell out the cash to gain access to some content before everyone else.

A new online service called Vessel launched today, reports the Los Angeles Times, offering up $2.99 monthly subscription access to videos from online stars three or more days before the same content is free of charge on YouTube for the general public.

Those who sign up before Friday will get a year free without having to put a credit card number down, but after that, new users will get just a month free.

Videomakers signed up to work with Vessel include GloZell Green, MinutePhysics, FailArmy, Brittani Louise Taylor, Shane Dawson and many more people you may or may not have heard of. Other content will be exclusive to Vessel, including a reality show starring Alec Baldwin about romantic relationships. Yes, you read that right.

Some fans are already ticked off, complaining that the service puts some fans above others who may not be able to afford it, or just don’t want to pay.

Vessel says however that the monthly rate is affordable, and that it’s in line with the changes in the way we consume media. For example, movies that sell first on an on-demand platform before airing on a cable channel and then moving on to free broadcast networks.

What do you think?
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With Vessel, others, YouTube stars advance to charging for videos [Los Angeles Times]

Blue Bell Expands Recall After More Samples Test Positive For Listeria Contamination

Tue, 2015-03-24 17:42
ice cream

Blue Bell Creameries expanded its recall of products possibly contaminated with listeria to include single-serve tab ice cream containers.

Blue Bell Creameries expanded a recent recall of products after tests found additional products may be linked to an outbreak of listeriosis that resulted in at least three deaths.

The Dallas Morning News reports that Texas-based Blue Bell has recalled three-ounce institutional/food service chocolate, strawberry and vanilla ice cream cups with tab lids after determining the treats have a potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

The expanded recall was initiated after an ice cream cup produced at the company’s Oklahoma plant tested positive for Listeria.

Over the weekend, the Kansas Department of Health & Environment reported one positive test for Listeria in a product recovered from a Wichita-area hospital, the Dallas Morning News reports.

The ice cream cup – which is not available for sale in retail outlets – was produced in a Broken Arrow, OK, plant on April 15, 2014.

According to Blue Bell, the ice cream cups were distributed to food service customers in 23 states. They can be identified by the following information:

• Ice Cream Cup Chocolate (3 FL OZ) No UPC – SKU #453
• Ice Cream Cup Strawberry (3 FL OZ) No UPC – SKU #452
• Ice Cream Cup Vanilla (3 FL OZ) No UPC – SKU #451

The expanded recall does not include Blue Bell Ice Cream half gallons, pints, quarts, three gallons or other three-ounce cups.

Blue Bell’s latest recall comes just a week after it was first reported that the company’s products had been linked to an outbreak of listeriosis that resulted in five people in Kansas becoming sick and three later died.

The five people who became ill in Kansas were confirmed to be infected with one of four strains of Listeria monocytogenes. All five people – older in age – were hospitalized at the same hospital for unrelated problems before developing invasive listeriosis, suggesting they were infected at the hospital, the CDC reports.

Investigators with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the illnesses began between January 2014 and January 2015. Although some of the illnesses began more than a year ago, the listeria cluster identified earlier this month shows that some of the infections are indistinguishable, meaning they are likely from the same source.

Of the patients infected, four consumed milkshakes made with a single serving Blue Bell brand ice cream called “Scoops” while they were in the hospital.

In response to the investigation and the findings of Listeria monocytogenes, Blue Bell Creameries issued a recall and removed several products from the market including Scoops, Chocolate Chip Country Cookies, Great Divide Bars, Sour Pop Green Apple Bars, Cotton Candy Bars, Vanilla Stick Slices, Almond Bars and No Sugar Added Moo Bars.

Blue Bell expands product recall after test links hospital sample to Listeria [The Dallas Morning News]

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