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Walmart Employees Once Again Planning Black Friday Protests For Higher Pay

Fri, 2014-11-14 19:48

(genebob)

(genebob)

Despite a Walmart executive’s generalized promise to eventually raise the wages for the company’s lowest paid employees, a group of workers have announced plans to protest the mega-retailer on Black Friday for the third year.

Reuters reports that labor group OUR Walmart (Organization United for Respect at Walmart) plans to protest 1,600 stores across the nation the day after Thanksgiving.

“Over the last year, Walmart workers have pressured Walmart to change its pregnancy policy, provide access to more hours and most recently to pledge to phase out its minimum wage jobs,” the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which has helped OUR Walmart in the past, said on its website.

Reuters reports the upcoming protest announcement comes a day after 23 people were arrested at a protest outside a Los Angeles-area Walmart.

The people, who were protesting the company’s alleged retaliation against workers who pushed for better working conditions, were arrested for blocking an intersection and were cited for failure to disperse.

A spokesperson for the company tells Reuters that Walmart does not retaliate against workers who strike or protest.

“The reality is that few Walmart associates participate in these labor-organized protests,” the spokesperson says.

Back in October, Walmart CEO Douglas McMillon made a vague pledge that the company would eventually raise the wages for the lowest paid workers.

He did not provide details on how Walmart would actually raise the wages of those lowest-paid employees.

At the same time, McMillon said that only about 6,000 of Walmart’s 1.3 million U.S. employees earn the federal minimum wage of $7.25, claiming that the average full-time hourly wage is $12.92.

However, it was unknown if those figures included employees in cities and states with minimum wages that are higher than the federal minimum.

Walmart workers plan Black Friday protests over wages [Reuters]

Uber Can’t Transport People For Profit In Germany, Brings Fruit Instead

Fri, 2014-11-14 19:32

( Twitter/ ‏@der_azubi )

( Twitter/ ‏@der_azubi )

In recent months, we’ve shared with you the legal war between ride-sharing service Uber and taxi regulators in Germany. Like people all over the world, consumers love the inexpensive UberPop service that lets people hire amateur taxi drivers in their personal vehicles. Now that fares have been lowered to barely cover drivers’ expenses, Uber has assigned some of its drivers a different task: fruit delivery.

No, this isn’t quite like UberKITTEN, the recent promotion where the company would, in certain cities, bring you a kitty to play with in exchange for a $30 donation to local shelters. Uber in Berlin promised its regular customers that they could get free boxes of fruit from delivery service HalloFresh and Uber brand swag by logging in this afternoon. (That’s 6 hours ago: sorry, Consumerist readers in Germany.) The Wall Street Journal’s reporters in Berlin weren’t able to get free fruit, but some people did.

Nadine hat ihre #Obstbox #HelloFreshUber #happyfriday pic.twitter.com/82f8adbXdp

— Uber Berlin (@Uber_Berlin) November 14, 2014

Danke @Uber_Berlin & @HelloFreshDE <3 #hellofreshuber #HappyFriday pic.twitter.com/8DCJKPvocw

— Christoph (@HerrBeat) November 14, 2014

Danke Uber und HelloFresh – mein Vitaminvorrat ist wieder aufgefüllt #hellofreshuber pic.twitter.com/rkSPWB8PjH

— Falko (@der_azubi) November 14, 2014

Unsere Leckereien vibrieren nur! WIR WOLLEN FRISCHES OBST! #HELLOFRESHUBER @HelloFreshDE @Uber pic.twitter.com/XfHDiMSLOw

— Amorelie (@AmorelieDE) November 14, 2014

Just got tasty fresh Fruit as a gift. Thank you #uber. #hellofreshuber pic.twitter.com/7RStHyUE9l

— dieter (@DieterDasbeste) November 14, 2014

#Woop! Erster Kunde! Er hat die #surprise #box bekommen! #lucky #hellofreshuber #uberondemand pic.twitter.com/LYCEei7GR8

— Uber Berlin (@Uber_Berlin) November 14, 2014

Fruit delivery recipients have been asked to post photos to Twitter with a hashtag…not just for fun, but so they can win a $50 Uber credit. The apron doesn’t seem on-brand to us, but the recipients seem happy to get free fruit boxes.

This doesn’t really solve Uber’s legal problems in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, but at least it gives some drivers something to do…and, more importantly, encourages customers to keep the app on their phones for now and to open it up.

Uber Gets Juicy in Berlin [Wall Street Journal]

Porn Stars Do A Better Job Of Explaining Net Neutrality Than Lobbyists

Fri, 2014-11-14 19:26

pornneutralityYesterday, we told you about the laughable efforts of one prominent lobbying group to mislead consumers about net neutrality, claiming that it will hurt all those “high school bloggers” who will inexplicably have to pay for Netflix’s bandwidth use (which they won’t, because this is nonsense). For a more accurate representation on what a non-neutral Internet means for consumers, you’d honestly be better served by listening to a trio of porn stars.

In a moderately NSFW (depending on your place of work) clip over at Funny or Die, the three adult actresses — Alex Chance, Mercedes Carrera, and Nadia Styles — explain what it would mean if the FCC passes compromised neutrality rules.

“Without net neutrality, Internet service providers could create special fast lanes for content providers willing to pay more,” says Carrera.

Adds Chance, “That means slow streaming, slow social networking, and yes, slow porn.”

Ms. Styles slam neutrality critic, Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas, saying he “doesn’t want me to get naked for you.”

She also points out that the anti-neutrality drive is being led by wealthy older men and says that doesn’t make any sense since, “Old rich guys watch the weirdest porn.”

Ms. Chance compares the current, neutral state of the Internet to “a giant sex party where everyone gets to have sex with anyone they want,” but Ms. Carrera contends that, “Without net neutrality, that sex party is only for rich people.”

The video then devolves into a three-way love-fest, or at least it would if your broadband connection wasn’t being throttled by Comcast, which wants you to spend money renting pay-per-view porn.

Pennsylvania Sues Think Finance, Alleging Illegal Payday Loan Scheme

Fri, 2014-11-14 18:57

(scurzuzu)

(scurzuzu)

Pennsylvania is one of several states with laws prohibiting payday lending, but the often predatory products still find their way to consumers via online marketplaces and companies’ claiming affiliation with American Indian tribes. In an effort to crack down on such nefarious lenders, the state’s attorney general filed a consumer protection lawsuit against a Texas-based company for allegedly engineering a payday loan scheme over the internet.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced yesterday that her office filed the suit against Think Finance Inc, a company behind a number of payday loan-like lenders including RISE Credit, for violating a number of the state’s laws by targeting Pennsylvania consumers for costly payday loans.

The lawsuit claims that Think Finance used three Native American tribes to target the state’s consumers with the lending products. The tribes, which allegedly functioned as a cover, made it possible for Think Finance to earn revenue through various services it charges to the tribes.

According to the complaint, this isn’t the first time Think Finance has engaged in shady actions to skirt that state’s payday lending laws. Previously, the company was found to be engaged in a “rent-a-bank” scheme, in which it used a Philadelphia bank as cover to provide the small-dollar, high-interest loans to consumer. That operation was shut down by the federal government.

The AG’s suit also named the company behind MoneyMutual – Selling Source LLC – as a defendant in the case for its part as an active member in Think Finance’s scheme.

The internet marketer allegedly used the MoneyMutual website and television commercials, which feature Montel Williams, to generate online leads for Think Finance products in order to receive commissions.

According to the suit, Selling Source continued to make referrals of Pennsylvania residents to Think Finance even after the company was ordered to stop the referrals as part of a 2011 agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Banking.

Also named as defendants in the suit were a number of debt collectors including Washington-based law firm of Weinstein, Pinson and Riley PS, Cerastes LLC and National Credit Adjusters LLC, which were allegedly utilized to collect debts derived from illegal loans.

In all, the defendants are accused of violating several Pennsylvania laws including the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, the Corrupt Organizations Act and the Fair Credit Extension Uniformity Act.

The lawsuit seeks to provide restitution for all consumers harmed by the scheme. Civil penalties levied against the companies would include up to $1,000 for each violation of Pennsylvania law and up to $3,000 for each violation involving a senior citizen.

Attorney General Kane files lawsuit over alleged illegal payday loan scheme [Pennsylvania AG]

Pet Owners Seek Help Finding Wandering Wallaby Who’s Been On The Road 8 Months, Probably Eating Triscuits

Fri, 2014-11-14 18:53

An example of a wallaby. They are cute.

An example of a wallaby. They are cute. (Phil @ DelfrynDesign)

While you might be thinking what you’re seeing hopping around town is a tiny kangaroo, New York pet owners say it might be their pet wallaby, Indy. He left home eight months ago and has apparently been enjoying a bit of a walkabout, as he’s been spotted in a handful towns in the area where his family lives. Advice if you see him? Try luring him with Triscuits.

“He knows what dinner is and we’re hoping he shows up at someone’s back door,” Indy’s owner explains to the Journal News.

If he does come around looking for grub, he’ll probably run away, she adds. She just asks anyone who see him to speak in a calm voice and say, “Indy come,” and “home.

He likes all crackers, apparently, including Triscuits and Wheat Thins, as well as apple slices and toasted wheat bread.

“It’s nice that he’s still alive after eight months and that he wasn’t hit by a car or attacked by a coyote,” she said, though with winter coming, lower temperatures could prove a test for the little guy.

She gave the Journal News her phone number and asks anyone to see him to call — and to save her number in your phone under “Kangaroo” or “Wallaby” just in case. Which makes sense — see a wallaby, call Wallaby.

Missing pet wallaby still out playing road warrior [Journal News]

Broadcasters Ask Court To Stop Consumers From Seeing How Much Cable Companies Pay For Content

Fri, 2014-11-14 18:29

(Mark Amsterdam)

(Mark Amsterdam)

The FCC is currently mulling over whether to give its stamp of approval to two huge mergers — Comcast/Time Warner Cable and AT&T/DirecTV — and is intending to make public information about the deals that that these pay-TV giants make with broadcasters. But even though you and every other cable subscriber wants to know exactly how much Comcast pays for access to channels like ESPN, MTV, and the major networks, the broadcasters want that info kept under lock and key — and they’ve asked the court to stop it from made available.

Against the broadcasters’ protests, the FCC commissioners said earlier this week [PDF] that third parties would be able to review certain confidential information about programming deals between the broadcasters and pay-TV operators. This information would not be made available online (at least by the FCC) but only viewable in person at FCC headquarters and other “secure sites.”

“It is our considered judgment that permitting access to Confidential Information and Highly Confidential Information under the terms of the Amended Modified Joint Protective Orders will aid the Commission in the expeditious resolution of these proceedings,” explains the FCC.

The notion is that parties who are submitting comments and responses to these mergers should have access to this data in order to make informed statements about the market power that a combined Comcast/TWC or AT&T/DirecTV would have.

In an effort to stop these documents from going public, the broadcasters — CBS, Disney, Fox, Time Warner, Viacom, Univision — filed an emergency motion [PDF] for a stay with a federal appeals court in D.C.

“There is no dispute that these materials contain highly sensitive information that, if disclosed, will cause substantial competitive and public interest harms,” reads the motion. “The FCC historically has afforded the highest level of confidentiality protection to these materials.”

The petitioners claim that the FCC’s decision “reflects an agency that disregarded past practice, precedent,” and the rights of the broadcasters.

According to the broadcasters, even if a court ultimately decides that the documents should be made available, the FCC order should be stayed because you can’t take back that confidential information once it’s been made public.

“The harm from disclosure is so substantial and irreparable that this Court has stayed orders disclosing confidential information even when the Court ultimately upheld the disclosure decision,” reads the motion.

The broadcasters claim that the FCC order is “arbitrary and capricious” and in violation of the Trade Secrets Act.

If the court denies the broadcasters’ motion, the documents will be made available for review starting Nov. 17.

[via Fierce Cable]

When Is The Right Time For Santa Claus To Set Up Shop At The Mall?

Fri, 2014-11-14 17:50

(Consumerist reader Lindsey)

(Consumerist reader Lindsey)

There’s Christmas Creep, and then there’s showing up so early to the party that your guests aren’t even aware they’ve been invited yet. At least one mall in these United States has already ensconced the seasonal Santa Claus in his digs, surely giving some Christmas Creep curmudgeons out there a case of the grumbles.

While perhaps you haven’t even decided whether you’re doing mashed potatoes AND scalloped potatoes this year or just mashed (do both), Santa is already ready for visitors at one Staten Island, N.Y. mall, reports DNAInfo.com.

The mall has had its tree lighting ceremony and opened the winter wonderland six weeks before Christmas, and two weeks before Thanksgiving, with an outdoor hullabaloo including a parade.

Despite the grumpers among us at such an early show of Santa’s power, some people like the early arrival.

“It’s never too early,” one woman who took her kids to see the ceremony said. “I’m ready to put my tree up this week.”

What do you think? Definitely both mashed potatoes and scalloped, right? Oh, and also about mall Santa:

Take Our Poll (function(d,c,j){if(!d.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src='http://s1.wp.com/wp-content/mu-plugins/shortcodes/js/polldaddy-shortcode.js';s=d.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);} else if(typeof jQuery !=='undefined')jQuery(d.body).trigger('pd-script-load');}(document,'script','pd-polldaddy-loader'));

Santa Claus Comes to the Staten Island Mall in Time for Thanksgiving [DNAInfo.com]

Is Seattle Seahawks Stadium Watering Down Fans’ Beer?

Fri, 2014-11-14 17:20

(Hammerin Man)

(Hammerin Man)

Even though a lot of overpriced beer that football fans buy ends up on the stadium floor (or on other fans), you should get what you pay for, right? One news report out of Seattle claims that the beer at CenturyLink Field — home to the Seahawks — is serving beer that doesn’t live up to the advertised alcohol content. However, the beer makers deny they are watering down their product, and there are several unanswered questions about the accuracy of this study.

The folks at KOMO News went to CenturyLink and collected small samples of six different beers for analysis by an outside lab.

According to the lab, each of the six samples was slightly under the alcohol by volume (ABV) percentage advertised.

Federal law only allows for a tolerance of .3 percentage points between a beer’s stated ABV and its actual. If the lab results are accurate, only the Stella Artois (5% advertised; 4.8% tested) and Bud Light (4.2% advertised; 3.9% tested) samples fall within that tolerance range.

Meanwhile, the lab claims that the other samples were all outside the range allowed under the law, with the Bass Pale Ale coming in at 4.5% instead of the advertised 5.1%, and Budweiser bringing up the rear, at only 4.4% instead of the 5.0% advertised ABV.

But watering down beer isn’t the same as thinning out booze or wine with water or other fillers. A bar-owner can open up a bottle of vodka, gin, whisky, etc., and simply add other liquids. The kegs used at CenturyLink and other stadiums aren’t as easy to mess with.

The stadium would have to be getting special kegs from the beer companies with the watered-down brew, which isn’t outside the realm of believability given how much beer an NFL stadium serves in a season.

Neither the stadium nor its concessionaire would comment to KOMO, but the two beer companies whose products were tested deny any wrongdoing.

Anheuser-Busch, which owns five of the six brands (and owns a 1/3 share in the parent company of the other), tells KOMO that the beer sold to CenturyLink is the same as you’d “purchase at bars, restaurants, convenience stores and other retail locations.” AB’s own tests found “no irregularities” in ABV for these beers.

The other company, Redhook Brewery, says it has never been asked to provide watered-down beer to a customer and that doing so would be deceptive and “violate standards and protocols.”

What troubles us about the KOMO test is that there doesn’t appear to be any control testing of these same beers — all of which are readily available at bars in the Seattle area — from non-stadium venues to see if the CenturyLink beer was lower than what you’d get elsewhere.

A control is really necessary to determine if the stadium beers are indeed different than the beer being produced for bars and for retail. It’s also needed to gauge whether the lab’s testing methods are accurate and sound.

We also question the logic behind the “stadium keg” theory. CenturyLink and its concessionaire might have the buying power to require that a beer company create a slightly different version of its brews, but why use your leverage to demand a special order when you can employ it to just lower the wholesale price on the regular stuff?

[via Eater]

This Is The Future, And We Can Track Domino’s Pizzas From Our Wrist Computers

Fri, 2014-11-14 17:16

It was almost seven years ago that Domino’s introduced its Pizza Tracker, an online feature that lets customer keep track of what is happening with their pizzas right now, to within under a minute. In case you wondered what kind of glorious era we’re living in, the Tracker is now available for the Pebble smartwatch, meaning that you don’t even need to sit down at a computer to learn that your pizza is entering the oven right now.

Pic.Dominos-141113-1024x568

The watch app does exactly the same thing as the Web version: it lets you know exactly what’s going on with your pizza right now. The main difference is that the watch version has a tiny pizza icon that represents, in grayscale, what’s happening to your pizza at its current phase of production.

Do you think that you don’t need that kind of information about anything, let alone a pizza? Nonsense. Domino’s has concluded that we all want more information about our pizzas, even installing webcams in the kitchens, possibly to ensure that employees don’t start sticking cheese up their noses again. We can’t wait until this feature combines with smartwatches with color screens, resulting in consumers having the ability to watch their food be made in real time. After all, workers are getting paid close to minimum wage: now they want privacy, too?

“Pizza’s Here!” Domino’s Lands on Pebble + Apps of the Week (Nov 13–19) [Pebble] (via The Verge)

Best Buy’s Stupid Shipping Gang Sends 45 Packs Of Pens In 45 Separate Boxes

Fri, 2014-11-14 16:42

(Reddit)

Everyone loves that pumpkin, right? (Reddit)

Buying stuff that’s on sale is always a heady moment on the retail battlefield, leaving your proudly standing over your vanquished enemy and wiping the sweat from your brow and knowing that the price you paid wasn’t as great as it could’ve been. Then 45 separate boxes show up at the door.

Actually, so far it’s only 33 separate boxes from Best Buy, so far. Consumerist reader Michael B. sent us Reddit’s way, where a redditor says he found a great deal online and decided heck, I could be stocked up on pens for life:

“Best buy had some pens on sale for 50¢. I ordered 45. They sent them to me in 45 different boxes… Free shipping,” he writes on Reddit.

Then came the box parade, each carrying its single item, carefully packed:

(Reddit)

(Reddit)

In an additional post he updates the situation, remarking that there are 12 boxes that have yet to make their way home, writing, “Edit: Turns out I only got 33. 12 more to go. :/”

At least it’s free shipping, right?

CFPB: Mortgage Lender Must Refund Consumers $730,000 for Steering Them Into Costlier Mortgages

Fri, 2014-11-14 16:25
(Great Beyond)

(Great Beyond)

Taking out an expensive loan is often the only option when it comes to financing a new home. And while most prospective home buyers might expect their mortgage lender to find them the best deal, that isn’t always the case. Take for example a California-based mortgage lender being ordered to provide $730,000 in consumer redress for an illegal compensation system that offered bonuses to employees for steering borrowers into higher interest loans.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced this week that Franklin Loan Corporation operated an illegal compensation fund for more than two years affecting the loans of nearly 1,400 consumers.

According to the CFPB, from June 2011 to October 2013 the residential mortgage lender paid at least $730,000 in quarterly bonuses to 32 loan officers based in part on the interest rates for the loans they provided to borrowers; the higher the interest rate, the larger the officer’s bonus would be.

The company’s bonus payments were found to be in violation of the Federal Reserve Board’s Loan Origination Compensation Rule, which prohibits mortgage lenders from paying loan officers based on loan terms such as interest rates.

Officials with the CFPB say that the consent order against the company will ensure that all affected borrowers are repaid and that no more consumer are harmed by the illegal compensation system.

CFPB Takes Action Against Franklin Loan Corporation for Steering Consumers into Costlier Mortgages [CFPB]

McDonald’s Created Bubble Gum-Flavored Broccoli To Try To Get Kids To Eat Healthier

Fri, 2014-11-14 16:23

(Damian)

(Damian)

Even though there are other, equally unhealthy fast food menus out there, McDonald’s is still the face of the industry and is often the target of critics, especially when it comes to marketing calorie-filled food to kids. But the company’s CEO says McDonald’s is trying to make changes, some more practical than others.

According to Business Insider, McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson was recently asked at an event what his company is doing to improve its offerings for young customers.

There were the obvious things, like cutting down the size of the french fry servings, but then there was the revelation that mad scientists at McDonald’s had invented a broccoli that tastes like bubble gum.

So why isn’t this on the menu?

“It wasn’t all that,” admits Thompson, who says that kids who tried the gum-flavored veggie were confused by the taste.

Personally, I wish McDonald’s would develop a burger that actually tastes like, well… anything.

Taco Bell Has Two New Rolled Up Tacos That Are Somehow Not Taquitos

Fri, 2014-11-14 16:17

(blurrymystr)

(blurrymystr)

In what smacks of trying to disguise a taquito as something other than what it is, which is a taquito, Taco Bell has unveiled its newest bid for your gustatory attention: Rolled tacos, with dipping sauces. You know, like taquitos.

It’s a new taco platform, explains USA Today, which consists of two new flavor offerings. The Rolled Chicken Taco, and a rolled up Crunchy Taco. Both will start appearing on menus nationwide on Nov. 20.

The Rolled Chicken taco features shredded chicken and will sell for $1.99 per 2-pack, or $3.99 for a 4-pack. There’s also the option of including them in the new Taco duo 12 Pack, which is a limited time offering. It comes with 6 Crunchy Tacos and 6 Rolled Chicken Tacos with 3 dips for $10.99.

Here’s the chicken taco that is not a taquito, somehow:

taquito

But what does the new crunchy taco look like?!? We might never know, until Nov. 20 or if the Internet proves useful.

And lest you think you can get away with a dry taquito, sorry, a dry “rolled” taco, there are five dipping sauces available with it: new Spicy Ranch, Salsa, Guacamole, Nacho Cheese and reduced-fat Sour Cream.

Taco Bell concocts ‘dipping’ tacos [USA Today]

Man Says He Was Gouged After Receiving $1,171 In-Flight WiFi Bill

Fri, 2014-11-14 16:06

(John Kittelsrud)

(John Kittelsrud)

There are a number of reasons why you might choose to purchase in-flight WiFi: to finish a work project or just to pass the time on your five-hour flight. Depending on how long you’re flying high and the nature of your work, the bill for your internet use can add up quickly; just ask a passenger who connected on a Singapore Airlines flight.

Gigaom reports the passenger stepped off the plane to find a not-so-welcome bill on his phone for $1,171.46.

[Click to Enlarge]

[Click to Enlarge]

The man says that his internet use during the flight consisted of sending emails, uploading documents and other ordinary tasks.

Unfortunately for him, the airline’s $28.99 sign-on fee only included 30 MB of data, which meant he was hit with expensive overage charges.

“I wish I could blame an addiction to Netflix or some intellectual documentary that made me $1200 smarter,” the man tells Gigaom. “However, the Singapore Airlines internet was painfully slow, so videos would be impossible and that means I didn’t get any smarter… except about how to charge a lot of money for stuff. I did learn that.”

The man posted his displeasure for what he called price gouging on Twitter. Singapore Airlines responded saying they are looking into the matter.

Part of at the issue regarding in-flight WiFi is the exclusive, long-term contracts airlines have locked into with internet providers. Currently Gogo supports 80% of all wired commercial aircraft in the United States using its cellular network-based technology to keep passengers on the Internet while in flight.

Unfortunately, any relief passengers might have seen in the next year fell away this week when AT&T announced it was scrapping plans to create an in-flight WiFi network.

Man gets $1,171 bill for using in-flight WiFi [Gigaom]

Consumerist Friday Flickr Finds

Fri, 2014-11-14 15:00

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

(ken fager)

(ken fager)

(Derelict Compositions)

(Derelict Compositions)

(Joanne Wong)

(Joanne Wong)

(Great Beyond)

(Great Beyond)

(Derelict Compositions)

(Derelict Compositions)

(amira_a)

(amira_a)

(Aikawa Ke)

(Aikawa Ke)

(Carbon Arc)

(Carbon Arc)

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

Office Depot Will Open For 3 Hours On Thanksgiving Day

Thu, 2014-11-13 23:53

(eviloars and frankieleon

(eviloars and frankieleon)

In another blow for that holiday that we used to call “Thanksgiving,” the newly merged Office Depot and OfficeMax will open for a few hours on Thanksgiving Day, delivering doorbusters to the masses from 6 PM to 9 PM, closing again until 12:01 AM on Friday.

By opening their doors at 6, the office store (which we cannot stop calling OfficeDepotMax, even though the combined company is doing business as Office Depot) joins Target and malls owned by Pyramid Management.

There are three states and one territory where the chain has stores that won’t be open on the holiday because that’s prohibited by law: you’re out of luck if you want to avoid your family by getting in line for a $180 Dell Inspiron in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, and Puerto Rico. The chain also warns dedicated shoppers to check with their local stores, because the hours that each is open may vary.

As far as Thanksgiving Day retail strategies go, this is not evil like opening at 6 AM and staying open for 42 hours straight, but it does mean that employees will have to disrupt their afternoons to come in well before 6 to stock shelves and set up for the sale event.

Pizza Hut Is Selling A Giant Pizza-Sized Quesadilla In New Zealand

Thu, 2014-11-13 22:01

flavour_fiestaFor a while now, Pizza Hut has reserved many of its wackier pizza creations for the chain’s international outposts. Earlier this week, we learned that some of those more interesting flavors have been brought stateside, and one of our colleagues even got to try them. We can’t imagine the Hut bringing their new product line in New Zealand stateside, though. Even if Mary Beth would probably eat it.

This time around, the exotic thing about Pizza Hut’s new offerings isn’t what’s stuffed in the crust: sorry, chili dog and Marmite lovers. The new and exciting product this time around is a “Mexican Flavour Fiesta,” consisting of pizzas topped with nachos, with burrito toppings, and a pizza that is, as far as we can tell, a giant quesadilla.

As far as we’re concerned, that is not a bad thing. This item has beef, onions, mozzarella cheese, “burrito sauce” (whatever that is) as well as jalapeno peppers and chili pepper flakes. It seems that New Zealand isn’t quite ready for this flavo(u)r profile, though, because a few customers have complained on their Facebook page about how spicy the new menu item is.

ordered one the other night for me and my family was so hot we couldn’t actually eat it….wasnt that happy as we each had about two bites out of our pieces and it blew our mouths, throats and taste buds to pieces…..no tea for my family that night needless to say

Maybe it’s the jalapeño and chili flakes sandwiched between the two crusts that are too much for the Kiwi public.

Pizza Hut Offering New Nachos, Burrito, and Quesadilla Pizzas in New Zealand [Brand Eating]

Why You Shouldn’t Get A Reverse Mortgage Just Because Fred Thompson Tells You To

Thu, 2014-11-13 22:00

Turn on the TV and you’re just about guaranteed to come face-to-face with a celebrity or public figure selling a product or service. While those spokespeople may carry an air of respect and trust with consumers, what happens when the product they so happily lent their voice to turns out to have devastating affects on the consumer? Not much really, but it might be time for that to change.

The use of celebrities in commercials for payday loan networks, for-profit colleges and reverse mortgage lenders isn’t a new phenomena. In fact, consumer groups have warned of the dangers these types of products and their corresponding celebrity backers pose for consumers for years.

(For a flashback, check out the sidebar later in this story to see how sports legends like Terry Bradshaw and Dan Marino lent their names to questionable financial products nearly two decades ago.)

Tom Feltner with the Consumer Federation of America tells Consumerist that concerns regarding celebrity appearances in advertisements for financial products and services is just one portion of a larger problem regarding potentially predatory financial products.

“I think that first and foremost the use of celebrity implies that consumers should have a certain level of trust regardless or not if that product suits a consumers financial situation,” Feltner says. “The endorsement of a product that has public trust raises concerns.”

Christina Tetreault, staff attorney for Consumers Union tells Consumerist that the goal when using a celebrity is to have whatever goodwill consumers have about that particular public figure transfer to the product being sold.

“This is typical in advertising,” she says. “But is worrisome when applied to financial services because some of the financial products that celebrities back — such a payday loans — can be dangerous traps for consumers.”

So while a $3 tube of toothpaste you bought on the say-so of a celebrity may only last a few weeks or months in your home, the ramifications of taking on harmful financial products or services can last a lifetime.

After all, reverse mortgages have been found to leave families with debts they can never repay, four-in-five payday loans are made to consumers already caught in the debt trap, and on average 54% of students who attend a for-profit college leave with out a degree — with one-in-five of those students defaulting on their loans.

What’s Celebrity Have To Do With It?Image courtesy of Jason Cook Section Permalink Bookmark Section Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

“It’s not hard to understand why celebrities get hired,” Suzanne Martindale, staff attorney for Consumers Union tells Consumerist. “It makes the consumer more likely to be receptive to the sales pitch.”

Additionally, Martindale says that marketers use famous faces to tap into viewers’ emotional attachments to celebrities and the characters they play.

“The more you can prime the viewer to trust the person delivering the message, the more likely they’ll trust the message,” she says.

Former Senator Fred Thompson, a paid spokesperson for American Advisors Group: Reverse Mortgages, maybe more likely to evoke trust or nostalgia among seniors than an unknown, middle-aged actor because of his prominent political history and his work in movies and, most prominently, on the television show Law & Order.

Likewise, ads for the payday loan lead generator MoneyMutual tend to feed into its spokesperson’s history. Montel Williams, who hosted a long-running syndicated talk show, can often be found gracing the small screen for MoneyMutual during the same time of day his show aired, so it’s likely catching the eyes of his previous viewers.

The same could be said of the ads of for-profit college, Strayer University.

Comic Steve Harvey, who writes funny, bestselling self-help type books (which have been made into wildly popular movies) and currently hosts Family Feud, would be an attractive spokesperson to someone who might want to better their life through education.

More Celebrities, More Sales Section Permalink Bookmark Section Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

While it’s highly debated whether or not consumers’ reception of a celebrity ad provides a high return on investment to the advertiser, there is some evidence that celebrity endorsements lead to bigger sale for companies. And even if the numbers don’t back that up, executives around the world still believe strongly in the power of a famous name, which means the ads aren’t likely to go away anytime soon.

A report from researchers at the University of South Alabama and Florida Gulf Coast University found that the general belief among advertisers is that messages delivered by celebrities provide a higher degree of appeal, attention and possible message recall than commercials featuring non-celebrities.

Researchers concluded that celebrity advertising may be influential because celebrities are viewed as dynamic, with both attractive and likable qualities. Additionally, their fame is thought to attract attention to the product or service.

Three factors were found to be associated with the degree to which a celebrity advertisement is effective: source credibility, celebrity knowledge and trustworthiness, and celebrity appearance.

Of the three factors, celebrity knowledge and trustworthiness was of the most importance when it came to financial products or services being advertised.

Celebrity knowledge or expertise was defined as the perceived ability of a spokesperson to make valid assertions. When celebrity spokespersons were viewed as experts in the product category, they were more liked and more highly correlated with believability and trustworthiness.

That may be one reason why companies tend to use older, more well-known figures when advertising products such as reverse mortgages. And successful, well-rounded celebrities in payday loan and for-profit college commercials.

Celebrities who evoke a sense of trustworthiness when hawking a product are more likely to positively affect a consumers purchasing attitude such as “if this celebrity is backing the product or service, it must be good enough for me.”

According to a study [PDF] by Harvard Business School associate professor Anita Elberse, a company’s decision to use celebrity endorsers as an advertising strategy largely paid off in the form of brand-level sales. In fact, signing an endorser created an average 4% increase in sales, depending on the celebrity and product in question.

Although a 4% increase may seem rather insignificant, when a company brings in billions of dollars in revenue each year, a few percentage points extra translates into a hefty chunk of positive revenue.

The Difference Between A Pair Of Nikes And A High-Interest LoanImage courtesy of Tracy O Section Permalink Bookmark Section Share on Facebook Share on Twitter SHILLING SPORTS STARS OF YESTERYEAR

This current rash of celebrities pitching questionable financial products is not the first. Back in 1998, our colleagues at Consumer Reports looked at a trio of sports legends who were all shilling for subprime lenders.

TERRY BRADSHAW
tb
After winning four Super Bowls for Pittsburgh, the Hall of Fame QB began appearing in ads for the nation’s largest home-equity lender in ads where regular homeowners shouted “Thanks Terry!” for telling them how to make money off their properties. When advocates questioned his involvement in the ads, Bradshaw’s rep said the QB “feels very strongly about people being ripped off.”

DAN MARINO
marino
After failing to win a Super Bowl for Miami and before becoming a NutriSystem poster boy, Marino (along with his son and his dad) popped up in commercials for a debt-consolidation lender. While Marino supported the company he endorsed, his rep admitted that the Hall of Famer “can’t justify the whole industry.”

PHIL RIZZUTO
rizzuto
For two decades, the 5-time All Star Yankees shortstop and 7-time World Series champ was the voice and face of subprime lender The Money Store. When that gig ended, he ended up in ads for a Money Store competitor called National Finance. At the time, reps for Rizzuto chose to not comment on Scooter’s apparent love of subprime lending.

It’s no secret that famous athletes are the spokespeople of choice to promote sporting goods like sneakers and workout clothing, so it should also make sense that companies selling financial services and products would use celebrities or public figures that relate to their products or targeted customers.

So while LeBron James may be the preferred representative for a $200 pair of Nikes, it’s easy to see why a grey-haired Sen. Thompson would be the perfect fit to tout reverse mortgages to retired consumers.

But there’s a big different between shelling out a few hundred bucks for a pair of shoes and signing a contract to receive thousands of dollars in equity from your home.

For instance, consumers likely have a pretty good idea about what the pricey pair of shoes looks like and they can run to the local shoe store to try on the sneakers before heading to the cash register. And if things don’t work out, there’s always the option of returning the footwear.

That’s not exactly the case for products like reverse mortgages where tens of thousands of dollars are on the line.

In the AAG ad, Thompson’s booming voice opines about how the product isn’t too good to be true and how it’s “simply an effective way for folks like you to enjoy your retirement.”

Reverse mortgages allow a borrower, 62 years or older, to convert the equity on their home into a lump sum or monthly payments. Generally, those funds are not required to be paid back until the borrower moves or dies.

Although that might sound like an easy way to receive an infusion of much-needed cash, the process can often become burdensome for borrowers and their families.

“It’s Good Enough For Him, It’s Good Enough For Me”

Back in 2012, Consumers Union, along with California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform provided comments to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau regarding consumers’ use of reverse mortgages. Among the groups’ concerns was the proliferation of ads inundating older Americans.

“The brokers and lenders of reverse mortgages are saturating the airwaves, print media, and internet and using sophisticated marketing methods that target and track prospective senior purchases,” the comments stated.

In one specific instance, a 76-year-old Florida resident described to Consumers Union just how she was drawn to take out a reverse mortgage because of Robert Wagner’s appearance in the commercial.

She said that her decision was based on the feelings that she “recognized him and trusted and felt more comfortable with the idea because hew as talking about how good they are.”

“Well, if he thinks it is good, I thought, it probably is,” she says.

The Whole Truth And Nothing But The Truth – Not Exactly Section Permalink Bookmark Section Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

Although celebrities in advertisements aren’t forcing consumers to invest in a reverse mortgage, take out a payday loan or enroll in a for-profit college, the ads certainly have an impact on viewers, whether they’re completely forthcoming about the product or not.

While using a celebrity spokesperson can increase the possible entertainment value of selling services on television or elsewhere, a misstatement about the product can be extremely damaging because it can attract potential borrowers for the wrong reasons.

In the previously discussed AAG reverse mortgage ad, Thompson calls the product “the best advice for a better life,” which CU says would imply that the company provides the best advice for planning a future with a reverse mortgage. But that simply isn’t the case.

“The seller of the product has an inherent interest in selling the product and cannot provide unbiased information for potential borrowers,” officials with CU told the CFPB.

Senate testimony from Lori A. Trawinski, senior strategic policy adviser for AARP in 2012 touched on that very shortcoming.

“The decision to tap home equity is not a decision to be taken lightly and it should not be presented as anything other than a loan,” she said. “These loans are not risk-free or cost-free and should not be presented as such. While it is appropriate to inform and educate the public about the availability of reverse mortgage loans, mass marketing of reverse mortgage loans should not be misleading or deceptive.”

Instead, consumers would be better off seeking input from a qualified professional advisor unaffiliated with a lender.

The same could be said for Steve Harvey’s Strayer University or Montel’s MoneyMutual commercials. When consumers seek out either company they undoubtedly receive information only about that institution or product.

But the real problem with the celebrity advertisements, and advertisements for financial products in general, is a lack of information regarding the real risks associated with the services.

Should Celebrities Know What They’re Backing?Image courtesy of Bill Adler Section Permalink Bookmark Section Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

Although we wouldn’t expect Fred Thompson to take out a reverse mortgage, or Montel Williams to seek out payday loan options, we should be able to reasonably expect that the celebrities have a working knowledge of the products — and their associated risks — they are hawking.

That doesn’t appear to be the case for another potentially harmful consumer product: the LendVantage small-business loan shilled by Larry King.

Just two months ago, ads featuring the television host began telling consumers in search of small-business loans to “go online, complete a simple application, and you can get pre-approved for put o $250,000 in minutes.”

The only problem was that the product in question doesn’t actually make the loan itself.

Like MoneyMutual the company collects information from would-be borrowers and sells it to lenders who specialize in funding. And more-often-than-not those lenders offer the loans at an exorbitant cost to consumers.

According to the LendVantage website a business can get a $25,000 advance to finance a building addition. In all, the company agrees to repay $33,500 by paying $225 each weekday for about 30 weeks. Under those terms the company’s loan would incur an annual interest rate well into three figures.

Bloomberg Businessweek reported at the time that King admitted he didn’t actually look at the rates borrowers would have to pay for loans through LendVantage before he agreed to be a spokesperson.

“When you’re a spokesman, you have to have some faith,” he told Businessweek.

Perhaps the situation is similar for Thompson, Williams and Harvey.

When it was announced several years ago that Thompson would become the new face of reverse mortgages, an AAG press release cited the former presidential candidate as saying “I look forward to informing America’s seniors of the benefits of this often misunderstood financial product.”

While it could be considered admirable that Thompson wants to inform consumers of their options, that’s not exactly what he does, since the company doesn’t offer actual planning advice outside of it’s own product.

We don’t know if King, Thompson, Williams or Harvey have nightmares about collecting a paycheck for selling a product that may lead to irreparable financial damage for consumers, but maybe they should.

Although U.S. regulators and consumer groups have worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the risks associated with financial products, there could be more done when it comes to reining in the promotion of such ads.

Where Do We Go From Here?Image courtesy of Jeff Dailey Section Permalink Bookmark Section Share on Facebook Share on TwitterThe Federal Trade Commission, which oversees and enforces several rules related to deceptive advertising, routinely brings action against potentially predatory financial companies.

Additionally, the agency provides companies with guidelines to ensure they are not perpetrating deceptive marketing tactics. Included in those guides is a section devoted to celebrity endorsements.

However, an endorsement and a spokesperson — which Thompson, Harvey and Williams are considered to be — are two different things and carry very different liabilities.

Technically speaking, a spokesperson is an individual who makes statements on behalf of another individual or a group. An endorser is a person who declares their truthful personal public approval or support of a product or service.

While consumers may be attracted to a product shilled by an spokesperson or an endorser, only the endorser actually faces potential legal ramifications.

When an advertiser stretches the truth too far, the FTC might also hold a product’s endorser partly responsible for the deception if they knew the ad to be untruthful, or if they provided testimony about a product that they themselves didn’t believe to be true.

The FTC could find the individual liable if he or she had the ability to step in, changing the outcome of an advertisement, or if they were willing participants in the deceptive ad.

For the most part, proving liability hinges on the the FTC’s ability to prove that the endorser is not relaying their truthful beliefs about a product; meaning if an endorser says they lost 50 pounds using a product, they must have lost 50 pounds using that product.

So while the spokesperson for a reverse mortgage may never be held accountable for their role in promoting a potentially harmful service, consumer advocates say more can be done to protect consumers.

Officials with Consumers Union and the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform recommended to the CFPB in 2012 that the Bureau carefully investigate the nature and impact of such marketing on consumers.

The recommendations included, at the very minimum, requiring advertisements with celebrities to be clearly and prominently display information identifying the celebrity as a paid spokesperson.

The groups also say the ads should be required to include clearly visible and written disclosures of the risks associated with the products.

Wells Fargo to Sell $8.5B In Government-Backed Student Loans to Navient

Thu, 2014-11-13 21:52
(TheTruthAbout)

(TheTruthAbout)

Earlier this year, Wells Fargo announced plans to get out of the payday loan-like business of direct deposit advances. Now it looks like the banking giant is getting ready to shed another aspect of its business: government-guaranteed student loans.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Wells Fargo struck a deal to sell $8.5 billion of loans to the loan management firm Navient, which in part means consumers will have to change the name of the company they send monthly payments to.

Navient, the largest servicer of federal and private student loans, was spun off from Sallie Mae earlier this year.

Wells Fargo, which had previously moved $9.7 billion in government-guaranteed loans to its held-for-sale portfolio in July, did not disclose the cost of the sale.

Separating the loans from the rest of the company’s student loan portfolio appears to be a long time coming. The bank stopped originating federal student loans back in 2010.

Officials with Wells Fargo say the decision to sell the loans was related to their relatively low-yield.

“They’re not strategic. We don’t have bigger relationships with most of those customers,” CFO John Shrewberry tells the WSJ.

Even with the sale of government-backed loans, Wells Fargo won’t be getting out of the private student loan business anytime soon.

The company is currently the largest private student lender among U.S. banks with $11.9 billion in loans outstanding.

Wells Fargo to Sell Government-Backed Student Loans to Navient [The Wall Street Journal]

Lost Truck Driver Lands Big Rig On Public Park’s Footbridge, Blames GPS

Thu, 2014-11-13 21:12

(jennymcb)

(jennymcb)

There’s using technology to help you figure out where you’re going, and then there’s leaning so heavily on your device that you fail to observe the wrongness of those directions even as you’re blindly following them. Where you’ll end up is anyone’s guess, as one truck driver proved by landing his semi in a public park where it definitely was not supposed to be.

An apparently lost Indiana trucker will have to pay $570.80 for reckless driving and failure to obey signs in my hometown of Milwaukee, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, after steering his rig onto a pedestrian bridge in the historic Lake Park.

The Milwaukee County Sheriff’s office says that when the man drove his truck and 53-foot trailer onto the path on Tuesday afternoon, he damaged several trees, two bridges and concrete railings.

The driver allegedly told officials he was following the directions from his GPS, just like this woman who drove 900 miles out of her way and the lady who ended up driving onto a golf course. And yes, that photo above works perfectly with these stories.

A truck stuck on a pedestrian bridge in Milwaukee. Here it is. A live report from @thema_ponton next pic.twitter.com/Q02DroN5U1

— Marianne Lyles (@MarianneLyles) November 12, 2014

Truck driver fined for crashing semi through Lake Park, footbridges [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]

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