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The Consumerist

Samsung Adds Warning Stickers To Galaxy Note 5 So Owners Won’t Stick Stylus In The Wrong Way

Wed, 2015-11-18 19:35

(J. Williams on YouTube)To protect Galaxy Note 5 owners from themselves, Samsung wants to make sure they’re fully warned before they accidentally break their devices: the company is adding stickers to the product’s packaging alerting users that there’s a right way and a wrong way to stow styluses, and doing it incorrectly could do permanent damage to their phones.

See, in previous versions of the Galaxy Note, the stylus was larger on one end than on the other, preventing users from sticking the stylus in incorrectly (h/t Tech Times). But in this latest iteration, Samsung did away with that design, allowing owners to insert the S Pen backwards. Doing so can cause the stylus to get stuck in the slot, and potentially damaging the pen detection mechanism.

Without that feature, many stylus features on the phone can’t be used, even if you somehow removed the S Pen.

To make sure users are aware of the potential risk to their phones, the company has now added stickers to the phone’s screens (first spotted in an unboxing video from YouTube User J. Williams) that describe exactly how to position the S Pen correctly, noting that proceeding differently “can damage the pen and your phone.”

City Forgets To Send Homeowner Trash Bill For 2 Years, Then Sends $800 Bill

Wed, 2015-11-18 19:18

2YEARSTRASHWhen a city provides trash pickup, the homeowner is supposed to receive a bill for it in some form. In theory. One homeowner in California received a $21 monthly bill from the city, and he assumed that this included trash pickup. One shouldn’t assume that a bill includes anything, it turns out.

After two years of homeownership, he suddenly received a $807 bill from the city for all of the trash pickup that it didn’t bill him for for the whole period. As a first-time homeowner, he didn’t have past bills from the same city to compare the bills he was receiving to, and didn’t know that he was supposed to be receiving a trash bill.

He turned to CBS Sacramento’s problem-solving team, and they talked to the forgetful city, Elk Grove. A representative explained that this viewer wasn’t alone in having billing issues: they recently audited trash bills, and found that about sixty local households had problems with their bills.

The city also reserves the right to back bill for up to three years, but that could mean dropping four-figure trash pickup bills in taxpayers’ mailboxes and expecting them to be paid immediately.

This story has a happy ending, which may have been because he called in a local TV news station. The city agreed to work out a payment plan for him, and he will have another two years to pay back the $807 under his very careful budget.

Call Kurtis: City Forgets to Bill for Trash for 2 Years; Sends Large Bill [CBS Sacramento]

New York State Adds Yahoo To Inquiry Into Daily Fantasy Sports Sites

Wed, 2015-11-18 19:01

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 12.51.57 PMFour months after Yahoo announced it would offer sports fans the opportunity to make money by betting on professional athletes’ performances, the company became the latest target in a New York state investigation into the business practices of the currently unregulated multi-million dollar online daily fantasy sports industry. 

The New York Times, citing a person familiar with the matter, reports that the New York Attorney General’s Office issued a subpoena to Yahoo related to the ongoing investigation into other online fantasy sites FanDuel and DraftKings.

Yahoo Sports Daily Fantasy – the third largest daily online fantasy sports site behind FanDuel and DraftKings – continued to allow New Yorkers to play daily fantasy games as of Wednesday.

The online fantasy service is available through a mobile app and allows users to compete in groups or individually by betting on a professional athlete’s performance. The site is currently only available in the United States, except for Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, and Washington.

“Yahoo does not comment on legal matters,” a spokesman said in a statement to the NYT. “We are monitoring industry trends and events closely and believe that we offer a lawful product for our Daily Fantasy Sports users.”

News of Yahoo’s inclusion in ongoing daily fantasy investigation comes just hours after New York Attorney General Eric Schnedierman filed lawsuits against both FanDuel and DraftKings, seeking to stop them from offering their service to New Yorkers.

According to the lawsuits, business practices utilized by the companies violate state laws that prohibit the promotion of gambling and “repeated or persistent fraudulent conduct.”

The complaints claim that these sites run “casino-style gambling operation[s]… where bettors can wager up to $10,000 per ‘line-up’ and enter for a chance to win jackpots of more than $1 million.”

Combined, the two companies have spent nearly $100 million on advertising this year. DraftKings ads promote the site with statements like, “It’s the simplest way of winning life-changing piles of cash,” while FanDuel likes to say, “anybody can play, anybody can succeed.”

The lawsuits also take issue with the sites’ “anyone can win” advertising, and point to the companies’ own data to show that the vast majority of players lose money.

In 2013 and 2014, 74% of the people who spent the most money on FanDuel lost money. During those same years, 89.3% of all DraftKings players had an overall negative return on investment on the site.

By allegedly misrepresenting that a casual player is likely to win a jackpot and that daily fantasy is not gambling, the state argues that these sites have engaged in deceptive acts and practices in violation of the state’s general business law.

As we’ve explained before, fantasy sports betting was exempted from a 2006 law barring financial institutions from transferring money to these sites. The argument at the time was that fantasy sports are games of skill, rather than gambling.

Still, online fantasy sports sites like FanDuel and DraftKings – and now Yahoo – have become the center of intense scrutiny from federal and state regulators and law enforcement agencies in recent months.

Back in October, the FBI announced it had opened an investigation into the legality of online daily fantasy sports sites. That same day, Nevada gaming regulators declared that these sites are unlicensed gambling businesses and barred them from operating in the state.

Just a month later, New York jumped on the investigation bandwagon after Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sent letters to both DraftKings and FanDuel telling them to cease and desist selling their fantasy sports betting services in the state after concluding that, according to New York state law, the daily fantasy sports sites are unlicensed gambling operations.

End Sought to Fantasy Sites in New York; Yahoo Is Said to Be Added to Inquiry [The New York Times]

Authorities Clear Two Paris-Bound Air France Flights Diverted Over Anonymous Threats

Wed, 2015-11-18 18:18

(Juan Rodriguez - PMI/LEPA)Two Air France flights bound for Paris from the U.S. that received anonymous threats phoned in while they were in the air have been cleared by authorities and declared safe.

Both flights were diverted after takeoff — one flying from Los Angeles to Paris was diverted to Salt Lake City, while around the same time, a plane that took off from Dulles International Airport near D.C. was diverted to Halifax, Canada, the Associated Press reports.

Passengers were removed from both planes safely and taken to terminals while authorities investigated and interviewed travelers. Late last night, the FBI said officials found no credible threat. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police also said investigators didn’t detect evidence of an explosive device after searching the plane and its cargo.

“As a precautionary measure and to conduct all necessary security checks, Air France … decided to request the landings of both aircraft,” the carrier said in a statement at the time, adding that the “source of the telephone call” was being investigated.

Passengers on the L.A. to Paris flight took off again around 12:29 a.m. Wednesday, while the passengers in Canada will have to wait until tonight to fly to Paris.

“We received a complaint of a bomb threat and we responded to it,” RCMP Constable Mark Skinner told the AP of that flight.

No threat found on both diverted flights from US to Paris [Associated Press]

3 Things We’ve Learned About How Demographics, Credit Scores & Marital Status Affect Your Car Insurance Rates

Wed, 2015-11-18 18:00

When you get a quote for car insurance, you might think that only a few things matter — your driving record, the cost and use of your vehicle, the type of coverage you need, and other factors directly related to operating an automobile. But the fact is that many insurers are basing your insurance quotes on data points that have nothing to do with driving, like your credit score, marital status, and ZIP code. New research shows that determining price using these types of demographic and financial factors (rather than driving record alone) can have a serious impact on the affordability of car insurance. 


New research shows that drivers who live in predominantly (more than 75%) white ZIP codes are seeing significantly lower car insurance quotes than those seen by drivers in predominantly African-American areas.
Even when controlled for population density and income, these pricing disparities can still be found.
Insurance companies often use credit scores to determine their premiums. This can result in drivers with DWI convictions — but pristine credit — paying less for insurance than drivers with pristine driving records, but poor credit.
Most major insurers charge higher rates to single (and sometimes widowed) drivers, though this disparity can vary wildly (from 0% to more than 200%) depending on where you live.

While some states have restrictions on the use of things like credit scores in setting an auto insurance premium, only California has a law requiring insurers to offer drivers with clean driving records the lowest premium for which they qualify.

Recent reports from the Consumer Federation of America, and our colleagues at Consumers Union and Consumer Reports have tried to spotlight the various ways in which auto insurers use these unrelated — or at best tangentially related — bits of information to determine how much people will pay for coverage.

Since reading about insurance can be a slog, we’ve tried to boil down some of the most important discoveries to come out of this research.

1. Drivers in predominantly African-American ZIP codes tend to pay more than those living in areas with mostly white residents

This is the conclusion of a report released today by the Consumer Federation of America, which compared quotes from the nation’s five largest insurers to see what effect, if any, the use of non-driving factors had on the price of auto insurance in predominately African-American communities. As we explore the findings of the report, it’s important to note that the analysis did not attempt to prove that auto insurance companies were intentionally raising prices for consumers who live in predominately African-American ZIP codes. The CFA’s research addresses the impact of auto insurance pricing methodologies on these communities, and provides compelling evidence that the current methods of pricing of auto insurance result in good drivers in predominantly African-American communities paying higher prices than similarly situated drivers in predominantly white communities, even when controlling for factors such as urban-density and income.

What You Can Do

If you believe that insurance rates should be based on your driving record and not unrelated factors, you can check this petition from our colleagues at Consumers Union.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners also has an interactive map linking to the sites for insurance regulators in each state.

The same fictional driver profile — 30-year-old single female with a clean driving record, no lapses in coverage, steady employment, a rental apartment, and a “Fair” credit rating, driving a 2000 Honda Civic around 10,000 miles a year — was used to obtain quotes from the insurers in all of the areas included in the survey.

Researchers looked at insurance premiums for this fictional driver in a variety of environments — urban to rural — and across average income levels of area residents, from below $20,000 a year to more than $100,000 annually.

According to the report, “on average, a good driver in a predominantly African-American community will pay considerably more for state-mandated auto insurance coverage than a similarly situated driver in a predominantly white community.”

More precisely, researchers found that when a neighborhood’s racial makeup is at least 75% African-American, car insurance premiums average 70% higher than those quoted for the same driver living someplace where the African-American population is below 25%. For the fictional driver in the study, that means a difference of more than $400 per year ($1,060, compared to $622).

Even at lower concentrations of African-American residents, the average premiums are still significantly more expensive. That same driver would face an average rate of $831 (a 34% difference) if she lived in a community that was between half and three-quarters African-American. The average premium drops to $768 when white residents account for half to three-quarters of the population. That’s still around 24% higher than people pay in predominantly white ZIP codes.

On average, drivers living in predominantly African-American ZIP codes see premiums that are 70% higher than prices in predominantly white areas.
Consumer Federation of America

These are all national averages, and include both rural and urban communities. To get a more accurate comparison, CFA also looked at drivers in similarly dense ZIP codes — and once again found disparities.

In the densest urban communities — where premiums are typically high because of traffic, crime, and potential for damage — the average premium ($1,797) in predominantly African-American ZIP codes is 60% percent higher than in dense urban areas populated primarily by white residents ($1,126); a difference of more than $600.

The gap isn’t as distinct in rural ZIP codes, where predominantly white communities see an average of $542 for their insurance premiums, 23% less than the $669 average found in predominantly African-American rural areas.

The biggest difference in insurance premiums was found when CFA researchers compared upper middle-income drivers. In predominantly white ZIP codes where the average annual income was between $63,000 to $102,000, insurance premiums averaged $717. Compare that to the same income range for predominantly African-American ZIP codes, where the average premium clocked in at $2,113 — an increase of 194%, nearly triple the cost to the driver.

And since having a car is not optional for most working adults — and having insurance is required everywhere but New Hampshire — CFA’s research suggests that some people earning a decent living are effectively being compelled to pay an additional $1,400 a year despite having a clean driving record.

Progressive & Farmers charge drivers in African-American neighborhoods rates nearly double their premiums for drivers in mostly white ZIP codes.

Of the five insurance companies included in the report, Progressive and Farmers demonstrated the most obvious gulf between rates in predominantly white and predominantly African-American neighborhoods. Both companies quoted rates for drivers living in mostly African-American communities that were nearly double the average premium for the same driver in ZIP codes where white residents account for at least three-quarters of the population (Progressive: $1,332 vs. $694; Farmers: $1,271 vs. $662).

GEICO had the lowest average rates of the five (predominantly white: $575; predominantly African-American: $876), but that’s still a difference of 53% for — not to beat this horse to death — the same driver profile.

The CFA says the goal of this report is not to claim that insurers are intentionally charging more in non-white communities.

“We believe, instead, that it would be more productive to focus on the impact of high auto insurance prices and the implications these findings should have for industry, regulators, and policymakers,” reads the report.

As a result of their research, the CFA is calling on state legislators and insurance regulators to, among other things, require that all insurers provide a pricing report showing the premium for a standardized, safe driver in every ZIP code in the state.

Ideally, the report would also include demographic information about each ZIP code, as that added transparency would effectively require insurers to explain why certain communities are paying more or less than others.

2. Convicted drunk drivers with good credit might have better premiums than good drivers with poor credit

You can understand why a poor credit history would result in higher auto loan rates. But what does your failure to make a student loan payment seven years ago, or an unexpectedly huge medical bill you couldn’t pay right away, have to do with the likelihood that you’ll get into an accident?

It’s not like the insurance companies aren’t checking your driving history; if you have a clean driving record, it shouldn’t matter whether your FICO score is 600 or 800.

And yet in all but three states — California, Hawaii, and Massachusetts — insurers are allowed to use your creditworthiness to determine your insurance premium.

Earlier this year, Consumer Reports found that credit scores can have more effect on your insurance rates than any other factor.

In some states, drivers with moving violations on their record could end up paying less than drivers with clean records, solely because of a difference in credit scores.

See the chart below for an example. According to CR’s research (also using fictional, standardized driver profiles), drivers in Kansas with “Excellent” credit and a pristine driving record average $965 a year in car premiums. Merely having “Good” credit raises that average by $233 a year. If a Kansan has “Poor” credit, their insurance could soar to $2,266/year, nearly 2.5 times the rate for someone with credit.

More importantly, it’s almost $1,000 more than the average premium seen by a driver with a drunk driving conviction. So insurers in this case are saying that someone with bad credit is more of an insurance risk than someone whose record shows they willingly risked their lives and others’ by driving while intoxicated.

“From a public safety perspective, this makes no sense,” explains Norma Garcia, senior attorney at Consumers Union.

Tomorrow, Garcia will be testifying before the National Association of Insurance Commissioners about the mysterious world of insurance rates, where she intends to raise the issue of penalizing a driver with poor credit more than one with a DWI conviction.

“According to the most recently available statistics from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there were over 11,000 known blood alcohol content related driver deaths in 2013,” notes Garcia in her prepared remarks. “No doubt, the hazards of drunk driving are painfully real. By contrast, despite the negative view of drivers with poor credit held by many insurance companies, we are not aware of any traffic fatalities attributable to poor credit, yet in many cases, these drivers continue to pay more than the most hazardous drivers on the road.”

3. Unmarried and widowed drivers sometimes pay more than than married folks

In July, the CFA released a report on how marital status impacts car insurance rates. Of the six insurers included in the study, only one — State Farm — showed no variation in rates between single drivers and married ones.

The other insurers — GEICO, Farmers, Progressive, Nationwide, and Liberty — have no such blanket policy with regard to marital status, and single drivers often pay more.

In many parts of the country, singles paid these insurers more than their married counterparts, with the range of rate increases ranging wildly from 0% to more than 200%.

Age didn’t matter, says CFA. The range of price hikes for their fictional 30-year-old single driver were effectively the same when they obtained quotes for a 50-year-old.

What does seem to matter is location. Researchers looked at rates in 10 different markets around the country and found that the insurers were inconsistent in their application of these pricing differences.

For example, in Boston, Farmers quoted rates 12.5% higher for singles than married customers. But in Tampa, the insurer charges single drivers nearly 34% more than married drivers in that market. Then in California, where marital status is only allowed as a low-impact “optional” factor in setting prices, Farmers charges the exact same price regardless of whether or not you’ve ever been married.

While the other insurers made no distinction between single, divorced, and divorced drivers, GEICO bucked this trend by sometimes charging varying amounts for all the different ways in which a driver can be single.

“Hiking rates on women whose husbands die seems both unfair and inhumane.”

Stephen Brobeck

In Louisville, for example, GEICO charges five different rates in six different categories, with “separated” drivers paying the most (nearly triple the premium for married drivers), but divorced drivers seeing the smallest difference (though still almost double the base married rate).

While one could try to argue that being single — even by divorce — is a matter of choice that might reflect on a driver’s likelihood to take risks, what seems indefensible is the higher premiums some insurers charge to widows.

CFA researchers made their young driver a widow, and saw her rates quotes go up by an average of 14%.

“Hiking rates on women whose husbands die seems both unfair and inhumane,” said Stephen Brobeck, CFA’s Executive Director, at the time of the study. “Why don’t insurers instead emphasize driving-related factors such as accidents, traffic violations, and miles driven in their pricing?”

Regulators Close Investigation Into Ford Door Latch Issues

Wed, 2015-11-18 17:14
(Van Swearington)

More than a year after opening a probe into why the door latches on certain Ford vehicles refused to stay shut, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration closed the door (horrible pun) on the investigation after determining a recall initiated by the carmaker fixed the problem. 

NHTSA announced in new filings [PDF] that it had closed its year-long investigation into 456,000 Ford vehicles following a recall by the carmaker to replace all four door latches on affected models.

That recall, which took place in April 2014, appears to address the safety risks surrounding the door latch issue, NHTSA says.

In all, the Office of Defects Investigation received 281 consumer complaint about doors failing to latch or inadvertently opening in model year 2011-2013 Ford Fiesta, model year 2013 Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ vehicles.

Of the complaints, 100 involved doors opening inadvertently while the vehicle was in motion.

In addition to the ODI reports, Ford received 1,100 complaints related to the problem, including two claims of low-speed crashes involving the door opening while driving and damaging property.

While there were no crashes reported, three separate injuries were indicated, all caused by a rebounding door striking a consumer after they attempted to close it.

Owners of affected vehicles indicated they had restrain the door by looping the seatbelt through its handle, or using rope or tape to keep the door in place when the latches failed.

[via The Detroit News]

Instagram Putting The Kibosh On Many Third-Party Apps In Wake Of Password Thefts

Wed, 2015-11-18 17:06

(i Very Am)Instagram is tightening its grip on which unofficial apps it will suffer to live, after it was revealed that one third-party app was harvesting users’ passwords.

The social media service announced major revisions to its API policy yesterday, which means insta-death for a slew of Instagram-viewing apps and sets down strict rules for apps that survive the kill-off.

Instagram says the changes are being made “to improve people’s control over their content and set up a more sustainable environment built around authentic experiences on the platform.”

As of Tuesday, Instagram won’t be taking applications from new apps that want to integrate with it. And when it finally does open the doors to applications again in December, it will only allow apps to do certain things: photo-editing is cool, for example, as are services that pull from photos you’ve posted yourself. Want to print your Instagram photo or import as a profile picture? Apps that help you with that are also copacetic. Any apps that pull in a full Instagram feed will not be allowed, however.

Existing apps already on the market have until June 1 to comply with the new policies, and will be subject to a new review process.

American Medical Association Calls To Ban Ads For Prescription Drugs, Medical Devices

Wed, 2015-11-18 16:42

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 10.34.35 AMIn the future when you tune in to watch the big game or your favorite primetime show there might be something missing during the commercial break: ads for prescription drugs and medical devices. The American Medical Association proposed a ban on such advertisements Tuesday, claiming the marketing may be driving consumer demand for unnecessary and expensive treatments. 

The Chicago Tribune reports that the AMA adopted a policy on Tuesday that supports such a ban and calls for greater transparency in advertised prescription drug costs.

AMA is just the latest health organization to push for a ban on advertising prescription drugs: groups like World Health Organization, the National Center for Health Research, as well as consumer advocacy groups, like Public Citizen, have previously raised concerns that such advertisements pressure doctors to prescribe particular medications that may be less effective or more expensive.

“Today’s vote in support of an advertising ban reflects concerns among physicians about the negative impact of commercially driven promotions, and the role that marketing costs play in fueling escalating drug prices,” Dr. Patrice A. Harris, the AMA’s incoming chair, said in a statement.

The Tribune reports that drug makers spent $4.5 billion on consumer advertising last year, and $20 billion in the last five years.

The top 10 advertised drugs include two for erectile dysfunction, three for arthritis, two for mental health issues and one each for stroke prevention, fibromyalgia, and diabetes.

Drugmakers have defended their advertising stance, saying it encourages people to seek medical advice and helps to remove stigma about certain conditions.

AMA doesn’t want you to see those Cialis ads [The Chicago Tribune]

Google Relaunching Google+ In Attempt To Convince People To Actually Use It

Wed, 2015-11-18 15:55

newgoogplusRemember when Google wanted people use Google+ for all their social media, photos and video needs? Then you probably also remember that it didn’t work out quite so well for Google, which ended up cutting up the platform into its most useful parts, like the photos feature. But the technology giant isn’t quite ready to give up on the social service yet, and is instead launching it anew.

Google is taking a fresh tack with Google+ this time around, the company announced in a blog post: instead of trying to push the service as a kind of catch-all social media tool, Google+ will be focused on Communities and Collections, which are two of the most popular features of the service, according to Google.

Communities have been around since 2012 and are basically groups: you know, clusters of people with similar interests and hobbies who enjoy talking about those topics. Collections is new this year, and works somewhat like Pinterest, allowing users to group posts about a certain topic into a package that others might be interested in checking out.


Google says the redesigned Google+ will put those two features front and center, and that the platform is now focused around interests. It’s more mobile-friendly as well, the company says, as it’s rebuilt it across web, Android and iOS.

To use the new version of Google+, you’ll have to opt-in, which you can find out more about here.

Pennsylvania Proposes $50M Fine Against Uber For Operating Without Approval

Wed, 2015-11-18 15:40

uberlogodogsUber’s tendency to begin operations now and ask for permission later seems to have backfired in a big way in Pennsylvania, with two judges for the state’s taxi and bus regulatory agency recommending a $50 million fine against the ride-hailing company for operating without first getting the proper state approval. 

The record fine, which is subject to approval by the Public Utilities Commission, aims to hold Uber accountable for thousands of rides it provided during a six-month period in 2014 when the company lacked authorization to do so, the Associated Press reports.

The judges said in a written ruling that they disagreed with Uber’s argument that its actions were not serious as it provided needed transportation alternatives and because it’s a software company whose services aren’t necessarily available to the public at large.

Uber maintained that the broker license it held was adequate and that the commission’s investigation and enforcement arm did not prove any harm occurred.

The company obtained proper authorization and complied with the commission’s directives starting in August 2014.

However, the judges found that the company arranged a “large number” of trips before obtaining a two-year emergency authorization to operate by the state. Additionally, Uber drivers had at least nine accidents during that period that could lead to an insurance claim, a company official told the judges.

“Uber took a more active role in providing transportation service than simply providing the Uber app for people with cars to use to provide rides for people who need transportation — it was not a disinterested invisible entity in the background,” wrote judges Mary Long and Jeffrey Watson.

A spokesperson for Uber tells the AP that the company is disappointed in the recommendation and hopes to come to a “reasonable resolution.”

The proposed fine, which would be the largest ever imposed against Uber, includes $73,000 related to the ride-sharing service’s action during the investigation, such as failing to produce documents as required, and penalties for continuing to operate after being issued a cease-and-desist order by the commission.

“There is no question that Uber’s conduct in the litigation of this complaint has been obstructive,” the judges wrote in their recommendation.

Uber has 30 days to respond to the recommendation before it can be approved.

Pennsylvania judges propose record $50M fine against Uber [The Associated Press]

Medical Data Privacy Laws Don’t Actually Cover Apps, Wearables, And Other Consumer Stuff

Wed, 2015-11-18 15:18

(frankieleon)The future’s really cool sometimes: We get to use all sorts of new technology tools and cloud-based services to help us manage our health. That constellation of apps, trackers, tests, and gadgets gives huge insight into our health and bodies, which is useful to millions… but it also lets a stunning amount of the most personal data out into the wild, unregulated and uncontrolled.

ProPublica tells the story of how one security expert stumbled upon just how insecure that data can be. She bought a home paternity test for fun, to experiment with the tech. And when she went to look at the results, she discovered a Maury-friendly surprise: one little tweak in her browser’s address bar gave her instant access to an enormous directory containing over 6000 customers’ data.

If that seems like a glaring violation of medical data privacy law to you, well, it did to her, too.

Health data is, of course, very protected information. Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), medical providers have to adhere to both a Privacy Rule and a Security Rule that governs what they are allowed to do with your medical information and the penalties for failing to keep that data safe.

But HIPAA isn’t universal; not all businesses have to adhere to it. Covered entities — the people and organizations that are subject to following HIPAA restrictions — include health care practitioners, health insurance companies and plans, and “health care clearinghouses,” which are businesses that process health information between other health companies.

Anyone who works with or for any of those covered entities is also subject to HIPAA. So, for example, the businesses that process medical bills (a task not usually performed in-house) or any subcontractors that work for any covered entity in any capacity are also subject to the rule.

The feds offer a flowchart (PDF) to help figure out who is and is not subject to HIPAA data protections, which is helpful when it comes to actual people performing work in their various settings. It gets a little tricker, though, when your “provider” is an app or a gadget. Because those, it turns out, are not covered at all.

That’s what the security expert with the home paternity test discovered when she tried to report what she presumed was a flagrant violation of patient record security to the Department of Health and Human Services. HHS responded to her complaint more or less with a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯: nothing they could do about the easy breach, because use-at-home tests sold to consumers aren’t covered entities.

HIPAA is pretty specific about who has to be held to its standards, to minimize loopholes. But the law was written almost twenty years ago, when the idea that your doctor’s office could use a computer instead of a giant archive full of paper was still a brand-new and novel concept. There’s no place in it for apps, personal wearable health and fitness trackers, consumer-focused online repositories, home drug or DNA testing services, or any of the other innovations of the 21st century.

ProPublica points out that this is a growing problem: an unsecured database made an Australian business’s full paternity and drug test data accessible through a simple Google search in 2011. In 2014, police were able to use a publicly accessible genealogy database to match DNA to crime suspects.

In 2009, Congress passed a law updating HIPAA and requiring HHS and the FTC, which has oversight of privacy and data breaches, to work together and submit recommendations on how to handle sensitive health data that isn’t covered under HIPAA. Six years later, that report is still in progress.

Privacy Not Included: Federal Law Lags Behind New Tech [ProPublica]

Reminder: A Legitimate Online Retailer Will Not Ask For Payment In Amazon Gift Cards

Wed, 2015-11-18 15:00

(DCvision2006)An online retailer that isn’t Amazon, yet who asks to be paid in Amazon gift cards? That might sound strange to practiced scam-spotters, but there are apparently shoppers who don’t find that idea suspicious. They should: gift cards don’t have the same fraud protections as credit or debit card payments.

One shopper learned that the hard way while shopping for a new grill. He shared his story with his local CBS station so other shoppers could be warned, too. The vendor (which has since shut down) told customers that by accepting payment in gift cards rather than by credit or debit card, they wouldn’t have to charge sales tax.

That isn’t actually how sales tax works: if anything, an alternate payment method would save the retailer credit card processing fees, which they may or may not pass on to the customer. It doesn’t really matter, though, since the site wasn’t actually selling grills. Or anything else.

The customer was told to send an e-gift card from Amazon to an address at the site, and then didn’t hear anything back. “I wrote 15-20 emails, and they never answered,” he told local news. Then the site disappeared.

Here’s why only accepting payment in Amazon gift cards can be a great scam: while Amazon says that they will freeze e-gift cards in some cases when the sender alleges fraud, this wasn’t one of them.

Since he had used a standard credit card to purchase the Amazon gift card, the customer was able to reverse the charge with his credit card company, but now Amazon insists that he owes them the full amount of the gift card.

Online Shoppers Warned Of Gift Card Scam [CBS Boston]

Not Even Diaper Pail Bags Are Spared From Target Math

Tue, 2015-11-17 23:37

Buying in bulk is usually the way to save money on an item that you know you’ll be buying a lot of… like, for example, special deodorizing bags for your diaper pail. Unless you’re shopping at Target. Then, the normal rules don’t apply, and you shouldn’t assume that buying one package of 20 items will be cheaper than two packages of 10 or even four packages of five.

Reader Jamie sent over this example from the baby aisle. Sure, babies don’t know how to count, but adults who slap price tags on items for babies know how to count. Don’t they?

The picture is blurry, for which she apologizes. Life in the baby aisle is hectic.


10 bags: $6.59
20 bags: $13.49

Jamie did the math for us. “At these prices, buying 2 packs of 10 was cheaper ($13.18 compared to $13.49).” It’s not a big difference, but apparently Target really doesn’t want to move those larger boxes. Of anything.

Toilet Paper Clearance At Target Means You Pay 86¢ More
More Examples Of Target Math: They Never Said It Was “On Sale”
At Target And Walmart, Save More Money By Not Buying In Bulk

Addyi, Libido-Boosting Pill For The Ladies, Not A Big Hit

Tue, 2015-11-17 22:59

(Curtis Perry)Once the Food and Drug Administration approved Addyi, a failed antidepressant repackaged as a libido pill for women, drug-maker Valeant Pharmaceuticals bought the company selling Addyi for $1 billion. If they were expecting to cash in on a blockbuster drug, early sales aren’t very promising: in the first month, only 227 prescriptions for the drug have been written.

As we explained when Addyi was finally approved on its third time through the FDA process, the drug began its existence as an antidepressant that wasn’t particularly effective. Some women who took part in trials noticed a useful side effect, though, and eventually the drug was tested as a libido aid.

The number of women for whom the drug is effective is relatively small, which means a patient would need to take it for a few months, then decide whether it improved her sex life enough to risk its side effects and pay for the drug, with or without insurance.

Only 5,600 doctors have gone through the 10 minutes of training that certifies them to prescribe Addyi, which is another factor that helps explain why so few prescriptions have been written so far. At the same point in Viagra’s history, doctors had written 500,000 prescriptions. (Addyi is often compared to Viagra despite being almost nothing like Viagra whatsoever.)

The Female Libido Pill Is No Viagra [Bloomberg News] (via Jezebel)

Feds File Criminal, Civil Cases Against More Than 100 Supplement Companies

Tue, 2015-11-17 22:55

Criminal charges have been filed against USP Labs -- the maker of Jack3d -- and several of its principals by federal prosecutors.A sweeping multi-agency federal investigation has resulted in a slew of criminal and civil charges being brought against more than 100 companies that either make or market supposed dietary supplements for selling products that allegedly contain ingredients other than those listed on the label, or products that make unsubstantiated health or disease-treatment claims.

The investigation, resulting in court cases being filed in 18 states, involved the Justice Department, the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the IRS.

The headliner criminal indictment [PDF] was filed in a California federal court against Dallas-based USP Labs, and several of its executives and senior level employees. Four of those employees were arrested Tuesday morning, with the other two slated to surrender themselves. The defendants’ assets — including investment accounts, real estate, and luxury cars — have been seized.

Prosecutors allege that USP, perhaps best known for supplements like Jack3d and OxyElite Pro, conspired to import ingredients from China using false certificates of analysis and false labeling, then lied about the source and nature of those ingredients after it put them in its products. The labels for these products claimed they contained natural plant extracts, but the indictment alleges that USP used a synthetic stimulant manufactured in a Chinese chemical factory.

The indictment also alleges that the defendants knew of studies that linked their products to liver toxicity, but chose to ignore that evidence.

In Oct. 2013, after OxyElite Pro had been implicated in an outbreak of liver injuries, USP told the FDA it would stop distribution of the supplement. But according to the indictment, USP endeavored to unload as much of the product as it could in a short period of time.

The DOJ and FDA teamed up for a number of civil cases filed in the last week.

The suit against Clifford Woods LLC (d/b/a “Vibrant Life”) alleges that the company unlawfully misled consumers by marketing Taheebo Life Tea, Life Glow Plus, Germanium and Organic Sulfur (identified as methyl sulfonyl methane) as treatments for medical conditions like Alzheimer’s and cancer without any proof or approval.

The company behind the supplement Viruxo misleadingly marketed the dietary supplement as a treatment for herpes, according to prosecutors.

Optimum Health — the company that made products like DMSO Cream, DMSO Cream with Aloe, and DMSO Roll On — is accused of illegally marketing these items as treatments arthritis and cancer.

Bethel Nutritional Consulting and its principals allegedly distributed dietary supplements in a manner that does not conform to current good manufacturing practice for dietary supplements. The company is also accused of making claims about the uses for many of the products that render them unapproved and misbranded drugs. FDA testing of Bethel products turned up evidence of active pharmaceutical ingredients not listed on the products’ labels, including one ingredient that was withdrawn from the market in 2010 because of safety concerns.

VivaCeuticals, Inc. (d/b/a Regeneca Worldwide) allegedly sold adulterated supplements like RegeneSlim Appetite Control, which was found to contain the ingredient 1, 3 dimethylamylamine (DMAA), an unsafe food additive under the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

Still hungry for more lawsuits? Good, because we’ve got them. The FTC and DOJ partnered up for some civil actions of their own against companies with allegedly deceptive marketing.

Florida-based Sunrise Nutraceuticals is accused of falsely claiming that dietary supplement Elimidrol alleviates opiate withdrawal symptoms and increases a user’s likelihood of overcoming opiate addiction.

Six individuals and five companies have been sued by the government for allegedly making false and misleading health and efficacy claims online and in direct mail ads for products like W8-B-Gone (get it? Weight-be-gone… ugh), CITRI-SLIM 4, and Quick & Easy diet pills. These ads featured bogus weight-loss experts, used fictional scientific studies, and lied about having clinical proof that users would experience a “RAPID FAT meltdown diet program.”

Then there’s NPB Advertising, Inc., another company to try to ride the “Dr. Oz effect” from that one show where the good doctor (who is not at all an ethically questionable shill for the lose-weight-quick industry) touted green coffee bean extract as a “miracle” weight loss product. NPB is accused of using false weight-loss claims and fake news websites to market “Pure Green Coffee.”

Original Taco Bell Building Saved From Demolition, Will Be Moved To Taco Bell HQ

Tue, 2015-11-17 22:32

OriginalDowneyTacoBell[2]After facing demolition for nearly a year, the Downey, CA, building where Taco Bell got its modest start will live to see another day. It’ll just see it from a different location: the fast food restaurant’s corporate headquarters in Irvine. 

The currently vacant 400-square-foot Spanish-style stucco building where Glen Bell began his fast food venture in 1962 became the center of a community campaign to save it from demolition earlier this year when preservationists at the Downey Conservancy determined the structure was in peril.

The OC Register reports that the building, located at 7112 Firestone Blvd., will now make a 45-mile, four- to five-hour overnight trip to Irvine beginning on Thursday evening.

While Taco Bell remained rather mum on the efforts to save the building, other than to promote the #SaveTacoBell campaign on social media and commissioning a feasibility study on moving the building with We Are the Next, the fast food corporation is encouraging fans to watch the relocation live via webcam.

The company says the structure will be lit up “like the Fourth of July” during its trip through Downey, Norwalk, Cerritos, La Palma, Buena Park, Anaheim, Orange and Tustin.

Katie Rispoli, executive director for We Are the Next, tells the OC Register that while the building isn’t made by a famous architect and might not be particularly beautiful, it demonstrates that ordinary buildings can have tremendous stories.

A rep for Taco Bell says the building will serve as storage until it can determine how else it can be utilized. And to make that decision, the company is turning to its fans on social media.

“This isn’t a decision that should be made in a boardroom, but a social experience that can allow our biggest fans to truly be a part of Taco Bell history,” Marisa Thalberg, chief brand engagement officer for Taco Bell, says.

While the original Taco Bell hasn’t been serving up gorditas, chimichangas, and chalupas for about 30 years, a Taco Bell/Pizza Hut hybrid store is located a short distance away.

Downey is also home to another destination for fast food historians. The oldest existing McDonald’s (which is actually the third one ever built) is only a short drive across town.

Saved from wrecking ball: Taco Bell to relocate original 1962 Downey food stand to Irvine [OC Register]

Corinthian College’s Misleading Job-Placement Info Could Result In Faster Debt Relief For Students

Tue, 2015-11-17 22:06

Thousands of students affected by the abrupt closure of for-profit college educator Corinthian Colleges’ Wyotech, Heald College and Everest University campuses could soon have more options when it comes to receiving debt relief after a joint investigation by the California Attorney General’s office and the Department of Education found additional evidence that the schools misrepresented job placement rates for several programs in order to enroll students. 

California Attorney General Kamala Harris, along with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell announced Tuesday that a new analysis found that CCI widely misrepresented job placement rates to both enrolled and prospective students at Everest University and Wyotech.

The new findings, which apply to 85,000 former students at Everest and Wyotech campuses in California, as well as students nationwide who attended Everest online, will lead to enhanced and streamlined debt relief opportunities, according to the California AG’s office.

Among the findings, the agencies determined an accounting program in Florida published a placement rate of 92% in 2010, while the actual placement was 12%. Likewise, a medical assistant diploma program in Los Angeles advertised a placement rate of 85% in 2012, when the true rate was zero, NPR reports.  

“Corinthian preyed on vulnerable students who are now buried under mountains of student debt,” Harris said in a news release. “Today’s joint investigation findings will expand the pool of Corinthian students eligible for streamlined student loan relief options, helping them rebuild their lives and pursue a brighter future.”

Harris says the findings will help students establish a case for “defense to repayment” loan relief on a program-wide basis.

Under the law, a borrower defense to repayment provides loan forgiveness to students if their school committed fraud or broke laws. The Dept. of Education previously said it would consider defense of repayment filings on an individual, case-by-case basis.

“The results of our joint investigation will allow us to get relief to more students more efficiently,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement. “Helping wronged students is much easier when everyone—Congress, State Attorneys General, accreditors, authorizers and the Department—does their part to protect students and works together.”

Former students looking for relief from their debts related to CCI schools can research their options through a tool provided by the California AG’s office.

The recently updated tool prompts students to answer a short series of questions, which will result in a personalized resource sheet with information about types of relief they may be eligible for, information on free local legal aid organizations that may provide advice and assistance in applying for relief, and information on cost-effective educational opportunities in their geographic area.

American Airlines Jumps On Industry Bandwagon, Will Now Award Frequent Flier Miles Based On Ticket Price

Tue, 2015-11-17 22:06

(benh57)Frequent fliers who are part of American Airlines loyalty rewards program will soon have to spend money to accrue points, instead of receiving miles based on how far they’ve flown.

Currently, a customer who was lucky to score a cheap flight could possibly rack up a nice chunk of miles, say, for flying between New York City and Los Angeles. But under the new model, customers will receive a minimum of five miles per dollar spent on the base fare, plus carrier-imposed fees, but excluding taxes.

The higher you go up the AAdvantage tier, the better it gets: gold members will get seven miles per dollar spent, platinum members will receive eight miles per dollar spent and executive platinum folks will be awarded 11 miles per dollar spent.


In the example above, Gold Members and Executive Platinum level fliers will benefit from the new revenue model, while AAdvantage and Platinum members will lose out on a few miles.

How members redeem those rewards will also change starting in March, the airline says. It won’t take as many miles to earn a trip to Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America, and for travel on domestic flights that are 500 miles or less. Cashing in points to fly to Europe, Asia or traveling in premium cabins will require higher redemption levels, however.

In addition to changing how rewards miles are calculated, American is tweaking how members can quality for elite status: either with Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) or Elite Qualifying Segments (EQSs) will replace Elite-qualifying points. The higher the fare, the more EQMs members will earn, while EQSs will continue to be warded for each eligible flight segment flown.


American said the changes in how passengers earn award miles will go into effect in the second half of 2016, but declined to set a specific date.

Which Stores Will Have The Best Black Friday Deals?

Tue, 2015-11-17 21:16

(Michael Holden)How do you quantify what the “best” deals are, on Black Friday or any other day of the year? The most important factor should be whether the retailer sells stuff that you actually want, of course, and the value that those items provide for the money. Yet the sport of deal-hunting is all about the discounts, and WalletHub decided to compile raw percentages to figure out the best places to shop after Thanksgiving this year.

For their raw rankings, WalletHub simply calculated the percent off that each deal that retailers have announced in advance of Black Friday represents. In news that will surprise no one, here are the top ten finishers:

JCPenney: 68.0%
Kohl’s: 66.7%
Stage: 63.9%
Groupon: 63.7%
Belk: 59.5%
Macy’s: 56.0%
Kmart: 50.1%
Panasonic: 47.0%
Fred Meyer: 45.3%
OfficeMaxDepot: 42.8%

Note that the top two finishers there, JCPenney and Kohl’s, are retail chains that have specifically been accused by consumers of deliberately setting prices high so they can then offer huge discounts off prices that no consumer ever actually paid.

They also broke down the best deals by percentage for each category: for example, Groupon offers the best deals for apparel and accessories, with an average discount of 84.2%, but the key question is whether Groupon usually offers any fashion items that you would actually want to wear: as a site consisting of curated deals, they offer a limited selection of items at very high discounts.

OfficeMaxDepot has the best deals on computers and phones, and Walmart comes in second, but you’d have to check the actual items for sale to find out whether either retailer is actually selling anything that you want.

Don’t just head out and look for the lowest prices: do research before and during the shopping-frenzy season to make sure that you know what you’re looking for, and not just letting yourself be dazzled by big discounts.

Also, keep in mind that deals repeat themselves: WalletHub also tracks which Black Friday deals are identical to deals offered by the same retailers last year.

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2015’s Best & Worst Retailers for Black Friday Deals [WalletHub]

Officials: British Airways Passenger Restrained After Trying To Open Exit Door During Flight

Tue, 2015-11-17 20:59

(Flying Photog)Though it might seem like a fine idea to catch a breath of fresh air after a few cocktails, if you attempt to gain access to the outdoors during a flight, you’ll find yourself in trouble. To that end, law enforcement and the Federal Aviation Administration said a British Airways passenger who appeared to be intoxicated tried to open the plane’s exit door on a flight from London to Boston.

A woman in her 30s described as abusive and unruly by the airline and “intoxicated” by the Massachusetts State Police was restrained after she attempted to open an exit door on the Boeing 777 (once again, this gives us a chance to remind folks that such a feat is impossible).

Upon landing at Logan Airport this afternoon, the aircraft was met by Massachusetts State Police, the Joint Terrorism Task Force and Homeland Security agents, reports WCVB.

“Our customers and crew deserve to have a safe and enjoyable flight and we do not tolerate abusive behavior,” the airline said in a statement, adding that the crew requested police to meet the flight “due to an unruly customer on board.”

Police took the passenger into custody and interviewed flight crew and witnesses, but said that upon further investigation, the incident was related to “intoxication,” and not terrorism, reports

Passenger on Boston-bound British Airways flight tries to open door [WCVB]
Intoxicated female passenger restrained on board British Airways flight to Logan [WHDH]