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American Airlines Launches Real-Time Baggage Tracking Service For Travelers

Tue, 2015-09-29 18:20

After a long day of traveling the last thing you want to deal with is lost baggage, but, unfortunately, that’s a very real situation for millions of consumers: over the last five years, the Transportation Security Administration paid out $3 million for lost, stolen and damaged baggage. American Airlines is trying to give travelers piece of mind that their bags are well within reach by launching a new bag tracking service.

The carrier rolled out a free real-time online luggage tracking system for checked bags last month, allowing customers to see just where their bag is — from the time it’s handed off at the check-in counter to its arrival on the carousel at the destination airport — the Chicago Tribune reports.

The airline quietly began the new customer-facing service in late August, but chose not to publicize it until employees were used to the new scanning procedures.

“It’s something our customers have been asking for [for] a really long time, and we’re excited to make this available to them,” American Airlines spokeswoman Laura Nedbal tells the Tribune.

The service was created as part of the merger between American and US Airways. American previously only scanned bags as they were loaded onto the aircraft, while US Airways, on the other hand, scanned bags as they were loaded and taken off planes.

Baggage tracking data was previously used only internally, Nedbal said.

Tracking is only available via American’s website for now, where users can click on the “track your bags” button and input their last name and record locator or bag-tag number.

The site will then produce information on six bag-scan touch points, such as ticket counter check-in and loading on and off the aircraft.

Using the service not only lets passengers keep an eye on their bags, it can also save them time. Instead of waiting for your bag to appear on a carousel, users can see right away when their luggage is in the wrong place and head straight to customer service.

The new service won’t change American’s current tracing system where customers can track a lost bag after it’s been reported.

American isn’t the only airline to offer a real-time tracking system for checked bags: Delta Air Lines currently employes a similar service.

American Airlines secretly adds free real-time bag tracking [The Chicago Tribune]

USPS Says It Tried To Deliver My Package, But Home Security Video Shows Otherwise

Tue, 2015-09-29 18:01
Is the USPS carrier a ghost?!? (baconocalypse on YouTube)

Anyone who’s ever been anxiously awaiting the arrival of a promised package might know the sheer frustration of waiting around at home all day, only to check the tracking later and find that a carrier attempted delivery when you finally left the house. That’s what happened to Consumerist reader Tony — only he had video to prove that no one from USPS ever showed up, despite what the tracking information said online.

Tony put together a video chronicling his recent frustrating experience waiting for a package to get delivered, but here’s what happened if you don’t feel like watching: He waited at home all day for a package last Friday, finally leaving his home at 6:25 to get dinner. By the time he returned at 7:40 that night, still no package, and no notice left on the door… but the online tracking information said USPS had attempted delivery at 6:59 p.m.

Someone who doesn’t have evidence to the contrary might believe they’d missed a delivery attempt, but Tony has a new home security camera on his front door, so he checked the footage of that time period — and no one turned up at 6:59, or ever. Not only that, but without a pink notice slip, he couldn’t reschedule delivery and would have to go the post office to pick his package up.

The next day around 1 p.m., he checked the tracking info one more time before heading to the post office and was surprised to see a note that his package had been delivered… 15 minutes before. And yet, a quick search outside showed that the package had still not arrived. Just as he was about to finally leave for the post office at around 2:30, the mail carrier showed up and handed over his package — two hours after the tracking info says it was left on his front porch.

“So now not only are they claiming they attempted delivery and left a notice they didn’t leave, but the next day they are also logging that they came back and specifically left it on my front porch when they haven’t, before finally hand delivering it,” Tony writes.

This isn’t the first time it’s happened to Tony, and there are many others like him out there — including members of the Consumerist staff — but he says that when he calls the the main number for USPS (1-800-ASK-USPS) to find out what happened, the people on the other end are nice and seem to believe him, but tell him there’s nothing they can do.

When he’s tried to sort it out with USPS staff at the post office, he’s been told to speak to a manager who he says is never there, or submit a complaint online. He’s tried that, too — he filed an official complaint with the postal service as well as with the USPS inspector general, but neither resulted in a response.

We’ve reached out to USPS to find out how and why this happens, and what consumers should do in a similar situation when all complaints have apparently reached deaf ears, but we have yet to hear back as of this posting. If and when we do, we’ll let you know. In the meantime, there doesn’t seem to be much Tony can do, other than continuing to remain vigilant for invisible mail carriers attempting to deliver invisible packages.

Comcast Officially Launches Its “Watchable” YouTube Competitor

Tue, 2015-09-29 17:37

watchableBack in August, we mentioned that Comcast was working on something called “Watchable,” its attempt to cash in on the curated online video craze that all the marketing and advertising kids are talking about. We also hoped that “Watchable” was just a working title, because it’s not exactly an astounding endorsement of quality. Today, Comcast announced that it’s indeed launching Watchable, so-so brand name and all.

Like other curated video services — all of which seem to promise the best of the Internet — Watchable posts video clips from a few dozen “digital partners,” like BuzzFeed and Vox, both of whom recently received substantial financial investments from Comcast.

In addition to other Comcast/NBC products, there are also clips from a couple dozen others, including The Onion, Vice, Machinima, Mashable, POPSUGAR, Fast Company, and everyone’s favorite high-energy-beverage-cum-online-video-content-provider Red Bull.

“We think Watchable can be a unique place that curates and distributes the best content from some of the most recognized brands and producers on the web,” writes Comcast Cable’s Chief Business Development Officer Sam Schwartz. “Plus, many of our Watchable partners have not traditionally had distribution on the TV and we can give them a path to reach new audiences and further monetize their content on the biggest screen in the home.”

What’s not stated in there is the advertising money that Comcast stands to make from these videos — if it can get people to watch them.

Online video ads command a nice bit of change — and unlike banners and all those other boxes you ignore when browsing the web — you can’t use an ad blocker to stop some 15-second commercial from playing before you get to that video you want to watch.

Though Comcast is integrating Watchable into its X1 platform for its cable customers, the streaming service is available to anyone via There is also an iOS app for iPhone and iPad users.

It’s Not Just You: Robots Are Also Bad At Assembling IKEA Furniture

Tue, 2015-09-29 16:39
Close, but no cigar. (CRI Group @ NTU on YouTube)

If you’re the kind of person who’s terribly afraid of the impending robot revolution as well as someone who struggles when it comes to putting together IKEA furniture, we’ve got some good news for you: robots are also pretty bad at it, so maybe that’ll delay the artificial intelligence uprising somewhat.

Researchers at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore (h/t Gizmodo) wanted to see what a robot could do when facing messy situations –like when you accidentally empty all the parts you need to build furniture onto the floor — so they set it up to construct an IKEA chair… or rather, they gave it a chance to try to put together the chair.

A robot was equipped with two grippers and force sensors to measure grip strengths, and set in front of six cameras so researchers could watch from every angle as it tried to stick a wooden dowel in a hole in one of the chair’s pieces. It’s a common task that even the most inept IKEA customers have managed, but it proved a bit tricky for the robot.

The thing is, robots are pretty good when they’ve got a simple, straight forward task in front of them, like putting together the parts of a car on an assembly line. But when faced with the complicated task of hunting around for pieces, holding one part still while locating the right spot to stick another piece into it, the robot has a bit of a tough time before it finally finds its mark.

Basically the robot has to try and try again, after failing to succeed the first time (I think I read that quote on Facebook somewhere, Mark Twain, right?). Can it build a whole chair? Not yet, but don’t be surprised
if it figures things out eventually — who else is going to build all those thrones for our robot overlords?

Volkswagen To Announce Emissions Fix Plans In “Next Few Days”

Tue, 2015-09-29 16:22

VW marketed the recalled cars as having "clean diesel" engines. Some believe this constitutes deceptive advertising on the part of the company.Since the Environmental Protection Agency revealed earlier this month that Volkswagen had rigged its so-called “clean diesel” vehicles to cheat on emissions tests, owners of the approximately 11 million cars affected by this trickery have been waiting to find out when they might hear something other than apologies from the German carmaker.

According to Reuters, VW’s new CEO Matthias Mueller has declared that a proper plan for refitting this huge number of problem cars will reach out to affected owners “in the next few days” with information on having their vehicles’ software updated.

These cars were rigged with “defeat device” programs that could detect when a car was undergoing an official emissions test. A car’s full emissions control system would only turn on during these tests, meaning the test results were not always indicative of the vehicle’s emissions during regular use. In fact, according to the EPA, some cars were emitting toxins at around 40 times the allowable level.

Reuters reports that VW’s announcement did not provide details on exactly how the recall fix will work or what the end result will be for the fuel efficiency and emissions of the affected vehicles.

Given that many owners of VW’s line of “clean diesel” cars bought them because they were both fuel efficient and environmentally friendly, they may not be pleased with a “fixed” car that gets worse mileage or puts the vehicle just on the compliant side of EPA emissions standards.

VW has set aside around $7.3 billion to pay for the projected costs associated with this egg-on-face publicity disaster, but the costs could end up being even larger.

First, the company faces potentially billions in penalties from U.S. regulators alone. If the EPA seeks the maximum fine for each violation of the Clean Air Act, VW could be on the hook for around $18 billion.

There is also the possibility of multimillion, perhaps billion, dollar settlements to close federal criminal probes and state-level violations. Not to mention the class-action civil suits filed by owners of affected VWs.

Beyond all that is the damage to the company’s reputation. Even though VW only rigged around 500,000 vehicles in the U.S., the fact that a carmaker would deliberately attempt to deceive consumers and regulators may cast a pall over the entire line of VW cars for some time to come.

Investors have been dumping VW stock since the Sept. 18 EPA announcement. The share price for VW currently sits at around $97/share, down from nearly $170 two weeks ago. The company’s stock price hit had actually hit a record high of $262 in the spring of 2015.

L.L. Bean’s Duck Boots Already On Backorder Despite 100 Additional Workers Hired To Make Them

Tue, 2015-09-29 16:04

duckbootsIf you’re looking forward to splashing around this winter in L.L. Bean’s aggressively unglamorous, USA-made duck boots, you’ll need to plan ahead: some styles and sizes are backordered by a month before there’s even a single snowflake in the sky. The duck boot factories are cranking them out as fast as they can, and simply can’t keep up with demand.

Of course, this could all be backwards: the early demand could be from eBay flippers stocking up to sell the boots for double or triple the original sticker price to desperate people with wet feet. Last year, wait times stretched into the spring during December, and the only way to get a pair while it was still snowing was to turn to eBay.

Or could it be that this very story is playing right into their strategy: creating a shortage to make people want the boots more, and creating desire through scarcity? You probably hadn’t even thought about which winter boots you’ll be wearing this year until you read this story.

L.L. Bean reports that it has made changes to keep up with demand, short of outsourcing production to other companies, in the US or offshore. “We’re making them literally as fast as we can,” a company spokesperson told Bloomberg News, using the word “literally” correctly in a sentence. They purchased a new molding machine and hired and trained 100 more boot-makers. They thought that they were ready, and apparently customers are even more ready.

Why Can’t L.L. Bean Keep the Darn Duck Boots in Stock? [Bloomberg News]

Walmart Officially Launching Online Grocery Pickup With Expansion To More Cities

Tue, 2015-09-29 15:48

After testing the concept for months, Walmart plans to offer more shoppers the opportunity to order their groceries online and pick them up at the store later.

The big box store announced in a blog post Tuesday that it will roll out the free grocery pickup service starting Oct. 13.

Instead of focusing on dense urban areas for the new service, Walmart is choosing larger, more suburban areas that are often passed over by delivery services.

The first regions to receive the new pickup service include: Atlanta, Charlotte and Fayetteville, NC; Salt Lake City and Ogden, UT; Nashville; Tucson, AZ; and Colorado Springs.

The company says it will open the service in additional cities in the coming weeks.

As with the tests of the service, customers simply place their orders online, pick a time to pick up their items, drive to the store, park in a designated spot and call a special phone number. An associate then brings the goods straight to their trunk.

Walmart says it is currently in the process of hiring additional “personal shoppers,” who fill the orders placed online.

Back in March, the retailer attempted to entice consumer to test out the pilot pick up service by offering a $5 discount on any purchase or $10 off a $50 purchase.

How To Cancel Your Subscription To Apple Music Before The Free Trial Ends Sept. 30

Tue, 2015-09-29 15:38

iphone6-3up-applemusic-features-pr-print-1The clock has been counting down, and the time is night: If you signed up for that three-month free trial of Apple Music back in June, today is the last day to cancel that subscription before it automatically renews on Sept. 30. Here’s how to make sure you don’t wind up locked into paying for a service you don’t want.

There are two ways to do this, through iTunes or through the Apple Music app. If you don’t turn off auto-renew in time, you’ll either be charged the monthly individual rate of $9.99 or the family plan price of $14.99.

• Click on your account in the upper right hand of iTunes — this should have your name or Apple ID on it.
• Navigate to “Account Info” and then settings, and click on “Manage” beside subscriptions.
• Click “Edit” which is located next to “Apple Music Membership” — if you have multiple subscriptions.
• Hit “Off” next to Automatic Renewal


• Click on your account — again, the silhouette icon, on the upper left hand of the Apple Music app.
• Next go to “View Apple ID,” then scroll down and hit “Manage” under the Subscriptions section.
• Toggle the “auto-renewal” option to “Off”


Regulators Investigating BMW’s Slow Recall Pace After Vehicles Failed Side Crash Tests

Tue, 2015-09-29 15:07

Just two months after federal regulators fined Fiat Chrysler a record $105 million as a result of a lengthy investigation into the carmaker’s leisurely pace in fixing more than 11 million vehicles connected to 23 safety recalls, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is poised to take another manufacturer to task: BMW.

NHTSA announced that it will open an investigation into whether BMW failed to recall more than 30,000 Mini Cooper cars in a timely fashion after certain models did not meet side impact crash standards.

According to a notice [PDF], investigators will probe 30,456 model year 2014 to 2015 Mini Cooper, Cooper S and 2015 John Cooper Works vehicle after side impact crash tests on two 2014 Mini Hardtop 2 Door Coopers showed failures more than a year ago.

The test, which happened in mid-2014, was performed at five miles per hour faster than required by law on two Mini Cooper cars. The tests, which measured spine acceleration results on a crash dummy, showed that the vehicles were not adequate.

“NHTSA viewed these results as indicating a potential problem and believes BMW should also have been concerned with the compliance of the vehicles,” the notice states.

In October 2014, NHTSA performed another test on a 2014 Mini 2 Door Hardtop Cooper; it once again did not pass.

At the time, BMW claimed the certification testing was based on a different model – a Mini 2 Door Hardtop Cooper S, a heavier vehicle.

Still, in December, the car company issued a recall for 2014 Mini Hardtop 2 Door Cooper vehicles, creating a remedy that involved installing a small foam patch in the rear door panels.

In January, NHTSA claims in the notice,  BMW verbally committed to conducting a service campaign to add padding to the read side panels of 2015 Mini Hardtop 2 Door Coopers.

“However, BMW did not initiate the service campaign and failed to inform NHTSA of its failure to do so,” the notice states.

NHTSA completed tests in July 2015 on model year 2015 Mini 2 Door Hardtop Coopers. One of the vehicles included a contemplated fix – a foam pad on the rear panels – while the other vehicle was no modified from factory settings.

“The test of the Mini 2 Door Hardtop Cooper with the additional padding and at the higher test weight passed the test,” NHTSA states in the notice. “However, this was the only vehicle on which the service campaign was performed and thus was not representative of in-use vehicles.”

The vehicle without the potential remedy did not pass. Additionally, a test of a 2015 Cooper S that did not receive additional padding at the test failed.

“NHTSA is concerned that BMW was aware or should have been aware of the non-compliance,” the agency states, “and should have taken remedial action on the population of Mini Cooper vehicles identified in [the original recall] earlier than it did. It appears from a review of NHTSA’s databases that BMW may have failed to submit recall communications to NHTSA in a timely manner.”

Amtrak Will Now Start Enforcing Baggage Limits On Trains

Tue, 2015-09-29 14:37

(Northwest dad)If you’ve been hopping on trains with big loads of luggage and gleefully stowing it Amtrak’s baggage compartments, you’re going to need to curb your tendency to over pack: starting Oct. 1, Amtrak will start enforcing its baggage weight limits, handing out fees to those hauling more than their fair share onboard.

As Amtrak’s rules state, passengers are allowed two small personal items and two standard carry-ons for free. But because some people just can’t pack light, Amtrak has decided to crack down those exceeding their allotment, handing out a $20 surcharge per bag to people with too many bags or luggage that exceeds 150 pounds. There’s also a maximum of two excess carry-ons.

It’s understandable to have such limits — people with too many bags could be keeping others from fitting theirs in the luggage areas, and super heavy bags aren’t safe for train workers to lift, Amtrak says.

But why now? Amtrak has had these baggage restrictions on the books for a decade, but conductors and train staff weren’t really sure how to deal with rule breakers. The time has come to change that, an Amtrak spokesman told

“The crews were in a difficult position because they couldn’t give anyone an option,” he explains. “They had to decide, well, do we allow people to continue to ride?”

The other reason it’s taken so long for Amtrak to enforce the rules is that there actually aren’t too many people breaking them, the spokesman notes, which is a good thing and means that it’s likely many passengers won’t notice any difference when they travel.

Conductors and train crew will have their eyes peeled for you over-packers, Amtrak’s spokesman says.

“If someone at the station notices this and thinks that [a bag is] overweight or oversized … they will intercept them.”

Amtrak Will Start Charging Passengers Who Have Too Many Bags. Great Call. []

No, Facebook Will Not Be Charging You To Keep Your Profiles Private

Tue, 2015-09-29 06:26

Facebook's official statement on the rumor of a $5.99/month privacy tier.If you’ve visited Facebook at all in the last few hours, you’ve most likely seen any number of your online acquaintances posting the terrifying news that Facebook will soon be charging users $5.99/month too keep their profiles private. It might sound believable for those who aren’t familiar with how Facebook actually makes its money, but the fact is that the company says it has no plans to start charging anyone. Even more pointless are the supposed “copyright” notices people are posting in the hopes that it will protect them.

First off, Facebook — which, yes, has a Facebook page — posted this denial on Monday night:

“While there may be water on Mars, don’t believe everything you read on the internet today. Facebook is free and it always will be. And the thing about copying and pasting a legal notice is just a hoax. Stay safe out there Earthlings!”

Regarding that legal notice — as we’ve discussed previouslymultiple times — it’s both unnecessary because, according to the Facebook terms of use, you are the copyright holder of any original content you post, and because those same terms grant Facebook a “non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook.”

If you’re using Facebook, you have at some point agreed to these terms whether you actually took the time to read them. Copying and pasting a notice claiming a copyright you already have does nothing to change that contract with Facebook.

Beyond all of this is the fact that Facebook does not need to start nickel-and-diming its user base to increase revenue. At its current rate, the company is on track to bring in $15 billion this fiscal year — nearly 95% of that from advertising revenue. Adding a subscription tier at this point could alienate users and slow the company’s growth.

That doesn’t mean that Facebook couldn’t go that route at some point, but if it does, that copyright notice still won’t change whatever terms you’ve already agreed to.

Ford Dealership Bans Another Customer For Imperfect Survey Responses

Mon, 2015-09-28 22:32

(saguarosally) Automakers demand nothing but perfection. No, no, not necessarily from their employees or their dealerships. They demand perfection from us consumers when we respond to surveys about the service at the dealership. It turns out that bad scores can cost dealerships and even individual salespeople a lot of money, and dealerships will ban bad survey-takers from doing business with them.

No, really. Robert reports that he received an e-mail saying that he was “no longer welcome” at that dealership. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard of this, and not even the first time we’ve heard about it from a Ford dealer. A dealer in a different part of the country sent one of our readers a similar e-mail a few years ago, wishing him “good luck with [his] future automotive transactions” but he wasn’t welcome back.

Robert says that he submitted an honest survey after a bad experience buying a Ford truck, and in the comments he explained that the bad rating was because his salesman lacked people skills. He received this e-mail when he contacted the dealership the following year about another possible purchase:

Since that survey actually cost myself and the dealership money from Ford, I will have to personally pass on your offer. I’ll go brush up on my people skills and I hope you find what you’re looking for in the future.

One dealership told a reader who was a service customer that giving bad survey grades meant that he was metaphorically tossing the dealership’s employees out on the street.

A salesperson at a luxury dealership explained that a bad survey score means that he loses at least $100 from his commission. You start to see why sales staff simply take the surveys themselves, or “fire” customers who are difficult to please.

Regulators Send Letters To Seven Additional Automakers Related To Shrapnel-Shooting Takata Airbags

Mon, 2015-09-28 22:30

takata logoWhile federal regulators reduced the number of vehicles equipped with potentially deadly Takata airbags, more could be added to the list that already includes 19.2 million after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent letters last week to seven additional automakers warning that their cars include the shrapnel-shooting safety devices.  

The Associated Press reports that the regulator sent letters to Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar-Land Rover, Suzuki, Tesla, Volvo Trucks, Volkswagen and Spartan Motors seeking information on which of their models have Takata inflators.

“It is expected that the scope of the current Takata recalls may expand as time goes on and will likely grow to include vehicles that are outside the scope of the current recalls,” the letters said.

The current Takata recall focuses on 11 automakers: BMW, Daimler Trucks, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota.

According to the letter, NHTSA is asking the seven additional automakers to identify which models use a specific Takata airbag inflator with ammonium nitrate as the propellant.

The letters were initiated as a result of Takata’s theory that the cause of the problem is that the chemical degrades over time, which “could potentially lead to overaggressive combustion or potentially cause the inflator to rupture,” the AP reports.

While Volkswagen – which is at the center of an unrelated emissions scandal related to 11 million vehicles – wasn’t previously part of the Takata recall, it was under investigation by NHTSA related to a June crash involving an SUV in which the side air bag inflated with too much force and blew apart the inflator canister.

VW said at the time that it was working with NHTSA and Takata to better understand the problem.

Mercedes confirmed that the company uses Takata airbags, just not those connected to previous recalls. A spokesperson said the company was gathering information to provide NHTSA, the AP reports.

The six other manufacturers were unavailable to provide comment to the AP.

Takata air bag recalls could expand to 7 more companies [The Associated Press]

Man Tries To Open Airplane Door At 30,000 Feet, Says He Thought It Was The Bathroom

Mon, 2015-09-28 22:13

(arsheffield)There aren’t many doors to choose from on an airplane, so if you don’t want to find yourself suddenly flying solo*, you better be darn sure you’re picking the right one. Easier said than done for one man who says he mistook the exit door for the bathroom on a recent flight.

The Telegraph reports the story of a man who says he was arrested and fined €600 for the incident on a KLM Airlines flight from Edinburgh to Amsterdam. He says he was also told he’s been banned from flying on the airline for five years.

According to his side of the story, staff accused him of trying to open the jet door at 30,000 feet, which would be impossible to accomplish due to cabin pressure. He claims it was just his attempt to get to the lavatory.

When it was time to fly home, he says KLM staff refused him boarding and informed him that he was banned.

“The crew told me to stay in my seat and I was to be arrested when the plane landed,” he told the Telegraph. “I tried to explain it was a simple mistake. It was a misunderstanding. The police came and arrested me. They weren’t too friendly. They weren’t too friendly.”

He isn’t sure if he’ll face any further action, but insists he’d never try to open an exit door on purpose.

“I realize the danger of that sort of thing,” he added.

KLM told The Telegraph that a passenger had been handed over to authorities due to “his misbehavior” onboard.

*Again yes, we realize this is not possible due to physics.

Passenger who tried to open plane door at 30,000ft ‘thought it was a toilet’ [The Telegraph]

If You’re Using iOS9, Check This Setting To Make Sure You Don’t Blow Through Your Data Plan

Mon, 2015-09-28 21:37

(Adam Fagen)
Even if you’re not one of the reported 13 million folks who bought a brand-new iPhone 6S or 6S+ this weekend, you may want to go have a look in your phone’s settings. There’s a new feature in iOS9 that’s supposed to be convenient for consumers, but is causing overage problems and billing headaches for some users.

The offender is called Wi-Fi Assist, Quartz reports, and it’s a feature in the newest version of Apple’s mobile operating system.

Wi-Fi assist is meant to, well, assist your phone when you’re in a situation with poor or spotty wifi. That free coffee shop network not doing what you need it to? Your phone will start boosting the signal with 4G or 3G cellular data instead.

For customers with unlimited data on their plans, that’s not a problem. But for anyone who does have a metered data plan — which is tens of millions of consumers — those little “boosts” can add up to big, unexpected overages surprisingly quickly. Some users tweeted complaints of popping from their regular 1-3 GB of usage to as high as 4-7 GB.

The option is enabled by default, so if you haven’t explicitly gone into your phone’s settings to turn it off yet, it’s on right now. To disable, go to Settings –> Cellular and scroll all the way down. The Wi-Fi assist toggle is at the bottom.

You might want to turn off this new iOS 9 setting if you don’t have unlimited data [Quartz]

Regulators Take Action Against Fifth Third Bank For Auto-Lending Discrimination, Illegal Credit Card Practices

Mon, 2015-09-28 21:17

fifthFederal regulators dished out a double dose of enforcement today by taking action against Fifth Third Bank for allegedly charging higher interest rates to minority borrowers for car loans and deceptively marketing credit card add-on products to bank customers. 

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, along with the Department of Justice, announced today that Fifth Third Bank must pay $18 million to harmed African-American and Hispanic auto loan borrowers, and an additional $3 million in relief to eligible consumers affected by deceptively marketed credit card add-on products.

Fifth Third Bank – which operates approximately 1,300 branches in 12 states – provides what are known as “indirect” auto loans to consumers, meaning it provides auto dealerships with loans at a set, risk-based interest rate and then allows the dealerships to add-on a “dealer markup,” which can then be split between the dealership and the bank.

The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) prohibits creditors from discriminating against loan applicants on the basis of categories like race and national origin.

The Bureau and the DOJ began looking into Fifth Third’s compliance with ECOA back in January 2013.

Since then, the agencies found that the bank charged African-American and Hispanic borrowers higher dealer markups for their auto loans than non-Hispanic white borrowers. These markups were without regard to the creditworthiness of the borrowers.

As a result of the illegal discriminatory pricing and compensation structure, the CFPB alleges that thousands of minority borrowers from January 2010 to September 2015 were charged on average over $200 more for their auto loans.

According to the terms of the settlement [PDF], Fifth Third must:
• pay $12 million into a settlement fund that will go to harmed African-American and Hispanic borrowers whose auto loans were financed by Fifth Third between January 2010 and September 2015;
• pay any additional funds necessary into the settlement fund to bring its total payment to harmed consumers to $18 million;
• hire a settlement administrator to distribute funds to victims;
• substantially reduce or eliminate entirely dealer discretion – only 1.25% above buy rate for auto loans with terms of 5 years or less, and 1% for auto loans with longer terms.

Today’s action against Fifth Third Bank is part of a larger joint effort between the CFPB and DOJ to identify and address discrimination in the direct and indirect auto lending market. Earlier this year, the agencies took action against Honda’s financing unit for similar violations. In that case, the company agreed to provide $24 million in restitution to borrowers who were affected by discriminatory loan pricing.

Two years ago, the agencies took action against Ally Financial and Ally Bank. In that case, the company was ordered to pay $80 million in restitution and a $18 million civil penalty.

In addition to the illegal discriminatory pricing action, the CFPB also took action against Fifth Third for violating the Dodd-Frank Act for deceptive acts or practices in the marketing and sales of its “Debt Protection” credit card add-on product.

According to the CFPB, from 2007 through February 2013, Fifth Third deceptively marketed and sold the product to its customers during telemarketing calls and online.

The product was marketed as a promise to allow enrolled cardholders to request the cancellation of credit card payments if they experienced certain hardships such as job loss, disability, and hospitalization.

Telemarketers did not tell some cardholders that by agreeing to receive information about the product, they were being enrolled and would be charged a fee, the complaint alleges.

Depending on the version of the product, consumers who enrolled were charged a monthly fee of either 0.81% or 0.89% of their card balance. In September 2012, Fifth Third ceased telemarketing the product and ceased all other enrollments in February 2013.

Additionally, from December 2011 through September 2012, Fifth Third sent cardholders product “fulfillment kits” that contained incorrect descriptions of the product’s cost, benefits, exclusions, terms, and conditions.

Among other things, the CFPB claims that Fifth Third’s illegal practices included: misrepresenting costs and fees for coverage; misrepresenting or omitting information about eligibility for coverage; and illegal practices in the enrollment process.

According to the terms of the settlement [PDF], Fifth Third must:
• provide $3 million in relief to roughly 24,500 customers;
• cease engaging in illegal practices; and
• pay a $500,000 penalty to the CFPB’s civil penalty fund.

Once Medicaid Decides That You’re Dead, It’s Hard To Come Back To Life

Mon, 2015-09-28 20:37

not_dead_yetWhen you’re dead, you generally can’t come back. It’s also difficult to come back when you’re actually alive, but the government thinks that you’re dead. An 87-year-old on Brooklyn is understandably worried, because Medicaid has declared her dead. If other government services believe them, dead people don’t need to do things like visit doctors or eat, so her income, food stamps, and health insurance would stop. This would be bad.

It was New York City’s Bureau of Fraud Investigation that declared the woman dead. They claim that records show that she’s deceased, and they’re ending her benefits. A “computer error” killed her off, but it’s not as easy as just hitting “undo” on that error and restoring her government services.

The process of appealing her alleged death means going to Social Security and to the state DMV so they will issue her a non-driver ID card. The problem is that all of that could take weeks, and she still needs money to live on and medical services right now.

For example, she’s being treated for cancer, and has already canceled a doctor’s appointment. If the federal government thinks that she’s dead, she won’t receive her Social Security check.

After a call from the local CBS affiliate, the city promises that they’re working on her case.

Brooklyn Woman Mistakenly Declared Dead, Has Medicaid Cut Off [CBS New York]

Hilton Looking Into Possible Hack Attack Affecting Guests Using Credit Cards At Its Restaurants, Gift Shops

Mon, 2015-09-28 20:26

(Adam Fagen)Hilton Hotels says it’s looking into a possible hack attack connected to point-of-sale registers and a variety of Hilton properties. If you bought something at a restaurant, gift shop or other store at a Hilton property recently, you should take a closer look at your credit card statements for any fraudulent activity.

According to security researcher Brian Krebs, who cites sources at five different banks, the breach appears to have taken place between April 21 and July 27, and is likely limited to credit card transactions at those POS registers.

Hotels under the Hilton name, as well as the company’s Embassy Suites, Doubletree, Hampton Inn and Suites, and Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts are believed to be affected.

Hilton now says it’s checking things out.

“Hilton Worldwide is strongly committed to protecting our customers’ credit card information. We have many systems in place and work with some of the top experts in the field to address data security,” the company said in a statement. “Unfortunately the possibility of fraudulent credit card activity is all too common for every company in today’s marketplace. We take any potential issue very seriously, and we are looking into this matter.”

If you bought anything at Hilton properties between April and July, now is definitely a good time to check out your credit card statements and look for any fraudulent charges from that hotel. The incident could date back to November 2014, however, and may still be ongoing.

Banks: Card Breach at Hilton Hotel Properties [Krebs On Security]

We Tried It: Does Country Crock’s New Formula Actually Taste Like Garbage?

Mon, 2015-09-28 19:39

Loyalty runs deep in the world of butter and butter-like spreads, so when Unilever changed the recipes of a few of its popular products (including Country Crock), die-hard customers accused the company of destroying the product.

“It is truly inedible, smells horrible, and ruins any food you put it in or on,” wrote one customer.

Was this true? Does the new Country Crock actually ruin waffles? If we made food using this revised spread, would a bite of it transport our taste buds to garbage town? To find out, we teamed up with our colleagues at the Consumer Reports sensory lab for an expertly-executed taste-test.

In response to the nationwide trend toward “simple” food options with recognizable ingredients, Unilever announced in 2014 that it would be reformulating its “portfolio” of spreads, including Country Crock, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, and Brummel & Brown.

What Happened To Country Crock, Exactly?
Unilever removed mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids (used as emulsifiers), preservatives like potassium sorbatate, citric acid, whey and artificial flavor, and replaced them with things like vinegar and “natural flavors.” This, due to Unilever’s new “commitment to deliver delicious, balanced foods made from real, simple ingredients that you can recognize.”

Judging by the response on social media and elsewhere, Country Crock customers didn’t know about, or approve of, the changes. They railed about the flavor of the spread, likening it to trash and spoiled dairy, and claimed the new version had ruined waffles. They also cited a “filmy” mouth coating and aftertaste.

“It is not good, in any way. The taste is awful, then there is a thick filmy after taste that is so bad my gag reflex took over,” wrote a former Country Crock fan.

That customers are unhappy is clear, but would science back up their claims?

Would Consumer Reports’ expert testers –with no knowledge of the complaints, in a blind taste-test — detect the “off” flavors described by consumers?

MethodologyImage courtesy of SCOTT DEFILLIPPO/CONSUMERIST Section Permalink Bookmark Section Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

To evaluate Country Crock’s new formula, Consumer Reports’ experts tasted the spread on or in:

  • Frozen waffles
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Sugar cookies (using a recipe taken from the Country Crock website)

They also tasted the waffles, mashed potatoes, and scrambled eggs plain (without spread) for comparison. The expert tasters were unaware of the Country Crock controversy and were not told what they were eating or why they were eating it.

Additionally, Consumer Reports‘ taste panel sampled Unilever’s three reformulated spreads (Country Crock, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, and Brummel & Brown) “straight up” in a blind tasting. Again, this means the tasters were given samples and asked to describe the quality and taste, but were not told what the sample was or why they were tasting it.

Preparing to take on the new Country Crock.

In addition to the official taste test, some brave (or foolhardy) Consumerist staff participated in an unscientific tasting, because as usual, if food is involved, we’re going to try it and you’re going to read about it.

ResultsImage courtesy of Meg Marco/Consumerist Section Permalink Bookmark Section Share on Facebook Share on Twitter


We used Idaho Mashed Potato Granules. Adding in Country Crock spread. Preparing a tray of samples for the sensory panelists.

Sensory panelists said: “The mashed potatoes were described as being moderately salty, slightly sour, with a mild potato flavor and slight diacetyl note (fake butter flavor like on movie theatre popcorn).”

Making notes on potatoes. Our unscientific thoughts: The untrained non-experts on the Consumerist staff didn’t have much of a problem with these potatoes, beyond the fact that being raised in predominantly butter households immediately triggers a “this is not butter” reaction.


Thanks, for the help, toaster. Is this waffle in the act of being ruined?

Sensory panelists said: “On the waffles, it had a butter-like flavor with no off-flavors but gave the waffle a soggy texture.”


Our unscientific thoughts: It didn’t exactly ruin the waffles, but again, there was a strong imitation butter flavor.


You can't make scrambled eggs without um, scrambling some eggs.


Sensory panelists said: “The panelists commented that the scrambled eggs had the look, taste, and texture of scrambled eggs but had some astringency and left a mouth coating.”

"I don't know eggsactly how to say this, but..." Our unscientific thoughts: Eating the eggs was fine, kind of like what you’d expect from say, hospital or airplane meals. But an off-putting, somewhat chemical film lingered on the tongue. It just would not… go… away. Not after coffee, not after brushing teeth. Some Consumerist staffers claim they can taste it to this day.


That is not a small amount of Country Crock.



Sensory panelists said: “The cookies were described as simple, plain, and low in flavor with a dry, soft texture and lacked the fullness you would get from cookies made from a high quality sugar cookie recipe made with real butter.”

Trying to figure this cookie out. Our unscientific thoughts: A Consumerist staffer spit this out, then tried it again, then spit it out. “So chalky,” she whispered. “So chalky.”

But even dry, weird Country Crock cookies couldn’t prepare the team for what was next.

To really put Country Crock to the test, we had our obliging panelists do what most people likely aren’t prepared for, and stuck some spoons in samples of the three reformulated spreads to try them on their own, without any other food to muddle the flavor.

Though our panelists were brave in the face of tasting mystery spreads, one tester joked that she felt she deserved “hazard pay,” for this project. Another observed that the panelists may be consuming more palate-cleansing, unsalted crackers than ever before. Because again, tasting margarine spreads “straight up” is not a lot of fun.

So with many thanks to our intrepid experts, we present the results:

Country Crock Original 40% Vegetable Oil Spread
Sensory panelists said: “Soft, mild spread with some diacetyl and a non-specific off-note.”

Our unscientific thoughts: Let’s just say we know exactly what customers are talking about. And we will never do that again. C'mon, try it.

Brummel & Brown 35% Oil Spread, 10% Nonfat Yogurt
Sensory panelists said: “Soft spread with diacetyl and slight cheesy flavors, slightly sour, and stale off notes. Texture is better than the flavor.” Of the three spreads, “Brummel & Brown had the most defects and may still be noticeable on foods,” the panel noted.


Our unscientific thoughts: One Consumerist staffer’s face immediately turned into a picture of pain, but another honestly thought the yogurt flavor made it more butter-like than the others.

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! Original 45% Vegetable Oil Spread
Sensory panelists said “Soft, decent butter substitute, moderate diacetyl, hint of dairy, and an oily mouthfeel.”

Our unscientific thoughts: This tastes like movie theater popcorn butter. We weren’t too mad at it. The Bottom Line

Though panelists didn’t find the vegetable oils spreads to be as objectionable as some customers had expressed, they did confirm “off flavors” and some texture issues with the new formulations, noting that they did taste different from the formulations they encountered in the last butter substitutes project (reported in the March 2012 issue of Consumer Reports). No off flavors were noted in the original spread formulations.

“Consumers who were used to a particular taste and expectation may be reacting strongly to any change in their coveted product,” the panelists note. The level of acceptance of the new spread with loyal customers may depend on which foods they put it on or in.

Another interesting finding: Of the three spreads tested, the testers found that Brummel and Brown had “the most defects.”

Our unscientific thoughts: Was this the Country Crock we encountered in our youths? No. Were Consumerist staffers violently offended by it or any of the spreads? Not really — except when tasting them straight-up, which is something we would advise against in general because, well, it’s gross.

For now, we’ll leave you with this: Let’s all just be glad these creepy-handed Country Crock ads are a thing of the past:

Possible Scammer Threatens To Call Police On The Police Asking Questions About Suspicious Mailing

Mon, 2015-09-28 19:32
(Alan Rappa)

Who’s a scammer to turn to for help when they feel they’re being harassed? Apparently, the authorities: police in Massachusetts say they were investigating a possible scam targeting senior citizens, and called up the alleged scammer with a few questions — who then threatened to call the cops.

Burlington police wrote on Twitter about the trouble they had while investigating a potential scam targeting residents in the area (h/t CBS Boston), after some people received a postcard alerting them to a package they had waiting to be delivered, that they didn’t know they had coming to them. The mailing asks for a credit card number to get the package on its way to the recipients, which sounds a lot like a scam.

Police called the number listed on the card to ask a few questions, but a woman who picked up couldn’t provide a legitimate address or company name. She hung up, and the police called back, and spoke to a woman who threatened to call the police on the police.

So then, in an unusual turn of events, "Sue" threatens to call the police on us!

— Burlington Police MA (@burlingtonpd) September 26, 2015

When a Twitter follower told police they should’ve given the woman the main number for the Burlington Police Department and have her report their call, police said that’s exactly what they did.

@MikeBarry_Lynn we did just that…

— Burlington Police MA (@burlingtonpd) September 26, 2015

According to the police department’s Twitter account, cops are still looking into the business and its mailer in an attempt to verify whether it is indeed, a scam or some kind of legitimate venture.

Here’s more info on how you can help protect your loved ones from suspected elder scams.