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Jury Smacks Tobacco Company R.J. Reynolds With $23 Billion Verdict

Mon, 2014-07-21 16:18



The bill has arrived for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco company in a lawsuit brought by a Florida woman whose husband smoked cigarettes and later died from lung cancer, and the company is not pleased: The jury returned one of the largest verdicts ever against a tobacco company, smacking Reynolds with $23.6 billion in damages.

The jury sided with the woman in her lawsuit, which used to be part of a larger class-action suit that was broken up in 2006, reports the Pensacola News Journal. She’s won more than $16 million in compensatory damages and a whopping $23 billion in punitive damages.

In the Engle v. Liggett Group Inc. suit, the jury handed down more than $145 billion to a nationwide group of people that included smokers and family members of deceased smokers. While the Florida Supreme Court overturned that ruling in 2006, it said individual plaintiffs could file their own lawsuits and use the jury’s finding that smoking causes cancer, nicotine is addictive, and the tobacco companies sold defective and unreasonably dangerous cigarettes.

“I think the jury wanted to make a difference,” the trial attorney said in this case. “All the cards were put on the table to show how the tobacco industry lied and failed to disclose information that could have saved lives, and that’s what the jury ruled on in this case.”

The jury deliberated for 15 hours after the four-week trial, and determined that the company was negligent in informing the woman’s late husband that smoking causes lung cancer and that nicotine is highly addictive. The man died of lung cancer in 1996.

Reynolds will of course, appeal, with the company’s vice president and assistant general counsel Jeffery Raborn calling the damages “grossly excessive and impermissible under state and constitutional law.”

“This verdict goes far beyond the realm of reasonableness and fairness, and is completely inconsistent with the evidence presented,” Raborn said in a statement. “We plan to file post-trial motions with the trial court promptly, and are confident that the court will follow the law and not allow this runaway verdict to stand.”

It’s not all about the money, the plaintiff’s lawyer explained — it’s more important to stop tobacco companies from targeting young people.

“If we don’t get a dime, that’s OK, if we can make a difference and save some lives,” he says.

Escambia Co. jury hits RJ Reynolds with $23B verdict [Pensacola News Journal]

GM Orders Dealers To Stop Selling Used Cadillac CTS And SRX Vehicles Because Of Ignition Switch Issue

Mon, 2014-07-21 15:46

(Van Swearington)

(Van Swearington)

If you’re in the market for a used Cadillac, you might be out of luck. General Motors ordered its Cadillac division dealers to stop selling a number of older version models because of the ongoing ignition switch recall.

According to USA Today, dealers were asked to stop selling model year 2003 to 2013 Cadillac CTS and the model year 2004 to 2006 Cadillac SRX.

The order to stop the sale of the used cars comes as the manufacturer is still waiting for a remedy in connection to a June recall for ignition switch issues.

On June 30, GM announced the recall of 554,328 Cadillac CTS and Cadillac SRX vehicles in the United States; the recall expands to 616,179 for all of North America.

According to the recall notice [PDF] the weight of a key ring and/or road conditions or some other jarring event may cause the ignition switch to move out of the run position, turning off the engine.

If this occurs, the airbags could be disabled, and in the event of a crash they would not deploy, creating an increased risk of injury.

This isn’t the first time GM has asked dealers to stop selling cars. In late June, the manufacturer halted the sale of the Chevy Cruze over airbag concerns.

The car was already subject to a recall over drive shaft issues, but the latest problem concerned some 33,000 cars that could have airbags that were assembled with the wrong part.

In all, General Motors has recalled 8.4 million vehicles worldwide in 2014, a majority of them related to a massive ignition defect that has so far claimed the lives of 13 people, if not more.

Report: GM halts sale of many used CTS, SRX models [USA Today]

New Hike In TSA Security Fee Means Higher Ticket Prices For Travelers

Mon, 2014-07-21 15:35

(kevin dean)

(<a href=”; target=”_blank”>kevin dean)

Next time you buy an airline ticket, you might notice it’s just a tad bit more expensive. That’s because the United States has a deficit to pay down, so it’s ordered the Transportation Security Administration to increase the security fee it charges each traveler.

Right now the Sept. 11 security fee the TSA charges is $2.50 per leg of a trip, with a $5 cap. But the impending hike will raise that to a flat $5.60 fee per one-way trip, without any cap at all, reports the Los Angeles Times.

So </afor example — if you fly round-trip to your destination and have no layovers, you’ll be charged $11.20 round-trip. But if you’ve got a long layover on the way there and on the way back, if each is over four hours you’ll be charged a total of $22.40. That’s $5.60 for each separate leg.

And of course, travelers likely aren’t looking forward to the hike, which goes into effect today — and neither are airline officials.

“Our government must stop using airlines and their passengers as its own personal ATM whenever it needs more money,” said a a spokesman for Airlines for America, a trade group for the nation’s carriers.

The TSA says it’s not making money of the increase, however, because Congress is sending the new fee funds to go toward reducing the government by way of the U.S. Treasury. And it says another fee that Congress eliminated is dinging its coffers by about $420 million in lost annual revenue.

Fliers to pay higher TSA fee to help pay down deficit [Los Angeles Times]

From Bread Crumbs To Worcester Sauce: How Long Will All That Stuff In Your Pantry Last?

Sun, 2014-07-20 16:00

Regular readers of Consumerist likely know there’s a big difference between the “use-by” date and the “sell-by” date on food labels. But while most people take note of this information on highly perishable items like meat, eggs, and dairy, we often ignore those dry goods stashed in our pantries. And these unrefrigerated items are often allowed to sit around until we go to use them and realize, “Oh no… that went bad back when Bush — the first one — was president.”

Rather than wait for that discovery when you’re in the middle of a recipe, take a few minutes to check your shelves.

We’ve covered some of this ground in our recent Spoilage Wars series, but one never stops learning tips on how to properly store all the food we eat.

Without further ado, here’s how to not suck at cleaning out your pantry.

Bread crumbs

Unopened bread crumbs can last for two years in the fridge, or up to six months in a cool and dry place. Make sure to keep ‘em in an airtight container after opening.

Coffee beans

These will be the freshest if used in two weeks, but they won’t be “bad” after that. Keep them in a dark, cool place, or freeze the beans for up to a month.

Dry Pasta

Pasta can last for a year in an airtight container.


If you store all-purpose flour in an airtight container and in a cool and dry location, it should last for 10 to 15 months.

Whole wheat flour can last for two months if refrigerated and in your freezer for six months.


Honey can last longer than most other items if kept at room temperature. As it gets older, the honey may crystalize, but it’s not spoiled. Soak the honey bottle in warm water and the contents will look like liquid honey again.

As we noted in one of the Spoilage Wars stories, there’s a caveat to buying honey in large containers: If the whole jug o’ sweet stuff crystalizes, you’re going to have to fill up a stock pot’s worth of hot water to return the to honey to its liquid form.


That depends on the condiment and whether or not it has been opened. This comprehensive list from will give you info on just about everything you could want, but here are a few:

Ketchup: Unopened, it should stay okay in your pantry for about a year. Once it’s opened, it’ll go six months in the fridge. The same figures go for BBQ Sauce, since most commercial sauces are heavily ketchup-based.

Mayonnaise: Stilltasty says unopened mayo is good to go for about 3-4 months beyond the date on the package. Opened mayo will last 2-3 months past the label date in the fridge.

Mustard: That unopened jar of mustard in your pantry can last about two years. An opened container of mustard could hold in the pantry for a month or two, but you’ll do better in the fridge, where it should still taste fine for about a year.

Maple syrup

This can last for a year in the fridge, and pretty much forever if you freeze it. The experts say syrup in glass bottles helps to prevent mold, so watch out for interesting science-experiment-type growths if you have the plastic type.


It depends on the kind of nut and how you store it. They’ll last longer in the refrigerator or the freezer.

The following sites have even more information on food storage:
America’s Test Kitchen
Still Tasty
Good Housekeeping Oils

Corn, canola and olive oil can stay in the pantry, sealed tight and away from heat, but more delicate and fancy oils — truffle oil, walnut oil, etc. — should be kept in the refrigerator to preserve the flavor. Depending on the oil, it can last for several years.

Peanut butter

This just needs to pass a simple smell test. If it’s unopened, you’re good to go doe six months, but it will start to degrade once it’s exposed to air or heat. Read the bottle to see if refrigeration is recommended.


White rice in an airtight container can last practically forever. Just don’t store it in a container where bugs can get it.

Brown rice doesn’t last as long because of oils that can get nasty over time. Expect a shelf life of six months, or a year if frozen.


An unopened jar is good for a year — but really, who waits that long to eat salsa?

After you open the jar, you can refrigerate it for two weeks. And to avoid unwanted growths, spoon out your salsa rather into a bowl instead of dipping your chips — and fingers and god knows what else — into the jar.


Expiration dates on soda are something that never seemed to make sense, but beverages — adult and otherwise — can lose something over time.

Check here for a handy list.

Soy sauce

Keep it in a cool dark place, but once it’s opened, stick it in the fridge.

You can keep this for several years, but the color may darken and the taste may change after a year.


To test if your spices are still virile, use your nose. If the smell is dull or not at all vibrant, it’s time for a new bottle.

To prolong the life of dried spices, keep them at room temperature and away from the oven or other sources of heat. That means you shouldn’t store them in the cabinet above your stove or even in a spice rack next to your stove.


Granulated sugar stays good pretty much forever if you keep it in an airtight container, but brown sugar is a different story.

It will harden when it dries out and is exposed to air for prolonged periods, so zip it up in a plastic bag and freeze it. When you defrost it, it will be soft again. Brown sugar is usually good for six months.


If you have an unopened container, it can last forever. The clock ticks down six months for opened packages.

Worchester sauce

Twelve years. Really, that’s what they say. Twelve years.

The flavor is actually supposed to get better with age. Keep it in a dark and cool place.

You can learn more about the shelf life of food here but keep in mind the authors of that site are less concerned with keeping your pantry in order and think more about preparing for a catastrophe like a zombie apocalypse or some other emergency that requires survival skills.

Have a topic you’d like to see covered in How To Not Suck? Or maybe you’re an expert who would like to share your insight with Consumerist readers? Send us a note at

You can read Karin Price Mueller’s stories for The Star-Ledger at, follow her on Facebook, and on Twitter @kpmueller.

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How To Not Suck At Making The Transition From School To The Real World
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16 Ways To Not Suck At Making Mother’s Day Special
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15 Things Everyone Needs To Know About Disability Insurance
15 Things People Of All Ages Need To Know About Long-Term Care Insurance
15 Things You Need To Know About Life Insurance
15 Things Everyone (Including Renters) Should Know About Homeowner’s Insurance
15 Things You Need To Know About Buying Auto Insurance
How To Not Suck… At Going To Small Claims Court
How To Not Suck… At Buying In Bulk
How To Not Suck At Planning Your Wedding, Part 5: Spending Your Wedding Cash
How To Not Suck At Planning Your Wedding, Part 4: The Honeymoon
How To Not Suck At Planning Your Wedding, Part 3: The Costly Little Extras
How To Not Suck At Planning Your Wedding, Part 2: The Stuff People Pay Too Much For
How To Not Suck At Planning Your Wedding, Part 1: The Most Expensive Steps
How To Not Suck… At Teaching Your Kids About Money
How To Not Suck… At Valentine’s Day Gifts
How To Not Suck… At Merging Your Money When You Marry
How To Not Suck… At Borrowing For College
How To Not Suck… At Saving For College
How To Not Suck… At Pre-Paying For Your Funeral
How To Not Suck… At Making Financial New Year’s Resolutions
How To Not Suck… At Last-Minute Christmas Gifting
How To Not Suck… At Saving For The Holidays
How To Not Suck… At Charitable Giving
How To Not Suck… At Disputing Credit Report Errors
How To Not Suck… At Lowering Your Utility Bills
How To Not Suck… At Home Inspections
How To Not Suck… At Understanding Credit Card Rewards
How To Not Suck… At Getting Ready For Tax Season
How To Not Suck… At Picking A Retirement Plan
How To Not Suck… At Deciding When To DIY
How To Not Suck… At Getting Out Of Debt
How To Not Suck… At First Year College Budgets

DISCLAIMER: Any websites, services, retailers, or brands mentioned in the story above are only intended as some of many options available to consumers, and do not constitute an endorsement by Consumerist, Consumerist Media LLC (CML) or its staff. Per Consumerist’s No Commercial Use Policy, such information may not be used by others in advertising or to promote a company’s product or service. In addition, this policy precludes any commercial use of any of CML’s published information in any form, or of the names of Consumers Union®, Consumer Media, Consumer Reports®, The Consumerist, or any other of CU or CML’s publications or services without CU or CML’s express written permission.

15 Product Trademarks That Have Become Victims Of Genericization

Sat, 2014-07-19 18:05
(Brandon King; kellogg; joseph a)

(Brandon King; kellogg; joseph a)

Sometimes, we hurt the ones we love. Which is why even if we didn’t mean to be so harsh, many products we use every day have become the victims of trademark genericization, meaning they’ve morphed from a single product identified under a name to an entire product category. And when courts get involved it becomes “genericide,” which sounds even more murderous. Can’t you just imagine Law & Order: Genericized Trademarks? [dun dun]

While some of the 15 products below are truly victims of genericide, having had their trademarks canceled in a court, others simply failed to register as trademarks at all, or in some cases, weren’t renewed or were abandoned for other reasons. Which means now you can have your own escalator company or sell flooring and call it linoleum. Wouldn’t suggest setting up your own heroin company, however.

1. Aspirin: Formally known as acetylsalicylic acid, aspirin was created in 1897 and originally trademarked by Bayer AG. The name means “pain relief, speed, reliability and tolerability,” according to Bayer. Aspirin comes from “acetyl” and Spirsäure, a German name for salicylic acid. Its time as a trademarked word would be short — in 1917 many of Bayer’s U.S. assets were confiscated as a result of World War 1, including its patents and trademarks.

2. Heroin: Speaking of losing trademarks, heroin was also stripped from Bayer in 1917. The drug derived from morphine was named trademarked by the company in 1898 based on the German word heroisch, which means “heroic, strong.” Couldn’t find mention of its heroin history on Bayer, which is unsurprising.

3. Cellophane: Cellophane gets its name from regenerated cellulose (the stuff that makes up much of plant’s cell walls) and diaphane, or transparent. It was created by Swiss chemist Jacques E. Brandenberger and patented in 1912. In 1923, DuPont chemists created a moisture-proof system for cellophane. It has since become genericized in the U.S., though still trademarked in other countries. Plastic wrap isn’t cellophane, by the way — it’s polyvinyl chloride.

4. Escalator [PDF]: First coined by Charles Seeberger of Otis Elevator Co. in 1900 when he debuted his device. The word comes from the roof the word scala for “steps” in Latin, with “E” as the prefix, and a suffix of “Tor.” Roughly, that means “traversing from.” It was also supposed to be pronounced with the accent on the middle syllable — es-CA-lator. Otis lost the trademark when the U.S. Patent Office ruled that even Otis had used escalator as a generic descriptive term in its own patents. It was officially genericized.

5. Trampoline: The first modern trampoline was built by George Nissen and Larry Griswold in 1936, and comes from the Spanish for “diving board” – trampolin. The generic term for it before was actually the “rebound tumbler.” It’s unclear when it lost its trademark, but anyone can now sell a trampoline.

6. Thermos: The predecessor to the thermos was Sir James Dewar’s “vacuum flask,” invented in 1892. The Thermos first hit the market in 1904 for commercial use, named as such by German glass blowers who held a contest to name the product. A Munich resident suggested Thermos from the Greek Therme for “heat.” Thermos GmbH sold trademark rights to three independent companies in 1907, who then began producing it and selling it around the world. It was named a generalized trademark in the U.S. in 1963, but remains a registered trademark in some other countries.

7. Dry Ice: Trademarked in 1925 by the DryIce Corporation, dry ice is solid CO2. It lost its trademark in 1932.

8. Kerosene: Abraham Gesner registered a trademark for combustible hydrocarbon liquid, derived from the Greek “kerns” for wax, in 1854. The North American Gas Light Company and the Downer Company were the only ones allowed to use the term for some years, until it eventually became genericized.

9. Laundromat: Named by George Edward Pendray, Westinghouse Electric introduced the Laundromat in 1940, the first automatic washing machine that could be wall-mounted. It was last registered to Westinghouse in 1952, and has since expired as a trademark, according to Westinghouse Nuclear still maintains a history page for the original company.

10. Linoleum: While Linoleum — from the Latin linum for “flax” and oeum, “oil” — was considered to be the first term to become generic, it was never trademarked by its English inventor, Frederick Walton. He established the Linoleum Manufacturing Company Ltd in 1864, but apparently never trademarked the term in the first place. That fact came to light when Walton was facing competitors in court in the late 1870s. By that time, the generalization had already happened, and it was too late.

11. App Store: Apple sued Amazon in 2011 claiming consumers could be confused by its “Appstore for Amazon” but then abandoned the trademark and the lawsuit in 2013.

12. Yo-Yo: Trademarked in the U.S. in 1932 by entrepreneur Donald F. Duncan, his company lost a case brought by ac competitor in 1965, when a federal appeals court ruled that the trademark was improperly registered and therefore invalid.

13. ZIP code: Otherwise known as the Zone Improvement System, the ZIP code was originally registered as a servicemark by the United States Postal Service in 1976 but has since expired due to non renewal.

14. Zipper: The word zip was already around as a noun and a verb, referring to sound it makes when you make the motion that accompanies that kind of noise. You zip and it goes “zip!” It was first registered as a trademark in 1925 by B.F. Goodrich for overshoes with fasteners invented by Gideon Sundback. An executive is said to have slid the fastened up and down saying, “zip ‘er up,” thus, Zipper. The company sued to protect the trademark in 1930 but only got to keep the rights to Zipper Boots, as zipper had entered the common lexicon by then as a generic term.

15. TV Dinner: C.A. Swanson & Sons developed the pre-packaged, frozen dinner meal in 1953 and trademarked it as TV Brand Frozen Dinner, but stopped using TV Dinner in 1962. Today, any kind of frozen meal you can eat in front of a screen could be called a TV dinner.

The below names are still protected by trademarks so they can’t be used by competitors without facing trademark infringement lawsuits, but could be in danger of genericide. Some you might know and use full well knowing it’s a brand name — how often do you tell someone to just “rip the Band-Aid off”? But what about cooking something in the Crock-Pot, or perhaps calling a Realtor?

Bubble Wrap
Jet Ski
Lava lamp
Memory Stick
Ping Pong
Putt-Putt Golf
Saran Wrap
Scotch Tape
Super Glue

For more on genericide and genericized trademarks, check out these articles:
Genericide: Cancellation of a Registered Trademark by Jacqueline Stern in the 1982 Fordham Law Review [PDF]
The Genericide of Trademarks by John Dwight Ingram [PDF]

10 Answers To Credit Card Questions We Get Asked All The Time

Sat, 2014-07-19 16:00

Credit cards come with a lot of fine print. But the scene isn’t just complicated for cardholders; it’s complicated for the retailers that accept them, too. What needs signing, and what doesn’t? When can a store ask for ID? Are they allowed to charge different prices for cash and credit?

The Gimme-The-Answers-Already Cheat Sheet

Click on any answer to jump to the relevant section

1. Can a merchant set a minimum purchase amount for credit card transactions?
A merchant can set a minimum purchase amount for using a credit card, as long as it’s under $10.

2. Can a merchant charge more (or add a fee) for using a credit card?
In 40 states, a merchant can indeed tack on a surcharge or fee if you want to pay with a credit card.

3. Can a merchant ask to see my ID? / I wrote ‘See ID’ on my card, so I am protected from fraud… right?
Usually, a merchant can check your ID if they want to , but writing “see ID” on your card doesn’t do you any good.

4. Sometimes I have to sign for purchases and sometimes I don’t. What’s the deal?
In most cases, you only need to sign for purchases over $50.

5. Will I still have to sign for purchases after the big upgrade next year? What is the change next year?
Chip-and-PIN cards are coming, but you’ll have to keep signing for a while yet.

6. Can a merchant put a “hold” on my card for more than I spent, or for what they think I will spend?
A hotel can put an estimated hold on your card, but a restaurant can only authorize the actual, pre-tip bill.

7. Can a merchant make me agree to not issue a chargeback if something’s wrong?
You have a legal right to dispute transactions if something’s wrong, and no merchant can make you give it up.

8. Everyone says I should never use my debit card, because credit cards have fraud protection and debit cards don’t. Is that true?
Credit and debit cards both legally offer fraud liability protection, but time is of the essence. Report lost cards quickly.

9. Doesn’t my credit card give me extended warranties and other benefits?
Your credit card probably offers extended warranties and other cool benefits, but you’ll have to read some fine print to find them.

10. How do I report a merchant that’s not playing by the rules?
It’s surprisingly easy to report a merchant that refuses to play by the rules.

Six years ago, Consumerist answered your questions about these rules and others.

But since then, the law has changed, and so have the agreements the credit card companies have with the merchants who accept plastic. Here’s what you need to know now.

1. Can a merchant set a minimum purchase amount for credit card transactions?

Yes. According to both the Visa (PDF) and MasterCard (PDF) merchant agreements, a merchant may set a minimum transaction threshold for credit card purchases.

There are some conditions, though. For both MasterCard and for Visa, the minimum purchase amount…

  • must not exceed $10
  • must apply equally to card types from all issuers — so a Signature card or a Gold card from Capital One or from Chase all face the same minimum.

The MasterCard agreement also specifies that a merchant may not establish a different minimum for “MasterCard and another acceptance brand,” which basically translates to “if you want to take MasterCard, your minimum transaction threshold needs to be the same for every credit card user.”

The American Express merchant agreement (PDF) contains similar language. So in practice, pretty much any merchant that takes plastic that has a minimum threshold sets it the same (and lower than $10) across all card types.

2. Can a merchant charge more (or add a fee) for using a credit card?

Yes, they can — and that’s a relatively new thing. Since a legal settlement in 2013, merchants have been able to charge their customers additional surcharges for paying with a credit card.

There are conditions, though, and lots of them. Merchants can only charge so high a fee relative to the average annual cost of transactions. There are variable maximums for how high the fee can be. Merchants can only charge so much for one card (MasterCard or Visa) depending on what their agreements with competing products (Visa or MasterCard) say. The fee only applies to credit cards, and not to debit cards.

And on top of all that, the law varies from state to state. Visa has a flowchart (PDF) for their merchants that lists the ten states where surcharges are illegal. In 2013, those states were California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oklahoma, and Texas.

It’s a confusing set of rules. To avoid them, many merchants offer a discount for using cash rather than charging a fee for using credit cards. It works out roughly the same in the end for customers, but offering an incentive (a discount) for paying with cash is totally legal and doesn’t get into the morass of conditions and regulations. So when you see a gas station charging $3.79 a gallon but “$3.69 cash,” that’s well within the terms of their merchant agreement and the law.

3. Can a merchant ask to see my ID? / I wrote ‘See ID’ on my card, so I am protected from fraud… right?

This one is a little complicated. Sometimes merchants are supposed to ask to see your ID, and sometimes they’re not. Writing the words “See ID” on the back of your card doesn’t actually help you.

3 Things to Remember About Being Asked to Show Your ID

1. MasterCard and Visa merchants are allowed to request a photo ID but generally may not require it as a condition of purchase.

2. Merchants should not be recording any of the personal info on your ID. In fact, in some states it is illegal.

3. Writing “See ID” on your card does not help, as your card is technically not valid unless signed, and few merchants now check signatures anyway.

Here’s how it breaks down.

In general, merchants can check your ID, but usually won’t. MasterCard says a merchant “may request but not require” a customer to show ID, and American Express simply instructs merchants to “verify that the customer is the Cardmember.”

The Visa merchant guide is a little different. It says, “Although Visa rules do not preclude merchants from asking for cardholder ID… merchants cannot make an ID a condition of acceptance. Therefore, merchants cannot… refuse to complete a purchase transaction because a cardholder refuses to provide ID.”

Based on that, Visa recommends its merchants not spend time asking for ID.

But of course, there is a big exception.

At the time of purchase, when a customer swipes their card, the merchant is supposed to compare the signature on the card with the signature on the receipt. In the event that there is a discrepancy, or if the back of the card is unsigned, then merchants are instructed to ask for a photo ID to compare with.

If your card is unsigned and you’ve left the signature line blank, your card is technically not valid. (The words “not valid unless signed” are on the back there, just next to the signature box.) In that case, both MasterCard and Visa instruct the merchant to ask for your ID, then to ask you to sign the card and make sure that signature matches the one on your ID.

As for “See ID,” Visa’s merchant guide specifically addresses this… and finds it useless. The company points out that “criminals often don’t take the time to practice signatures. They use cards as quickly as possible after a theft and prior to the accounts being blocked. They are actually counting on [merchants] not to look at the back of the card and compare signatures.”

“Criminals often don’t take the time to practice signatures.”

Visa merchant guide

And, in fact, many merchants don’t — a huge number of stores use point-of-sale terminals where the customer swipes his or her own card and clerks never actually ask to see it… even though they are supposed to.

Realistically speaking, if your card number is stolen it’s just as likely that the criminals in question got the information from a skimmer, hack, or data breach and didn’t steal your actual, physical card. That number is then likely being used online, or on a cloned card. If that’s the case, then it doesn’t matter what you wrote on on the back.

The important thing is that merchants are only supposed to look at your ID, not to copy down information from it.

In fact writing anything down on your receipt — license number, expiration date, ZIP code, even your phone number — from your ID is illegal in some states, like California.

4. Sometimes I have to sign for purchases and sometimes I don’t. What’s the deal?

Over the past few years, credit card companies have rolled out programs allowing for faster, no-signature-required transactions at many businesses.

For both MasterCard (PDF) and Visa (PDF), in general a customer does not need to sign the receipt for any transaction under $50. There are excepted industries, like gambling and direct marketing, but for most transactions at most stores that threshold applies.

Additionally, credit card companies do not require a customer signature when the transaction involves a PIN. In the U.S., PIN use is currently mostly limited to debit card transactions and not credit card use. However, that is likely to begin changing in late 2015.

5. Will I still have to sign for purchases after the big upgrade next year? What is the change next year?

American credit cards are getting an upgrade in 2015 to become more secure, less susceptible to fraud, and more like their European siblings.

These smartcards work a little bit differently from the plastic in our wallets today. Where standard credit and debit cards keep all of their information encoded solely in the magnetic strip along the back, smartcards also have tiny chips embedded in them that encrypt the card’s information.

The chips cut back on card fraud because their existence makes cards significantly harder to clone: even if you get all of the information from a card’s magnetic strip, as through a skimmer, without the chip actually being present the card data is useless in a physical transaction.

In the UK and other parts of the world, smartcard tech is combined with PIN use (chip-and-PIN), which has dramatically cut back on in-person, point-of-sale fraud. (Online fraud is still a different concern.)

The big milestone in the U.S. comes in October, 2015. That’s when American Express, MasterCard, and Visa plan their liability shift. The liability shift does exactly what it sounds like. Today, if someone uses a fraudulent card at a store, the merchant doesn’t have to eat the money. But once we cross that deadline next October, then any merchant that doesn’t have a smartcard-enabled system in place will be out the cash. They, not the card issuer, will have the liability.

Basically, it’s a big incentive for merchants to upgrade their systems. If they do, they aren’t on the hook to absorb the cost of fraud. If they don’t, they are.

Of course, just because merchants have to have smartcard-ready technology in place by a certain deadline doesn’t mean consumers will see a light-switch-style change. It will take time for banks slowly to start issuing chip-enabled cards to their customers, and in day-to-day use chip-and-sign tech doesn’t look, on the surface, all that different from what we do today.

6. Can a merchant put a “hold” on my card for more than I spent, or for what they think I will spend?

A “hold is when a merchant effectively tells your bank or credit card company to set aside a certain amount of money for an impending purchase. It’s most frequently seen at restaurants and hotels, where customers’ tips or add-on charges can’t be predicted in advance.

The answer to this question depends on the merchant type. There are different rules for services like restaurants and hair salons then there are for travel businesses — hotels, car rentals, and cruise lines.

Hotels, cruise lines, and car rental companies can pre-authorize a charge. So if you’re booking a hotel for two nights, the hotel can place a hold on your card for the estimated cost of your stay, and then charge you the actual value when you check out. If it’s within a certain threshold (generally 15%) of the estimated charge, they don’t have to go back and do a second round of authorizations.

For services with a gratuity (“restaurant, taxicab, limousine, bar, tavern, beauty/barber shop,
and health/beauty spa merchant transactions”), the initial authorization can only be for what you actually spent.

If dinner was $50, then a $50 authorization appears on your account with a notice indicating that the value is subject to change. That $10 tip you added when you signed the receipt gets added later, and then you’re charged the full $60.

7. Can a merchant make me agree to not issue a chargeback if something’s wrong?

Nope. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, you have a right to dispute transactions.

MasterCard’s merchant agreement simply says, “A Merchant must not impose, as a condition of MasterCard or Maestro Card acceptance, a requirement that the Cardholder waive a right to dispute a Transaction.

When there is a problem, it’s good to give the merchant a chance to resolve it with you first. But if they refuse to communicate or to act in good faith, then consumers have the right to take it farther up the chain.

8. Everyone says I should never use my debit card, because credit cards have fraud protection and debit cards don’t. Is that true?

They both have some fraud protection. However, if someone takes your debit card on an Xbox-buying spree, that’s a few hundred dollars missing from your bank account until the situation is fixed. If someone does it with your credit card, the problem can be sorted out before you have to pay the bill.

Under the law, you can be held responsible for up to $50 fraudulently charged to your credit card. However, if you report your card as lost as stolen before anyone else tries to use it, you are responsible for $0. If your credit card number was stolen, but you still have the card (like the millions of folks who shopped at Target last year), you are also not liable for any charges.

Debit cards rely even more on timely reporting than credit cards do. If you call in a missing card before anyone uses it, you have a $0 liability. If you report it within two days, you could be on the hook for up to $50. But if you wait longer than that, you could be out $500 or more.

The FTC has an easy-to-read breakdown of what you’re responsible for when, but the moral of the story is clear: if you think your cards are lost or stolen, call your issuing bank as soon as you humanly can.

9. Doesn’t my credit card give me extended warranties and other benefits?

Probably! Card-issuing banks offer a wide variety of quiet benefits, not really advertised, to their cardholders.

You probably know if your card offers cash-back rebates, frequent flier miles, or other perks. Other benefits vary widely from provider to provider. Extended warranties are a common benefit, as is rental car insurance. Other benefits include free movie tickets, price protection, baggage delay insurance, roadside assistance, or even cell phone replacement, among others.

You’ll have to dig into the fine print of your issuing bank’s website for your Cardholder Guide To Benefits (all that teeny tiny legalese fine print) to figure out what, specifically, you have access to.

10. How do I report a merchant that’s not playing by the rules?

If a merchant does try to pull anything they’re not allowed to around credit cards, you can report them. Visa and MasterCard both have easy-to-use online forms for doing just that. American Express card holders can do it by calling the 800 number on the back of their cards.

Body Found After 5 Years Of Auto-Paid Bills Finally Identified As Homeowner

Fri, 2014-07-18 23:58

(Mummified in Michigan)

(Mummified in Michigan)

The story of a woman in Michigan whose mortgage and other bills were paid automatically out of her five-figure savings account while friends and family assumed that she was doing her own thing captured the public’s imagination, since the idea that we could die and not be missed is chilling. Now DNA tests have confirmed that the homeowner was indeed the mummified body found in the back seat of her Jeep.

Yes, common sense would tell us that someone found in the back of a missing woman’s car that was parked in her garage is most likely the homeowner, but the condition of the woman’s body made her difficult to identify. After investigators were unable to find her dental records, they turned to testing DNA from the body. Her body was found in March as the house finally entered foreclosure. She had last been seen in public late in 2008, and her family and friends were used to not hearing from her for long periods of time.

Ms. Farrenkopf’s niece runs a Facebook page called Mummified in Michigan where the family shares news about the case, as well as photos and stories about her life. The family maintains that there are still too many questions about the case, and something doesn’t sound right. For example: what happened to her pets? Why didn’t a person who the bank sent to inventory her house in the last year notice that there was someone in the car when they looked inside to check the mileage? We hope that the family finds answers.

Officials ID body found after 5 years in Pontiac garage [Times-Herald]

Starbucks Employees Getting Really Tired Of Your Free Drink Record Attempts

Fri, 2014-07-18 23:16

71-dollar-starbucks-drinkWe track and post attempts to make the largest possible Starbucks beverage on a single free drink coupon because the “competition” amuses us, and because we report on unusual things that happen in commerce. These record attempts are really unusual because, the online chatter indicates, Starbucks recently reminded their “partners” that Frappuccinos are not to be served by the free vat.

Of course, we already knew that: Starbucks corporate has explained to us that policy forbids making hot drinks larger than 31 ounces (a Trenta in Starbucks-speak) and cold drinks larger than 24 ounces (a frozen Venti). Still, there’s always a gap between the policy and what actually happens in the real world, and these mega-beverages are in that metaphorical gap. (Not a literal gap, because a gallon of coffee doesn’t fit in a gap. I don’t know where this metaphor is going.)

Over on Reddit, there are reports from behind the counter that a memo went out in June reminding everyone that this sort of thing is not allowed. Leave your buckets at home, Gold members and birthday boys and girls. “A recent action item stated we were NOT to fulfill these requests, and all beverages are limited to the size cups that we serve. We are not required to serve Frappuccinos in cups bigger than 26 oz,” one partner explained.

Starbucks partners, do you secretly long to make one of these mega-beverages, or do you secretly want to punch anyone who suggests or publicizes such a thing in the face? Our tipline is confidential and always open. As long as you don’t want to punch us.

Anyone Else Tired Of This Yet? [Reddit]

Free Starbucks Drink Record Was Set July 4th With 77-Shot $71 Drink
$61 Sexagintuple Frap 2.0 Breaks Starbucks Free Drink Record
New Starbucks Free Drink Record Set With $54 Sexagintuple Vanilla Bean Mocha Frappuccino
Is A “Quadriginoctuple Frap” The Priciest Starbucks Drink Ever Ordered Or A Scary Medical Procedure?
What Is The Most Expensive Drink At Starbucks?

The FDA Asks That You Please Not Ingest Pure Powdered Caffeine

Fri, 2014-07-18 22:27

(Carbon Arc)

(Carbon Arc)

People have been drinking caffeinated beverages for centuries, and popping caffeine pills for decades, and the Food and Drug Administration currently puts no hard limit on caffeine content in food. But the recent death of an Ohio teen who ingested the pure powdered form of caffeine has the FDA warning consumers against the incredibly potent stimulant.

The amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee is often high, but generally considered safe. However, the FDA says that a single teaspoon — tea, with a lower-case “t” — is the equivalent of 25 cups of coffee.

Even if you think you could handle that jolt to your system, the FDA warns that “It is nearly impossible to accurately measure powdered pure caffeine with common kitchen measuring tools and you can easily consume a lethal amount.”

According to the warning, symptoms of caffeine overdose can include rapid or dangerously erratic heartbeat, seizures and death. Symptoms of caffeine toxicity include vomiting, diarrhea, stupor and disorientation.

“These symptoms are likely to be much more severe than those resulting from drinking too much coffee, tea or other caffeinated beverages,” writes the FDA, which is advising people to just say no to powdered caffeine.

Caffeine has come under fire in recent years, especially with regard to its use in so-called energy drinks. Of even greater concern are people who mix highly caffeinated beverages with alcohol, as the stimulating effects of caffeine may mask the drinker’s level of intoxication or allow the drinker to think they are less drunk than they really are.

Caffeine is also being added to non-beverage items, like the Wrigley’s Alert Energy gum, that the company pulled the plug on in 2013 after the FDA announced it was investigating food products with added caffeine.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has ben pushing the FDA to do more about alerting consumers to the possible hazards of consuming too much caffein, says the agency’s warning about pure caffeine is a “step forward” but that the FDA should “take whichever additional measures it can against these products.”

This includes using its authority to put limits on caffeine content, and requiring warning labels when necessary.

“The overuse and misuse of caffeine in the food supply is creating a wild-west marketplace,” CSPI explains, “and it’s about time the sheriff noticed and did something.”

Man Accused Of Burglarizing Fried Chicken Restaurant, Returning For Lunch

Fri, 2014-07-18 22:07

green_shirtWe aren’t in the business of giving advice to criminals, but a man in Costa Mesa, California might want to rethink his brand loyalty to El Pollo Loco. After you burglarize a place, it’s probably a good idea if you don’t return for lunch on the same day. At minimum, change your clothes first.

Police say that early on Wednesday morning, he was caught on camera breaking the restaurant and making a mess as he searched for cash. He didn’t find any, so apparently he thought it would be cool if he came back for lunch. While wearing the same bright green shirt and neon and black featuring “Animal” from the Muppets. Isn’t there a dress code for burglaries?

That’s a memorable outfit, and employees who had seen the surveillance footage from earlier that day made the connection. Employees called the cops to report that, as a police statement explained, “a subject matching the description of the suspect seen on the store video was back at the restaurant, in line to order food.”

Police arrived and arrested the man right in the restaurant. He’s also suspected of a number of other commercial burglaries in the area.

Alleged El Pollo Loco Burglar Arrested After Returning To Scene Of The Crime For Lunch [CBS Los Angeles]

Yes, There Is A Toaster That Will Toast Your Likeness Onto Bread

Fri, 2014-07-18 22:06

It's you! On bread.

It’s you! On bread. (

As if splashing your selfie over social media isn’t enough, self-indulgence can now be obtained to an even higher degree by literally indulging in your own face, by way of toast. A novelty toaster company is selling custom toasters that sear your likeness onto bread, thereby providing an easy way to eat your own face, covered in butter. This is getting weird, sorry.

The Vermont Novelty Toast Corp. has been making novelty toasters since 2010, tweaking the appliances to toast logos and letters. Things are getting more complicated now, with in-depth graphics and the human face.

The founder of the company says the idea hit him a few months ago while he was trying to engrave a plate with a photo of his son.

“It came out great,” Galen Dively tells ABC News. “He loved it! And then he ate it.”

Here’s how it works: Customers submit photos, which he then downloads and tinkers with to make sure the photos will work on toast — manipulating color and contrast, and taking out background elements. The computer then turns those images into files that a plasma cutter can read.

“We just press some buttons and [the selfie] is cut out of sheet metal,” he explains, and those are inserted into the toasters. The appliances sell for $75 a pop and ship for free.

And there are some best practices users should employ when attempting to toast their faces, he adds.

“You want to choose a bread that’s not very airy. White bread works really well, but I’ve used Ezekiel bread. It all depends on the design, too. If the design has more fine details, then you really want to get a fine-grain bread.”

I always saw myself as a fine-grained kind of gal anyway.

You’re Toast: Company Will Stamp Your Face on Sliced Bread [ABC News]

From AT&T To Verizon: What The Web’s Biggest Players Told The FCC About Net Neutrality

Fri, 2014-07-18 21:59

The FCC originally planned to stop taking comments about their net neutrality proposal on Tuesday. But after demand overwhelmed and crashed their antique IT system, they extended the deadline to 11:59 p.m. (EDT) tonight. As of yesterday, well over one million comments had been entered, and that number’s still going up. Clearly, the public cares — but what is the public saying?

There’s a clear recurring trend in comments from individuals: paid fast lanes are not a valid option. Some advocate for Title II regulation, some stand against it, and some don’t mention it at all, but millions have laid out their personal cases for why internet access is important to them and why big companies should not be able to interfere in consumers’ access.

Still, not all comments are created equal. Advocacy groups, companies, and trade and lobbying groups have now all had their say too, with “comments” over a hundred pages long. Here’s what they’re saying.

  • We need Title II to protect First Amendment rights.
  • The ACLU goes straight to calling for classification of broadband services as a Title II common carrier. They see “concentration in communications markets” as a danger that can prevent citizens from accessing their first amendment rights.

    Ideally, they point out, the market would regulate such restrictive service providers, as consumers would switch to an ISP that didn’t discriminate among its network traffic. In the real world, though, that’s impossible due to the extreme lack of competition and monopoly conditions in most markets.

    The ACLU’s key argument, though, is that this FCC rule isn’t about 2014 or 2015 — it’s about future-proofing, and that’s why they need to get it right: “Reclassification is especially important in the light of the potential First Amendment risks posed by [Section 706] case-by-case enforcement. … We fear an overly aggressive future administration could conceivably and abusively cite Section 706 in regulating edge providers, and could potentially extend Section 706 to content regulation. In our view, any such application would be a gross abuse of the plain terms of the statute, but there is no assurance such a future administration would occur.”

  • Title II is terrible and so is regulation. P.S. We like fast lanes.
  • Like other broadband companies, AT&T is in favor of as little regulation as possible. They stand to make money if paid prioritization goes through, and so although they claim to be against fast lanes they propose a giant loophole that would allow them to charge anyway.

    AT&T also argues that Section 706 regulation is the way to go, because Title II classification will ruin everything forever. Separately, they submitted a 19-page PowerPoint presentation all about peering agreements. Unsurprisingly, they also advocate against applying net neutrality non-discrimination standards to mobile broadband.

    The company sums up their 99-page opinion — that there is no problem and we should all move along — succinctly early on, saying: “Calls to use this proceeding to impose a host of additional regulatory controls on broadband Internet access providers should be firmly rejected, particularly because the record is devoid of evidence of any actual threat to Internet openness that could possibly warrant heavy-handed regulation.”

  • We are so dedicated to net neutrality that we don’t need stronger rules, which wouldn’t work anyway.
  • Comcast favors tighter regulation about as much as you’d think, which is not at all. They more or less say the Wheeler proposal is fine, except for the bit where they want to add some cases where some traffic and “specialized services” are exempt so Comcast can charge for delivering them.

    Comcast spends the majority of their 74 pages arguing heavily against Title II classification, saying it would be counterproductive, ineffective, and unlawful. Plus, Comcast says, it wouldn’t do what everyone wants anyway because common carriers have the right to some “permissible discrimination.” They also feel that public wifi and mobile broadband should be subject to the same standard, whatever the rule ends up being.

    Their basic argument: allowing Comcast to make more money will be an economic benefit to America — and not doing so will stifle innovation, and cost everyone. “Relying on [section 706] authority,” Comcast says, “the Commission should reaffirm the importance of its transparency framework, reinstate a ‘no blocking’ rule with a revised legal rationale, and establish a ‘commercial reasonableness’ standard to govern direct commercial relationships between broadband providers and edge providers relating to the transmission of Internet traffic over broadband Internet access service. Following this path will enable the Commission to build confidence across the Internet ecosystem and strengthen the ‘virtuous circle’ that has produced
    abundant benefits for consumers, businesses, and the economy as a whole.”

    Common Cause
  • Monopolies and industry consolidation mean we need Title II now.
  • Common Cause is the advocacy group where former FCC commissioner Michael Copps now holds a role. They argue that an open internet is essential for a functional democracy, allowing citizens both to be an informed electorate and to interact with their government at every level.

    To this end, they write, paid prioritization needs to be banned altogether, and broadband service needs to be reclassified under Title II. Extreme industry consolidation has left no other real choice: “Limited competition in last mile connectivity means end-users are largely captive to ISP gatekeeping behaviors,” the comment says.

    In order to preserve the ability for citizens to participate in the political process, they conclude, the FCC needs to prevent ISPs from doing that and they should do that using Title II. “Communications policy should empower consumers, not gatekeepers,” the organization writes. “Any proposal to allow blocking, discrimination, or paid prioritization would strengthen incumbent ISPs that possess both the technical ability and financial incentives to act as toll collectors, judges and juries of internet content and access.”

    Consumers Union
  • Consumers need protecting from big companies that just get bigger. Use Title II.
  • Consumers Union echoes sentiments of other advocacy groups and calls directly for Title II reclassification of broadband services as the best way to protect consumers.

    CU (the advocacy arm of our parent company, Consumer Reports) writes that going with Title II would make things clearest for everyone, saying: “Reclassification would put in place clear rules of the road to protect consumers and would ensure that consumers – and not a handful of ISPs – have control over access to content online.” They, too, say that whatever rule the FCC puts in place needs to apply equally to mobile broadband and to traditional wired broadband.

    The organization also points to the looming Comcast/TWC and AT&T/DirecTV merger plans, pointing out that consolidation leaves companies with big incentives and consumers with no options. “The market for last-mile internet access is already controlled by a handful of powerful companies and the largest ISPs are becoming increasingly vertically integrated with programmers,” CU writes. “Paid priority arrangements would give ISPs even greater power to determine which services reach consumers, putting them in a position to determine which services will thrive. With control over both the pipes and content, these providers have the leverage and incentive to favor their own content over the programming of their competitors, and to make market entry difficult for new entrants.”

    Information Technology Industry Council
  • We are mostly okay with the proposed rule, because we can afford to benefit from fast lane access.
  • This industry group represents many major tech companies, including Apple, Ebay, Facebook, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Yahoo, and a whole bunch of others.

    The ITI argues that whatever rule the FCC puts into place needs to protect not only consumers, but also businesses large and small. To that end, they advocate against Title II classification — calling it a “heavily regulatory” framework that would make the FCC too hands-on — but instead want to see something very like the now-vacated 2010 rule.

    The ITI largely supports the proposed rule, agreeing that ISPs should not be able to block or degrade any lawful activity, but that “the rule should not bar the potential for commercial arrangements that could benefit consumers.” They also support the FCC’s plan to take a case-by-case look at commercial arrangements to determine whether they meet an agreed-upon minimum acceptable level of service.

    The organization “recognizes that without proper protections, commercial arrangements between online service providers and broadband ISPs have the potential to adversely impact competition and choice in the online marketplace,” they write, but that doesn’t preclude certain arrangements that would benefit the biggest, richest companies who they represent. “Consistent with the no-blocking rule, the Commission should permit opportunities for companies to experiment with commercial agreements that could benefit customers”.

    Internet Association
  • We don’t need reclassification, but we do need to block fast lanes.
  • This trade group represents Air BnB, Amazon, Ebay, Etsy, Expedia, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Netflix, reddit, Twitter, Yahoo, Yelp, Uber, and a few dozen other internet companies you have almost certainly heard of. (And yes, Google, Yahoo, and others are members of both organizations.)

    The open internet, they write, is essential to innovation and growth and the owners of the last mile should not be allowed to hamper it. The IA takes a slightly different tactic from the ITI, though, pointing out that ISPs do have both the means and the motivation to put policies in place that discriminate among internet traffic sources, and that they should not be allowed to do so. Instead, the FCC should require broadband providers to undertake “application agnostic” network management protocols. The organization also supports applying the same regulations to mobile broadband as to wirelines.

    However, the IA stops short of addressing reclassification, instead simply hinting around the edges that they hope the FCC doesn’t go that far. Mainly, the IA focuses on what they want to see the FCC do, and disregards the how. “The current proposed rule proposes a difficult to enforce, multi-factor framework that is not focused on the goals of broadband deplotment and adoption … and that could lead to overreaching regulatory interventsion by the Commission,” the IA writes. “Consumers and the online ecosystem would be far better served by clearer and more straightforward prohibitions against blocking and paid prioritization.”

  • Comcast ruins everything. We need Title II and rules about peering/interconnection.
  • Netflix filed their own comment, separately from any of the trade groups that they’re a member of. They, more than any other content company, have been at the center of recent disputes over peering, prioritization, and bandwidth use and everyone bandies them around as a test case or case study.

    Netflix, unlike many other tech companies but like most consumer advocate groups, comes down in favor of Title II reclassification. They also discuss at length the ways in which their streaming service degraded prior to their paid agreement with Comcast earlier this year, and explain that although peering and interconnection are being considered separately from the Open Internet rule, they are also a vital part of network neutrality.

    This piecemeal approach under section 706 ultimately will not work, Netflix says. The clearest route to a policy that supports non-discrimination policies is reclassification. “Title II provides a solid basis to adopt prohibitions on blocking and unreasonable discrimination by ISPs. Opposition to Title II is largely political, not legal,” their comment says. They continue by pointing out that “the D.C. Circuit [court] in Verizon pointed to the Commission’s failure to reclassify broadband Internet access as a telecommunications service under Title II as the chief impediment to a solid jurisdictional basis for meaningful open Internet rules.” So reclassification, then, would prevent this all from ending up in court again in the near future.

  • Title II reclassification is vital to setting any rule, and that rule should ban fast lanes.
  • The “front page of the internet” did what they do best: crowdsourced part of the comment to their community, and told personal stories.

    A fast lane, they explain, would have throttled reddit before it even got off the ground. Although the site has a huge number of subscribers and moves a tremendous amount of traffic, it doesn’t generate the same level of revenue as Google or Facebook and would likely not be able to handle paying an ISP for priority access to reasonable connection speeds.

    In order to create any kind of valid regulation, reddit argues, the FCC has no choice but to first reclassify ISPs as common carriers. “TFCC cannot do a bright line rule against discrimination without Title II,” reddit writes. “Nor can it ban access fees and paid prioritization, as the court already ruled that such a ban leaves “no room at all” (not substantial room) for discrimination. Thus, in order to enact the rules it must, the FCC needs to classify broadband providers (which, as the FCC recognized in 2010, have terminating access monopolies over their users) as ‘telecommunications services’ under Title II of the Communications Act and apply rulings with appropriate forbearance.”

  • Title II is for trains. Paid prioritization gives us, content companies, and consumers more flexibility.
  • Verizon has a lot to say, in their whopping 184-page comment — as one might expect, since it was their lawsuit that led to the 2010 net neutrality rule being vacated in the first place.

    Verizon says that the best environment is one that has as little regulation as possible. They have no incentive to throttle any service, they say, because consumers will dump them and flock to competitors if they do. (Ignoring the fact that while FiOS customers might have one other local option, Verizon DSL consumers almost never do.)

    Verizon calls out “superficial news reports, sensationalistic interest-group fund-raising appeals, and even late-night comedy routines” for exaggerating the threat that ISPs may pose, but also sings the praises of the proposed “flexibility to offer new products and services,” including those which would rely on paid prioritization agreements. The real threats to equality of internet access, they say, come from Amazon, Netflix, and Google.

    And as for Title II reclassification? Well, Verizon argues, that would basically send the internet back to the Stone Age. “The arcane regulatory framework embodied in Title II was crafted for 19th century railroad monopolies and the early 20th century one-wire telephone world. The price and service regulation inherent in Title II have no place in today’s fast-paced and competitive Internet marketplace, and the threats posed by this approach would not likely be confined to broadband providers but would spread inevitably to other Internet sectors.”


    Millions have had their say, but there’s always room for one more. If you still haven’t gotten your comment in, here’s everything you need to know about submitting your opinion to the FCC. You’ve got until midnight tonight.

    Police: Woman Harasses Customers, Drops Pants At Restaurant, Gets Arrested

    Fri, 2014-07-18 21:49

    (Great Beyond)

    (Great Beyond)

    No shirt, no shoes, no pants, no service? A Seattle-area drive-in may want to consider the addition after a woman allegedly harassed customers, assaulted employees, then dropped her pants.

    According to a report, employees at Dick’s Drive-In were party to a rather odd encounter with a customer Wednesday.

    Employees of the drive-in called police around 5:30 p.m. to report that a woman was harassing customers and refusing to leave the property.

    The woman allegedly threw a condiment holder and donation box at employees. One of the items reportedly hit an employee in the arm, causing a scratch.

    While that’s a weird encounter of its own, things only escalated from there.

    Witnesses told officers that the woman then pulled down her pants and performed a lewd act in front of the restaurant.

    Police arrested the woman for investigation of assault and harassment. Officers say she caused $75 worth of damage to the restaurant. Meanwhile, it’s unclear how much damage she caused to patrons who can never unsee what they saw.

    Police: Lewd woman drops trou, attacks staff at Dick’s Drive-In []

    California City Will Fine Couple $500 For Not Watering Brown Lawn, State Will Fine’em $500 If They Do

    Fri, 2014-07-18 21:11



    When you’re in a steady relationship, communication is clear. Because when mom says to do one thing, and dad says another, the kids get really confused. Such is the case in California, where the state has issued rules for homeowners to conserve water in the midst of extreme drought, with fines of $500 per day or violating those guidelines, but one city is threatening to fine a couple $500 — unless they water their lawn.

    In the epitome of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation, Laura and Mark received notice from Glendora, Calif. that they’d get a $500 penalty for not watering their brown lawn… on the same day the state approved mandatory outdoor watering restrictions with the same fine for violating that attached, $500.

    Why is the lawn brown? Because they’re conserving water. Why are they conserving water? Because California asked them to — the state water board chairman even called brown lawns in Cali a “badge of honor.”

    But Mom and dad aren’t communicating effectively, it seems.

    “Despite the water conservation efforts, we wish to remind you that limited watering is still required to keep landscaping looking healthy and green,” says the letter, according to the Associated Press, setting a 60-day deadline to get the brown green again.

    They’re not alone in the confusion, Laura adds.

    “My friends in Los Angeles got these letters warning they could be fined if they water, and I got a letter warning that I could be fined for not watering,” she explains. “I felt like I was in an alternate universe.”

    While there’s nothing on the books that says local governments can’t fine citizens for brown lawns, Gov. Jerry Brown’s office isn’t a fan of those fees, either.

    “These efforts to conserve should not be undermined by the short-sighted actions of a few local jurisdictions, who chose to ignore the statewide crisis we face, the farmers and farmworkers losing their livelihoods, the communities facing drinking water shortages and the state’s shrinking reservoirs,” said Amy Norris, a spokeswoman for the California Environmental Protection Agency, in a written statement.

    But local officials say you shouldn’t have to choose between nice landscaping and being drought-conscious — just because there’s a dearth of water doesn’t mean you have the right to drive down property values, by way of drought-resistant landscaping or turf removal programs.

    “During a drought or non-drought, residents have the right to maintain their landscaping the way they want to, so long as it’s aesthetically pleasing and it’s not blighted,” said Al Baker, president of the California Association of Code Enforcement Officers.

    Another resident who received violation notices in Orange County says she spent $600 installing such drought-resistant landscaping, and still thinks the whole thing is nuts, especially when she sees signs urging residents to conserve water.

    “It’s almost crazy because one agency is telling you one thing and another is forcing you to do the opposite,” she said.

    California cities issue warnings about brown lawns even while state encourages saving water [Associated Press]

    Kia Recalls 52,000 Kia Soul Hatchbacks Because Loss Of Steering Can Cause A Crash

    Fri, 2014-07-18 20:44

    (Ben Schumin)

    (Ben Schumin)

    Not even the adorable – and now buff – Kia hamsters would be able to maneuver the 2014 Kia Soul if the steering system failed. But that shouldn’t be the case much longer, now that the car company has issued a recall of nearly 52,000 vehicles.

    According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report [PDF] Kia recalled 51,641 model year 2014 Kia Soul hatchbacks because a plug issue could cause the steering system to fail, and you know, that could cause a crash.

    The plug that secures the pinion gear to the steering gear assembly may loosen because of improper application of thread-locking adhesive. If that occurs, the gear can separate from the steering assembly causing a loss of steering.

    Officials with Kia tell NHTSA that it will begin notifying consumers this month and dealers will replace the pinion plug.

    There have been no reported crashed involving the steering failure issue.

    A Tale Of Two Uber Ice Creams: It Was The Best Of Times, It Was The Meltiest Of Times

    Fri, 2014-07-18 20:19



    I scream, you scream, we all want to make loud noises over that frozen dessert made of sweetened milk fat. So hearing that Uber is offering an on-demand ice cream delivery in certain cities today is no doubt quickening many hearts. But at $5 a pop, is the stuff even good?

    The headline is a lie, first of all, because there are many more than two ice creams involved [list of cities here].

    Menu items also vary by city, so it’s understandable that some offerings are better than others (hope you’re representing with frozen custard, Wisconsin) and it sounds like those getting soft serve are having a better time.

    Consumerist heard from friends in Boston and New York City today, with Mary sending her $50 receipt for herself and coworkers reading, “Well, this just happened” and Liz saying she also “got cool shades” with her choice of vanilla or chocolate soft serve with sprinkles from a Mister Softee truck.

    While those two had a good experience, others aren’t so lucky. Hence, the two kinds of tales, or whatever. Dickens!

    Reader Karen wrote to us on Twitter, saying, “This is the Uber_BOS ‘ice cream’ that was delivered to me. It’s not even noon! This is liquid & sticks.”

    On the one hand, this is way more convenient than having to stalk the ice cream man — you just choose ICE CREAM on the app instead of Uber or UberX and it shows up.

    But my 7-year-old self is slightly sad at the thought of not feeling that immediate adrenaline kick as soon as the ice cream truck’s song tinkles through the air, and of having to chase it down the block screaming “MOOOOMMMMM!!! I NEED MONEY!!! MOOMMMMM!”

    July Food And Supplement Recall Roundup – More Salmonella Smoothies

    Fri, 2014-07-18 20:13



    In our July Recall Roundup for food, the Great Chia Seed Recall of 2014 continues, ice cream has mismatched flavor labels, and there are mysterious substances in the ham. Oh, and Foster Farms finally recalled some of the chicken blamed for a recent salmonella outbreak.

    Our monthly Recall Roundups have grown so expansive that we’ve had to separate them into two separate posts: one for consumer goods, and one for consumables.

    If you have any of these listed items in your pantry, refrigerator, or freezer, first check the varieties and flavors against the ones listed on the recall site or press release, then check expiration date or lot numbers.

    When there’s a match, don’t panic! If an item is listed as having undeclared walnuts and you’re not allergic to walnuts, for example, you don’t have to do anything at all. You can keep the item, eat it, not eat it, or return it to the store or the manufacturer for your own peace of mind.

    Items that may be contaminated with pathogens or foreign objects are worrisome for everyone, and you should return them to the retail store where you bought them, or contact the company for a refund and further instructions.

    Organic Traditions Ultimate Superfood Trail Mix – possible Salmonella contamination
    Häagen-Dazs Chocolate Chocolate Chip Ice Cream – may contain delicious, dangerous peanuts
    Oriya Organics Superfood Protein Medley – possible Salmonella contamination

    Uncle Ben’s Garden Vegetable with Peas, Carrots & Corn pouches – may contain undeclared gluten (barley)

    Richard’s Too Good BBQ, Hot, and Teriyaki sauces – may be contaminated with Clostridium botulinum (botulism)

    Organic Traditions Sprouted Chia Seed Powder – possible Salmonella contamination
    Organic Traditions Sprouted Chia & Flax Seed Powder – possible Salmonella contamination
    Organic Traditions Chia Seeds – possible Salmonella contamination

    Foodmaxx, Foster Farms, Kroger, Safeway, Savemart, Sunland, and Valbest chicken products – possible Salmonella contamination – no longer on the market but may lurk in customers’ frezers (also read our posts about this delayed recall and why it may hurt Foster Farms financially)
    Wegmans Food You Feel Good About Organic Ham – may be contaminated with “extraneous materials.”

    Your Corinthian-Operated School Is Closing, But You Might Not Be Completely Screwed

    Fri, 2014-07-18 20:13

    It’s not everyday that a higher education institution shuts down or announces it might be sold. But for the thousands of students attending Corinthian College Inc. (CCI) schools — like Everest University, WyoTech, or Heald College –– that’s their new reality, and it’s one that leaves more questions than answers.

    A Quick Guide To Your Concerns

    My School Is Closing For Good
    Students at closed schools may be off the hook for paying back federal student loan debt. Borrowers with private students loans don’t have an automatic out, but shouldn’t count out the option either.

    I’m Being Put In A Teach-Out Program
    Students whose schools are being phased-out instead of sold or closed down may be stuck with their student loan debt. They may be able to withdraw and seek at least partial refunds.

    My Teach-Out Program Is Being Done Through Another School
    Students put into teach-out programs through other schools may be able to seek full discharge of federal student loans.

    My School Is Being Sold
    Students at schools that are put up for sale are stuck in a dangerous limbo that could leave them in debt and without their current program of study.

    Look For Exceptional Circumstances
    If you can prove the quality of your education deteriorated before you withdrew from a school, you might be able to discharge some student loan debt.

    Another For-Profit School Wants Me As A Student
    Other for-profit schools are likely to promote their program while students wait to hear the fate of their Corinthian schools. But these students could just end up in a similar situation.

    Earlier this month CCI reached a deal with the Dept. of Education that included closing or selling nearly 100 campuses across the country over the next several months.

    While we’re still waiting for all of the details to be hammered out, we do know that CCI plans to sell off its Heald College campuses in California, and close Everest University campus in 11 states.

    For many of us that news has little impact, but for the 72,000 students who are currently working toward degrees degrees at CCI schools, it leaves their education and more than $1 billion in student loan debt hanging in the balance.

    The operating agreement [PDF] between CCI and the Department includes a provision describing the options the schools have regarding current, and even some former, students.

    Closed School Discharge

    If a student attends a school slated for closure, or if that student withdrew within 120 days of the school closing, they may be entitled to a closed school discharge.

    This means that the student would have no further obligation to repay their Direct Loans, Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans (which include Stafford and PLUS loans), or Perkins Loans.

    If a student used private student loans to finance their education and their school closes, they are generally responsible for repaying that debt.

    However, Robyn Smith, Of Counsel for the National Consumer Law Center, says there may be options for those students.

    “Students might have a right to full or partial discharge of private loans depending on the terms of the loans and state laws,” Smith says. “Some states issue recovery funds to repay private loans if the school closes.”

    Teach-Out Programs

    The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau describes “teach-out” as an arrangement in which students may be able to complete their program and receive their degree at their current school or at a comparable institution.

    It’s still unclear which schools will be doing teach-out, but there is a high probability that at least some schools will go this route.

    Each student will be required to meet with the director of education at their campus before it can be decided if the student is required to finish their program or entitled to a full refund of their direct costs such as tuition, fees and other education-related expenses paid directly to Corinthian.

    Students who enrolled at a Corinthian campus after June 23 can choose between receiving a refund or participating in a teach-out.

    But students who were enrolled before June 23 have few options as Corinthian will be making the decision for them.

    “If that’s the case they can appeal the decision to Corinthian, but it doesn’t appear that the Department will be able to overrule that decision,” Smith says.

    So, if Corinthian decides a student should be in teach-out are they stuck working toward a degree that may have little value or recognition in the future? Not necessarily.

    In some instances students may be able to withdraw and apply for a refund. However, the amount would vary depending on how far along the student is in their program. If a student completed 60% or less of their term, they may be entitled to a refund for the potion of the federal loan that was not used.

    Both Teach-Outs and Closed School Discharges

    In the case that Corinthian provides the teach-out itself, students are stuck.

    But if another school provides the program students should have the right to opt out and seek a full discharge of their federal loans.

    Students that opt to participate in a teach-out may withdraw for any reason before completing the program and still qualify for a full discharge of their federal student loans.

    Students who decides to transfer credits and complete their education at another school will not qualify for a discharge, Smith says.

    If Corinthian Sells Your School

    Students at Corinthian schools that are being put up for sale have very few options.

    These students do not have a right for a refund or a closed school discharge under the operating agreement between CCI and the Department.

    The same would be true if the new owner discontinues a program before a student can complete their degree.

    However, if Corinthian can not sell the school and the campus closes, students may be eligible for a discharge. Additionally, students who withdrew from the school 120 days before the school closure will also qualify for a closed school discharge.

    “Exceptional Circumstances”

    In some cases the Department can extend the 120 day period for “exceptional circumstances,” but students must be able to prove the quality of their education deteriorated before they withdrew.

    In order to provide sufficient evidence that the education quality deteriorated at their campus, Smith recommends that current Corinthian students document every thing they witness on campus.

    “Right now students should be documenting strange things like teachers not showing up, schools being closed for the day, or equipment not working,” Smith says.

    In the documentation, students should include the names of Corinthian employees they interact with or witness engaging in odd behavior and the dates they witnessed these unusual events.

    If a student decides to withdraw from the school before it closes, Smith recommends that the student covers his or her tracks with detailed documentation.

    “Write that they are dropping out and take it to the school, remember the person they gave it to and keep good records of that,” she says.

    Students should also network with their peers in order to provide accurate depictions of a school’s quality of education.

    “Get each other’s phone numbers and addresses. Each of their individual stories and testimonies will corroborate stories,” she says. “It’s important to network with others to support these applications.”

    Additionally, students need to share their experiences with state attorneys general and their legislative representatives.

    “If they see things going on, like newly enrolled students trying to withdraw or cancel – some states have laws,” she says. “If they are lied to about their rights to a refund or being pressured to enroll, they should file a complaint. It’s the only way the attorney general or state agencies will know what’s going on at Corinthian.”

    Watch Out For Other Schools Trying To Pick Up The Pieces

    After hearing the horror stories from many former Corinthian students, it would seem unlikely that they’re willing to jump into similar situations at other for-profit colleges, but there’s always that possibility.

    Smith warns students to be leery of other for-profit colleges that may market their services.

    “A lot of times when a school closes another for-profit will market heavily,” she says. “They’ll say we can help you, but be very careful about enrolling in another for-profit school.”

    If a student does decide to attend another for-profit school, Smith suggests getting all of the terms in writing, especially if the school promised to allow credits to transfer.

    Netflix Is So Slow On FiOS That It’s Faster To Watch Videos Through VPN

    Fri, 2014-07-18 18:57

    The latest data speed chart from Netflix shows that FiOS continues to get slower and slower.

    The latest data speed chart from Netflix shows that FiOS continues to get slower and slower.

    Even though Netflix and Verizon supposedly made a deal — in April — that was supposed to result in improved streaming speeds for FiOS users, Verizon customers are still seeing sub-DSL speeds, which have only gotten worse in recent months. For one user, who pays extra to Verizon for faster service, it was actually faster to stream Netflix by connecting through a VPN.

    A VPN (or virtual private network) is a way of extending a private network — a company’s intranet, for example — over a public network, like the Internet.

    So say I have Verizon here in Philadelphia (I don’t, but let’s just say I do) for my home Internet access and that Verizon has a horrible history with streaming video company FlixNet. Now say my employer in New York uses an Internet provider that has no issues with FlixNet. If I access FlixNet through my employer’s VPN, the initial FlixNet signal will be going through that non-Verizon Internet provider. It will eventually come to me via Verizon, but Verizon will see it as traffic from my employer’s network and not from FlixNet.

    This is one way in which some users of streaming services like baseball’s get around local blackouts. If I’m blacked out of watching a game online because knows I’m in the local TV market for that game, connecting to a VPN can be used to trick into thinking I’m in another city. However, the additional passing around of all this data can result in bad connections, so it’s a way of getting around location-based checks, but it’s not supposed to improve the speed of you connection.

    And yet…

    In the below video, Colin Nederkoorn [via Ars Technica] demonstrates just how achingly bad his Netflix service is on FiOS. That “buffering” swirl in the middle of the screen for the first minute or so of the clip isn’t YouTube buffering, it’s his computer attempting to stream a Netflix test video that shows users what level of quality to expect from their connection.

    When the video does eventually begin to stream, it’s only at .375Mbps, that’s 1/8 the 3Mpbs that Netflix recommends users have for accessing standard definition video.

    More insulting to Colin, it’s only .5% of the 75Mbps downstream speed he’s supposed to be receiving from his high-tier FiOS service.

    But then he connects to Netflix via a VPN service, figuring “What the heck?”

    “My hypothesis here was that by connecting to a VPN, my traffic might end up getting routed through uncongested tubes,” he explains. “Basically, if Verizon is not upgrading the tubes that go to Netflix, maybe I can connect to a different location (via VPN) first where Verizon will have good performance and there will be no congestion between location 2 and Netflix.”

    And his idea worked, with the VPN giving him an acceptable, if still relatively slow, 3Mbps stream.

    “It seems absurd to me that adding another hop via a VPN actually improves streaming speed,” says Colin. “Clearly it’s not Netflix that doesn’t have the capacity. It seems that Verizon are deliberately dragging their feet and failing to provide service that people have paid for. Verizon, tonight you made an enemy, and doing my own tests have proven (at least to me) that you’re in the wrong here.”

    Dear Petco: If You Insist On Pushing Black Friday In July Promos, At Least Make It An Awesome Deal

    Fri, 2014-07-18 18:07

    Black Friday can now be anytime, any month.

    Black Friday can now be anytime, any month.

    If you’re getting an email from Petco trumpeting a “Black Friday In July!” promo that’s only serving to tick you off, you’re not alone. Consumerist readers Matthew and Kelso both forwarded their sighs along with a Petco email that is very, very excited about a not-so-great deal that just serves to make people cranky. Because it’s not Black Friday. It’s just Friday, in July.

    And the exciting, email-worthy promotion that’s supposed to mirror the excitement (?) of lining up outside stores in the wee hours of a cold November morning to get your hands on a severely discounted big TV or a really sweet [fill in other electronics thing people like]? You have to spend $75 to trigger the promo and get free shipping, and it doesn’t even include dog or cat food, or lizard food if your lizards eat crickets.

    “Can we please not make this a thing? It’s bad enough already around Thanksgiving,” writes reader Matthew, not realizing that it’s already too late. “Plus, this doesn’t seem quite so good – first, you have to spend $75 to get free shipping AND it ‘Excludes dog food, cat food, litter, and more.’ Apparently so much more that they couldn’t fit it all in the the footer of the email. Ugh.”

    Other items you cannot buy online for your pet with this breathless promo: cat litter, dog litter, ice melter, wild bird food, live fish & rock, aquatic gravel and accents; crickets, live food and frozen food; out-of-stock items, Donations, Petco Gift Cards and eGift Cards. As well as really heavy things and certain delivery methods.

    Kelso feels the same way about this whole thing, adding, “It’s Black Friday in July — again. And it’s only 30% (exclusions apply — I didn’t bother to look at what they are) [editor's note: now you do], which honestly isn’t all too much in terms of actual Black Friday deals, just saying’…”

    Yes, you can still buy cat toys and dog collars and bird stands or whatever, so that’s great if you’ve got $75 to burn there. But let’s not get crazy and call something Black Friday just because you happen to have a minor discount on a Friday in July.