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The Consumerist

Forty-Year Family Feud Leads To Empty Shelves At 70 Supermarkets, Protests In Two States

Tue, 2014-07-22 22:45

(kevin dean)

(kevin dean)

A weird situation in New England is getting weirder. Regional grocery store chain Market Basket, which operates 71 stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine, is finding itself at the center of a massive controversy, with employees, executives, customers, and even local lawmakers all getting involved. The core issue? The board ousted good-guy CEO Arthur Demoulas to replace him with perceived money-grubber Arthur Demoulas, and the resulting furor has led to strikes, boycotts, and empty shelves.

Confused yet? Don’t blame you. Here’s what’s going on.

Arthur T. Demoulas became the CEO of Market Basket in 2008. He developed a reputation as a leader who genuinely cared about the 25,000 employees who worked for the family-run business. Employees for the company — both in the stores and also in the back offices — reportedly found him very likable, and were loyal to him and to the company.

In 2013, Arthur T.’s cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, gained control of the company’s board. After trying for months, Arthur S. was finally able completely to oust Arthur T. from his role this June. A few other top executives also got the boot and were replaced with external hires.

Arthur S., however, does not enjoy the positive reputation of his cousin. The company is known for worker-friendly policies like good health insurance and promotions from within but employees believe that the new leadership means an end to employee-friendly practices and the start of a laser focus on nickel-and-diming their way to the bottom line.

Now workers at every level have rebelled, and so has the public. As of Friday, workers have vowed not to restock until Arthur T. is reinstated. Store shelves are sitting around empty in most Market Basket locations while the feud continues.

Thousands of protestors have gathered for rallies and demonstrations at Market Basket stores over the past days, starting with an event at the company’s Tewksbury, MA headquarters. Eight senior employees who helped organize the rallies have been fired; several of them had 40 or more years of service with the company.

17 Massachusetts lawmakers on Saturday signed a letter supporting the workers and urging consumers to boycott the chain. Massachusetts Attorney General (and gubernatorial candidate) Martha Coakley also put in her two cents to support the workers. Even the governor of New Hampshire has issued a statement asking Market Basket’s new leadership to address the issue.

So where did this all come from? As always, there’s more to the story: current events are just the culmination of well over forty years’ worth of Demoulas family animosity.

A local blogger from Gloucester, MA, has a whole two-part explainer up covering the entire family drama- and scandal-filled backstory back to 1916, when the first store opened. It’s quite a tale, involving epic, decades-long lawsuits, paid-off witnesses, and lots of people going to jail.

The whole saga is well worth a read, but the important points in the timeline leading to today are these:

  • The original founder had two sons, Mike and George Demoulas. They inherited his business.
  • Mike and George expanded and co-managed the chain through the 1950s and ’60s, until George died suddenly in 1971.
  • During the 1970s and 1980s, Mike basically stole the company out from under George’s heirs one chunk at a time.
  • In the 1990s, George’s family sued Mike’s family over the fraud. The ensuing lawsuits become sprawling chaos.
  • George’s family eventually wins. Mike is found to have defrauded them to the tune of $500 million and they gain back 51% of the company.

Ousted-but-beloved Arthur T. is one of Mike Demoulas’s four children; new, reviled leader Arthur S. is one of George Demoulas’s four children. It’s not hard to see why there would be animosity between them, nor even particularly hard to see why Arthur S. and his family might feel they are owed more from the company than they have been getting.

But what’s become clear over the past few weeks is that pretty much everyone at every level underestimated the loyalty Market Basket employees have for Arthur T. Market Basket does not have a unionized workforce, and so the employees do not have protection to undertake a collective strike.

Arthur T. Demoulas issued a statement today urging the company to reinstate the employees who were fired, saying, “The success of Market Basket is the result of two things: a business model that works and the execution of it by a dedicated and impassioned team of associates. Their fierce loyalty to the company and its customers has always been deeply valued. In the final analysis, this is not about me. It is about the people who have proven their dedication over many years and should not have lost their jobs because of it. I urge that they be reinstated in the best interest of the company and our customers.”

This week, the protests have moved from the company’s head offices to the (empty) stores themselves. Employees are calling for rallies at all 71 store locations. Reports from local media find that consumers are vaguely supportive of the workers, but mostly just want to be able to buy groceries again.

It’s unusual at best for so many workers to rally in support of one top executive over another, particularly at the risk of their own jobs. Arthur T. might not get his job back, but the chain needs to find a way to make peace with its workforce before all its customers get too used to shopping with the competition.

Despite Policy Changes, Google Must Face Class Action Suit Regarding In-App Purchases

Tue, 2014-07-22 21:46

A class action suit against Google involves the in-app purchase of currency for the game Marvel Run Jump Smash.

A class action suit against Google involves the in-app purchase of currency for the game Marvel Run Jump Smash.

Google may have made changes to prevent inadvertent in-app purchases within the Google Play store, but the company still has to answer for their previously lax controls that allowed children to run up huge bills on their parents’ accounts.

Reuters reports that a U.S. district court in San Jose ruled that Google must face a class action lawsuit filed by a New York woman earlier this year.

The suit [PDF] was filed in San Francisco by a mother who says that one of her young boys ran up $65.95 in in-app purchases while playing the game Marvel Run Jump Smash on her Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 tablet.

“Prior to the purchase of an App, Google requires account holders to enter their password,” reads the complaint. “However, once the account holder enters the password, he or she (or… his or her minor child) could make purchases for up to 30 minutes without re-entering the password. Thus, a parent could enter his or her password to permit a child to download a free gaming App, and then allow the child to download and play the game. What Google did not tell parents, however, is that their child was then able to purchase Game Currency for 30 minutes without any supervision, oversight or authorization.”

The federal judge Monday denied Google’s motions to dismiss portions of the case that alleged its advertisements were “unfair, deceptive or misleading” and allegations that Google breached the “duty of good faith and fair dealing.”

Google is just the latest company taken to task over in-app purchases.

In June 2013, Apple settled a class-action lawsuit over in-app purchases made by children on their parents’ phones and tablets. Then in January, the company reached a deal with the Federal Trade Commission in which it would issue at least $32.5 million in refunds to consumers.

Earlier this month, the FTC sued Amazon in federal court related to an investigation into the e-tailer’s in-app purchase policy that essentially allows children to make unauthorized purchases.

Google must face class action over kids’ in-apps purchases [Reuters]

Authorities Bust Tiny Dog Out Of Hot Van At Costco, 98-Year-Old Mom Out Of Hot Car At Casino

Tue, 2014-07-22 21:07
(CBS DFW)

(CBS DFW)

Shopping at Costco is pretty great, but that doesn’t mean you should bring your dog along on your shopping trip, then leave it in your vehicle with the temperature outside in the 90s. The same goes for your very young and very old loved ones. Come to think of it, just don’t lock anyone in the car. An elderly woman and a dog are both still alive because authorities intervened and got them both out.

A passing shopper filmed an Animal Services employee breaking the windows of a van in Plano, Texas over the weekend. “I was hot, and I could only imagine what the dog was going through,” the shopper noted. An Animal Services employee said that while they would have preferred not to break into the vehicle, the dog was becoming distressed, panting rapidly. He had been left with a cup of water, and the van’s windows were all closed.

Animal Services now has the dog, because it turns out that he didn’t belong to the owner of the van. The family claimed to have found him as a stray recently, and the city is looking for his owner(s). The dog will go up for adoption if they can’t be found. The people who locked the animal in the van received a citation for animal cruelty, and the city is not responsible for the expense of repairing the broken window.

Meanwhile, police were summoned to a casino in Maryland when someone reported an elderly woman sitting alone inside of a locked truck in the parking garage. It was about eighty degrees inside the closed vehicle, and she had been waiting there for five hours while her son was inside gambling. When police found him, they arrested him for vulnerable adult neglect, as well as an unrelated outstanding warrant.

Sitting in a hot car is a miserable experience even if you’re a young and healthy adult human. Don’t leave vulnerable elders, children, and animals in your vehicle.

Police: Man Left His Elderly Mom in Hot Car While at Md. Casino [CBS Washington]
Plano Man Breaks Into Hot Van To Rescue Dog [CBS DFW]

Target App Allows Customers To Take Pictures Of Ads, Have Product Delivered To Their Door

Tue, 2014-07-22 20:35

targetHave you ever seen a product in an ad that you just had to have but couldn’t make it to the actual store? Sure, you could try to find it online, but who has time to wade through search results all day? A new app from Target hopes to connect customers and their sought-after items more easily.

The In A Snap app allows customers to take a picture of a target advertisement to immediately purchase the item and have it shipped to their home, the retailer announced in a blog post.

The snap and shop technology isn’t just relegated to the retailer’s weekly ads, customers scanning the latest editions of Real Simple, Architectural Digest and Domino magazines can take photos of print ads to purchase products, as well.

Officials with Target say the app is an example of the company’s “test-and-learn” approach to reaching digitally savvy customers.

Earlier this year, the company created one big advertisement by connecting an episode of TBS’s Cougar Town with items from a home decor line at the store.

Viewers watching the show online could click on a decor piece with a flashing red plus sign and be taken to the product’s page to make the purchase.

It appears that In A Snap is currently only available on iOS supported electronics, but officials with Target say if the launch goes smoothly they plan to expand its offerings and the number of adds that can be snapped.

Target Testing Image Recognition App for Easy Mobile Shopping [Target]

Gas Leak At Frozen Burrito Company Leads To Sick Workers, Fart Jokes

Tue, 2014-07-22 19:59

(YouTube)

Evol does not make burritos for hamsters. Yet. (YouTube)

A gas leak and poison monoxide poisoning in the workplace are not at all funny, and we’re glad to hear that workers at Evol in Boulder, Colorado are all okay after they had to evacuate their building. It turned out that the building had dangerous levels of carbon monoxide gas inside because of an unnoticed feature of some of the company’s equipment.

No, no, that “equipment” was not the company’s burritos. Police say that the high carbon monoxide levels in the building may have come from the large batteries that power their forklifts, which had been recharging inside the building. Police didn’t specify where those forklifts were, only that they give off gas while charging.

Paramedics checked 70 employees for signs of carbon monoxide poisoning, and sent 6 to a local hospital. The facility re-opened and burrito-making resumed after the emergency responders aired out the building. Employees sent to the hospital were released later the same afternoon as well.

The company says that it will investigate what caused such a severe leak.

Carbon monoxide exposure at Boulder’s Evol Foods sends 6 to hospital [Boulder Daily Camera]

Proposed Bill Would Keep Many For-Profit Schools From Targeting Military Servicemembers

Tue, 2014-07-22 19:30

(Hammerin Man)

(Hammerin Man)

Legislation making its way though the Senate could put an end to for-profit marketing campaigns targeting servicemembers and their families by changing the way in which those schools count student aid.

The Department of Defense Appropriations Act 2015, which passed the House last week and currently awaits Senate action, includes language that would place new restrictions on some of the federal military benefits currently used toward for-profit education.

The provision, which was introduced by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, changes the language of the “90/10 rule” – used to cap for-profit colleges’ federal funding – to include the Defense Department’s voluntary military education programs.

The current federal 90/10 rule is a provision in the law that bars for-profit colleges and universities from deriving more than 90% of their revenue from the U.S. Department of Education’s federal student aid programs. The other 10% needs to come from sources other than the federal government.

Currently, tuition assistance for servicemembers and MyCAA for their spouses are not included in the 90/10 calculation. Durbin and others believe the omission of these programs make servicemembers and their families vulnerable to aggressive recruitment by for-profit colleges.

If passed, the proposed legislation would also prevent these funds from being used for advertising and marketing purposes while requiring the Department of Defense to better track how the Tuition Assistance and MyCAA funding is being spent by for-profit colleges.

None of the funds made available by this Act… may be disbursed or delivered to an institution of higher education… unless the institution certifies to the Secretary of Defense that it will not use revenues derived from educational assistance funds provided in any form under any Federal law for advertising, marketing or student recruitment activities.

Durbin says in a news release that the recent failure of Corinthian Colleges Inc., its less than savory reputation and the fact that its schools have continued recruitment of students underscores the provision’s importance.

A recent Military Times article reported that the CCI-operated Heald College and Wyotech representatives were actively recruiting servicemembers at education events at four military bases just last week.

“Before signing up for class and student debt, every student should know Corinthian schools are going out of business,” Durbin says. “While my bill would bring much-needed long-term reform to the for-profit college industry, it can’t prevent students from enrolling in a failed for-profit college tomorrow. The Department of Education and state agencies around the country need to put an end to all new Corinthian College enrollments as several states have already done.”

Durbin Legislation Would Help Curb Predatory Marketing Of Armed Forces By For-Profit Colleges [Sen. Dick Durbin]

Remember: You’re Probably Only Opted Out Of Bank Junk Mail For A Few Years

Tue, 2014-07-22 19:09

Here's a letter sent to a Consumerist reader in 2013, reminding him to re-opt-out of BofA junk mail.

Here’s a letter sent to a Consumerist reader in 2013, reminding him to re-opt-out of BofA junk mail, even though he was no longer a customer.

Have you ever cut ties with a friend or loved one, thinking you’d never want to see them again? Have you later had second thoughts about taking the axe (metaphorically) to that relationship and wished you could rebuild what you once had? When it comes to banks, many of them just assume that people who opted out of junk mail are just sitting at home regretting that they ever stopped asking for their mailboxes to once again be filled with credit card, mortgage, and savings account solicitations.

We first wrote about this last year, when a Consumerist reader — who wasn’t even a Bank of America customer anymore — received a letter from BofA reminding him that his 5-year-old junk mail opt-out with the bank was set to expire and that he’d have to contact BofA if he didn’t want to get back on the list of useless mailings that go right into the shredder.

In today’s L.A. Times, David Lazarus takes a closer look at the situation, pointing out that it’s not just BofA that puts a time clock on customers’ opt-out preferences. In fact, he writes that Wells Fargo’s opt-out only lasts for three years, meaning you’ll be saying “no” to WF junk mail more frequently than you’ll be watching the U.S. lose (or fight to a glorious draw) at the World Cup.

A rep for BofA tells Lazarus that the auto opt-out is really all about you, the customer, who Bank of America loves so much.

“We update consumer preferences on direct-mail solicitations every five years because individuals’ preferences may change in the interim and we want to make sure we have current information,” explains the rep.

Yes, the reason you haven’t bought your first home is because you opted out of bank junk mail and don’t know that Bank of America — which has been in the headlines on a regular basis for the last five years because of it mortgage practices — offers home loans.

Lazarus suggests a couple of ways to cut down on junk mail:

OptOutPrescreen.com is a site operated by the nation’s biggest credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, TransUnion. It allows you to opt out electronically of most credit and insurance junk mail for five years. If you want to nix these mailings on a more permanent basis, you’ll need to do so in writing.

DMAchoice.org is run by the junk mail trade group, the Direct Marketing Association. It allows you to opt out of a wide variety of junk mail from the DMA’s 3,600 companies and organizations.

We don’t know if either of these will help if some jerk who controls the mailing list changes your last name to “Is A Slut.”

Video Shows You Don’t Need All That Fine Print In Prepaid Card Fee Disclosures

Tue, 2014-07-22 18:33

Prepaid debit cards may offer a convenient alternative for unbanked consumers, but there are often unexpected costs buried in all the fine print of the cards’ disclosure documents that most people never read. It doesn’t need to be that way.

Today, the Pew Charitable Trusts unveiled the above video comparing a typical prepaid card packaging to their own disclosure box that aims provide easy comparison of prepaid card fees and terms and conditions.

The video features two consumers, Lisa and Jim, who are purchasing prepaid cards to better budget their expenses for a vacation. While Lisa’s prepaid card uses the Pew disclosure box, Jim’s does not.

Jim’s “typical” prepaid card box only lists some of the fees associated with the card. To see the full list of fees, Jim has to purchase the card and then read the fine print on a hard to find Terms and Conditions paper.

While Jim’s struggling to read his card’s fine print, Lisa is off enjoying a Hawaiian vacation.

“We wanted to show in a very accessible way how the disclosure would work,” Susan Weinstock, director of consumer banking research for Pew, tells Consumerist. “We thought doing something fun and engaging would provide that opportunity.”

Although the short video may not be groundbreaking, it does get the point across that prepaid cards can be tricky products to invest in; because there are no federal laws or regulations to protect consumers who use the cards, they could be subjected to hidden fees, unauthorized transactions, or loss of funds.

The video is Pew’s latest effort to bring awareness to the hidden dangers of prepaid cards. Back in February, Pew unveiled the model disclosure box in conjunction with a study detailing the lack of transparency in current card disclosures.

“Many prepaid cards have summary disclosures and leave other fees buried in terms of conditions, or in longer complicated disclosures that are harder to reach – either online or in the case of retail you have to open the package,” Thaddeus King, senior reseacher for consumer banking tells Consumerist.

Pew’s disclosure box – which shouldn’t be confused with a similar box that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is working on – fits on the inside flap of the existing card packaging, making it more convenient for consumers to find fees before purchasing the prepaid card.

Pew researchers found that nearly all of the 66 cards included in its study failed to disclose at least one type of fee, service, or consumer protection.

That research was echoed in an April Bankrate.com survey that examined 30 popular prepaid cards and found that while all charged fees, the actual fee structure varied considerably.

Officials with Pew say the use of its disclosure box would allow for less surprises when it comes to using prepaid cards.

The first company to embrace Pew’s box was JPMorgan Chase. The company announced earlier this year that its Chase Liquid prepaid cards would be the first product to employ Pew’s disclosure box. The company also uses Pew’s checking account disclosure box.

Pew is working on expanding the reach of its box by partnering with Visa in the future. The major credit card company has decide to create a seal of approval designation for Visa-backed prepaid cards. In order for a card to receive the seal they must employ the disclosure box, Weinstock says.

Aside from bringing awareness to consumers, Pew officials hope the prepaid video encourages federal regulators to finish their work on creating consumer protections when it comes to the cards.

“Once rules are in place this will be a safe product that can be a much cheaper option than a checking account,” Weinstock says.

Pew previously made several recommendations to the CFPB to make prepaid cards safer for consumers:

  • Prepaid cards should not have overdraft or other automated or linked credit features.
  • Prepaid cardholders should be protected against liability for unauthorized transactions that occur either when a card is lost or stolen or a charge is incorrectly applied.
  • Prepaid cardholders should have access to account information and transaction history.
  • Prepaid cards should be required to provide information about terms, conditions, and fees in a uniform, concise, and easy-to-read format. This information should be included with the card packaging so that it is accessible pre-purchase at retail outlets as well as online.
  • Prepaid card funds should be federally insured against loss caused by the failure of an institution.
  • Predispute binding arbitration clauses in cardholder agreements, which prevent cardholders from having the choice to challenge unfair and deceptive practices or other legal violations in court, should be prohibited.

AirBNB Guest Refuses To Leave Condo, Tries To Air-Condition The Desert

Tue, 2014-07-22 18:20

(Jonathan Coffey)

(Jonathan Coffey)

An AirBNB “guest” is taking advantage of gaps between the site’s policies and California rental law to squat indefinitely in a Palm Springs condo. Does that sound like a sharing economy nightmare? It is.

The one bit of good news is that the “host” didn’t rent out her primary residence while she happened to be out of town: no, she rented out her vacation home for 44 days. The problem is that 30 days into the stay, the guest quit paying. Why 30 days? After renting a place that long, a tenant, even a temporary one, gains rights to their new “home” under California law. Now it will cost the homeowner thousands of dollars in legal fees and take three to six months to evict the unwanted tenants.

He had complaints about the condo initially, but now isn’t budging. The owner says that the power usage is quadruple the normal levels while the home is occupied or rented out, perhaps because the tenant has been leaving doors and windows open with the air conditioning on.

AirBNB says that they’re compensating the homeowner while the squatter stays, and after the San Francisco Chronicle got involved, the company has also offered to help with her legal fees. “I don’t think they’re equipped to deal with this type of situation,” she told the Chronicle. “I’d like to see them change some policies and improve customer service so they can help people should something like this happen.”
The problem for AirBNB hosts is that in a crisis like this, they can expect to get an e-mail response from the company within 48 hours, and there’s no “guest won’t leave my home” crisis hotline.

Squatters don’t sit well with Airbnb hosts [San Francisco Chronicle] (via ABC News – auto-play video)

Delta, Other U.S. Airlines Cancel Flights To Israel Due To Missile Concerns

Tue, 2014-07-22 18:00

(kevindean)

(kevindean)


In the wake of the tragedy that befell Malaysian Airlines flight 17 last week over Ukraine, and amid escalating hostilities in the Middle East, multiple American airlines have now suspended flights into Israel.

The Associated Press reports that following earlier reports of a rocket landing near Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, Delta has canceled all flights to Israel until further notice.

One such flight, Delta 468, was over the Mediterranean approaching Turkey when it made a dramatic turnaround and Delta rerouted it back to Paris, one flight-tracking site reported.

NBC News confirmed that US Airways has also cancelled flights today to Tel Aviv and American Airlines is meeting to discuss whether they should continue or cancel flights to Israel.

Airlines cancel flights to Israel over missile fears [AP/CNBC]

You Can’t Sell “Made In The USA” Seals Without Checking That Products Live Up To That Label

Tue, 2014-07-22 17:44

This screengrab from the company's website was used as evidence in the FTC's complaint.

This screengrab from the company’s website was used as evidence in the FTC’s complaint.

As we’ve talked about in previous stories, while there are federal guidelines about what constitutes a “Made In America” product, manufacturers are operating on an honor system because it would be too onerous a task for the government to actually investigate every product claiming to be American-made. But if a company charges thousands of dollars for seals that indicate that a product’s Made In USA bona fides have been verified, it should actually be doing something to check those claims.

This morning, the Federal Trade Commission announced a proposed settlement [PDF] with Ohio-based Made in the USA Brand, LLC to settle charges that the company was selling its “Made in USA” certification seals for anywhere from $250 to $2,000 per year to companies without verifying that labeled products were indeed made in the United States, or disclosing that the manufacturers had done the certifying themselves.

In order to use a statement like “Made in USA” or “Made in America,” the product must be “all or virtually all” made in the United States, according to FTC guidelines.

Many manufacturers use these rules to determine themselves whether their products comply with the FTC standards, but some companies will provide seals indicating that a product has been certified to meet the federal guidelines.

The FTC believes that any company selling such seals should need to either certify that the products are in compliance, or clearly state that products containing the seal were self-certified by the manufacturer.

The government accused the company of falsely advertising that it independently and objectively evaluated whether certified products met its accreditation standard; that it made false or unsupported claims that companies listed in its database as certified marketers were in fact selling products that complied with the FTC’s Made in USA standard; and that it “provided the companies it licensed with the means to deceive consumers into believing that the companies were marketing products that were made in the United States.”

“Seals can be very helpful when consumers purchase products based on claims that are difficult to verify – like the Made-in-the-USA claim,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “When marketers provide seals without any verification, or without telling consumers the seal is unverified, consumers are deceived and the value of all marketers’ seals is diminished.”

Glitch In FAFSA Form Changes Thousands Of Future College Students’ Financial Aid Offers

Tue, 2014-07-22 17:03
(TheeErin)

The current FAFSA form includes 108 questions, enough to confuse just about anyone. (TheeErin)

Federal financial aid is a vital part of funding many college careers; even the slightest mistake on a form could mean the difference between attending school and taking out costly private student loans. For thousands of prospective college students a glitch in this year’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) form may have put their financial aid offers at risk.

According to the Seattle Times, nearly 200,000 future college students, many of them low-income, may received incorrect financial aid offers due to an error in the online FASFA form.

The issue was discovered earlier this month when officials at colleges and universities noticed a lot of applications with unusually high salaries entered in the “Income Earned From Work” box.

So were these future students seeking financial aid really making hundreds of thousands of dollars? Not even close.

The sky-high reported incomes resulted from the combination of a FAFSA decimal-point error and aid applicants who wanted to provide precise information.

For example, if an applicant whose personal income was $3,000.49 entered that exact amount into the form — instead of just using the rounded $3,000 amount — the decimal point would disappear and the government mistakenly thought that the applicant had earned $300,0049. And since most people with 6-figure incomes don’t need financial aid for college, this error would likely have a negative effect on the student aid offer.

To remedy the issue, the Department of Education plans to reprocess some 200,000 forms that are believed to contain the error.

Additionally, the FASFA website has been reprogrammed to drop fractional dollar amounts entered by mistake.

Students who submitted a FAFSA for the upcoming school year should be on the lookout for a notice about their Student Aid Report that indicates their application contained an error.

If students receive a notice and have already been granted financial aid, their future college may need to amend the amount.

In an attempt to better streamline future FAFSA forms and prevent error, several senators have been promoting a proposal that would cut the current forms 108 questions down to just two.

Even the feds screw up FAFSA: Online glitch affects thousands [Seattle Times]

Ambitious Dutch Company Proposes $70 Billion Broadband Network For Los Angeles, Whole Country

Tue, 2014-07-22 16:57

(Louis Abate)

(Louis Abate)

The city of Los Angeles last year started taking proposals for a plan to build out a gigabit fiber broadband network for every business and residence in the city. Only one company publicly shared their full proposal publicly, and it doesn’t exactly make the future of L.A. fiber look bright.

Reporting on the proposal, Ars Technica calls the company’s claims “overly optimistic,” which looks like an understatement.

The Dutch firm, Angie Communications, says they can run fiber through the entire city in five years for an initial cost of $2.5 billion. (L.A.’s original estimate was that the project would cost $3 – $5 billion.) But that’s just to get started with fiber in the city, they say. Their projected full cost, in the end, will be $70 billion.

That’s not $70 billion just for one California city; that’s for the nation. As in, the entire United States. Angie Communications wants to build out connections to the whole country. In addition to fiber for Los Angeles, their proposal also included a plan to build out a robust 4G mobile network covering 95% of the country, and a 100 Mbps wifi network covering 90% of the country.

Angie, apparently of the “go big or go home” school of thought, also expressed a desire to build out wired and wireless networks in the UK, Germany, France, and the Netherlands, in addition to their American plan.

Building out a fiber network isn’t an easy undertaking, though, and it requires expertise. That’s what sank Seattle’s plans earlier this year with a company called Gigabit Squared.

At the moment, Angie isn’t exactly in the best position to follow through with their plan to cover the U.S. coast-to-coast. The company has about $68 million around from investors… about $2.4 billion short of what they say they need to get going in Los Angeles. Their current funding, they say, will be used to go out and raise more money, and also to cover basic operations expenses like making payroll.

Angie Communications is not the only company that responded to L.A.’s call for input; 33 other entities, both public and private, also submitted responses. However, the contents of the others are not public at this time.


Startup claims it will build fiber network in LA and wireless throughout US
[Ars Technica]

Arby’s Celebrates 50th Anniversary By Giving Out Free Shakes Tomorrow

Tue, 2014-07-22 16:53

arbys_shakesFor humans, the 50th anniversary is the golden anniversary. For fast-food restaurants, it’s apparently the “give everyone free shakes” anniversary, since that’s how Arby’s is celebrating its 50th year in business tomorrow. Print out this coupon and head over for a Jamocha (which is just mocha) shake tomorrow, Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014. No other purchase required. [Brand Eating]

Even Millionaires Can’t Urinate On The Candy At CVS

Tue, 2014-07-22 16:32

(zipsonic)

(zipsonic)

Even if you’re a wealthy real estate heir who has previously been acquitted of murder charges, you will probably get arrested if you decide to expose your private parts to CVS employees… and then use said private parts to urinate on the store property and products.

ABC 13 in Houston reports that police arrested millionaire Robert Durst on Sunday at a local drugstore after getting into an altercation with employees. The situation allegedly escalated to the point where Durst exposed himself and did about $100 worth of damage-by-urination to the store’s candy supply. KHOU-TV later wrote that the store in question was a CVS.

“I have been notified Mr. Durst was arrested for a Class B Misdemeanor and is in the bonding process,” his attorney told ABC. “He will go through the process like any other citizen of Harris County. We will deal with the case on its merits once he is released from jail.”

In 2001, Durst was charged with the murder of a neighbor whose dismembered body was found in Galveston Bay. He was later acquitted of the charges by a jury.

[via Chron.com]

Credit Card Breach May Have Hit Goodwill Thrift Stores, Could Go Back To 2013

Tue, 2014-07-22 16:06

(C x 2)

(C x 2)

Banks can figure out the source of a major credit card breach long before the targeted company announces that something went wrong, and that site shares the scary news with the rest of the world. Have you used your credit card at a Goodwill Industries store lately? Bad news from that not-for-profit thrift store chain.

If you want to learn where your credit card number may have been stolen by evil fraudsters long before the rest of the world, you should keep an eye on the blog Krebs on Security. It will make you want to lock your credit cards up in a safe in a secret room in your basement and use cash for every transaction, sure, but isn’t it better to be paranoid than to be uninformed?

In any case, banker sources say that cards hit with fraud were used in Goodwill Industry retail stores in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Goodwill confirmed that it is working with the Secret Service regarding a possible payment information breach at “select U.S. store locations.”

Goodwill Industries International was contacted last Friday afternoon by a payment card industry fraud investigative unit and federal authorities informing us that select U.S. store locations may have been the victims of possible theft of payment card numbers.

While Goodwill didn’t confirm this, financial industry sources said that their evidence indicates that the breach may go back to the middle of 2013. If we learn anything more that thrift shoppers should be terrified about, we’ll let you know.

Banks: Card Breach at Goodwill Industries

Irish Cafe Tells “Loud American’s” & Other Tourists To Stay Away

Tue, 2014-07-22 16:04

 @mauricecampbell)

(Twitter: @mauricecampbell)

Perhaps it’s a form of anti-publicity that the owners hope will turn them into the next Amy’s Baking Company, with people just coming by to see what all the hubbub is about, but a restaurant in Ireland has irked a good portion of its potential customer base with a sign telling tourist — and specifically American tourists — to get lost.

The sign in the window of the cafe in Waterville, County Kerry, clearly “No Bus/Coach” customers, but what’s less clear is why the owner originally wrote “or Loud American” before changing it to “Loud American’s.”

Perhaps he was ticked off by some American pedants who nitpicked his writing?

Regardless, since the cafe is apparently located in a part of town frequented by tourists, and since other businesses in the area rely on these visitors, others in the area are rushing to say that the crudely written sign does not represent the local sentiment. According to CNBC, the Waterville Business Association is planning to “celebrate their unique Waterville-American relationship.”

Meanwhile, I’d like to enact a ban on Irish guys who angrily kick in the glass doors of McDonald’s and pepper spray the staff.

[via Eater]

Walmart Offers Teachers A Discount On School Supplies (Yes, There’s A Catch)

Tue, 2014-07-22 15:47

(walkerspace)

(walkerspace)

Buying school supplies can put a pretty significant dent in one’s pocketbook, especially when you don’t have a lot of expendable income to begin with. For teachers who bear the burden of supplying a classroom full of students, Walmart is offering a new discount – but there’s a catch.

Walmart announced this week that it will be offering teachers across the country a 10% discount on classroom supplies purchased during its “Teacher Appreciation Week.”

That’s all well and good, but the discount will only be given in the form of a Walmart eGift card after making a purchase; meaning the savings won’t be realized until later and teachers will have to come back to Walmart to spend it.

Only certain school supply purchases made between July 25 and July 31 are eligible for the deal.

The savings process works like this:

  • Shop at a Walmart store for classroom supplies;
  • Register your receipts online by August 15;
  • Receive an eGift card with the savings from your eligible purchases.

Sure, it’s better than nothing, but it also seems like a lot of extra work for the teacher. And any teacher who’d hoped to spend those savings at a store other than Walmart is out of luck.

But then again, it’s probably a better option than the small personal loans to pay for classroom supplies that Consumerist reported on earlier this year.

Teachers Chalk Up 10 Percent Savings at Walmart’s First-Ever Teachers’ Savings Event [Walmart]

Banana Republic’s “Startup Guy” Has Half-Tucked In Shirt, Cool Belt, No Female Counterpart

Mon, 2014-07-21 23:16

(via Valleywag)

(via Valleywag)

You know who dresses like this guy in a Banana Republic promo? Bradley Cooper, Jude Law and possibly Robert Pattinson, when he’s not busy being a sparkly vampire ingenue. Men accustomed to a certain amount of leisure, the sort who may encounter perfectly fine beach sand at any moment, thus requiring them to unshod their feet so they walk toward the frothy, cool water lapping at the shore near their villas. No socks required in that lifestyle! You know who probably doesn’t so much dress like this? Startup guys, despite Banana Republic’s attempt to convince us otherwise.

In a promo sent around this weekend with a quiz for customers that results in certain “looks” — with different questions and results for men and women — shoppers met “Start-up Guy,” a collection of outfits made up of BR clothing that’s apparently supposed to convey all the style of Silicon Valley.

But as Valleywag points out, that’s not the look any start-up guy worth his coding salt is wearing around town. Take a crisp buttondown neatly half-tucked into rolled up khakis and a corded leather belt and replace it with “t-shirts with startup logos, giant shorts, purple-on-brown New Balances, ballooning blazers, and bootcut jeans,” writes VW’s Sam Biddle.

The look for Startup Guy doesn’t appear to be available on the link to the BR quiz online as of this writing — but whether that’s because it was taken down or changed, or he was never a possible result because he’s just a guy who lives in email promos, it’s unclear. There’s Fashion-Forward Guy, Sporty Guy and Minimalist Guy, but no Startup Guy awaiting the flood.

VentureBeat says this is the entire line of Startup Guy stuff, though, so at least he’s out there. With those rumpled pants, drinking Negronis with George Clooney on a boat.

And is there a Startup Gal? Is she off somewhere, rolling up her pants to match her Startup Guy, making sure she puts on just the right amount of leather bracelets to compliment her carefully chosen watch? We don’t know — but we’d assume someone on the Internet would be trumpeting knowledge of her existence from the virtual rooftops if she does exist. We’ve got Minimalist, Trendsetting and Classic — without any Gal next to their designations, which is nice.

It also bears pointing out that while Minimalist Guy gets to “gravitate towards the classics” and likes “to keep it simple,” the female version with that same style gets “everybody up, showered and fed; you multitask at the office like it’s your job (and it is).” Because that’s not patronizing.

FiOS Goes Symmetrical: Verizon To Offer Same Upload, Download Speeds

Mon, 2014-07-21 22:50
(frankieleon)

(frankieleon)

FiOS users who get annoyed over how long it takes to upload your stuff to YouTube, rejoice! Verizon announced today that they’re upping their upload speeds to match their download speeds. It’ll take a few months, but eventually subscribers will be able to put stuff on the internet at the same speed they pull stuff down from the internet.

In their press release Verizon explained their reasoning as forward-looking. The company expects the amount of data uploaded through FiOS connections to more than double in the next two years. Their subscribers spend a lot of time online and move a lot of data, Verizon says, and those trends just keep growing. Consumers keep uploading more data — video especially — and so their internet connections need to be able to support doing that well.

Existing customers will eventually get the upgrade at no additional charge, but customers who have enrolled in Verizon’s rewards program, My Rewards +, get access before everyone else.

In general, broadband connection speeds in the United States, both download and upload, are continuing to improve, but asymmetrical access has definitely remained the norm. Verizon is not the first to offer access to a symmetrical connection; as Ars Technica points out, Google Fiber and several small ISPs offer matching upload and download speeds already.

Verizon is, however, beating national competitors like Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and AT&T to the punch, and that might just be what matters most to them. In many FiOS markets, Verizon’s service is the only viable existing alternative to cable broadband.

With the competition merging up all over — Comcast/TWC and AT&T/DirecTV are both on deck this year – actually offering customers better service might be Verizon’s best bet for staying successful in the business.

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