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The Consumerist

No, This Arab Immigrant Does Not Refuse To Sell Gasoline To Soldiers

Thu, 2014-09-11 18:19

(John Abella)

(John Abella)

Is there bigoted immigrant gas station owner in Michigan who refuses to do business with members of the American armed forces? Well… no, but that didn’t stop people from passing on a call to boycott it. Before you hit “share” on an angry call to boycott a business, consider whether the precipitating incident could be a huge misunderstanding.

That’s what the manager of the Mobil station in question says happened two weeks ago. However, before his version of events could circulate, the story was already circulating on social media, leading to calls for a boycott and even a protest in front of the station.

Here’s the account of what happened that was passed around on Facebook and has now been deleted.

Jason had to report to the army reserves yesterday, on his way home he stopped to get gas, a drink and some jerky. When he went into the gas station and got to the counter the Arabic man looked at Jason, then his uniform and told him ‘we dont serve gas here.’
Mobil gas station off [address redacted] We will never be a customer of a place like that!

The manager of the Mobil counters that what he actually told this customer was that the store was out of premium gasoline on that day. The tank was below 375 gallons, and at that point stations are instructed not to sell until another delivery comes. He also wonders whether there might be a language barrier issue. The manager immigrated from the Middle Eastern country of Yemen twenty years ago and is fluent in English, but sometimes problems still happen in conversation.

However, the inflammatory story took off across the Internet, with posters threatening violence and arson against the store and the employee. The woman who posted the original account hasn’t just taken it down: she has deactivated her Facebook account and apologized.

While stories of individuals and businesses treating soldiers badly have circulated since the Vietnam War, most people today accept that members of the armed services still deserve respect and thanks even when the conflicts they served in are unpopular.

Gas station incident ignites on social media [Clarkston News]
Facebook post fans racial flames? [TC Times]

Burger King Japan Creates Black Cheese For Its Black Burger And I Don’t Know How To Feel

Thu, 2014-09-11 18:07

(Burger King Japan)

(Burger King Japan)

If the saying is true and we eat first with our eyes, hope you’re hungry for some garbage bags: Burger King Japan has introduced a new black cheese to match its black burgers. And while I normally applaud any iteration of cheese in general, chowing down on a melted piece of Darth Vader’s helmet isn’t exactly an appetizing thought.

The black bunned burgers aren’t new, at least for Japan (and we’ve also seen it pop up in France), but there’s just something about matching the shade with cheese that makes all the dairy in my blood cry out in terror.

As Kotaku reports, there will be two new twists on the — the “Kuro Burger” or “Black Burger”, both of which come with black buns that get their color from bamboo charcoal, an onion and garlic sauce dyed with squid ink and black pepper in the beef patties, before that bamboo charcoal cheese makes its ghastly appearance.

Gone is the familiar, beloved orangeish color of a cheddar, the soft, pale yellow swiss, the creamy, sumptuous goat cheese one might ostensibly see on a burger or sandwich. Instead, what looks like a melted piece of inedible plastic that in no way makes me think of that most delicious of dairy products, my fair cheese.

Call me crazy, but this might just be one cheese I don’t lust after. Excuse me, I have some thinking to do in the cheese cave.

In Japan, Burger King Has a Black Cheese Burger [Kotaku]

Unbelievably Awesome And Cool Consumerist Reader Makes The Weird Al Sandwich

Thu, 2014-09-11 17:25



If there’s anything we like spreading more than joy, it’s spreading the joy of sandwiches. And in the case of the sandwich Weird Al Yankovic dreamed up for The Onion AV Club, which we subsequently that we made into a delicious reality, one of our coolest and awesomest readers decided to keep spreading that joy and make his own. We salute you, intrepid reader Luke. You’re great. []

Report: Student Loan Debt Isn’t Just An Issue For Young Americans

Thu, 2014-09-11 17:20



When we talk about student loan debt it’s easy to picture a spry, young 20-something who is struggling to get out from under mountains of high-interest loans. But, as a new report points out, that’s not always the case, sometimes those who graduated even decades ago continue to struggle in paying back their student loans.

A new report [PDF] from the Government Accountability Office found that while fewer household heads often have higher amounts of mortgage and credit card debt, they also continue to be plaques by student loan debts.

The amount of student loan debt held by borrowers older than 65 has increased in the last few years.

The amount of student loan debt held by older Americans has increased in the last few years.

An analysis of data from the Survey of Consumer Finances found that 3% of households – about 706,000 households – headed by those ages 65 years or older carry student loan debt. Although, the student debt level for those 64 years or younger is significantly higher – 22 million households, the issues faced by older American’s who tend to live on fixed incomes can’t be discounted.

The percentage of households headed by those aged 65 to 74 years of age with student debt grew from just 1 percent in 2004 totaling $2.8 billion to about 4 percent, or $18.2 billion in 2013.

The real issue is the number of older Americans who hold defaulted federal student loans – nearly a quarter of older American’s loans are in default – which often leaves the retirees living below the poverty threshold.

While the Department of Education can wait up to a year before taking aggressive action to recover funds, when they do begin the process they can take a portion of a borrower’s Social Security disability, retirement or survivor benefits, the GAO reports.


From 2002 through 2013, the number of individuals whose Social Security benefits were offset to pay student loan debt increased from about 31,000 to 155,000. Among those 65 and older, the number of individuals whose benefits were offset grew from about 6,000 to about 36,000 over the same period.

PBS Newshour reports that several borrowers who fit in the older American’s category, or will in the next few years, testified during a Senate Aging Committee on Wednesday.

Rosemary, 57, says she might be well into her 80s before she pays off her student loans. Other financial issues, such as a divorce, health problems and an underwater mortgage, took priority over her loans, and she now worries that her Social Security benefits will decline to make payments on the debt.

The California resident says she amassed $64,000 in student loans starting in her 30s while she worked toward an undergraduate and graduate degrees. She’s worked multiple jobs to pay off her credit card debt and renegotiated the terms of her mortgage, but hasn’t been able to work on her student loan debt.

“I find it very ironic that I incurred this debt as a way to improve my life, and yet I still sit here today because the debt has become my undoing,” she said during a Senate Aging Committee on Wednesday.

While the GAO report found that about 80% of student loan debt held by seniors was for their own education, it doesn’t specify when those loans were taken out. The report notes that loans can be paid back anywhere from one decade to 25 years after the loan was originated.

So that means some of these older Americans may have borrowed when they were younger and simply accumulated interest over the years, or they could have borrowed in order to go back to school later in life.

Gov. report shows seniors owe $18 billion in student loan debt [PBS Newshour]
Inability to Repay Student Loans May Affect Financial Security of a Small Percentage of Retirees [GAO]

Accused Walmart Shoplifter Flees Very, Very Slowly On Motorized Shopping Cart

Thu, 2014-09-11 16:54



Usually when someone commits a retail crime, it’s of the utmost importance to get away from the scene of the infraction as quickly as possible. But what if you just don’t feel in the mood to walk? That’s the reason a woman accused of shoplifting at a Michigan Walmart gave for boosting a motorized shopping cart to scoot herself away from the store.

Police say the woman rode nearly two miles down the road from the store on the wheelchair, with about $600 bags worth of pilfered items stashed in her getaway vehicle, reports

Law enforcement say that when they found her sitting on the $1,200 cart, she claimed that she’d paid in full for the allegedly stolen goods, and explained that the reason she’d left the store with the scooter was because she had called for a ride and didn’t get one, and “she didn’t feel like walking.”

She reportedly had no proof with her that she’d paid for the clothing in plastic grocery bags, and said that she’d been intended to sell the goods for cash.

Cops charged her with two separate counts, as she had a warrant out for her arrest at the time of the scooter incident: second-degree retail fraud for an earlier incident at another Walmart, and organized retail crime tied to the scooter spree.

Woman accused of stealing motorized Wal-Mart wheelchair, driving off with allegedly stolen items []

Failed Quiznos, Cold Stone Franchises Left Taxpayers On Hook For $72.5M In Last Decade

Thu, 2014-09-11 16:50



When that Quiznos sandwich shop you always drove by but never visited closed, you probably didn’t even notice. Or maybe you were a little bit disappointed during your last trip to the mall when you found out the Cold Stone Creamery had shuttered. But what you probably didn’t know is that those failed franchises have left taxpayers on the hook for $72.5 million over the last decade.

The Wall Street Journal took a look at the franchised businesses with the highest default rates on loans from the federal Small Business Administration.

Quiznos and Cold Stone rank third and fourth on that list, with astounding default rates of 29.6% and 29.4%, respectively, much more than double the national average for SBA loan defaults.

More importantly, these two companies were responsible, by far, for taking the most money from taxpayers’ pockets. The $72.5 million in defaults from Quiznos ($38.4 million) and Cold Stone ($34.1 million) accounts for nearly 60% of the total amount defaulted on by all 10 of the franchises on the list. The only other company on the list to even break double-digit millions in defaults was spa chain Planet Beach ($10.8 million), which also happened to have the eye-popping loan default rate of 41.1%.

Of course, it has to be pointed out that the 10-year period included in the Journal’s analysis encompasses everything from the height of the housing bubble, to its collapse, through the recent recovery. Some of the companies on this list, like Huntington Learning Centers, claim it was that horrid few-year trough in the middle of this time period that accounts for the high defaults.

Kahala Franchising, the company behind Cold Stone, says part of its problem was the “extreme growth” of its franchisee business in the run-up to the economic collapse.

Quiznos tells the Journal that some of the store closures could be blamed on “slower sales, high rent, increased competition and economic pressures,” but says the company is “making long-term changes to our business model to help improve restaurant profits.”

The CEO of Planet Beach claims that his own accounting of franchisee default rate is actually 10% lower than what the Journal came up with, but admits that even that lowered rate is still too high.

Bankruptcy For RadioShack Is Probably Unavoidable

Thu, 2014-09-11 16:47

(Penn Cann Mall)

(Penn Cann Mall)

Wall Street analysts, the people who make big bucks keeping track of these things, say that bankruptcy for Radio Shack is probably inevitable. They were saying that after the retailer announced its quarterly results yesterday, losing money for the tenth straight quarter in a row.

“Wait,” you say. “Ten quarters in a row? RadioShack has only been losing money for two and a half years?” We were surprised, too. The company’s efforts to transform itself into a one-stop retailer for all mobile phones and plans hasn’t worked out, maybe because they alienated the customers they did have by selling them crappy “replacement plans.”

What RadioShack really needs to do is close hundreds of stores, but current agreements with creditors prevent them from closing more than 200 per year. Bankruptcy would restructure those debts and give the company an opportunity to save money by closing down hundreds of Shacks.

RadioShack reports Q2 sales down 20%, says bankruptcy may be necessary [Dallas Morning News]
Analyst on RadioShack: Bankruptcy Is ‘Imminent’ [Wall Street Journal]

Lawsuit Claims Some Uber Drivers Discriminate Against The Blind, Put Service Dog In The Trunk

Thu, 2014-09-11 16:15

uberblindWhen you’ve got somewhere to go, it’s awfully convenient to have a car arrive to take you there. But the National Federation of the Blind says not everyone is enjoying the right to get where they’re going with Uber, claiming in a federal civil rights lawsuit that the company’s drivers have refused to pick up blind customers, and in one case, allegedly put a service dog in the car’s trunk.

The advocacy group claims that there have been cases where drivers would arrive to pick up their customer, and upon realizing that customer was blind because they’d be standing with a service dog, would sometimes abandon those riders.

This allegedly happened sometimes in extreme weather, and often the drivers would charge cancellation fees afterward, according to the complaint reported by the Washington Post.

Then there was the time when a California UberX driver allegedly put a service dog in the trunk. The complaint accuses the driver of refusing to pull over and get the dog out of the trunk when the blind passenger would realize what was going on.

The group says another passenger tried to explain the idea of a service dog — a working animal, not a pet — when the driver allegedly swore at him and put the pedal to the metal, almost hurting a dog and hitting the passenger’s blind friend with an open car door.

All told, the group says there have been more than 30 times it knows of where blind passengers were turned down by Uber drivers, which is against the law under the American with Disabilities Act and California state law.

And when those passengers can’t get where they need to be on time, they “face the degrading experience of being denied a basic service that is available to all other paying customers,” the complaint said.

The group now wants Uber to train its drivers and instruct them on disability rights, as well as take action against violators by starting a system that would allow disabled passengers to register complaints immediately upon being refused because of service dogs.

Uber says in a statement that it does fire drivers who won’t take service animals.

“The Uber app is built to expand access to transportation options for all, including users with visual impairments and other disabilities,” the statement said.

But the group says Uber told some passengers they’re on their own when it comes down to individual drivers’ actions, because they’re independent contractors. It filed the complaint after Uber allegedly refused to negotiate a solution to the problem.

Uber sued for allegedly refusing rides to the blind and putting a dog in the trunk [Washington Post]

Senators Request Info From Home Depot, Apple On Recent Data Disasters

Thu, 2014-09-11 16:08

(Nicholas Eckhart)

(Nicholas Eckhart)

Following two serious violations of consumers’ privacy — the theft of potentially hundreds of millions of credit and debit card numbers from Home Depot, and the personal photos and information stolen from Apple iCloud accounts of numerous female celebrities — some lawmakers in D.C. are looking for some answers from the companies that were supposed to keep our data safe.

In separate letters to Apple and Home Depot, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, Chair of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance, requested information about the recent hacks.

The letter to Home Depot [PDF] asks the company’s CEO Frank Blake to brief the Committee on the findings of the retailer’s internal investigation into the data breach, which may go back as far as April and could be several times larger than last year’s holiday-season attack on Target that made off with info on more than 100 million consumers.

The letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook [PDF] also requests a briefing on the situation but asks for additional, more specific information about Apple’s privacy-related protocols.

“We are particularly interested in learning such details given Apple’s recent release of its latest iPhone models and the Apple Watch, which, among other things, enable the collection of consumer health data and encourage increased mobile commerce,” write the senators. “Furthermore, Apple will soon launch its new cloud storage initiative, iCloud Drive, which your website states will allow consumers to ‘safely store all your presentations, spreadsheets, PDFs, images, and any other kind of document in iCloud and access them from your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac or, PC.’ These combined developments seemingly point to increased migration of sensitive consumer data toward Apple’s cloud storage services.”

GM Official Says They’re Kinda, Sorta, Almost Probably Done Recalling Cars

Thu, 2014-09-11 15:49



Over the past nine months General Motors has recalled nearly 30 million vehicles for one reason or another, and it doesn’t sound like the car manufacturer is quite done.

According to a report from Bloomberg, GM CEO Mary Barra says the car company is “substantially completed” its vehicle recalls.

Barra, who has been questioned multiple times by federal regulators and at congressional panels since recalls began early this year, says the company won’t hesitate to issue future recalls.

“We’re working hard to make sure that as new vehicles come out, they achieve even higher levels” of quality and safety, Bloomberg reports.

General Motors first came under scrutiny early this year when it an ignition switch defect was uncovered in millions of compact vehicles. Things only got worse when it was revealed that officials at GM knew about the potential issues, which killed at least 13 people – but likely many more – years before the recall was initiated.

Since then GM has been on a recallapalooza, issuing multiple million-vehicle recalls. And according to Barra, there could be more in the future.

“We’ve really benchmarked externally the aerospace industry, the nuclear industry, the industries that require a true zero-defect mentality,” Barra said. “But if at any point of time, we learn there’s an issue, we’re going to put the customer in the center, and we’re going to take care of the issue and if that means a recall, we’ll do a recall.”

Barra Says GM Has Substantially Completed Vehicle Recalls [Bloomberg]

Bridal Gown Consignment Store Closes With No Warning, Gowns Inside

Thu, 2014-09-11 00:26

(Kerry Lannert)

(Kerry Lannert)

Some families save wedding dresses, and some don’t bother. For people who don’t want to bother and for people who want to save some money and don’t mind using a pre-married gown, there’s a specialty consignment store in the suburbs of St. Louis that sells formal gowns for brides and their attendants. Well, there used to be. The store abruptly closed, with lots of unsold dresses inside.

In traditional retail, this wouldn’t matter so much. Bridal shops are different, because of the amount of custom ordering and alteration they do. In the case of Savvy Silhouette, there’s a unique problem: all of those gowns in the store are being sold on consignment, and they don’t belong to the store itself.

The business model is pretty simple: you leave your dress at the store, and they give you half if they sell it. Maybe you could get more for the gown elsewhere, but selling on consignment is easier. This business model becomes a problem if the business suddenly disappears, and that’s what customers say happened.

“We trusted her to try to resell our stuff for us,” one consignor told TV station KTVI. “I know they were unwanted dresses, but it wasn`t right for her to take the dresses and not return them.”

The store owner says that she isn’t stealing the dresses, but the shop is relocating. Why hasn’t she contacted her customers? She claims that her phone where all of their contact information was stored has been stolen. Oh.

Consignment shop closes with bridal gowns left for resale [KTVI]

Infomercial Scammer Kevin Trudeau Appeals Conviction

Thu, 2014-09-11 00:13

trudeaugrabAlmost a year ago, it seemed like a federal court had put an end to the decade-long fight with bestselling scam artist Kevin Trudeau, finding the author and infomercial weight loss/personal finance pitchman in contempt of court for violating a 2004 court order barring him from telling lies in order to sell his books. Now, only a few months into his 10-year sentence, Trudea has filed an appeal.

The appeal [PDF] contends that federal prosecutors failed to move his case forward in the timely manner required by the Speedy Trial Act, and that the District Court should have granted his earlier motion to dismiss the case.

He additionally claims that the court erred by instructing the jury that it could find that Trudeau acted willfully by “disregarding a substantial risk that his actions would violate the law,” i.e., by acting recklessly.

In the appeal, Trudeau’s lawyers contend that the the government failed to show that he willingly violated the court order. They say the only evidence given at trial to back up this claim were the infomercials for his book The Weight Loss Cure — which shows Trudeau making statements about how you can lose weight quickly, easily, and without exercise — and the actual book, in which Trudeau reveals that his weight loss “cure” actually requires a harsh, and potentially deadly, 500 calorie/day diet, along with regular exercise, not to mention colonics and prescription injections of hormones found only in pregnant women.

According to Trudeau, these pre-recorded infomercials in which he makes statements that directly contradict the information in the very book he’s selling, don’t prove that he made these statements willfully.

One other issue raised by the appeal is the severity of Trudeau’s sentence. Ten years is rare for criminal contempt cases.

You could make the case that keeping Trudeau behind bars is the only way the government will collect on the $37 million judgement against the charming fraudster. Before he was found guilty of contempt in 2013, he was jailed when the court discovered he was continuing to live a rather nice lifestyle thanks to a previously undisclosed bank account in Australia.

At Trudeau’s sentencing in April, the judge spoke harshly of the defendant.

“Since his 20s, he has steadfastly attempted to cheat others for his own gain,” said the judge, later adding, “He has treated federal court orders as if they were mere suggestions, or impediments to be side-stepped, out-maneuvered or just ignored.”

Meanwhile, Trudeau maintains a loyal group of devoted followers online, who post hopeful messages to his regularly updated Facebook page, and who even help him fulfill his requests for reading material from the outside world.

However, the link for the KT Legal Defense Fund site currently goes to a GoDaddy page, so none of his 20,000 followers seem to be keeping up the web hosting bills.

And even though the knowledge in Trudeau’s books might be worthless, they are still legally sold, and TV stations still occasionally air the Trudeau infomercials that don’t contain misleading statements.

Trudeau sold the rights to his books to a third party, which collects a royalty for the author but pays it to the government to pay down the many millions that he owes the feds.

As always, we can’t write about a behind-bars Kevin Trudeau without referencing another jailed genius, George Bluth, author of Caged Wisdom:

Pennsylvania Chipotle Workers Walk Out, Sign Alleges “Sweatshop Conditions”

Wed, 2014-09-10 23:23



It’s not clear what happened at the Chipotle restaurant in State College, Pennsylvania, but we do know some things. The restaurant was closed for several hours this morning and afternoon. At first, all that aspiring burrito-eaters knew was that the store was closed. A sign in the window claimed that most of the employees had quit in protest of “borderline sweatshop conditions,” so the shop had to close.

Want to know why were [sic] closed?

Ask our corporate offices why their employees are forced to work in borderline sweatshop conditions. Almost the entire management and crew have resigned.

People > Profits

Trend it,

Help spread awareness:


(Onward State)

(Onward State)

Soon, the sign disappeared, and Chipotle contacted local news outlets to do some damage control. “Unfortunately we had to close this location after a few employees quit, locking out a majority of others who are enthusiastic to return to work. We expect the restaurant to re-open shortly,” the company said in a statement e-mailed to press and to hungry customers. Maybe this is true, or maybe the entire staff walked out: whatever the case, corporate brought in reinforcements and the store re-opened in time for dinner. Just in time, apparently.

Erin Corry (@erincorry12) September 10, 2014

In an interview with local publication Onward State, a former manager of the Chipotle explained the conditions that led to a staff walkout. This was an independent revolt, not affiliated (as far as we know) with the nationwide unionization drive and wave of protests with the goal of improving wages in the fast food industry.

The manager told Onward State that the store is grossly understaffed: it has about half as many people as a restaurant with that much business should have, and employees were working for stretches of 10 or 12 hours with no meal breaks. This morning, the manager says, yet another employee quit, and at that point the management decided to shut the place down and put that sign in the window.

These two accounts don’t conflict with each other: Chipotle’s spin makes sense if the managers were the frustrated ones, trying to keep an understaffed restaurant going with no help from corporate. Regular line workers are, as Chipotle says, probably delighted to return.

Chipotle Closes Amid ‘Heinous’ Working Conditions [Onward State]

Your Guide To The Major Carriers’ iPhone 6 Offers

Wed, 2014-09-10 23:19

Disregard the phone on the left. It is old and you will be embarrassed to be seen in public with it after Sept. 19.

Disregard the phone on the left. It is old and you will be embarrassed to be seen in public with it after Sept. 19.

Apple announced a couple of new phones yesterday, triggering a Pavlovian response in some consumers that can only be eased by the acquisition of one of these new phones. It also pits the four national wireless carriers against each other in a battle for Apple-hungry customers.

In order to lock customers into two-year contracts, Verizon is offering a “free” 16GB iPhone 6 to people who trade in a working, eligible older iPhone (anything from the iPhone 4 or newer) and are willing to agree to a two-year contract with the provider.

You’ll notice that we say “free” because it’s actually a $200 gift card that can be used to pay the $199 subsidized cost of the device. The offer does not apply to the iPhone 6 Plus.

The Death Star is making its own push to lure in customers, especially to its AT&T Next plan, which charges you full price for the phone but spaces it out over the course of 12-24 months, depending on when or if they choose to upgrade.

Anyone who activates a line of service on AT&T Next will receive a $100 bill credit with the purchase of any iPhone.

AT&T is also pushing its trade-in pricing for existing models of the iPhone. An iPhone 5S starts at $300 in trade-in credit, while you’ll get at least $200 in trade-in credit for iPhone 4, 4S, 5 and 5C.

Sprint, which is all about giving away access to its painfully slow network, will be introducing a $50 “Simply Unlimited” plan with, you guessed it, unlimited, talk, text, and data for customers who buy an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus.

But in order to get that plan, much like the recently announced $60/month unlimited plan from Sprint, customers have to order their phone through Sprint’s Easy Pay installment program, meaning they will pay significantly more than the $199 price for people at other carriers willing to agree to a two-year contract.

Sprint is trying to ease that pain with the “iPhone for Life” program that cuts the monthly installment from $30 to $20 for the iPhone 6, and from $35 down to $25 for the 6 Plus. What’s the catch? At the end of 24 months, you trade in your now outdated and embarrassingly old iPhone. It’s unclear if you are on the hook for the balance of the money (at least $240) if you choose to not upgrade after 24 months.

T-Mobile got the head start on the iPhone-related announcements earlier this week when it claimed that it would match any trade-in offer made by the other three national providers. It also sweetened the deal by guaranteeing that if you trade in a phone with T-Mobile and subsequently find out (within 7 days) that you could have gotten a better trade-in deal elsewhere, T-Mo will match the deal and throw in $50 of bill credit.

While the T-Mobile trade-in match is obviously timed and targeted at potential iPhone 6 customers, the match guarantee applies to all phones.

However, T-Mobile has completely stopped subsidizing phone sales, so it looks like anyone wishing to get their service through T-Mo will end up paying the full price (which appears to start around $650 for the iPhone 6 and $750 for the 6 Plus) in monthly installments. Disregard the phone on the left. It is old and you will be embarrassed to be seen in public with it after Sept. 19.

Disregard the phone on the left. It is old and you will be embarrassed to be seen in public with it after Sept. 19.

NCLC: More Can Be Done To Protect Consumers From Hurtful Medical Debt On Credit Reports

Wed, 2014-09-10 23:10

(Chris Blakeley)

(Chris Blakeley)

Upcoming changes to the way FICO calculates credit scores will improve the way americans access credit, but advocates from the National Consumer Law Center – and legislators – are aiming to create an overhaul of the entire credit reporting system; starting with medical debt.

Nearly four months after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported that some credit bureaus were over-penalizing consumers for their medical debt, the National Consumer Law Center released a report [PDF] detailing just how the CFPB can protect consumers from unfair collection and reporting issues.

We already know that inaccuracies on credit reports can lead to low credit scores, which in turn, can create long-lasting negative effects on consumers’ lives – from getting jobs to renting or buying a home. And one of the areas of consumer debt that most often contains inaccuracies is medical debt the NCLC reports.

The NCLC reports that the majority of medical debt held by consumers is less than $500.

The NCLC reports that the majority of medical debt held by consumers is less than $500.

Nearly 75 million working adults experienced problems with medical bills in 2012 and more than 41 million adults were contacted by a collection agency for unpaid medical bills. The vast majority of these medical debts are for small amounts; the Federal Reserve found that over 85% of medical debts on credit reports were for bills under $500.

Yet, the debts tend to have more impact on a consumer’s credit than other forms of debt because of involuntary and often unplanned occurrences.

The NCLC report points out that medical debt collection items on a credit report are often not an accurate reelection of a consumer’s creditworthiness, something that was first reported by the CFPB in May.

That report found that the presence of medical debt on a credit report unfairly penalizes a consumer’s credit score, resulting in a credit score that is typically lower by ten points than it should be. For consumers who have medical debt on their credit reports that were paid off, their scores are up to 22 points lower than they should be.

And while the FICO changes may make the debt less devastating to consumers, the NCLC says it won’t be a true solution to the problem.

Instead, the NCLC report proposed that the CFPB tap into its authority to prevent some of the negative impacts of medical debt.

To do that the CFPB should:
• supervise larger medical debt collection agencies;
• require debt collectors to give consumers a notice before “parking” medical debt on their credit reports;
• prevent reporting of medical debt to credit reporting agencies before the consumer has a chance to dispute non-• payment of the debt with his or her health insurer or apply for financial assistance or charity care;
• prevent damage to a consumer’s credit report from medical debts that are disputed or result from billing errors;
• prohibit debt collectors from dunning low-income consumers for inflated “chargemaster” prices for medical care.

In addition to more oversight from the CFPB, the NCLC proposes that Congress could do more to protect consumers. While legislation that would require credit reporting agencies to delete paid or unsettled medical debt within 45 days was introduced in 2013, it hasn’t moved forward.

A second potentially helpful bit of legislation, introduced today by Sen. Maxine Waters of California, would provide consumers with the ability to avoid and fix problems on their credit reports that were created by wrong and outdated information – of which medical debt is a prime culprit.

“This proposal addresses many of the flaws with the existing consumer reporting system,” she said, “by making common-sense changes that enhance consumers’ rights, create more transparency over the consumer reporting and credit scoring process, and increase the accountability of credit reporting agencies, furnishers, and companies that develop credit scoring models and formulas.”

Among other things, the bill would shorten the amount of time that hurtful credit issues remain on a consumer’s report from seven years to four years. It would also remove all settled debts from the report.

A U.S. House Financial Services Committee hearing Wednesday, which included the NCLC report author Chi Chi Wu as a witness, addressed some of the issues regarding the roles and responsibilities of consumer reporting agencies and how they use information.

“The current credit reporting and scoring system is fundamentally flawed. It is an overly blunt instrument that treats consumers who have fallen on bad luck or hard times as being the same as consumers who are truly irresponsible,” Wu said during the hearing. “Many consumers have low scores because of job loss, illness, other extraordinary life circumstances” – as well as abuse by lenders, debt collectors and others. Some of these consumers could be good borrowers after their misfortune, and would certainly be good workers.”

While the hearing regarded a broad overview of the credit reporting system, testimony understandably included addresses to Water’s new bill.

Stuart Pratt, the president and CEO of Consumer Data Industry Association, detailed at the hearing how the reporting system is designed to retain data longer than it’s currently being used. And in order to get a clear picture of a consumer’s intent or ability to repay, credit issuers wold need to see in formation from before, during and after the Great Recession.

Strong Medicine Needed: What The CFPB Should Do To Protect Consumers From Unfair Collection and Reporting of Medical Debt [NCLC]

This Is What Happens When Burger King Lists Your Number As Its Own

Wed, 2014-09-10 22:49



When someone calls you looking for a fast food restaurant, there are many ways you could react. “THIS IS NOT BURGER KING, FOOL!!!” is one, or “Sorry, you have the wrong number.” Neither of those are any fun, and neither reaction is what one prankster did after his phone number ended up listed online as a Burger King location.

Instead, our straight-talking hero leads his callers on a merry romp through the Land of Ridiculous Scenarios, including one phone call where he tells a new employee that her first shift will start at 4:30 a.m. the next day and end at 5:30 a.m., during which time her job will be “feathering” birds to remove their plumage and “butchering.”

In one of two calls he provided to The Concourse, he calmly tells the girl “It’s really gross so wear some old clothes.” Meanwhile, she sounds relatively calm — with a few uncomfortable giggles — even while probably freaking out inside her head — heck, it even sounds like she’s taking notes.

“Do you want to do blood duty or clean-up duty on Saturday?” he politely asks.

“I’ll do… clean-up?” she says.

This goes on for almost five minutes, with the prankster telling her that another one of her duties for the week will be standing with another person at the register to hit “zero” anytime it’s needed, as that button is malfunctioning.

Finally, she summons up the courage to ask if he’s for real, at which point he finally breaks and admits that he’s just been terrifying her for the last couple of minutes and no, she won’t have to snap the necks of any chickens. It’s just that the area code listed for the Burger King is wrong, so he’s the lucky guy who gets to field those calls.

In another call, he blows off a customer calling in with a complaint, completely incensing her by telling her he “doesn’t care” that the order was wrong and the cashiers were rude. Alas, if only that wasn’t so close to the truth of many customer service experiences.

Burger King Phone Mixup Inspires Hilarious Series Of Pranks [The Concourse]

The Afterlife Of America’s Dead Malls

Wed, 2014-09-10 22:14

(Nicholas Eckhart)

(Nicholas Eckhart)

When a mall dies, what happens to its corpse? If the mall failed because of too much competition, renovating the mall space and building a new one doesn’t make a whole lot of senese. As America deals with the massive carcasses left over from the heyday of in-person commerce, dead malls are being re-used in many ways: some that you might expect, and others that you might not.

Ellen Dunham-Jones, a professor of architecture and urban design at Georgia Tech, explained to NPR that the problem started when American developers have simply built more retail space than we need. We could manage just fine with about half of the space we have. Fine, then: how do we reuse the dying and dead malls that we have?

One interesting idea is to turn former malls into mixed-use developments with housing, retail, and dining all in one spot. Such developments can increase tax revenue and decrease automobile traffic by putting more people and businesses in the same space that sprawling malls once took up. If you can walk downstairs from your condo to run routine errands, you don’t need to get in your car.

Any kind of business or institution that requires lots of space and parking can take over a former mall. Some have found new life as medical complexes, college campus extensions, civic centers, and even churches. Yep, churches.

Here’s What’s Becoming Of America’s Dead Shopping Malls [NPR]

Inevitable Black Market For Olive Garden’s Elusive “Never Ending Pasta Pass” Emerges

Wed, 2014-09-10 21:52



If you’re not one of the 1,000 people who managed to get your hands on a $100 “Never Ending Pasta Pass” from Olive Garden that does, in fact, only last for a seven-week promotional period, don’t worry. You can either live your life the same way as before, or you can drop deep into the underbelly of Internet commerce and pay a jacked-up price for one.

So it’s not quite the same thing as a black market, but business-minded folks are already shilling the passes on eBay for those unfortunate souls who are faced with paying market prices for as much pasta, breadsticks, salad and fountain sodas as they can eat in one sitting.

As Grub Street points out, there are almost 50 listings on eBay alone right now for the passes, not to mention that shadowy figure you see lurking in dark alleys everywhere you turn, opening a trenchcoat laden with pasta passes and fake watches.

You can get two passes for the not-so-bargain price of $490, or a single pass for a “Buy It Now” price of $399. Or again, continue to live your life just like you did before Olive Garden made you act crazy enough to consider paying an almost 400% markup for what essentially boils down to a PR stunt.

But buyer beware — the passes can’t be resold, an Olive Garden rep tells CNNMoney. Anyone who’s already bought one off eBay should contact the company to find out what to do.

“We’re a hospitality company, so we’re going to make things right,” a spokeswoman said, adding that each pass bears the original buyer’s name, barring anyone else from wielding their power.

In related news: A giant hat tip of the most joyously squealing with glee kind to The Onion AV Club for referencing the OG as a “manicotti disposal service.” The world has changed for me now, and I again know the true meaning of laughter.

There’s a Thriving Black Market for Olive Garden’s Never Ending Pasta Passes [GrubStreet]

Barnes & Noble Now Taking On Toy Stores To Increase Sales

Wed, 2014-09-10 21:07


Once upon a time, a book store sold books and a toy store sold toys. That is not the way things work now, though. And Barnes & Noble is a prime example of companies selling items outside of their traditional products in an attempt to lift their bottom-line – and it’s working. 

Bloomberg reports that in recent years Barnes & Noble has increasingly taken on the role of toy store in the face of rather slow book sales.

In fact, Barnes & Noble’s toy sales rose almost 20% in the last quarter alone. Officials with the company said on a sales call this week that promoting the store as a place to purchase games, dolls and LEGOs has helped draw more customers to its locations.

The company has capitalized on the dwindling presence of actual toy stores; Toys “R” Us has scaled back stores, while other stores like KB Toys have shut their doors altogether.

The foray into toy store territory is part of CEO Michael Huseby’s plan to squeeze more revenue from gifts and cafe purchases at the retailer, Bloomberg reports.

Officials with the company say consumers are beginning to realize that Barnes & Noble offers items that can’t be found elsewhere – even traditional toy stores.

Additionally, Barnes & Noble claims to provide an environment in which families can spend time together.

Matt Klipper, head of the Barnes & Noble’s retail group, says families can play together inside the store creating a type of hangout that other retailers can’t replicate.

“You sit on the floor, you curl up with a good book with your child,” he tells Bloomberg. “You don’t see anybody going to Bed, Bath & Beyond curling up with a blender.”

Barnes & Noble Fights Book Decline by Selling More Toys [Bloomberg]

Sorry U2, Your Free Album Doesn’t Count On Billboard’s List

Wed, 2014-09-10 21:06

u2appleaAt the end of yesterday’s time-warping, genre-defying, multilingual livestream of the Apple iPhone 6 and Apple Watch announcement, the computer company decided to give a little-known Irish band the spotlight, allowing the lads from U2 to play some tunes for the crowd while simultaneously releasing their new album as a free iTunes download. But there is some bad news for these upstart rockers — they won’t be seeing their band’s name on the Billboard best-selling album chart.

Billboard explains that while enough people may have downloaded or streamed U2’s Songs of Innocence yesterday, “Free or giveaway albums are not eligible for inclusion on Billboard’s album charts and do not count toward sales tracked by Nielsen SoundScan (which supplies data for Billboard’s sales-driven charts).”

This happened last year when a scrappy young hip-hop artist by the name of Jay-Z managed to convince Samsung to give away his Magna Carta… Holy Grail album for free to users of its devices.

The boys of U2 — who have silly names like Adam Clayon and Larry Mullen Jr. — won’t be able to show their family how popular they’re becoming and how they can finally quit their jobs at Tesco until after the album goes on sale to paying customers on Oct. 14.

There is some hope for notoriety for this foursome from Dublin, as the first single from the album, “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” could show up on Billboard’s radio airplay charts.

So until then, keep your head up Bono and fellas. We have a feeling that greatness awaits for you yet.