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Chicago Target Could Be Company’s First To Serve Alcohol To Shoppers

Fri, 2015-08-28 15:59
(Mike Mozart)

(Mike Mozart)

Who needs to tote around a cup of coffee or soft drink while browsing the aisles of their local big box retailer when they could have a glass of wine in hand instead? While shopping and drinking can certainly be a dangerous combination for some people (not myself, of course), that could be the next step for Target.

The Los Angeles Times reports a Target store in Chicago could be the company’s first to serve boozy beverages to shoppers, after the company applied for two different liquor licenses in the city.

The first license is rather standard and would allow the company to sell packaged liquor – much like other retailers already do.

The second application would allow the company to serve beer, wine and spirits in the store, potentially giving customers the chance to take a break between the grocery section and the shoe department for a little mid-shopping spree libation.

The Times reached out to Target for comment on the possibility that it could soon be employing a mixologist in Chicago, but hadn’t heard back yet.

Serving alcoholic drinks isn’t a new concept for retailers. According to Crain’s Chicago Business, the city is already home to several markets that serve booze including a Standard Market and Plum Market. A new Whole Foods also has a full service bar for downtown workers and shoppers.

Chicago appears to be a hotbed for companies branching into the boozy market. The area is now home to the first Taco Bell to serve adult beverages.

In other areas of the country retailers have latched onto the idea of serving mid-shopping drinks, as Crain’s points out. Grocery stores including Whole Foods, H-E-B and Hy-Vee all have stores that offer bars and prepared food.

Cocktails at Target? It could happen in Chicago [The Los Angeles Times]

Sprint Offering A Free Year Of Cell Service To DirecTV Subscribers

Fri, 2015-08-28 15:43



We’ve got a possible love triangle on our hands, friends: Sprint is taking aim at new couple AT&T and its $49 billion beloved, DirecTV, dangling a free year of cell service for satellite subscribers who switch their service.

Sprint is clearly trying to disrupt some of the loving feelings over at the AT&T/DirecTV homestead, where the newly joined couple have already unveiled fairly underwhelming “all in one” wireless/TV service plans to customers. AT&T has been working hard to bring DirecTV subscribers into its fold, offering up to $500 a line if they make the switch.

But Sprint wants a piece of the action, putting an offer on the table that’s only available from Aug. 28 through Sept. 30.

“I think the position to celebrate the merger by offering one of their subscriber bases an attractive offer is just fun,” Kevin Crull, Sprint’s chief marketing officer, told the Wall Street Journal.

But AT&T is not impressed, calling Sprint’s promotion the act of a weakened competitor.

“This ranks right up there with a desperate Hail Mary pass to a petite defensive lineman,” Brad Burns, an AT&T spokesman told the WSJ. “With Sprint’s network and the many asterisks on this deal, we’re feeling good about our offers.”

Sprint says it’d give DirecTV customers who switch a plan with unlimited talk, text and up to 2 gigabytes of data a month, plus a one-time $36 activation fee. The price doesn’t include a smartphone. That’s in comparison to a normal paid plan of $60 a month plus the cost of a smartphone.

Once the year is up, Sprint says bills return to an equivalent plan that starts at $50 per month.

Though some analysts see this move as a head-scratcher, Sprint says the promotion won’t cost it any more than others it’s run, and besides, customers who go over their 2 gigabyte data limit will pay a $15 fee so the company will get money from them that way.

“Once people are now trying our product and trying our network that they’re finding a dramatically different experience from even a year, or especially two years ago,” Crull said.

Sprint, Taking Aim at AT&T, Offers DirecTV Subscribers Free Year of Cell Service [Wall Street Journal]

Man Charged With Operating Debt Collection Scheme That Targeted, Defrauded Spanish-Speaking Consumers

Fri, 2015-08-28 15:23
Adam Fagen

Adam Fagen

Deceiving consumers is a trademark for most unscrupulous operations attempting to collect debts that aren’t actually owed. Shady collectors have been known to lie about debts, misrepresent themselves as officers of the law, threaten lawsuits and, in the case of one operator, threaten Spanish-speaking residents with deportation.

The Department of Justice announced today that it had charged the owner of Fonomundo FC with fraud and attempted extortion for allegedly defrauding Spanish-speaking U.S. residents through a series of threats and false accusations.

A grand jury in Miami indicted Cesar Luis Kou Reyna with 33 counts including: conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud and attempted extortion stemming from an operation he ran via call centers in Peru and Miami.

According to the Justice Department, Fonomundo FC and its affiliates in South America used Internet-based telephone calling services to place cold calls to Spanish-speaking residents in the United States.

The callers falsely claimed to be attorneys and sometimes claimed to be government representatives. Callers claimed that victims had failed to pay for or receive a delivery of products, although the victims had not ordered these products.

Often the callers claimed that victims would be sued and that the companies would obtain large monetary judgements against them.

At times, victims were threatened with negative marks on their credit reports, imprisonment or deportation unless the person immediately paid “settlement fees.” As a result, many of the victims made payments to the company.

“The Department of Justice is committed to addressing the noted increase in fraud schemes targeting specific communities of U.S. residents,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mizer. “As this case and other recent examples show, we will track down those responsible for defrauding American consumers, no matter where the fraudster resides, what language the fraudster uses or which population he or she targets.”

Peruvian Man Charged with Leading Conspiracy to Defraud and Extort Spanish-Speaking Consumers through Call Centers [DOJ]

Consumerist Friday Flickr Finds

Fri, 2015-08-28 14:30

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

(Rainer Schund)

(Rainer Schund)

(Jason Cook)

(Jason Cook)

(Paul McCarthy)

(Paul McCarthy)

(Darren Sethe)

(Darren Sethe)

(Scott Akerman)

(Scott Akerman)

(Karen Chappell)

(Karen Chappell)

(Scott Akerman)

(Scott Akerman)

(Great Beyond)

(Great Beyond)



(Joel Zimmer)

(Joel Zimmer)

(Nicholas Eckhart)

(Nicholas Eckhart)

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

Cascadian Farms Recalls Frozen Green Beans From 2014 For Possible Listeria

Thu, 2015-08-27 23:40

(Chris Rief)

(Chris Rief)

We have really terrible news for anyone out there who was planning to make a turkey bacon and green bean sandwich on whole wheat or multi-grain bread, even though that has probably never been a sandwich that a real person would eat or make. All three of those foods have been recalled in the last few days, now including green beans from Cascadian Farm.

These beans may potentially be contaminated with Listeria bacteria, and the affected products are more than a year old. Freezing doesn’t kill Listeria, and it causes an illness that can potentially cause severe illness, death, stillbirths, or miscarriages. No one has reported any illnesses, and the contamination was found when one package was tested.

Here’s what you need to look for: recalled packages will have “better if used by” dates of 10APR2016 and 11APR2016. They were manufactured in March 2014, and sold nationwide sometime after that.

Consumers should throw away the frozen beans and call Cascadian Farms for replacement veggies at 1-800-624-4123. You can also call that number if you have any questions about products you own or about this recall.

General Mills Voluntarily Recalls a Limited Quantity of Frozen Cascadian Farm Cut Green Beans [FDA]

Allegiant Airlines Plans To Inspect All Planes After Yet Another Flight Disturbance

Thu, 2015-08-27 22:06
(Brian Brodeur)

(Brian Brodeur)

Last month, federal regulators announced they had stepped up scrutiny of budget carrier Allegiant Airlines after a string of in-flight disturbances and accusations from a pilot’s union of poor safety standards. Now, after yet another issue, the airline says it plans to inspect its entire fleet.

ABC 7 News in Chicago reports that the Las Vegas-based airline announced it would inspect all planes after a flight headed to Illinois experienced trouble during takeoff.

As the flight, traveling from Las Vegas to Peoria, was speeding down the runway, the nose lifted too soon.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, which is investigating the incident, the jet began to lift off from the runway before it was moving fast enough for a normal takeoff, and the front of the plane stayed up even as a pilot adjusted the controls in a way that should have kept the nosewheel on the runway.

Bloomberg reports that pilots abruptly halted the takeoff while the plane was traveling at about 138 miles per hour. The airline blamed a fault in the elevator – the part of the tail that helps an aircraft climb or descend.

Allegiant’s decision to inspect all of its planes comes after the airline has faced several issues in recent months.

Just last month, a flight carrying 150 passengers declared an emergency in order to land at a closed airport because it was running dangerously low on fuel.

To make matters worse, the airline had been informed that the airport was closed to passenger jets prior to takeoff and the company’s executives – Greg Baden, its vice president of operations, and Michael Wuerger, director of flight safety – were the ones manning the aircraft.

The July 23 incident involved a plane flying from Las Vegas to the Fargo, ND, airport, which was closed for the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels aerobatic jets to practice. The airline says the flight was allowed to take off because dispatchers believed the FAA notice meant the airport was still open for passenger airlines.

Other recent issues included a plane diverting because of a wasp’s nest on a sensor and passengers using emergency exits to climb on a jet’s wing after landing when a fuel leak sent fumes into the cabin.

At the time the FAA announced its increased scrutiny, a spokesperson for Allegiant said that the airline generally has a high number of diversions – although, he didn’t specify a number – because it doesn’t have mechanics in most cities it services.

“That presents a unique challenge when it comes to customer service, but if anything, it’s an example of our focus on safety,” he said.

Allegiant To Inspect Planes After Flight To Peoria Aborts Takeoff [ABC 7 News]

Amazon Lays Off Engineers Behind Fire Phone, Reorganizes Hardware Division

Thu, 2015-08-27 21:54

(Danny Ngan)

(Danny Ngan)

You’ve probably never heard of Lab126, but you’ve definitely heard of their parent company and their products. They’re a division of Amazon, started in Silicon Valley eleven years ago to create the e-reader that we now know as the Kindle. They also created some projects that haven’t caught on quite as well, like the Fire Phone, and engineers who worked on that projects have reportedly been sent on their way.

The Wall Street Journal reports that “dozens of engineers” have been laid off from Lab126 (A and Z are the 1st and 26th letters of the alphabet… get it?) recently, and they were part of the team behind the doomed Fire Phone. Lab126 is also responsible for other Amazon hardware like the Echo, Kindle and Kindle Fire, and FireTV, and has about 3,000 employees.

There wasn’t anything wrong with the phone, exactly, and the company couldn’t blame its unpopularity on a lack of promotion: the device just failed to catch on, even when it was available for only 99 cents, because a tiny 3-D screen is not a compelling enough reason for most people to buy a smartphone. Amazon wrote off $170 million on the whole enterprise, and we don’t know whether they plan to try again and create another phone.

Amazon Curtails Development of Consumer Devices [Wall Street Journal]

Tesla Model S P85D Breaks Consumer Reports’ Ratings System

Thu, 2015-08-27 20:59

This story was first published by our sister publication Consumer Reports, which is experiencing temporary difficulties with its servers.

The all-wheel-drive Tesla Model S P85D sedan performed better in our tests than any other car ever has, breaking the Consumer Reports Ratings system.

The P85D is brutally quick, with instant acceleration. The car’s thrust is forceful and immediate. Its near-instant g-forces can otherwise be achieved only by leaping off a building—literally.

That this electric car accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds without an engine’s roar makes it frighteningly eerie in its silent velocity. It’s so explosively quick that Tesla has created an “insane” driving mode.

With a six-figure price tag, the P85D is expensive, meaning its virtues will be experienced by a rare few. But its significance as a breakthrough model that is pushing the boundaries of both performance and fuel-efficiency is dramatic (even more so because it is coming from the factory of an American startup company). The Model S precedes additional electric cars coming from Tesla Motors. The Model X crossover is due to arrive in 2016, followed in 2018 by a more attainable compact sedan, named Model 3, targeted to start at about $35,000.


The P85D also has better braking and handling than our top-scoring standard Model S. And yet it’s more energy-efficient, getting the equivalent of 87 mpg.

Despite its sharper focus on performance, the P85D also maintains its practicality and luxury.

In rating it, however, we faced a quandary: The Tesla initially scored 103 in the Consumer Reports‘ Ratings system, which by definition doesn’t go past 100. The car set a new benchmark, so we had to make changes to our scoring to account for it. Those changes didn’t affect the scores of other cars.

To be clear, the Tesla’s 100 score doesn’t make the P85D a perfect car—even at $127,820. It has imperfections. The interior materials aren’t as opulent as other high-ticket automobiles, and its ride is firmer and louder than our base Model S.

What’s more, a lengthy road trip in an electric car with a 200-plus mile range can be a logistical hurdle if a quick-charging station isn’t along your route.

It’s also important to note that our Rating doesn’t include the Tesla’s reliability. The Model S has average reliability, according to our owner-survey responses.

That said, the Tesla Model S P85D is an automotive milepost. It’s a remarkable car that paves a new, unorthodox course, and it’s a powerful statement of American startup ingenuity.

Check out more photos from the Consumer Reports test track:






Instagram Decides It’s Not Hip To Only Be Square, Will Now Allow Rectangular Images & Videos

Thu, 2015-08-27 20:51



If you’ve ever had to take a screenshot of a rectangular photo on your phone just so you could crop it into a square to post on Instagram, you’ll be glad to hear this news: the photo-sharing app announced Thursday that it’ll now allow landscape and portrait photos and videos instead of only square-shaped media.

Instagram explains the choice to give up allowing squares exclusively by saying that the “visual story” users are trying to tell “should always come first.”

After all, notes the company, almost one in five photos or videos posted on Instagram aren’t in the square format, acknowledging that folks likely use workarounds to get their content posted to the platform.

Now users can tap the format icon to choose an orientation. Once the photo is shared, the full-sized version will appear to followers “in a beautiful, natural way.”

You know what this means? Wider shots of feet standing in interesting places and a better idea of exactly how bad your friend is at photographing food in an appetizing way. With the good comes the bad, eh?

Judge Says Top Dole Execs Owe Shareholders $148M For Driving Down Company’s Stock Price Before Buyout

Thu, 2015-08-27 20:05

(Port of San Diego)

(Port of San Diego)

Two top executives at Dole are on the hook for $148 million after a judge ruled that CEO and chairman of the board David H. Murdock, and the company’s former chief operating officer, C. Michael Carter fraudulently drove down their company’s stock price so they could shortchange shareholders and buy the business on the cheap.

Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster of Delaware’s Court of Chancery ordered Murdock and Carter to reimburse shareholders $148 million, reports the New York Times. His decision [PDF] comes after a February trial prompted by shareholders in the company, who didn’t think Murdock’s deal to buy the 60% of the company he didn’t own in 2013 was entirely on the up-and-up.

Before coming to the table with a deal for shareholders, Vice Chancellor Laster said Carter had misstated how much Dole could earn if it were to sell of some of its businesses, and canceled a stock buyback program.

That drove down the valuation of the stock, the judge said in his decision. Murdock at first offered $12 per share, which was negotiated up to $13.50 per share after an independent board committee checked out the deal.

Carter then gave the committee a set of artificially low management projects, while at the same time delivering a much more accurate picture to potential lenders involved in the takeover bid.

The deal passed by a slim vote, and the company went private.

“By taking these actions, Murdock and Carter deprived the committee of the ability to negotiate on a fully informed basis and potentially say no to the merger,” Vice Chancellor Laster wrote. “Murdock and Carter likewise deprived the stockholders of their ability to consider the merger on a fully informed basis and potentially vote it down.”

Dole C.E.O. and Aide Found Liable for $148 Million in Buyout [New York Times]

Gap Will End On-Call Scheduling In All Of Its Stores

Thu, 2015-08-27 19:37

(Mike Mozart)

(Mike Mozart)

On-call scheduling is a retail practice that looks great on a store’s budget on paper, but wrecks employees’ lives in real life. Gap Inc. is the third major retailer in recent months that has announced that they’re ending the practice across all of their brands, after months working on what they call “sustainable scheduling practices.”

On-call scheduling means that a worker will be on a store’s schedule, but won’t necessarily have to work, depending on how busy the store is that day. It’s a nice cost-savings measure, but very inconvenient for employees, who can’t make plans during their on-call times, can’t be put on the schedule at other jobs, may have to arrange child care, and in the end may be sent home early, or may not be called in to make any money for that shift at all.

Other retailers that have announced they’re stopping the practice are Victoria’s Secret and the Abercrombie & Fitch brands. Gap says that they have been phasing out on-call scheduling all summer, and plan to eliminate it entirely by September.

All of these retailers aren’t suddenly re-evaluating their schedule practices just for fun, though. New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asked thirteen national retailers for their scheduling data to determine whether they used on-call scheduling in a way that violated state or federal laws.

Equality Is Woven into the Fabric of Gap Inc.’s Company DNA [Gap Inc. Blog]

College-Bound Students Should Shop Around For Bank Accounts

Thu, 2015-08-27 18:51
(Ludovic Bertron)

(Ludovic Bertron)

With millions of young adults heading off to college this month, federal regulators are reminding those consumers to do their homework. Okay, not that homework, but the kind related to researching college-sponsored bank accounts.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau this week reminded college-bound students that just because their school is sponsoring a certain bank account, that doesn’t mean it’s the best option.

While many colleges may also negotiate with companies through million-dollar contracts to offer products that have lower fees or better terms than what students could get if they asked for the same deal on their own, a report last year from the Government Accountability Office revealed that many college-sponsored accounts were no better than what students could find themselves after shopping around, and in fact, were sometimes worse.

To ensure that students are getting the best deal possible, the CFPB launched the Safe Student Account Scorecard earlier this year and called on companies to publish their agreements with colleges.

The agency also suggests students keep a few things in mind when looking to set up a bank account while at college:

1. Just because an offer looks like official mail from your college, you don’t have to accept it.

Some colleges take steps to promote products through official email and mailings, and sometimes are compensated by banks for their efforts.

“For example, a college might use its official email communications with incoming freshmen to promote a sponsored account by encouraging students to use the ‘hot new’ campus ID from its bank partner,” the blog post warns.

Schools may also choose to provide printed materials at orientation or other official communications to highlight a banking partner.

2. Some staff on campus may work for your college’s banking partner.

“It’s always okay to ask questions when you’re deciding whether to open an account,” the post states. “Officials at your college can help you understand product terms and features in order to make an informed choice, but you should also ask questions about who you’re talking to.”

3. Your college may get paid when you open an account.

Some companies may pay colleges a fixed amount for each student that opens and uses the college-sponsored account, the CFPB reports.

“You should ask questions about how your college gets paid and keep in mind that if you feel rushed or pressured into opening a college-sponsored account, it might be because your college wants to sign you up to maximize its revenue under the deal,” the post explains.

Additionally, the Bureau warns students to be on the lookout for high fees associated with any financial account.

“Ultimately, the account you select can support your saving goals and help you avoid fees,” the post states. “Many banks offer programs to help you manage your spending and saving. Taking advantage of free account alerts through email or text message can help you avoid overspending, as can simply keeping track of your purchases and withdrawals and monitoring your account balance regularly.”

If You Sell Nail Polish, Try Not To Destroy Your Customers’ Nails

Thu, 2015-08-27 18:51

mentality_neonsIf you like to paint your nails, but are part of the drugstore polish-wearing masses, you might not be familiar with the vibrant online scene of small-batch cosmetics producers, or “indie beauty” businesses. The mini-industry drew outside attention this week when use of one brand of polish was linked to some scary and painful problems in customers’ nails.

The brand is Mentality Nail Polish, a company out of California that sells some lovely colors and beautiful glitters. Customers and testers/models (“swatchers”) complained of some unusual things happening after they put on the polish. Some reported their fingertips tingling. Others reported pain and their nails separating from their fingertips and scabbing.

You can see some of the results for yourself: people claiming damage from Mentality’s products posted photos of the damage to Instagram. We will spare you from including them in the body of the post. #1, #2, #3, #4, and #5.

“I assumed I was overusing chemicals like acetone. Or having skin reactions to foods,” wrote the first person known to have a reaction to polishes from Mentality, Amy McMaster. She was one of their swatchers, meaning she was one of the first to try new polishes. “Really, I began to suspect nearly everything except my nail polish. When this was going on, I could find NO one else having the same issues with their nails.”

If your nails look like this, you should seek medical attention, since nails that are discolored and falling off can indicate an annoying but treatable fungal infection. It’s hard to contaminate nail polish with fungus, though, and fungus doesn’t cause one’s fingertips to tingle.

However, the important questions were: why did it happen, and is indie nail polish safe to use? Here’s the problem with the cosmetics industry: companies aren’t required to test their products, but they are responsible for ensuring that their products don’t harm customers.

Ingredients don’t necessarily have to be approved by the FDA, either, unless they’re color additives. Even then, they must be approved for a given purpose: a dye that works in, say, a shampoo that you rinse out of your hair wouldn’t work for a lip gloss that the user wears for hours and could potentially ingest.

For big companies, this means testing products on someone to prevent harming their customers. In response to questions from Consumerist, the company’s owner indicated that this means… wearing his own polishes. “I have used the TCR/Kolortek pigments for years now. I have been wearing these colors for years, on my own nails and skin,” the owner told us in an e-mail.

Mentality admitted on its Facebook page that there were problems with some of their products due to a bad batch of the clear base into which polish-makers mix pigments and glitter to make the finished product. They offered refunds and replacements for polishes from the bad batch…until they didn’t.

On Sunday, they posted:

Important: Due to a massive surge in requests this weekend for remakes of polish made in the Arminex base, we unfortunately will no longer be able to grant any further remake requests or process any further refunds. We have reached a physical and financial limit.

That’s what liability insurance is supposed to be for. In statements to media outlets and on Facebook, representatives of Mentality suggested different possibilities for what might be causing customers’ problems, all of which involved the base, produced by a company called Arminex.

Consumerist contacted Arminex by phone and left a message. They didn’t get back to us, but the answer to our questions came a few hours later when the company issued a cease and desist order to Mentality, asking that they stop publicly blaming the supplier when laboratory results on the finished polishes aren’t back yet. Mentality posted the letter on their Facebook page, which is the exact opposite of how you’re supposed to react to a cease and desist letter.

That’s where things stand now: the company says that it has sent off samples for testing, and is waiting for them to come back. Yet what should you do if you can’t resist a polish from a small, one-person company?

This is all kind of scary, but don’t let it scare you away from some of the beautiful and interesting nail polishes out there from small sellers. Fans of the indie polish scene point out that the situation with Mentality is an anomaly, and that most companies use combinations of ingredients that are already proven safe.

For as long as there’s been an active online community of people making, sampling, and chatting about polishes made by tiny manufacturers, beauty blogger Kirby Hartline told Consumerist, this is the first time something like this has happened. “99.9% of brands buy pre-mixed nail polish base from reputable companies that provide [material safety data] sheets and batch quality testing,” she explains. Polish-makers then add their own colors and glitters to this existing, pre-tested base. The color combinations might be original, but the formulas themselves are safe. If you want to sell more nail polish to people, it’s unwise to make their nails fall off.

One way to screen polish brands ahead of time is to browse the very active communities of Instagram posters and bloggers, and find at least one whose reviews and opinions you respect and whose interests align with yours, and read up. “Finding a blogger whose opinion and reviews you can trust will take you far in your quest to purchase from brands with unique and high quality nail polish,” blogger Hartline advises. She also points out that price is one factor to pay attention to: not out of snobbery, but because low prices may indicate cut corners or other problems.

However, if you are harmed by a cosmetic, matter how big the manufacturer is, the Food and Drug Administration advises that you should contact your own health care provider, contact the manufacturer, and make a report to the FDA. While they can’t give medical advice or immediately intervene, it’s reports from consumers that trigger investigations and get companies making bad products shut down. You can submit a report online complaints through Medwatch, or by calling 1-800-FDA-1088.

Update: After this article was finished, the company announced a voluntary recall on all polishes made with the allegedly defective base from Arminex.

about my nails + me [Amy McMaster]
What’s Going on With Mentality? [Betty’s Beauty Bombs]
Customers Complain that Mentality Polish Is Seriously Fucking Up Their Nails [Jezebel]
Small Businesses & Homemade Cosmetics: Fact Sheet [FDA]

House Couple Was Buying To Tear Down Over Fire Hazard Concerns Catches Fire While They Sign Deed

Thu, 2015-08-27 18:42



Sometimes, bad things happen pretty much exactly when you’d expect them to, in a bit of unfortunate happenstance. Does it make you mad? Yes, maybe, but it was just meant to be. To wit: a couple in Pennsylvania who were buying a vacant house next door to tear it down because they were worried it was a fire hazard were proved correct when the home did, indeed, catch on fire… while they were signing the papers to become the owners.

The couple were at the county courthouse putting pen to paper on the dead, reports the Associated Press, citing the Somerset Daily American (paywall site).

The house in question sits a few feet from their home, so if it went up in flames, the fear was that a fire could spread to the couple’s home pretty quickly. They wanted to buy it and get rid of it to ensure that didn’t happen.

A neighbor called 9-1-1 about the fire yesterday afternoon, and the fire department quickly extinguished flames on the first floor. Fire officials have since determined that the origin was suspicious.

The woman told the paper that the vacant home had “been sitting empty for a couple years. We didn’t even know about the fire until the fire department was called.”

‘Fire hazard’ home burns as couple signs deed to buy it [Associated Press]

Cheap Gas Prices Could Mean Travel Headaches This Labor Day Weekend

Thu, 2015-08-27 17:53



While we’ve all been dancing around at the gas pump over the news that fuel prices are cheap nationwide right now on average and will keep dropping until it’s below $2 a gallon, there’s a potential down side to the cheap gas glory: an estimated 35.5 million Americans will hit the road for Labor Day weekend, spurred in part by the low cost of gas. More people driving translates into more cars on the road, which could mean you’ll be stuck playing car games while waiting for traffic to move.

Folks heading out of town will be taking advantage of those low prices during the upcoming holiday weekend, AAA predicted, according to the Chicago Tribune, with more people traveling this year than in any year since 2008.

AAA expects 35.5 million people to take trips of 50 miles or more over the weekend, while airports will also be busier this year, compared to last year’s holiday.

“A strong labor market, coupled with greater job security and rising home prices, have all helped to increase disposable income,” Beth Mosher of AAA Chicago said in a news release. “Though some consumers remain cautious, these positive indicators are driving a slight increase and allowing millions of Americans to travel on one last summer getaway.”

If you do get stuck in a traffic jam or two, might I suggest I Spy or 20 Questions? Or my personal favorite, the one where you have to hit all the letters of the alphabet using the first letter in passing signs or any other reading material — outside the car. That’s a good one. Check out this post from Mashable for more family-friendly ideas.

Low gas prices will fuel heavy Labor Day holiday traffic, AAA says [Chicago Tribune]

Regulators Halt Alleged Energy Drink Pyramid Scheme That Targeted College Students, Other Young Adults

Thu, 2015-08-27 17:35

vemma_trio_affiliateFederal regulators continued their crackdown on supposedly deceptive dietary supplement companies this week by temporarily shutting down an Arizona-based company that allegedly ran a pyramid scheme promising college students they would rake in the big bucks by selling energy drinks.

The Federal Trade Commission announced today that a federal court granted its request to temporarily halt Vemma Nutrition Company’s alleged pyramid scheme that brought in more than $200 million annually in 2013 and 2014 based on promises that college students and other young adults could become rich by peddling their products.

According to the FTC’s complaint [PDF], Vemma – a multilevel marketing company that claims to use its members, called “affiliates,” to promote its health and wellness drinks – focused on recruitment of these affiliates, rather than retail sales of its products, to generate income.

The FTC claims Vemma employees visited college campuses and told students that selling the beverages was an alternative to a regular 9-to-5 job.

The company’s websites, social media, and marketing materials show seemingly prosperous young people with luxury cars, jets, and yachts, and falsely claim that Vemma affiliates can earn substantial incomes – as much as $50,000 per week.

“The defendants allegedly claim that affiliates’ earning potential is limited only by their own efforts and that Vemma provides young adults an opportunity to bypass college and student loan debt,” the complaint states.

Those interested in selling the products were required to pay an initial investment of $600 for products and business tools and $150 in Vemma products had to be bought each month to receive bonuses. The affiliates were then encouraged to enroll others to also sell the products.

The defendants provided affiliates little guidance for selling products, but instead taught them to give away products as samples when recruiting new participants.

Vemma offers no meaningful discounts or incentives to encourage retail sales, according to the complaint.

So instead of making the promised riches, the FTC found that the vast majority of consumers actually lost money while hawking the company’s products.

“Consumer losses are inevitable because Vemma is an illegal pyramid scheme that rewards affiliates for recruiting participants rather than for selling products,” the FTC alleges.

In addition to allegedly running an illegal pyramid scheme, the defendants are charged with making false earnings claims, failing to disclose that Vemma’s structure ensures that most people who join will not earn substantial income, and furnishing affiliates with false and misleading materials to recruit others.

The FTC complaint names Vemma Nutrition Company, Vemma International Holdings Inc., Tom Alkazin, Bethany Alkazin and Benson K. Boreyko as defendants.

Boreyko is under a 1999 court order after settling with the FTC for his involvement with New Vision International Inc. – another multilevel marketing company that sold nutritional supplements.

FTC Acts to Halt Vemma as Alleged Pyramid Scheme [Federal Trade Commission]

Walmart Opens Holiday Layaway Program Two Weeks Early, Reduces Minimum Cost For Eligible Items

Thu, 2015-08-27 16:58

(Mike Mozart)

(Mike Mozart)

Thinking about getting a jump on your holiday shopping? So is Walmart, apparently. The company announced today that it will open its seasonal layaway program early and lower the price for eligible items.

Reuters reports that Walmart’s annual holiday layaway program would be available starting August 28, two weeks earlier than last year and nearly two months before the big box retailer allowed customers to put away gifts when it first brought back the program in 2011.

The earlier start date for the 2015 layaway program coincides with Walmart’s made-up occasion, “Toy Week” – an attempt to capitalize on the soon to launch Star Wars toy line, Anne Marie Kehoe, vice president of toys, says.

In addition to starting the holiday shopping season earlier, the retailer announced it would revamp the layaway program by lowering the price for individual eligible items to $10 from $15.

In all, the company will make 40,000 items available under the program, which allows people to pay for holiday gifts and other products in installments.

Walmart will also give customers longer to pay their layaway balance, increasing the time frame from 60 days to 90 days.

“In the five years we’ve been offering this holiday layaway program we’ve discovered that customers use it for a whole host of reasons, from being able to better budget their money and avoiding credit card fees,” Kehoe said.

Wal-Mart boosts holiday layaway, eyeing Star Wars toy launch [Reuters]

McDonald’s, Tyson Foods Cutting Ties With Poultry Farm Over Alleged Mistreatment Of Chickens

Thu, 2015-08-27 16:38

(Mike Mozart)


McDonald’s and supplier Tyson Foods are promising to stop working with a Tennessee chicken farm after an animal rights group released images from hidden cameras showing alleged mistreatment of the birds.

An investigator for Mercy for Animals went undercover at the farm for about four weeks in July and in August, taking video on a small camera, reports the Chicago Tribune. The farm raises chickens for the Tyson Foods slaughterhouse plant elsewhere in Tennessee, and Tyson then sells the meat to McDonald’s for McNuggets, Mercy for Animals says.

The group released photos yesterday that show chickens being beaten and stabbed with a pole that has a spike on it, and video reportedly shows sick and deformed chickens mixed in with the others in a huge, crowded holding area.

Though the group said McDonald’s hadn’t made a commitment to change its practices when it contacted the company about the footage, today the chain released a statement about how it expects its suppliers to act, noting that Tyson had cut ties with the farm.

“We believe treating animals with care and respect is an integral part of a responsible supply chain and find the behavior depicted in this video to be completely unacceptable. We support Tyson Foods’ decision to terminate their contract with this farmer,” McDonald’s statement read. “We’re working with Tyson Foods to further investigate this situation and reinforce our expectations around animal health and welfare at the farm level.

“We’re committed to working with animal welfare and industry experts to inform our policies that promote better management, strong employee education and verification of practices.”

Tyson also issued a statement, confirming its split with the farm.

“Based on what we currently know, we are terminating the farmer’s contract to grow chickens for us. There are currently no chickens on the farm,” a spokesman wrote.

Targeted by animal rights group, McDonald’s, Tyson cut ties with farm [Chicago Tribune]

Class-Action Lawsuit Claims 10 Automakers Hid Keyless Ignition Carbon Monoxide Dangers That Led To 13 Deaths

Thu, 2015-08-27 16:17
(Brad Clinesmith)

(Brad Clinesmith)

At least 13 people have died because 10 major automakers concealed the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in more than five million vehicles equipped with keyless ignitions, a new class-action lawsuit claims.

Twenty-eight consumers filed a class-action lawsuit [PDF] against the automakers in Los Angeles federal court on Wednesday, accusing the companies of failing to inform buyers of a “deadly defect” associated with keyless ignition switches.

According to the lawsuit, keyless ignitions – which allow drivers to start a vehicle by simply pushing an on/off button instead of inserting a key – are marketed as the ultimate driving convenience, but the “so-called convenience has produced deadly consequences in the absence of adequate safeguards” from manufacturers.

Automakers named in the suit include BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen and Mercedes Benz, as well as several of their brands such as, Infiniti, Kia, Acura and others.

The alleged defect occurs because consumers mistakenly believe that removing the keyless fob from the vehicle’s vicinity turns off the engine, which isn’t the case.

The suit claims that for nearly 5 million vehicles, the engine will continue to run, no matter how far away the driver and the keyless fob are from the car.

Because the vehicles continue to run, they emit carbon monoxide, creating an environment that can injure or have “deadly” results for people who inhale the colorless or odorless gas.

“In a number of incidents, drivers have parked their affected vehicles inside their garages and removed the keyless fobs, only to later discover that the engines never actually turned off,” the suit states. “As a result, deadly carbon monoxide— often referred to as the ‘silent killer’ because it is a colorless, odorless gas — can fill enclosed spaces and spread to the attached homes.”

As a result, the suit claims, at least 13 documented deaths and many injuries requiring hospitalization have occurred.

“Those injured by carbon monoxide poisoning caused by the defect include drivers, their families, other occupants of the residence where the vehicle is left running in a garage, neighbors, and first responders,” the suit states.

According to the suit, the automakers have long known about the risk keyless ignitions pose. In fact, the suit claims, that at least 27 complaints have been submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration since 2009.

Instead of addressing the potential dangers, the companions continued to market the devices as safe.

The issue could easily be remedied, the plaintiffs claim, if automakers would simply install a feature to automatically turn off unattended engines after a certain period of time.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status and an injunction requiring automakers to install automatic shut-off features on all existing and future vehicles sold with keyless ignitions. It also seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

A spokesperson for Ford tells Reuters that the company takes customer safety “very seriously” and that keyless systems have been proven to be “safe and reliable.”

BMW, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota declined to comment to Reuters, while the other automakers had an immediate comment.

[via Reuters]

Dish, Sinclair End Broadcast Network Blackout… For Now, At Least

Thu, 2015-08-27 15:57

(Brady O'Brien)

(Brady O’Brien)

Dish’s latest contract fight with the networks it airs has wrapped up much more quickly than usual: less than a day after nearly 130 Sinclair channels went dark on the satellite provider, the local channels are back on in 5 million subscribers’ homes. At least, for now.

The blackout started yesterday, when Dish Network and the Sinclair Broadcasting Group failed to come to an agreement on their retransmission terms. Sinclair owns hundreds of local broadcast network affiliates around the country, which went dark for viewers in 36 states and DC when the negotiation deadline came and went with no contract signed.

As these fights do, this one quickly got ugly, with Dish out and swinging early with press releases about how awful Sinclair was being, and Sinclair responding that Dish was being completely unreasonable.

However, this fight also came with an immediate appeal to authority: while they were shooting out press releases about Sinclair, Dish also filed a complaint to the FCC about the broadcaster’s behavior, calling for regulators to intervene.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler immediately called for the relevant bureau at the commission to have an emergency meeting to get Dish and Sinclair sorted out post-haste, and that seems to have caused the two parties to calm down and retreat to their corners. A few hours after Wheeler’s statement, Dish and Sinclair announced the channels were coming back online.

“We are grateful for the FCC’s work on behalf of consumers to actively broker a productive path forward,” Jeff Blum, Dish senior vice president and deputy general counsel, said in a statement.

Wheeler congratulated the two on coming to at least temporary terms, saying in a statement, “On behalf of more than 5 million consumers nationwide, I am pleased DISH and Sinclair have agreed to end one of the largest blackouts in history and extend their negotiations.”

He also added a reminder to both companies that they should stick with the talks, saying, “The FCC will remain vigilant while the negotiations continue.”