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“Pastafarian” Man Touts The Right To Wear A Colander On His Head In Official Photos

Fri, 2014-07-18 17:13

Close, cat. Close. (i eated a cookie)

Close, cat. Close. (i eated a cookie)

You want to wear a colander on your head in your driver’s license photo and call it a form of religious expression as a Pastafarian of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Go for it, say Austrian authorities. But first, you might have to prove you’re sane enough to be driving in the first place.

An Austrian atheist claiming his right to wear a pasta strainer as “religious headgear” in his official photos will be able to do so, after reading three years ago that you could only wear headgear in official pictures for confessional reasons and filing an application with the colander pics, reports the BBC.

When he applied back then, he said it was a requirement of his pastafarianism religion. It’s taken three years for his license to come through, but now that it has, a police spokesman explained that it wasn’t issued on religious grounds, but simply because he fulfilled the requirement of having his whole face visible.

“The photo was not approved on religious grounds. The only criterion for photos in driving licence applications is that the whole face must be visible,” said a Vienna police spokesman. He adds that it’s been ready since October 2009, but “it was not collected, that’s all there is to it”.

Authorities did require the man to get a doctor to sign off on his application, saying he’s “psychologically fit” to drive. Because the first thing someone might wonder when you insist on wearing a colander on your head is, well… never mind, who am I to judge?

“I didn’t know I was guilty of not collecting it,” the man explained of the delay. “That doesn’t alter the fact that it still took nearly a year [to be issued]“.

Austrian driver allowed ‘pastafarian’ headgear photo [BBC]

Consumerist Friday Flickr Finds

Fri, 2014-07-18 16:42

Here are ten of the best photos that readers added to the Consumerist Flickr Pool in the last week, picked for usability in a Consumerist post or for just plain neatness.

(Anthony)

(Anthony)

(RiddimRyder)

(RiddimRyder)

(Brian Rome)

(Brian Rome)

(Juan Cabanillas)

(Juan Cabanillas)

(Hammerin Man)

(Hammerin Man)

(Chris Goldberg)

(Chris Goldberg)

*Kevin Cardosi)

*Kevin Cardosi)

(Great Beyond)

(Great Beyond)

(^ Missi ^)

(^ Missi ^)

(spacetimecurvature)

(spacetimecurvature)

Our Flickr Pool is the place where Consumerist readers upload photos for possible use in future Consumerist posts. Want to see your pictures on our site? Just be a registered Flickr user, go here, and click “Join Group?” up on the top right. Choose your best photos, then click “send to group” on the individual images you want to add to the pool.

Shocker: Those Fake-Looking Fried Chicken Oreos Are Indeed Fake

Fri, 2014-07-18 16:30

(source)

(source)

Given the sheer number of Oreo varieties that have been dumped on store shelves in the past year — from sherbet to peanut butter cup to fruit punch to lemon and limeade — it’s almost not beyond belief that Nabisco would give fried chicken Oreos a go. Almost, but not quite.

A rep for the cookie company broke the bad news to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“The flavor you are referring to is in fact not real,” said the rep, breaking the hearts of a few dozen people who actually believed this was a bona fide Oreo variety.

[via Cleveland.com]

Two States Sue Makers Of 5-Hour Energy With Claims Of Deceptive Advertising

Fri, 2014-07-18 16:22

(Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie)

(Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie)

Both Oregon and Washington State filed lawsuits against the makers of 5-Hour Energy, alleging that the company has engaged in deceptive advertising tied to the ingredients in its drink. Other states are expected to follow suit, pun intended and totally appropriate in this case.

Oregon’s attorney general filed a lawsuit in Portland against Living Essentials LLC and Innovation Ventures LLC, claiming that 5-Hour Energy’s claims that consumers get extra energy and focus from a unique blend of ingredients is false, that the jolt just comes from a concentrated dose of caffeine, reports the Associated Press.

It also takes issue with 5-Hour Energy bragging that customers don’t experience a crash after the effects of the drink have worn off, and that it’s safe for adolescents.

Washington’s suit filed in Seattle is similar, and it likely won’t be the last state to do so, says a spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Justice. The state has been leading a 33-state investigation into the product’s claims.

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum says the drink violates the state’s Unlawful Trade Practices Act, and is seeking monetary penalties as well as refunds to anyone who bought the decaffeinated version of the product in Oregon.

The lawsuit says that drink has no extra energy or alertness, after Rosenblum’s office has fought to get unredacted information showing exactly how the drink’s formula achieves its purported effects.

“Plainly and simply, in Oregon you cannot promote a product as being effective if you don’t have sufficient evidence to back up your advertising claims,” Rosenblum said.

A spokeswoman for 5-Hour Energy says the drink won’t go down without a fight, calling the lawsuits civil intimidation.

“When companies are being bullied by someone in a position of power, these companies roll over, pay the ransom, and move on,” a spokeswoman said in a statement. “We’re not doing that.”

States sue 5-Hour Energy over ad claims [Associated Press]

Amazon Unveils Subscription E-Book Service For $10/Month

Fri, 2014-07-18 15:56

kindleunlimitAfter accidentally posting info about the service to its site earlier this week, Amazon has officially unveiled “Kindle Unlimited,” a $9.99/month subscription service that offers users access to a library of e-books.

The company claims that Unlimited is launching with more than 600,000 titles to select from. Additionally, a subscription includes three free months of Audible audiobook access to about 150,000 titles.

Like other e-book subscription services, including Oyster — and not unlike video services like Netflix or Amazon Prime — Kindle Unlimited is not currently the place to go to see newly released big titles.

Many of the Unlimited titles featured on Amazon are either from small publishers or are books that many voracious readers have either already consumed or passed on reading:
kindleunlimited

There are a couple of marquee series involved in the service, like the Hunger Games books and the Harry Potter titles, both of which Amazon has previously used to promote its Kindle Lending Library offering.

The ideal customer for a service like Kindle Unlimited may be the reader who is just constantly looking for anything to read. In fact, the predominance of smaller publishers and lesser-known authors in the library may help introduce curious readers to titles they might not otherwise have read.

Amazon is offering a free 30-day trial of Kindle Unlimited, but note that the site will begin charging you the $9.99/month if you do not cancel at the end of that trial.

Netflix Killed Off Saturday DVD Deliveries In Early June And No One Noticed Until Now

Fri, 2014-07-18 15:41

(formatc1)

(formatc1)

The worry for Netflix DVD subscribers used to be that the United States Postal Service would stop Saturday mail delivery, thus putting a kink in movie-consuming schedules. Instead, the time has come for Netflix to put down Saturday DVD delivery all by itself. Actually, the time already came and it’s already dead, just not a lot of people noticed.

While you might be a streaming girl living in a streaming world (or a guy, but it doesn’t sound as nice), those customers who still received DVDs via snail mail will have to adjust their movie consumption.

Netflix quietly killed off its Saturday deliveries back in June, but it seems most of the country didn’t even notice, given the fact that it’s big news now.

Netflix still has about 8 million DVD subscribers, so some customers did notice the change recently, prompting a spokesman to confirm the change.

“Saturday DVD shipments have been tapering for over a year and ended in early June,” said a Netflix spokesman, via USA Today. “Saturdays have been low volume ship days for us.”

Netflix kills its Saturday mail delivery [USA Today]

Wells Fargo To Stop Reordering Check Transactions To Maximize Overdraft Charges

Fri, 2014-07-18 15:26

(bikeoid)

(bikeoid)

A little talked-about way in which banks maximize overdraft fees is by processing transactions not in the order in which they are received, but in a way that results in the largest number of overdrafts. Now the folks at Wells Fargo are putting an end to this practice for its checking account customers.

Say you’ve got $400 in your checking account and your bank has a policy of charging $35 each time you overdraft your account. Then, losing track of your bank balance, you write four checks totaling $450 — the first for $75, the second for $50, a third for $25, and the final one for $300.

If the bank processes those checks in the order they were written, then you only face a single $35 overdraft fee, as you don’t overdraft your account until that $300 check is processed. But if the bank reorders them from largest to smallest, then it can collect $70 in fees.

A lot of banks do this reordering, also known as “stacking.” They often contend that it’s a matter of making sure the largest, and likely most important, payments are given priority; it just has the happy result of maximizing overdraft fees.

Wells Fargo, which is currently appealing a $203 class action suit over stacking, had already stopped reordering debit card transactions and ATM withdrawals, but continued stacking checks.

But according to the Washington Post, WF will soon begin processing its customers’ checks in the order in which they are received.

“This change will simplify the communication of our posting order to customers since we will have a single process that is used in all of our banking states,” a rep for the bank explained.

Stacking was pushed into the spotlight in 2011 after Bank of America agreed to pay $410 million to settle claims related to the practice. The bank also gave up on reordering transactions altogether.

FedEx Indicted For Shipping Drugs For Illegal Pharmacies; Denies Allegations

Fri, 2014-07-18 03:30

(Michael Sauers)

(Michael Sauers)

More than a year after UPS agreed to pay $40 million to settle federal charges that it knowingly made shipments for illegal online pharmacies, a federal grand jury has indicted FedEx for similar allegations.

According to the indictment [PDF] the San Francisco-based grand jury charged the shipping giant with Conspiracy to Distribute Controlled Substances, Distribution of Controlled Substances, Conspiracy to Distribute Misbranded Drugs and Misbranding Drugs.

The DOJ alleges that, starting in 2004 (if not earlier), the Drug Enforcement Administration, FDA and others alerted FedEx to the fact that these illegal Internet pharmacies were using its shipping services to distribute controlled substances and prescription drugs in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and state laws.

And the pressure to be wary of online pharmacies wasn’t coming from just the feds. The indictment states that FedEx couriers in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia alerted management of their concerns that they may be making deliveries to drug dealers and addicts.

Among the examples given by drivers: FedEx trucks being stopped on the roads near delivery addresses for pharmacy customers; delivery addresses that were actually parking lots, schools, or vacant homes where car loads of people were waiting for the FedEx driver to arrive; customers jumping on FedEx trucks and demanding online pharmacy packages; drivers being threatened if they insisted on delivering packages to the addresses listed on the labels.

Rather than cease doing business with these pharmacies, the DOJ says that FedEx “adopted a procedure whereby Internet pharmacy packages from problematic shippers were held for pick up at specific stations, rather than delivered to the recipient’s address.”

The DOJ also alleges that FedEx knowingly made deliveries for at least two organizations — one which “operated a network of illegal Internet and fulfillment pharmacies” and one that was a “fulfillment pharmacy that filled drug orders” for other illegal operations.

Even after FedEx learned of the arrest of a principal of one of these organizations, it allegedly continued to distribute controlled substances and prescription drugs for the group.

The indictment accuses FedEx of not only knowing that the second organization, Superior Drugs, illegally distributed prescription drugs, but that it was fulfilling orders for other illegal pharmacies. When the DEA shut down a fulfillment operation in Maryland, members of the FedEx sales team discussed how Superior had picked up the fulfillment work for that business’s former clients.

About the time that federal agencies began warning FedEx against becoming involved with illegal pharmacies, the company adopted a policy requiring that its credit department vet all new online pharmacy accounts; not to make sure they were legitimate, claims the DOJ, but to make sure they had adequate finances to pay their bills.

“[I]t is becoming more apparent to us that many of these companies are fraudulent and doing business outside Federal regulations,” reads a 2004 e-mail, cited in the indictment, sent by FedEx’s Managing Director of Revenue Operations. The company’s Chief Financial Officer and its Senior VP of Sales later agreed to the credit check policy, which only applied to online pharmacy businesses.

And the policy did not cut down on the number of pharmacies with which FedEx did business. The DOJ says that between 2004 and 2010, FedEx’s in-house list of known pharmacies (not all illegal, mind you) had grown from 200 accounts to more than 600.

Additionally, when FedEx commission-based sales staff began complaining that they were losing commissions because online pharmacies were constantly picking up and relocating, possibly in order to avoid detection by the authorities, the company began assigning the sales category designation of “catchall” to online pharmacies, meaning they were not assigned to any specific account execs, and that they did not affect the yearly sales goals of account execs or their managers.

In arguing for slapping the “catchall” label on online pharmacies in 2006, a Managing Director at FedEx wrote to the VP of Field Sales for the Eastern Region to say, “I can assure you that these types of accounts will always result in a loss at some point. They have a very short lifespan and will eventually be shut down by the DEA.”

“The advent of Internet pharmacies allowed the cheap and easy distribution of massive amounts of illegal prescription drugs to every corner of the United States, while allowing perpetrators to conceal their identities through the anonymity the Internet provides,” said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag. “This indictment highlights the importance of holding corporations that knowingly enable illegal activity responsible for their role in aiding criminal behavior.”

FedEx has been summoned to appear in federal court in San Francisco on July 29.

Meanwhile, the company denies any wrongdoing.

“We will defend against this attack on the integrity and good name of FedEx and its employees,” said a company VP in a statement, adding that FedEx repeatedly asked the government for lists of allegedly illegal online pharmacies. “Whenever DEA provides us a list of pharmacies engaging in illegal activity, we will turn off shipping for those companies immediately… We are a transportation company — we are not law enforcement.”

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

Thu, 2014-07-17 23:23

(Steve Rhodes)

(Steve Rhodes)

It all began when Karen paid her Comcast bill online. Maybe that’s what caused her issue, or maybe it wasn’t–all she knows is that when she tried to log in to her account after the payment posted, she got kicked back to the login screen. That’s how two weeks of what she called “Xfinity Hades” began.

She tried everything that you’re supposed to when you have login trouble: tried different devices, cleared the cookies in her Web browser, and tried different browsers. When she called Comcast, things somehow got worse. “[I] called Comcast and the agent said he would have to ‘temporarily disable your account’ and reset the password. Before I could scream ‘no’, he did that.” That transaction just got her a new password that didn’t work either. No!

Now she could send e-mails but not view her account or access her secondary e-mail accounts. She couldn’t change the passwords for them, either. When she called in for more help, the ever-helpful agents told her that the issue was her computer, or maybe her home Internet connection. “All Comcast wants to do is send a refresh signal to my modem (what?) and tell me to use a different browser,” she wrote to us at the time. “They can’t grasp that this is happening on ANY device or PC.” She had even tried using neighbors’ computers and Internet connections. It didn’t change anything. Finally, a third agent understood what she was saying and filed a ticket, saying that it would be resolved in three business days. Six business days later, she called Comcast back to check. “The ticket was closed because we fixed your issue” was the reply from Kabletown. Karen says that she ended up in the hospital emergency department being checked out for “stress-related heart problems.”

Like many of our stories, we learned about her problem when she e-mailed our tipline. We wrote back, and received an “account not available” message. Uh oh. We picked up the phone as if it was 1994 or something and asked whether we could pass her information on to the Comcast Cares team of executive customer service ninjas. They were able to fix her account quickly, but did she really need to escalate? What the heck happened to her account, anyway?

“Their new slogan is ‘Dream Big.’ Should be … ‘Dream ON’,” she wrote to Consumerist after her account was fixed (and we could send her e-mail again.)

Now Facebook Is Testing A “Buy” Button In Its Ads

Thu, 2014-07-17 22:36

facebookbuyBecause you should apparently never, ever have to even consider leaving Facebook to do anything, the online baby photo depository and place where recently divorced singles go to try to reignite high school romances has begun testing a “Buy” button that allows you to purchase crap you could buy elsewhere.

Zuckerbook is testing the button in the U.S. with a “few small and medium-sized businesses,” according to Reuters. Pushing the button apparently lets you purchase an item directly from the seller without leaving Facebook.

The site claims that it won’t share users’ card information with other advertisers (because that would be illegal), and users don’t have to store payment information with Facebook. The credit card transactions are handled by a third-party processor and Facebook says it isn’t currently taking a cut of sales revenue from advertisers.

What Facebook doesn’t say is whether or not it will sell info about what you buy with advertisers. It would be silly for Facebook to not try to cash in on this information, as it’s just as valuable as the web-browsing data it’s currently gathering about the hundreds of millions of people currently skimming past pages of “inspirational” quotes and opinions on local sports teams on the site.

If it works, it could be a good move Facebook, which can charge more for advertising and use shopping/browsing data to advertisers who want to target very specific audiences. It could also be a boon to the advertisers who can immediately sell items straight to the end-user without having to worry about them looking around for a better price.

Apple Not So Clear On Where Washington, D.C. Is, Either

Thu, 2014-07-17 22:06

(Great Beyond)

(Great Beyond)

A Transportation Security Administration agent and some overly literal liquor stores in New Hampshire made headlines this week when they denied existence of the District of Columbia. Now, the iOS app store is also confused, thinking that Washington, D.C. is somewhere near Seattle.

Yes, this week has been a festival of news regarding the location and existence of Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital that is nestled between Maryland and Virginia and is definitely a real place. At least this geographic confusion has the advantage of being the fault of a computer and not a person. We hope.

Grady noticed this while browsing for apps. “According to the new featured category titled City Living on the Apple App Store,” he writes, “when you are visiting Seattle you’re going to want to install Washington, DC travel guides.” Well, that’s silly. Surely Grady tapped on the wrong city…

exploreseattledc

Nope, guess not. All of the regular Seattle-related apps are on the correct coast, but the ones for tourists are for the wrong Washington.

localthings

Bill To Undo Hobby Lobby Ruling Fails In Senate; May Come Back From Dead Later This Year

Thu, 2014-07-17 22:00

(Nicholas Eckhart)

(Nicholas Eckhart)

Last week, Senator Patty Murray of Washington introduced legislation that would have undone the recent Supreme Court Hobby Lobby ruling, in which the nation’s highest court found that closely held private corporations can exempt themselves from a federal law requiring them to provide health insurance that covers female contraception. Yesterday, the bill fell four votes short of moving forward, but it’s supporters are pledging to bring it up for another vote later in the year.

The bill, known as the Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act (and dubbed the “Not My Boss’s Business Act” by Sen. Murray, would have effectively exempted the Affordable Care Act from the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was intended to prevent individuals from having their exercise of religion substantially burdened by federal laws.

In the Hobby Lobby case, lawyers for the devoutly religious owners of the hobby shop chain argued that the RFRA should also apply to closely held private businesses. A divided SCOTUS agreed, meaning Hobby Lobby and other companies can now claim a religious exemption from the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

Murray’s legislation would have kept intact the ACA’s existing exemptions for places of worship and religious non-profits, but would have clarified that the RFRA does not exempt businesses, regardless of an owner’s religious belief.

Yesterday, the Senate took a procedural cloture vote in an attempt to move the bill forward and preempt a filibuster from those opposing the legislation. In order to succeed, it would have needed 60 votes from supporters. And even though three Senate Republicans did vote against party lines and come out in favor of the bill, it still only managed to garner 56 votes.

Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid was the only Democrat to vote against the bill, but only so he can bring the matter back to the Senate floor at a later date, which he says he intends to do.

Even if the bill were to eventually pass the Senate, its ultimate fate in the House is a near-certainty. According to GovTrack, a similar version of this legislation introduced in Congress last week stands a 0% chance of being enacted, and is unlikely to even make it out of committee.

Why Bake With Cake Batter In A Can When You Can Just Open Your Mouth And Aim?

Thu, 2014-07-17 21:52

Get outta that pan, batter! (CBS Boston)

Get outta that pan, batter! (CBS Boston)

First of all, let’s all bow our heads and acknowledge the culinary efforts of a group of Harvard students who figured out how to put cake batter in a spray can [pause for acknowledgement]. Now that that’s done, don’t be silly, college kids! I don’t need to bake a cake — in the microwave, no less — with that invention, just spray it directly into my mouth for maximum tastiness.

Spray Cake started as a class project for the students, reports CBS Boston, and seemed kind of like a no-brainer to fill that important niche of sprayable edibles. Cheez Whiz, you are alone no more.

“Honestly, we were kind of shocked that it hadn’t been done before,” one of the students explains. “In the process of getting the patent made we were basically looking everywhere we could, high and low, for anyone who had done something like this in the past, but we couldn’t find it.”

The can is similar to a whipped cream container, and comes out of the nozzle pre-risen to cut down on baking time. Once you pop it in the microwave for a minute, it’s ready to eat.

The students say it’s organic and contains fewer chemicals than traditional box cakes. They’re now just looking for a local manufacturer, as they’ve already found a seller.

Again, get rid of the microwave. I’ll bake a cake in my stomach. That came out weirder than I meant it.

You can watch the video below if you’d like to see a guy dance near a microwave for a minute.

Spray Cake: Microwavable Cake Batter Invented By Harvard Students [CBS Boston]

FTC Halts Operations Of Four “Yellow Page” Directory Operations That Took Millions From Consumers

Thu, 2014-07-17 21:26

(Misfit Photographer)

(Misfit Photographer)

For many businesses advertising in the phone book and online directories are just a few ways to reach prospective customers. But business owners should be forewarned some of those “yellow page” directories are just out to collect your hard-earned money. That was allegedly the case for four Montreal-based marketing operations that took millions from small businesses, churches, nonprofits and local government agencies.

The Federal Trade Commission on Thursday announced it stopped National Business Advertising, Your Yellow Pages and OnlineYellowPagesToday.com from charging victims for unwanted listings in online “yellow page” directories.

The agency also announced a default judgement awarded in a November 2013 case. In that matter, a federal judge entered a $15.6 million judgement against Online Public Yellow Pages and banned the company from the directory business.

Federal judges in Florida temporarily halted and froze the assets of two operations, while a federal judge in Washington state did the same for the third operation.

The government is seeking to permanently stop the companies’ alleged illegal practices and make them refund victims’ money.

All four companies were found to have allegedly sent deceptive invoices to small businesses throughout the United States for unordered business directory listings.

In the event that a business disputed the invoices, the companies would allegedly use a variety of collection tactics, such as playing audio recordings that purportedly proved that the businesses’ employees authorized the business directory listings.

However, the recordings reportedly sounded as if they were doctored or merely reflected that an employee had confirmed or verified the business’s contact information in a previous telephone call without agreeing to any services.

According to the FTC, many consumers paid the companies in order to avoid potentially damaging collection actions and to end harassment.

In the case of National Business Advertising, the FTC charges the company pretended to be debt collection companies, such as TransUnion Credit Bureau, Regional Debt Recovery and RDR Collections Inc., in order to get consumers to pay in amounts ranging from $200 to more than $1,500.

Your Yellow Pages allegedly collected between $400 and more than $1,800 by cold-calling small businesses or non-profits and falsely claimed that the consumers owed them money for the second year of a two-year contract.

According to the FTC complaint, OnlineYellowPagesToday.com typically contacted consumers under the guise of confirming contact information in a directory. The company then allegedly billed consumers $479.95 or more, using the walking fingers image often associated with local yellow page directories on invoices.

Back in November 2013, Online Public Yellow Pages was charged with allegedly calling consumers about existing yellow pages listings or cancellation requests, but then billed them $499 or more for unwanted new listings, and often bullied consumers into paying by threatening to sue them or damage their credit ratings.

FTC and Florida Halt Internet ‘Yellow Pages’ Scammers [Federal Trade Commission]

CPSC Finally Announces Recall Of Buckyballs, Kicking Off Refund Process

Thu, 2014-07-17 21:01
(Jeremy_Schultz)

(Jeremy_Schultz)

After two years of fighting the makers of Buckyballs and related Buckycubes to get the manufacturer to issue a recall of the magnetic toys that health experts say can rip through your gut if swallowed, the Consumer Product Safety Commission says it’s reached a settlement with the owner of the former company, and consumers can start filing their refund requests.

The CPSC originally filed a lawsuit against the company behind Buckyballs, Maxfield & Oberton, back in 2012 to force it to stop selling the rare-earth magnets, saying that the tiny balls posed a health hazard, especially to children who might be inclined to chuck them down their throats.

Buckyballs replied that they’re not meant for kids, and are actually just magnetic desktop toys, and embarked on a fight to “save our balls.”

That effort was stymied when its founder, Craig Zucker, dissolved the business, forcing the CPSC to sue Zucker directly, which was the first time since 2003 that the agency had to resort to a lawsuit to initiate a recall. Usually, companies issue a recall when the CPSC says so.

It’s all over now, as the CPSC says it’s reached a settlement [PDF] has been reached with Zucker that ends all legal proceedings.

As part of the recall, the CPSC is reiterating its advice that consumers stop using Buckyballs and Buckycubes immediately… and now it’s time for those refunds, which previous reports said could reach as high as $57 million for consumers.

To get a refund, visit BuckyballsRecall.com and fill out a registration page to file a claim. The refunds will be no greater that the purchase price of the product — and make sure you count all those balls, as “partial refunds may be provided depending on the number of magnets returned.”

You’ll have until January 17, 2015 to submit a refund request.

Student: Corinthian Colleges’ Demise Is Like “Watching A House Fall On A Witch”

Thu, 2014-07-17 20:07

The downfall of Corinthian Colleges — the operator of Everest University, WyoTech, and Heald College — has put for-profit education chains in the spotlight, with people focusing on allegations of bogus job-placement statistics, grade manipulation, questionable marketing practices, and speculation regarding what will happen to $1.4 billion in federal student aid. But what about the actual students who have been watching this collapse from the inside? What about their stories?

Now that CCI and the Dept. of Education have reached a deal in which a number of CCI’s campuses and programs will be closed or sold, current and former students are sharing their experiences of broken promises and lost hope while attending the for-profit schools.

Dreams Of A Better FutureImage courtesy of Sally Villarreal Section Permalink Bookmark Section Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
Like many students, those who chose to attend Corinthian’s schools began with goals of bettering their lives; aspirations that CCI was more than happy take advantage of.

“I am afraid all I have worked for will get me nowhere in the future.”

In fact, last year California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed a lawsuit against CCI, charging that it used false and predatory advertising and provided intentional misrepresentations to prey on prospective students. That same lawsuit claimed that CCI-operated colleges — which charge nearly $40,000 in tuition for an associate’s degree — target their marketing to a demographic of lower-income, often single-parent households near the poverty line.

In one specific case involving a single parent, Heald College advisors knew just how to offer her a glimpse into a brighter future.

“I have been trying to have a better future for me and my son,” one student tells Consumerist. “I thought I was getting a good education at Heald, learning a lot that I wouldn’t learn elsewhere.”

But those once-hopeful dreams have turned into a never-ending nightmare now that her campus might be on the chopping block.

“I am afraid all I have worked for will get me nowhere in the future,” she says. “I feel that it is almost pointless for me to continue on next quarter not knowing if my $30,000 debt is going to be for anything or if I am in debt for the rest of my life for nothing.”

Another student who was set to enroll at Heald College, but canceled his admission after hearing of the schools’ troubles, tells Consumerist that advisors “created a mirage, they know how to make you melt like butter.”

Perhaps one of CCI’s most effective weapons in enticing students comes in its prevalent use of advertisements. That’s what finally persuaded one former Everest University student in Georgia to enroll.

“I called Everest after watching a commercial where a girl said she earned her degree and how her life so-called took off,” the former student tells Consumerist. “I, like a lot of other students, had a high school diploma and no job, the thought of being able to earn a degree at home without having to commute everyday to school was awesome.”

Lured In By Ads, Retained By Counselors Section Permalink Bookmark Section Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
While the sunny, optimistic advertisements touting CCI schools no doubt plant the seed in consumers’ minds, it’s the recruitment process that students fall for hook, line and sinker.

“The recruiters when I first started at Everest were very encouraging and they called every other day…I thought to myself how could anyone not succeed at this school with so much love and support.”

Many students tell Consumerist that the process was quick, easy and reassuring. Admission counselors were warm, engaging and went out of their way to meet prospective students’ needs.

But it’s also through the recruitment process that students get their first taste of false promises of quality education, career placement help and attention from a personal advisor.

“The recruiters when I first started at Everest were very encouraging and they called every other day,” the former Georgia Everest student says. “They walked me through financial aid, held my hand. Later, they inquired how I was doing in classes and encouraged me to use tutors online to help me. I thought to myself how could anyone not succeed at this school with so much love and support.”

Shortly after her first term things took a drastic turn.

“I was on my own,” she says. “No more phone calls to check on me, no more encouragement, as a matter of fact they didn’t even return my phone calls.”

Focused On The MoneyImage courtesy of T_____13 Section Permalink Bookmark Section Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
For Rick, who withdrew from Everest University online earlier this month, the admission process was much the same, but it also included pressure to take out loans.

“The admissions process was a four-hour phone call with an emphasis on the financial aid and how they would get it,” he tells Consumerist. “They pressured me into maxing out one of my loans by telling me that if I were to max it out it would be better for me in the long run, so I went along with it after about 45 minutes of being pushed.”

According to lawsuits filed by state and federal regulators, pressuring students into taking out costly loans has been a hallmark of for-profit college recuitment.

“They pressured me into maxing out one of my loans by telling me that if I were to max it out it would be better for me in the long run.”

That was the case when, earlier this year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed a federal lawsuit against another well-known for-profit college chain – ITT Educational Services, Inc. – alleging the company pressured students into predatory loans that were destined to default.

A former Pennsylvania Wyotech student was directed to the school’s “favorite” private lender to fill a purported gap between the schedules of his federal loan and the school’s semesters. In the end, he accumulated tens-of-thousands of dollars in riskier private student loans, creating a debt that he is struggling to pay off.

In some cases, students report that advisors failed to inform them about important financial aid and class options that could have saved them from taking out costly loans.

“There was a summer term that I could have sat out of and avoided the extra loans,” a former Everest Online student says. “I wasn’t aware of being able to do so until the fall term began where I was informed that my Pell grant didn’t cover the summer term and now I had a balance. I had to take out an additional loan in order to continue to the fall term. I was struggling and my financial aid had been put in jeopardy.”

Lying About The FutureImage courtesy of Rick Drew Section Permalink Bookmark Section Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
Students who spoke with Consumerist generally entered the enrollment process at CCI schools with a clear idea of the career path they wanted to follow, be it automotive repair at WyoTech, medical billing at Everest or information technology at Heald.

While students reported that advisors and admission officers provided course information and encouraged them to move forward with their chosen paths, they also left out vital information.

The former Georgia student spent two years studying in the medical billing and coding arena, but as graduation approached she learned that advisors failed to provide a clear picture of her future employment chances.

See, she has a criminal record that prohibits her from ever working in the medical and billing field, something her advisor never mentioned.

No Job For YouImage courtesy of CTug Section Permalink Bookmark Section Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
Even if the Georgia student would have been able to work in medical billing and coding, she likely wouldn’t have received CCI’s touted job placement assistance.

While Corinthian schools regularly advertise 100% job placement rates for certain programs, investigations into the company found that simply isn’t the case.

According to the California lawsuit against CCI, the school committed securities fraud when it reported a nationwide job placement rate of 68.1% in presentations to investors, when internal audits showed that executives were aware this number was highly inaccurate.

Additionally, the company is accused of paying a temp agency “to place students to meet the accreditation deadline and minimum placement percentage,” along with double-counting some job placements in order to make the school appear to be more successful in the eyes of investors.

These revelations come as little surprise to many students who have struggled to find jobs in their chosen career fields upon graduation.

“That was total bull shit…The education I got was of zero help in getting that job or doing that job.”

A former California Heald College student reported that when he was looking for a job after graduating with an Associates of Applied Science degree he found many of the jobs posted on the school’s bulletin board to be from ads he’d previously seen on Craigslist.

Similarly, when former student Anthony sought help finding a job from his school, he was directed to a cork board filled with the numbers to temp agencies.

“They said that I could use the campus computers to look online to find a job or use the information on the bulletin board that other students had placed, but they didn’t actually have any connections to get me a job as a paralegal,” he says. “So I found one on my own.”

But that didn’t stop the school from using Anthony’s “success story” to attract new students.

“They talked about the valedictorian who graduated with a great job as a paralegal who was running the research and development project in his firm all because of what he learned in school and with the help of their job placement,” he recalls. “That was total bull shit. I worked my butt off doing data entry until they saw that my talent was wasted in that department and put me to work doing research and development. The education I got was of zero help in getting that job or doing that job.”

The results weren’t much better for students who did receive help in job placement from their school.

A former medial administrative assistant student from Everest was placed in what she calls a “questionable” doctor’s office upon graduation.

“He would let his staff go in waves and then replace with new Everest students,” she says. “So the only job I had as a MAA was there and no one would give me a chance after working for him. Everest was no help in finding a new job at all.”

Left In The DarkImage courtesy of Beth Rankin Section Permalink Bookmark Section Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
While news of Corinthian’s likely demise has been circulating in the news, many details – such as what schools will close and when – remain unanswered. And until that information is revealed, students are left largely in the dark, creating a sense of helplessness and resentment toward their schools.

In some cases, students are finding their options limited.

“I found that the school is closing so I have decided to look into different colleges,” a current Everest student says. “None of them are offering the same classes I have already taken, so when I transfer most of my credits will not transfer and it will be as if I am starting all over again.”

Students who currently attend CCI colleges report that a lack of communication from the administration and tell us that business continues on as usual.

They Got What Was Coming To ThemImage courtesy of lungstruck Section Permalink Bookmark Section Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

“I would be able to enroll my dog at Everest if they thought they could get money out of it.”

“I feel I was just a paycheck to Corinthian Colleges because not once did they fulfill their end of the contract of being with the student along the way,” an Everest Online student sums-up her experience. “What they did to myself and thousands of other students isn’t fair and ultimately we pay the price for their greediness because those that have obtained a degree from a Corinthian Colleges are not taken seriously and have a difficult time finding the employment to fulfill their degree. Those that are enrolled are now [are] faced with the situation of having to transfer or stick it out with the school, students such as myself that have put in time and have absolutely nothing to show for it.”

“There is no doubt in my mind that I would be able to enroll my dog at Everest if they thought they could get money out of it,” Rick, who recently withdrew, says.

Because so many students have been left with worthless degrees and mountains of debt, the likely downfall of CCI has provided just a sliver of joy and relief that the schools may not be around to hurt others.

“I hope they close down the school for good. I’ll be the first to stand in line to take a leak on their corporate office when that happens,” Anthony says. “The death of Corinthian is something kind of like seeing a house fall on a witch.”

Copyright Office Disagrees With Aereo That Aereo Is A Cable Company Now

Thu, 2014-07-17 20:00

aereoantennaeStreaming video service Aereo’s last-ditch bid to stay in business hit another wall this week, as the U.S. Copyright Office has denied their request to be licensed in the same way as a cable company — at least, for the time being.

The Supreme Court ruled against Aereo in June, saying that the company had in fact been violating copyright by acting as a cable-like service but without going through the required licensing and regulatory process. Aereo responded a week ago by essentially saying fine, you win, we’ll be a cable company and applying for the licenses that would allow them to retransmit content.

In a letter (PDF) sent this week to Aereo, the Copyright Office says that in their view, “internet retransmissions of broadcast television” still fall outside the scope of their ability to license under section 111.

Section 111 is the piece of law that grants cable companies access to a compulsory license. That license allows a company to pay a license fee to the Copyright Office, and that fee grants the company access to rebroadcast a channel as a whole.

The Wall Street Journal reports that such license fees are generally considered to be inexpensive. The alternative to being granted a section 111 license is individually paying royalties for every piece of copyrighted material one retransmits, which is not inexpensive.

However, the letter does not completely send Aereo home empty-handed. The letter explains that the Copyright Office may “accept Aereo’s filings without comment; accept them provisionally … or refuse the filings as not eligible.”

Because cases involving Aereo are still kicking their way through lower courts, and because the FCC is also trying to decide what legal category internet video providers should fall under, the Copyright Office has picked the pause button option of provisional acceptance instead of outright turning Aereo away.

“The office will not refuse Aereo’s filings but will instead accept them on a provisional basis,” the letter reads. “Aereo should be aware that, depending upon further regulatory or judicial developments,” the Copyright Office can either accept or reject Aereo’s filing later on.

That “later on” has a lot of heavy lifting to do, though. The courts and the FCC do not move quickly, so Aereo probably still has a lot of waiting (buffering… buffering… buffering…) to do.

12 Things You Might Not Know About Costco

Thu, 2014-07-17 19:40
(Joel G Goodman)

(Joel G Goodman)

Consumerist readers seem to love Costco, but how much do you know about the warehouse retail chain? Here are twelve interesting facts that you may or may not know about Costco. If you did know them, you can feel smug about it; if you didn’t, then you’ll learn something new. Everyone wins!

CBS News presented these in a slideshow this week, with some great photo choices, but if you’re pressed for time, we’ll save you 12 clicks: here are the items on the list.

The $5 rotisserie chickens aren’t going anywhere …even though Costco doesn’t actually make any money on them. The $5 chickens are convenient meal-starters that members love, and that help get them in the door. Also, the chickens have a fan-run page on Facebook, which is both wonderful and weird.

90.6% of members renew every year. Presumably, the other 9.4% have been forced by work or life circumstances to move to areas where there is no Costco nearby, and have spent weeks weeping about it.

Costco is a baby-boomer joint. That’s not a bad thing by any means, but some members of younger generations can afford houses now, and fewer of them are flocking to Costco. The stores are trying to coax them in with initiatives like more organic food offerings.

Employees there are well-paid and content, earning an average of more than $20 per hour–and that’s for workers paid hourly.

The company’s stock isn’t doing well: maybe investors want to see more young members sign up.

Their #1 product? Toilet paper. Actually, this shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Gas costs 6 to 12 cents below the local market price. Hey, as long as you’re here, Costco member, how about you stop over at the store and pick up a rotisserie chicken, 144 rolls of toilet paper, and a massive jar of honey?

They’re the largest fine wine seller in the country. Costco sells more than $1 billion worth of wine every year.

You always buy more than you had planned. With fresh food in the back, the layout of a Costco is like a grocery store writ large. With lots of other stuff in it. The stores are designed to take you past all of the merchandise.

$1.50 for a hot dog and soda doesn’t change. The deal always stays the same. You’ll visit the food court, then drop fifty bucks on toilet paper.

There are only 4,000 items. This actually reduces shopper anxiety: if there’s only one brand of honey, you don’t have to worry about choosing one or the other.

The highest markup is 15 percent. That’s it: after all, Costco has already collected at least $55 from you for your membership before you’ve even put a single package of toilet paper in your cart.

12 things about Costco that may surprise you [CBS MoneyWatch] (Thanks, Kate!)

Farmers Fighting New Housing Development With Signs Warning Of Noisy, Smelly Animals Having Sex

Thu, 2014-07-17 19:40
(snow_000_angel)

(snow_000_angel)

When the barn’s a rockin’, farmers know not to come a-knockin’. But all those stinky animals might want to get it on outside, too, so rural residents who are against a new housing development near their farms are fighting back by warning people what they might potentially see, hear and smell.

The rural residents of a Florida community don’t want a proposed housing development of about 80 homes to move in, reports WWSB, saying it would impact their lives and anyone else who wants to buy in the area. And besides, it just won’t fit in with all the animal stuff they’ve got going on.

There are about 20 mini farms in the Englewood area, “hobby farms,” as the woman who put up the signs explains. She raises sheep, chickens, horses, and peacocks, all for visitors who want to come and see animals.

The land is currently zoned for eight homes, which is just right, she says.

“They want to put 80 homes on what used to be an equestrian farm. We just don’t want to be changed in the zoning. We are farms, and Englewood should have farms.”

Her sign reads:

NOTICE
THIS PROPERTY IS A FARM
FARMS HAVE ANIMALS
ANIMALS MAKE
FUNNY SOUNDS
SMELL BAD
& HAVE SEX OUTDOORS
UNLESS YOU CAN TOLERATE NOISE, ODORS & OUTDOOR SEX
DON’T BUY PROPERTY
NEXT TO A FARM!

“People like it. Nobody is offended,” she says, adding it’s meant as a warning to those who might move into the development who will likely want to get rid of any disturbances nearby.

“It’s like moving next to an airport and complaining about the traffic patterns. If you move next to a farm, we have animals that make noises and they smell,” she explains. “A lot of people enjoy them but they are not meant for everybody.”

At least planes can’t get busy with each other, right? Or… CAN THEY? (They can’t, they’re planes.)

Englewood sign warns of farm animals having sex [WWSB]

Guy Arrested For Allegedly Stealing Beer Says He’s “Wrongfully Accused” Of Ordering 5 Pizzas From Jail

Thu, 2014-07-17 19:04

(Morton Fox)

(Morton Fox)

A man accused of boosting beer and being drunk in public somehow found himself in more trouble after he was booked at the police station, with officers claiming he used his cell phone to order a pizza delivery under the name of his arresting officer.

Police Corbin, Ky. say the man asked to use his cell phone to make a call during the booking process, after he was arrested for allegedly stealing $36 worth of beer, reports WTVQ.

Cut to a little bit later, when cops say five Domino’s pizzas happened to show up at the station under the arresting officer’s name. Police say they linked the call to the suspect by way of his cell phone number.

But he tells WKYT it’s all a big mistake and he knows nothing about any pizzas.

“I’m wrongfully accused on this here. They’ve charged me with two felonies over this pizza deal because I had my phone inside the holding cell,” he claims. “There was about 10 people who probably used the phone, so it’s hard to say. Like I said, I never heard anyone say a word about Domino’s pizzas. Any of it.”

Along with the original charges, he’s also now facing theft of identity, theft by deception, and impersonating a police officer.

And he’s ready to go all the way to the top with this pizza thing — whether or not he even got to eat a slice — make no mistake.

“I guess take it to court and see what happens. There’s not much I can do at the current moment,” he admitted.

Following Arrest Suspect Uses Only Phone Call To Order Pizza [WTVQ]
Pizza prank lands Corbin theft suspect in more trouble [WKYT]

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