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The Consumerist

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

Tue, 2015-11-17 22:55

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tue, 2015-11-17 22:32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tue, 2015-11-17 22:06

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tue, 2015-11-17 22:06

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

Which Stores Will Have The Best Black Friday Deals?

Tue, 2015-11-17 21:16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tue, 2015-11-17 20:59

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lawsuit Claims Safeway Deliberately Sold Under-Filled Tuna Cans

Tue, 2015-11-17 20:38
(Marcus Heinrich)

The amount of tuna packaged into small circular containers is once again at the center of a consumer lawsuit. This time the $5 million complaint revolves around allegedly under-filled cans of Safeway-branded tuna. 

The potential class action, filed Nov. 5 in California, accuses the nation’s second largest supermarket chain of short-changing customers by selling cans of tuna that didn’t contain the full five ounces advertised on the label.

The complaint, filed by a California man who says he bought five cans of tuna every two weeks for two years based on their label, accuses Safeway of violating the state’s Consumers Legal Remedies Act, Unfair Competition and False Advertising laws.

According to the lawsuit [PDF], recent testing by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that a sample of five cans of Safeway-branded Chunk Light Tuna were under-filled and substantially underweight.

The cans were found to have contained an average of 2.29 ounces of tuna, 19.4% less than the federally mandated minimum standard fill of 2.84 ounces for the specific cans.

Tests of seven cans of Safeway Solid White Albacore Tuna in Water found similar issues: they contained an average of 2.83 ounces of pressed cake tuna, about 12.4% below federally mandated standards.

A second round of tests by NOAA found the cans contained tuna between 6% and 10.6% below the standard fill.

“Safeway is cheating purchasers by providing less tuna than they are paying for,” the suit states. “Safeway Tuna did not have the characteristics, ingredients, uses, benefits or quantities as promised.”

The lawsuit, which also accuses Safeway of breach of express warranty, breach of implied warranty of merchantability, breach of the implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose, unjust enrichment, negligent misrepresentation and fraud, seeks $5 million in damages for anyone who purchased five-ounce cans of Safeway Chunk Light Tuna in Water and Safeway Solid White Albacore Tuna in Water.

The complaint against Safeway is the second filed by the California man related to under-filled tuna cans. A similar suit [PDF], also filed on Nov. 5, accuses seafood wholesaler Wild Planet Foods of cheating purchasers by providing less tuna than they were paying for.

Both lawsuits come three months after Starkist agreed to settle a class action lawsuit accusing the company of deliberately under-filling each can of tuna by a few tenths of an ounce.

Under the terms of that settlement, resident of the United States who bought at least one five-ounce can of any of these tunas from Starkist between February 19, 2009 and October 31, 2014, are eligible to file a claim for $25 in cash or $50 in tuna.

[via The San Jose Mercury News]

Lumber Liquidators Promises To Sell Vinyl Flooring Free Of Potentially Dangerous Chemicals

Tue, 2015-11-17 19:35

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 1.31.45 PMLumber Liquidators has had a tough time in the news cycle lately, what with two separate federal investigations: one alleging that some of their products give off potentially dangerous chemicals like formaldehyde, and another over allegedly illegally imported hardwoods. In an apparent effort to ease concerns over what its products are made from, the company is now promising to only sell vinyl flooring free of reprocessed plastics, which could contain potentially harmful chemicals.

Lumber Liquidators announced on Tuesday that it is adopting new standards, and won’t sell vinyl flooring made with reprocessed plastic, as well as limiting lead in flooring to less than 100 parts per million. It’ll be the first retailer to make such a pledge.

Though it might sound like a good idea — recycling old plastic into new products seems harmless enough — experts say that the end product can often be contaminated with lead, cadmium, brominated flame retardants, phthalates and other toxic chemicals. This is a result of the global trade in plastic waste, which often includes wire and cables from old electronics.

According to the Mind the Store Campaign (a project by Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families) which worked with the retailer to develop its new flooring standards, the Ecology Center in Michigan found that lead was present at elevated concentrations in at least 69% of the inner layers of flooring it tested from six different retailers.

The new standards are expected to be phased in over the next year.

“Lumber Liquidators is committed to setting the highest standards for the sourcing of flooring products,” said Jill Witter, Chief Compliance and Legal Officer of Lumber Liquidators. “We are pleased to work with Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families on this initiative, as part of our ongoing efforts to lead the industry forward with responsible sourcing practices.”

RadioShack Starts Black Friday On Wednesday Because Why Not

Tue, 2015-11-17 18:18

(cmorran123)Let’s get this out of the way: RadioShack still exists. While the chain declared bankruptcy and sold or liquidated all of its stores, they sold the brand along with about half of their leases to lender Standard General. That leaves about 1,700 SprintShack-owned stores with their doors still open and stocked with gadgets to sell, some of which may not even be Sprint mobile phones.

While the chain is opening on Thanksgiving Day for a few hours, as they did last year under the old ownership, they’re trying to attract attention by declaring that the shopping holiday actually opens for them on Wednesday. Sure, why not?

“We know the past year has been difficult on the RadioShack community, with our shelves recently missing that one-off electronics component, cable or connector you needed or that mini-drone you were searching for,” new CEO Ron Garriques said in the company’s holiday press release. “But now we are stronger than ever and fully restocked with over 20 million new units and proud to return to our roots as the neighborhood source for affordable and cutting edge electronics.”

In other words: RadioShack has stuff again, and some of that stuff is drones. Please come visit.

Check with your local store, but it will probably be open a little longer on Wednesday to accommodate that Black Wednesday sale, and stores will also be open from 8 AM to 1 PM on Thanksgiving Day. We’re not sure who wants to be at any electronics store at 8 AM on Thanksgiving Day, but apparently there is someone who does.

New York State Sues DraftKings & FanDuel Over Alleged Gambling, False Advertising

Tue, 2015-11-17 18:08

draftkingsOne week after concluding that, according to New York state law, daily fantasy sports sites DraftKings and FanDuel are unlicensed gambling operations, the state has filed lawsuits against both companies, seeking to stop them from offering their service to New Yorkers.

This morning, the office of NY attorney general Eric Schneiderman filed complaints against DraftKings [PDF] and FanDuel [PDF], alleging violations of state laws that prohibit the promotion of gambling and “repeated or persistent fraudulent conduct.”

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

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

But prosecutors contend that daily fantasy is just a new wrinkle on the very old art of sports gambling, and that the fact that players are gambling on statistics instead of individual game outcomes is also nothing new.

“Bookmaking operations in jurisdictions with legal gambling like Nevada have long accepted sports proposition or ‘prop’ bets (to bet on game statistics and milestones) and parlay bets (to simultaneously bet on several, independent variables in a single wager),” read the complaints.

The state points out that, for all the distance these sites try to put between their operations and terms like “gambling” and “betting,” they also advise their users to use the same information used by traditional sports bettors.

On the DraftKings website, the company notes that “Player props are also an excellent source of information for daily fantasy owners. Props are Vegas’s best guess for a player’s production—basically their projection for him in fantasy.”

Similarly, the FanDuel site tells users that “By taking into account over-under lines, as well as money lines and player props, FanDuel players gives [sic] themselves more opportunities to win.”

To the state, this is an acknowledgement that daily fantasy is “akin to sports prop betting.”

The lawsuits note that one of the five states where daily fantasy was already barred is Washington, where the definition of gambling is identical to New York’s, which states that a contest is gambling if it depends on either a “future contingent event not under [the bettor’s] control or influence” or is a “contest of chance.”

In defending their operations, DraftKings and FanDuel have maintained they are not games of chance, but contests of skill. But in a memorandum of law [PDF] filed with these complaints, the state argues that this ignores the “future contingent event” part of the gambling definition.

It gives the example of two people playing chess and wagering each other on the outcome of their game versus two people watching that chess match and placing wagers on the results. The spectators may be making their decision based on the players’ respective skills, history, and other data, but they have no way of controlling who wins and loses.

In such a case, contends the state, “the degree of talent or knowledge a bettor displays in making a prediction is irrelevant.”

Applying this to daily fantasy, prosecutors explain that “A DFS player can try to make an informed guess of how particular athletes might perform, but no DFS player can (legally) influence how those athletes will perform.”

Once a fantasy contestant selects their lineup, “he is a spectator whose fate is determined by the combined performance of real athletes competing in real-world games,” according to the state.

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

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

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

We’ve reached out to both DraftKings and FanDuel for comment. Both sites say that statements are forthcoming.

Delta No Longer Allowing Large Animals To Be Flown As Checked Baggage

Tue, 2015-11-17 17:51
(Belinda Hankins Miller)

Flying your favorite furry friend on Delta Air Lines is about to get a little less convenient, and more expensive, starting next year, as the carrier announced that it will no longer allow travelers to ferry their pets from one place to another as checked baggage. 

The airline announced Tuesday that starting March 1, 2016 Delta will only allow bigger animals to be flown on its cargo service. Delta will contact customers with bookings after March 1 that are known to include pets as checked bags.

There are a few exceptions to the new policy: members of the military with active transfer orders, as well as service and emotional support animals can continue to be flown as checked baggage.

Small dogs and cats, those that fit in a pet carrier under a seat, can continue to fly in the cabin with their owners — for a fee, of course.

“Many of us at Delta are pet lovers and we know that they are important members of the family,” Bill Lentsch, Senior Vice President – Airport Customer Service and Cargo Operations, said in a statement. “This change will ultimately ensure that we have a high-quality, consistent service for pets when their owners choose to ship them with Delta Cargo.”

Passengers planning to fly their larger pets with the cargo service should be prepared to jump through a few hoops and pay a bit more for the option.

Pets shipped via the cargo service require a separate booking, which cannot be done for domestic bookings until 14 days before departure.

Dropping off your pet for the trip can also be an issue, as the airline requires the animals to be delivered and retrieved directly from the cargo location.

Additionally, Delta can’t guarantee that pets will be placed on the same flight as their owners, which means travelers may have to return to the airport.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that the cost for shipping a pet can be a bit pricey, with rates ranging from $193 to $1,481.18.

The change comes after the airline has faced several issues related to the deaths or misplacement of pets on their flights.

[via The Atlanta Journal Constitution]

Man Facing Assault Charges For Allegedly Throwing Sandwich At A Fellow Restaurant Patron

Tue, 2015-11-17 17:34

(Alan Rappa)Food fights are always hilarious in movies and on TV, but lest you get the urge to use your meal as a weapon against your fellow diner, take heed: you could end up facing assault charges if that brawl leads to police involvement.

A Virginia man has been charged with assault after an altercation at a pizza restaurant, according to the Fairfax City police department (via the Associated Press), though the alleged crime did not involve an actual pizza.

Police say a drunken New Jersey man winged a sandwich at another man and then drove away. The victim wasn’t injured in the incident, so it’s my guess that this was not a piping hot meatball sub we’re talking about. Instead, he tailed the suspect until police arrived and pulled the alleged sandwich thrower over.

It’s unclear what started the dispute in the first place, but the suspect was charged with assault and battery, driving under the influence of alcohol and refusal of a blood and breath test. In a perfect world, wasting a perfectly good sandwich would also be included.

Here’s Why You Should Meet Your New Puppy In Person First

Tue, 2015-11-17 17:08

puppers_photoIt’s frustrating when you want a specific type of pet, and there aren’t any available near you. However, one family learned the hard way that it’s can be unwise to order a puppy from an unverified breeder on the other side of the country. They found a cute puppy and sent cash, then came to realize that they were sending money after a puppy that wasn’t real.


The website they bought the pup through seemed real enough, and the seller even sent videos of the dog napping and playing with her littermates. Wanting to cuddle her through the screen didn’t bring her into reality, though. They first sent $655 as a deposit and shipping fee.

Then a company claiming to be a delivery service contacted the family and demanded $980.76 in life insurance for the dog. Life insurance? There are risks to transporting flat-nosed canines in hot weather, but the dog was coming from Pennsylvania.

That’s when a strange response came from the website that he bought the puppy from, which had since disappeared.

When CBS Sacramento got involved, the breeder reacted poorly, later issuing a refund.

I have decided not to give you any details of where the puppy is exactly…This is just sick and ridiculous of your business organization… so you better watch out

Do you know what’s sick and ridiculous? Demanding more and more money from someone whose daughter has already fallen in love with an imaginary puppy.

Call Kurtis: My $1,600 Purebred Puppy Never Showed Up [CBS Sacramento]

N.J. Mall Decides Not To Charge Admission To Santa’s Lap After All

Tue, 2015-11-17 16:28

(Consumerist reader Lindsey)When something is free one year and then comes with a fee the next, you better believe there are going to be customers who notice. As such, the management company at a New Jersey mall has backed off its experiment to charge visitors for the privilege of meeting (or even seeing) Santa Claus after parents complained that access to St. Nick’s lap should be free for everyone.

The Grinch’s heart must have grown three sizes a bit early, as the mall’s higher-ups announced later on Monday that parents wouldn’t have to pay a minimum of $35 for the right to bring their kids to see the big guy.

In a statement (warning: link contains video that autoplays) that calls last year’s “Adventure to Santa” display “wildly successful,” again, a display that was free, mall management says it decided to bring back the “interactive journey” this season.

After going on a bit about the “immersive” 17-20 minute attraction, the mall says it’s had a change of heart.

“In the spirit of the holiday season, we want to keep things festive and bright,” management said. “We have heard and value our loyal customers’ feedback and as a result, have decided to remove the photo package purchase requirements.”

Though it’s common practice to charge parents a fee for photos or videos to commemorate the visit, many were upset that even sitting on St. Nick’s lap to bend his ear would cost money. And because Santa’s house has no windows at this mall, children wouldn’t be able to catch a glimpse of the Big Guy without paying up first.

“I find it classist and it creates a divide between children during a holiday which is supposed to be about equality and giving and having everyone participate in the joy of Christmas,” one customer told the Philadelphia Inquirer before the mall backtracked.

Tyson Recalls 50,000 Pounds Of Chicken Wings Because They Don’t Smell Right, Could Cause Illness

Tue, 2015-11-17 16:08

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 9.58.58 AMIf those Tyson hot wings sitting in the freezer don’t smell quite right, then they might be part of the company’s latest recall of more than 50,000 pounds of cooked chicken wings that could cause people who eat them to become sick. 

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced Tuesday that Tyson Foods recalled 52,486 pounds of Any’tizers Hot Wings after receiving several consumer complaints that the product had an “off odor” and consumption led to mild illness.

The recall covers 28-ounce bags of “Tyson Any’tizers Fully Cooked Hot Wings Chicken Wing Sections Coated With A Flavorful Hot, Tangy Sauce,” with use by/sell by dates of Oct. 24, 2016 and Oct. 25, 2016.

Products can be identified by the establishment number “P-13456” inside the USDA mark of inspection, as well as on the back of the bag above the heating instructions.

While FSIS has not confirmed any adverse reactions, such as illness, from consuming the products, customers are advised to not to eat the chicken. Instead, they should either throw the bags away or return them to the store where they were purchased for a refund.

AAA: Gas Could Fall Below $2 Per Gallon Nationwide Just In Time For Christmas

Tue, 2015-11-17 15:42

(beebo wallace)While we’re not sure how Santa Claus will be able to bring this present down the chimney, everyone with a car could be getting something very special this year: AAA says the national average for a gallon of gas could fall below $2 just in time for Christmas.

Pump prices have been falling for 11 days straight around the country, according to a recent report from AAA, bringing today’s national average price to $2.16 per gallon. Prices will likely keep on going down and could hit under $2 for the first time since 2009 by the time you’re plucking presents from under the tree.

Gas is getting cheaper these days as the price of crude oil has remained low compared to years past, resulting in national averages that are down by $0.74 per gallon year-over-year. Price discounts will also likely continue as refinery production in the Midwest recovers, and individual refineries return from scheduled maintenance to continue production.

If you live in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana or Michigan, you may have already experienced discounts due to recent refinery restarts, AAA notices.

Gas prices usually decline during the month of November in any case, as it’s the time of the year when refinery maintenance wraps up.

Some drivers won’t even have to wait for the holidays: 11 states are already hitting under $2 on average, with South Carolina ($1.91), Alabama ($1.92) paying the nation’s lowest averages. It’s still pretty expensive elsewhere, with the highest gas prices in Hawaii ($2.86), California ($2.80), Nevada ($2.67), Washington ($2.52) and Oregon ($2.41).

Uber Now Offering Last-Minute NFL Tickets, Rides To Games — In Jacksonville

Tue, 2015-11-17 15:26

Earlier this fall, Uber began a two-month, Saturdays-only test allowing passenger to watch college football games while on the move in Nashville, Detroit, Atlanta and Houston. Now the company is one-upping itself by providing last-minute tickets to riders wanting to see a professional football game — as long as they live in Jacksonville and want to see the currently 3-6 Jaguars. 

The ride hailing company announced Monday that it would dip its toes a bit further in the sports arena via a partnership with the Jaguars, Bloomberg reports.

Through the deal, Uber will offer discounted game-day tickets along with rides to Jaguars games.

“For last minute-decision makers not wanting to miss out on the excitement at EverBank Field, it’s a cost-effective choice to get downtown and into the game,” Chad Johnson, Jaguars Senior Vice President of Sales and Service, said in a statement.

Tickets will be available through the Uber app on game day starting Nov. 19. Fans can purchase up to four lower-level tickets at a “promotional price” and will be billed directly through Uber.

Bloomberg reports that while the deal could likely boost Uber’s revenue, it could also help the Jaguars, which have one of the lowest resale prices for tickets in the NFL and haven’t had a winning season since 2007.

Uber Will Sell Cheaper, Day-Of Tickets to Jaguars Home Games [Bloomberg]

Phone Companies Can Filter Out Robocalls, They Just Aren’t Doing It

Tue, 2015-11-17 14:00

Even in an age when everyone has Caller ID on their cellphones and landlines, when more than 200 million numbers are listed on the national Do Not Call Registry, our phones are still inundated with unwanted auto-dialed and prerecorded calls. And though state and federal regulators regularly shut down illegal telemarketing operations, it can seem like a game of Whac-A-Mole, with new robocallers popping up to replace the old ones.

There are a number of ways to use technology to reduce the number of annoying robocalls you receive, but U.S. phone companies have generally left it up to consumers to defend themselves against the telemarketing onslaught, rather than implementing ways to prevent most robocalls from getting through in the first place.

Telecoms Charge For Limited Blocking

If you want to block robocalls on your landline service from AT&T or Verizon, your options are limited and expensive:
•Call Block/Anonymous Call Rejection: For $8.50/month, you can block 10 numbers and all anonymous callers. It not only costs a lot, but it means you’ll have to constantly be updating your blacklist.

• Landline Service: Blocking either 6 or 12 numbers (depending on service area) will run you $6/month. If you also want to block anonymous numbers, that costs another $6.
• FiOS VoIP Service: Verizon doesn’t charge FiOS customers for either service, but puts a 100-number limit on the blacklist.

Pre-empting unwanted calls was the intention of the Do Not Call list — shifting the burden to telemarketers to not bother consumers in the registry — but most irritating robocalls are done by scam artists or fly-by-night businesses that don’t really care whether or not you asked to not be called.

Consumer complaints about unwanted calls dominate gripes filed with the Federal Trade Commission every year, and not just because folks are being interrupted in the middle of watching Jeopardy. The FTC estimates that $350 million a year is lost to phone scams.

A new report [PDF] from our colleagues at Consumers Union looks at the various ways phone companies could be proactively trying to rein in robocalls — if they ever get around to it.


Nomorobo was the winner of the FTC’s first competition to create a viable service for blocking robocalls.

It’s a filter — no device needed — that creates a “blacklist” of phone numbers reported to the FTC as Do Not Call violators, and numbers that consumers indicate are connected to robocallers.

Right now, Nomorobo only works on VoIP telephone service; not good for those still on traditional landlines or who have gone cellphone only, but great for the millions of Americans who get their landline service through their cable or Internet provider.

When someone calls your number, Nomorobo rings simultaneously on your home phone and on the Nomorobo servers. If the service IDs the incoming number as a robocaller, it ends the call after one ring.

In an effort to gather more likely robocall numbers, Nomorobo also collects information about phone calls made to numbers that were abandoned after receiving too many unsolicited calls. Since the only people calling these numbers are probably going to be robocallers, this system is able to add to the Nomorobo blacklist.

One of the problems that comes up all the time with tracking down robocallers is “spoofed” numbers — when the info that shows up on your Caller ID has nothing to do with the person calling you.

Spoofing is not, by itself, illegal. In fact, there are justifiable, good reasons — like preventing a stalker or an abusive spouse from knowing your location — for wanting to hide your information. It’s only when spoofing is used to commit fraud or otherwise perpetrate a crime that it becomes illegal.

Nomorobo owner Aaron Foss says his algorithm can help ID spoofers by identifying reporting trends from the service’s users.

“A robocaller might spoof a random number but when that fake number starts calling 5,000 people in an hour, well, humans don’t call like that,” he explains.

If a legitimate caller is flagged as a potential robocaller, that caller will have to enter a number to prove they are human before the call can be connected.

This feature may be a minor impediment to major telephone companies implementing Nomorobo or something similar. One of the telecom industry’s most common arguments against proactive, widespread robocall blacklists is that they might inadvertently block allowed robocalls, which include school closing notifications and emergency alerts.

Moffat says Nomorobo addresses this concern by whitelisting these numbers so that they are not blocked by the “prove you’re a human” numerical code requirement.


Primus — not the band behind Pork Soda (though that would be awesome) — is an independent Internet and phone provider for hundreds of thousands of folks in Canada. It’s also the company behind something called Telemarketing Guard, which Primus Canada has made available to its customers for free since 2007.

The Guard is a filter that aims to head off blacklisted numbers so that they never ring on your end. If a number has been identified by some users as a robocaller, but the verdict is still out, the number is greylisted, which has two facets. First, the caller is asked to press a number and say their name before the call is put through. If that happens, then the recording of the caller’s name is played for the recipient, who then can decide to answer the call, block the number, or have it go to voicemail.

Primus says the Guard has not just cut down on annoying calls to consumers who use it, but that offering the service has made good business sense for the company because nearly 9-in-10 Primus Canada customers have cited the Guard as the main reason to retain their service.

In 2013, in response to a Senate committee question about why American phone companies had not adopted the Primus Canada Guard or Nomorobo, trade group USTelecom mentioned [PDF] that Nomorobo can block calls because it’s not a phone service provider, and Primus — owned by a Virginia-based company — is only using the Guard north of the border, possibly because FCC rules would have forbidden the company from using it stateside.

But as noted in the Consumers Union report, the FCC said earlier this year that it’s okay for U.S. phone service providers to offer services like these.


“The phone companies could be doing so much more to stop robocalls from harassing their customers,” said Maureen Mahoney, Policy Analyst with Consumers Union and author of the report. “But so far they’ve just been passing the buck and making excuses.”

According to the report, the major roadblock to putting robocall filters in place is the phone companies’ inaction.

Nomorobo’s Foss says his VoIP call-filtering system could be used on landlines and wireless phones; it would just require the phone companies to switch on simultaneous ringing for these types of lines. However, he acknowledges that old copper-line networks — some of which have reportedly fallen into disrepair — may not be up to the task.

Henning Schulzrinne, former Chief Technology Officer of the FCC, echoes this sentiment in the report, noting that, “Older landline systems may not support simultaneous ringing or carriers may choose not to enable the feature.”

USTelecom contends that even if you got it Nomorobo to work, “it is not clear whether it could be accomplished while still being able to offer a… solution on a cost effective basis to end users.”

It’s understandable that telecoms would want to remain neutral with regard to call-blocking. By doing nothing, they can avoid the potential problems that could occur when an important, legitimate emergency call gets blocked.

But a look at the numbers shows that something has to be done to curb these calls. In addition to the huge volume of complaints filed with the government every year, more than 550,000 people have signed on to Consumers Union’s End Robocalls petition asking AT&T, Verizon, and CenturyLink to give customers the ability to block these calls.

“Robocalls are more than just a nuisance,” explains Mahoney. “They can cost consumers real money when they are used to commit fraud. It’s clear that the technology exists to dramatically reduce these unwanted calls. Now it’s up to the phone companies to show they are serious about solving this problem by offering free call-blocking tools to their customers.”

Rdio Will File For Bankruptcy, Sell Smoldering Remains To Pandora

Tue, 2015-11-17 00:08

(Brad Smith)RIP, Rdio: the music streaming service tried its best to compete with bigger streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music. After the company files for bankruptcy, though, competitor Pandora has offered $75 million in cash for its intellectual property and some employees. What about the customers? They could come along as part of a separate transaction.

Rdio tried to survive with multiple competitors, including Apple Music, which had a similar price point but was already installed on hundreds of millions of phones. Rdio’s advantage has been that it operated in more countries than competitors, notably the massive developing market of India. The company tried offering lower-cost plans everywhere, but wasn’t able to recover and capture market share.

Rdio has assets that Pandora doesn’t. It’s an on-demand streaming service where customers choose what they want to listen to or pick a curated playlist; Pandora’s main service plays random-seeming songs based on the songs that you’ve liked in the past.

When Rdio declares bankruptcy, Pandora has agreed to bid $75 million in cash for some of its assets. Presumably, the company wants Rdio’s technology so they can offer an on-demand service and sell subscriptions to people who want to play non-random music sometimes. Maybe they simply want to buy up Rdio’s intellectual property and hire key employees so the big streaming companies can’t.

Rdio is shutting down and Pandora is buying up the scraps [The Verge] Has A Bunker Full Of Gold, Silver, And Food In Case Of Financial Collapse

Mon, 2015-11-16 22:57

(Great Beyond)When the global financial system collapses, don’t fret: you’ll still be able to shop on We’re not quite sure how that will happen, but the company’s early adoption of Bitcoin as a method of payment could be one clue. What you need to know, though, is that the company will keep paying its employees thanks to its bunker of silver, gold, and food.

No, CEO Patrick Byrne is not kidding when he says that the company is prepared for banks to shut down. It happened in 1933, and almost happened during the economic meltdown of 2008. What would you do without access to your bank accounts for a week? Today, when some people rarely even carry cash, we might be in a lot of trouble collectively as a society when it comes to paying for things like fuel and food if banking systems were down for even a week or two.

Unless you work at Overstock. The publicly-traded company has disclosed to the Securities and Exchange Commission that it has about $6 million of gold and $4.3 million worth of silver that could be divided up and used for payroll (probably small coins) and also a 30-day supply of food. It’s all stashed in an undisclosed location, and the company thinks of it as an insurance policy.

Ultimately, what it comes down to is that Overstock’s CEO doesn’t trust our current monetary system. That’s why the company is taking two tactics that seem like they wouldn’t have much in common: they both exist outside of government-administered currency and standard central banks. Has $10 Million In Gold And Silver Hidden Somewhere In Utah [Buzzfeed]